Sunday, June 29, 2008

I Miss You Father, but I Just Can't

I was sitting in church this past Sunday, listening to Jeremiah sing "In the Valley." If you haven't heard it, its a moving song about how we see God most in the valleys of our lives. I felt my heart start to move as his words resounded within my soul, I felt tears start to fill my eyes, and suddenly I felt myself slamming the heavy metal door that separates my emotional and rational self. It brought to the forefront what I knew had been happening in my spiritual walk of late, without being able to quantitate it.

I still believe in God, our Father. I still believe in His ability to work miracles in our lives--to heal the sick of body and soul. I don't doubt Him or His power or His lovingkindness. I still not only know but feel the fact that losing Mom has been part of His plan to bring about the most glory. Despite all this, it still hurts too bad to be near Him. Its easy to go through the motions of Christianity--going to church, talking in Sunday school, even having devotions most mornings--without ever really experiencing Christ. My prayers consist of all talk and no listening. When I worship, I shut off my emotions, unwilling to stir feelings that might make me cry--I feel like I've had enough tears.

As I listened to Jeremiah sing, the picture God gave me was that of a child, laying all their hope and trust in their father. A child who cried out to the bullies all around, "My Daddy can beat your Daddy! I will not be afraid of you!" And as that little child, in all their faith and vulnerability, stared down their oppressors, rocks started pelting, slowly at first, then faster, until she became reduced to a little heap with her arms thrown over her head, pleading for mercy. The father stood to the side, allowing it all to happen--knowing that the child needed to accept a few scars from the world. Scars that would make her more wise, more humble, more, more...

So now I'm leery. Afraid to make myself vulnerable again. I miss my Father. I miss his friendship, his instruction, his love, but I'm scared to get back up and the bruises are still healing. I don't want to make myself vulnerable again, because I'm scared of those hurtling rocks.

Then there's the other side. The side of me that wonders if the reason I'm having trouble renewing my relationship with Him, is because this is the first time in my mature Christian walk that I haven't had something tangible, driving me to my knees over and over. Mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13, and since that age there were very few times that I went into His presence without beseeching Him on her behalf. So now there is this strange question in my heart, "Will you still seek Me in earnest, when you aren't pleading a life and death cause? Is it really ME you wanted, or was it just what you needed from Me?"

I hope and pray that what I want and need most is Him. That's what I claim...I just worry that I've been wrong about myself.

I don't know whether I'm feeling hurt and vulnerable, or unworthy, or...but I do know that I miss Him, but I just can't.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Gas Man and the Urinator

What a lovely title...we've gone from "Rosemary and Honeysuckle" to that. How to begin??? Yesterday I was sweeping, while M'Apples was napping. I'd run and not showered, and was pushing the nap time limit...trying to sweep up that last room before I jumped in the shower, praying that Mary Aplin would stay asleep. As I bent down to sweep up my last pile, I smelled the unmistakable odor...of propane gas. Jeremiah was supposed to have a late night, but I tried to call him anyway. Of course I didn't get him, so I gave myself the, "You're a big girl, you can handle this, you don't need your husband (or your Dad for that matter)."

So I looked up the Alagasco telephone number and put in a call. It was really pretty painless, and the girl told me there would be a technician out within the next 2 hours. In the meantime, she told me to leave on any appliances that were already running and not to turn on any new ones. There went my shower, since we have a gas water heater. By this time Mary Aplin is awake and Pace is begging for the pizza and movie night I'd promised her since Daddy wasn't coming home until late.
I waited almost an hour, still no gas man, its 6:30 and Pace is starving and growing more cranky by the minute. I decide to go ahead and go get the pizza and movie...its only 5 minutes away, the gas man has my cell phone as a contact, and we'll be right back. I order the pizza, and as I am strapping M'Apples in her seat, he pulls up. I unload the girls, go back inside my house which reeks so strongly of gas that I'm worried we might blow up if I cough, and he tells me that, "No, I cannot leave him there alone...because there are clothes-n-stuff in the house." This made me a little worried that maybe he had some sort of strange clothes fetish and might really not need to be left alone to run amok in our clothes?

