Finally at Home

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Words shared in Lone Oak in celebration of my grandmother’s life.

The route down I-65 South always seems to pass quickly but once you take the right turn on exit 91, time starts to crawl. The Western Kentucky Parkway is a time warp – miles passing by without any major milestones, other than the middle-of-the-highway Beaver Dam rest stop where we fuel up with caffeinated beverages and snacks.

But there was always a reward at the end. Winding through Lone Oak, we would pull into the driveway, whether off of Bleich Road or Pepper’s Mill, to find steps adorned with seasonal décor and a door opened by two smiling faces – my grandparents, Betty and Roger. Continue reading

Grace Will Lead Us Home

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Her labored breathing keeps time for me this final morning of her life. Her skinny stomach reveals the contours of her ribs, making it cruel whenever I lift her bed from the office in the mad dash to get the boys to school, encouraging her to the mudroom where she spends her days while I am at the office.  The fervor with which she used to scour the floors for crumbs has slowed to a patient but still persistent walk past the kitchen chairs where the boys have generously left their breakfast crumbs.

There is so much living that we do without any awareness of what we leave behind.  The number of crumbs and floor debris will be revealed as soon as this evening when bedtime snack comes around and her nose is not in search of its spoils.

Late this afternoon, we will scoop up her fragile frame with its rectal protrusion, cancerous mass, and still beating heart into the car. She will anxiously await our destination as she always has, though this time without as much physical ability and nervous energy as once propelled her to climb seats and pant excessively at the driver’s right elbow. We will pass the place on I-64 East where she once climbed into the car seat that held our oldest. Around 15 months at the time, he bore a few scratches on his arms and legs by the time we got off the interstate and I was able to retrieve her from his lap.

We are not in danger of that today.  Instead, our own hearts will be doing their own version of nervous energy as we willfully bring her to the vet for her life to gracefully come to an end.  The human agency within it all is so crippling.  I have found myself wanting her physical condition to dramatically worsen so that we are assured that our decision is merciful. I have waited expectantly to see the pain her in her face so that I can be pain-free in the decision.  But that has not come, even as the condition of her mass has progressed.  What of this impulse to free my own self of guilt by needing the clear suffering of the other to justify a hard decision?  Is this not grace that she has not?

Is it not grace that we have made it thus far – 11 years in our stewardship?  They say she was 2 years old when we adopted her from the humane society… though the white on her face suggests that she might have been older than that.  4 houses along the way.  3 young boys who pulled and poked and prodded.  Countless times when we feared it was the end – escaping out an open door where she would be found by a neighbor or we would hear her collar jingle only to discover her casually following her nose (once on a steep mountainside – eek!).  Or there are the times when she would retrieve a full loaf of bread from the table and consume it in its entirety, leaving the plastic wrapping to send me into a tail-spin with google predicting the worst (thanks, internet forums).

Is it not grace that we have made it thus far – her and me?

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By my side when I came home with newborns. She adored maternity leave and our sabbatical year.  She has been my constant companion in these later years – waiting patiently in my closet as I prepared for the day, curled up in her bed when I would read and write in the morning, following me up the stairs for bedtime routines with boys.

As my companion, she helped me to know myself.  Over these final years, she became a living reminder of the limits of my time and of my caring labor.  I once gave her all of my maternal energy, but it lessened over the years as that maternal energy was distributed for a growing family.  She helped me to see, feel, and name my limits.

But for all the ways I beat myself up for those limits, how can I miss the grace of it all?  She lies here by my side even now. 13+ years old and a cancerous mass.  Breathing in and out, resting in my presence.

Grace lives and breathes.  It outlives our expectations.  It does not quit, even at the limits.  Grace has a surviving quality.

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Last night we celebrated our lasts.  The last supper where she could be found at our feet, catching the scraps and inspecting the youngest’s high-chair.  We took a final walk, but she only made it a third of the way.  The oldest pulled her for part of the way in the red wagon, much to the youngest’s surprise.

img_9847The sky was ablaze as the sun set. Puffy clouds highlights creation’s glory. “Look at the sky,” Drew said. “It reminds me of our walk in Paducah.” Two years ago, we walked along the Pepper’s Mill neighborhood on my grandfather’s 90th birthday, just hours after his funeral service.  The sky that night was remarkable – the glorious handiwork of the Divine, beautifying the world for those with eyes to see.  We returned to Durham the next morning and after a 12-hour drive, we picked Deacon up from the vet and we settled into our new home with her living patiently by our side – a manifestation of the steadfast love that I had preached at my grandfather’s service.

When the door swings wide at the vet this evening and we emerge into the world without our dear companion, may grace abound and may the sky sing…

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
we have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought us safe thus far,
and grace will lead us home.”

Holding a Father’s Hand

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For long stretches, the boys turned from bodies-in-motion to bodies-in-wonder as they stood out in the waves and watched the ocean water crashing in upon their legs.  I’m sure they squealed at the wonder of it all, but their noises did not reach me as I sat on the sand.  I marveled at the scene.  The waves were powerful forces that represented equal parts wonder and danger.  But the boys did not waver before the waves for they held their father’s hand. Continue reading

The Sojourner

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Bobby,

Ten years since your passing, I devote my morning to you on this anniversary.  Amidst getting the oldest to the bus stop, feeding the youngest, and “being with” the middle, I have tried to write you to somehow connect with you across time and space.  The written word is insufficient.  My memories are starting to show wear and tear.  The distance from your family during this sabbatical year makes the time and space feel all the more insurmountable.

The reality of your death feels more comfortable than the memory of it.  When the memory is fresh, then it feels like news – when your death was newly received or noteworthy; when it was not true and then when it suddenly was.  Living in the space of time close to when it might not have been makes me remember the inherent hope that there could be some cosmic re-ordering of events in time that could right the wrong, fix the mortal problem, or resurrect the recently dead. Continue reading

Mother’s Day: The Promise

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FullSizeRender 2The oldest yearns for support, appreciation, and encouragement for his creativity.  The middle yearns for constant presence and companionship.  The youngest yearns for basic needs and safety.  Ultimately, their hearts yearn for our God who covenants with God’s people to offer purpose, belonging, and refuge.  They seek The Promise.

My world revolves around The Promise.  I am its steward who dispenses The Promise.  I am its agent who puts The Promise in action.  I am its incarnation whose very physical being embodies The Promise.  I am created in the image of The Promise.  I am a mother. Continue reading

Speak My Name

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img_6518“Upon the infant’s arrival, the parents do
one of the most important and dangerous things
that will happen to the child:
in wonder and with risk they name him.”
Martin Marty

It always feels a bit odd at first to hear the name in others’ mouths.  For nine months, it has been spoken of in hypotheticals while the child still claims primary home within me; no need for a name for he is so deep within and with me that he was subsumed by my own being.

But the moment he emerges, the name comes from our lips and lands upon him – a blessing which, once spoken, is his to grow into for all the days he is given.  It is now his name and his alone.

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To Linger in The Threshold

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I prepare now to enter into the liminal space where created life moves from the divine unknown into the worn, faulty hands of flesh. They say that you cannot see the face of God and live. To welcome the newly born might be just like that. Just as this baby boy will emerge from this divine-human threshold, we will perish and be born anew. A new me will emerge – born of death and resurrection and heeding the call to go out and embark on a whole new world.

For the ones who receive the newborn into our care, standing in the threshold is a risky place to be. The only way to the threshold is through pregnancy pains or adoption anxieties. The pressure weighs heavy, distorts our very physical bodies, and leaves us trembling before the mystery.

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