Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Unfolding

I wrote this for another website, Beautifully Rooted.  You will also find it there:

My body shakes and my breath quickens. My chest rises and collapses and tears fall so steadily that they merely graze the skin of my cheeks. Face digging deep into the cushion of the church pew and knees bruised from pressing into the hard floor of the sanctuary, I surrender again to the mourning, to the longing. The yearning for my three –year- old son to be alive again burns my insides and my faint body cannot contain yearning’s power. The longing for this nightmare to end causes the night tremors to rise and though it is 9:30 in the morning, I cannot see through the darkness.

I have dropped my living children off with the childcare that this Wednesday morning Bible study provides. The women of my small group discuss the week’s lesson in a Sunday school room upstairs. Everyone is in their place, boys in their classrooms, sister-friends in their small groups, bereaved mother alone on the floor of the sanctuary, shaking from night tremors and collapsing from grief’s yearning that has set her soul on fire.

The Cross hangs high behind me on the freshly painted wall of the altar. Grief’s hold is so powerful this morning that I cannot face my God so I turn away from the Cross and I fall to my knees. It’s all too much, my grief, my God. Though I turn away, my grief finds me. Though I turn away, my God finds me too. While my body screams, “You are falling apart,” I hear the Cross whisper, “You are made whole.” My mind blurts out what seems evident, “You have come undone” as the Cross whispers what is true, “It has been done.” My spirit groans, “You are bereaved,” while the Cross whispers, “You are beloved.”

My breath returns as the tears cease. My shoulders guide my body to turn around and face the truth in this Cross that hangs on the freshly painted wall of the altar. “It is done. You are whole. You are beloved,” these Cross whispers roll over me and in me. As I walk away I hear the louder, truer voice of the Cross in my heart and in my mind and in my body. “My daughter, your undoing is my unfolding. It is done. You are whole. You are beloved.”

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sadness meets Gratitude

The sun’s shine falls light as linen and its warmth blankets the cool breeze.  The boys climb high and slide quick, tumble low and dig deep.  Bottoms of feet burrow into cold sand, and plastic trucks push through tunnels made with small toes.  Long, little boy arms wrap around my neck, stretching out my smile from sea to shining sea. Bright rays of sun sprinkle the bread of my pimento cheese sandwich, and I am reminded that everything tastes better eaten on a quilt spread out over the ground.  I cannot help but notice that these children appear about ten shades happier today, dancing freely in the middle of spring’s grand opening act.  This Monday morning is all dressed up like a Saturday afternoon. I receive this gift and give thanks.

Without thinking, I begin to trace a capital “W” in the sand with a stray stick.  The beauty of spring's arrival seems no match for the sadness of Webb’s absence.  But as quick as a stolen kiss, gratitude swoops in to lock arms with sadness.  Upon meeting, these equal partners immediately fall in sync and begin to dosey doe inside of me, arms locked and feet in motion.  Sadness has met his match in this perfect bride, gratitude.  As my hand leads the stick to complete the last slanted line of the "W", I find that it also lifts gratitude's white veil. I receive this gift and give thanks.     


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Waiting

By the time the minute hand of the clock in the doctor’s office waiting room completed its full circle, marking an hour of wait time, my bag of tricks to keep the toddler entertained was empty right along with my patience. We had both come undone from the waiting. Each time the door opened and a nurse emerged, hope sprung up that our last name would finally be called. Time and time again, it was another patient who quickly gathered his belongs and rose from his chair, leaving us to more waiting. At one point the nurse came out and looked straight at me, “I see you have been waiting a long time, honey. Thank you for your patience.  I promise, it will be worth the wait.” Nodding in reply, I sat calmly and crossed legged in the burgundy -upholstered chair. As I watched my son sprawled out on the floor wailing in frustration, the only words of consolation that I could muster were, “Me too, buddy. Me too.”

I empathize with my son’s undoing in the waiting room because I find myself on the same cold, tile floor, sprawled out and wailing, in sadness, in pain and yes, in frustration. Waiting for my name to be called feels a lot like standing in the one section of the river that is stagnant, while water rushes around me on all sides, with clear motion and direction. I can’t seem to wiggle my toes free from the sand that holds me in place, prohibiting me from floating along with the rest of the world. I watch others float quickly by, so busy with lives filled to the brim with activities and events, little plans and big dreams. My eyes follow their carefree lives, and then drop down to my own two feet, still stuck in the sand of waiting. 

