Why I got vaccinated.

It was a muggy little town in east Texas. Town square. Signs on shop windows left over from the previous football season. A restaurant called Cindy’s or Lori’s or something like that with a parking lot full of pick-up trucks and a dining room full of men waiting on coffee. My husband was trying to navigate the narrow streets to find the courthouse, but I was drinking in the measure of the town. It was a new place. I had never been there and I felt like it was a town I would never forget. Not because of its’ numerous flowered bushes or bricked churches that would be full that Sunday, but because it was where I was going to get my vaccine. By some strange quirk of fate, I was in a town I had never been in to get a shot I never could have imagined I would need.

We found the courthouse and, after a brief argument, a parking place in front of a lawyer’s office. (I was convinced it was not reserved and Richard was convinced it was.) We gathered up our things, made sure we had our masks, got out into the early morning heat and joined all of the other people walking toward the courthouse. There were a lot of them.

We climbed the steep steps into the building and, because I was busy thinking about how I would reenact the scene from Rocky, I almost ran right into a police officer. He was standing on the very edge of the top step and his boots were so shiny I immediately thought his mom must have helped him shine them. I say mom because there was no way he was married. He couldn’t have been older than twelve. Of course, he did have a gun strapped to his side so I guess I could have been wrong about the age thing. He was greeting everyone with a big good morning and questions, “Did you pre-register? So, you have an appointment time? Go to the right. You don’t have an appointment? No? Go to the left. We have some extra shots for you folks.”

Our next stop was a long table that ran the width of the building as soon as you came in the door. It was manned with various women looking at you over the top of their glasses. You’ve seen similar tables I’m sure. Church. Charity events. NATO. These women and the tables they man might be the last bastion between order and chaos. Nobody was getting past those ladies until they had done what they were supposed to do.

Turns out what we were supposed to do was fill out some paperwork. Who are you? Where do you live? Various medical questions to determine you didn’t have prior knowledge that this shot contained things you were allergic to. Similar to when you get the flu shot every year. I went through them with the secret panic that I was forgetting something important. Like, maybe I really was allergic to eggs and I had just never noticed? So, I asked my husband. “Babe, I’m not allergic to eggs am I?” Without looking up, he said “Dear–it’s a different kind of shot. They don’t need to know that.” “Well, I know they aren’t specifically asking, but am I?” He stopped filling out his own form, pulled his glasses down and just looked at me. For a significant amount of time. Then, he put them back on and went back to reading sentences and checking the corresponding boxes. That meant no.

So, I took his word for it and checked no I was not allergic to anything and no I didn’t have any prior knowledge that made me think I should not take this shot. I will admit my pen hovered over that box. Just that morning I had read four posts on Facebook about how I should not do exactly what I was doing. That knowledge was definitely with me as I handed in my paper to one of the table ladies and waited nervously while she checked it over. She was a little scary, I’m not going to lie. But, then wonders of wonders, she looked up and smiled with her eyes, gave me a number to put on my shirt and sent me over to “Those big long benches over there honey. The ones right outside those double doors. Do not go in until they call your number. Do. Not.”

No way lady. I’m going right to the benches. I found myself a spot on the end where Richard could stand next to me–he will never sit anywhere in public where seats are a hot commodity. It’s one of the things I love about him. Then, we waited. I didn’t mind. I’m a people watcher. It was a bounty.

There was an old lady just down from me trying to fold up an umbrella. I don’t know either. But she had one. There was a young couple across from us sitting thigh to thigh staring at their phones. Matching masks. So romantic. There were two older men just down from me with mud encased boots talking in low voices about something that seemed to be extremely important. Could have been tractors. That’s what my city-girl mind thought, but probably it was something like peace in the Middle East. But, my favorite was Madge. No clue if that’s really what her name was, but it’s what I’ll forever call her. I’d say she was old enough to be my grandma, but I’m getting old enough I really shouldn’t say that anymore. She was skinny. So skinny that I wondered how she was standing. Her heels were at least six inches and I just knew there was a cigarette waiting somewhere in her day. Everything on Madge matched. Her purse matched her shoes which matched her lipstick which matched her mask which matched her earrings. I saw the girl from the matching masks couple give Madge a brief nod acknowledging her superiority before going back to her phone. Y’all, Madge was turned out. And, she was so happy. She greeted everyone that came near her with her gravely voice and coffee stained smile. “Hello honey. How are you this mornin’. Wadn’t that snow last year somethin? Last night I answered three questions right on Jeapordy.” Then, she would reach up and pat her hair that I’m almost positive was a wig, but I didn’t care. Madge was owning the waiting line. Fake eyelashes and all. I was still admiring Madge’s pep when I realized they were calling my number. 38. It was my turn. I gave my husband a big hug which he returned– sort of. He hates it when I’m dramatic. Then, with a nervous look at the table ladies I made my way to the double doors.

The next room was organized chaos. There was a gentleman with too much cologne to check my papers one more time to make sure I was where I was supposed to be. I also told him I wasn’t allergic to eggs. He looked at me the same way my husband did. Then, there was a lady directing traffic like they do at Chik-Fil-A, “Stand right here hon. You’re going to go in that line right there. Before the lady with the kids, but after the guy with the baseball hat.”

The next thing I knew, I was in a plastic lunchroom chair talking to Sheila. Sheila was very nice and smelled like vanilla. That was comforting. She was wearing scrubs and her glasses were connected to one of those really pretty eyeglass holder necklaces things. I love those things. I buy them continually, but they just end up broken in the bottom of my purse and I am forever getting rid of the little beads! But, Sheila was actually using hers and she pulled her glasses up to once again check my paper work. Then, she asked me how I was. I told her I was good how was she. She said she was great and asked me to roll up my sleeve. I started swinging my feet and told Sheila there was a big crowd outside. She probably already knew that but, I needed words. She said it had been like that since they started. She told me she went home so tired at night she didn’t even eat. But she added, “I’m not going to say I don’t have a little candy. I need my Mars Bar.” I liked Sheila.

And, I really hoped Sheila liked me since she was fixing to stick a needle in my arm with an experimental vaccine for a world pandemic that was killing people. Whoa.

“I was just wondering if you’ve had anyone cry?” I asked Sheila.

She put her hand on my knee and said, ” I sure have. I sure, sure have.”

I was glad I wasn’t the only one.

I stood up, thanked Sheila and wondered out into the big holding room and started looking for Richard. I didn’t see him so I went and found us a good leaning spot on the wall and dug for my sunglasses in my purse. I was ok with Sheila seeing me cry, but not necessarily my husband. Eventually, he found me despite my sunglasses/mask/hat ensemble (think unabomber!) and we leaned on the wall together for the necessary thirty minutes (I added an extra ten) to make sure we weren’t going to have a reaction and then we left. On the way out, the guy holding the door open for everyone was dressed in an orange striped jumpsuit with big black letters that said prisoner. He was telling everyone to have a nice day and be safe. I told him to have a nice day too and then felt a little dumb. But, I reasoned, maybe it was nice to stand in the sunshine and send people on their way having just been vaccinated. I hoped he had sat in Sheila’s chair too. And then, we were done. We stopped in the parking lot to smile at each other and then walked back to our car in front of the lawyer’s office. It was fine.

