Saturday, February 23, 2008

Savoring Tranquility

This past Thursday night, I had the honor of staying in the home of my friend Lanier. She invited Lauren and I to come and spend the night with her and then attend her book club. I knew as soon as the invitation was offered that there was a treat in store...I just could not have imagined how great a treat it would be.

Lauren has said that turning into Lanier and Philip's driveway is like stepping into another time. One moment you're driving through Atlanta suburbia and the next you're winding down a gravel drive towards a white, wooden farmhouse, framed with green shudders, that is old enough to have been used as a hospital during the War of Northern Aggression :). Thursday was a cold and dreary day, filled with gray mist that hung too heavily to even form a decent rain. Lanier welcomed us into her den, where a warm fire blazed in an oversized cast iron stove, and antique books peered out at us from their love worn covers. I fed a sleepy Mary Aplin as Lauren and Lanier prepared a tea tray: crisp blue and white china, a plate of sweet red apple slices and sharp cheddar cheese, a tea pot steeping the loose leaves of white tea from her favorite tea-room. What a contrast our toasty little tea party was to the cold, damp elements nature had served.

After tea, I retired to my room to put Mary Aplin down for a nap. As I stepped inside, I gasped at how beautiful it was. The creamy blue walls stretched twelve feet and offered a beautiful contrast to the clover honey hue of the hardwood floors. To my left, a staunch armoire rose close to the ceiling and its top held whimsical hat boxes and ostrich feathers. Next, nestled between two 6-foot windows with wavy glass panes, stood the antique wooden bed. The bed was shrouded by white tulle cascading down from the ceiling and adorned with white, embroidered pillows and a faintly colored quilt. The marble top of the bedside table held a small vase filled with a cluster of fresh peach roses. A vanity was pushed against the wall beside the bed, and on its surface the silver combs and brushes begged me to sit down and take my time dressing for dinner. The wall opposite the bed had a large fireplace--on the mantle was the bust of a Victorian woman and two tall silver vases that also held peach roses. On the same wall, there was a closet, and the closed door had an antique white lace dress hanging loosely from a silk hanger. It looked as though its owner had just plucked it from the closet as her choice for the day. Finally, a beautiful iron, antique cradle stood in the center of the room, swaddled in white eyelet and a canopy of its own. Beside it sat an oversized antique rocker whose plush, rose-colored velvet seat was pushed close enough to the fireplace to offer Mama and baby warmth during their late-night moments together. I felt like I was in a beautiful dream.

Dinner was refreshingly simple and tasty. Lanier poured her smooth potato soup into bowls with a toasted baguette slice and garnished each bowl with a healthy sprinkling of Gruyere cheese. A green salad with a tangy homemade dressing offered a nice contrast to the soup. Lanier, her husband Philip, Lauren, and I lingered a long time over our cozy table. We were surrounded by flickering candles, scattered amongst handmade Valentines that were displayed on the large roughly-cut wooden mantle of the kitchen fireplace. The soup was warm and delicious and offered a happy reprieve from our still-cheerless weather. We talked about fascinating topics--such as educating girls, Philip's family business, the joys of entertaining, and the prospect of raising sheep on their land.

After dinner, Lanier steeped some soothing chamomile tea and brought each of us a slice of her homemade apple pie with ice cream. We ate and talked some more by the fire in the den. Once our bellies could not hold another bite, we each (except for Philip :)) picked up our respective hand-work and were able to be productive as we laughed our way into the night.
As we talked, I pondered what it is about Lanier that makes her so intriguing. She is the first person I have ever met that had the foresight, as a 17-year old girl, to say that she felt God calling her to be a homemaker. Because of that calling, she spent the four years that most of us spend going to college, cultivating her skills as a wife. She apprenticed herself under ladies who were skilled in areas such as cooking/baking, gardening, and sewing. She continued her voracious reading and honed her skills in piano and ballet. In essence, she had the discipline to self-train herself in the areas that she still uses every day of her life. Obviously, all women are not called to homemaking and she is the first to cry out for the value of college education for young women. However, I think it is worth pondering the direction we steer our little girls. I am thankful for my chemical engineering degree, and I am sure that the benefits run deeper than I can see on a surface level. It does sadden me though, to think how little I knew about how to take care of my husband or children when I got married... Can we have both? While this may make Lanier interesting, I think what is most intriguing about her personality is her uncanny knack for making life beautiful. Its as though she has spent her life observing things that would seem to most of us like romantic idealism, and she has been willing to put forth the effort to make those ideals reality. For example, she throws a Christmas party every year, where all of the guests come in period attire. Each room in their home has a roaring fire and it is all lit by candlelight. Other examples would be the chickens she raises for their fresh eggs, the garden she keeps to provide vegetables and herbs for her table, or the fact that Wednesdays are baking days--where she makes fresh bread, rolls and pizza crusts. It has to exhaust her, but it creates this ideallic home setting that challenges me to strive for beauty in my own home.