My old self would roll up her sleeves and get to work, believing, “There must be something I can do to join the others, to release my feet from waiting’s enslavement.”  She would read books about breaking free from waiting. She would form a small group of others with a similar need for freedom, finding power in numbers. She would make an organized list and a detailed plan outlining the most efficient escape method. If all else failed, she would “good mother,” “good friend,” “good wife” herself free from the waiting.  And in no time at all, she too would float along with the busy current of the river, quickly forgetting the pain of the waiting and momentarily numbed by the motion of all the doing. 

But today I see my old self, and though her calendar was full and her to-do list long, her feet were still covered in sand. All of her activities formed shackles around her ankles. She thought that she was moving quickly, but I see now that she was merely treading water. I notice that all of the faces that seemed to be floating by her, full of motion and full of life, shared a similar grimace born from carrying doing’s heavy load.  Maybe it is because doing is just slavery wearing a more subtle and common mask.

So today, I surrender to the waiting, and I dig my heels deeper into the sand. In the middle of these stagnant waters, I trade the lists for the love, the doing for the resting and the handling for the healing. Perhaps it is here in the waiting room, here deep in the sand, that restless bodies become stirring souls and doers who float become saints who soar. It is here in the still of this waiting that I hear the sound of my name and a familiar voice who calls out, “I see you have been waiting a long time, Beloved.  Thank you for your patience. Trust Me and I promise that what I have in store for you will be worth the wait.”                

Friday, March 16, 2012

Drip, Drip, Drip

I found these flowers outside my door in the morning
and a note with a friend's handwriting, but a Father's voice.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Dance and the Fight

Down to mourn, up to breathe, eyes to the floor, eyes to the Cross.  Gravity and grief pull me down. Glory and God lift me up.  Waltzing this dance, this fight between grief and glory passes the minutes of the day. One moment I am a well-rehearsed dancer, bending low and rising high to the rhythm of grief and God. Although the melody is sad, the dancing is beautiful and full of grace. Yet the very next moment I am the underdog in a fight between glory and gravity, never quite sure on which team I belong. I do not bend but am knocked down, and I do not rise but am lifted up. Grief deals blow after blow and I turn cheek after cheek.  Glory gains strength to return a mighty punch and grief stumbles back in retreat. 

At any given moment, on any given day, grief or glory may have the tightest grip on me. My eyes may be locked to the floor or my eyes may be lifted to the Cross. I may be full of grace or full of fervor. I bend and rise, fall and am lifted, trusting that in the painful blur of the movement, this waltz might lead to worship, and this fight might lead to faith.   

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Drip, Drip, Drip

The newest members of our family, Ms. Jane and Pearl

Duncan and the hens

Jack meets Pearl

Jack begs the chickens to come out

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Take me to the River

We call this place Riverton, this land in the Sandhills of North Carolina along the banks of the Lumber River. Here we sleep on cots in cabins and the cool of the river in the afternoon is the only air conditioning that we enjoy. My family has been coming here for over a century and for us, it is paradise. It was here, at Riverton, where we spent our last Saturday with Webb.
I wasn’t worried when I could not find him. Riverton is safe and small, and I knew that he would not venture too far without his brothers. I searched the cabins and peered through the cracks between the pines. Jeff sipped on an evening beer while watching Jack and Duncan as I casually looked for Webb.

We had spent most of the morning down by the banks of the Lumber.  The iced-tea river was cold from the changing season, but that didn’t deter the boys from tramping through its waters and stamping in its swamps. Webb had protested, begging to stay longer, when I told him it was time to leave for lunch. After two peanut butter sandwiches and a long nap on the iron bed in the big room, I thought his appetite for the river had been appeased for the day.  But I knew Webb and I should have known better. I should have known that he would escape the screened walls of the front porch as soon as he could. By the time I made it to the Avenue, the dirt road that leads to the river, I realized I had been foolish to look anywhere else.