We stopped at a fast food joint on our way out of town and not being in the mood for eggs, but still feeling like I should do something breakfast-y, I got an egg roll. Shannon, the girl working the register, looked tired. I had a feeling she wished she could have the day off to go get a vaccine. Before we drove off, Richard handed her an extra five dollars. “What’s this for? Do y’all want something else?” Richard just smiled and told her to put it in her kitty. I don’t think she had a clue what that meant but she smiled and tucked it in her pocket. That guy.

Then, we drove home. Journey playing on the radio and my husband’s hand in mine.

I know, I know– I titled this blog, ‘Why I got vaccinated.’ and you are probably wondering when I’m going to get to the point. But, I have. Y’all just haven’t been paying attention. You might need a Mars bar.

I got vaccinated for the men waiting on coffee, and the table ladies and Madge and Sheila and the prisoner at the door and the tired fast food worker. All of them. And, if it had been in any other town, in any other state, it would have been a different cast of characters but the same hearts. All over this country, people are setting their alarms so they can wake up early and go set up tables and put up signs and direct people through cavernous rooms to a nurse like Sheila who’s waiting to give them a shot in the arm that will help save the folks they just stood in line with. Folks like me. The lady wearing the Whataburger shirt and Houston ball cap that cried when she got vaccinated. My own family and friends and the people in their lines. The way I see it, all of this is happening because this my America. The one I’m so proud of. The one that makes me clap and hug the people around me when I see fireworks. (By the way, they don’t always like that–especially now. Social distancing is the worst!) Or, at least it’s the America I’ve always known. The one my preacher talks about on Sunday mornings when I’m wishing he would hurry and finish before the restaurants get crowded. The one that stops to help change a tire. The one that helps pick up pieces after a tornado. The America that pulls our car over to the side of the road when a funeral procession goes by and helps a lost little kid in Walmart find his mom. The one that buys the old lady eating alone at the restaurant her dinner and sneaks out before she knows it. The one that gets up in the middle of the night to answer a Volunteer Fire Department call. The America that does for others. The America that leans so someone else can sit. It’s the America I will always want to be a part of.

One more thing before I go, for all of you that are nervous about getting an experimental vaccine for a world pandemic that’s killing people I have only this to say–same girl same. (My daughter says I’m too old to say that, but I think it’s catchy!) But, I can’t figure it’s any more scary than the thought of being in a hospital for weeks–or even worse– leaving your loved ones behind. Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith and trust yourself. Kind of like I did with that parking spot in front of the lawyers office. I just knew that space wasn’t reserved. For those that can’t get vaccinated, I’m sorry. I especially took the jab for you! And lastly, for those of you convinced that the vaccine is a conspiracy meant for our harm, you can rest easy and make your appointment for Monday morning. Because, I’m here to tell you that Madge is way too sharp to fall for that and Sheila would never be a party to it! Not to mention those two men in the muddy boots. Those dudes were sharp. I could just tell.

Rest in peace pretty lady, we cared.

You and I never met. Our paths never crossed. It was more– I knew someone who knew you. But, for those five days after you posted your note on Facebook, turned off your phone and disappeared you never left my mind. I poured over your page looking for clues as to where you might be. Looking for hints as to your mental state. Looking for you.

What I found was me.

Your social media looked like mine. You had a grandson you adored. I do too. You were excited about selling your house and hitting the road in an RV for some adventures. Me too. We had a lot in common. Had we met, I think we would have liked each other. I think if things had been different we might have ended up at the same RV park and ran into each other on a walk. I would have loved your sunny smile and kind eyes. I’m sure we would have stopped and visited for a minute and I would have gone back and told my husband, “I met the nicest lady on my walk today. She seemed so happy! I love this new life and meeting folks like that.”

Then, I would have pulled out a sack of potatoes and hummed while I peeled them. Conscious of needing to get dinner started. Needing to keep my life moving. And, just like with you, nobody would have ever known that sometimes I’m really sad and overwhelmed and just unable.

Or at least they wouldn’t if I didn’t tell them. If I didn’t go sometimes and put my head on my husband’s shoulder and say, “Babe, I just need to be close to you for a minute. Can we sit here and be still?” If I didn’t call my sister from whatever place is breaking my heart with memories of my mom and say, “I’m crying in public again. I’m such a dork.” If I didn’t sit on that white, rustling paper at my doc’s office and say, “This year has been a lot. The pandemic and selling our house and losing a grand baby I never got to meet. I think I need a little help for a minute. Is there something you would suggest?”

It’s a hard thing to ask for help. Almost impossible. We are women. We soldier on. We peel potatoes and meet needs and do it all with a smile on our faces. Our social media looks just like yours did. People hate-like our posts wondering why they can’t get it together like us. They don’t know that some days are like that, but a lot aren’t. A lot of days are spent in a bed in the cool dusk crying into a flowered pillowcase and thankful for the fan blowing on us as we try to get our bearings. They are days full of bugs in the trash can and flat tires and slammed doors. They are days full of pain and regrets and things that haunt us. Our days look just like yours did.

I wish I could have told you that. That I understood. I so wish I had happened upon your car in that parking lot. I would have gotten in the car with you. I would have given you something to wash your face. I would have told you I had the whole day to sit there with you. I would have told you I am a great keeper of secrets. That you could deposit anything into my heart and I would hold it for you until you could take it back. I would have cried with you until I thought you needed to laugh and then I would have cracked a joke hoping to see a smile break across your face as the first sign that maybe you were going to be ok. When you were ready, we would have gotten something to eat and a hot cup of coffee. We would have made it through that night. And the next day. And the next. Most of all, I think I’m not the only one to wish this. The women who loved you are wishing the same thing. The women who only knew you from work, or church or the neighborhood are wishing it too. Every woman who reads this blog will wish it. All of us. Wishing to be in that parking lot with our hand on that door handle. Before. Before you took that last step. Before you finally asked for help in the only way that wouldn’t help anyone.

I’ll be honest, from the first moment I got the text message about your story, I settled in my mind that you were going to be ok. That that scene I described above was going to happen. That someone would find you in time. I imagined you in a cheap hotel watching bad tv and eating multiple cans of Pringles. I imagined you picking up the phone numerous times, but being too embarrassed to hit send. I imagined you stepping outside the door for just a few minutes every morning to let the sun hit you, before you ducked back into your gold and green room to continue working your way through it all. I always believed someone would find you in time to help. I was wrong.

Now, I’m left wondering what I’m supposed to do with the knowledge of you. With this heaviness I’m carrying.

It’s such a hard thing to be too late. To know, but not in time to help. I hate that feeling.

You with your sunshine smile and broken heart have made me understand how dangerous it is to not be known. To feel alone. To not ask for help.

