Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes?

This is a true story.

Yesterday Katherine went back for another follow-up appointment following her eye surgery. I drove her (and Jay) to UCLA, then returned to the apartment to face the dreaded Monday morning clean-up. I felt exhausted and very drained.

When Jay and Katherine returned with complicated news, I had to sit down.

James was eating his lunch at the little folding bamboo table that serves as a dining table in our apartment/camp. I joined him at the table as Jay and Katherine continued explaining the next options, each accompanied by both advantages and disadvantages. Katherine and Jay both looked so tired. I felt overwhelmed and sad that they were being forced to make more serious decisions. Katherine asked me what I thought. I thought, "Well, we could just go eeny-meeny-mieny-moe. Or we could pray."

I said, "Sit down. Let's pray."

James looked at us curiously as we held hands and bowed our heads. Katherine prayed first. At one point, James let out his little grunt/yell thing that means "Hey, look at me. I'm not pleased." But Katherine kept praying...actually, she was mostly praising. Jay followed her, and then it was my turn. As soon as I opened my mouth, I lost it. I reminded God of how much Katherine has already been through. Tears were plopping down in my lap like a leaky showerhead.

I was not aware of anything other than the words I pleaded. Then Katherine kind of nudged us. I peaked one eye open. Covered in peanut butter, James sat across from me with head bowed, eyes scrunched closed, and a very sad look on his face.

When I finally finished, we looked up at James. He still sat there with his eyes closed, apparently praying.

For the next few magical minutes, we watched his precious little face. He looked like someone "entering into the agony of intercession." He shook his head every now and then, letting out a few little whimpers and an occasional cry. Jay and I fumbled around for cameras. I finally found my phone and captured this image. Jay grabbed Grace's computer, turned the web cam around, and recorded the unique sight. It was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen.

Was he asleep and dreaming?
Was he in a trance?
Was he receiving a "word of knowledge?"

Or was he praying for his mommy in "groans too deep for words???"

Maybe we'll find out one day.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

katherine's eyes

“But it is her eyes that make me want to wail like those women whose “weeping was heard in Ramah.” Those big beautiful aqua eyes, clear as a pristine sea, are out of Katherine’s control. Eyes that could pierce straight through you, eyes that focused in on you as if you’re the only one that matters, now roll around the sockets like big blue-green glass marbles. The right one is infected, red, and suppurating. The pupil hides in the inner corner for the most part, like it’s afraid of what it will see if it comes out. The left is constantly jumping around, but I know she can see out of it. A tear rolled down her cheek when I showed her a picture of James. (But, tough chick that she is, she let me know she wanted to see more.) Most of the time a black patch covers one eye (alternating sides), so she looks like a battered little pirate.” (“A Bruised Reed,” April 29, 2008)

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I snuck out to the living room for some early-morning quiet time. We have a full house in the aftermath of Katherine’s most recent surgery, so time alone is a gift.

With a click and a scroll, I time-traveled back to where we were 16 months ago.

Perspective is everything, we keep telling ourselves. I needed some perspective after yesterday.


Several months back, my mother said something like, “Well, I’m just glad I didn’t know how my family was going to turn out. We used to be so happy!” Of course, I took it the wrong way at the time. But now I understand what she meant.

I am so very, very grateful that the future is hidden from us. People that consult mediums and psychics must be masochists. (Among other things.)

I am filled with gratitude that I couldn’t comprehend how severe and utterly life-changing Katherine’s brain rupture was at the time. The revelation came slowly, an onion unpeeling layer by layer. The mind possesses an amazing resiliency in protecting itself. I simply could not have wrapped mine around the devastating reality all at once. Each day’s trouble WAS enough. Dear Lord, please let Katherine live through the night. Dear Lord, please heal the pneumonia. Dear Lord, please don’t let the brain swell anymore... bleed anymore... Please help her to stop shaking... hurting... freezing... burning. Please let her move... speak... walk... eat...


As I said in April, 2008, it was her eyes that got to me the most.

