Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scraps of memories and saying goodbye

Yesterday I walked a piece of land, taking pictures, grasping at memories of the place and people that made me a lot of who I am today.

Someone has made an offer to pay a price for this piece of land and the value they decided it has.  And in less than a month a new owner will take possession, and bring their plans to fruition for this place.

I went for a walk to say my goodbyes and remember, and during that time found scraps of memories I had forgotten I even had.

My children ran around sweating in the summer sun with cousins, then sat under the carport for a bit of shade and occasional breeze.

I silently said goodbye to a rough-edged grandfather, who inadvertantly introduced me to every cuss word I knew in childhood, that would sit under that covering in the cab of his Ford truck to listen to Nascar on Sunday afternoons.  He didn't sit often, because there was always work to be done in the garage, or bush-hogging the field, or trash to burn, or "clothes to slosh".

In the back driveway I found a piece of a plate's edge that reminded me of the way he would pour a bit of his coffee into a saucer to let it cool a bit.

I walked through the house and said goodbye to the sound of a screen-door slamming because of a too-tight spring.  I said goodbye to the sound of Papa's thump and shuffle of feet as he rose early from bed and made his way to the kitchen.  I said goodbye to southern Gospel music from a sometimes staticky radio that sat in the kitchen on top of the refrigerator and played faithfully on Sunday mornings.  I said goodbye to the softness of my Memaw's hum and doughy hands as she patted out biscuits.  I said goodbye to the roundness of her frame by the stove, making early breakfasts, birthday lunches, and spaghetti dinners.

On the front porch, empty now of all furniture, I said goodbye to an evening retreat where the sun would set and the whippoorwill would call, and my hair would be tenderly stroked while I swayed in a wooden porch swing cradled into early adulthood by my grandmother's love.  I said goodbye to neighbors that would drive by and wave, when everyone still new each other.

I walked the yard and said goodbye to memories of cousins crouched in the shade of trees, scratching out houses in the dirt, making lipstick and nailpolish out of used spark plugs.  I said goodbye to mimosa trees that don't stand anymore, but were perfect for young climbers and fueled the imagination with their "peas" for soups, fronds for fans, and silky pink flowers for make-up brushes. I said goodbye to the large propane tank that provided many a wild ride for would-be circus performers.

I went to the shed that once housed a pool table for my uncle and opened the door to breathe in the dusky smell that can only be described as dirt and earth.  It reminded me of freshly plowed fields and my Papa speeding around the yard on the lawnmower, slinging more dust than cutting grass.  Which reminded me of my Memaw trying to hurriedly pull clothes of the line before he got to the back yard.

I thought of a shed that once stood with a plum tree and pokeweed growing beside it and the amazing smear of blueish red juice the berries made when "painted" on the back wall.

I said goodbye to the garage, with its grease smells and grime, the stains of oil marking the ground around it and testifying to the wounded vehicles brought in for rehabilitation, the sounds of various cars, chain clatter of the engine hoist, the grease smudged phone on the wall, and sparks flying during occasional welding.  I said goodbye to "legging" brakes for some change, cranking a car and pressing the gas to keep it idling around the 3 on the rpm dial.  I said goodbye to the mechanics and men that were made in this space.

I said goodbye to the dirt driveway across the road, school bus stops, and first driving lessons when I hit double digits.  I said goodbye to the open field that led to my great-grandmother's house, that gave me my first tastes of independence as a preschooler when I would run groceries out to her.

I said my goodbyes, and others are doing the same, at the same place with their own memories.  We each walked this piece of land and dwelt in the houses, wrapped in our own bodies and with different experiences.  Some of the memories we hold of this place and the people who were here with us are hurtful, some healing, and some holy.  But now, we take our scraps of memories and each say our goodbyes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

On Birthdays

A couple of years ago we accidentally started one of the most wonderful birthday traditions in our family.  About a month before a child's birthday, we begin talking about how all the (insert current age)-year-old hugs and kisses will soon be expiring and we need to get all we can before the new ones come.

And so it begins.  Sometimes it's in the morning, sometimes just before bed, but there are little reminders for the soon to be aging child to share those hugs and kisses before they all expire.

For the last month, Annie has been rationing out the hugs and kisses.  "Mommy gets as many four-year-old hugs and kisses as she wants," she says with a grin.  "Daddy can have one when he comes home from work and one at bedtime," she declares.  Then the older and younger siblings make a game of chase, trying to snag as many as they can manage, especially the last week before the birthday.