I watch as he does his inspection. Bless his heart, he was really sweet and trying so hard to find the leak, but our house is almost 100 years old and you can't haphazardly tug wires and spray soapy water all over the place without doing some serious damage. I, however, kept my mouth shut and an hour and a half later he left, without even charging us, saying that he felt like everything was safe now.

By this time, Pace is pretty much beside herself, begging for the pizza and movie I'd been promising all afternoon. We load up again. Dash to Blockbuster (where I got caught in a theological discussion with a guy from our church) and then to Pizza Hut (where my Hawaiian style pizza had turned to cold plastic).

When I get home Jeremiah is there and wondering why the house is so hot? He is also begging me to not put the Cinderella movie in since its already 8:30 and he wants us all to just eat quick and head to bed. I look at Pace, remembering all the promises, and tell him that now is not the time to cross me. We're watching that movie if it kills me. The DVD won't work, Mary Aplin is screaming at Jeremiah (who is trying to give her a bottle so she can go to bed), and I am pretty hacked about the fact that I am consuming all the calories that pizza has to offer, even though it tastes congealed.

We do eventually get the movie going, our mouths fed, the girls to bed, and as Jeremiah and I plop in bed we look at each other and realize that we are both slightly glistening. (Remember, I still have not had that shower!) Jeremiah goes down to check on the air conditioner, and sure enough its iced over. That gas man, with all his pulling and spraying, managed to break the air conditioner! We just turned it off and closed our eyes to sweat away the night.

5:45 am, BOTH girls wake up. This is pretty normal for Mary Aplin, but Pace--and after we'd all gone to bed so late? I tell Pace that its just too early, and she better head back to bed. "I can't Mommy, it's wet."

"What do you mean, it's wet? Why is it wet?"

"I tee-teed in it..."

"Just climb in on Daddy's side, while I feed Mary Aplin. GO BACK TO SLEEP."

"But Mommy, the sunshine's awake!"

"It's just barely awake, Pace, so close your eyes."

Miraculously, both girls fell back to sleep and I slept until NINE O'CLOCK this morning!!! Woo Hoo. I haven't done that in at least nine months. My eyes fluttered open on their own, and I rolled over to see my little sleeping angel...To find her laying spread eagle with no diaper on! Well, good morning to you too Pace, I laughed to myself. I snuck out of the room, deciding it wasn't worth waking her to put a diaper on.

I was pulling the sheets of Pace's bed, talking to Taylor about what wedding stuff I needed to work on next, and discovering that Pace had tried to hide the job with some of her decorative pillows--which meant they had to be washed as well, when she walked in the room.

"Mommy, I didn't mean to wet Daddy's bed." I just started laughing and headed into the next room to strip those sheets as well.

Now, I am sitting in a very hot house, with Pace sleeping on a bed with no sheets, trying to cool myself by eating straight out of this TUB of ice cream at my side. Sounds like a great way to lose those 5-10 lbs I keep saying I'm going to lose! But when your house is this hot and you have that much mess to clean up, you have to do something to make yourself happy :)
(That picture was Mary Aplin's first time in the big girl tub, and their first bath together.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Walmart Incident

A couple of weeks ago, I took both of the girls to the pool. We ended up staying a little longer than I expected, especially since I still planned on taking them to the grocery store and Sams. I knew we were going to run way into nap time, but some days you just have to do what you have to do. We pulled into Walmart, I put Mary Aplin's pumpkin seat right in front of me (where babies are supposed to sit), Pace in the cart (to play in all my groceries:)), and my purse I put in the cart--by Pace and tucked underneath the pumpkin seat. I was doing the normal Mommy grocery store dance...letting Pace eat cookies, dangling toys in front of Mary Aplin's face, checking off my mile-long list, all while attempting to pick the lowest prices on the shelves.

At one point, Pace cried out, "Mommy! somebody just took something!" I glanced down to be sure my purse was still there, and since it was, I reassured Pace that they were just picking out their groceries like I was. I finished up my shopping, unloaded my heavy laden cart, and as I picked up my purse to pay, suddenly felt my heart start racing at the realization that my wallet wasn't there. Pace's comment came racing back, and I just knew what had happened. My wallet had been stolen, and as I went to customer service to call the police, another lady came up who had just realized her wallet had been stolen as well.