Katherine’s eyes were the very first thing I noticed about her. She gave me a good, long stare just as soon as she popped out, as my mother says I did to her the first time we saw each other. (Babies aren’t supposed to be able to see at that point, but we don’t believe it.)

Katherine’s eyes took up half her face.

They were always her defining feature.

Katherine’s eyes were the most expressive eyes I’ve ever seen.

Katherine’s eyes...

...sparkled with the joy of life

...flashed with anger at injustice

...narrowed at hypocrisy

...moistened with compassion

...crinkled with laughter

...widened with wonder

...saw deep beneath the surface into the very heart.

We blithely escorted Katherine to surgery on Thursday, naively expecting a presto-chango quick-fix restoration of her eyes. I was more excited than nervous about the surgery. I imagined that the surgeon would remove her bandages the next day, and her eyes would be miraculously back to normal, both aesthetically and functionally.

But that was not the case.

"What fresh hell is this?” Dorothy Parker once wondered sardonically.

Katherine’s ‘fresh hell’ is that, for now, the double vision is worse, not better.

Her world is grayer, not rosier.

It is hard for all of us to bear.

But I know that many times, things have to get worse before they get better.

And most times, prayers are answered in stages, so that faith has an opportunity to stretch and grow.

I thought of this story:

“They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man's eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, "Do you see anything?"

He looked up and said, "I see people; they look like trees walking around."
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly."
(Mark 8:22-25)

I’m praying for some Celestial Spit.


“I will not drive them (enemies) out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land.” (Exodus 23:29-30)

“It is here promised that they should be guided and kept in their way through the wilderness to the land of promise... How rich are the particulars of this promise! The comfort of their food, the continuance of their health, the increase of their wealth, the prolonging their lives to old age. Thus hath godliness the promise of the life that now is. It is promised that they should subdue their enemies....Enemies are subdued by little and little; thus we are kept on our guard, and in continual dependence on God. Corruptions are driven out of the hearts of God's people, not all at once, but by little and little. (from Matthew Henry’s Commentary)

“I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1-2) Text Color


*This was written early Saturday morning, after a rough day on Friday. This morning (Monday) Katherine goes back to see her wonderful surgeon, where the next step will be discussed. This is just the beginning. We have great hope that “little by little” the healing will continue. Jay will post the details on caringbridge when time permits. Thank you for continuing to pray!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


We’ve just returned from the first real family vacation we’ve had since the summer of 2007.

As my husband says, “IT WORKED.”

For our family, that’s saying a lot. Some of our past vacations have made a Griswold trip look like a perfectly perfect fortnight at the Ritz in Paris.

On this trip, no one got deathly ill or injured, lost their passport, or developed poison ivy. There weren’t even any little dramas or family fights. No one argued about what channel to watch or which restaurant to choose.

It was, strangely enough, actually relaxing...a perfect balance between activity and rest. We rented a townhouse on Coronado Island, off the coast of San Diego. There were sightseeing outings...chilltimes on the patio...requisite trip to the famous Zoo...lazy afternoons reading or napping. A picnic at the beach...dinner at the famous “Del”...swimming, biking, walking. Resting. Restoring. Regenerating.

(I believe the last three are almost lost arts. My husband’s grandparents had an old mountain house in South Carolina with a Victorian wicker chaise lounge tucked in a corner. Still covered in the kitschy 1940’s fabric, it had a pillow embroidered with these words: “How wonderful it is to do nothing, and rest afterwards.” It has become one of my lifegoals to relearn how to live that way on appropriate occasions.)

Our peace was marred only by the unexpected arrival of painters for 3 days, who, at one point, plastic-wrapped all the doors and windows of the townhouse from the outside. (No AC at the beach where the high is usually in the low 70’s!) But even that little glitch provided a bit of humor. Very early one morning, I lay on top of the covers in my somewhat scanty nightie watching “Cars” with James. Just imagine my surprise when I looked up to see a man painting the (open) doorframe on the balcony. Like, in the room with us.