So, today, on this Tuesday while your family is planning your funeral, I am going to reach out. To my girls. My crew. They’ve been with me for years. They know that life is never a Facebook page. They know that because they also have hurt and trauma and a messy house. Everybody has stuff. Big and bad and sad stuff. We just never talk about it. Today, we will.

I’ll tell them if they ever need me I’m here. That my own life isn’t perfect. Maybe, I’ll tell them that I am dreading this holiday season. It should have been a lot different than it’s going to be and that makes me cry every time I let myself settle there. I’ll tell them that I love life, and my husband with the gentle eyes, and the way dust floats in the air on a quiet afternoon at home. But, that sometimes life is a heavy load. I’ll tell them I’m sad and they can be sad too. I’ll tell them they can deposit anything into my heart and I will hold it until they are ready to take it back. I’ll tell them I will always be in that parking lot with my hand on the car door just in time. They just have to tell me where they are so I can find them.

May none of us ever be too late.

Rest in peace pretty lady, we cared.

Hey there buddy.

I’m sitting here with some semi-disco music playing, the sun shining outside and Cia snoring at my feet. And, as real as all of those things are to me, you are too. In my heart, you made it. You are here safe. You are where I am.

You are running the halls of my little house with your brother. Y’all are screaming and chasing each other and every time you take that tight corner by my glass stoves I hold my breath hoping there isn’t a crash to follow. When one of you bumps the other, I am a referee to decide who needs a hug and who needs a gentle reminder to be careful. There are two solid little bodies to lift up to ring the bells and to count how many there are. Later, when I look out the window Pa-paw is bookended in the backyard–both of you looking up at him to see what he’s going to do next.

From the moment my phone dinged and I got the picture from your mom with E wearing a big brother shirt you were real to us. We traveled the road. We loved you.

There were Christmases, and birthday parties and two high school graduations. We made that Disney trip and bought two sets of mouse ears. There were bunk beds in my spare room. Your life happened. We saw it stretched out in front of us in an endless ribbon of jokes, and sunny mornings and family.

But there is another thing that is real too. Another thing I know. I know I answered my phone and your daddy was on the other end with his heart shattered. I know your Sassy bought the first plane ticket available and that your mommy cried enough tears to fill an ocean. I know that you and Miss will always share a birthday nobody expected. There are crumpled tissues, broken hearts and a nurse named Sunshine that bear witness to what happened. It’s a sadness deeper than we want to go.

But, the thing brave enough to pick up a chair and fight that sadness is those minutes. Those minutes we lived with you in our hearts. Every minute we thought we were promised. Every minute we counted on. The big ones I mentioned and a million small ones that meant just as much. The first time I kept you without your brother and realized I needed to know what your favorite snacks were. The time we were the first ones up on a Saturday and you helped me make coffee. The text messages you sent as I got older to remind me to take my vitamins. The catch I felt in my chest when you called to say you were going overseas for the first time.

It’s all real.

It’s as real as any memory I’ve ever had. The very minute we knew you were coming you were already here. We scooted over. We made room. We pulled another chair up to the table. We folded you into the mix that is us and nothing is ever going to change that. Nothing. You belong to us. You are a part of who we are. All of us. The grandparents, your big brother, the friend you would have found over animal crackers the first day of kindergarten. Your mommy and daddy. We have all loved you. Will always love you.

Just like there will always be a shadow sadness while we are packing suitcases and making doctor appointments and accepting birthday invitations there will also be a shadow happiness. An understanding that life with you is real. It’s real because we love you so much we made it real. Given the chance you would have been the second most loved little boy in the whole wide world. There would have been so many toys, and fishing trips and millions of happy squeals while your daddy let you walk on the ceiling. There would have been Harry Potter books with your mommy and digging in the mud with your brother. Tummy giggles and new cars.

This horrible thing that happened can’t stop any of it. It never could. It was a done deal from day one.

We are yours and you are ours.

Always.

Any pizza joint on any corner.

Y’all, I’m a writer. I don’t say that because you can go to your local bookstore and find a book written by me and pay too much for it only to let it gather dust on your nightstand. I say that because writing is how I process. How I live. Lose my parents? I’ll write about it. Face infertility–there’s blog posts. Angry at the world? Crumpled napkins stashed in my hope chest bear witness.

But, when this pandemic started, I stopped writing. Completely. For over a year I haven’t written a word. While my family, my country and my world spun out of control I had nothing to say. Nothing. No blog posts. No diary entries. Nothing. It scared me. I knew it was all there. I knew there were things to say. I just couldn’t say them.

What are the words you write about a world pandemic? What are the words you write about so many people dying? What words would ever do that justice? And, it wasn’t just the big things. It was the small. When my daughter called to say she had a cough. A cough. Small thing right? Not in the last year. Suddenly, that cough was huge. It meant we might become a family that others would be talking about. I don’t know anyone, but did you hear about their family? They lost someone. How could I assign words to that feeling? It was all too big. Too unmanageable, so I didn’t try.

I hunkered down. I ate ice cream. I grew tomatoes. I sold a house and bought an RV. I coped. But, I didn’t write. I felt like all the emotions and fears were stuck without an outlet. I was the ketchup bottle on the Heinz commercial. Pick me up. Turn me upside down. Shake me up. Nothing was coming out.

Then, something happened. It was a Friday night. The air was calm, the trees were green and my husband and I were hungry. And, we went to a restaurant. A pizza joint. Our local neighborhood pizza joint. We ordered from them a few times during the pandemic. Various paper bags, pizza boxes and little plastic cups of cheese lined up across my kitchen counter, but this was the first time we had gone there to eat. To sit down. To smile at people. And, if I’m being honest, it was amazing. Wonderful. Glorious.

I really mean that.

And, it wasn’t just the food. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the food was great. Pizza hot and steaming with just the right amount of cheese to sauce. A crisp salad served in a funny little sideways bowl. But, it wasn’t the food that made me cry. That made my husband stop eating and ask me if I was ok. That, finally, after a horrible year of horrible horrors made me feel like there was something I wanted to say.

It was the normalcy. It was the people. It was the air. It was life.

And, most of all, it was being a part of it. All of it. I watched the old couple make their way through the tables and stop to talk to every little person they saw. You’re such a big boy! Is that your airplane? Are you helping your mom? I listened to the table of college girls behind us laugh and visit. Did you pass that class? I think he’s cute. I can’t believe she called him. It was the family with four kids and a dad trying to navigate a dinner out without mom. Put your phone away. Does mom let you order that? Get your feet out of that chair. And, most of all, it was our waiter. I’m so glad to see you folks. How was your week. I have two more shifts to work before a day off. You’ll like that. It’s one of my favorites.

My words probably aren’t doing the moment justice. The sheer glory of it. Being at a restaurant on a Friday night with the sun just going down and people enjoying themselves.

But, that’s still not what made me cry if i’m being really, really honest.

