Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mardi Gras, Aqua Notes, and Marriage

Last week I told you what's saving my life right now. This week there's a "holiday" around the corner so I thought I'd tell you what's saving my marriage.

Not that it needed saving per se--but a good marriage is like a faithful car. It needs a little maintenance and every now and then, deserves something more exciting than the same mundane trip around the block.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brown, The Northeast Georgian.
Enter Mardi Gras. Now, we're not French. We don't live in New Orleans, and we're good Southern Baptists who usually don't make a big deal about Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday ushering in the season of Lent. (More on that later and how we're invoking some of our own family traditions.) But our little hometown, that reminds an awful lot of Stars Hollow most days, has a big fundraiser every year. Proceeds support the Downtown Facade Grant for improvements to small businesses, and you know we love to support a small business. It's kind of what Joshua does all day long and why he sometimes can't answer my text messages about potty training in a timely manner.

We have friends who own small businesses and sponsored some tables for this year's event and invited us along for the fun. Here's the part about marriage: he didn't want to go. Fancy dinner and dancing and socializing are not high on my introverted husband's list of a good time. But he knew I wanted to go, and he figured it was a good excuse to see me wear something other than my favorite tunnel-neck sweatshirt.

Marriage is so often about compromise and sacrifice. Even if all you're sacrificing is another night of Netflix and take out Chinese.

Then the worst thing possible happened to the man who is a self-proclaimed wallflower. That Mardi Gras tradition of finding the baby in the King Cake making you king of the feast? Yup.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brown, The Northeast Georgian.
He tried to trade it out with a friend who instead convinced him it would be fun (and I'm pretty sure mentioned something about how it would make his wife happy.)  Here's the thing--I would never have asked him to keep it. I know he hates spectacle and attention and he's no good at accepting compliments. But he decided publicly making me his queen was worth the embarrassment. And the front page of the newspaper.


That's when I know we have something special. He tries so hard to put my needs, wants, and desires above his own. Which makes me wonder? How often am I reciprocating?

It's so easy to get caught up in my everyday chaos of our four kids and doctor appointments and chorus rehearsal and impossible 3rd grade homework. It's so easy to feel like I'm giving it my all while he's trooping off to work everyday in a quiet office where no one uses the juice box as a weapon. It's so easy to forget the man he is when I'm just focused on myself. 

It's so easy to lash out instead of take a deep breath.

I firmly believe it's not money or relationships or decisions that tear marriages apart. It's communication. It's like we forget how to navigate and listen to one another, so we bottle up frustration and pretend we're keeping the peace, when really all we're doing is getting ready to blow.

I'm a pursuer of words, a writer, a reader. But I'm not always a good listener. I miss the cues among the conversations because I'm so busy moving on to the next thing. I'm too busy thinking about myself. And add four really loud kids to that mix and we've got a recipe for communication disaster. Conversations start and stop because someone needs juice or toilet paper or a signature. We forget what we haven't said and don't always have the time to say what we really need.

He bought me these for Christmas.

Click image to purchase via Amazon.

 Aqua notes--a waterproof notepad for the shower. He found them on a list of great gifts for writers, and he got them because he knows the shower is my quiet place. I get fifteen minutes to shut out the world and think. Then I forget the plot points or the dialogue I've composed because I didn't write it down. Voila! Now I can.

But these notes have morphed into something else for us. I've started scribbling down my worries and fears--mostly about our daughter and the unknown journey we're on--but also the stress points that have pushed me back to medication. I write down the words I can't quite say, and I leave them for him to find.

He writes me back. We make decisions. We breathe a little easier. We communicate a little better.

Marriage maintenance shouldn't be like taking in that faithful car and discovering a host of problems you didn't know existed. It should be like getting the oil changed and hearing the engine purr again.

