A Return to our Love books

“If you’re still my small babe or you’re all the way grown,
my promise to you is you’re never alone.

You are my angel, my darling, my star…
and my love will find you, wherever you are.”  Nancy Tillman


Each night as we settle in, PJ’s on and snack at the ready, we read books from Plum’s ever growing library. Three to six downstairs, then as sleepiness begins to overtake him, we move up to his bed and read a couple more as he eases into the night. For many years, our routine was strict, we read our “love books,” a beautiful collection by Nancy Tillman. Rolling over, snuggling in, he would drift off to sleep as I quietly read, moderating my pace and volume until his eyes closed. Completely conditioned, the words that expressed how deeply and widely he was loved were the last he heard each night. Deep peace filled me as well, I cherished the opportunity to speak words of love, knowing the last that he heard each night was how special he is to me.

Sadly, this routine got destroyed when he began to read by himself, he chose books about battles and Pokemon and ninjas and resisted the “love books” enough that they sat neglected on his shelf.  He preferred to chatter and tell some deep truths and horse around with grandpa, fighting sleep and too many cuddles. I often revisited the books, suggesting we read those, at least one but was unceremoniously told no. The child was growing into his boyhood and didn’t want the mushy stuff. Recently though, I won the book selection choice and I read words of love to my grandson and also to myself. I heard not my voice as I read but the relentlessness of God, who loves me on good days and bad, when I am playing and sleeping and think I’ve been bad. Pease entered my soul again, I realized how much I had missed our nightly routine of centering ourselves on unconditional love. As I reached the point in the book that says, “If you are still my small babe or all the way grown, my promise to you is you are never alone,” I found I was speaking to Nick. That I had spoken this to Nick, when he sat on the bed and listened to me read these books to Plum, back when he joined our home again. When he first came home from prison, he eased into our routines first by watching. Then he took over reading the books to Plum as I sat on the bed, listening to the sound of his voice speak love to his child. The circle was complete.

This night when I read the words aloud I was reminded that I needn’t fear that my son doubted my love, that he was alone as he died. My love has followed him everywhere, through the misery of his drug use to the fear and anxiety of imprisonment to the glory of his recovery. He knew my love was ever present, even on days he knew he had been bad. Plum and I speak often about the difference between accepting bad behavior and unconditional love. Plum, just like his father, knows that I love him at his worst and at his farthest away. Peace filled my lungs with each breath, each word I spoke. Grief can bring doubts and fears and regrets that rob us of the joys that abound. This night, I was offered a sweet memory that settled the raging worries, offering truth and perspective, highlighting forgotten joys.

Sneaking the books in to our routine several times since, I can admit that I have picked this particular book up several times to read just to myself, even though the words are etched into my memory. God’s love will find us wherever we are, when we are grieving and broken and filled with sadness.




Hippie Heart Broken Feet

My friend aptly stated that if the March had been scheduled days earlier, before my birthday, I would have been fine. Just that one year more of age seems to have put me in the elderly group, mostly because she is 6 months younger and delighting in this time of her youth, in comparison. Sill, I am confronting the fact that the hippie heart that resides within does not match the broken down body surrounding it. I can barely walk, my feet are reacting to missed medication (a necessary choice to stay awake for the 9 hour drive) and the excessive time spent upright. I wish I could say I am floating on the passion of the experience but mostly I am sleeping, falling into deep stupors as if I missed weeks of sleep instead of one night. I am stumbling, not drunk on hope but rather unable to establish balance again on feet with funky nerve responses. I am maybe too old now to drive all night and protest all day, more suited to a life behind a keyboard with legs propped up and a nap of restoration available at 1:00 each day.