Must have had a really long ladder. Or a very quiet crane.

Other than that, it was a pretty perfect trip. But I wasn’t perfectly happy. There was a vague little sadness hanging around the periphery of joy. When I couldn’t shake it, I analyzed it.

I realized that I was internally contrasting the then with the now.

The “Ghosts of Beach-Trips Past” came haunting, shaking their long chains of memory at me.

Playing in the sand with James one day, I looked up at his mother in her cool beach-buggie wheelchair. She was just sitting there (of course), looking out to sea. Very still.

But I had a vision of a beautiful blonde girl riding the waves on a sailboard, laughing joyfully at the amazing incongruity of the “unathletic one” accomplishing what her more physical sisters could not.

I saw the oldest sister leading the kitchen clean-up after dinner. I saw the family organizer planning the day for us. I saw my eldest child giving me a lovely massage at the end of the day, walking with her father along the shore, snuggling with her sisters in a hotel bed.

I got angry that it was the grandmother who was playing in the sand with the little one instead of his mommy. I was angry that Katherine couldn’t join us on a bike ride or a beach walk. The anger made me feel a little hollow and hopeless inside.

Then, I started projecting into the future. Always a very bad idea. (“Let each day’s trouble be sufficient for the day..”) Looking at James, I began wondering when this little boy might have a sibling. If...

James could be an only grandchild for a long, long time.

I started feeling sorry for all of us.

Later, I asked Katherine if she was having any fun. “Everything’s wonderful,” she answered. To reassure myself more than her, I said, “You just have to focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t.” Arching her left eyebrow, she looked at me like I was a blithering idiot. “Well, of course I do. How else would I survive??”


Recently, I received an email from a dear friend catching me up on her family’s news. She wrote of their recent beach trip: “It was great but bittersweet.” Her youngest child was flying off to college a few days later.

That word has stayed with me.

It seems to me that all of life is bittersweet.

The very sweetest moments carry within them the intrinsic sadness of impermanence and mutability. I can no more hold on to the crystalline grains of earthly happiness that come my way than I can to the sand that leaks from my hands as I try to cover James’ feet with it. We cannot really keep anything. Everything is passing away. Everyone is passing away. I remind myself that I am, too.

Picking up this year’s winner as Chosen Beachbook, Conroy’s South of Broad, I find my musings strangely echoed in his inimitable way:

“The moment you are born your death is foretold in your newly minted cells, as your mother holds you up then hands you to your father, who gently tickles the stomach where the cancer will one day form, studies the eyes where melanomas dark signature is already written along the optic nerve, touches the back where the liver will one day house the cirrhosis, feels the bloodstream that will one day sweeten itself into diabetes, admires the shape of the head where the brain will fall to the ax-handle of stroke, or listens to your heart, which, exhausted by the fearful ways and humiliations and indecencies of life, will explode in your chest like a light going out in the world. Death lives in each of us and begins its countdown on our birthdays and makes its rough entrance at the last hour and the perfect time.”

This summer has been that “perfect time” for an unusual number of fixtures of the community in which I grew up. My mother told me yesterday that she’s already been to 6 funerals, with more on the horizon. Sweet people I’ve known from childhood, slipping away, one by one. Precious parents of close friends. Role models. People who lived large and well.

The funeral of a gentleman who was a big influence in Katherine’s life was held on Sunday. It is frustrating for us to be so far away when people we love are going through sad times. Earlier this summer, I had to miss the funeral of the father of one of my very closest friends....one who’s been there for me countless times in the past. It hurts, especially because some of those that have experienced recent losses are the ones who have given us the most love and support when we’ve gone through our sorrows.

So on Sunday, as his funeral was taking place in Athens, we had our own little memorial for the gentleman in question. We looked up his obituary online, and then read the comments people had left in his guestbook. Someone wrote of him, “(He) was a visionary, and put death in the middle of his plans, not at the end.”

Now that’s perspective.

It helps to have one like that at times like these.

Life goes on...