Then you can leave a love note in the shower and take that marriage out for a night on the town.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What's Saving My Life Right Now




So I stumbled onto Modern Mrs. Darcy this week. How have I been missing her? Anne with an 'e', loves books, mom of four....I'm pretty sure she doesn't know we're soul friends. I'll have to work on that. But she had this post about what's saving her life, just all the random little goodies that make days easier, those thousands of gifts I count inconsistently but bow my head in gratitude for when I remember that He didn't have to make this easy.

Saving my life right now? My chaotic, doctor appointment, insurance debacle, temper tantrum (me, not kids) life? These little fun gems. Necessary? No. Blessings? Yes. Reminders that I really do have it good and that's the life I need to share.

Gilmore Girls on Netflix. 
Source
I totally justify my current Loreli-Rory-Luke binge by telling myself that it's a dialogue study. It is. Rachel Hauck wrote a post about what writers can learn from the Gilmore girls, and besides that, a girl needs background distraction when folding laundry. Right?

The iPad for the littles. They've taken over my iPad for their own Netflix binges that include Harry and the Bucket Full of Dinosaurs and anything with a dump truck or train. Don't judge. It's winter and cold and trust me, we get our fair share of imaginary play and outside time. But letting them watch what they want so the big girls can watch what they want? Sometimes that's called saving my life and saving dinner.

Chai tea latte. It's my new Starbucks fave. Alas, my gift cards have run out, and I'm having withdrawals. I made a version at home a few weeks ago, but sometimes it's just worth it to cough up the few bucks and have someone else do the work. Hot, sweet, low-cal and soothing me through tough days. Thank you, Starbucks in my local Ingles.

Chic-fil-a giftcards. 
CFA_BreakFast
Source
Speaking of gift cards, friends keep sending us these. They want to help at a time when we don't know what we need, and here in the South, it's figured that food's always a safe bet. So we fill up on waffle fries and nuggets for them, salads and sweet tea for me, and then we head to the doctor/physical therapy/test appointment a little less stressed.

Birthday plans. Amelia's birthday is the 19th. She's been talking about it for months. We're planning a little party with all her favorite things (and it's quite a hodgepodge, let me tell you). She makes a new plan everyday. We're also planning something special since we'll be in Birmingham at the specialist for her birthday....maybe a pool at the hotel? To add to the birthday fun, mine's two days after hers. There's a cousin, an uncle, my sister, an expected baby, and my daddy's birthday all in February too. We like to cram it all in the shortest month possible.

Chocolate. I'm taking myself to Trader Joe's after our next neurologist appointment and buying the dark chocolate caramel popcorn my mom gave Joshua for Christmas. He didn't mind a bit I ate it all. These days just a little chocolate hit at nap time keeps me going.

Jazzercise.

Source
The above would be one of the reasons I keep going to class. That and the 30 in 35 days challenge that has the cutest shirt for a prize! Jazz keeps me up to date on music too. That's not my forte, but after an entire class of Katy Perry yesterday, I must confess, I think I might be a fan.

Unroll.me for the email subscriptions. If you don't do this, stop reading and sign up now. Unroll.me is the personal assistant I've always needed. All my various subscriptions (blogs) now come in one email that I can read at my leisure. Changed my life. And my inbox.

Tsh's 'round the world adventure. Except Tsh. I didn't roll her up because I don't want to miss an update of where in the world the Oxenreiders (#worldwideox) are now. Follow on Instagram for an instant passport and dream of what it would be like to go around the world with your kids. Then dream of what it would be like without them! (Probably not as fun.)

Bloggers who confess the truth about blogging. Read this today: My Slower Paced Blog from Micha Boyett. Got the link from a Tsh email, just so you know. Spoke to me profoundly. I'm not a big blogger. I'm jealous of them, I confess, but I don't want to be a big blogger. I don't want to have to comment on every piece of news media that's getting twitter feed or Facebook views. I don't want to be controversial just to get views. I don't want to write about things that don't inspire me. So if you're still sticking with me, I thank you for appreciating this slow little blog that's leading to a slowly written little novel. Because I'm a writer first and a blogger way behind all that.


And of course there's this kid. He kills me. Makes me crazy. But gracious, I'm beginning to think God gave him to me because he makes me laugh all the time.

