Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It's My Blog and I'll Brag if I Want To

First let me explain this funny and slightly disturbing picture. Last week, I was humming around the house, doing what I do, when I suddenly realized that I hadn't heard from Pace in a while. I mean heard from literally, because having a toddler is a lot like being suddenly struck blind. There is no way to keep a constant eye on these fast moving and curious wonders, so you learn to listen for them. I know exactly what my Tupperware sounds like as it pours from my cabinets. I know the rustle of pens clinking together means she's in a drawer in the study. Clink, clink means she's into the blue china in the dining room but clang, clang means she's touching the crystal...AAGGHH! Rattle, rattle means the vitamins on the island in the kitchen are getting a good shake. Well, you get the idea that I feel my hearing has been heightened like a blind person, since I can accurately place Pace by the slightest sound. When I get worried, however, is when there is no sound at all. That means she's really having fun. As you can see from the picture (which I hope doesn't offend anyone), Pace discovered tampons in this quiet moment! Not only did she discover them, she pulled them out, one by one, and placed them into the toilet. I was so shocked and frustrated when I caught her mid-crime, that all I could do was laugh and go find my camera. So, there she is with that sweet, guilty look on her face. "What, is this a problem?"

Pace will be 15 months old next week! I can hardly believe how fast the time goes. After her 1 year birthday, I quit meticulously recording every little milestone because she is just developing so rapidly now. It's funny to look back and see that I wrote on my calendar the first time she made an "m" sound, but I didn't write down when she learned to say her own name. She learns new words all the time now, and I don't want to forget how precious each new step is. So today I made a list of every word she knows, and I will one day be able to tell her how vast her vocabulary was at the tender age of 15 months...!!80 words!!... Does that blow anyone else's mind? This does not include the words that she has said once or twice and might possibly know. There are 80 words that she uses every day, or at least every week. I thought I might be exaggerating when I told the doctor she probably knew 50, but no she knows 80 and counting. OK, I'll stop but can you tell that I'm proud?

She knows the color red and sometimes pink. She is walking, but isn't exactly running. She seems to take her time and enjoy the scenery pretty much everywhere she goes. She knows horse, cat, and dog and can tell you the sound that they each make. She can name most of her body parts, and she knows the names of several of our family (and extended family) members. She cunningly knows to throw up her hands in question and ask "All Gone" as we walk by the bowl with the M&M's. She loves to imitate me in the kitchen by taking a spoon and a bowl and vigorously stirring. She also knows how to give a hug and a kiss, though she is EXTREMELY stingy with her kisses and gives them to Daddy and her baby much more than Mommy. She is very independent and while she may act demure when she first meets a stranger, she is more than happy to go to their arms after about 30 seconds. She favors men over women, and Jeremiah takes this as a very bad omen of things to come. She can feed herself with her fingers and is very interested in trying to use her spoon (she can do it, but dipping the food out of the bowl is a challenge as well as keeping that tricky spoon from turning upside down). She knows how to blow on her food if she decides that it's HOT. She can tell me when she wants a bite of my food, or a cracker, or milk, or water. She also talks us through her bedtime process: bath, teeth, lotu, papoo, night-night, lu-loo (Translation: bath, brush teeth, lotion, diaper, good-night, love you). She tells us when she wants a book and when she wants her baby. All in all, I think she's a genius just like every other mother thinks their child is a genius.

She has had an ear infection off and on since the middle of December and we are on our fourth round of antibiotics. She has learned how to pitch a fit, and can create one of the most high-pitched screams that I have ever experienced. For the most part, however, she is a very sweet baby, and I like to excuse the tantrums as direct results from the ear infections :) (Jeremiah thinks I am deceiving myself.) Well, I know I just bragged my head off, but I am very proud of this little girl.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Best Friends

Sometimes, when I look back over my life, I'm amazed to see the evidence of God taking sweet care of me through the people he's strategically weaved into my life. At every major transition , there was always somebody, doing His work, to help me.

Transition 1: Let's getter through grade school...
After first grade, I left a small, private, Christian school and entered the public school domain. It was a scary transition for me, and I distinctly remember spending our recess periods standing against a fence at the far end of the playground all by myself. I just didn't have the confidence to bust into the friend groups that had already had ALL of first grade to be established. Little did I know that God was whispering to the heart of a cool, spunky girl with a side pony-tail and crimped hair--her name was Whitney Ward. She already had a best friend (Allison Wells), and they were too cool for everybody else on the playground. However, one day she came up to me as I stood with my back to the fence and invited me to join their group. That was the beginning of my life-long best friend who has helped lead me through countless trials, and boys, and insecurities, and dances, and wardrobe malfunctions. She is the constant, and God's first gift.

Transition 2: Middle school to high school. She's gone need more than just a friend here...
I left the public school arena after 8th grade and switched to another private school, but this one was "a college preparatory institution." If I'd been intimidated by those year-old friendships back in second grade, imagine my dismay at facing a group of kids who'd now been forming bonds for up to 11 years!!! Not to mention the fact that they had a reputation for being snobby, rich kids. When I first started at HA, I dreaded break and lunch so much that I would rather have been in class. I was no longer unable to introduce myself to people, (I had developed a bit more confidence than that) it was just so much work. There weren't enough seats at the "cool girl" end of the table, so every day I either had to be early (which was virtually impossible for me who always had questions for the teacher after class) to get my own seat OR I had to ask somebody if I could share their seat. OOHHH the agony of it! I walk into the lunchroom, frantically scanning the cool girls and trying to decide who I felt chummy enough with that day to ask if I can sit butt-to-butt on a seat that's about 6-inches in diameter. I am just going to admit right here that there were a few days that I simply couldn't face it, and I snuck down to the gym locker-room to eat a quiet and stress free lunch.

