Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Napkin Shreds

There comes a point in every parent’s life that the reality of parenthood finally sets in, as if to say, “The inevitable has happened; you have officially become your mother.” I’ll wager a guess that, for most, it happens as it did for my husband and I: in the middle of the night. It’s a hidden mercy, really; the grogginess helps to drown out the terror. Anyway—

What?

Oh! I know what you’re thinking:
You know for a fact that Chandler and I have hardly been married a month.
You know our wedding was not, in fact, of the shotgun variety.
Nor could we possibly have been able to adopt on such short notice--

Well, now. That’s where you’re wrong.

As I was saying, if (somehow) this reality of parenthood does not set in during the late-night screaming and mid-morning feedings of infanthood, and somehow the toddler years don’t involve significant amounts of bed-wetting or late-night up-hours (Wow. You people either have unusually good children or you need to be more introspective!), it is bound to happen with sitcom-like accuracy when your child is just old enough to wander into the bedroom after midnight and insist upon the absolute necessity of climbing into bed with you. The scenario plays out only at the least convenient hour (for us it was 2am), on the least convenient night’s sleep (which, unlike in sitcoms where this reason is usually romantic, for me was due to my having a cold and struggling to stay asleep while unable to breathe through my nose), and for the least convenient reason (like a high fever, for example).

Parenthood is a form of sanctification. Sanctification is inconvenient.

It’s just after 2am, and I was sleeping soundly just a few short moments ago, when I heard the pitter-patter of little feet. Or, rather, I half-consciously felt the pitter-patter of little feet—very little feet—on my hand.

The scene was in the dark, so I don’t know what it looked like, but it sounded like this:

CHANDLER!”

“Umph?”

“Did you bring the hamster to bed?”

Confused pause— “Hamster to bed? No?”

“Something is on me! I just felt a mouse! Or a RAT!”

As Chan jumped up (Ok, let’s be honest, Chan doesn’t jump; he calmly crosses rooms) and hit the light switch (in an urgent-ish fashion), we looked down to see that our hamster was, indeed, curiously investigating our burgundy bedspread as if to say:

“Mommy? Daddy? Can I sleep with you?”

Thus, I and PeanutButter (now safely in his hamster cage and apparently very thirsty) are awake in the living room (at now 3 o’clock) while Daddy is back in bed sleeping soundly. You can’t really blame our nocturnal child, though; one of his parents (the sleeping one) left the cage door open last night while seeing what a hamster might do with a few pieces of shredded napkin. (He wads them up and stores them in his puffy little cheeks, of course, and spits them back out again in a more appropriate place. . .like his food pile.) In all fairness, I don’t really mind, since PB gets his nocturnal genes from my side of the family. I’m just thankful he didn’t wander off and get lost in one of my furniture-and-box-filled rooms or down one of the coverless heating vents in this very-much-a-work-in-progress house!

‘Twas the night before Tuesday and all through the house
Stewart Little was wand’ring (at least our version of the mouse).
Yes I have a cold, but my child doesn’t care!
Still I thank him for not being up in my hair. . .

*shudder*

P.S. Married one month today. Wowie zowie.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Would you be mine; could you be mine. . ."

It is a perfect Sabbath evening in my neighborhood. The summer swelter has cooled down to a breezy seventy-something, I suppose, and as Chandler left for a few hours of office work, I abandoned a pile of Sunday dinner dishes for a peaceful stroll around the block. Smiling at the array of quaint homes in sea-foam green, baby blue, and the most awful shade of lemon yellow that the ’60s had the nerve to crank out, I admire the well-kept exteriors boasting brightly that all of them were built in 1965, and not one of them seems to mind.

Our neighborhood is most decidedly dated, and I like it that way too. We live on a quiet little pair of streets joined side by side in the shape of a tuning fork. The houses are old, the people are older, and the trees are older still. Anyone who knows me could guess my favorite characters along our street are these ancient trees, and I’d trade an arm or two for a word or two of wisdom from the old fellows. But since trees can’t talk, I’m pleased to see a resemblance in so many of my neighbors and look forward to the stories that come with their years as surely as rings can be counted in trees.

On both of these streets the houses are small. You know, large enough to comfortably contain a family with one car, but without all those superfluous basements, extra baths, and bonus rooms. Moving here from Williamson County, Tennessee gives me a great appreciation for the smallness of the houses and people. Inside the oddly colored walls of these houses are a couple of young families, a handful of middle-aged marrieds, and a wealth of wise, wrinkled faces. We are all pinching pennies and doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Nobody here is anybody, including myself, but we like being neighbors.

The day we pulled into the drive a heavy, middle-aged woman came running across the, sweat dripping and covered in grass clippings, to hug me and say how excited everyone was to have us “back.” They love my husband because he is their neighbor, and so they love me too.

