Wednesday, June 23, 2010

For Women Only

    Monday turned out to be a day for self-torture. At least that is what it felt like. I can tell you that there is nothing pretty about a woman on the shy side of sixty who never lost her baby weight (her baby is almost 24, years that is, not months), and who has added the weight of a couple more babies on top of that, who suddenly decides on a day when the heat index in our supposedly temperate city is approaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit (that's right you read it correctly) in the middle of June (not August) to go shopping for a BATHING SUIT. That's right. A BATHING SUIT. Said woman is truly desperate (the elastic around the legs has disentegrated and the butt of her only workable suit has grown dangerously thin) or she would have never darkened the door of any dressing room to undertake such a tortuous task. It's just too bad that the woman does not have any valium or other sedatives with her because she sure needs either some valium or a good martini to recover from her extraordinary experience.
  In a younger and very different version of her current self, this woman has been a lifeguard, a beach bum, a wanna be surfer girl, and a sun worshipper who had at least 5 or 6 bathings suits in her possession at all times, and she had certainly never combined the concept of shopping for a bathing suit with the notion of self-mutilation or self-torture. In her teenage years the girl actually enjoyed shopping for bathing suits, and sometimes she and her friends would head to their favorite beach store and spend an hour or two admiring themselves in the latest and skimpiest bathing suit fashions on the pedestal in front of the big triple mirrors in the center of the store...just for the fun of it. My, my how times have changed.
    At this stage of life, it requires an act of bravery for the woman to enter the dressing room, especially after some cute little blonde sales associate has come up to her the moment she enters the BATHING SUIT department to say, "How may I help you?" How many I help you, the woman asks? You can shave or carve about 50 pounds off of me today, I don't care which. The blonde associate immediately sizes me up (literally and metaphorically). I really don't need to say much, because her heads starts nodding when I begin to explain exactly what I am looking for. She is already moving before I have finished my sentence. I follow her past all of the darling suits and cover ups to a relatively small section tucked away in the very back of the store, hidden from view of course, for this is where the bathing costumes reside. These bathing costumes are the BATHING SUITS for the older overweight women who would rather hide as much as they possibly can while still pretending to call it a BATHING SUIT. The blonde then has the audacity to direct me to a specific brand of suit that she glowingly describes with these words, "A lot of people have had good results with this particular suit." I am thinking...hmmmm.....what are good results? To go from a size 14 to a size 8 in ten minutes? Those kind of results? I start feeling the material on the suits, and I immediately start getting the picture. The fabric (can you really call this stuff fabric?) feels more like the chain mail for a knight in armor or the material a bullet proof vest is made of as opposed to something you would choose to lounge around the pool in. But when I pick up the tag, I am intrigued. It says "Take off 10 Inches." I look again. Nowhere can I find any kind of guarantee...or promises for customer satisfaction, but I guess this swimsuit company understands their clientele. They KNOW that women of my age and size are rarely, if ever, satisfied in a bathing suit...even one that advertises claims that appear to fall just short of the miraculous. Thus armed with several different sizes -- the blonde cheerfully tells me that it is always good to take a size up (groan) and a size down (a hopeful idea here) along with your regular size to the dressing room. Right. My arms are full of hangers, and I am just thinking she does not want to hear the screams emanating from the dressing room when I am trying to put the correct size combinations together.
    Yet I am relatively well prepared. I have my icewater bottle in tow, I have driven to the store with my car airconditioner on its coldest setting, and once inside the store, I have not stopped short of my intended destination. Yet the bad news is I am somehow already sweating, and I haven't even begun to shed my clothes. I wonder if this is a psychological heat flash. These days just the anticipation of a hot flash is enough to trigger one. I also don't know why clothing departments do not keep their dressing rooms at near freezing temperatures. If they did, they would sell a lot more of these miracle suits because women would not end up tugging and pulling them over a sweating body that has turned into the consistency of super glue.
    I take a few gulps of ice-water and head back. I am a card carrying joint replacement person so I always go for the largest dressing room, which is usually the handicapped. Since I know I am going to get hot, the last thing I want to do is also get claustrophobic...because if and when those two come together, I might not just scream, I might have a hissy fit or a conniption right there in the dressing room. I am lucky. The handicapped room is available. I get my suit combinations organized and very slowly I begin to shed my clothes. Again, I am trying to do all that I can to keep the sweat from running down my face and ruining my eye make-up. What a joke. My first challenge comes when I am trying to get the top of the two piece over my head. The underwire in the shelf bra keeps getting twisted and at one point, I am afraid that I have hung myself. I can't move my arms, I can't move my head, and I can't pull anything anywhere. You can guess what body appendages are hanging out in the non-existent breeze in the dressing room. I consider calling the girl and asking for help, but I am scared that she has never seen a sight like this before.
