Because I Kept Breathing

Today the writing prompt for our Rising Bloggers group was “Something your body has taught you.”  You can find other posts on this topic here

The night that the Fella came and got me on my evening walk in August of 2009, my whole world changed in that instant.  I went from being a wife, Mama, new homeschool teacher, and mildly concerned daughter of a Daddy who had been having a few problems to a terrified little girl who could not imagine life without her Daddy.

When my husband told me that Mama did not want me to come to the hospital that night, he said instead she wanted me to call my siblings.

I called each one, and tears and plans and hopes and fears were floating in the air above us like particles of dust do in the afternoon sunlight that pours in through the living room windows.

When I called my Brother, he was quiet for a moment on the other end.  He lives several states away and coming home in a hurry was not an option for him.  “Oh Bubba,” I said through my tears.  “If something happens to Daddy, I don’t think I will be able to breathe. I just can’t.”

But there’s this.

20131024-211411.jpg

In the weeks before my Daddy died, I stayed up late stripping pork roasts and putting them in the freezer, baking cakes to put back as well, and simply thinking and planning and trying to stay one step ahead of What Might Could Happen.  My body was exhausted but my spirit, my mind, and my heart said it must be done.  And they were right.

And my body is, at times, stronger than my spirit. Stronger than I ever knew.  When my heart broke completely at 4:30 p.m. on 17 November 2011, my body pushed through and did the impossible.  It kept on breathing, sleeping, doing what needed to be done.  Even when all I wanted to do was give up and crawl under a blanket and find myself waking up from a bad, bad dream.  And yet I kept breathing.

It’s amazing to me the balance between body and spirit.  When one is broken or lost, it seems that the other is there to pick up the load.  During Mama’s HospitalStay we all kept so many balls in the air, I know it was nothing but sheer willpower of spirit that kept us going.  Our spirits seemed to cheer our bodies on–“You can get up early in the morning to finish that laundry, to pay those bills, to make that phone call, to read to that child, to put supper in the crockpot…..”  It was three weeks later when Mama’s fight for comfort and healing ended that the roles reversed.  When she took her last breath and the nurse we grew up knowing nodded his head from her doorway, in that instant, my body nudged my spirit and said, “You take a rest. I’ll take it from here for a while.”

And so it was my body that took over as I washed her face one more time.  It had brought her such comfort in life, and now it brought me comfort.  As if by rote, my body got me through the whirlwind of the next few days–planning and running errands and welcoming and greeting and thanking folks and saying goodbye.

20131024-215518.jpgIf one believes that, as the Good Book says, we are created in the Image of the Creator, who is three in one, isn’t it fascinating to see how these two sides of our selves work together?  We are not all body or all spirit, but both as one.  Both need food to survive and time to rejuvenate and heal.  It takes both to live this life that is so full of laughter and joy and tears and sadness.  It takes both to love with our hearts and our hands.  It takes both to defend what we believe in with our minds and our bodies.  And it takes both to say goodbye.  To touch a hand and kiss a forehead one last time, and to let them go with our hearts where they need to go.

When I asked my body what it felt like was the greatest thing it could share with me and the world, it was this:

“I don’t work alone.”

And though I can’t run a marathon or even jog around the neighborhood, I am strong, stronger than I ever knew.  I know.  Because I kept breathing.

Keeping It Real

I write a lot about brokenness in the world.  It’s true.  I see it, experience it, it breaks my heart, so I write about it.

But sometimes the brokenness starts right here at home.

Like today.

The morning started off okay.  When I woke up, Cooter was leaning over me, breathing in my face, whispering, “Breakfast. Breakfast.”  I got up and put on my everyday jeans (which I planned on changing later when we headed out) and a t-shirt.  I threw a jacket over it to take Miss Sophie out for her morning constitutional.  I got Cooter his breakfast and then when our Princess got up, she had hers and we started our school day.

I should have known better when Princess started with Grammar instead of Math.  Always. Start. With. Math. Get that Goliath out of the way first with her.  Just the opposite with Cooter.  Phonics/reading first.  He was excited this morning because he moved to a new book and level, so we got through it fairly easily.

After Cooter finished I made the hot chocolate they wanted.  From Scratch.  I only tell you this so you are prepared to fully appreciate my heartbreak.  I was sitting down to call about some business type stuff for my oldest when I heard an “Oh no!” and a splatter.

And then tears.  (Not mine. Yet.)

I jumped up.  Even though I didn’t want to.  Can I get credit for that?  Because what I did after deserves no credit.

I sent them and the puppy (it was hot CHOCOLATE after all) away to another room.  I mumbled and ranted and fussed to myself as I wiped up the mess and tried to treat the fabric seat that was now soaked (really wanting those all wood chairs NOW).  I bemoaned the fact that my steam mop is NOT working right now.  I sprayed with something to clean and wiped again.  And again.  And again.  I washed down the table and set about making another cup for Cooter, because of course it was his whole mug that was gone.  They had made a mistake, and I want them to know I forgive mistakes.  I don’t know if the lesson was a good one or not, but there it was.  And now we are out of milk.