A retired policeman patrols the street with a camera, Chan says. If he sees anything suspicious, he takes a picture. In the afternoon I see him driving from yard to yard on his “favorite toy” helping his neighbors keep their lawns mowed. He helped with ours while we were away.

Mrs. Prusse (pronounced “proose”) was married in ’25 and lost her husband in ’56. She had lost her mother young, when she was 18, and so she says she’s spent most of her life alone. She sits in a lawn chair on her front porch—which is precisely wide enough for exactly one lawn chair—and she says it’s been a lot of lonely years.

Bill & Doreen are right next door. They will be my resident grandparents, I believe, but they will NOT come to dinner. I’ve already invited them, and they’ve already said no. They say they are seventy-six; they don’t go out much. I hope it isn’t true about teaching old dogs new tricks. Meanwhile, I wave to Bill as he busies himself on his front lawn or in his tomato garden, and I stop in to hug Doreen and chat with her about progress in my little house, all of which impresses her, because she enjoys being impressed, I think.

It’s in community like this that I see a commonly unrecognized truth revealed: dependency is a good thing. Try selling that in Hollywood, right? But God created people with an inability to fulfill all of their own needs. We need Him, for example. But we also need each other.
Some of the first people I met here were the ones who helped my then-fiancé re-roof his house this spring in preparation for his bride-to-be. Others have loaned him everything from can-openers to the ramps he needed yesterday when he changed my oil. The guy who loaned Chan the ramps even wandered by while he was working and offered him a cold beer. Chandler said no thanks because he doesn’t like beer, but the guy left it dripping condensation beside the tire anyway. So if you ever see me get misty-eyed looking at the lonely Budweiser in our refrigerator door, it is because three neighbors on our street alone lost their jobs last month, and we don’t have much here, but what we’ve got we’ll share.

God seems to have designed community, the sharing of a common bond, as a means of producing joy. This is true even—maybe especially—if we are bound together by poverty. In affluent towns like the wealthy one I left, people take good care of the “Needy” but miss out on the sweet knowledge that they, too, are in need. They “want to give” to people in need because they “want to help” them. They do not see the distance between themselves and their community. They do not know that, as one author put it, there is no “them,” there are only varying degrees of “us,” and we’re all we’ve got.

So this colony of strangely-colored houses is the neighborhood in which God has placed me, and I am rather happy that my house is only a pale shade of grey, but I love every home on this street. Because these people I don’t know yet are the people with whom I will share community, and some of their city-people ways are strange to a shy Tennessee girl. Maybe they’ll think me strange, too, for the way I adore their trees. We won’t have everything in common. But these are my neighbors, and I don’t know many of them yet, but I thank God for every last one of them.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Peeves (Pet, Or Otherwise)

I recently had a text-ersation with my friend "D" in which he said:
"I'm in Oklahoma for a visit, but let's get together when I get back!"

I responded with an inquiry:
"Oh! Where in Oklahoma? I have a best friend in Bartlesville."

In answer, "D" assured me of the following information:
"Oh, my mom's side of the fam lives here, so we're visiting for Xmas."

You can plainly see the question/answer relationship, of course; I asked a question with the word Oklahoma in it, thus anything related to Oklahoma was apparently sufficient response. From now on, when I want to know something, I will simply send a key word or, better yet, a completely blank text. Then *insert recipient* can simply respond with whatever information he is interested in sharing, which will spare me the unnecessary effort of formulating a specific question in the first place.

Dude.
If I'm not worth the time to read a text, why even respond?


Saturday, December 11, 2010

"If Only You Would Hide Me In The Grave"

Have you ever watched someone you love
destroying someone you love?

The ache.
The smarting reminders of past experience, like searing irons to the brain, hold teeth to tongue lest love for one appear a betrayal of the other.
And it does.
Every time.

Love translates to hate. Loyalty to disloyalty.
The children of divorced parents feel this way.
There are only two options: choose sides! or shrivel up and die.

You realize your weakness to choosing sides. . .
And choosing back. . .
And rechoosing. . .

Your pacing of circular paths begins to trample your own soul, rendering option two more palatable, inviting even; the battle is "not against flesh" but is more than your body can bear.

Each day ends at long last.
You bury yourself in blankets.
You say your prayers, a lullaby. . .
. . .and if I die before I wake. . .
. . .and if I die before I wake. . .

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Confession:

I had to google the word "spiel" just now, to check the spelling.

