Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Don't You Have 2 Kids or Something?

I feel like I have neglected to tell you all about my real life, in the desire to share with you all that is happening in my heart. While Mom is a constant presence in my soul, there are two other little girls who keep me adequately distracted.

Mary Aplin: Oh what a sweetheart she is! She is much more laid back than Pace was at her age. Content to lie on her back and watch her mobile, or sit in her vibrating seat while Pace kisses all over her, or just to be carried around on my hip like a rag doll while I run from chore to chore. When she gets fussy, I just lay her down in her crib and she goes to sleep. I am not saying that she doesn't have her moments, but for the most part, she has been an angel.

There were a couple of weeks in November (when I first got to Dothan to be with Mom), where Mary Aplin had to be bounced every waking moment. It was so bad that one of Mom's friends showed up at our house with one of those giant exercise balls so that I could at least be partially seated while bouncing. Then one day, someone suggested laying her in the bed instead of bouncing, "Maybe she's just tired," they said. More as an act of disgust, to show them just how bad she'd cry if I laid her down, I did it. Lo and behold, she stuck her thumb in her mouth, closed her little eyes and suckled herself to sleep. I was awestruck! It just goes against every ounce of reason to think that if a baby is on the verge of crying while you work as hard as you can to bounce them in the perfect manner, that stopping the work--taking the easy way out--would lead to the cessation of crying. Ever since, when she gets fussy, I just lay her down. Poor Pace, I don't think I ever tried that with her. She spent her babyhood seeing the world as from a very rough sea passage :)

M'Apples (as she has been lovingly nicknamed), very freely shares the adorable toothless grin God has given her. She has a fair amount of patience with all of the attention her big sister feels the need to cover her with. She can roll over from her tummy to her back, and if I nibble on her, she will even giggle out loud.

Two, two, two!!! Those are the first words that come to mind when I think of Pace at this stage. She is in to everything and has a fiery sense of independence. "No, Mommy, I can do it myself!" I hear this all day. Anything I offer her is NOT what she wants--I have even tried brownies. It has been frustrating dealing with this need to be two, but it has gradually gotten better in the last week (though not without a lot of spankings). I think that not only was she toying with her twoness, she was also spoiled ROTTEN from all the constant attention she got during our 8 weeks in Dothan.

Then there is potty training. Oh the horrors!!! It deserves its own blog, so I'll just spare you the details of how my life is FILLED with poo, until another day.

On a more positive note :), she really does have my heart. To see a baby grow from a little doll to a talking, moving, playing, thinking person is a the most fun thing I have ever experienced. I feel like Jeremiah and I are constantly trying to hide our laughs as she comes up with more crazy sayings. We were saying her prayers with her at bedtime, and the first thing she thanked Jesus for was cupcakes, followed by b'sghetti, and only then was she thankful for Mommy and Daddy.

She talks about Bebe (that's Mom) a good bit, and this morning I heard her saying to Mary Aplin, "Now, I need to have a little talk with you, sister. Bebe is in heaven with Jesus and you can't see her anymore, but we're goin' to see her later, OK?" In a fit of desperation, to try to keep me from putting her socks and shoes on, she said, "Mommy, Bebe doesn't wear socks, she just wears flip-flops!"

Also, Pace could not love her baby sister any more than she does. She calls her "sister" a lot, and last week she asked me to kneel down so that she could give her a hug. I did, and as M'Apples head was resting on her chest she looked at me and said, "My sister lives in my heart." Is that the sweetest thing you've ever heard?! I have also heard her telling Mary Aplin that she is her "beeest friend."

Pace imitates everything I do (talk about an accountability partner!), and this includes all the little names and oohies I coo at Mary Aplin. She loves to tickle her face and say, "Hey little precious! I love you. We are so proud of you, sweet girl!" It is adorable to see them love each other...I just hope it never fades.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Hate Myself

Why do I hate myself? Because I feel like I've sounded like a spoiled brat to a sweet girl whose home-literally-is the Pine Lake Motel. She really says it best in her blog: http://www.pinelakemotel.blogspot.com
I want to genuinely apologize for belittling something that is rare in this country--a hardworking American family, taking pride in what God has entrusted them with. I am really sorry, I just never thought about the fact that it belonged to somebody. What nobody has said on either blog, is that the Pinelake has undergone a renovation since those pictures I posted on my blog. They painted the brick and added trusses made of thick dark wood. It truly looks good, but I didn't add that in my first blog (because it seemed funnier not to clarify).