After making the phone calls necessary to clarify the business “stuff,” I got an e-mail that it had been resolved.  Basically what I had figured had happened and had tried for two days to explain to the powers that be (who had not listened at all and had dismissed what I was saying)–yeah, that’s what the email confirmed.  That I was right.  Only it was phrased as this is what we found…..Ahhh.  Yes.  And in what was definitely not my finest moment, I attempted to forward it to my oldest with a sarcastic comment something like “What I figured.  But NO ONE would listen to me. Such is life.  Get used to it.”  And then proceeded to hit Reply rather than Forward.

Oh y’all.

My own frustrations and attitude came crashing back on me.  Here I was contributing to the brokenness and the hurt in the world.  I immediately wrote again, asking for forgiveness and apologizing for my rudeness and sarcasm.  She gave me grace I didn’t deserve and laughed it off, which went a long way towards me changing my attitude about the whole situation.  But y’all.  What a hard lesson. I should have known better. THINK BEFORE I SPEAK.  OR WRITE.  Or apparently even think.  *sigh*  I was pretty shaken up over seeing my own MESS so close up and personal.  I didn’t like it at all.

Since that fiasco, I attempted to bake a cake for a friend with a birthday, but I only had four eggs and my pound cake calls for six.  I made do, but I was thinking back to Monday Tara, who decided NOT to go to the grocery store and telling her I sure hope she enjoyed her day at home.  I sure hope she did.  And now we are out of eggs.

In the midst of heating up leftover lasagna for her lunch, our Princess spilled half the serving on the floor.  Another mess, more tears.  More frustration.  We are out of lasagna leftovers.

This was our day.  In a single picture.  One broken mess after another.

This was our day. In a single picture. One broken mess after another.

This day has been one of those school days when I should have thrown the math pages and worksheets out the door and just curled up on the back porch with them and read history and science and a great story.  Maybe even re-read “Wiley and the Hairy Man.”  (just that good!) But no, I made a bigger mess by insisting the math get done.  We’re still not done with it.  I really *h-word* the review lessons.  It only serves to remind me retention is maybe not a strong suit.  So there have been tears over the math.  I told Cooter to unload the dishwasher.  He’s a crafty one, and I’m tired.  So he kept putting it off by coming up with other things he thought he should do. He finally did unload all he knew how, and I asked our Princess to take a break from GoliMath, and finish it off.  And she proceeded to drop every melamine cereal bowl we own…..on the floor.  The same floor I have been trying to keep sanitized after a puppy accident or three, and with the steam mop being out of order–well, those babies will get washed again.  Except for the Star Wars one I picked up from the GW Boutique which did not survive the fall.  Yes, Cooter cried.  Real tears.  So did Princess.  After she called out, “Why? Why does this keep happening to me?  Am I cursed?”  (Thank you, Gilligan’s Island, for that one.)

Forget the dishes in this sink.  And just close up that dishwasher.  Miss Sophie was onto something I think.  Bed sounded really good by 2 p.m. today.

Forget the dishes in this sink. And just close up that dishwasher. Miss Sophie was onto something I think. Bed sounded really good by 2 p.m. today.

At one point, Sophie even kindly suggested by blocking the sink that I just give up trying to clean up anything (including the dishes) and go back to bed.

Our own version of Peach Shortcake.  Brought smiles and healing in the midst of our messy day.

Our own version of Peach Shortcake. Brought smiles and healing in the midst of our messy day.

So how do you fix all of these messes and heartbreak and brokenness?  I decided that I don’t want all of that bad stuff to be how the littles remember this day, so I sliced each of them a piece of the pound cake, got some of the Elberta peaches out of the freezer and added whipped cream on top.  Princess said it was the best ever, and Cooter couldn’t talk for shoveling it all in his mouth so fast.  Both were smiling and all of the messes from before forgotten.  Thankful for that.

But me?  I let myself get bogged down in all of it.  I kept on my everyday jeans because no way were we going anywhere after all of this.  I had nothing left in me.  Everything emotional seemed to steam roll after that.  I was sad because my lousy faucet drips unless you turn it just so. And it wobbles.  I am not happy with it.  Or the person who keeps using cups that can’t be loaded in the dishwasher. I was worried about why Princess kept dropping things today–was something wrong? Anxiety Girl showed up in full force.  Stop the madness.  And sadness.  I wanted to call someone and cry on their shoulder.

But no one wants to hear all of this whining.  And there’s that whole no crying over spilt milk thing.  Kudos to you if you’ve stuck it out this long listening to my “woes,” my first world problems.  I didn’t have anyone to call because really, none of this was very serious and the only person who HAD to love me anyway and who ever listened to me whine and then could, in her own way, call me on it or make me laugh about it, is gone.

This is what grief does best.  Waits until your emotional immune system is low.  And strikes with a vengeance.  I miss my Mama. 