So what's saving your life these chilly winter days? And where's all that snow that was persimmon-seed forecast down here? 35 degrees is not worth it unless there's snow.

Linking up at The Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

When the Unknown Looks Like Potty Training


Our little two and a half year old tornado of a boy pulled a package of underwear out of his drawer last week and demanded to wear it. I figured why not? His sisters were all this age when they learned the fine art of using the potty for more than a step stool.

Yet again, our household learns how boys are different from girls.

First, his sisters are appalled by little boy underwear. There's a pocket! Whatever is that for? He's a BOY--enough said.

Then, we learn that although Gus Monster is very into his new drawers, he's not really into his signals yet. Eight pairs and a bath later, I called it quits for the day. Should've done this in the fall when he was actually going on occasion. But, silly me. I thought he was too young to be pushed.

Just a reminder that having four kids only makes one an expert on the mistakes of motherhood.


I have no idea when this is going to work. Eventually, I'm sure. But if he'll be fully functional in the bathroom prior to the need for a new living room rug, well, that's questionable. We're living in the unknown--the time when all you can see is a small light at the end of the tunnel and you just plug forward everyday in hopes that it grows brighter.

I'm not just talking about potty training.

I curled up in the corner of our lumpy sofa on Friday morning with my devotion and the scary canyon of what ifs for Amelia looming on my horizon. We saw her neurologist on Thursday and our future right now is certain to hold more doctor visits, more tests, more therapies as we try to uncover what caused her brain to inflame itself. What caused her body to demyelinate and send us searching for answers.


So far, no doctor is really pleased with what they can tell us. We've had three different prognosis ranging from super scary surgical to expect full recovery. Right now, it's Clinically Isolated Syndrome. It might go away, her body may heal itself.

It might not.

No one is sure. Doctors for all their fancy degrees and clinical knowledge and case studies--they're just practicing medicine as my friend said yesterday.

They are learning and we are learning and the unknown can be frightening. That canyon will swallow me whole if I let it.

Rehearsing your troubles results in experiencing them many times, whereas you are only meant to go through them when they actually occur. 
~Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
There's a bridge over that canyon of the unknown. I can't see it when I'm pondering all the ways I'm going to slip and fall and have to claw my way back up rock walls. We want to live these lives that are all planned out and shiny with promise, but the truth is we live everyday in a dark unknown that's only pushed back when we focus on the Light--on the good, the beauty, the reasons to be thankful in the midst of fear. 

The blessings of superhero underwear and friends who make homemade blueberry pie and sick little girls who giggle incessantly. These are the images I want to rehearse in my mind when I worry--these are the moments I want to live through again and again.

Not the fear. Not the frustration. Not the many times I've cleaned the floor.

But the many times I've lived in the beautiful, known moment at hand.

Monday, January 12, 2015

When Sunday's Rest is Over & Monday's Reality is Settling In


They're squabbling over episodes of Harry and the Dinosaurs and I've begged for just a few minutes. I didn't get up early enough to write and despite drinking Sleepytime herbal tea before bed I spent a restless night alternately hacking and worrying.

Welcome to Monday.

The past several days have been like a month of Sundays. We've rested and recuperated and tried to stumble our way back to reality. I've sat and held Amelia while she slept and Gilmore Girls played in the background. Saturday morning we moved slow and curled around steaming cups of coffee and read magazines that have been piling up for a month.

I gave myself permission to escape via the Internet or Netflix or the glossy pages of Food & Wine. Thanks to friends who've been the hands and feet of Jesus in the form of folded laundry and hot food, there's been few dishes and even fewer piles of dirty underwear.

You know a friend is true when they fold your underwear.

For days we've lived in this alternate reality where the world gets to revolve around test results and doctor schedules and the hours of the Children's Hospital coffee shop. I didn't try to write and I didn't try to work because I've never been able to divide my life up into little segments and square each away to deal with another. I've always been a big tangled mess where every little thing bleeds into everything else.