I digress, but God sent me two people to guide me through this big phase. The first was Lindsay Prophet. She was/is a genius and a cool girl. She took me under her wing in my 9th grade biology class and guided me through everything from geometry to organic chemistry. Somehow the Lord convinced her that she learned better if she taught what we'd learned in class. I was a gracious recipient of her new-found learning method. I've made it sound like Lindsay was my tutor or something, but that isn't an accurate depiction. She was my dear friend, who was also a genius.

Then, there was Michael Wydner. He was the baseball star, the SGA president, the class clown, and the teacher's pet all at the same time. I was the new, shy girl who had an assigned seat right in front of him in history class, and God told him it was time to bring some personality out of me. He made me laugh so hard and also humiliated me so many times, that I had to learn to laugh at myself or I would have died of embarrassment. Somewhere in that process he also became my best friend. I got to see a side of him that wasn't the class clown, and we had each other as both of our mom's fought cancer and won. The Lord provides.

Transition 3: Now we gotta getter through college AND CHEMICAL ENGINEERING...
They say it takes a community to raise a child. Well, it took 7 people just to get me through college. First their was Counsel. Sorority rush was the start of my college experience, and I felt myself thrust into a sea of beautiful and talented girls. I had Whitney by my side again but most other securities were stripped away. It seemed impossible that I would ever find my niche, my life-long friends, the girls who would stand beside me at my wedding...but the Lord was watching. Holly, Jessica, Lindsay, Mary Grace, Sara Beth, and Whitney (listed in ABC order because no one should be above another), lovingly referred to as Counsel. These girls were my support, my teachers, my confidantes, and most of all my FUN. Without them, I probably would have spent all of college studying and pining away after Jeremiah. To this day, they know more about me and have more bribe-quality stories about me than anyone else (except maybe Jeremiah :)) They are a part of me.

Then, there was Stewart. Lindsay Prophet went on to UVA, and left me to face ChemE on my own. I looked out over my introductory engineering class and prayed to find someone who looked "normal." In the distance I saw a Sigma Nu T-shirt and I thought, thank you Lord at least there's one. When I graduated I told Stewart that he really should probably walk across the stage with me; he had certainly earned it. I must say that I did bring something to him, and that was discipline. Stewart is one of those people who is brilliant and could get by with very little effort (even in something as hard as ChemE). I forced him to do his homework and study for tests, even when there was a great band party going on. He, in turn, tried to teach my brain to think like an engineer. Another strong friendship was born.

Transition 4: Marriage.
God did something very sweet for me at this stage in life. This would seem like the biggest step yet, like the one where I would need the most support, the strongest hand to hold, but I was out on a cliff with nobody to my left or my right. I got married after my junior year in college and there was NOBODY taking that step with me. Counsel was completely dumbfounded by the thought of it! This, however, was the sweet gift...I only had Jeremiah. God taught me that he was that support and that strong hand. I had to learn to depend on him, and it was such a fun jump off that seemingly lonely cliff.

Transition 5: Can she handle the working world???
You graduate from college, you have a degree, and suddenly you are expected to KNOW something! It is terrifying. There's responsibility, mass quantities to learn, and the people around you actually think you ARE an engineer. If all this weren't enough, I was at a research facility in Wilsonville, with a bunch of brains, and desperate to find a normal person again. God didn't make me wait long for this one, because I walked into work on the first day with a cute blond girl with a deep southern accent named Farris Wallace. We sized each other up and soon discovered that we could be girlie girls AND chemical engineers together. I had somebody to eat lunch with, complain about my husband leaving cabinets open with, and admit when I was intimidated and lost at work. God just kept on giving.

(I realize that I have used the word normal in referring to Stewart and Farris. It sounds so shallow when I read back over it, but I really just mean people who are similar to me. I realize that I am not normal anymore than anybody else, and I had great friendships with people in my ChemE class and at work who I shared virtually nothing in common with. I am taking for granted that anybody who is reading this is my friend and knows that I don't consider everybody who is not like me, to be not normal.)

Transition 6: The baby carriage...
Here I was again, back on the edge of that lonely cliff. I was 23 and about to have a baby. Counsel hasn't even started getting married yet, much less thought about having babies. After trying to go back to work, God quickly tells me that He needs me at home. How I think? How can I quit work? How will we have enough money to live? Will I be depressed, by myself all day with no interaction? Before I actually quit, God sent over 2 of my neighbors who had both just (within 2 months of me) had babies and were stay-at-home Moms living on tight budgets. Lauren Brooks and Ashley Johnson. They talked to me about how they managed and helped give me the courage to take the leap I knew God was asking me to make.

Throughout those first trying months of being a new mom, the three of us took countless walks, had tea on each other's porches, read books and discussed them, but mainly we were able to vent all the fears and questions of motherhood to each other. God planted those two friends, literally right across the street.