I was angry. I felt violated. I felt sick as I realized that my birthday cash from Dad was still in my wallet, as well as several gift certificates and checks I'd been saving since before Christmas--just waiting for the perfect time to use them. I had two very tired and fussy girls, one of whom hadn't nursed in 5 hours. I needed those groceries and had no money to buy them. And I waited for over an hour for a policeman to show up to write down some facts that I knew very well he was never going to do anything about. Pace told us that the man who took my wallet was a black man, with a black shirt and a hat. The eery feeling of a big arm reaching down between my two innocent children to steal from me--the thought of him making eye contact with Pace, below the rim of his hat--the heartlessness and brashness of a person willing to steal from a mom in the middle of the day--all of it just kept sending chills down my spine.

If you would, pray for me. Pray that my wallet gets found and that I get all this crap worked out with my checking and savings accounts. And I'll leave you with what Pace tells people whenever they ask her about the Walmart incident, "A mean man stole Mommy's wallet, but she didn't give him a spanking!"

(The picture above is M'Apple's first time getting to sit in the cart like a big girl. We are at Sams, and Pace was beyond excited about getting to sit with her sister.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rosemary and Honeysuckle

When I was a little girl, there was a fence that ran the length of our backyard, and when the oppressive heat of an Alabama summer began to wilt my enthusiasm for the great outdoors, the masses of tangled honeysuckle that covered that fence beckoned me into the heat. I used to stand with my face buried in its downy softness, breathing in the intoxicating sweetness. I would pluck one blossom after another, until I became a master at determining which shade of buttery yellow bloom was destined to hold the most nectar. I would slowly pinch off the tiny green bud at the flower's base, gingerly coaxing the gossamer filament out as I tried to make the droplet as large as I could before it dripped into my eager mouth. There were many days that I took one of my little cups along with me, proudly declaring to Mom that today I was going to fill an entire cup with the sweet nectar. I am sure you can imagine that that goal was never even almost attained, but those hours I spent trying are some of my earliest memories. I think that it wasn't only the beauty and smell of the honeysuckle that lured me, but also the sense of abundant excess. As a child, everything in your world is so limited. Only one cookie, or 10 more minutes of playtime, or because I said so's...but here, here I had the freedom to make myself sick if I wanted to. I could look down that fence line and know that no matter how many blossoms I picked there were still more than I could even dream waiting for my fingers to pluck them next.

This morning I took my restless girls outside for those potentially frustrating minutes between breakfast and Mary Aplin's morning nap. First we went for a little swing in the Brooks' front yard. With literally days left before a big truck comes to take away the beloved neighborhood swing (the tree is apparently dying and a danger to their home), I find myself wanting to soak up every minute. I feel like such a, well, tree hugger, but the thought of that tree being cut down makes me want to cry. Anyway, I was much more into the swing this morning than the girls were, and Pace asked if we could take a walk.
As we set out, I had a flashback of all the mornings 2 1/2 years ago, that I started from the street in front of the Brooks' home to take a walk with Lauren, Caroline and Natalie, Ashley and Noah, and Pace and me. Since Caroline was 3, Lauren used to point out flowers and bugs and all sorts of things to help keep Caroline stimulated while the Moms all vented the events of our latest sleepless night. I used to listen to Lauren and wish so badly that Pace and I could have conversations like she and Caroline could...that I could teach her things and watch her little mind take it all in. So as Pace, Mary Aplin, and I set out, I realized that I was there! I could teach Pace and talk to her...How fast they change while we blink our eyes.

Now with the realization that I could teach her, another realization set in rather quickly as well. I didn't know the names of the flowers or bugs we were passing. How could I teach, if I didn't know anything myself? I suggested to Pace that we take a turn and head down the alley. Surely, I thought, there would be something there I could teach her, even if it was only ivy. Then suddenly, like a little beam of hope in a wasteland I spotted a cluster of rosemary. Thank you Jesus I do at least know what rosemary looks like! So, I picked a sprig and held it up to Pace's nose for her to experience that sprucy, tangy scent for herself. I let her pick some to keep in her pocket and told her that the next time we made chicken, I would let her pick some for me to cook with.

