Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Disturbance in the Force

Since I have been writing for 36 straight hours on the new Cross Timbers Women's blog I needed a refreshingly masculine post title. So, thanks to my neighbor and only male blog pal, Todd Mead, I sort of plagiarized his. (Todd, I hope this shameless link to your site will indicate my gratitude.)

I referenced my "disturbance in the force" in a previous post about my struggle to believe God is good in a world that really, really, really isn't.

The day my first son was born, a new something was also born in me. I don't know if every mother feels the way I did, or if I am especially neurotic. I just know that along with a deep, aching love, was an oppressive fear of losing it.

I don't think any mother can properly put into words the way she feels about her children. It is a consuming, furious, intoxicating river plunging straight through her heart. Mine terrified me. My very soul left my body and transposed into a tiny baby boy, naked and vulnerable. I was paralyzed by the thought of anything hurting him.

Almost two years later, my worst nightmare became a reality for a friend of mine. There are things that I wish I didn't even know could happen. Things that take a long time to heal and things for which heaven itself may be the only balm. The pain of seeing a family suffer in the most cruel way was too much for me to bear. I no longer believed God was good or even that He was at all. I sunk my claws deep into the idol of my child and turned my arrogant back on Him.

I've gone through the motions for a couple of years because frankly, I know them well and it is easier than admitting my anger. I made myself comfortable in this place for a long time.

Now I have reached a paradox. It seems the one thing I am hiding from is the one thing I know my boys need more than safety, more than happiness, more than life.

More than me.

I want them to know God. My God. My God that is especially fond of me. Finding my way back takes more trust, more grace, and more faith than I ever wanted to give. Before, my faith was unwittingly based on an expectation of security. Now who knows? Nothing is certain. I have no more answers than I had before. I guess I'm just finally OK with that.

So God, here I am.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Women's Ministry Now Has a Blog!!!

Hello friends who go to Cross Timbers Church. I would like to unveil the beautiful new blog for the Women's Ministry. Come check it out. There is not much there now, but whoa... just wait. If you don't mind, please link us up. We are really trying to get the word out. Love you all!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Toby Gets Religion

The flu. A very long, feverful, snot-tacular, exhaustingly monotonous crater in our late winter bliss. It is the malefactor I now blame for my son's relentless presence beside me in Sunday morning service.

It started out as sober precaution. A desire to not relive eight straight days of isolation and nauseating amounts of Thomas and Friends. Just a temporary quarantine from church childcare, where influenza lives a life of germy luxury.

When spring arrived, I happily marched my boys back to the children's check-in area, ready to enjoy service by myself. I passed Charlie over the counter without incident. Toby, however, staged a frantic coup by disintegrating into a noisy puddle of anguish on the lobby floor. I should have scooped up the blubbering mess of him and poured it into the three year old room where it belonged. Instead, I offered him a glazed donut and implored a promise to whisper during the talking parts.

So, here I am in late May walking into the auditorium with my perpetual "pew" buddy flopping along behind me with his mouth crusted up from donut glaze.

I stand him up on a chair slightly behind me, our usual routine, and I join in the chorus of "God of Heaven Come Down" with everyone else. I glance back every now and then to make sure he is not engaging anyone behind us with silly faces or peek-abo like he has in the past. He flashes me an angelic grin as if he knows my motive.

When the communion tray goes by I let him help pass it along, but not before he spends the better part of a minute selecting the biggest cracker square for himself. Then I try to appear casual while my non-baptized, non-prayerful, heathen son defiles the very blood of Christ by jauntily drinking a cup of juice in three relishingly slow sips as if this were nothing more than a refreshment break. (For those of you who were sitting two rows back and throwing me scorn arrows from your offended, legalistic eyeballs just remember that I know it's inappropriate, but I am living by grace so that you can peacefully direct your thoughts to the Savior of the World without a soundtrack from my three year old son whom Jesus LOVES.)

Once communion is over Toby and I sit together, my arm around him, his legs straight out in front and only long enough for his two green flip-flops to hang over the seat edge on his chubby, wiggly feet. Toby do you know that we eat those crackers and drink that juice to think about Jesus? It's hard to hear over the loud music, but he looks at me when I talk and I hope in a tiny way he begins to see a bigger picture of why we come here every Sunday morning.

The band launches into "Nothing but the Blood" in a groovy remix that has everyone in the room on their feet and singing loudly. I sway and bounce to the catchy beat. Suddenly, my son, who has no understanding of abstract concepts like sin or sacrifice or redemption, raises one hand in the air, palm open in a gesture of worship, as if this were the most natural thing in the world to do. I try not to react because I want him to have this moment for himself, but I just can't stop all the heaven inside me from bursting open in colorfully radiant pleasure.