    After twisting and shouting (to myself) like a Chubby Checker fan,  I finally bend over at the waist and use my feet to step on the straps that are hanging down from the suit. This requires some extra contortions on my part. I am really glad then that I had gone ahead and had the hip replacement. Otherwise, I might have collapsed on the floor and been unable to get up (and I am not kidding here.) As it is, I am hopping around and trying to use my legs as leverage to pull the top back over my head (while I am still standing on the straps). Ten minutes have already elapsed. At this point I am already sweating like a pig, and I have not yet actually been able to get ANYTHING ON MY BODY. I take a few deep breaths and drink some more ice water as I try to keep myself from hyperventilating with exertion. At this point I decide to try to pull the top up over my hips (which are definitely larger than my shoulders), and despite confounding the law of physics, this seems to work. After more tugging and pulling I even manage to get the straps up on my shoulders. Everything is sticking to me, so I do some re-arranging and step back to take a look. Not bad except that I look just like my idea of a Kirstie Alley nightmare. The top is definitely more than a tad bit old ladyish, but at this size, my options are a bit limited. Now it is time for the bottoms. I turn AWAY from the mirror as quickly as I can. Oddly enough, I find that the girl has steered me in the right direction by sending me back with three sizes in two different styles. I don't know what possesses me to begin with the smallest size and the smaller of the two bottoms, but it seems to fit. And if you don't look at my legs, it is passable. Uh oh, the legs. I have excuses, good excuses why I cannot and do not exercise with regularity, but they fade to dust when I am looking at my legs in a mirror with overhead lighting. I am thinking that the dark hose and dark bloomers than my grandmother wore in the twenties are sounding more and more appealing. Perhaps we can bribe the fashion industry to bring them back. They could use a lighter fabric. There are actually women who would probably embrace this idea. Trust me.
    I finally find a top and bottom combination that seem to work. And since I only put myself through this type of self-torture every five years or so, I know that these are going to have to last me a while. But I am not worried, the fabric certainly seems to be durable. I am thinking the army might even want to test it in Afghanistan. I even try on a relatively cute cover-up (I think I am most excited about this part of the shopping trip) but the top of the cover-up is not covering up enough. I am going on the record here and will probably offend someone. I do not find cleavage on older women attractive. And I am not talking about Jennifer Anniston older. I am talking about older women who used to be normal sized in the upper anatomy, but you combine breastfeeding multiple children with weight gain plus estrogen depletion and you just might be getting the picture. The girls are going south and not just for the winter. It is a year 'round thing. So...I am getting plenty of cleavage with the cover-up, but I am not enjoying what I am seeing (nor will anyone else). I am wishing I could round up a few more inches of fabric on each side, and this just might be work. I even consider sewing an old bra into the cover-up to give me some added support, but I quickly abandon the idea. Too much trouble. Another hot flash is coming on. I have been at it for close to an hour. My face is flushed like an alcoholic's and my hair is wringing wet in the back. My needs are simple. I am longing for one of those coated rubber band thingies to pull my hair up off my neck. My daughter always wears one on her arm like a bracelet, except the only time that I tried to do the same, the thingy cut off my circulation. I am really getting hot, almost nuclear reactor hot. Sad to say, I am not a hot momma in the bathing suit or the cover-up. I am just plain hot. And it's time to go before I have a meltdown.
    I finally make it out of the dressing room and there stands my favorite little blonde sales associate. She is talking to this petite woman who is toned and bleached from here to Sweden whom I had just overheard talking on her cell phone in the adjacent dressing room about the horrors of going bathing suit shopping. Her voice has led me to believe that I might have discovered a kindred spirit, but alas, how wrong could I be. I am instantly aware of the chasm between us. She plops down two or three cute little numbers, and I catch a glimpse of the tags...size 6. I groan inwardly.
    Now it's my turn. As the blonde rings up my sale, she smiles sweetly and then she sticks the knife in. The grand total is ($$$) a staggering amount. I quickly count the items, look again to be sure that I am not hallucinating and then I start to sweat again. This is not perspiration, it is sweat. I am getting monumentally hot and bothered. I am wondering if I am going to blow a proverbial gasket. But I know it's my fault. I was initially so intrigued with the miraculous claims on the tag that I totally ignored the prices posted in tiny numbers for all to see... see that is when you have on your 2.75 magnifying readers. I am wondering what I am going to have to sell to buy this bathing suit. I wear all my good jewelry, and neither my bank account nor jewelry box are like Queen Victoria's. I don't have any tiaras or scepters to hock. But I know that I am headed to the beach in two days, and I truly have nothing to wear that remotely resembles a bathing suit. Finally I grimace and hand over the plastic card. I am already wondering how in the world I am going to convince my husband that HE is buying me the dreaded BATHING SUIT, but then I feel the perfect strategy coming on. I will simply do what I am longing to do anyway when I get home...I will burst into tears and have a good cry. I just don't want to start now. I brush my eyes off quickly, making sure not to smear my eye make-up, and I smile sweetly at the sales associate while she bags my purchase. I think she can tell that I am getting emotional. My eyes are a bit blurry. As I head to the car, I look forward to getting home. I know I will have to lie on the couch a bit to recover. When my body temperature and emotions have returned to semi-normal, I will get off my fanny to walk to the kitchen...there I will take out a perfectly chilled Diet Coke and search around for some lo-cal chocolate to accompany it. I press the accelerator a little more firmly as I anticipate the comforts of home. Maybe, just maybe this Keflar suit will last me the next ten years.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Our Firstborn Son