What made me cry was thankfulness. To God? Sure. To the people who solved the vaccine riddle? Yep. But, mostly, in that moment, I was thankful to whomever owns my pizza joint. Thankful for so many, many reasons. That my favorite pizza was still on the menu. That, somehow, they still had workers who were pleasant and happy to be at their job. That they had made it. No locked doors and boarded up windows. My little place on the corner was just as I had left it twelve months earlier. They had, against all odds, hung in there.

For me. For my husband. For the old couple and the college girls and the family. They had hung on through shut-downs and canceled orders and lack of sales. They had had difficult meetings on the shiny steel counters of their kitchen trying to figure out a way to weather the storm and pay their workers and just be there with an open sign on their door.

I know they had their own reasons for doing it. Mortgages and car payments and employees they love, but I think they mostly did it for us. Their customers. They know there is nothing better than a meal out. Nothing better than the familiarity of a well-loved menu you have ordered from on many Friday nights when the air is calm and your loved one is across the table from you.

These pizza joints and coffee houses and steak places are serving food. They have ice tea and cheesecake and complimentary chips and salsa. But, right now they have so much more than that. They have normal with a heaping side of comfort and, best of all, they have people. Other faces besides our own. Friendly folks that love the same place you do. Folks that also made it through the last year and are looking for a little taste of everything is going to be ok. Just like you are.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a pizza place open on your corner, gather up your family and go. Go and order an appetizer and a specialty drink and dessert for the whole table. Smile a lot. Say hello to everyone and tip like you just won the lottery. And, if you are like me, cry. It’s ok.

This is a big thing that is happening. We are coming out of the last year. Slowly, but surely. A little worn out and frazzled and unsure, but hopeful.

And, our favorite restaurants, are there to help smooth the transition. So, to my pizza joint– Locatellis on the corner of Louetta and Grant in Houston Texas. Thank you for your delicious green chile and pepperoni pizza. For your Popeye salad–heavy on the blue cheese dressing and cranberries. For the pleasant outdoor eating area you created in your parking lot. For your helpful servers that you kept working through everything. Thank you for hanging on through this terrible year. And, thank you for giving me a Friday night with calm air and nothing but normalcy. An evening so perfect, I wanted to write about it.

Butt Dad. But God.

My family has a favorite movie that we watch every holiday season.  It’s about a dad who becomes a snowman after he dies to help his son deal with losing him. It’s called Jack Frost and if you haven’t seen it–it’s worth a watch. Especially now while we are all stuck in our houses. My favorite scene in the movie is when the dad (pre-snowman transition) is talking to his son.  He tells his son something or the other and the boy answers, “But Dad!” To which the dad answers, “Did you just call me Butt Dad?” At this point, everyone watching the scene in our cozy, holiday festooned living room will laugh quietly to themselves and says, “Butt dad.” Then my husband will sometimes add, “It gets me every time.”  It’s one of the things that makes each Christmas our Christmas.  Someday, I hope to hear my little grandson say it.  “Butt Dad.” I can’t wait.

You are probably wondering why I am telling you all of this.  I mean we’re all bored, but is that a reason to rehash lines from a  movie made decades ago? Well, if you have been following my blog for very long, then you know my brain tends to get stuck on certain things. Weird things.  And, this week, it has been stuck on that. That cheesy line.

“Butt Dad.”

I have been turning it around and around trying to figure out why it keeps popping up now.  Yesterday, I finally figured it out.  Or, God figured it out for me.

I was listening to a newscaster give never ending horrible news from behind a clear plastic desk in a studio somewhere.  He was talking about how bad things are.  How bad they are going to be.  How the economy is tanking and nurses are crying and loved ones are slipping away with nothing but a FaceTime goodbye and a medical pronouncement from a doctor loved ones haven’t even met.  That’s important.  The part where you meet the doctor who later tells you you’re going to lose your loved one.  A handshake.  Noticing a spot on his tie.  It all makes it more bearable.  I can’t imagine doing it without it.  Just a voice on a phone.  It’s almost more than I can bear.

It was a lot for the newscaster too.  He was very downcast. He looked pale and without any hope and I, sitting on my couch, felt the same.  My soul was broken.  I wanted more to do.  Stay home?  I’m doing that.  Skipping Easter with my kids and grandkid.  Done. Donate money.  Got it. Clean my groceries before I bring them in the house? Weird, but on that too.  I am doing everything they are asking of us.  Everything.  And, still, I want more to do.  Can someone please give me an American sized to-do list?  I want to affect change in this mess.  I want to save us.  I want to save the doctors and nurses. The old people who are alone and scared. The guy picking up my trash and bagging my groceries. My favorite restaurant.  I want to do all of this, but I can’t.  I just can’t.  I’m not powerful enough. I am a peon with a peon to-do list.

But God,

Thankfully, blessedly, wonderfully He is much more up to the task.  He can do anything.  Everything.  He can get us all through this.  He can break our hearts for those who are suffering. He can call our attention to people who need a little extra help.  A little extra time. A little extra money.  He can grant super-natural wisdom to doctors trying to find a cure and super-natural patience to parents homeschooling. He can help us celebrate Easter this year in a glorious way that is stripped of tradition and rich with meaning.  He can do it all and never break a sweat.

So, the next time you find yourself in front of a television with a newscaster rolling out a list of truly horrible line items that he or she wants you to take note of.  I want you to stop and remember what is being asked of most of us. Not much really.  Small, tiny things in the overall measure of what is happening.   Stay home.  Be kind.  Open your wallet.  Be present.  A peon to-do list.

But God?

He’s doing big things.  God-sized things. Things that will make us marvel later.  The unbelievable timing.  The providence. The amount of dedication and love shown. The compassion and charity given.  How was any of this possible?  How did it all happen? How did a country–a world even– full of peons pull it off?  How was it even possible?  It wasn’t.

But, God…

Why moms do the dishes before they leave.

Several weeks ago, I was at my daughter’s house.  I went because she and her husband are teachers and my grandson was sick.  Again.  For the millionth time.  And, like lots of young couples with toddlers, they were out of sick leave.  So, I loaded up my car with the presents I had been picking up for my little guy along the way and a few fun things for his mom and dad and got ready to make the nine hour drive to where they live.  My husband was headed the opposite direction.  To Mississippi and Louisiana for work.  We kissed goodbye and went on our way.  The trip was uneventful.  Nine hours of James Michener’s Poland and wind and trucks. And, finally, I was there.  Their little white house with the green shutters and three of the people I love most in the world.  I was glad to be there.

For the first three days, I sat and rocked my sick little grand baby and let him watch every version of Hickory Dickory Dock that exists on the internet.  French. German. Disco -style.  We watched them all.  Repeatedly.  I would have done anything to make that little guy feel better.  He was feverish and croupy and miserable.  And, I was glad to be there. Glad I could take some of the pressure off of his mom and dad and let them get a week of work in without a dreaded phone call to their boss to say they would be out for the whole week. Glad to just “mom” them all for a minute.  The plan was for me to stay for two weeks and then for them to come back home with me for spring break.  We were excited about the thought of a whole week together with Pa-paw.  There would be trips to the park and dinners out and fun.  It would be family time and a way to keep my grandson out of day care for three weeks to get good and well before school started back.