Second, about the whole Altar Call "debate" going on in the comments: I was not trying to put up an argument for or against having altar calls in church service. I, honestly, don't know where I stand on that issue. I think a little brotherly Christian discussion is good, as long as we all know that it's not what matters at the end of the day. Spar on if you need to, but just keep it nice (like you have...I think). I actually had somebody walk up to me and, laughingly say, "Well you USED to be Baptist."

Whew! My first controversy and it all happened in the same day. I guess when you put "stuff" out there, you have to be willing to take what comes back to you :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Altar Call

I've been a Christian for a long time and a Baptist even longer. Therefore, I have been present at a LOT of altar calls. I guess you all know what those are...the time when the preacher, at the end of the service, calls for anyone who would like to make a public profession of faith to come forward (people also go down to just kneel at the altar and pray, or ask the preacher questions, or join the church...). Basically, they all end with, "If the Lord's leading, won't you come today."

I think it may be a requirement in the Baptist church to do this after every meeting. Jeremiah's grandfather was a Baptist preacher, and they even did it at his funeral! While I think that they are a good idea, there have definitely been revivals or seminars I've attended where I felt like the speaker basically guilted half the congregation to come forward :). I say all that to tell you, that oftentimes the preacher will ask anyone who has made a decision to pray with him, and then he'll proceed to pray a prayer that ends with you being a believer. I pray that prayer EVERY time. Then they usually ask you to raise your hand or come forward if you prayed it, and I never do. You see, while I've had the Holy Spirit living in me for 17 years or so, I felt like it never hurt to ask Him to come in one more time. When somebody starts saying, "If you have ANY doubt that if you died driving home from here tonight, you would find yourself in the presence of the Lord, then you need to pray this prayer with me right now."

That's some pressure, isn't it? ANY DOUBT...ANY. Well, I am here to confess that I sometimes have felt doubt. Can this all really be real? Doesn't it sound a little too good to be true, that the King of the Universe died a gruesome death, just so that I could spend eternity with him? I love magic and mystery, but I spend so much time telling myself that the books I read aren't real, so could the Bible just be another elaborate story? These questions have never plagued me, but I have thought them. Therefore, when that preacher has said ANY DOUBT, I have always been ready to add a little more security to my promise.

Then, Mom. I always thought that if God chose to take Mom, I would really start to struggle with those questions that have always wanted to creep into my heart. If one of my rocks of faith was wrong, what would happen to my own faith? I am here to proclaim to you that the exact opposite of what I believed would happen, has happened. Our God is beautiful and mysterious, we can never understand His ways, but He is also all-knowing. I believe that if he had healed Mom, miraculously, like I so desperately begged Him to do, then I would have had a quick fix. An adrenaline rush that probably would have lasted for a year or so, followed by a truly awesome story to share with others for the rest of my life. Now, those who saw the miracle first-hand would have hopefully believed, but do you think that every person I shared her story with on the street would have believed? To believe in a God who does miracles, you must first BELIEVE in God. My testimony could never be as convincing as the argument He's already made for himself in His word.

So, that was the hypothetical, but what's the reality? The reality is that I sat in a church service last week, and I heard the guilt trip shpill at the end, and for the first time my heart didn't quaver. A smile came across my face, and I thanked Jesus that I didn't have to wonder any more. He has carried me through a raging fire, but He showed me how to tuck my face into the hollow of his neck, to shield me til we reached the other side. He's put my feet back on the ground, but he's still holding both of my hands and coaxing me forward. He's become so real in my every-day, that I don't have to be immersed in His word or prayer to feel His presence. He is real. He is dwelling within me. He has shown himself to be enough no matter how hot the fire. And now I can smile through those altar calls.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jesus Gift

When someone that you love desperately is stripped from your life, aren't you supposed to be left with only the sweet memories? I feel like this is what "they" say happens...I know that for me this has not been the case, and I didn't really realize it until I received a surprise gift from Jesus.

