Monday, April 30, 2012

First pitch

Sitting in the deserted bleachers yesterday during practice, I watched Branson walk, head down, into the dugout. A couple of moments later he exited with his batting helmet and gloves, bat in hand, headed slowly to home plate.
"He still doesn't look good," I thought.

After missing nearly half a week of school last week, I thought by now his headache and would be gone. But evidently our over-the-counter meds weren't clearing this up. A couple of nights ago during a game, a few of us moms in the stands diagnosed Branson (in our professional medical opinions) with a sinus infection. But not yet having retrieved a Z-pack, it was evident all throughout practice yesterday that Bran's energy was zapped.

Regardless, he practiced just fine, calling out a few encouraging words to his teammates every now and then. With twelve games down and only four to go, yesterday's was my first practice to attend. Any chance he got between drills, Bran sat down in the outfield and waited his turn.
As I watched him approach the plate for batting practice, his coach called out, "Billy, go pitch."

My head jerked up. Billy? Billy had never thrown a pitch as far as I knew. I could tell Bran was as surprised as me.

Both coaches stood together way in the outfield while Billy approached the mound. He pushed his glasses up on his nose, glanced side to side, and looked at Branson.

"Hey Billy, why don't you just throw a few pitches first, get warmed up?"
My heart settled a little in my chest. Bran knew what to do. Knew how to make him a little more comfortable.
"Here you go, right over home plate, Billy."
Billy turned sideways, reared back his arm and threw a wild one - higher than my son's head and no where near the plate.
I flinched.

Undaunted, Branson set aside his bat, crouched down in catcher's position behind home plate, and held out his batting-glove-laden hands as a target.
"Here, right in my hands. You got it, Billy."
And he did. Pitched for several minutes to Branson under the watchful eyes of their patient teammates sprinkled across field.
Bran picked up his bat, assumed a hitting position, and Billy threw out his first pitch. Bran connected and the ball sailed.
On it went for half a bucket of balls, Billy throwing a ball towards home plate, pushing his glasses on his nose between each pitch, and each time Bran calling out words of encouragement, "Great job, Billy! You got it. That was a good one. A little harder, now."

I sat perched in the stands, chin in hands, with a tears puddled behind my sunglasses. Watching my son handle this potentially embarrassing situation with kindness and dignity was not only worth the hour and half watching practice, but touched me more than line drives and fielding finesse ever could.

Father, thank you for glimpses of your love in our children. These precious encounters get us through the difficult ones. Thank you for reminders that you are putting your thoughts and actions into their minds and hearts, and for the encouragement it gives us as parents to see an overflow of your grace in them. We trust you with all these precious kiddos, Lord.  They were truly yours before they were ours, and will be yours after they are ours!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In Chicago without Leaving Home

We're in Chicago for a few days, just Corbin and me, a welcome break from "normal" life. I just read John Grisham's book, Ford County, on the plane here. Like most fiction readers, I love Grisham's writings. I appreciate his legal insights as I'm married to this attorney husband of mine, and I like the way his stories eek out a scandal and then tie it all up in the end. For the record, I think Ford County is quite different from his typical writing. I still adore Grisham, but these short stories don't resolve.

One of the stories centers around a character who, basically, endures a midlife crisis and leaves his business, his wife, his daughters, and his "life" as he escapes to the island life. The end. He leaves everything behind, and somehow manages to find satisfaction in hammocks and frozen drinks with his toes in the sand.


I kind of only appreciate literary characters I can relate to. At least a little. This one's got NUTHIN.
I'm so sure - leave behind all your family, difficult relationships, failing business, in one fail swoop, and then find contentment in a lonely, hidden-away existence?

We flew into Chicago last Saturday during of one of my son's baseball tournaments. Corbin and I received texts throughout the day and then into Sunday - 4 games' worth - of my son's dismal tournament play. And I mean dismal. I don't get it. And I can promise you that I hurt more than he does. Like, couldn't-sleep-well kind of hurt. Because it's more than just a few games, of course. Throw in his confidence, his love for the game, his fears of not being "good enough," and it's enough to knock a sensitive Momma to the ground.

And then on top of that, add in some pre-adolescent behavior, which is totally keeping me on my toes (when I'm not on my knees), combined with that strong personality of his, and yikes - it's the perfect storm for feeling overwhelmed with this whole parenting thing. And that's just ONE of our kiddos. Plenty to keep my prayer / gratitude journal overflowing (gratitude - what a gift, thank you Ann for teaching me to be grateful in the difficult, unwanted things).