I am sure that most of you quit reading after paragraph one (that had to get boring for people who aren't me), but I hope you will skim down to this last paragraph. After looking at my life, I've realized that God created me as a person who needs people. He knew exactly the friend I needed for every major transition in my life, and He provided them. It is so humbling to realize that the God of the Universe took the time time to bring people in my life to make it rich. Who am I...nobody, but to Him somebody who was worth it. How can we have a low self-esteem if we realize that? I am so thankful, and completely undeserving of all of these best friends.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


I hate writing "Thank You" notes. I don't even like receiving them, because I know the vehemence that is most likely sealed tightly into that little cream envelope. I hope that doesn't sound ungrateful, because I really am thankful for gifts we receive, but there is just something about the process of sitting down with a list of people who have given you gifts and feeling overwhelmed by the task. There are those gifts from people who you know, no matter how you gush in your letter, it still is going to sound petty in light of the size of the gift. "Dear XX, Thank you so much for the entire set of Caphlon cook-ware you gave Jeremiah and me. I know you spent several hundred dollars, and I feel absolutely awful because of it. Sure hope this note is enough!" Then there are those gifts that you have no idea what they are or what to do with them. You just have to describe the item really well, throw out a blanket statement and hope it covers. "Dear XX, Thank you so much for the beautiful, ceramic, fruit sculpture with a lid that you gave Jeremiah and me. It will look beautiful displayed in our new home." Finally, there are always that small group of random gifts that you CANNOT figure out who they are from. Invariably there will always be an expensive gift or two in this category, and you know there is a sweet elderly lady still checking her mailbox every day to see if that tacky young girl has gotten around to thanking her yet. For these reasons, thank you notes give me shortness of breath.

It's sad to me that the only letters I ever get in the mail are the above and invitations. I am not saying that condescendingly, because I never take the time to write personal letters either. I blame this on thank you notes, because they have given me a foul taste for writing letters in general. I think that the loss of this form of communication is one of the great travesties of our modern day world. Now we have email! you say, but you can't hold an email in your hand. You can't get a sense of the person's personality, like you can when you see someones hand-writing. You CAN print an email and save it, but honestly, how often do you do that? The reason you don't save emails is because they are rarely written with much thought or heart. They take so little time to get where they're going, that there is no reason to sit down and think through all you want to convey to the recipient. If you forgot something, then just shoot-'em another one tomorrow.

Then there are the telephone, the cell phone, and the answering machine. I know there are a lot of people out there who would much rather just speak what is on their mind than take the time to write it down. I do not think this is wrong, I am just in awe of anyone who can do it. If I really want to share my feelings with someone, I would MUCH rather be able to plan out the way I want to express myself than ramble on-and-on-and-on in an incoherent manner (which is what usually happens). It is also a lot less awkward to write down how wonderful you think someone is than try to say it to their face. I won't even venture into all of my issues with cell phones. I will just tell you what my friend Brandon Nall has, in my opinion, very profoundly named them--"Fellowship Killers."

The answering machine is very tricky to me. They, like letters, are less intimidating to relay messages to than the actual person. One of their problems, though, is that once you've said it, there's no erasing, no throwing it away and starting over, it's out there. Even if you confess in a fit of excitement after a second date that, "I think I'm falling in love with you!", there's no getting it back :) I also find that I have trouble trusting that answering machines will convey my message (maybe this is linked to how infrequently I check my own messages). Even if I have just left a detailed explanation of something on someones machine, I still find myself repeating the exact, same thing when I actually talk to them on the phone/in person. I'll say, "I just left this on your machine, BUT..." I can't stop myself, even when I know it's annoying as crap to the person to have to hear the same thing repeated again.

So, I hate thank you notes, because they have tainted all written correspondence in my mind. This is a shame because I think emails, telephones, cell phones, and even answering machines are all "plastic" (as Edith Schaeffer would say) forms of communication. (I do understand that there are matters that need to be communicated quickly and these devices are very useful for that purpose. I am talking more here about conveying feelings and thoughts with friends) So, I am going to try and get over my hatred of letter writing, because it is a beautiful and personal way to communicate.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Paul, Ummm Good

I am here to admit to all of you that I have never read the Bible from cover to cover. I have made several attempts, and I imagine I've been through Genesis half a dozen times. However, I have never completed the mission. During the past year, I decided to start reading full books, instead of random chapters . This gave me some sense of continuity, but the goals felt more attainable. Since I've started reading full books I have discovered something...the Bible tells an AMAZING story. Some of you are probably saying, Duh?, but I mean really, truly, page-turner type intrigue. I have found myself at the breakfast table, listening to Pace fuss at my feet but unable to put it down, because I needed to find out what happened next. The even more incredible part is that it is all true! I mean some of that stuff (in the Old Testament especially), Tolkien and Lewis would have been hard-up to dream, even in their vivid imaginations...but this stuff actually happened.

Just last week I finished Acts. If you haven't visited Acts in a while it is an amazing journey, literally, complete with a ship-wreck where everyone survives, and a miraculous escape from a Roman prison. Luke is our guide, and he weaves himself subtly in and out of the tale by switching from third to first person. I got really excited when I noticed a "we" and new that Luke himself had joined back up on our journey. However, what spoke to me most throughout the book of Acts, was what a POWERHOUSE Paul is. He was a bold and polished speaker, obedient to God even when facing his own death, a true and loyal friend, a humble servant and tent maker, and a miracle-worker. Even with all of these characteristics that could make anybody proud, he was the first to give all the glory to God and his Son Jesus whom he served. I was inspired.

I think the most life-applicable lesson I learned through Acts was that Paul always shared the Gospel with others by starting where they were. If he was addressing a group of Pharisees, then he started with all the prophecies throughout the Old Testament of a coming Messiah. If he was addressing a group idol-worshippers, then he pointed out their statue of the "Unknown God," and told them he wanted to make that God known to them. No matter what the group, he found a way to speak to them at a level that they could relate to. He didn't walk up with tracts in his hand and tell them he wanted to share with them the four points of salvation, first he touched their hearts. I believe this is why people responded to him.