I emerged from the tall pines of the woods to the dirt path and into a scene so beautiful that I am now convinced that it was nothing short of heaven on earth. The evening air was crisp and cool, and autumn’s orange sun suspended low to the ground. The gentle breeze caused the pines to dance and the cones to tumble.  Yet it was not the setting that took my breath away. My eyes were instantly drawn to Webb. His long, thin legs were running as fast as they could carry him down the road. His run, oh Lord, that run, stopped me in my tracks and I stood in awe of the joy of this three-year-old boy. He was always running, deliberate and controlled, focused and intent. He was a lot like his run.    

When I finally caught up to him, I gently grabbed his shoulders and bent down to meet his eyes. “There you are.” These three words met a smile as wide as the ocean. Is there anything more precious than being found and loved?  “Oh Webber, I am so happy to see you.  I’ve been looking for you. Where are you going buddy?” He didn’t flinch as I wrapped my arms around his shoulders and rested my cheek on his head. He graciously accepted my adoration and stood still as it seeped deep. I released him and he took off running again.  His arms made circles, windmills that mimicked swimming.  “I want to go to the pool, mama. Let’s go to the pool. Bye-bye mama.” He had always referred to the river as a pool. And after many futile attempts to correct him, I had grown fond of the way he owned the word, incorrect as it were, with confidence.

I watched him take off down the Avenue, the setting sun illuminating his yellow hair, his bare feet pounding the dirt. I settled into this moment and felt its magic warm me right up. The freedom, the wildness, the beauty of it all left me breathless. Could heaven really be better than this? My heart whispered the question to my God. In this moment, I was sure that I had never seen my son so full of wonder, so full of adventure, so fully alive. As I watched this boy, my blood, my heart, run down the dirt road to the river, I knew that God had cracked through the shell of earth to pour heaven into the finite. Though I couldn’t name it then like I can now, I was being given a glimpse of eternity, and I could hardly handle the beauty of it all. In that moment, when all I knew of God was blessing and all I knew of the world was gift, even then I knew that this was a taste of heaven.  It was the scent of a garden I was created to crave.

I have tucked that memory of Webb running to the river into the deep corner pocket of my heart. Safe in this corner, it is protected against the mean game of tug-of-war that I play with time. In this corner, the colors of the memory’s fabric will not fade. I pull this memory out of its safe pocket often. I’ve heard the 5:00 hour referred to by mothers as the “witching hour.” It has become my favorite time of the day, this “Webb hour.”  As the sun sinks low in the backyard and another day comes to an end, I find myself standing alone with Webb on the Avenue. Though my clogs stand on the tile of our kitchen floor, I feel the dust of the dirt beneath my toes. And as the toddler brother knocks over the big brother’s tower in the playroom and the bean soup bubbles over, the wind of the pines causes my hair to dance.

On those especially sad days when Webb feels distant like a dream, I unfold this memory and I feel his shoulders beneath my arms, my adoration pouring out. He turns to face me with that smile as wide as the sea. “There you are,” I say to him. He stands still and I hold him tightly, soaking in the softness of his skin and the scent of his hair. The beauty of the moment warms me and I refuse to release this boy who now lives freedom. I hold him until I can find my breath again.

On those holy days when he feels incredibly alive and his presence in the home is so real that I set his place at the table, I pull out this memory. I am standing behind my Webb on the dirt road as he runs to the water. He sprints, controlled and focused, but incredibly free. I watch him run, farther and farther away, all the way to the river, until he eventually fades from my sight. And I know, with all my being, that he was made for this.  His eternal joy trumps my earthly sadness and I find my breath again, standing firm on the confidence that I will one day join him on the banks of that River.

Oh that I might be more like my son. When the One who loves me grabs me by the shoulders and sighs, “There you are,” would I not flinch to shrug off His holy embrace?  Would I be so stilled by the power of His adoration for me that it would seep deep into my soul?  For it is a precious thing to be found and loved. And I pray that, like Webb, I might be so caught up in the wildness, the adventure and the beauty of the River that I would run to it with determination. Would the mystery and the power of the Water draw me, like it did Webb, with such a magnetic force that the shell of my skin would crack from mounting joy?  As I run, may the freedom of eternity carry me down the road and the beauty of the River reveal the truth that I, too, was made for this. 

Family picture, October 2011 (Webb in blue)

Jack and Webb running down the Avenue, October 2011

On the banks of the river, July 4, 2011

 Webb and Jack in the river, October 2011

 The Avenue