We kept walking and soon we saw the honeysuckle. There wasn't the abundant profusion of my childhood, but we were able to pick a few blossoms. When we got home, we sat down in the damp grass, and as I showed Pace how to gently pull on the green bottom, to capture a little piece of heaven on her tongue, I was sucked back to those old feelings of my childhood, in a backyard surrounded by honeysuckle. It felt invigorating to be able to teach her..even something as small as how to recognize rosemary and enjoy honeysuckle.

Monday, June 2, 2008

John David and Taylor

As I stood in front the mirror, in the bathroom of the gorgeous mountain home John David's family had rented for us, carefully applying make-up in preparation for Taylor's big surprise dinner, I suddenly stopped and laid my brush on the counter-top. Tears filled my eyes and my heart swelled at the sweetness God sifts over our lives, even when the cake has seemed dry and tasteless of late. Here I was, about to take part in the greatest happiness of my sister's life to date, and it was all unfolding much like the books I love to pour through. I was having one of those moments where I suddenly say, "Stop, breathe it in, feel it all, because right now you're living something too beautiful to miss."

Taylor has always been our boy in a host of girlie girls. She dominated every sport she ever played and never had to do any more than the minimum requirements to be on the team. I spent countless afternoons in our yard with Dad, throwing and fielding ball after ball, in a desperate attempt to A) Not throw like a girl and B) Not take every fly ball I didn't duck my head and hide from, on the mouth. In stark contrast stood my little sister, who played every position with agility and an innate ability to be a card while she did--just fascinating to watch. In high school, several boys liked her (liked her a lot, really), but they all just seemed to either get on her nerves or just be too good of a friend to view in any other light. I was sincerely worried that she would never find a boy that she could be excited about.

She went to Auburn, and while she still was much more excited about the fact that she would now be able to live out her dream of playing football (since KD had an intramural football team) than she was about date parties and formals, we couldn't help but notice that she started dressing considerably better and even put on some make-up from time to time. Then, in the fall of her sophomore year, a Fiji from Arizona, named John David Cleveland asked her out on a real date...and she actually said yes. When she finally fell, she fell hard, and suddenly this girl who Mom had asked me to try and teach what flirting WAS because all her efforts had failed miserably, was suddenly in a constant state of hand-holding, close-face talking, and playful punching (instead of feeling the need to show the boy that she could punch just as hard as he could :)). I was in shock.

(A KerieCleveland picture--John David's sister is a great photographer!)

When I look at Taylor and John David together, I just laugh at how much greater God is at match-making than I am. I could not have CREATED a more God-loving, intelligent, good-looking, caring, hard-working, ambitious guy, who also happens to be nurturing in my sister's need and supportive in her ambitions. To really lay the icing on thick, he starts med school here in the fall, Taylor is finishing up her 5th year of architecture here...and they're going to live about 5 miles away!!! Now, for those of you who are worried, as I was before I met him, about the logistics of a Southern girl marrying a boy (and a family) from Arizona...what kind of accent do they have anyway? Let me just put your minds at rest, in that his Mom is originally from Montgomery and his Dad is originally from Huntsville, making him Southern at least by blood :). As far as his accent, there really is NO accent, because he's lived all over the country. I figure if we can get him to live down here a little longer, we might start to hear at least a little twang.

So, as you can tell, we've all been anxiously waiting for news that Taylor and John David were going to get married. In the meantime, Dad starts telling Caroline, Kendall, and I that in his search for a manly man trip for himself, he has run across another trip that he wants to take all of us on (I should mention here that he tried very hard to get Jeremiah to come as well, but there was just no working around his schedule). I was convinced, with the few clues he had given us for packing, that we were going on a cruise. We (the sisters) had all been fairly concerned about the fact that Taylor was not only not coming, but also that she had no idea we were even going on a trip. Dad just kept saying, "You don't have any idea how hard it is to line up all of your schedules to take a trip. Taylor just got back from Europe, she's in Phoenix with her boyfriend...and I've sent her on enough trips lately. She'll understand that!" Even so, Dad's plan to call Taylor once we got to our destination and tell her where we were and that we wished she were there, just seemed a bit cruel. We spent the night before we left all talking about how we were going to convince Dad that we needed to at least call and tell her BEFORE we left...Caroline couldn't even eat dinner she was so worried about it.