It just is what it is.  Why she listened to my whining as much as she did, I have no idea.  She certainly didn’t put up with it when I was younger.

I was so tired and out of ideas that I wanted to text the Fella and say “We are SO going out to eat tonight, k?” But all I could think about is how it is getting dark earlier, and I don’t want to be out after dark.  I’m weird like that.  Dark=being home.  And I thought about ordering pizza from our favorite small town pizza place, but then I started stressing about how much cheese I feed my family, and how we should probably not have that tonight.  *sigh* Am I the only one who stresses over my family’s nutritional needs like this?

So what was the purpose of sharing this messiness of our day with y’all?  I have a couple of blogs I love to read and also follow them on Facebook. This one young woman is adorable in her tea parties and homemade things she plans and does with her children.  Sure, she shares her messes, but even those are cute.  And delightfully told.  I’m thinking there’s no way she’s ever accidentally sent a nasty-gram to someone via e-mail.  It’s a little intimidating and if I didn’t love her so much, I really wouldn’t like her at all.  Just because of that.  So yeah, I’m keeping it real.  My days are not all contemplating the meaning of life from a frog riding on the car’s perspective.  There’s not a magical school of fish that shows up with a song and dance number all prepared to lift my spirits when stuff goes down around here.  Mr. Clean and Justin Case aren’t always available when homemade hot chocolate (sigh) hits the floor or I run out of groceries.  This is what my house looks like.  And there’s a reason I’m using words and not pictures.  (Does anyone else get dressed from the couch in the living room?  Not that we do. Ahem. Just thought I’d ask.)

So it’s time to get off my pity pot.  Sister called and laughed with me over the e-mail and shared her own horror story of a similar vein.  Fella came home and took over correcting Cooter when he crossed the road against our wishes.  Sophie is looking at me with those eyes like she KNOWS and she gets it.  Princess has bounced back to her sunshiney self, and Cooter hugged me twice.  Without me asking.  Aub problem-solved for herself about something that needed doing.  Not too shabby.

So the piles on the desk didn’t get attacked today.  The dishwasher was full and dirty while supper was still in the oven.  (Yes, we actually had a meal despite the lack of staple groceries.) I got the laundry somewhat caught up but nothing folded.  I didn’t get to the grocery store yet again.

So it goes.  My Mama would say, “Well at least nobody’s shooting bullets at us.”  Or “If this is the worst that ever happens to us, we’ll be okay.”  And I reckon she was right.

Still, if tomorrow rolls around and Future Tara decides to finally go to the grocery store, I won’t complain.  And if Mess Cat calls about us getting together and having supper tomorrow night, I’m all for it.  (hint hint) I will welcome a life lesson from a goose or a bird or even a spider, at this point.  Just please, please, no one spill anything.

Because, yeah, that’s one more thing.  We’re almost out of paper towels.

Time to go to bed and try again tomorrow.  As Mama would say, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Habitats and Hope, Happy Birthdays and Hanging On

This past Friday the littles and I went to Go Fish Education Center down in Perry.  This is a beautiful facility that is run by DNR.  The exhibits are interactive, and they have different areas set up like the waters of the different parts of Georgia, from the mountain streams up north to the swamps down south.  You can even borrow a fishing pole and sit out by the pond and try your luck at fishing.  It’s mostly a catch and release program, but in certain months (like October) you can take home what you catch.

They have started holding classes for homeschool students once a month.  We decided to try it last month and we were hooked (ha, no pun intended–seriously, just caught it in editing).  So this past Friday was our second class with Miss Clare, the Center Educator.  She taught about Habitats.  To begin with each child took a card with an animal on it.  Miss Clare asked each one to stick them on the map of Georgia in the habitat they thought best suited their animal.

Cooter drew a shark in the Habitat game.  He grinned really big and gave me a thumbs up.  He knew where to put this one.

Cooter drew a shark in the Habitat game. He grinned really big and gave me a thumbs up. He knew where to put this one.

The thing that we learned was some animals are adaptable and can live in different type habitats–like foxes, raccoons, and even some snakes.

Our state with the animals in their habitats.

Our state with the animals in their habitats.

After that the children played a game which demonstrated how limited resources (food, water, shelter) can affect the population and length of life of the animals.  In the game, after the first couple of “years” the population dwindled–too many deer and not enough of what they needed to live.  The children were running back and forth finding what they needed (or not as the case may be), laughing and enjoying the cool morning.  In the midst of the fun, the sobering reality hit me head on.

They played another game of hide and seek, with each person attempting to be a rabbit camouflaged so the fox couldn’t find him or her.  They really enjoyed that one.  Then we moved inside the facility to discuss the fish and other aquatic life in their habitats.

This is a school of goldfish.  They are in the gator habitat.  Only the gators won't eat them, so trout were put in to get the goldfish population under control.  Only they travel in "schools" so they look like one big fish, thus confusing the trout and saving their lives.  What do the gators eat?  Mice.  Apparently they get their calcium (bones), fiber (hair), and protein and vitamins (meat) all in one delicacy.  Oh if only it were that easy around here!