My Mom was a wonderful, beautiful, gifted woman of God, BUT she (like all of us) had her flaws. Like the way she loved food. I can remember being little and getting all "A's" on my report card. The reward for this feat was being allowed to pick what restaurant the family would go out to for a celebration. I can still see Mom putting on her make-up in front of the bathroom mirror and convincing me that what I REALLY wanted was Red Lobster--just think about those buttery cheese biscuits, she said--and I should run downstairs quick and tell Dad before I changed my mind. There weren't a whole lot of restaurants to choose from in Dothan at that time, and I think she was worried I would pick Taco Bell. You'd think this little manipulation would have gotten better with age, but she only got more particular. She spent a lot of time in Birmingham between doctor's check-ups and treatments, and she NEVER left without a sumptuous meal. She might tell me that, "Oh, she didn't care what we ate. Your pregnant Abby, why don't you pick." But as I listed one restaurant after another, that cute little nose of hers would squinch up in utter disdain until I named the place she'd been wanting all along. Never mind that it was the FishMarket and the THOUGHT (much less the smell) of fish at 12 weeks pregnant sent me running for the nearest restroom, it was what she wanted.

Or, more seriously, there were the little jabs she could throw in, under the guise of helping me. There were few times she walked into our house, without a comment like, "Abby, we really need to clean out these closets" or "I don't know how you can stand to leave those clean clothes piled up without folding them" or "Are you sure you can thaw chicken out in warm water like that?" or "You aren't really going to spank her for that, are you?"

So, unbeknownst to my conscious self, I was fighting off the pain of not having her, by focusing on the things she did that made me mad. I would feel a jabbing pain at the fear of Pace not remembering her Bebe, but a vision of that disdainfully squinched nose would pop into my head. Or I would ache to talk to her after a disagreement with Jeremiah, and those guilty feelings she used to impose would creep into my heart. In essence, I was losing who she was 99% of the time to the ugliness she displayed 1% of the time, in an effort to cope.

So, on my last night in Dothan, I was foraging through a stack of notes on the kitchen counter. Suddenly, I see what looks like my name scribbled across the top of a sheet of paper in Mom's handwriting, and I catch my breath. When I realized that it wasn't really my name, and instead it was Alz. (I want you to realize here that Mom's faith was so strong that some of the last notes she made were how to prevent Alzheimers :) Here she was distended with cancer but worried about getting Alz. when she was 80), I was overcome with grief. I realized that I didn't have anything that I could think of where I had my name written in her handwriting.

I tucked the notes away, thankful for the little scraps with her handwriting and everyday notes like, "Roast started 5:33." Then I headed back to my room to continue the mountain of packing. This is where Jesus jumped in. Besides the fact that He led me, there was no reason for me to walk over to the little tin bucket, tucked away under my nightstand, filled with random books from high school. I started flipping through the titles, and had laid aside a little notebook that I didn't recognize, when I thought I might better check and just make sure there was nothing written in it. As it fell open in my lap, all I registered was my name peppered across the pages in the handwriting that I'd longed for.

I flipped back to the first page and realized that it was a journal that Mom started in January 2000. I wept...hard as my heart was kindled by the joy of remembering her day-to-day. The errands she ran, movies she watched, chores she'd finished, and meals she'd planned. However, the true gift was even greater than these everyday reminders. That journal had begun as a record of her "mundane," but it became an in-depth record of the sweet beginning of mine and Jeremiah's relationship. As I cried and cherished every word, God reminded me who my mom really was. A best friend, who loved me so much that she took the time to chronicle every hand-hold, phone conversation, and kiss between me and my new boyfriend. A mom who didn't tell me, but instead wrote down, how she and Dad knelt and prayed for us after we walked out the door to go on a date. A mom who listened to her excited 17 year-old daughter so closely that she could even recall in her journal that night the way I'd said Jeremiah put his hands in his pockets while he talked. As the love and memories welled in my heart, the realization of the bitterness I was creating was forced to the surface.