   He is tall, dark and handsome. When we go to Italy the Italians approach him and jabber non-stop in Italian as if he were one of them. The same thing happens in Spain and in Mexico. It would probably happen in Greece and the rest of the known world if he were to travel there. He is one of those people that seems to belong to everyone. But I am thankful that he does not belong to everyone or just anyone...he is my son, my firstborn son of three sons (and one daughter) and today is his birthday. Thirty-two years ago this very day, this dark-haired dark-eyed human being came into the world, all eight pounds, fifteen and a half ounces of him. He was the child I had dreamed of from the time that I was a little girl. And I gave him my Daddy's name. David. A name that means "beloved son." I told my husband before we married, when we were dating and doing that exploring thing that couples who are falling in love and talking about who they are as people and what they dream of being and becoming delight in doing...that thing. I told my husband of nearly thirty-six years then that my first born son would be named after my father. Period. It was a relationship non-negotiable. It did not matter what traditions existed in his family or what names had been passed down, I knew that if, by God's grace I were to have a boy, my first-born son would be named after my Daddy who had died when I was a little girl. David. I have always loved the name. It has a powerful meaning (beloved) as well as powerful memories attached to the name. I hoped against hope that I would have the honor of having a son to bear this name but since I grew up as the oldest of three girls, I thought it highly improbable, but just in case....I had the name picked out.