Which is why when I rest, I stop. I halt whatever project I'm on and just retreat away into something mindless. Then Monday's reality hits hard.

And thank God.

Because there is relief in the structure, the schedule, the normal. Even when it's a new normal of monitoring progress and scheduling physical therapy and trying not to google every blessed worry. Because even though we are built to rest, we are also built to work and create and exercise.

We are built for the Mondays as well as the Sundays.

May your week be glorious, friends. May it be productive and encouraging and the very best kind of ordinary. Then, when it's Sunday again, may you find the softest pillow and the quietest hour.

And something good on Netflix.

Monday, January 5, 2015

When Words are Few and Hope is Hard

My words are few these days. Actually, they are plentiful but they are not worth hearing or speaking or writing. They spew forth like a volcano in hot fiery fumes of anger and distrust and anxiety. They leave behind smoke that burns when it’s inhaled by whoever was unfortunate enough to be in my path.

I miss the easy days of writing. Of saying what I heard with my heart and seeing it form on the page into sentences and paragraphs that helped me find meaning in the struggle of everyday motherhood.
But this isn’t everyday motherhood. This is grinding hard, clay molding, dough punching out all the air motherhood. This is the kind of motherhood no one signs up for but all our names are right there on the dotted line when that baby is called ours.

This is the really, really tough love.

The kind that loves through the unknowing, the unyielding, the unwielding force of uncertainty. The kind that never gives up hoping. The kind that stands its ground in a parking lot when you’re on your knees keening and the only hands there are a mother’s.

My mom held me through it the other night. In the puddles on the pavement and the shaking and the uncontrollable screaming.

I lost it.

Lost it all.

My image as the one who’s holding it together, holding on to hope, holding hands with Jesus through this walk. The umbrella of protection a mother should be to her children in a time of crisis. My faith that all things work together for the good.

Oh, I lost it.

I spewed out all those awful words no one should ever say and the scripture of my morning Bible study had no place on my tongue that night.

Trust, says the Lord.

Trust.

When the neurologist says with calmness and frankness, I just don’t know what’s wrong.

Trust, says the Lord. Your hope is in me.

I’m having a really hard time with this obviously. Truly, I believe I’ll be better when there’s a diagnosis, when our comedy of errors with mistaken orders and misread scans is over, when I can look back on this a year from now and marvel at how we got through.

I’ll be good then.

I’ll be stronger. I’ll be better.

Right now I’m a muck of a mess. I don’t do well with unknowns. I don’t do well with trust.

I don’t do well with waiting.

Be still.

Jesus says that too. Be still and know.

But I don’t know.

I don’t know what’s wrong with my baby girl and I don’t know how we will get through this and I don’t know how I’m going to keep it all together.

Actually, I do know that.

I’m not. Keeping it all together that is. I’m just plain not.

But there are those who are. They bring dinner wrapped in foil and hands folded in prayer. I’m not trusting in a blind unknown. I’m trusting in a living God who has given us people to carry us through.

And if I'm to survive, I have to choose to trust in the great, unfolding plan he has for my little girl.

Her name is Hope you know. Amelia Hope.



18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever...
Hebrews 6:18-20

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"God Bless Our Christmas": A Giveaway for the Day Your Child Gets a Diagnosis


My sweet friend Hannah who ate chocolate chips out of the bag with me on the last night of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference and won the award for best blog is an actual real book-on-the-shelf writer.

She wrote this sweet story and its accompaniments: God Bless Our Easter and God Bless You and Good Night . Beautiful board books for familes, not just children. She used vivid words and a soothing rhythm to remind us in God Bless Our Christmas who is the reason we have all these blessings to enjoy.

"The Christmas carols that we sing
Are full of joy and love.
I have such cheer this time of year.
It comes from God above."
--except from God Bless Our Christmas

I cuddled up on the couch last week to read this with Amelia, my four year old, and her best friend Ellie. They took a break from the ponies in the dollhouse to tuck into each of my sides and hear the words. Amelia liked the penguins best. Ellie liked the polar bears. I liked the simplicity that so often gets overlooked in our busy holiday.