One result was a random blog entitled "my spiel." (Clever.) It said something about a logical approach to the issue of homosexual marriage that reminded me of a Dr. Rapinchuk class, so I clicked. Bad idea. It was from the opposing side, and, while I am not afraid of their arguments, it pains me terribly to read them. I only got about a paragraph in, but this quote struck me because it is sadly, admittedly, true:
In her essay “Against Marriage” Claudia Card asserts that we should “be reluctant to put our activist energy into attaining legal equity with heterosexuals in marriage—not because the existing discrimination against us is in any way justifiable, but because this institution is so deeply flawed that it seems to be unworthy of emulation and reproduction,” (Card, p. 88). . . .Marriage is not a successful institution as it stands. The push to extend the reach of this troubled system seems a problematic ambition. . .
The world should never look to us, as long as we look just like them.

Faith, Hope, and Love

A cold front is moving through middle Tennessee, replacing last week's unbelievable warmth and sunshine with an equally unfathomable wind that can only be described as "blustering." These fronts are the famous sources for countless Whitehead family pressure headaches, and I have one now.

Stress also gives me headaches. The Whitehead family has an abundance of that, too. Last night was particularly stressful for the sorts of reasons that all of humanity has experienced. I won't go into details, but I was glad to be "tucking in another day" (Chris Rice) when bedtime finally rolled around.

It is a blessing the way the Lord restores one's soul after a full night's sleep. Maybe that's part of what it means that God's mercies are "new every morning." Everything seems new in the morning. I apparently clenched my teeth all night and woke up with a killer headache, mind you, but I woke refreshed in spirit if not in body. After a glass of water, a shower, breakfast, sudafed, tylenol, and coffee, I was far better in body too. Next, I set to work on my state of mind with some morning reading.

I have been studying the book of James for the past few weeks. The first week I read chapter 1 every day, the next chapters 1 & 2, and I have worked my way up to 1-3. (One can't use this method with all books, but I like the reinforcement and James is a short one.) The second half of chapter 2 caught my attention today. The subject is Faith, and I need it right now.

I suppose it is only though the blessing of trials that God's word can be made alive to us. I may have been interested in "having faith" before, but it is when my faith is failing that I am most thankful for the Word's elaboration on the subject. James 2:14-26 discusses the invalidity of faith without works. We've both heard that before, but reading it today brought to mind a conversation in which a dear friend was near despair and said he just didn't know how to "have faith" right now. It occurred to me today that these verses address that very problem.

(I'm young. Bear with me.)

Faith seems to me an abstract thing. I say I want to "have faith" and to "believe," but when I'm really struggling I often note that I "don't know how to have faith right now" or that I "don't know how to believe" what I claim to believe. Maybe these verses are the answer to those dilemmas: Faith IS work. Studying grammar taught me to see a linking verb as an equals sign. Thus, the two are not only linked, they are equivalent. "Having faith" and "believing" are not abstract things, they are tangible actions in the form of works. Just as with Hope and Love, I am discovering that it takes a lot of courage, energy, and effort to "have Faith." In fact, all of those seem to involve a lot more "trying" and a lot less "having." This made me think of our conversation last night, how sometimes we just don't know how to be (and the bible telling us "how to be" sometimes doesn't seem to help as much as point out impossibilities). However, the Word always tells us what to do, and that is something tangible. I am thankful for the occasional tangibles of faith (she stated paradoxically)!

An author once illustrated Christianity with the "say like" game. Do you remember?

"Say like I'm an astronaut and this is my rocket ship."
"Say like I'm the mommy, you're the daddy, & teddy is our baby."

Faith and belief are a game of "say like I'm Jesus." In Lauren F. Winners's memoir, Girl Meets God, she narrates from an obscure British novel a scene in which a believer and a cynic are debating God. "Of course I know you believe in it, the cynic says, what I want to know is do you believe in it the way you believe in Australia?"
My answer is usually No. I don't know if "I believe" God is answering my prayers. I don't know if I "have faith" we can overcome the demons that sometimes indwell this house. But I can ACT as if I do. I can continue trudging along in the actions that are required of me, trusting grace to meet me in the middle. I turn to the golden rule. I begin to discover how King David could delight in the Law, how it ceases to be a task and even becomes a relief to meditate on it day and night. The Word tells me what to do, the work of my faith. One of my psych professors said it this way: We cannot think our way into a better way of living, but we can live our way into a better way of thinking.

All that being said, I must finally reminding the pragmatist in me that this "better way of living" is not to effect some change in the world around me but to fulfill my destiny to become more like Christ. It is likely that the fruits of the latter will take care of the former, but I must trust God's sovereignty and, in obedience, take responsibility for myself alone. And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion. . .soon. (Philippians 1)

Well, that's my spiel. It was a bit of a revelation about faith for me, and a much-needed encouragement.

"I am amazed at the patience of my blessed Master & Teacher, but how I love His school!"
E. Prentiss

Monday, November 15, 2010

Truth:

It is good to have days I couldn't survive without the Word.