So this morning, as I finished the birthday breakfast, my pajama-clad newly-turned-five-year-old came bounding into the kitchen and wrapped me in an enormous hug.  "That is THE most AMAZING five-year-old hug ever!" I exclaimed.  The smile stretched a bit closer to her ears, "Lean down, Mommy," she said and covered my cheeks and mouth with kisses and giggles.  In the background her older sister declared that she, "got the FIRST five-year-old hug, because I snuck down to the bottom bunk while it was still dark and cuddled up with Annie.  I know it was after midnight, so I got the first five-year-old hug."  "And I got the first kiss!" chimes in big brother, "Because as soon as Mackenzie got of the bed, I leaned over and kissed Annie!"  The birthday girl smiles big again.

It's such an easy affirmation and it really did begin almost accidentally.  It invites everyone to delight in the gift that is each individual in our family.  And now that it has taken hold, I don't think we'll let it go anytime soon.

Friday, August 30, 2013

This, too, shall pass

This is not permanent.  This moment when I sit with tears and try to figure out just where we went wrong is temporary.  The day was hopeful when it started, the mercies were new, and yet, here we are...

The boy child rebelious because he doesn't want to do school.  He's disrupting the girls who are eager for this moment.  Me lashing back anger in response to his defiance.

The girl that's growing longer and leaner, she drifts in thoughts and imaginings, making games for the baby when I want her to do math.

The one that's four now, she does her math alone while I try to find out what is really going on with her older brother.

I feel like, in this moment, all is lost.  I'm failing miserably and flailing wildly, and I'm not sure how I'll regain control or if I should even try.

I know the truth...this is my calling.  I was never promised easy, I was promised faithfulness rewarded.

I don't expect them to be perfect, but I want them to learn to work hard and with excellence.  I want them to be kind to each other, respectful of authority, and to internalize what they've learned.

The goals are lofty.  The family is human. 

Some deep breaths, softly spoken prayers, and we try again.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Broken

Originally written June 2.  Five days before my mom lost her battle with breast cancer.  Thankful for broken, busted up pieces made whole.

The cancer...

It grows, unnoticed, beneath the surface.

For months, maybe years, it's there.  Growing.  Spreading,  Altering the DNA of cells.  Moving boundaries, eventually pressing against vital organs. 

At first it happens unseen.  She isn't aware that things are wrong.  She doesn't realize that death is growing. 

The ignorance doesn't slow the damage.

At some point, I'm not exactly sure when, she notices that things just "aren't right" and she has a choice.  Does she acknowledge the problem or ignore it?  Does she share the secret trouble or try to handle it on her own? 

She waits.  She holds the secret.  She prays.  She reads.  She researches.  She feels the changes.  She knows that something is growing, but she doesn't really call it by its name because maybe she doesn't want to know its name. 

She waits.  She holds the secret.  She sees the changes, but she covers them up.  She keeps it close and covered because it's private.  Or she keeps it close and covered because it's pride.

She's my mom and I'm her child. 

I know this waiting.  I know this holding of secrets.  I know this pride and how death can start growing small like one seed split open.  I know that the waiting produces a crop and once it's all growing wild it gets out of control and overwhelming.

I also know the grace that breaks the pride and turns it into humility.  I know the words to speak when a secret doesn't need to be held close.  I know the sheer joy of grabbing death as it grows as a seedling, when it just pushes through the soil of me, and flinging it into holy fire, that it would be consumed and I would be consumated, completed, made a bit more holy in the offering.

I know what it is to be broken.  And by grace, through faith, I know what it is to be made whole.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

She belongs here

She stepped into the waters silently and she stood. The pastor began to share, with her permission, of how she came to this place. She wasn't proud of the past or ashamed, it was just the truth of her experience and how she came to grace.

He spoke of the pain medication that was prescribed in her mid-teens to treat a physical problem and how the desire to be without pain led to the addiction that grew to relieve the other pains of life. He spoke of how the desire to numb led to other substances and eventually an expensive cocaine habit. He told how the habit bred desperation and the willingness to sell her body, herself, to maintain the high. Then, he told about the grace that rescues. He explained the process of baptism is not what saves, but is only an outward expression of an inward change that has already occurred, by grace, through faith.