During that entire two weeks, I was also watching the news.  The Covid-19 situation was ramping up.  Everyday was news about its’ spread and the tragedy that was starting to unfold.  Phone calls would go out to my husband every night.  This is scary.  I don’t think the kids should come back to Houston.  Maybe, I should come home early?  Surely this isn’t going to get as bad as they think? But it was and it did.  Finally, I made the decision to leave early.  I have Lupus and I have to give it just enough deference to keep myself healthy enough for emergency nine hour trips and grandsons who need me.  Other than that, I flip it the bird everyday. That last sentence made me smile. It’s really how I feel about the whole subject.

So, I broke the news to my kids.  I was leaving and they weren’t.  We were going to have to save our spring break for another time.  Maybe Easter. Maybe a glorious Easter by the lake–like last year.  We could hope.

Nobody was happy.  Well, maybe my son–in-law wasn’t as sad as my daughter.  Either way, I got up that last morning and saw them all off to work. I hugged my little guy’s warm little self and told him how much I loved him.  I hugged my son-in-law and admonished him to take care of everyone and I squeezed my daughter until she pulled away–much as she has been her whole life.  I waved from their front door, smiled and blew a million kisses while they backed out and until they were gone.

And then I cried.

I cried for the entire hour it took for me to pick up their house.  I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and swept the floors.  I made the beds and picked up Everett’s toys.  I scrubbed the counters with bleach and straightened the chairs around the dining tables. It wasn’t that it was that messy–it was just that it was the last way I could “mom” them before I left.  Before I got in my car and drove away–finally acknowledging that a pandemic had come to America.  That the future was uncertain.  That there was no way to know how life was going to change.  When they came in that day, I wanted them to know a mom had been there.  Someone whose job it is to make things better.  Make the house smell good.  Sweep away dust and crumbs and mess.  Someone you can lean on.

Finally, everything was done.  I left them a little mad money where they would find it the next morning when they made coffee and a note that said “I love you so much!” and then it was time to go.  I drove the nine hours home with Poland and wind and trucks and then I was there.  With my sweet guy.  Hugging in the garage.  So glad to be together and safe.

Since then, it’s been our own little house and each other and the news.  We are self-quarantined and I have spent most of the time watching the coverage.  My heart has been shattered watching the news from Italy.  I’ve prayed for all of the truckers I saw on those two trips and resolved to do so from now on.  I’ve made all of the mixes I bought at the craft shows last Fall and I’ve watched too much dumb television.

And, through it all, I’ve wished I could make it go away.  I don’t want my friends to be scared or for doctors and nurses to be overwhelmed with what is being asked of them. I don’t want the nice man I met in the ESL class I taught to lose his restaurant.  I want everyone to be ok.  Unfortunately, I can’t fix any of it.  I can’t make any of this go away.  All I can do is the same thing I did in my daughter’s kitchen that morning while I bawled.

I can try to make things a little better.

I can mom.

So, I’ll put a teddy bear in my window for the neighborhood kids to find on their bear hunt.  I’ll call people I’m worried about.  I’ll reach for my husband’s hand while we watch TV and make him his favorites for dinner. I will make sure the underwear and socks get washed and I will remember to laugh.  I will watch for opportunities to be a helper in the world and, more than anything else,  I will pray.

Pray that the Good Lord is gearing up to mom us all.  To sweep away the mess and restore order.  To straighten what has been knocked over and to allow us to come home one day and find our little corner of the world has been put to rights.  That maybe He has a beautiful Easter planned for us.  And, that if that is not the case, that it will be ok anyway. That, throughout this chaos, we will feel gathered up and protected and restored. That we will continually find little gifts hidden in our lives straight from Him to say I love you so much.  A little mad money for the future.

The future when we have come through this.  When stores are open and I can go buy a pizza and joke with my waiter.  A future when I am, once again, in my church with my hands raised praising God for his blessings.  A future when Easter baskets are being planned for.  A future when my kids ring my doorbell and come through that door in a rush of luggage, and noise and excited dogs.  A future where I am squeezing my daughter until she pulls away.  When that day comes, my house will be ready.  There will be something that smells good cooking and maybe a puzzle ready for the kids.  There will be clean underwear and socks and toys placed in my grandson’s cabinet.  I will be there too.  In the middle of it all.  Making a grocery list and ready to mom.  And, I will be glad to be there.

I love you world.  There is a lady in Houston praying for all of you and ready to mom if you need me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re not my Today.

It was a two-story, unfinished, disheveled and much loved house on a quiet street in a little Texas town.  That was the first place I remember starting my mornings with The Today Show.  Waiting my turn in the bathroom or shoveling corn flakes in my mouth at our old red table I would watch whatever Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumble were talking about.  Some of it I understood.  Some of it I didn’t.  But, I understood it was all about us.  Us meaning Americans.  And, I liked the feeling.  I liked the way Jane’s eyes crinkled at the corners and I liked Bryant Gumbel’s grin.  They were a part of the routine of my day. Alarm clocks, my parent’s voices in the kitchen, jeans not dry in the dryer and The Today Show.

So, when I went off to college I took The Today Show with me.  Then it became Katie Couric with her bright smile and, still, Bryant Gumble with his dry humor that woke me up for my 8:00 A.M. class.  Many mornings I would get dressed with the stress of being late and that theme song playing in the background.  I started to understand a little more what they were talking about and mostly didn’t care.  There were cute boys to smile at in my Psychology class and I was too young to believe anything really bad could happen.  At least I didn’t believe it until the Gulf War started.  Then, it was a group of us gathered around a TV in someone’s apartment trying to figure out what it all meant.  Ramen noodles and worry and The Today Show.  That’s how I remember those days.  I felt my immortality for the first time.  And, not only mine, but those of the young people around me.  All of a sudden, life changed.  A little of our carefree spirit was gone and The Today Show changed for me too.  I started to watch it like an adult.  I needed them to give me information I could use.  Information that could frame the way I viewed my world.  And, they did.  I was a faithful viewer.  I watched and kept watching.

I was still watching in 2001 when 9/11 happened. That morning.  Who can forget it?  It was a sunny New Mexico day and I had my windows open to the morning light.  I was curling my little daughter’s hair.  Springy, blonde curls that were so fine I burned my fingers each time to hold them onto the curling iron.  It was my own children’s corn flake and homework morning and The Today Show was on.  Katie Couric was still there with her warm smile and now Matt Laurer was there too.  We liked him then.  He was a good thing to wake up to every morning and, when I needed them, they both got me through that horror.  That feeling of watching those planes hit and fellow Americans die.  I didn’t sleep in my own bed for weeks, because I was afraid I might miss some news I needed.  Some little bit of information that I could use to protect my family.  And, through it all, our television was tuned to NBC.  They were Americans just like us.  Their grief was ours and we were all on the same team.  Lots of other things were broken in the world, but not that.  Not that morning staple that had been with me my whole life.  That was something I could count on.  America’s morning show.  As American as apple pie and baseball.  And, even though I knew I liked President Bush and some people didn’t, I still felt like there was a place for me in The Today Show’s audience.  We might disagree, but we were all Americans.  The same except for our differences and that didn’t really matter.  Because being American superseded that.  Or at least I thought it did.  I truly believed I mattered as a viewer to The Today Show.