It was nearing midnight when Lauren, Lanier, and I put down our handwork, stopped talking about all the books we'd recently read, and forced ourselves to bed. As I walked back into my beautiful bedroom, I discovered that Philip had prepared a fire in my fireplace. I was so excited about this luxury that I could hardly go to sleep for grinning. I brought Mary Aplin into the bed with me for her midnight snack, and I was thankful for the excuse to lie there and watch the warm, orange glow dancing across the walls. The sheets had hidden scents of lavender and chamomille, the bed sunk deeply and hemmed me in, while the extra quilts I pilled on top of the duvet completed my cocoon. I finally drifted to sleep, and dreamed about the book club meeting I'd been anticipating, and those fresh eggs with homemade toast that I knew would be waiting on me the next morning.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mom, A Leader?

We watched a video at Mom's "Celebration Service," and in it there was a clip of she and I playing musical chairs with a lot of little Russian women. We were on a mission trip there, and you would think that Mom and I would have tried to enhance international relations by letting one of them win the silly game. But NO! Leave it to a couple of competitive Americans to push their butts (literally) out of the chairs we wanted to claim as our own. It came down to Mom, me and a little wooden chair, and Mom was the one wiggling her feet in the air in victory. It wasn't this competition that threw me into a sobbing fit at that service, it was the brief moment after the competition ended. I doubt that anyone else would have even noticed, but for a brief moment after Mom popped up out of her victor's seat, she walked up to me, laughing so hard she was bending over, and I leaned towards her and cupped her face in my hands. That was it. That one little motion summed up the complicated dynamic of our relationship.
First, it showed our intimate friendship. It's not just anyone that you feel comfortable enough to hold their face in your hands as you both laugh hysterically. We were both completely comfortable in our skin with each other. Secondly, and much more difficult to define, it showed the blurred line we walked in the relation of mother to daughter. Normally, you would think that it would have been the Mom, holding her little girl's face in her hands, but that wasn't always the case with us.

I think that, of all my sisters, I am probably the most like my Dad. I believe that Mom picked up on this early and in many small ways would turn to me for direction in his absence. Things like, "Abby, I don't really need this new white shirt that looks just like 4 other ones that I already have, do I?" Or, "Abby, you're in charge of your sisters while I run do A, B, C, D, AND E, Ok?" I think Dad must have noticed too, because whenever we went shopping, he would always either give me the credit card, or whisper to me that I was in charge of keeping Mom from purchasing the whole store for us. Never was her need for direction more apparent than when we would travel. "Mom, why do you start to get off at every exit we pass?" "I don't know, Abby, but you just tell me when I'm supposed to get off." It's hard to express in words, but the general feeling I had when I was with Mom was--You're with me. I trust you completely. Now, let's just go.

I've laughed inside many times over the past few months when people have expressed their condolences by saying, "Your Mom was just such an amazing leader." I know what they meant, but in the strictest sense of the word Mom was simply not a leader. What Mom was, was a person who radiated joy so strongly that people wanted to be around her. Wherever she was headed, they were ready to go too, and in that sense she was a leader of people. However, the really beautiful part of Mom--the part that made her extraordinary in these last years of her life, was not her "leadership" but her ability to trust. She had a relationship with the Lord that was so real that she could look to Him, just as she did to me, and say, "You're with me. I trust you completely. Now, let's just go." It was this childlike faith that made her a mighty woman of God that people wanted to follow.