This is a school of goldfish. They are in the gator habitat. Only the gators won’t eat them, so trout were put in to get the goldfish population under control. Only they travel in “schools” so they look like one big fish, thus confusing the trout and saving their lives. What do the gators eat? Mice. Apparently they get their calcium (bones), fiber (hair), and protein and vitamins (meat) all in one delicacy. Oh if only it were that easy around here!

I learned the most in the gator exhibit.  That whole traveling as a school saving the lives of the goldfish.  Isn’t that amazing?  They feed the gators mice, which is an all dietary needs met kind of meal for that crew.  I wish I could find something comparable to serve here.

It was a wonderful morning of learning, laughter, and play.  As we left I saw these beautiful flowers.  It struck me how with all around them drying up and withering away, they were full of life and beauty–sort of blooming where they were planted kind of thing going on there.

These flowers seemed to crop up out of nothing.  Beautiful, aren't they?

These flowers seemed to crop up out of nothing. Beautiful, aren’t they?

Today Aub was following behind me across town on our way to our Sister Circle.  While we were parking my phone rang and it was Aub.  I looked in my rearview mirror.  Yep, she was back there.  Car looked okay.

“What?” I answered.  Yeah, I’m that kind of loving Mama.

“I think….I mean, I’m pretty sure…..is that a frog on my door?”

I was grabbing my supply bag and getting ready to close my car door. “I don’t know, get out and see.”

“I can’t.  Unh uh.”

I looked back.  She was still sitting in her car.  Cooter ran over and started jumping up and down, pretty much a confirmation that an amphibian had taken up residence.  I walked over.  Yep, a frog.

Note the college girl in the driver's seat holding her phone for dear life.  I have no idea how long he'd been riding like that, but you are correct, he does look a bit pale.  Probably terrified out of his mind.  What must he have thought when he found himself hanging on for dear life ONA CAR zippadeedoodahing down the road?

Note the college girl in the driver’s seat holding her phone for dear life. I have no idea how long he’d been riding like that, but you are correct, he does look a bit pale. Probably terrified out of his mind. What must he have thought when he found himself hanging on for dear life ON A CAR zippadeedoodahing down the road?

We regrouped and left him to his own devices to recover and went in for our Sister Circle.  My sweet sisters were already there and waiting.  We had great conversation and a lot of fun creating with a different way of painting, but that’s a story for another night.  One of our sisters, T, decided to use her favorite thing, the markers, to make her picture.  She drew this:

Home sweet home.  If only.

Home sweet home. If only.

When I walked over and admired her picture, I realized that this was a theme for her.  She draws houses and homes with birds or rainbows or sunshine.  My heart broke in that moment.  My dear sister friend is like the deer running out of resources.  I am not sure of her living situation, but I know it is not ideal.  She has been mistreated and abused by people she called friends and whom she trusted.  She has had moments, too many of them, feeling like those rabbits hiding from the fox.  She might have shelter but she doesn’t have sanctuary.  She might have food but her soul is starving.  She is trying to bloom in the midst of all around her.  I know she is, she has dreams and she’s shared some of them.  But like that frog today, I am afraid she is looking around, thinking where am I?  How did I get HERE?  And how on earth do I get off of this ride?  Please?!

There are many T’s in this world, in our own little community.  Living in habitats that are not fit for any living thing or person.  I have watched a dear friend stumble out from behind a dumpster sitting next to local restaurant.  Where he had been “LIVING.”  If he had been a dog, I know full well someone would have picked him up and cared for him before then.  How did we, our world, our people, our sisters and brothers, get to this point?  Adaptability in habitats is one thing, but no one should live like that.  Or like T is either.

Today is T’s birthday.  I didn’t know, but two of our sister friends did and they brought her some gifts they’d gotten especially for her.  I saw her hang her head and be overcome with shyness.  But I also saw something else.  Something that shone light through my broken heart and filled me with hope.  I saw this school of fish that protects each other from harm gather T in and hold her close.  I saw them care and I saw them love.  It wasn’t about the gifts, though that was so precious of them.  It was about them noticing her and taking her into their fold.  That right there people.  I am humbled.  And inspired.

Today is T’s birthday and my friend Baddest Mother Ever‘s birthday too.  When I was in the midst of my most vulnerable times, she gathered me into her “school” and made me feel safe and cared for.  Both of these women are important to me.  Both of them, so different, yet so much alike–they both inspire me with their stories and with their resiliency and with their unending capacity to love.

Today T gave me her picture.  On her birthday, she gave ME her picture of her “home.”

I was honored and touched by her heart.  I will keep it to remind me of our dreams and that until we all have a safe place to lay our heads, none of us can truly sleep well.

Before she left, I gave T this.  I had nothing else to give her but my love, which she already has.