     I look at this man who is my son and despite what my eyes tell me, I see the baby, the little boy, the teenager and the adult whom he has become. A fine man. He is my one child with whom I wish with my whole heart that God would allow me a "do-over." He was the guinea pig. The one upon whom I learned about my propensity as a parent for failure, frustration, anger, sin, and control. Yet he was the one that ultimately drove me to trust and to lean upon the Lord. In my naiveté I was so prepared to be a good parent, or so I thought. I had the plans, I had attended the classes, and read all the best books. I was completely and utterly convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not only conquer, but could excel at this job. Just how hard could it be? There had been mothers and fathers on earth since the time of Adam and Eve, and surely with all of the knowledge and all of the advice with which I had armed myself, how could I do anything but succeed?
   And yet....I made a terrible mistake. My child probably knew it early on, and he certainly knows it now. I have repented, and I believe with my whole heart that God has granted both of us as parent and child great forgiveness, restoration, and redemption. And what was my most egregious mistake, you ask? It was that I believed that the Lord who had given us this great gift of a son had somehow crafted this child as a mirror reflection of the two of us -- my husband and I. I could not have been more wrong. For in creating my son, the Lord had made a unique individual, one so different from me or my husband that we could scarcely conceive that he had come from the two of us. Tall, dark and handsome...but also highly sensitive, thoughtful, loyal to the extreme, and one who was blessed with the most tender and compassionate of hearts. A great son, a great brother, a great friend, a great uncle. It took me a long time to see my son for who he really was. I kept creating him and recreating him in either my image or the image of his daddy....images with which I was both comfortable and familiar. It took nearly forever for me to "see" my son for the person, the individual, the man that he really was. I wish it were not so, but it took years upon years, some difficult circumstances, and a profound shift in my thinking for me to come to value and appreciate the totally unique being that God had given me to raise.
    Before each of my children were born, I asked the Lord to give me a scripture to pray for them, a scripture that would help me understand their heart. I felt that the scripture the Lord gave me for my first born son was from Hannah's prayer in First Samuel: "For this child I prayed and the Lord hath granted me the petition I made unto Him; therefore as long as he liveth he shall be given to the Lord." I later learned that this was MY scripture...the one thing that God wanted ME to understand about not only this child, but every child I would later bear...that each was to be given to the Lord. It was a lesson that has literally taken me a lifetime to learn. And so what is this child's scripture? It was revealed when this son was sixteen and facing some tough challenges that would eventually bring great suffering and ultimately great healing in all of our lives: "Thou hast drawn the boundary lines for me in pleasant places; what a delightful inheritance I have."
    David, my beloved firstborn son, you are a delight and you have a delightful inheritance.

I am thankful for all that the Father has taught me about love and about parenting through learning to love you, not in my way, my strength, my wisdom, or my knowledge, but instead by surrendering to God's love, God's strength, and God's wisdom and His understanding of you. You are thirty-two today. I can scarcely believe it. I still see that babe in arms that you once were and my heart leaps with the same joy that I felt on the day that you were born. Rest assured that you are a man whom I and your father are proud to call our own. We know that the delightful inheritance the Lord promised you is yours to claim. May you take it up this day and every day and may you know that before you were our beloved son, you belonged to the Creator and He was the first to call you by your precious name. Happy Birthday! Your dad and I are so incredibly thankful for you...we love you so!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Sharpest Sword