I know he is only a little boy, but someday, he may see things in his heart that he wishes weren't there. He may find himself lonely and afraid. I hope when that day comes, he'll know just what to do.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Another Year Goes By

Toby's second year of preschool is over. It felt odd because, wasn't it just yesterday that he finished his first year? Charlie was still a little bean in my stomach making me nauseous and swollen and grouchy while I feigned excitement over the rented water slide that Toby WOULD NOT go down.

This year was the same, except Charlie was strapped into a baby carrier with a bottle propped in his mouth and Toby didn't require a swim diaper under his suit anymore.

A suit, I might add that was wholly unnecessary since Toby melts if any water touches his clothes or head. A sweet girl from his class splashed him playfully with a cup full so he serenaded the 50 foot periphery with heaving sobs complete with those little pauses of breath-holding as if we are all going to jump out of our lawn chairs and rescue his poor little wet self. Oh Toby, you got wet?? With that highly corrosive, painfully burning irritant that God covered 80% of the earth's surface with? Let me call a HazMat team to come and save you. Or how about I WIPE you off with a TOWEL...

I wasn't in the cajoling mood, so we opted out of the scary dragon bounce house station and killed time in the empty sanctuary which is entirely more amusing to him anyway. Playing on the stage is a fundamental right for any church staff kid. He ran up the steps to the stage and back down and all around the instruments and baptistery and sound booth. It was so funny watching his small body compete with the enormity of the huge auditorium. Even though his second year of preschool has come to an end, he still looked sufficiently babyish when his legs pitter-pattered across the wooden set like Fred Flintstone.

Tonight I chased him around the living room to steal some kisses and my hands found a tummy that was not babyish at all. It was thick and solid like a bag of sand. I grabbed his leg and it too had sprouted a chunk of muscle.

I pinned him down on his back and tickled him. You are not mommy's baby anymore Toby I said too sadly. His eyes twinkled with a glimpse of his future self, wise and intuitive. A lil' bit I am still mommy.

Toby, I am happy that you are growing into a big boy and that you can jump off the couch and make your brother laugh and even eat an apple without barfing. But it makes me smile to know that in a small way, you will miss being my baby too.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dear Blog: I Miss You

I know it looks like I have abandoned my blog since I have not written anything in a week, but I can assure you that my heart is here if not my time. My life is looping around me, swirling and turning, and I feel like I can only catch my breath in brief moments and just enough to keep from turning a deep shade of blue.

It won't be long and I will not be sharing a computer. I cannot wait to write my posts during normal, wakeful hours instead of squeezing them in at midnight or five in the morning when Greg's computer is available. Until then, I will try to quell the sense of guilt and longing I feel every time I think of Tales From the Running Mama whimpering in cyberspace like a neglected puppy.

Since I don't have long I will have to save most of my thoughts for another day (soon I hope). I just want to bring up an interesting topic that seems to be jumping out at me from every turned corner. Its a little book called The Shack and though I have not finished it, I think it might be one of the most important works I have ever stayed up too late devouring.

This book covers the one topic that conceals my God in a terrifying shroud of painful mystery. In fact, after an experience two years ago with a dear friend, I might upgrade mystery to bitterness. How can God be present in a world full of horrible suffering, sin, and hate? If this question could settle in my mind, even on a tiny thread of truth, it would give me peace in my deepest places, the ones I push back during play group, or while I am vacuuming the floor, but that crawl into view in the quiet of night and haunt me like angry monsters.

My faith so far has been shaky at times, waffling at times, forgotten at times, and taken various shifts and turns down my long road. However, until recently, I never doubted God's goodness, power, or love for me. I suppose it is inevitable for any Christian to grapple through murk and mire and either drown in it or emerge closer to Him than before. Right now God still seems elusive to me: in one moment a refuge, in another, the source of my indignant scorn.

During my first few weeks on this blog I noticed a trend that bothered me: His noticeable absence in any of my writing. I cover my children like beautiful, cherub-like idols, the very embodiment of love that feels safe to me. But bringing Him up feels like cheapening the outpourings of my heart with feigned contrivances. How I got here, a girl who would have given her very life for Him a few years back and longed for heaven like water in a desert, I'll never fully understand. I guess it is easier to live with abandon when you have nothing to lose.

I don't want to sound hopeless. He is chasing me, this I am sure. I am walking the road, though limping and questioning and I believe that He is strong enough to tackle my doubt when I am not. I still love Him enough to stay the course and trust Him enough to be honest.