Paul also didn't lead people to God and then drop them back to navigate the lonely ocean of sin on their own. We have many letters that prove that he was always praying for and corresponding with those he left behind. He just didn't want to see people saved, he wanted them to have a RELATIONSHIP with God. He knew that once that relationship was established they wouldn't need him to answer all of their Biblical questions, because they could seek God themselves.

I must note that I have focused on mainly the second half of Acts, because that is fresh in my mind. The first half is mostly about Peter, and he is pretty awesome himself. So, I just want to challenge you to read the Bible like a story, and let yourself be awed by the fact that THIS story is all true.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Deacon Ordination

A few months ago, our pastor told Jeremiah that he had been nominated to be a deacon. His initial response was that he was greatly honored, but he just knew that his church attendance would be sporadic over the next 4 years. They don't give you a lot of choice about working on Sundays as a resident. Brother Jimmy assured him that he understood, but that they wanted him anyway. I knew that somewhere in the Bible there were some requirements for deacons, or leaders in the church, and as the day of his ordination approached I found myself wondering, a bit nervously, if Jeremiah would meet the requirements (because of his strict work schedule). So, I plunged into the word, and found 1 Timothy 3:1-4

Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.

There is more, but these represent the gist of the criteria. As I went through this daunting list I was at first relieved to see that church attendance was not even mentioned. Then, I started to dwell on each attribute, and I realized what an amazing husband God has blessed me with. Jeremiah truly personifies each trait. I find "above reproach" to be a bit daunting, but I if a person didn't find that daunting then I think they would be unaware of God's absolute perfection. I also must mention that he does sometimes become a bit of a purposeful aggravater ("not quarrelsome") to me some evenings, but he is working on that :) So, with a thankful heart, I began to welcome the approach of his ordination.

Brother Jimmy also asked if Jeremiah would sing at the ordination service, and I accepted for him. Jeremiah asked his Dad, Tommy, and Kirk to sing with him so they had a little quartet, two guitars, and were going to sing "All Creatures of our God and King." In true Maddox form, the other three members of the quartet arrived at our house 45 minutes prior to the service and they commenced their first, and only, practice session. I was in the kitchen preparing dinner for after the service, and I thought they sounded really great. I love the sound of voices in harmony, and the deep richness it creates. They all hit the first note of the first verse with ease, and sang through the song beautifully. Perhaps they should have gone on stage at church at that moment, completely cold, because when they sang after their 45 minutes of practice, the wheels fell off. Jeremiah said that he had another hymn stuck in his head as they mounted the stage and couldn't remember the tune of the song they were about to sing to save his life. Tommy, who was the only person singing the melody, couldn't remember the tune either. At some point, he actually quit playing the guitar altogether. I must also mention that these two, who couldn't remember the tune, were also the two responsible for playing the tune on their guitars. Kirk, who could hear the discord and wasn't sure what to do with it, was singing so quietly that I couldn't hear him. That leaves Dr. Maddox, who was singing the base line perfectly. Unfortunately, the base line loses some of its splendor when not accompanied by a melody. When you add all this to the fact that nobody came in at the same time and there was some confusion about wording of the got pretty ugly for the first 2 verses. I sat in the congregation trying to control the laughter creeping up inside me, as I watched their very serious, but very panic stricken faces. To their credit, by the 3rd verse they managed to get it together and it really did sound beautiful again. I think that the congregation got an idea of what they were aiming for by that last verse.

Later, came the laying on of hands. In my rather limited experience, I understood this ritual to be of a very serious nature. The man to be ordained reverently bows his head, while the seasoned veterans, who've already faced the storms that this newcomer is about to face, come and lay their hands on him and whisper fervent prayers of encouragement into his ear. Apparently, Jeremiah had a little different view of what this ritual should look like. As each deacon approached, Jeremiah looked up from his seat and smiled broadly enough to show those sweet dimples. He then reached out a welcoming hand for a hearty hand-shake, exchanging a few words, and ending with a very gracious "thank-you". I'd like to name it "Jeremiah's Meet-n-Greet." At first I was horrified, and kept frantically motioning to him to close his eyes. He thought I was telling him he was supposed to cry, and just kept shrugging me off. After a while, my mom (who was sitting by me) leaned in and said, "He just looks so innocent up there!" and then we both started chuckling uncontrollably. What did it matter, really?

Besides this comedy of errors, there were some very touching moments. We saw a video of two deacons who were becoming Deacon Emeritus, and there were some pictures of their service that really touched my heart. One was a picture of our church ordaining its very first deacons over 50 years ago. Another was this retiring deacon standing in front of a Blue Bird bus and 30 something little children that he had picked up for church Sunday after Sunday back in the 60's. Dr. Maddox stood up and spoke about what a great man Jeremiah had become, and thanked him for the honor of being his Dad. Another great moment was the sight of my Dad, who never had a son of his own, with his head bowed next to Jeremiah, who he now considers the son God had planned for him.

All in all, it was a very special and memorable night. We'll remember it for its hilarity, for its touching nature, and for what is sure to be the beginning of a life of service to God's church--his people.