I thought that for a really long time.  Until I didn’t.  One day, I don’t even know when, I faced the painful reality that I was not a viewer that The Today Show cared about.  I guess it must have been in my mid-thirties when I realized that my concerns weren’t being represented in the news pieces wedged between the light interviews with celebrities and recipes for whole-wheat pancakes.  For instance, the issue of abortion.  This was an issue fundamentally important to me and I never saw a story that represented the way I felt about it.  Instead, with deliberately chosen words and stories, there was always a hand in the middle of my back pushing me toward the conclusion they had reached.  There was only one right way to feel about the issue and it was theirs.  I would watch in the mornings as I drank a cold cup of coffee and waited for my teen-ager to find her books or favorite pair of shoes and feel a frustration building in my gut. Eventually, I accepted that I was never going to be represented in their reporting.  I had no choice but to conclude that my half of America was irrelevant to them.  This puzzled me, because my journalism professor had made me, a young aspiring writer, rewrite news stories over and over until she couldn’t discern my point of view.  It was hard to keep myself out of my words, but I understood that it was the difference between news reporting and writing fiction.  Ultimately, I decided news was not what I was meant to do.  I have too many feelings to keep them out of my writing.  My feelings are my words.  But, for those that chose the other path, I really wanted them to adhere to that standard.  I really wanted The Today Show to tell the story of the half of America that supports abortion and then I wanted them to tell mine.  They never did.  Not about that issue and not about many, many others.  But, I kept watching.  I’m loyal.  The same lady has cut my hair for years.  I always shop at the same grocery store.  I am that person. I kept hoping that, maybe, someday their journalism teacher would call them all on the carpet and tell them their feelings were showing up in what was supposed to be news.  Your chocolate is in my peanut butter.  That type of thing.  But, it didn’t happen.

Now, I am in my 50s and I still tune in every morning.  I keep hoping to see some fragment of how I feel reflected fairly in their reporting.  I’m beginning to think I should just go join all those folks looking for the Loch Ness Monster.  I would probably fit right in.   Apparently, I am doomed to be an eternal optimist.

I will say that I don’t always watch the whole show anymore.  I catch the first fifteen minutes and sometimes I tune back in to see Steals and Deals–I like a good bargain. Or, I’ll watch the cooking segments.  I love it when you can tell they hate the food, but they have to smile and say “Yum” anyway! It always makes me laugh but, for my news, I am forced to go elsewhere.  I’ve created a weird conglomeration of different sources to try and get an accurate representation of issues.  It’s exhausting, but I do it.  I want to be an informed American, but I don’t want to be an ignored one.

Actually, that’s their fault too.  They’ve done so many stories on how everyone matters.  Find your truth! Live your best life! Lean in! Continuing to watch them would be failing to validate my own feelings. That can’t be healthy right?  As it is, after watching, I sometimes feel like I need to go watch “He’s just not that into you.”

Maybe, this blog post, is me coming to terms with this obvious breakup with my old friend. It’s not me.  It’s them.  I am not a viewer they want.  Guess it’s time to take the hint.  Does anyone know if they show re-runs of Captain Kangaroo anywhere?  I loved that part where they gave away the bike. If only it included a cooking segment I would be set.

A dirty mop.

Some years ago, my husband and I were driving down a manicured street in our city.  There were mansions on one side and a golf course on the other.  It was the type of street where someone driving by might just assume things are as they should be.  Pretty. Neat. Normal.  But, out my window on the passenger side, I saw a mop.  A dirty mop with a broken handle. It was half in and half out of the road with it’s dingy white head of tangled fibers soaking up whatever was running through the gutter.  It was so out of place.  Completely incongruent with the surroundings.  And, I have to admit,  I can’t stop thinking about that mop.

Seriously.  I find myself, at random times, obsessing about it.  Why was it there?  Did it come from one of the houses?  Did an angry rich housewife lose her temper with that bedraggled mop and just pitch it out her front door?  Did it fall out of the back of a pickup on its’ way to a cleaning job?  Did someone throw it there to keep from having to deal with it? Like– I’m tired of you mop.  I don’t want to wait until next trash day so land where you land.  I don’t know.  I don’t even really know why I care.  It’s not like people don’t litter everyday in my city, but that mop bothers me.  It sort of haunts me.  Honestly, I have spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to puzzle it out.  There was something about that ugly, broken, dirty mop in the middle of those beautiful surroundings that my psyche just couldn’t assimilate.

So, all these years later, I am writing about it.  I think I am writing about it because I don’t like things I can’t assimilate.  Things that, no matter which way I turn them, just don’t make sense. I think I am starting to feel this way about my country too.  Things just don’t make sense to me anymore.  How can we be such a good country with so many wonderful people and keep doing really bad things?  Where are the wonderful people on the days those really bad things get decided on?  Where was Bob, the guy who greets everyone at my grocery store with a smile and a hug, on the day that our country decided abortion was an ok thing to do?  I really want to know that.  How can I live in a country where both things exist?  To me, they should be mutually exclusive. But they’re not.  We have 4th of July picnics with little kids riding in parades with streamers woven into their bike wheels and at the same time our Congress won’t even allow a measure to make it to vote that would protect babies that survive an abortion and are laying there on the operating table alive.  Future little parade riders. Red bikes with blue and white streamers fluttering in a morning breeze.  It’s true.  And, my brain can’t assimilate that information.  It gets stuck on it.  I keep going back to it over and over trying to understand.  If I was a cartoon character there would be smoke billowing up and I would be making repetitive motions–you would know I was fixing to blow up from the effort of trying to make it all make sense.  I just can’t.  Which country are we?  Are we a country populated with people who spend days glued to the TV when a little girl is stuck in a well?  Or are we a country who chooses not to protect the most innocent among us?  Are Americans those people who show up in droves to help after a national crisis?  I’ve seen those folks in my own beloved Houston. Citizens who send messages on public boards telling people where to find hidden keys if they need a boat or trailer in the middle of the crisis.  “Take it if you can use it,” they say.  “I just want to help.”  Is that who America is?  Or are we a country who consistently elects people who vote against S.130. The Born- Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act?

How can we be both?

We are either an America that is humane.  That protects the most innocent.  That operates under a basic moral code or we are the friend from that famous scene in the Twilight Zone movie.  Do you remember it?  Two guys are driving in a car enjoying each other’s company until one of them says, “Do you want to see something really scary?” and rips his face off to uncover that he is a monster.  That scene terrified me as a kid.  Nightmares for weeks.  Side-eye for everyone.