If I have learned anything about Him in nearly twenty years of relationship, I think that will be enough to pull me through.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Toby wakes up and cries because he doesn't feel like going pee pee in the potty right now he just wants to watch his train video in his pajamas and drink chocolate milk. Or maybe he wants to see what things he can hold in the mouth of the toy plastic pliers that he is waving around the bed like a villainous claw. Look mommy! James! They can hold James like this! And he grips James the red engine while making a squinchy, growly face. James falls loose and Toby cries again and I want to run out of the room to my bed and throw my covers over my face for the rest of the day.

But I don't. OK I say, you can stay in your pajamas, but I regret this when we take the pajamas off to pee pee and put them back on again in our usual slow way that makes my bones cringe in frustration and produces no real accomplishment for our day.

I need THAT mommy, get me THAT. He runs to his closet and points at his blue piggy bank on the top shelf. I clangily hand it to him before pulling Charlie from his room and plopping him in the bouncy seat with a bottle propped on a wad of fluffy blankets. Toby follows me closely, his horde of coins clanking with each step like the ghost of Christmas past dragging a trail of chains.

In my bathroom I try to get ready. I let him loll around on the floor while I blow dry my hair and he finds all the treasures a mom's bathroom proposes. An eyelash curler, a contact case lid, my wedding ring. Oops, you can't play with that, I say as he tries to stuff it into the slot of the piggy bank. Whyyyyy? He whines dolefully while playing with it anyway.

Don't you know that it is MOTHER'S DAY and Charlie's Baby Dedication Day and I just want to look NICE at church with my hair NOT in a ponytail for ONCE. And even though it may prevent anyone there from recognizing me altogether, I just don't care today, because it is MOTHER'S DAY and I want to enjoy living it, because I am your MOTHER.

He blinks at me with total incomprehension and tries to hold the contact case lid in the clamp of the eyelash curler. Charlie rallies and drops his bottle over the edge of the bouncy seat with a yelp of glee. I feel like I am somehow missing the magic of this day, and that probably all other mothers are lying in bed with a tray of pancakes festively served beside a long stem rose and steaming cup of coffee, opening construction paper cards with I Heart Mom scrawled in red crayon. Mothers whose husbands are not pastors and working on Sunday.

We make it unceremoniously to service and meet Greg just in time to march Charlie up on stage along with nine other babies for his important spiritual debut. We smile when they call his name and we kiss him and squeeze him and promise in front of the congregation to raise him to know the Lord. I look at his little bean of a body in my arms and hope that I really can do it. That my pouting over Mother's Day and my impatience with his brother and my just imperfectness will not be all he sees in me. I hope he sees something deeper: the thousand foot well that is my heart exploding with wild hope for him.

We sing together, our little family lined up in a row, and I feel a surge of peace when I realize I would never be enough. That even though I love my boys with an aching, relentless energy, I am NOT everything they need. And if I was lovelier and every note sung from my mouth was rich and pure like buttery syrup dripping from a spoon I still couldn't capture the beauty of God for them. And if I was stronger, and when Toby sat by me in church, I didn't guiltily let him fondle the communion crackers and sneak a juice cup just to keep him quiet, I still wouldn't convey the strength of God for them.

I am just their mother, someone to point the way not be the way.

Suddenly, I don't think myself capable of any more joy than I am bursting with today, singing "Beautiful One" loud and free in my own croaking boisterousness with my boys and Greg at my side on my Mother's Day. This morning, if I wrote about happiness it would have been pancakes and compliance, daintily ideal and sickly perfect. In this moment, happiness is feeble and weak and wonderfully satisfying.

God help me trust them to You, my most sacred treasures.

Friday, May 9, 2008

OK, OK... Its a Chain Quiz, So Shoot Me

April, this is for you...

Seven Random Facts About Me:

1) I can eat a half gallon of pistachio almond ice cream in one setting.

2) I can stand on my hands for an unusually long time.

3) I HATE Chuck E. Cheese.

4) I read all seven Harry Potter books the first three weeks of Charlie's life. (What else are you gonna do when you're nursing, ya know?)

5) I barely ever clean our shower.

6) I went number 2 in a field during a long run one day. (It was an EMERGENCY.)

7) I was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by my Senior class. **

**Fake Fact. I couldn't think of anything else.

I tag Jen Stokes and Jamie Mullins.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Toby's Fever: The Epic Trilogy

He did not exactly grab his camera for our mini-vaca to the pediatrician yesterday morning. I was excited however, to pass the burden of his diagnosis on to someone more qualified in the actual field of medicine instead of relying solely on a love affair with WebMD.