Friday, January 19, 2007

New York, New York (Part 4 and final)

I woke up with a stomachache. Our plane didn't leave until 8 PM, but I woke up with the dread of finding our way to the airport heavy on my mind. I love the fact that late flights can give you a whole extra day at your desired location without having to pay for another night's hotel. I also like that there is no setting your alarm for 4 AM to be sure you make it to the airport on time. I do not, however, like the fact that your last day at your destination also becomes THE DAY you are going home. For some reason, I carry around this sense of responsibility when I travel. Maybe it's the oldest child syndrome, but despite the fact that I was in New York with four well-traveled "grown-ups" and a competent husband, I still felt this inexplicable worry that we would never make it to our flight on time. So, I woke up on Monday morning with a stomachache partly because I was scared we were going to miss our flight, or not check out of the hotel on time, or not figure out what to do with our luggage for the day...and partly because I was not ready for the trip to end.

We had an 11 o'clock tea scheduled at a place called Alice's Tea Cup. It's located on the lower west side, by Josh and Alex's apartment. So, we packed up our various and sundries scattered about the room we'd called home for the past few days, left our bags with an attendant at the hotel, checked out (on time :)), and started our journey northwest, where tea awaited us.

Alice's Teacup is situated on a quiet street filled predominately with residential buildings. Along the sidewalk, trees push their way through hardened concrete and thrust their limbs towards the open air above the streets. Black, wrought iron fences protect each trunk, and provide a nice contrast to the ornate white or concrete facades of the apartment buildings. An occasional interloper hurries down the sidewalk on their merry errands, some carrying flowers, others a brown sack filled with groceries, but most just cling to their cup of coffee. Just before this quiet street re-opens to the commerce of the next avenue, one might notice the gentle flutter of a purple awning on which the words "Alice's Teacup" are written in curly white letters. Three steps lead down to this awning and the little shop it protects.

The first thing I noticed when we walked into Alice's was the smell of fresh scones. There is something about Devinshire cream which, when folded into a delicious batter, produces a smell while baking that is singularly enticing. A glass counter ran along the right side of the store, and tempted us with its pumpkin scones drizzled with a brown sugar glaze, buttermilk, chocolate chip, and strawberry scones, vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting and pink sprinkles, chocolate cupcakes piled high with vanilla icing and red sprinkles (I need to tell you that I later discovered that these cupcakes are armed with a well that dips down to their middle and ensures that no bite will be without icing). Tall layered cakes in glass domes lined the counter-top, with decorations at once exciting and fanciful. While this scene lay on our right, the left wall was covered in book cases with fairy wings fluttering from the ceiling. The cases were filled with children's books like Alice in Wonderland and adult books that one might lay on their coffee table to give their friends a good laugh. The wings and fairy wands scattered about the walls and ceiling were obviously hand-painted and added a perfect sense of whimsy to the atmosphere.

Our large party (Dr. and Mrs. Maddox, Alex, Josh, Tommy, Mrs. Ohs, Jeremiah, and me) was seated in a back room with pictures of real people, partaking of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, adorning the dark pink walls. Each guest at our table received their "tea" on a three tiered monstrosity, with each level suited to our own particular taste of the moment. The top level had two scones, cream, and raspberry preserves on the side. The second tier was covered in 2 types of finger sandwiches (mine were bacon- lettuce-tomato, and blue cheese, and chicken salad), and the bottom tier was pumpkin creme brulee with assorted cookies. We also each had our own pot of tea with a dainty ceramic bird perched on the lid, and each meal was served on a different pattern of grandma's best china.

The food was all excellent, but the scones, which were still warm from coming out of the oven, were to die for. None of us came anywhere near conquering our 3-tiered monstrosity, but we all gave a valiant try. With warm tea cups cradled in our hands, we decided to go around the table and each tell how we had each changed in the past year and what new year's resolve we had set upon for the upcoming year. It was a time of reflection and what surprised us all (I believe) was that it also became a time of great encouragement to one another. Like a snowball tumbling down a hillside and picking up more momentum and snow with each turn, was the flow of encouragement once it began. There were tears of thankfulness shed for each other, for the ways God had improved in a year's time, and for the many joyful promises that lie ahead for all.

When we left Alice's, there was a little shopping, a mini-concert in Josh's apartment (that's what the picture from The Two Become One is of), and then our preparations for getting to the airport. My stomachache came in waves throughout the day as my mind continually drifted back to the departure nipping at our heels. There are several funny circumstances from the day that I could share (like the fact that we sat in the airport for three hours partially because I'd made everybody so nervous about getting to the plane on time), but I think I would rather leave you with Alice's, which was such a perfect way to end a delightful trip to New York City.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Comfort vs Connection

Allow me to make a brief interlude and depart from our New York trip long enough to share my weekend with you. This, by all of my standards, should have been a crappy weekend. Jeremiah had call on Saturday, and Saturday call drains the life out of your entire weekend. Friday night you have to go to bed early since you have to be at work with the sun the next morning. Saturday and Saturday night you're at the hospital, and Sunday you're post-call and recovering. Jeremiah had Saturday call last weekend too, and it is safe to say that I was feeling a little depressed about the prospect of another weekend without him. I tried to make a plan for a fun (but early) Friday night, and my plans were reduced from dinner and a movie with a babysitter TO a sick baby with 103 fever and a husband who got called (from home) into a last-minute surgery that kept him at the hospital until 7. Things were really looking up!