So, that image that I treasure in my heart, of her laughingly resting her face in my hands, speaks all these things to me. It shows her love for me, our hazily defined relationship, but also her uninhibited joy, which ultimately came from the Lord, and made her a leader of men.

Monday, February 18, 2008

May I Introduce...The V-Day Ghost and her Goblins

I love, LOVE Valentine's Day. With the exception of Christmas, it is my favorite holiday. There is just something about the idea of a day set aside, simply to celebrate love. There is no other day of the year when you can see a boy leading a blindfolded girl through a hotel lobby and think, "Oh, how sweet!" When this day arrives, I feel like I suddenly have license to be as blatant with my affection as I want to be. When you pair my love for the day, with my love for surprises, the product is what I like to call the V-Day Ghost.

The ghost originated in February of 2003, when I was engaged to a medical student who had HUGE tests on Valentines day. Refusing to allow my only V-Day as an engaged girl to be wasted, I skipped all my classes, drove to Birmingham and left a series of elaborate signs, embarrassing gifts, and baked goods all along this poor, unsuspecting medical student's trail. On the front porch when he left the house, outside his testing room, on his car....EVERYWHERE he went he was showered with (embarrassing) signs of my ardent affection. I remember Whitney saying, "It's a good thing you've already got that ring, because if this had happened before you caught him, he would definitely be running away as fast as he could!"

So, every year as the big day approaches, I start to scheme and Jeremiah starts to worry. Every year he warns me of things that really are NOT appropriate, and the biggest area he's been afraid that the ghost would strike, is the operating room. Guess where I got him this year?!! I talked to an OR nurse that's a good friend of his, and I gave her a CD of Jeremiah singing a very beautiful, but very lovey love-song that he wrote. He was standing at the table, cutting away when he heard himself come blaring over the speakers. OH, I wish I could have seen his face! The staff wouldn't turn it off and they listened to a few more songs on his CD, before they finally sucummbed to his pleadings for mercy.

I also got the help of my little goblins, and we shoe-polished his car and wrapped pink and white streamers around it. I don't know if you can tell in the picture above, but there is a very strict dress code for a Valentine's ghost, and the goblins, on V-Day. Only shades of pink, purple and red are allowed, and the crazier the better. My pants are actually purple below that crazy sweater and pink turtle-neck. Pace is wearing a red Valentines jumper, paired with a pink bow, red galoshes, and some fancy beads we bought just for the occasion. Poor Mary Aplin never got out of her pink striped PJs in the craziness of the day, and she is rocking that red shawl if I do say so myself.

Pace and I baked heart-shaped cream cheese and chocolate brownies to deliver to her friends across the street. Natalie and Caroline were also embracing the Valentines spirit in some very sassy, heart-covered pants. No, Mary Aplin did not fall off the swing, but it was close.

Finally, Jeremiah had some surprises of his own on our big love day. I got home around midnight on Valentine's Eve, and I walked in the door to find our dining room table decorated with rosebuds and camelias from our own yard. He had laid a red tablecloth, brought out our crystal, bought pink toile plates with red silverware, placed candles in a sweet circle within the flowers, strapped heart-shaped balloons to our chairs and stocked the refrigerator with everything needed for a steak dinner for two. While he didn't get home from a long day in the OR until around 8, we were able to sit down to a quiet meal, with both of our little goblins tucked soundly in their beds, and talk about the fun of loving each other.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Chasm

After you say goodbye to someone who you love as much as your own life, you begin to categorize the memories that come. The memories of their smile, their love, their everyday person, are something like a gentle rolling into a valley of your life. You dip in for a moment, you feel the dull ache, but then you glide back out--looking over your shoulder for a moment to smile wanly at what you miss. However, the memories of what they said at a particular moment, or how excited they were when they gave you a certain gift, or the warmth of their arms around you at a specific moment of sadness--these specific memories that make it seem as though they were by your side only a moment ago--are the ones that feel like a gaping chasm opening up in your life. It rips open before you, re-shaping the foundation of all you've assumed was normal, and you plunge in deep. As you hurtle through the air you find yourself grasping desperately around you, wanting to cling, as if for life, to the ones who've been left behind.