So here I am, sharing a deep-dish Giordino's pizza, hitting nearly every shop on Michigan Ave (not kidding, my husband can totally out-shop me), looking at the Navy Pier from my hotel room window, shopping for American Girl doll accessories to take home to my girls, eating waaaay to much food at these incredible restaurants, and yet my mind hasn't wandered an inch from the issues with my son all the way back in Texas. I'm trying hard, but my I'm simultaneously enjoying Chicago with Corbin while grieving some things back at home (no, not just baseball, though that'd be enough!).

I know Grisham has kids. That he knows parenting. I cannot, cannot relate to his midlife-crisis character, though. You'd never really leave it all, even if you wanted. Heck, I can't leave it for three days. But God is so good to remind me of a few things in my time here:

- The distance makes it easier to THINK before talking with my son about some of these issues. Takes away the emotional fuel, giving me a little more level-head in making some plans with him.
- I'm not there, so God has to show up. I've given him over to the Lord many times before, this is simply another opportunity. As my mom once said about me,"Lord, he was yours before he was mine, and he'll be yours after he's mine." I'm reminded that God cares for and loves my children more than I ever could. I can trust Him.
- That I married a fantastic man to walk through parenting with, one who loves his children dearly, and is able to see things clearly without getting too entangled in emotions.
- Cappy's mantra, which has become one of mine, "God loves us just the way we are, but loves us too much to let us stay where we are."

Finally, a quote from CS Lewis that I'm reminded of this week, one that describes me pretty well:
"Our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for Him who can untie things that are now knotted together and tie up things that are still dangling loose."
Praise God that He is able to meet my neediness, and that He chooses to do so. Praise Him that He loves us, is constantly changing and growing us, and will NOT let us escape - with contentment - to a remote island. And that includes my boy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Reunion 2012

I’ve just returned from one of my favorite times of the year - our annual reunion with my college girlfriends. It’s debatable which year this marks, 18th or 19th, as our first trips to Cammi’s parents’ lake house started even before graduating from Baylor. Regardless, it's a fantastic tradition.

This year we convened at Nan’s home near Chapel Hill, NC. Not only was it a joy to be in her home (Jeff and their four kiddos vacated to a beach house for the weekend), but Nan went ALL OUT in her preparations and planning. All weekend we hovered over platters of gourmet dishes spread across her kitchen counters. I think her hot-out-of-the-oven iced sugar cookies were my fav. Either those or the queso fondo with roasted green chilis and goat cheese - which Nan whipped up a second night upon request. Add to that a humongous bowl of Cammi’s fresh salsa, ah-mazing tortilla soup, overflowing batches of guac - and this barely scratches the surface.

While Nan’s food and hospitality made this reunion unique, our weekends together pretty much look the same - eating, talking, laughing, perhaps a few tears (some years more than others), rehashing new stories right along with the favorite oldies (that NEVER grow old), and an insane amount of reminiscing. Given the outrageous creativity represented by these gals and their spouses, there’s often albums or videos playing in the background that were produced/ directed/ performed by someone’s blood relative (on that note, Christy Nockel’s new album, Into the Glorious, is a MUST).

This year, amidst the talking/eating gig we’ve got going, we added a never-been-done-before event to our weekend. Saturday evening, Nan’s neighbors hosted their daughter’s wedding in their backyard, which lies directly across the street from Nan’s backyard. Picture white tents, burlap runners, and a zillion white twinkling lights complete with 80s music and a dance floor. We had no choice but to crash it. So after devouring Nan's offering of thin flank steak and cauliflower/ brussell sprouts slaw, we followed the sounds of Journey to those twinkling lights. That is, after Cowden changed into an acceptable outfit.

Walking through a crowd of people we didn’t know, twenty years mysteriously vanished as I watched my friends (Jess and Cammi, in particular) dance their hearts out, singing at the top of their lungs. A wave of remembrance, gratitude, thankfulness, and JOY washed over me. This was so our college experience - dancing to that same 80's music without a care in the world. Just good, clean fun with amazing, DEAR friends. I swallowed a few times to remove the lump in my throat. Right there in the midst of Thriller moves and lyrics, I felt the levity of deep gratitude for these friendships. I couldn’t have orchestrated a bit of this 20 years ago - an absolute gift from God that's added to my foundation of confidence and spiritual growth over two decades.