I’m feeling that way again.  I’m cruising through life with my fellow Americans.  I like them.  We have the windows down and are enjoying the breeze.  I’m smiling and laughing.  These are my people.  Then, some of those Americans vote against a bill that would protect a baby who makes it out of an abortion alive.  And other Americans applaud for them and, folks, I am freaked completely out. How can this be? How do I square this with my country?  Are the faces only friendly until the mask is ripped off?

I don’t know.  I keep going back to it over and over trying to understand it and I just don’t.  It’s another dirty mop stuck in my brain that I can’t make sense of.  Something that makes me doubt all of my perceptions about us.  And, by us, I mean Americans.  Those folks that cheered for Chilean miners stuck in a cave for 69 days.  Those people that believe that every man has a right to pursue happiness. To pursue life.  To make it to their own bike parade on the 4th?  Isn’t that who we are?  And, not just as individuals, but as a country?  As a unit.

Who are we America?

I don’t know anymore.  Side-eye for everyone. Nightmares commencing. But, I still hug Bob when I go to the grocery store. I like him.  I refuse to believe that sweet man with the  smiley face and American flag on his vest would vote for S.130. We all do what we have to to survive these days.

Am I right?

 

Choose this. Not that.

I have a cardboard box of pictures. It’s huge and the corners have been taped and it’s always on the verge of falling apart completely. In it is a history of my life as a mom and wife.   And, of course, my husband is in most of the pictures.  The picture of me pregnant in front of my grandma’s house?  He’s there. We have our arms wrapped around each other and are standing in front of his old truck.  Our daughter’s graduation from kindergarten– with her white blonde hair and bright red cheeks? There he is smiling like a goofball with his arm wrapped around her little shoulders.  Our son’s 16th birthday–the one with the enormous chocolate chip cookie and all of his friends?  My husband is in that picture too–wearing an old blue plaid shirt I loved. Christmas pictures.  Easter pictures with new grass and kids carrying heavy baskets full of eggs and chocolate.  There’s even one of him with the top of his head spray painted like a pumpkin.  He has a huge smile in that one because he thought it was so funny to embarrass the kids.  I can pull those pictures down from the top of the closet and we can look at them together and he will understand my smiles and my tears.  He, more than anyone,  understands why there are no pictures of my dad after 2005. Why that year includes a lot of pictures of my mom at our house.  For Christmas, for her birthday, for whenever she needed to be.  He understands the picture of the sapling planted in front of a school with a small plaque you can’t read in the picture.  If something ever happens to me he’ll know to keep it and to talk about it.  He also knows why there are no pictures of my mom at our daughter’s wedding ten years later.  With all of the other pictures of her in the box being a grandma to our kids you would expect her to be there between our tall boy and beautiful girl, but she isn’t.  It’s a hole he understands.  Just like I understand the smile on his face in the picture of the day he got his first Harley.  It was about way more than a motorcycle.  I also understand who the little lady is in the picture with both of our kids against the backdrop of Palm trees.  She looks ornery but happy. Feisty and opinionated and crazy about us all.  I shook her hand that day and I have laid in bed with him many nights talking about how much he misses her.  That picture means as much to me as it does to him.  We are each other’s context clue. The keepers of our mutual history. I can’t imagine not being an us.

But lately, the couples in our life have been going their separate ways at an alarming rate.  One minute we are exchanging Walgreens printed Christmas cards of our kids, who are far too old for the tradition, and the next there’s a change of address card in the mail. Our friends aren’t an “us” anymore.  One of them–or both of them–has decided to look for something…..better?  Different? New?  I don’t know.  All I know is I can’t stop thinking about all of those pictures.  All of that family history.  All of those inside jokes that nobody will get anymore.  And, it makes me really sad.  Sad for the one leaving and the one being left.  I’m thinking of an old box of pictures held together with tape, but I’m sure they are thinking of a million things.  Where will their kids go for holidays?  Will their weddings be awkward?  Who takes them to college?  If they get sick who will be the first call from the hospital?  And how about the un-coupled couple?  It took a long time to build the level of trust I have with my husband.  I get up on a Saturday morning and make-up is the last thing on my mind.  If, God forbid, something should happen to me he will take care of my family the best he can.  He will make sure our daughter and son get the things he knows they should have.  How would a new person do that?  New people don’t know those things.  They’re new.  I also can’t imagine a new person being willing to sit across a doctor’s desk with you while you get the news that is coming at all of us as we get older.  I know this because I already got some of that news.  So has my husband.  And, if someone had taken a picture, we would have both been in it.  Hands clasped, shoulders together and ready to face it as a team.

The older I get the more I realize that the things God tell us not to do are things we really don’t want to do anyway.  Maybe we think we do for a minute.  Maybe because we feel the clock ticking or years rushing by and we want to reach out and claim a little youth.  Stick a flag in the sand that says it’s not over yet.  Instead of being Bob and June–we decide we want to be Bob and Mary.  We want to learn new names and new addresses and to not miss June’s dressing at Thanksgiving.  The question is, do we really want to?  What do we gain?  Soon Mary will be the old, new person and then what?  Who gets the pictures?  Who do the kids call?  Who stops to put flowers on your mom’s grave when you aren’t in the car? Will Bob’s new Mary or even June’s new Bill be willing to nurse a new relationship through illness and sorrow and the mundane passing of days?  It’s certainly a bigger risk to assume that of a new partner than of the one who has been by your side for decades.  The one who wrapped their arm through yours and shoved cake in your mouth while you both made a statement to friends and families, dressed up in their Sunday best, that you two were in it to win it.  A couple.  The beginning of a family.  A future card board box full of snapshots of love and commitment and fun.

Maybe that box holds the answer. If you are the one leaving take a minute to sit with those pictures. Notice that your son has your wife’s eyes and remember the moment you first realized that. Maybe that first time you held him in the hospital?  Or, if you are a wife leaving,  maybe take a minute to concentrate on the picture of that cabinet your husband built you to hold your Grandma’s china.  Remember that?  How cute he looked with the pencil stuck behind his ear and so serious?  Let the pictures talk to you.  You’ll hear the echoes of a hundred holidays and a million trips to the grocery store.  You’ll hear baby cries and toddler squeals.  A teenager’s door slamming and phones ringing in the middle of the night.  You’ll hear your history.  The time you spent to built a family.  And, gradually, a choice will present itself.  A moment of excitement and something new–or a solid foundation.  A promise kept or a promise broken?  A legacy transferred or one broken?

Trust me–you are not the only one to ever feel like this.  We all have. All of us who have been married decades anyway.  It’s hard.  Life is yelling at us that we better do it now.  Grab that brass ring.  Choose different.  Get out.  But, what if we don’t listen?  What if, instead of pulling up stakes, we try again?  Go out for pancakes, on a trip, to a counselor.  What if we fight for what we have worked so hard for? What if we dig our heels in and refuse to let it go?  What if we fight for a box of pictures that is only priceless to the two people who, through the years, created the moments that were worth photographing?  Who made children together?  Who learned how the other liked their coffee?  Who ordered funeral sprays together and ugly-cried on the way home together too.  What if we choose this and not that?