Jesus led me from a place where I was clinging to a scrap of paper with Alz.--that sorta kinda looked like my name in Mom's handwriting-- to a place where I held a journal filled with not only my name, but her recollections on how THE love in my life began. She might have been overly opinionated about things that didn't matter. She might have made me feel like my house wasn't clean enough. But more than that, she loved me and celebrated my life fiercely, and I am thankful that Jesus gave me a tangible reminder of that.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Would You Do It if We Were Dating?

That question has plagued the recesses of my mind since Jeremiah and I have been married. Would you do it if we were dating? I'm not sure what happened to make me fear that I would change after we got married. My Dad never complained about this issue with my Mom, or vice versa. I think it must stem back to all the talks my Dad had with me when Jeremiah and I were engaged. "You know, Abby, you are much more of a type-A personality, and Jeremiah is more 'Don't worry be happy.' Neither of you are too far in either direction, and I think you will compliment each other well. BUT, just be careful, because a lot of times in marriage, there is a tendency for Mr. Don't Worry Be Happy to drive Mrs. Type-A to be more type-A. It can turn into a vicious cycle."

In my mind, while I do freely admit to the type-A tendencies, I also love spontaneity. When Jeremiah would drive me home from dates, I used to say, "Instead of you driving me home, just take a right right here and let's drive to the beach!" And one night, we did :) I was very nervous on horses when we first started dating, but I pushed through and made myself do it because I wanted to be with him. I even nearly killed myself snow-skiing in -20 degree weather because I wanted to seem brave. So, I listened to Dad's warning, but in my mind could never have imagined losing what, I hoped, was the fun side of myself that Jeremiah helped to bring to the surface.

Enter the Pine Lake Motel...What you see at the top of this blog is a picture of the hotel (actually I think MOtel would be a more proper term) that we stayed in last night. If you've ever made the trek from Montgomery to Dothan then I'm sure you've noticed it. While dating, Jeremiah and I must have made that trip 10,000 times and each time we'd laughingly comment about wishing we could stay there. What I just learned yesterday, was that our reasons for wanting to stay there varied greatly. In my mind: That's one of the creepiest hotels I've ever seen. People definitely die there. But, if I were allowed to stay in a HOTEL with you, I would even be willing to stay there. In Jeremiah's mind: That looks like a family operated motel, that's pretty dumpy, but they really take pride in it and try to make it nice. Wouldn't it be fun if we were allowed to stay in a hotel.

So yesterday, when we were discussing the logistics of how to transport 2 children, who HATE to ride in the car, from Birmingham to Montgomery so that we could meet his parents and pick up my car (my sister had a wreck in my car while I was home and it just got finished being fixed), Jeremiah suggested breaking up the trip by spending the night at the Pine Lake-like we've always dreamed! Oh horror...that nagging question crept into the back of my mind as I heard myself telling him that, "No, I do not want to stay at that scary motel with our two small children. Not to mention the packing, the money,..." I stopped, as I remembered myself at 20, longing to be able to stay, even in the Pine Lake, if I could stay with him. I conceded.

It turns out that the Pine Lake isn't nearly as frightening on close inspection as its dingy neon sign would have you to believe from the road. I'm not saying that I ever took my socks off when I walked around, or that I didn't refuse to cover myself with the comforter (that I hear hotels never wash), or that the bathroom wasn't straight out of 1975, but I went and we laughed about it and it really was fun (and much cleaner than I expected). The night man didn't look anything like Norman Bates, and Pace told us this morning that she didn't want to go back to Birmingham, she wanted to STAY at the Pine Lake.