      As a child I toted around a beloved Bible given to me by my grandparents (mentioned in this post: The Treasure). Each summer I attended Vacation Bible School at their home church, The First Baptist Church of Opp, Alabama. It was a tradition that my sisters and I would travel from our home to stay with our grandparents during this week in June. VBS was something I looked forward to each year. I remember gathering outside the church in the warm early morning sunshine in my seersucker shorts outfit and sandals. We stood in rows assigned by age group and at the front of each line there was a banner. It was a honor to carry the banner into the sanctuary for the opening assembly.
     One of my favorite activities in VBS in addition to the crafts were the Bible Sword Drills. We would stand in a row with our swords -- the Word of God -- by our sides. The leader would call out a scripture and the first one to find the reference and read it aloud would earn a point. There is a part of me that loves competition so I was always trying to earn that point. But something else happened somewhere along the line...I not only learned where each of the 66 books of the Bible are located, but I also began to fall in love with the Word of God.
     I have not always been as faithful as I would have desired, but the sword of the Word has never failed me, not once. Over the years, I have learned from other wise women to literally pray the Word of God back to Him, as I remind him (tongue-in-cheek, of course) that these are His commands, His words, His ideas and He himself is the one who has said that He is faithful to His Word. It has made me feel close to Him and has opened up the door of communication that only comes when you spend extended time in the company of another.
    I am utterly convinced that prayer has been the key to open my eyes to understand my children's hearts and has been the reason that my husband and I are still finding joy in our 36-year marriage. For throughout the years I have been certain that my children and my husband were alien beings sent to my house for some unknown ulterior purpose. I have been baffled, perplexed, frustrated, confused, discouraged, disappointed, disgruntled, and angry with the whole lot of them. Fortunately this has usually not occurred with all of them at once, but in those years when we were all under the same roof, there was always someone on the hot seat. Someone, including me who needed prayer.
     I am not a stupid person. I consider myself relatively well educated, relatively intelligent, and relatively capable of being a decent parent and wife. Notice I said relatively. Some days I am downright awful and stink at any and every duty, job, or responsibility. Somedays I would like to run away from it all and hit the highway, but most of the time I manage to try. Yet there have been times in my marriage and in my parenting when, despite my best efforts (or perhaps because of them), I have hit the wall. I have faced issues, situations, responsibilities, circumstances, or whatever you want to call them that I could not surmount, or overcome, or for which I was so totally unprepared that I simply could not cope. Things so big or so hard that I did not think I would even survive. And many times I would hit that wall when I was running full speed ahead under my own steam (Is there not a lesson here somewhere?) I have always hated those walls. They force me to fall down or they knock me down (who knows which). I cannot get over the wall, and I cannot get around it. So what do I do? Once I determine that I am still actually breathing and still alive, I usually crawl to my Maker with my face in the dust and my body and soul covered with the mess. On my knees. To His sword. I go back to the only thing that I know has the power. I go back to the familiar. And it has never failed me. If I can't get over the wall, I fall on His sword, which has become my sword, the precious Word of God.

     Years ago when I was sure that my husband lay dying in a hospital recovery room, and I had to tell my children that the next 24 hours would be the most critical, I was so numb that I could not remember any of the scripture that I had memorized through the years. My mind was like some vacant lot overgrown with weeds. I was panicked. I remember that I took a deep breath outside the room before I went in to see my husband and I tried to pray. Nothing. My brain felt like marbles rolling around in a can. I cast around in my head for a scripture to stand upon and for the longest time, there was absolutely nothing. I grew desperate. I was afraid that I was losing my mind. After what seemed like forever, I finally heard the whisper in my soul, so soft and seemingly so incomplete. Over and over again the voice was saying , "The Lord is my shepherd." I thought okay, but where is the rest of the scripture? Where are the other verses that I had memorized in VBS as a child and could say backwards and forwards with my eyes open or closed. They were not there. No matter how hard I tried to remember, nothing else came. Not even the rest of the first verse of the Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd ...I shall not want." The words had deserted me. Despite my prayers for assistance, I could not summon another single word of the famous 23rd Psalm. As the tears rolled down my face I wanted to scream. Yet all I heard again were those five words, "The Lord is my shepherd."

     It took me a long time to get it. It was a long drawn out recovery for my husband that lasted many many months and stretched out over two plus years. During that time I climbed mountains only to fall down once again into the miry pit of fear and desperation. Yet over and over again, I did find myself being lovingly carried to the still waters, and I knew much later that the Lord was not only healing my husband's body, He was making profound changes in me that would have ramifications for both of our lives. Five words. Five simple words. The opening lines of an incredible Psalm filled with power and promise. I did not get the rest then, but I finally got the beginning. The Lord is my Shepherd. Words to stand on. Words to live by. A sword that never fails.
     I barely heard Him over the clamor and confusion of my soul, but thankfully, I did. He was the Shepherd then. He is the Shepherd now. I am certain that I was able to hear exactly what the Ever Faithful One wanted me to hear. Five wonderful words. And I am so thankful to be a sheep of His fold. I might not be the most discerning or gifted sheep on the block, but I have the Most High God as my Shepherd and by His grace and His grace alone, I am still following Him. And golly, I hate to admit it -- I am still running into walls.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