Apparently his poor ear developed a gross infection and popped open like a big zit somewhere between Monday's appointment and Wednesday morning. I don't know why this news evoked a giddy excitement in me (soberly concealed under grave concern, of course), but I think it was just the knowing.

He has medicine, a collection of live train videos, and enough whine left in him to ride out the entire healing process to the bitter end. Life is good.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Cured" Is the Opposite of What Toby Is

Sorry to refute the conclusion of my previous post, but apparently a child can leap off the couch to scold his brother, bounce from the big chair to the Ottoman for an hour, eat a piece of pizza, and still not be CURED of the mysterious virus lurking around his poor, confused, irritable little self.

Unless "cured" means boiling hot lump of woeful wretchedness sweating profusely under the watchful eye of a very uneasy and restless mother. In which case, he is cured.

Due to a fever that soared above 104 this evening, Toby and I will be making a cameo at the doctor's in the morning, just for old time's sake. Hopefully we will help him get better and avoid contracting anything new from the germ crusted wooden bead table that my own son snotted all over last time we stopped in for a play-date.

Don't worry, I'm packing the anti-bacterial hand gel.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sick Days

Every time we travel Toby comes down with a sudden illness and spikes a high fever just when I have no Motrin, thermometer, or sanity. So it was no surprise this Saturday, when visiting my Dad in Oklahoma, that he woke up crying and wet, with only enough energy to barf lethargically into the toilet before slumping into my arms like a steaming heap of misery.

I scrambled to create our usual sick day comfort rituals though not at home: repeating episodes of Thomas and Friends (thank you On Demand), his stuffed Dalmatian Samson tucked under one arm, and his plaid blanket covering only his legs though a barf towel covered his entire body (and the couch) "just in case".

After "in case" happened infinity plus times I was out of towels and patience. Panic set in. If he has a stomach virus how am I going to make a three hour drive back? What if I get it? Will we be the loathed house guests yacking in the bathroom while the disgusted hosts wait in horror for the moment they can hand us our germ-infested luggage and burn the sheets we slept in?

Toby and I shared the couch for a very, very long night of fever, Thomas, and insomnia. I raked my fingers through his sweaty head and hoped his suffering would end quickly. I held a towel to his mouth so he didn't have to miss the freight cars crashing over a bridge while he puked. I felt his head. I checked the clock a thousand times. I got out my Bible and tried to read it over him, but I knew I was really reading it over me. I wondered how many moms were awake with sick kids, and how many moms were awake with really sick kids. I felt his head again.

The sun eventually came up, like it always does, and Toby's stomach settled down long enough to eat a piece of toast and drink some Gatorade. Though my gracious father insisted we could stay, I dosed him up on Motrin, threw our stuff in the car and drove home. He slept the whole way.

This afternoon when his fever was still raging my "wait and see" philosophy was usurped by my hypochondria and I rushed him off to the doctor. We learned Toby has a virus, and that waiting and seeing is never a bad idea.

An hour after our return Toby popped off the couch and yelled at baby Charlie for playing with his trains.

He's cured.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Overseas Plane Ticket Wanted

Can someone please invite me on a long trip to France until Toby turns four?

I can't spend another day skipping smilingly around the house like an imbecilic Pollyanna gently coaxing him to perform the simplest task.

If I don't help him put on his Thomas underwear he gets frustrated. If I do help him he unleashes a rabid burst of independence and takes them back off so he can do it over himself. Then I have to stand in silence while he thrashes around his bedroom yanking and tugging away while my hair grows down to the floor and I have to fight the urge to grab the waistband and jerk it right up to his eyeballs.

But I do something worse. I open my mouth and yell TOBY, just LET ME DO IT. And I can tell by the crestfallen look in his eyes that I have crushed him in the most shameful way because nothing would mean more than showing me that he is capable. That he can put on his clothes or make chocolate milk or push baby Charlie's stroller through the parking lot just like a big boy. Just like I do.

I look at his little buzzed head, face contorted in a wash of unabashed defeat, underwear elastic printed with the silhouette of a train slightly disheveled and twisted around his tummy. Look Toby, you DID it. Mommy didn't even have to help. You did it all by YOURSELF. I hug him and grab his stout shoulders in my hands. I am so proud of you buddy. What a big boy you are.

He looks at me and sniffs while wiping away sweaty tears. I hope he forgives me. I hope I show him how strong he is and how smart he is and how big he is.

That I am so proud of him sometimes that it hurts.

Maybe France can wait one more day.