I can’t help but think it would end up being ok. To keep your marriage vows.  To get to know your spouse again.  That goofy girl you fell in love with is still there or the first guy that made you feel safe–he’s there too.  And, a year from now, when I get your Christmas card in the mail I will be so happy.  I will rip it open to see if you have aged more than me.  To see if you’re grandparents yet.  I will love seeing that you’ve been on a cruise or that you’re still holding hands or that you took dance lessons.  You will confirm what I believe about my own decades old marriage–that it is worth it.  All of it. It is sweet and familiar and wonderful to have spent thousands of days with someone that I chose and that chose me back.  I can’t think of anything better than that.  No way is new Mary or semi-exciting Bill better than that.  Choose your partner.  Choose your person.  Choose your history.  Choose your box of pictures.

It will be hard work, but there are people to help. Other couples.  Show up at their house on a Saturday morning.  They will be there.  Teeth unbrushed, wearing sweats, probably arguing over what to do that day, but so ready to help.

We all have to fight for each other.  Our 50th wedding anniversary parties are at stake.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I want my glass dish of butter mints and my grandkids circling around. I want that picture of me and my husband in the church basement–both of us old and wearing glasses and holding hands. I want my kids there middle-aged and deep into their own promises to their own people.  With their own boxes of pictures.

I know we can do this.  We all deserve a slide show of the best pictures from the last fifty years.  Moments where ungrateful children say dumb things like, “Mom, you were so pretty.” or “Wow Dad, you were a hottie.”  Moments whee we look back on the landscape of our marriages and know that we chose this.  We chose to get up every morning and to fall in love all over again with a person who sometimes wasn’t even likable.  But, they were our  person and that meant something.  Actually, it meant everything.

So, if I’m on your Christmas card list and you’re thinking of an address change card call me first.  Show up at my house.  Text me.  DM me.  I don’t care.  Just let me be there for you.  I’m pulling for you.  I want you to stay married.  I was probably at your powder blue wedding with the plastic champagne glasses.  Chances are, I still have your matchbook in my hope chest. I’m invested.

And, if you are the person who got left through no choice of your own, you should call me too.  I’m a good listener and I can procure large amounts of chocolate or a paper shredder or just a spot by the pool to figure out what to do next.  I can’t imagine what you’re feeling and I promise not to say anything dumb– like I never liked your ex anyway.  Because, honestly, I did.  I loved him or her and I probably always will.  But, for the next little bit, I’m going to be really, really pissed at them.  And that’s not a choice. It’s just the way I feel right now.

 

Drop your button.

My dad was a storyteller.  A tall, barrel-chested man with a soft voice and a slow smile. My favorite stories he told were about being a Marine.  He would paint a picture of his time at Camp Lejeune, in the swampy heat of a North Carolina summer, and I could see it all right in front of me. The barracks, his friends, the drill instructors–it was all so vivid.  Some of his stories about boot camp we heard more than once through the years. The story about the toothpick was one of those.

When dad first arrived at boot camp he found a toothpick on the ground. I guess he must have had a pretty good idea of how his own psyche worked, because he picked it up and took it back to his bunk with him and hollowed out a little place in the wall where he could hide it. Then, during those long months when his drill instructor was screaming in his face, or waking him in the middle of the night for hours-long workouts, or making him clean latrines he would keep his mind focused on that little wooden toothpick and it carried him through.  He told us no matter what they were doing to him he knew he had something they couldn’t take. A secret they didn’t know about.

Yeah, that would definitely work for me too.  Probably, as the drill sergeant was screaming at me I would have a slight smile on my face that would infuriate him.  Probably, I would clean bathrooms a lot. Probably, it’s a good thing I never went into the Marines as I intended.

Fast forward to many years later when I was reading a book from my church library.  I came across a story about a POW that was held captive for many years.  He was beaten and starved and kept in isolation.  But, somewhere along the way, he found a button.  Just a button.  But, he kept it hidden in different places and it helped him.  When he was going through far worse things than my father endured, he would concentrate on the button. It was something he had that they couldn’t take. It was his.  The only thing that really was. And, it brought him great comfort.

I got excited at this point.  I couldn’t believe the same thing that had worked for my dad was working for this poor man. I kept reading hoping to get to the moment when the man was released and he could throw the button into his captor’s faces and walk away triumphantly.  Silly, immature me.

One of the things the captors did to torture the POW was to move him continuously so that he could never get his bearings. The way they did this was to strap him upside down underneath a truck and transport him for hours with mud and grit splashing continually into his face. Never a stop and never a break. Finally, on one of these trips,  the man cried out to God pleading for deliverance–asking what else could be required of him.  What more could he possibly give?  And, the answer came back clearly, God wanted him to drop his button in the mud. To leave it behind.

I don’t know how you reacted when you just read that sentence, but it made me angry. When I first read it, I threw the book on the floor and paced my living room.  I just didn’t think it was necessary to make this poor man give up his button.  What could it possibly hurt for him to draw comfort from a button given everything he was experiencing?  Why  on earth would God even ask that of him?  Frankly, I thought it was a terrible, inhumane thing to ask.

It took me a long while before I could return to the story and when I did the prisoner did it.  He dropped his button.  Opened his hand and let it go. Watched it splash into the mud and then disappear as he left it behind and traveled further down that dirty, unpaved path with nothing but the Lord. To this day, every time I think about it, I get the chills. Who is this God we love? Why would he ask for that man’s button?

I have chewed on those questions for years and I’m still figuring out the answers.

I can tell you I have been asked to drop some buttons of my own through the years. Things I thought I absolutely needed to live. My folks for instance.  I sure couldn’t have imagined a life without them. But, here it is. Holidays and birthdays and new babies keep coming and neither of them are here to see it.  Also, some really dear friends.  Friends that were  here on Tuesday and then weren’t on Wednesday–that kind of thing.  Thought that would knock me down for good, but it didn’t.  Neither did finding out I had Lupus or watching my daughter move away or selling a house I loved.  None of it has been the end of me.  I am still traveling down this road with mud splashing in my face.  Hurt and broken but alive.  And, still looking for God at every turn.  Hoping for him really.

By the way, the story in my book ended well.  The POW was eventually released. If I could remember the name of the book that spoke about him I would happily tell you. I have spent hours looking for it on the internet to no avail.  Probably, I can’t find it because I would become obsessed with the man and his story instead of God’s. That seems to be the way I roll.  Clutching those buttons with both hands and wishing I was smart enough to let them go. Drawn to this big, huge God that knows what’s best for me even when I don’t. A God that I adore and yearn for even when He confuses and shocks me.   A God that truly is everything to me even as the world and my attachments try to convince me otherwise.

Maybe, a God who is so good He won’t let me be satisfied with a button when I could have him?

Ugh. I don’t know.

Honestly, this whole blog is making my brain hurt.  And I want a cookie. And I don’t think I’m ever going to have all of the answers.  Welcome to my life as a Christian.