*This is ABryanPhoto

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Can We Talk About My Morning?

Before I tell you about my morning, let me start you back at last night. My neighbor's church has been having an AMAZING pastoral counselor teaching a marriage workshop on Wednesday nights. Jeremiah and I have been enjoying it, and we invited Ashley and Brett to come "get fixed" (as we like to call it) with us. Gordon had been teaching us about how marriage is not about two good people, it's about one good God. This guy is deep and he is passionate about what he's saying. Tears have been shed on more than one occasion. Suddenly, he says that he wants to read a quote, and he warns us that it's kind of hard to read out loud in a group. I look down at my paper, like a good student, to better follow what he's saying...I can't even bear to type the exact quote, but it involved the word copulate and described the position and manner in which most primates perform that act. I lost it, I didn't hear the rest of the quote, which was really making a great point about the way we are the only primates God created to "copulate" face to face, heart to heart yada yada yada. I'm sorry, but are any of you laughing? Should I have been prepared, in front of God and my Sunday school friends, to hear those words? I had one of those sputtering noises pass between my lips as all my air escaped at once. I tucked my head down, closed my eyes, pursed my lips together as hard as they would go, and shook violently with supressed laughter. Then, I noticed that Ashley was doing the same thing on one side, and pretty soon Jeremiah had joined in on the other. I contemplated making a run out of the room, since I could feel no end in sight, but that would have been even more humiliating. I tried to think about sad things, I even used Mom, but then I just thought how hard she would be laughing too and it got worse. I knew if I made eye contact with Ashley or Jeremiah then that LOUD bubble of laughter would come spitting out for sure. I felt like a 13 year old boy. It was so bad and so obvious, that Gordon actually came up to Jeremiah and I after class to ask us about it! I wish you could have seen how red our faces got. We apologized and tried to quickly change the subject to how great his teaching had been, but I knew he really wanted to tell us that it was going to be hard to have a beautful marriage, with the maturity level of a couple of 7th graders.

Fast forward to midnight, when Mary Aplin wakes up for her first feeding. She eats and as I am putting her back to sleep I notice how cold our house is. We have been having a warm spell, which had obviously ended, and I realized that I needed to turn the heat back on. 4:15 am, Jeremiah wakes me up complaining about how freezing he is. I tell him that I turned the heat on, but we get up and there is frigid air blowing out of the vent. Partly due to Jeremiah's noisy complaining, Mary Aplin decides it's time for meal two. So, I'm feeding as Jeremiah heads down to the basement to "check on things." I don't know why, but Jeremiah can't stand to do projects by himself. This is normally OK, but at 4:30 in the morning when I am trying to nurse in the freezing cold bed, fretting over the cold, bald head of my 3 month old, it is not the time to yell for me to "Throw me a lighter!", nurse nurse "Turn the heat on!" nurse nurse "Wait, no, turn it off!" nurse nurse. He finally comes back upstairs with the bad news that our pilot light won't stay lit, and our 60 degree house is not getting warmer any time soon.
So, I turn off our whirring fans/noisemakers, zip M'Apples up in a fuzzy bunting, and make sure Pace is under her quilt. Then, Jeremiah makes the next fatal mistake. He finds a big down comforter and throws it across our bed. We snuggle in close, and things are starting to look up when I hear, "I'm itching! Are you itching?! There must be fleas on this thing!" he says as he hurls it off the bed. The damage has been done, and Jeremiah suggests that we just get up and eat breakfast.
If you've been reading you know Jeremiah is ALWAYS willing to build a fire, and that apparently includes 5am. Jeremiah is still complaining about how cold he is and I finally snapped that I wasn't going to listen to any more complaints unless he put some clothes on! He does that a lot, complains about being cold while he sits there half dressed. I go and find some warm PJs for him, since I know he won't do it himself, and we sit with our feet basically in the fire and eat breakfast.