(Good thing they put a lovely, white, plastic chair outside of each room! I know that I woke up this morning yearning to sit there, coffee in hand, and admire the parking lot and Hwy 231.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Joy Bringers

A few minutes ago I was cooing at Mary Aplin, and wishing I had a magic genie to bring me a fresh cup of steaming tea and a buttery scone. The joy that came over me at the thought of curling up, unencumbered with a book and those two items, started me to thinking about other things that bring me joy. I hope that most of you know my heart, and things like Jesus and family are my two biggest joy givers, but I started thinking about the "worldly" things that bring happiness to my heart. I am just going to list the first 10 that come to my mind. I can't bear to say they are the TOP ten, because that would mean I'd have to list them all out and try to rank them--too much work. SO, here are the FIRST 10:

1) A cup of tea, a scone, and some book discussion. I love any type of eating and book discussion, but there is something distinctly British and lovely about the tea and scone combination. I am fortunate enough to have a dear friend and neighbor who makes an excellent scone and also happens to enjoy the same type of books that I do. Yesterday morning she invited Ashley (Johnson) and I over to rekindle our tea and scone meetings after my prolonged absence. There was nothing really relaxing about our time with the 4 little girls trying to juggle their Mommy's nice china, the crumbly scones, the enticing fun of adding more and more and more cream to their tea, and the blustering winds of yesterday. However, I looked across the table at Lauren and we both smiled. I said,"We may not be discussing a beautiful novel, but I bet one day soon we're going to miss these crazy tea parties with little girls."

2) The Beach. I could write all day long about the joys of the beach. From the sand, to the breeze, to the sun, to the fun restaurants, to the calm tired that comes after a day in the sun...but you all know those things well enough yourself.

3) Getting all dressed up for dinner. Whenever Jeremiah and I get a "money present", this is usually what we choose to spend it on. I love the anticipation that comes after making a reservation at a nice restaurant. I love to labor over what I'm going to wear (which usually means raiding Ashley's closet for something new and exciting :)) and what kind of eye makeup to add to change my every-day look. I love giving our name to the maitre de, and having Jeremiah put his hand on the small of my back as we are lead to our table. I love to read every item on the menu and think about the chef in the back who has been trained to know that spices and foods I've never even heard of can be combined to bring out new flavors. I love the low lighting and the quiet conversation and knowing that there WILL be dessert, because it's our night and we're splurging. I just love it.
4) Feeling connected to a writer. When I am reading a book and suddenly come across a thought or feeling, typed in bold print, that I thought was something isolated within myself, I get giddy.

5) Going to the movie. If Jeremiah and I get a "money present" that isn't enough to send us out to dinner, we invariably will use it to go to a movie. Holding hands in line, feeling like we are out on a real date, the smell (and TASTE) of buttered popcorn, the dark theatre, the surround sound, the excitement of the plot... We cherish the whole movie experience. Now that we have wee-uns, our movie-going has dwindled substantially. We have had to substitute renting for the real deal, and we miss it.

6) A cold night and a good book in front of a fire. Last Christmas, we received a fuzzy green throw blanket that I keep waiting for me on the back of our couch. Fortunately, I have a husband who builds a fire every night he is home and the temperature drops below 70. So, once Pace and Mary Aplin are nestled quietly in bed, I usually can savor at least a few moments in this joy-bringing activity.

7) A smiling, cooing baby. If that doesn't make you smile, then you may want to ask Pace what the grinch did with your heart!

8) A Jesus moment. I said this was going to be a worldly list, but I can't bear to leave this one out. Nothing brings more joy than getting in the word, or hearing a sermon, or having a friend share something that you know was a gift sent to you straight from Jesus. I had one of these moments a few nights ago, and that is what I was planning to blog today. Hopefully I'll get the time to share it with you soon.

9) An antique book store. To look around and feel blissfully overwhelmed by the vast amount of books that are still waiting to be read. To think of all the previous owners who've poured over their pages. To smell leather and staleness, waiting to be made new again. It makes my heart beat fast.

10) Writing. And writing with the anticipation of it being read. I've never been a performer. The thought of a stage and crowds of people makes me sick to my stomach, but I will admit to you that there is something invigorating about writing and wondering if any of you will feel a connection with me like I have felt with so many others. I enjoy writing period, and I would write even if my eyes were the only ones to ever read the words. However, I thank you for adding something extra to the joy of writing, and that is the joy of being read.