     This morning was a special time. The Mom arrived to find The Daughter and Little One sitting on the porch awaiting an early morning visit. Little One positively gurgled with joy when she saw The Mom, but lest you think that she is someone extraordinarily special....Little One gurgles with joy when she sees nearly everyone, including total strangers. However, there is nothing better than a full body shaking gurgling welcome replete with a toothless grin.
     Here is a shot of Honey and Eloise playing together on the floor. You can't tell from this shot, but Honey is definitely having the most fun!
        The great thing about The Daughter's community (affectionately known as East Nasty) is that people actually sit on their porches, visit with their neighbors, and have friends stop by at various times during the day. Unfortunately The Mom and The Husband are firmly ensconced in middle class suburbia where she (not he) daily dreams of living one day in a place where sidewalks are the norm and are hopefully not just there for the wheelchairs of the elderly.
     Here are a few friends who came calling to visit The Daughter this week and to "sit a spell" on the porch.
Y and Q love Little One and the love is mutual!

Little One and The Boy hanging out (remember the pic of them several months ago?)
The Daughter had a glimpse of what life is like for moms with twins (whew!) when she kept this not-so-little one who is more than a month younger than Little One. The Boy never stopped moving except for this picture. He and Little One had a great time but kept The Daughter on her toes. It is a good thing that The Boy is relatively laid-back because Little One stole every toy he brought with him. She has not yet learned to share or respect another's property.
      Finally, Little One has reached the 7-month mark. She also went back-yard swimming for the first time. Life is full of new adventures. Little One must be distantly related to a billy goat because she loves to chew paper of any kind. Other relatives might be amphibians as she definitely has those froggy legs going! Check out this curly headed beauty who has stolen Honey's heart.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Look What Love Does

    It was a whirlwind weekend! On Friday we (The Husband and I) were blessed to attend a surprise wine and cheese party for a dear friend hosted with great attention to detail and much care by our friend's adult children who had traveled from far and wide to bless their precious daddy on the occasion of his sixtieth (gasp) birthday. Their daddy was at work all day and had no idea that his other children had secretly flown in from Portland, Oregon, and Houston, Texas, to help the daughters who live here complete the transformation of the house into a beautiful venue for the party. Thoughtful preparation and and exquisite attention to detail were evident in every touch. There were six wine pairings for the evening-- each accompanied by specially selected cheeses to compliment the specific wines. Family and a few friends came to fill the man's home with joy and laughter and to tell stories in honor of the hospitality that is a hallmark of the friend's life. Yet the sweetest moment came when the daddy (who had been blindfolded) finally arrived to see his entire family waiting on the porch. There were hugs, kisses, and tears all around. And when I heard my friend's son standing to pray and bless his father, I thought to myself, "It doesn't get much better than this." It felt like a glimpse of heaven.

   Then on Saturday, I was honored to do the flowers for a bridal shower and luncheon that was to have been hosted by my friend who had lost her brother, but had to be moved at the last minute to another friend's house. It was a beautiful and special morning that came together as a result of many hands pitching in to bless a sweet bride. The friend who opened her home for the luncheon said it best when she blessed our meal as she reminded us all of the way life brings together joy and sorrow and how Jesus himself personified this truth in that "for the joy that was set before Him, He overcame the cross." Then at the end of the shower as the women gathered to lay hands on the bride to pray for her and her upcoming marriage, I knew that the Lord had indeed graced us again with the aroma of His sweet presence.

As I reflected afterward about each occasion I found myself marveling at the lengths to which love will go to be the instrument of blessing. Both events were beautiful parties that were in fact labors of love, but it was not the flowers or the food or the wine or the attention to detail that made the parties so special. It was the joy of sacrifice, the outpouring of love in community, and most importantly, the sweet and powerful sense of the Lord's pervasive all-encompassing presence that made these occasions unforgettable. I saw Paul's words in his letter to the Corinthians come to life: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails..."