It was sweet for a while. We had a devotion and prayed together (although I laughed because Jeremiah only prayed for two things 1-that God would kill the fleas in our bed and 2-that the bill for the heater would not be too high :)), and then parted to start our days. I had two objectives this morning and they were to cook dinner for our neighbors who recently had a baby and to dust. Which would you chose at 6:15? You're right--baking! So I pulled out my recipe for chocolate caramel bars and got going. At around 6:45, towards the end of my bars, I see that I am supposed to have evaporated milk. Ughh! I call my neighbor, thinking surely she is up, and her husband sweetly informs me that he is the only one awake so far, but he will be happy to go and see if they have any evaporated milk. I feel sure that this call confirmed what he was thinking after the marriage workshop last night, "This girl is nuts, and I'm not sure I should let my wife be friends with her!"

However, at 7 Lauren called to inform me that the milk was on our doorstep (notice that she--and her girls--we no longer asleep after my early call). I was laughing with her about our morning as I walked to the door and found the room was chokingly filled with smoke from our unattended fire. I was cold. I was tired, and Pace and Mary Aplin both started crying. Talk about a morning!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Well, That Was Hard.

I went home for the first time this weekend, and it was pretty hard. The weekend started when I woke Pace up Friday morning, telling her we needed to pack and get ready to go to Dothan. What were her first words after hearing 'Dothan'? "We're going to see BEBE!!" I told her no, remember Bebe is in Heaven. To which she responded, "But, we're going to see her soon--OK?" Oh, it just broke my heart. Partly because I had been struggling with the same problem for the past couple days. Yes, I was going home, but no Mom would not be there. It was hard to reconcile that reality with my longing.

I started laughing and crying when she asked about seeing her soon, because she was right. That was what we both needed to focus on. Then something really beautiful happened. Pace, seeing the tears, bent forward and kissed the closest thing she could reach--my knees--standing beside her bed. Then she asked, "You sad Mommy?" I told her that I was, but I really shouldn't be because Bebe was having so much fun playing with Jesus. Then Pace said something that I haven't heard her say since we were claiming Mom's healing. She smiled that big, squinty-eyed grin of hers and yelled, "Hallelujah!" I was shocked. Why did she look into my crying face, as I tried to tell myself to be comforted about where Mom was and still become filled with a joyful thanksgiving to God?! Her spirit baffles me so often, as I see her speaking a truth that I have not been able to grasp. I believe God speaks to me through her in times like these, and it is a sweet message.

So, that was how it started, but there were other difficulties in store. First was arriving home. Dad was still at work, Kendall was in her room getting ready for her Friday night funnities, and the rest of the house was pretty much dark. Mom used to light lamps in all the rooms that turned dark corners into cozy nooks. She was usually standing at the kitchen window when we pulled up, ready to make a squealing run into the garage and get her hands on Pace. There used to be some disorder she was making excuses for and some meal she was anxious to get us to. Instead, the house was dark, clean, quiet, and missing the joy that emmanated from her. It was hard.

By all standards it was a fun weekend. Friday night, Mrs. Linda cooked an amazing steak dinner and Dad came out to eat with us. Saturday, Grandma and I planned and cut out Easter dresses for the girls. That afternoon, I got to take a horseback ride on little Hope with Jeremiah, Dad, Dr. Maddox and Tommy. Sunday, I got to play matron (don't you hate that word!) of honor at a bridal shower for my best friend. It was fun, but to me she was blatantly missing from each event.
"People" have told me that the hardest part would be those moments when I pick up the phone to call her and realized I couldn't or expected to see her somewhere and then realized she wasn't going to show up. It may change, but so far I haven't struggled with that at all. I am just so aware of her absence all the time, that I can't imagine making one of those mis-steps. While we ate Friday night, I wished she could be sharing it with us. While I thumbed through her smocking placates, I found a day gown she'd cut out and had pleated but would never complete. While Grandma and I talked about how cute the girls' matching dresses would be, I felt like I was infringing on the job Mom should be doing. When I saw Dad riding horses, I thought about how happy it had made me to see them riding together. Finally, when I was at that bridal shower, listing Whitney's gifts as she opened them, my handwriting seemed to morph from mine to hers before my eyes, and I could see the lists she'd made of my wedding gifts and even the abbreviations she'd used.

I only cried twice, but the weekend was difficult. I had fun, but everything was tinted by her absence. I remembered to claim Pace's "Hallelujah," but I still struggled with feeling like Jesus had been a little bit selfish. I miss her and sometimes, it's difficult.