On top of the ominous weekend forecast, I've been feeling a bit disconnected. You hear wives make comments like, "We just aren't connecting," or "something is missing." Usually these comments are followed by dumbfounded husbands who don't have any clue what that something is and don't understand why they can't ever do anything right by their wives. Chances are that even if your wife/girlfriend has never made one of the above statements, she probably has suggested a romantic dinner or a weekend getaway for two, because she is on a quest to feel that connection. Ashley (Wood) expressed this dichotomy by saying she believes that God has given women the ability to feel the pulse of a relationship in a way that men can't, and I think she is right. When that pulse is strong, we are happy and thriving, but when it is weak it echoes in our heart and begs us to nurse it back to health.

Jeremiah and I have definitely had some of these weak pulse moments, even when we've been very comfortable with each other. For us, this means that I know that Jeremiah only wants his coffee cup 1/2 full because discipline tells him that he shouldn't need more than that in the morning, or he likes Splenda on all of his cereal except Lucky Charms, or when he's been on call he likes to eat a hot meal afterwards, or he likes his sandwiches cut in 1/2, or he likes to have a cookie when we eat Subway because it feels like a fun surprise at the end, or he likes to un-tuck the covers when he gets in bed so that his feet don't feel trapped, or a million other little nuances that you just know when you spend time with a person and you love them enough to pay attention. While knowing all of these things can make you feel comfortable, just knowing them still doesn't make you feel like you connect. Connecting is in the subtleties.

I think that Jan Struther caught the spirit of these subtleties in her book Mrs. Miniver when she writes, "It seemed to her sometimes that the most important thing about marriage was not a home or children or a remedy against sin, but simply there always being an eye to catch." And that is just it. You can't simply know someone's idiosyncrasies to connect with them, you each have to know you know them. This means catching each other's eye when we go to a restaurant and the waitress refills his 1/2 cup of coffee. Or giving me a kiss on the cheek when I lay the Splenda beside his cereal bowl. Or being willing to show his excitement when I remember to tuck the cookie surprise at the bottom of his Subway bag. Or being wearily grateful when he comes home post-call and I've made pancakes instead of pouring the cold bowl of cereal he requested. You see in long relationships, like marriage, you can start to take for granted that you work together like clockwork. You can stop acknowledging the inside jokes and stop appreciating the little things that keep you ticking along in harmony. However, when you do, a piece of that mystical connection is dissolved.

So this weekend, that should have been miserable by definition, was really marvelous when we were together. We appreciated each other; we connected through our comfort. We really hung out, had inside jokes, and were our happiest selves together. It didn't take a romantic dinner for two or a weekend getaway to make that pulse come back...sometimes God just makes things work without our help.

Friday, January 12, 2007

New York, New York (Part 3)

Sunday morning, New Year's Eve Day, shone brightly into our room on the 18th floor of the Warwick hotel. I rolled over to snuggle against Jeremiah, and oohh! there was Tommy sleeping peacefully in the next bed. I sat up a little abruptly and woke both the boys. After looking at the clock, we discovered that it was almost 9:00. We never (especially Tommy) sleep that late. We found ourselves warring with the conflicting feelings of thankfulness for a full nights rest and irritation at wasting the start of a new day in NYC. We called Dr. and Mrs. Maddox to see if we had missed out on the day's plans and discovered that Mrs. Maddox's cold had taken a turn for the worse during the night. She barely got any sleep, needed medicine, and needed to try and rest during the day so she would have a chance of celebrating with us that night. With all of these anxious thoughts, my inclination was to jump out of bed and get a plan for the day. Tommy, however, offered up the idea of a devotion. I admit that my heart was a little reluctant...there was just so much out there to do and see...God would understand, but Tommy opened the word and started to share with us some jewels he'd discovered in Haggai. We discussed all of our thoughts on the passage, and then each shared struggles in our own lives that we needed prayer for. Finally we prayed; oohhh how we prayed. We lifted each other up, we thanked God for how richly he has blessed us, we mourned for each other's struggles. It was powerful. I was so thankful that Tommy had nudged us to exactly where God wanted us that morning.

Then, after throwing on some work-out clothes and getting Mrs. Maddox some breakfast and medicine we (Jeremiah, me, Tommy, Alex, and Dr. Maddox) headed for Josh's apartment. There was exercise to be had :)! The morning was glorious, with a bright blue sky and crisp, clear air. Josh led our group on a jog down to Riverside Park. We ran along with the Hudson River to our left and the city skyline to our right. An eager pilot was inscribing "USA" with his puffy white pen on cobalt paper. We felt like it was a message sent directly to us as a reminder to celebrate our country on New Year's Eve day. We left Riverside and jogged on past skyscrapers, pretzel vendors, and mattress stores. We sprinted up an occasional hill and stopped for breaks when a member of our group was winded. Finally, we reached Central Park. The boys wanted to stay and play a game of handball, but Alex and I weren't done with our running adventure. I had never been to Central Park and she led me past a beautiful pond where ducks huddled in groups with beaks tucked under their wings while they rested. Then, we crossed a white painted bridge that looked like it was made of porcelain. We ran past an expansive green field, and Alex described the open air concerts with people lying on blankets eating picnic dinners out of coolers and sipping on wine, so vividly that I could almost hear the music myself. We found another pond where she and Josh sometimes sit on a lonesome rock and play music on their guitars, and then we picked our way through some brush to find a short-cut back to the tame sidewalk. Finally, hunger and fatigue began to threaten the tranquility of our run, and we decided to turn towards home.