As she was immersed in the waters, buried with Christ in baptism, and lifted from them, raised to walk in new life, my heart leapt.

She could have kept her redemption story private, since it was the first impression that many in this new family would have of her.  I hope she knows how glad I am that she shared. How she's not alone in this.

Maybe my story didn't involve the same paths as hers, but who among us hasn't tried to turn to someone or something other than God to ease our pains?  Who among us hasn't used or misused our body for a temporary pleasure...overindulgence in food or drink, inappropriate physical relationships, the silent attitude of a prideful heart about the way we appear to others?

May I never cheapen the grace shown me, by comparing my depravity to another. My need for redemption was great, but the love and grace of my God was greater.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Goodness passed down

Today I made a chocolate cake...a REAL chocolate cake.  The kind that uses buttermilk and shortening.  The kind that requires icing to be slowly boiled in an iron skillet. The kind that takes time to make and even more time to make well.

It's the second time I've made a cake like this since my mom died. 

It's the recipe that she used, that her mom used, and her mom used before her.  And I'm thankful for all of this.

I'm thankful for the memories of these irreplacable women and how each of them impacted who I am. 

I stood, stirring chocolate, waiting for it to "feel right" before I iced the layers and recalled memories of other kitchens and other hands holding wooden spoons and stirring sweetness in a cast iron skillet. 

I thought of the small wrinkled hands of my great-grandmother, standing over the stove in the tiny kitchen of her trailer.  As a little girl playing in the wheelchair on her front screened porch I could hear her say, "I just don't know if it'll even be fittin' to eat.  This chocolate just don't wanna do right."  But it was always delicious.

I thought of my Memaw, muttering the same phrase, and adding, "We might just need to play with the chocolate a little bit," as she'd pull the skillet off the eye of the stove and sit down at the kitchen table to stir & whisk. 

I thought of my Papa telling the story of one day when the cake, "just fell to pieces & she just cried, but we all pulled up to the table and ate the crumbs.  It didn't look that good, but it mighta been the best tasting chocolate cake Ruthie ever made."

I thought of how I called her from Birmingham, and she talked me through the process of making my first chocolate cake solo, for Eric's birthday the first year we were married.  How we'd talk a little, I'd hang up, then call back a few minutes later for some reassurance.

I thought of my mom, making this cake for others, to show appreciation or as part of a celebration.  I thought of how she said, "The ones I make in Mama's kitchen always turn out better.  I think it's my oven."  How she loved to give for the enjoyment of others.

So this morning, as my four children played and my dad sat on the couch playing solitaire, I made a cake.  I made the cake for a friend of my dad's from work.  And when he gave it to her, we were talking on the phone, and she said, "Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!  I might just eat myself silly with this!"

And I smiled, because I'm the one grateful.  I should be saying three "thank yous" to my mom and her mom and her mom.  I have this sweet history and heritage from them, and I get to share it with others.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In the darkness

It's bedtime. 

I lay my head on the pillow and breathe deeply.  Trying to calm the chaos of my thoughts and the anxiety building in my soul, I breathe.  The silent tears start to fall.  At first, I'm embarrassed by them and I turn, so he doesn't see.

He's there, checking a few last minute things before turning out the football recruits, the best price for a trailer hitch.

How can the space between my side of the bed and his side of the bed feel like a canyon miles wide?

I hear an internal whisper that says, "Don't bother him.  He doesn't really want to know.  It might be that this is just too much.  Maybe you're just too much.  Maybe you're not enough.  Just keep it all under the cover of darkness."

And as a recovering "pleaser-avoider" I almost let those whispers fall like truth.  But they aren't truth.  They're lies.  Lies planted to divide what God has joined together.

I take a deep breath and try to find words, but instead find a little sob that breaks the silence. 

He turns, and asks, with real concern, "Are you okay?"

There's another chance to hide.  It's brief, but just enough time to choose.  Do I share my weakness and vulnerability and ask him for what I need most right now, or do I lie and say I'll be okay to avoid the chance of his rejection?

"No.  I'm not okay," I answer through tears.

He comes close.  He listens intently.  When I ask him for what I need, his prayers on my behalf, he gives willingly.  He speaks into the darkness of the bedroom and into the darkness of me and I am so thankful.

This marriage bed is a sacred space.  This is the place where intimacy can thrive or die.  This is the place that we choose to be stronger.

9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly brokenEcclesiastes 4:9-12