20131022-222721.jpgIt’s nothing much.  I gave it to her with a hug and a whisper about dreaming and birthday wishes and walking with her to see them come true.  This is my birthday wish for T and for Baddest Mother Ever too.  I love you both, and this is what I want for you.  For your heart’s desire, for your very special wish from your heart, for that to be granted.  For there always to be a school of folks ready to gather you in and stay right by your side. For you to continue to be strong and share your stories with the world so they will know about beauty in brokenness and hope in the dark.  And for you to find strength in your weakness and find a way to hang on during those bumpy rides.  Most of all, I want you both to know how much you are loved.  And treasured.  Because you are.  ❤

Move a Mountain Monday

There’s a group on Facebook, the Canny Women, who promote doing instead of buying, and every Tuesday they cheer their followers on through “Tackle a Pile Tuesday.”  They can inspire or frustrate you depending on where you’re at–just being honest here.  Today, they inspired me.

First I had seriously contemplated taking my only day that we didn’t have some place to be and going with the littles to the grocery store.  They’re not a problem in the stores at all, it’s me.  As the day progressed, and we all piled up and listened to our Princess read “Wiley and the Hairy Man” aloud, I just wanted to be home.  I saw a post this afternoon by Canny Women where they asked what everyone was fixing for supper, and there was their slogan–“DO instead of BUY.  Shop at home first.”  Did I have food here?  Yes.  Could we make it without the trip to the grocery store?  (well, I really wanted to get a few things to mix up our snack mix…..*whining*) YES, we absolutely could.  Even our Princess who insisted she was out of shampoo realized that she really wasn’t, and all was well with the world again.  We stayed home, we had three good meals and a snack today, and we actually have enough that tomorrow is going to be grocery store free as well.  A great big whoo hoo!

And even though it’s not Tuesday, I decided to go one step further and make it “Move a Mountain Monday.”  Yeah, piles just didn’t describe what I was facing anymore.  Here’s what was in that mountain–

College advertisements, enticing, tempting, offering my child money and all kinds of perks.  This is what happens when you take the SAT not knowing you are going to graduate a year early.  The other colleges didn’t get the memo, so I have another whole year of her getting college letters, brochures, and catalogs.  All with her name on it, so that part goes in the shredder pile.  Don’t ask me why–I don’t know.  It’s what my people do.

Insurance and magazine advertisement junk mail.  And credit card applications.  Just no.  I do not like change much, so no on the insurance and nobody needs another credit card and dear magazines–if I haven’t already contacted you, I’m not gonna.  Just letting you know.  So these too, the parts with the personal information on it, get shredded.

Catalogs.  Oh good gravy.  Order something from a company just once because it was a special Christmas request for someone you had no other ideas for and from then on it’s catalog overload.  I think I’ve heard that there’s a way to stop the catalogs from coming, but that would require putting it on my to do list and following through.  Bigger gators closer to the canoe–and my brain’s been missing for months now, so that’s not likely to happen.  I can say I will try if someone tells me how to make it happen.  But I make no promises.  The inserts with my name and address and the mailing label all go into the shredder too.  (Once I had a company calling me about an order that I DID NOT place, so yeah, I must not let my catalogs get into the hands of folks with malicious intent.)

Then with all this unimportant stuff are all the things I need to sort and file and respond to.  Bills get paid, but that’s been about it.  I’m organizing and filing for our house and three other lives that were, so maybe you can understand how this mountain got out of hand.  Understand or no, it is what it is.

A mountain of disorganized mess.

I prepared myself mentally and sat down at the desk.  I pulled out my shredder.  It was a gift from Mama.  She taught me how to be organized and to protect myself.  I was so excited to get a shredder, probably more for the novelty than for the safety of it, but I loved my gift.  From time to time it gets jammed.  Which is why the pile of “to be shredded” was escalating.

One of the gifts from my Mama that I will always appreciate.

One of the gifts from my Mama that I will always appreciate.

I turned it off and worked at the tines until it was ready to go.  When I had it whirring, I was on a roll.  I created loads of shredded paper and knocked out one mountain and then two. All I have left to handle tomorrow is my “To Deal With” pile.  And thank goodness, it is a pile.  Not a mountain.

So many thoughts went through my head as all that information was buried in the mound of bits and pieces of numbers and letters, no longer discernible.  Mama was proud of the idea of giving me one, and she wanted me to be able to take care of my business carefully and responsibly.  She would say it took her years to perfect her system, and perfect it she did.  Sister asked to look through Mama’s desk at how it was organized before we started cleaning it out.  Mama was just that good at managing a household and so much more.  I think she overestimated me and my capabilities.  I seriously doubt I will ever have it as together as she did.  There will always be a day in the month that my stomach will clench and I will try to focus and remember–I did pay that bill, didn’t I?  Did I respond to that e-mail?  The answer is most often yes, but that’s how my mind works.  Because my system doesn’t.