But most of all I liked having a normal moment with my baby girl. Normalcy has become a thing of the recent past for us in the last few days. I suppose that's common--because when you get news that's hard and uncertain, a new normal develops. 

When I wrote these words to those who bear sadness this Christmas, I didn't know how true they would become for me--
Let this season of love put you back together again.

In the midst of uncertainty and fear, we are welcoming the arms of love that have wrapped tight around our family during these last few days.


Last week, I took my four year old for a stat CT scan and prayed only for an answer to why she had stopped using her right hand and begun stuttering and being clumsy. The test revealed that Amelia has an arteriovenous malformation (AVM).  It's a scary moment to realize your mother's intuition is right. That, yes, there is something very wrong and it might get worse before it gets better.

But here's the truth of our diagnosis. She will get better. This is a treatable condition that we still don't know about completely and there's still more testing to be done. But she will get better. Even if that better means a surgery or a drug regiment or who knows what. They tell us we're the best case diagnosis for something being wrong in her brain.

And I'm scared out of my mind that it will be nothing or something or anything. I'm scared I won't be strong enough for her, for my husband, for my other girls. I'm scared I'll run out of energy to give.


But I don't have to have enough of me to go around. I have a great big God who formed her and knows her and formed me and knows me. He knows what we need and what we can handle. He's given us a network of friends and family who are already begging for jobs to do, already bringing meals, already replacing my favorite lost pair of earrings.

God Bless Our Christmas indeed.

So today I'd like to spread a little Christmas love. I'm giving away one copy of God Bless Our Christmas . Winner will be chosen at random from comments left on the blog. You can comment on Facebook too, if you like, but I won't pool entries from there. One location is all I can handle.

Tell me whose Christmas would you like to bless?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dear Ones Who Bear Sad Tidings This Year (Five Minute Friday)

It can be hard this time of year to find the joy in the twinkly lights and the broken nativity and the limp garland when all you want to do is hide away in a corner from the well-wishers and the do-gooders and the hope-bringers.

It can be hard to be facing a holiday ringed with family dinners and friendly hospitality and gift exchanging when there's one less seat at the table, one less card in the mail, one less gift under the tree.

When I was ten years old my mama walked this journey. My daddy walks it now. This stumble through the season of glad tidings when the tidings dealt you this year were dark and doomed. The tidings of grief under the shadow of fear.

I don't remember how Mama got through that Christmas. Her mother died three days before December 25 and we buried her two days after. My most vivid memories are that she bought me a black velvet dress and my uncle reamed all the grandkids for daring to ask if we would open the presents Grandmommy had already wrapped and placed beneath her tree. There would have been five of us kids at that time. Five of us to get through breakfasts and toys and tantrums and the joy of Christmas that would forever be tainted with shock.

I remember how we got through last year when the cancer was doing its death march across my grandfather's gut and the dementia was already eating away his memory. We just didn't talk about it. We visited and the last time I saw him speak and smile and know me was Christmas Eve. This year I want to talk and celebrate and remember that he loved the mountains and coffee and another plaid shirt wrapped alongside a good book.

I don't know how you do it. I don't know how you walk through a season of grief during a season of happiness, but I do know this. You're walking through a season of love.

Let yourself be wrapped and swaddled and cared for like that baby in a manger. Let that be the only hope you hold because it's just too much to try and care about shopping deals or holiday feasts or gingerbread houses.

Let this be a season of nothing but love and let love put you back together again.

In that glorious coincidence way God works, I wrote this as part of the Five Minute Friday crew. I haven't participated in months, but saw the prompt on twitter and had just five minutes this afternoon to word thoughts that had been tossing around for a few days. Then I click over to Kate's place to link up and her words today? They're on grief. So much so that she wrote an ebook about it and you can get it for free until midnight tonight.

Christmas makes the pain acute. My prayers are with you if you and yours are walking this journey right now.