The next thing I did is probably going to seem strange to mention as a significant part of a trip to New York City, but I took myself back to the hotel and had a bath. It was not just any bath, because I was cold down in my bones and so tired that my body felt like a limp dish-rag. I turned the water on as hot as I could stand, and then I dipped down into the fiery depths and closed my eyes. I was too tired and cold to even think about bathing for at least fifteen minutes, and when I did start to take my bath I did it very slowly. Wash face...break, wash arm...break, scrub hair...let it soak...rinse it out...break, and so forth until I had been in the tub for around 45 minutes! It was so relaxing and especially fun for me since I can't remember when I've had a bath and not been trying to hurry and finish as fast as I could before Pace finished eating, or woke up from her nap.

After "The Bath", Jeremiah and I met Tommy, Josh, Marissa, Alex, and Mrs. Ohs for some Mexican food and margaritas. So maybe it was Sunday lunch and we were drinking, but we celebrated a little freedom as Josh would say. The food was great, the drinks were greater, and New Years Eve was about to be upon us. We spent the rest of the afternoon sight-seeing and trying to find somewhere that we could have afternoon tea. Everywhere was either closed or had some ridiculous minimum price you had to spend to sit at their table on a holiday. So, we ended up at the Starbucks in Josh's neighborhood :) Around 6, Jeremiah and I headed back to the hotel to change clothes for the evening. We almost couldn't get back to the Warwick because streets were being closed off and masses of people were already gathering in Times Square. We begged our way through barricades and were thankful that we were not going to spend the evening in that cold circus.

We had reservations at an Italian steak restaurant called Talia's. My fillet was perfect, but Jeremiah and Dr. Maddox had a fiasco with their steaks. The asked for their steaks to be cooked medium, and they were most definitely well done. They sent them back, much to the displayed chagrin of the manager, only to receive them again 20 minutes later VERY rare. Jeremiah sucked it up and ate his, but Dr. Maddox decided to give it one more try on the fire. Unfortunately, it was just as rare when they brought it back the 2nd time. We had fun, but decided not to give them our business for dessert. So, the boys and Alex went to pick up some champagne, ice cream, and cookies and the rest of our party (which included Uncle Sam, Aunt Jeanie, and Samuel) headed to Marissa's apartment.

We all crammed in by the fire, watched "The Grapes of Wrath" (which was the odd but surprisingly enjoyable choice of Josh and Tommy) while still occasionally checking on the Times Square countdown, and were happy to just be together. Then, we all (or almost all) celebrated the New Year with a kiss and commented on how fun it was to watch the ball drop and know that all that revelry was only a few blocks away. The "grown-ups" left and we prayed in the New Year, which culminated in a spontaneous outpouring of praise songs. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New York, New York (Part 2)

Saturday afternoon, after we (the girls) had enjoyed a little shopping, we met up with Uncle Sam, Aunt Jeanie, and Samuel. Aunt Jeanie had taken some moving and beautiful pictures of shop displays and people. She even asked Mrs. Maddox, Alex, and I to be window shopping in a couple of them.

The subject of Gramercy Park Hotel was brought up, and the decision was unanimous to take a trip across the city to experience Alex's old stomping ground. When we walked into the hotel, my overall impression was that a cedar forest must have wooed a primeval castle, and their union had produced a very artsy and abstract child. The smell that overtook you in the entrance was a cedar closet that had been given a good scrub down with your mother's most expensive soap. The walls were rough wood, and it seemed that if you leaned against them you would find yourself with a splinter. The enormous blown glass chandelier dangled delicately but ominously from the high, exposed-beam ceiling. Oversized fireplaces blazed in the distance. Heavy red draperies were hung 20 feet in the air and tumbled to the floor in piles of liquid velvet, making a dominant statement of permanence. The ambiance was dark, with low lights dimmed to an even darker hue by jewel colored sconces. However, in the midst of this union of old and new, there hung gigantic original works of art by Andy Warhol and Julian Schnabel with their abstract sense of space, skewed lines, and brave color pallets. The furniture was bordering on New Age, with shark-toothed light fixtures, shallow couches, and royal blue velvet fabrics. This was a place of art, and a place where it was OK to be different. It was, however, not a place to huddle in large groups, laugh raucously, and take tourist shots. Even so, that was exactly what we did :) The stiff manager on duty, the aquiline-faced doorman, and the model bar tender all did their best to show their respect to Alex, their former co-worker, and her rowdy family. However, when we turned away, I could feel the tips of their mouths curling into a smile as they looked at us down their pretty noses.

Evening came and it was time for the theatre! Or at least, that is how Jeremiah and I dressed. I wore a red dress with a plunging back, and Jeremiah wore a suit and tie. It felt like everyone else at the theatre wore blue jeans, or some close equivalent, but Jeremiah and I stood proud in paying our respect for this esteemed art form. "The Color Purple" was a delightful experience with magnificent singing, lively dance numbers, and a moving story line. There was some lesbianism that seemed forced and added for political correctness. It was short-lived, however, and we didn't allow it to detract from our overall experience. Tommy, who had a front-row seat said that some of the suggestive dancing, which was just amusing from our seats, was outright vulgar from his close proximity (but I don't think he minded THAT much :)). After the play, we went to a fancy pizza and pasta restarurant right there on Broadway and all shared our favorite moments from the play. Down at our end of the table we also heard the soap-operaesque stories of some of Aunt Jeanie's friends, and laughed as Uncle Sam realized he had bought a $40 gourmet pizza that he could hardly stand to take a bite of because of its funky cheese :)

The night ended with a quick stop at a bakery where we all munched on various desserts and found ourselves so giddy with tiredness that we laughed about nothing until we cried. Jeremiah and I also invited Tommy to come stay in our room for the night. The guilt of knowing that Tommy, Mrs. Ohs, and Alex were all sharing one futon while Jeremiah and I had an extra bed in our hotel room finally got to us. Tommy, Jeremiah, and me piled into our room still laughing and reminissing about a fun night.