The other thought that wandered through as I rhythmically fed the papers of all shapes and sizes and textures through the machine was wouldn’t it be nice if everything we needed to clear up could be handled this way.  All traces of whatever we’d like to leave behind, feed it into Life’s shredder and let it go.  No worries, no residue left behind–that’s a shredder I’d get in line to feed some things through.  Nothing left to carry in your heart or mind.  Just gone.  Swept out of your life with an old broken crayon and a few crumbs from the biscuits at breakfast.  Done.

But that’s not how it goes.  We have things we’ve done, choices we’ve made, things that have just happened, that have our names indelibly scrawled across them, and somehow we have to make peace with that and move on.  There is no Life shredder.

And yet tonight I think I’m okay with that.  Sure I’ve made some bad choices.  I’ve had things happen that I couldn’t and still don’t understand why they did.  But, and I apologize for the cliche’, having my name on those things make them a part of my journey.  And without those bits and pieces of the story, I would not be sitting here with sleeping children and the Fella home safe and sound and a snoozing puppy laid out on the floor waiting to be tucked into her little bed.  It would all be different.  Different good, different bad–not something I can know or even want to know.  It just is what it is.  And it’s okay.  If I were to put all those hard things in Life’s shredder, it is possible that I would only be more broken, much like the paper I handfed through today.

It's okay for the scraps of old mail and advertisements, but not for the bits and pieces of my story--even those I haven't made my peace with yet.

It’s okay for the scraps of old mail and advertisements, but not for the bits and pieces of my story–even those I haven’t made my peace with yet.

So maybe I wouldn’t get in line for that Life shredder if one ever existed.  I think I’ll hold on to the bits and pieces of paper and all those letters and numbers and words and exclamation points and question marks that make me ME.  And I’ll definitely hold onto the ellipses…..for some of the best stuff is waiting on the other side of those.

But I am thankful for my Mama who tried to teach me how to take care of business and wanted me to be safe in all kinds of way, including shredding stuff that could make things harder for me if I didn’t.  I think she would be proud of me for trying today.  Whenever we’d do something we especially did not like, she would say, “Aren’t we feeling sanctimonious?”  And you know what, I rather am a bit.  Most importantly, I think today I started moving more than a mountain of mail and such…..I think I started moving the mountain of mayhem in my life, including the parts of my story that are harder to be okay with.  And that’s something she’d really be proud of.  There was never anything I couldn’t share with her, no story she wouldn’t hear.  She loved me warts and messy mayhem and mood swings and all.  Maybe it’s time I start doing that for myself.  Time to move the mountain of maudlin regret and woes and worries.  Move it out of my heart and mind and make room for more of the good stuff.  I think that would really make her smile.

Good Job, God!

When Aub was about 18 months old, we started going to a little Wednesday afternoon playgroup.  From this little group our Mother’s Morning Out program began. Aub had a friend she met there, Kayla.  Little Miss Kayla’s Mama worked as a church secretary part-time at the church across the street from ours.  Occasionally, if her Mama had to work later, I would take Kayla home after our program ended.  Those two little blonde-headed girls had so much fun playing and giggling together, and after lunch we would all climb up in my bed and take a nap together.

One day we were driving home, and we saw a rainbow up ahead.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

Suddenly from the backseat there came a loud and enthusiastic shout.  “Look at that rainbow.  Good job, God!”

It was Kayla, bless that sweet girl.  She saw God’s artwork in front of her and couldn’t help but share her approval.

That became a part of our family jargon after that.  Looking for the artistic stylings of our creative Creator and giving two thumbs up.  Like a purple field of flowers or the river of birds that fly over us on their way somewhere in late winter.  I’m reminded of the artist who said that each of us has an artist inside of us because we are created in the image of a Creator.   When we see it, we can appreciate it, because we are artists too.  Even if just a little bit.

I was reminded of Kayla and her precious praises tonight as we drove to Evening Prayer.  Driving into the sunset, and what a glorious one it was.  Even the littles stopped their playing in the backseat and said, “Oh wow.”  I smiled and whispered, “Good job, God!”

The sunset tonight.  God used all the colors and his most special paintbrush tonight.

The sunset tonight. The Artist used all the colors and the most special paintbrush tonight.

Just breathtaking.  We stopped as we were walking in just to soak in this view.

Just breathtaking. We stopped as we were walking in just to soak in this view.

The sky was on fire, wasn't it?  I would not even begin to know how to mix those colors.

The sky was on fire, wasn’t it? I would not even begin to know how to mix those colors.

When the Geese flew over us and honked, I felt like we'd just had a blessing said over us.  Peace be with you.  And also with you.

When the Geese flew over us and honked, I felt like we’d just had a blessing said over us. Peace be with you. And also with you.

Then as we were leaving Evening Prayer, the sky gave its benediction.

The moon was full and gorgeous tonight.  And it had a slight orange tint--like it knows it's October and wanted to dress appropriately.

The moon was full and gorgeous tonight. And it had a slight orange tint–like it knows it’s October and wanted to dress appropriately.