After all of this worrying, Dad finally gave in about 11 pm on the night before we were supposed to fly out and told us that the reason we couldn't call and tell Taylor was because we were going to Phoenix...she was getting engaged!!!!! I am surprised our neighbors didn't come over to see if we were OK, all of us started squealing so loud. Dad was laughing and gloating over his big secret, and I could just hear Mom squealing her own, "EEEEeeee!" in chorus with the rest of us.

When we arrived in Phoenix, John David's parents met us at the airport to drive us to the house they'd rented us for the weekend. Both of his parents are so fun to be around, and his Mom has one of those souls that feels like an old friend, even if you've only known her for five minutes. On our drive she listened as we all talked wedding plans and said she was so thankful to hear real details about Taylor and John David--apparently, as the mother of boys, you don't get to hear mushy details very often. The hospitality they showed us was unlike anything I've ever experienced. When we walked in this house, she had already stocked it with our favorite snacks and breakfast foods, everything I might possibly need for Mary Aplin (baby bed, bath, food, formula, swim float, sun tan lotion, toys, stroller...), a welcome package with wedding magazines, bath salts, and fun lotions (so that we girls could sit around and pamper ourselves while we started planning), I mean it was astounding all the details she had considered! There we were, feeling welcomed and loved by a family who'd cared enough to fly us all to their hometown (no, it wasn't really Dad who'd done it all--that was just a ploy), in this home filled with fireplaces, flat screen televisions, more bathrooms than we knew what to do with, and a pool right outside our door. (Kerie pic again)
After I finished getting ready, savoring each sweet detail, we drove to an intimate Mediterranean style restaurant at the top of a mountain in their neighborhood. We were ushered through the kitchen, to a private dining room behind massive, oak, sliding doors. Once inside, we were greeted by an antique dining suit, with seating for 10 people, each with their own plush, deep seated chair. A fireplace stood at one end of our room and the other was hung with a large mirror that reflected the warm glow of the embers, while a dimmed chandelier completed our cozy sanctuary. As we all sipped drinks and munched appetizers, John David and Taylor were sitting in their own candle-lit room a few short miles away.
John David told Taylor that he loved and longed to be a part of the musical side of her life. While in Honduras the past few months (doing medical missions), he heard a song that made him think of her and he'd asked the man who was playing to teach him to play it on the guitar. He'd kept this all a secret from Taylor until this moment. So then, John David picked up Taylor's guitar and played and sang her a song that was about service, no matter what the cost. When he finished, he told her that this song made him think of her, because he longed to spend the rest of his life serving...her. Then he got down on one knee and asked her if she would marry him. Taylor, the always unsupposing, actually jumped backwards and grabbed on to the couch when she saw him drop down on his knee crying, "Wait! What are you doing?" John David laughingly recalled to us later that there was a moment there when he wondered if she was going to say no...but of course she didn't.

(Kendall has a REALLY great picture of them from the night this happened. Sadly, she can't find her adapter to upload any of her pics. As soon as she finds it, I'll add it to this post.)

From there, John David told her that he'd made reservations for them to have a nice dinner. As they got in the car and started driving, Taylor called Dad to tell him what had just happened. As she started relaying the news, she started weeping--filled with the excitement of the moment and the acute awareness of who she was not able to share the news with. Dad, standing in our little dining room couldn't hold back his tears either, and I didn't look around, but I know that I personally was overcome with the emotion of it all. As they talked on, walking that breathtaking line of laughter and tears, the doors slid open and Taylor saw that her long distance call home to the family she loved, wasn't so long distance after all. There was a lot of laughter and hugging and squealing and eating and drinking and crying and sharing and pure joy throughout the rest of the night, as we celebrated the beginning of what is sure to be an incredible journey for us all.

That night, Taylor came over to spend the night with us. As we each dreamed our own sweet dreams of the night, Taylor had an extra special dream all her own. She came happily into the kitchen the next morning saying she'd really heard Mom's voice in her dream. The specific details of what she said were a bit hazy, but mainly Taylor felt and heard that famous glee in her voice as she told her that this was the happiest day she'd seen in heaven so far. "There's been a chorus of 10,000 angels" she said. "All singing praises just because of you and John David!"