Friday, January 5, 2007

New York, New York (Part 1)

I woke up to a rain storm this morning, with thunder rolling like giant rows of dominoes toppling together and lightning illuminating my room. I had a fifteen minute period between Jeremiah leaving and Pace waking up that was all mine in the darkness. I moved the box fan to the top of our dresser so that there was a cool breeze on my face like the one I imagined outside my window. Then I maneuvered back underneath our heavy down comforter and closed my eyes. I took time to enjoy my haven from the raging weather and to thank God that I have never had to worry about having a roof over my head. It was with that thought that I found myself transported back to New York, back to the homeless on the subways and crouching in discreet corners...Thank you God, for a warm home...because everybody doesn't have one.

When we landed in New York City my first thought was how dramatically our placement on the map had changed. Somehow traveling always takes me back to the giant map of the United States hanging on the board in my eighth grade history classroom. Dothan--here, New York-- WAY up there, oh Pace was so far away. Then we were off, out of the airport, away from that map and into the heart of the city. Our hotel was beautiful and only a couple of blocks from Times Square. Jeremiah and I plopped onto the bed and reveled in the thought of three whole nights in luxury. The first evening we toured Rockefeller Center, and I saw the biggest tree I have ever seen. All I could think was that somebody strung all of those lights and somebody has to take them all off. That is, unless they just chunk the lights with the tree, but what an astronomical waste if they did that! Next we toured St. Peters, looked at Jimmy Choo shoes and marveled that some people actually pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for one pair, and oohhed over the shop displays that some artist had fashioned in Christmas splendor.

That night we (Dr. and Mrs. Maddox, Jeremiah and me) met Josh, Alex, Tommy, Mrs. Ohs, and Marissa for dinner at an Italian restaurant called Sambuca's. We had pasta with pesto and pine nuts, T-bone steaks, mashed potatoes, broccoli leaves cooked with minced garlic, chicken pasta with a cream-based red sauce, baked ziti, and smooth red wine, all served family style. We stuffed ourselves with food and conversation and basked in the joy of all being together. Then, we set off for a small bar tucked on a side street, that few tourists would ever notice. It was a bar where a man sat at a large piano and played any Broadway song upon request. He never faltered with a word or note, and his enthusiasm never wavered. We were surrounded by what I imagine were some of the Broadway actors themselves singing their own songs and also some hopefuls like ourselves who can only dream of days on the big stage. I must note that the gay population was quite healthy in this particular bar and that was a culture shock for me. There is something about watching a man nuzzle another man's neck that is just never going to be comfortable.

The next morning we met the group again for brunch at a restaurant on Broadway called Ellen's Stardust. Because our party was so large, we had to be seated downstairs all by ourselves. We had five waiters that sang directly to our table, and they were all incredibly talented singers. We could never have afforded to pay for such a private party! Jeremiah even got pulled up to dance when a waitress performed "Cowboy Take Me Away". Don't worry, I was watching to be sure she didn't take him TOO far away :) After that delightful treat, the boys and girls parted company. The ladies went shopping and the guys went to build more marvels in Josh's apartment. There was one moment on our shopping expedition that I would like to mention. After trying on lots of clothes and laughing with the other girls about what looked good and what, frankly looked ridiculous, I took a minute to sit in an overstuffed chair off in a discreet corner and just soak up where I was. I was in the middle of NEW YORK CITY, with all its eccentricities, larger than life monuments to industrialization, people of every nationality, money and luxury to the extreme, and poverty. I was content to be one of the masses, a lone island in a swirling sea of technicolor.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

And the Two Become One

Jeremiah and I just got back from a four day, three night trip to New York City for New Year's Eve! There are several highlights that I could tell you about (and maybe I will tomorrow), but one thing that really touched me on this trip was the joy of entering someone else's little world. Jeremiah's brother and sister (Josh and Alex) live in an apartment in the city. I've heard stories of the small room that they share, the coffee houses they frequent, the parks they run in, the friends they've made, and the big city they've learned to navigate. I've tried to picture them there many times as I've listened to their accounts, but my mind had trouble moving past two faces smiling broadly in the bustle of Times Square. Their new way of life was just so foreign to me that all I could form were blurred images of what they must encounter day to day. For me, to get to see and experience their lives first-hand was enchanting.

When I worked at the PSDF in Wilsonville, it was important to me that Jeremiah make the trek out there and see for himself where I worked. I wanted to feel him in my everyday life. I wanted to know that when I told him I was sitting in the control room, he had a visual image of what that meant. In my mind, seeing where I worked was a part of KNOWING the "new" me. There was also an added bonus, because Jeremiah's prescence at my work made it more familiar than it had been before his visit. I enjoyed looking over at my "visitor's chair" and remembering what he had looked like sitting in it. When I climbed the stairs into the intimidating structure, I remembered the laughter we had shared thinking about me running something that big. No longer were my co-workers just stories around the dinner table, they became real people to him, and in doing so, they became a bit more real to me as well.

So, I don't know if Josh and Alex will feel any difference after knowing that their family has taken a dip into their new lives, but I know that I certainly enjoyed the plunge.