Tonight I’m thankful for that precious little girl all those many years ago who taught me to look for, appreciate, and praise the beauty in the world around me.  I am thankful for a beautiful welcome and sending out from Evening Prayer tonight.  The challenge, of course, is to look for the beauty in the gray clouds as well as fiery pink and orange ones–to marvel at a dark, cloudy night as well as one filled with magical moonlight.   I’m not always good at it, but more and more, I am learning to look at the world, its places and people, different and similar, foreign and strange and familiar, and say, “Good job, God!”  If we could do that about all kinds of days and nights and folks that walk this earth, imagine what we could make happen in this world.  Just imagine.  Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

Maemae’s Special Ingredient

English: Own Camera

Mama could even add her special ingredient to frozen macaroni and cheese.  She was just that good.  English: Own Camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every third Saturday the men of Trinity UMC have a Men’s Breakfast.  What a great group of folks, so welcoming, and you can tell they really, really enjoy being together.  As a matter of fact, if you are male of any age, you should head on out and join them next month.  I know you’d be welcome, because this morning they were so gracious to me.

I suppose I was already a bit sentimental.  This was Mama’s church.  She went every Sunday she was felt up to it and attended two Sunday services and Sunday School in between.  She loved her Sundays at Trinity.  The good people there took her under their wings and gave her sanctuary, a place to mourn and heal in the fifteen months after Daddy died.  They were there for us, her children, after she died and we started our own journeys of mourning and healing all over again.  Good people, I tell you what.

I parked and went into the building where Mama attended the second service each Sunday.  I was greeted by one gentleman who welcomed me in and took me to meet the person who had invited me to speak.  I had been asked to come and share about one of my favorite places ever–Bare Bulb Coffee.

The men there made me feel right at home and shared their breakfast of sausage and biscuits and coffee and orange juice with me.  I sat and we talked about volunteering and life after retirement and grandchildren.  It seems that this is the first month they haven’t had a full-on breakfast buffet of sorts.  They are trying to be responsible with what funds they have, and they hope to get to a point where they have enough to provide breakfasts and contribute to missions.

Wow.  That touched my heart.

That’s good stuff.

They get it.  They realize that what is bringing folks to the breakfast is not really the food.  What keeps folks coming are the camaraderie, the friendships that are being built, the relationships that are already there.  That is what really matters.  The sausage biscuit or whatever else they decide to serve is just icing on the cake, so to speak. (And it was quite good “icing” I must say.)

It made me think about Mama and her love language.  That woman could put a hurting on a kitchen.  She could prepare a huge dinner with all kinds of vegetables and fried chicken or pork roast and gravy and biscuits and have a homemade dessert to chase it down with.  And don’t even get me started about Thanksgiving.  There just about wasn’t room for us to sit down and eat after we put all the food on the table.  It’s a wonder that table is still standing.   Oh me.  My mouth is watering just remembering.

On your birthday she would ask what you wanted for your special supper and she made it happen.  I dearly loved her pork roast and gravy over biscuits, but I am sure I asked for other things over the years.  Her homemade pizza was the best pizza ever.  Each year she made a Swedish version of Gingersnaps for me and used the Happy Birthday cake cookie cutter.  I miss all the little things she did to make the day extra special.  And she always said we had to celebrate for at least a week, so there were other times you could request your favorites too.  Oh how she loved us.

After Daddy was diagnosed with lymphoma four years ago, Mama wasn’t able to cook like she had been.  As it should be, her top priority was taking care of Daddy and making sure he was okay. If there was something he was hungry for, she started preparing it almost before her feet hit the kitchen.  But it wasn’t often that he was.  I can remember a few times that she cooked like before, but quite frankly she was exhausted and scared and worn out.  We encouraged her to let us cook or pick things up.  Picking up Stevi B’s was a special treat.  Daddy always teased me that I couldn’t just get a couple of pizzas–I had to bring the whole buffet to him.  Well, yeah, he was my Daddy and he deserved every bit of it.

After Daddy died, Mama so wanted to cook for us all again, but she was still so tired and, as we later realized, very sick.  Always a bargain shopper, she expanded her shopping list to include some already prepared things.  When Publix put their Stouffer’s meals on buy one, get one free, she was so excited she would call to let me know.  Our meals together when Mess Cat and her family came down from Atlanta would often be a Stouffer’s Lasagna, a Macaroni and Cheese, broccoli put in the oven to roast (y’all that is the BEST way to fix it!) and sometimes she’d feel up to frying okra.  She’d add applesauce or some kind of fruit in bowls and carrots and we’d have us a feast.  She always apologized, but we all had a good time, and that’s what we remember the most.  The joy of being together, the laughter at all of the stories we shared.  I remember the food being pretty good and how we’d all say how far those freezer meals had come over the years.  The macaroni and cheese mixed with the broccoli was really quite good.  It was time together and because Mama wasn’t spending all her time in the kitchen cooking, we had more time to visit with her.