Jill keeps us young (though she doesn't have much of a challenge with Kristin)
Birthday girls
Kristin and Kirsten
Jill and Cammi
Jessica and Nan
Me and Kristin

Until next time...
At one point in the weekend, someone commented that we’ve known each other longer now than we didn’t know each other. We met at 18, but it's been 21 years since our freshman year. We missed those who couldn’t come this year, but are already looking forward to next year. Until then... the laughter and memories will keep us going.

Monday, April 9, 2012

He Is Risen

 He is risen, indeed.

I love Easter. I love that it's accompanied by nature's budding spring growth, reminding me that someday I'll be mature and complete, but that this life is truly a growth process.

On the heels of Lent season and Easter, I'm posting a piece I wrote several years ago. It's my interpretation of Scripture's account of Jesus healing Peter's mother-in-law. The story has been swirling in my mind the past few weeks as I've wrestled with the reality of how to really know Jesus. As his death and resurrection pave the way for our rescue and reconciliation with the Father, it was his LIFE that teaches us how to live.

After 35 years of walking with him, I'm barely scratching the surface. Jesus is a mystery. A beautiful, tangible, rescuing mystery. May we seek to continue to know him, to believe his truths. May his Word continue to challenge us to know Him deeper.

Jesus and Mama
Even with dusk approaching, sunlight streams into the open windows of Mama’s room. The merciless heat shrouds me like a hot, damp blanket. Mama’s fatigued, shallow breathing fills the room, her lungs meekly grasping for more air. Limp and thin, her body occupies a straight, unmoving lump under the pile of blankets and offers no hint of recovery. I examine her gentle face which appears impossibly aged from the course of just one week: rosy cheeks now gray and hollow and sunken, with dark circles encasing her once-bright eyes.
Where did this fever come from? With each day it grows more and more tenacious for claiming Mama’s life. Was it someone she spoke with at market? Someone’s hand she took in a warm embrace who unknowingly passed on this disease?
I glance out the window upon hearing my husband’s voice in the distance. Mingled with the far-away cry of a child and the bustle of marketplace shoppers, I hear Simon’s excited, boisterous talk above the others. Thank God he’s home. He and Andrew have no idea how bad Mama is, how this terrible, relentless fever racks her body. Wringing water from the rag for a thousandth time, I place the wet towel across Mama’s forehead and lean to kiss her before running to the door.
Wait, who are all these men? I can make out John and James, and of course there’s Andrew, but who is this other man?
It must be Jesus.
Well, this is not the time. Not the time to prepare a meal and entertain Simon’s new friend. I have no bread prepared, and barely enough water for cleaning hands and feet. Our home is a mess. Every ounce of my energy is reserved for fighting Mama’s relentless fever.
I don’t know what to think about Jesus, anyway. He asked Simon to give up his life’s work of fishing - and Simon said yes! How does my husband expect his and Andrew’s new “work” of walking from town to town with Jesus to put bread on the table? People in town are starting to talk - even my friends question Simon’s loyalty to this strange man.
As they approach, my gratitude and relief for Simon’s presence overcome my frustration with his days-long absence. I run to meet him on the road.
“Simon, come quick! It’s Mama!”
He reaches to embrace me, but sees my distress and instead races toward the house.  Andrew’s face flushes with concern, and James and John and the stranger hurry close behind.
Back in Mama’s room, Simon asks his friend Jesus for help. Jesus?!  To help my Mama? I didn’t ask for this man! Without hesitating, Jesus goes to the bedside and takes hold of Mama’s hand. He folds his dusty, dirt-caked hands over Mama’s limp palms, bending over the bed and leaning in close to her face. I watch him watching her, and something in me relaxes.
This Jesus has gentle eyes. Gentle eyes and strong hands that seem to embrace Mama with tenderness and authority all mixed together. Mama’s eyes flutter open, the first time all day. She gazes at Jesus and smiles a faint smile, and he lifts her to sitting.  Before I can utter a word, Jesus helps Mama out from under the stagnant covers and helps her stand on the hard dirt floor.  Her eyes are twinkling, and I rush through the men to hold her. I press my face to hers. Gone is burning heat of fever, replaced with the warmth of restored health.
I glance across the room to Jesus, now leaning against the doorway, this mysterious man who in one touch healed Mama. Who is this man? Simon trusts him, says he’s a man of God and has come to bring hope to the brokenhearted and freedom to prisoners; to restore sight to the blind and the make the lame walk and preach good news to the poor. The people in our town whisper all kinds of things. But looking again into those gentle eyes, I realize that I have already begun to trust this man called Jesus.