From that perspective, the bittersweet taste of even life's richest pleasures makes more sense to me. The contrasting mix of flavors is what makes a dish or a wine more interesting and complex.

I've always liked Key Lime Pie much better than chocolate, anyway.


On Saturday, the party was over and we went our separate ways...Brooks back to Athens; Kat and Jay to Pomona; Amie, Grace, James and I to LA.

Back to laundry and mail and regular life.

That night, I got a wild text from Katherine.

I wrote her back, “Nanny nanny booboo...I told you so!”

It seems that there is evidence that James won’t necessarily have to be an only child for the rest of his life after all.*

Oh blah dee, oh blah dah...

LIFE goes on.


Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!...

Lala how the life goes on...
Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, brah!...
Lala how the life goes on...
(The Beatles)

"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
(John 10:10)

(* in the 10 minutes since I first posted this, I've been made aware that the indicated sentence could be a bit misleading. Please check Katherine's caringbridge update for a more explicit explanation of our life-affirming news.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

His Watchful Eye

My friend Miss Betty told me I needed to share this little story, so here goes...

Recently, I was unexpectedly blessed with a few days of recuperation at the beach.

The ocean has always been a place of peace and healing for me. A yearly beach trip is a sanity-saver. I’m not one to lie in a lounge chair by the pool, however. I don’t let a little sand and wind keep me from the edge of the world.

After several days of rain, we finally saw a patch of blue sky. I grabbed a towel and ran out and plopped it down on the soaking wet, hard sand. I tried reading, but it bothered my neck...so I just lay flat on my wet towel and watched the sky. The action was lively. Blue, gray, and white swirled together like some exotic ice/whipped cream concoction. Shapes formed and dispersed.

Then I saw the face of God.

No kidding...that’s what it looked like, beard and all.

I contemplated the visual. I stared at the gentle eyes, and wondered for a moment what God really looks like. The image was sweet and comforting, even if stereotypical. He seemed to be looking at me with a little smile on his face. I fumbled around for my cell phone to take a picture, but the clouds had morphed into a different shape by the time I managed to dig it out of the beach bag.

They had formed a huge eye, like the one in Great Gatsby.

The eye of God “going to and fro over all the earth?”


I can’t stay still for long, so I started walking down the familiar shoreline to the inlet. Families were out on the sandbars together, playing in the surf. Adorable children were everywhere, making me long for James.

As the sun began to shine more brightly, it got hot. Before long, I couldn’t resist the urge to plunge into the ocean. I love the buoyancy of salt water, the rocking of waves. I played for a while, then began walking back to shore, moving slowly against the tide. As I got within a few feet of shoreline, I felt my foot hit something heavy. A silent, sickening thud...then something long and slick slowly moving across the top of my instep. I couldn’t move.

When the churning water cleared, I saw a 4-foot shark swimming away from me in the shallow water. Sharp, triangular fin gleaming in the sunlight, he slowly curved his way back out to sea.

Breathless, I ran up to the nearest group of people. “Did you see that?” I panted. They looked at me like I was crazy when I told them I’d just kicked a shark.

I went back to my towel and lay down, shaken. I offered up a silent prayer of thanksgiving for Divine protection. When I opened my eyes, I was blinded by the sight I saw. The sun was a dazzling circle of diffused light, surrounded by a dramatic cloud formation on either side. The clouds formed the shape of huge wings.


At a time of such fear and uncertainty in our lives, I am grateful for this symbolic, but overt, reminder of God’s watchful eye and protective wings. Hints of his presence and intervention are scattered throughout creation.

God only knows how many mysteries we miss.


“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight” (Hebrews 4:13)

Psalm 91

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."

3 Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;

his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,

6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

9 If you make the Most High your dwelling—
even the LORD, who is my refuge-

10 then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;

12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 "Because he loves me," says the LORD, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."


(p.s. In case it's hard to tell, the picture is of the tail-end of the 'wings' apparition. Of course by the time I pulled out the phone, it had already started to change. But you can still get the idea.)