And that’s what the men of Trinity UMC have figured out.  They have a good time, those Iron Chefs in the kitchen in the wee hours preparing all the food for their brothers.  But they realize that it’s the relationships that count the most, not what’s on the menu.

Don’t get me wrong.  I miss my Mama’s good cooking.  Something.  Fierce.  But as thankful as I am for her good cooking all those years, I realize now that what really fed us, filled our souls as well as our bellies, was her most special ingredient.

As our Princess tells it, one day she asked her Maemae why everything she made was the best thing ever. She asked Maemae what she added to make everything so good.  My Mama hugged her and laughed and said it was her special ingredient.

“Do you know what she said her special ingredient was?”

No, what?

“Love.  That’s what she added to everything she fixed.  That’s what made it extra good.”

And that’s what really feeds us, isn’t it?  I am thankful to the Men of Trinity UMC for their hospitality and for reminding me of something very important today–that special ingredient that we should add to everything we do.

Tiny Little Things and the Big Life Moments

We interrupt our regularly scheduled post to share with you this exciting news from the Adventures of the Zoo Crew.

This little bitty thing

My baby's first tooth to come out.....just put me out to pasture now.  How did he get so old so quickly?

My baby’s first tooth to come out…..just put me out to pasture now. How did he get so old so quickly?

came out of this little guy just a little while ago.

Look at that precious smile.  It's hard to tell him no.  I do it.  Quite a lot.  But that doesn't mean it's not hard.

Look at that precious smile. It’s hard to tell him no. I do it. Quite a lot. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

When did this happen?  That tooth just came in a few months ago.

I promise.

Or maybe it just seems like it was.  Maybe it was more like six years ago.

So much has happened in those six years.  He has gone from being what my Daddy called a “puddle of people” to an honest to goodness, walking, talking, forming opinions and sharing them, Star Wars obsessed funny guy.  Who is six.  Almost seven.  Just four months shy.  As he will make sure you know when you ask him how old he is.

Just tonight a couple of hours before Cooter lost his tooth, Aub was talking about him turning eleven. (She was eleven when he was born.) I had to make them *beep beep beep* back that up, because he is not even seven yet. “I know,” she said. “But I can’t even bear him turning seven.  Six is still a little boy, but when he turns seven, he won’t be little anymore.  Seven’s not a little boy, it’s just a boy.”

*sigh*

Yes, I’m aware.

How is it that this tiny little thing makes me cry such big tears?

In all actuality the tooth loss tonight was quite anticlimactic.  No blood or gore or tears from the toothless wonder.  It’s been hanging by a thread for such a long time I was starting to worry that he’d never let it go.  I almost started calling it the Bubba tooth.  Only it’s not really.  Many years ago, my dear sweet sister friend’s daughter with whom Aub grew up had a front top tooth that was similarly stubborn about coming out.  That joker was hanging sideways and still wouldn’t come out.  Nor would she let anyone touch it.  That, THAT was a Bubba tooth.  (My brother Bubba would probably agree.)

But like the Bubba tooth, Cooter’s little tooth finally just floated away from its dock, and he picked it up and said, “I just lost my tooth.  Can I call Baba?”  That’s his big sister Aub.  She didn’t seem to mind at all being interrupted at the football game to get the news.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my family?

And so the time ticks on.  In my mind and heart I think of what Mama and Daddy would have said when he called to tell them.  (Though it’s quite unlikely it would have lasted this long if Daddy had been here.  Pulling teeth was kind of his thing.) I guess this is just another in a long line of life moments that I will think about in such a way.

It doesn’t help that I’m so sentimental and I think about things like how little this tooth is and how it’s the beginning of the end of the “little boy” phase.  The day I have no Matchbox cars or Star Wars figures or Lego’s in my tote bag is the day y’all need to come over with chocolate, a pound cake, a gallon of sweet tea, and a big ol’ box of tissues.  I will be DONE. FOR.  This is my baby we are talking about.

I am happy for him.  Our neighbor friend who was three months younger was losing them regularly right before they moved this summer.  (I teased him incessantly that if he’d brush them maybe they’d stop falling out.  He would laugh every time, bless him.  Sure do miss them.)  And Shaker, Mess Cat’s son, who is six months younger, has already started losing teeth.  So yeah, it’s a rite of passage as far as Cooter sees it.  Although he’s trying to play it cool.  After the initial need to celebrate with his sister, he leaned back against the recliner and said, “Yeah.  It feels…..I don’t know…..without the tooth in my mouth, it’s kind of…..boring.”

Oh good gravy.  Get excited boy.  You just lost your first tooth!

And he is.  I could see it in his eyes.  But, you know, sometimes you just have to play it cool.

Then again, what do I know?  I sobbed for quite a while when his umbilical cord fell off.  And now this.  Only six and three-quarters years later.

How many more teeth losings do I have to go through?

A body and heart can only take so much.  I think I might need a nap.