Still, I think of all who have protested before me, all the women who have stood up so that I can vote and bank and drive and use the pill back in college when I chose to. I am confident it wasn’t easy for them, I know there were real costs to body and life. I consider those who have fought for the freedoms of my friends of color, the risks they took to send strangers onto the railroad to freedom, the incredible costs of standing up to be heard at counters and on busses. I think of those who even now brave harsh elements to protect the environment, those who sneak across borders not to commit crimes but to find employment in order to feed their families. My aches seem so minor in light of all who have come before me, who have protested wars and wrongs not just for a day but until their voices were counted, until they achieved the change they sought. I draw inspiration from their selflessness, their push forward that brings us all closer to the garden God created, a place of equality and love with no knowledge of evil.

I may be too broken down physically to make overnight road trips and stand all day but I pray I will never be too aged, too hobbled to speak up for those whose voices are mere whispers. Babies leave the womb demanding that we acknowledge their voice, a shriek to say ,”Notice me” that we slowly teach out of them. Hush, shhh, quiet down. History is rife with examples though of just that need for whispers turning into roars, of the collective sounds of  young old and broken down rising up to say, “Notice us, we must be heard, this is important.” Those voices turn into hymns that sing us into the promised land, a place there the water is clean, the air is pure, the earth is lush, where people of all color play together and love one another, where gender is not a barrier, where education is shared freely to all children.

I may be too broken down to ride all night with no sleep but my aches are battle wounds that remind me there is work to be done, my keyboard and phone can help continue the push while I heal.  When I am rested up, I may just march again. Hippie hearts really never quiet, they just beat to a new cause, unable to settle into success of the past when  injustice is evident. I may be napping today, but Please, let your voice grow loud, louder still. No need to hush on my account. I am with you in spirit.

Joy Drops

I am a planner. I begin preparing for any upcoming event with several days of thought, imaginings of the food, the environment, any special needs. Next comes the recipe search, digging through my big box well organized by course and all the books I have acquired. List making comes next, menu and then ingredients, all the items for decoration to create the mood. Music selections, a whole different list. Next comes the gathering and finally the by the time of the event, I have given so much attention to all of my prep, it goes pretty smoothly.  That is my system. It works. Until I am given less than a week to throw a bridal reception for 20 people and I already have many of those planning days taken up with my Plum’s birthday events and a couple of days of wallowing in self-pity. Little time to do this event justice. I added a first step without realizing it, though, I asked for prayers about it all, sharing it as a joy Sunday at church.

I rushed about on the day of, yesterday, and made phone calls when I knew I was in over my head. My friend who’s home exudes beauty and warmth, I called her in to handle creating something out of the senior high classroom where we were celebrating in just a few hours. As we talked she said what I was doing was holy.  Not only did she agree to come and help, she slowed my anxiety and gave me perspective. She transformed that funky room into a place worthy of any wedding venue. It was special, it was magical, it was not on my list and it was so incredibly meaningful to have her hand in this union.

I called in Janet, asking for a quick hour of help to do something artsy with the huge chalkboard in the room. She dropped whatever she was doing and created a gorgeous backdrop that will be forever remembered in pictures but more than that, included a reminder of the love God bestows on all unions created in His name. Her thoughtful spontaneous gift added to the magical room, transformed something not on my list to a prayer for this young couple. To have her hand in the preparations for this event added another piece of the foundation of prayer, prayer that will continue long beyond the party.

I ran by the flower shop of an amazing woman in our congregation, she had offered to create a bouquet for mama, her gift to the new beginning. She has shared her love with us many times in the past, clothes for Plum, flowers for events created with real love. She prays for our family and puts her prayers into action. I was beyond grateful for this gift, I don’t have an income, flowers were not in anyone’s budget. I cried when she offered her livelihood to us, not something to be taken lightly. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with the beauty she had created, even more so with the little buds she included for the groom and my Plum. Not on my list, on hers though and she added to the beauty, created magic in this last minute rush to celebrate a union. My tears were joy drops, words unable to capture my thanksgiving at having her hand involved in this day.

I rushed about in the church kitchen, without a real list completely unsure where to start. Our Associate Pastor wandered in, listened to me babble and then reminded me that many were praying for all of us on this day. His steady assurance, so calm and sure, slowed my anxiety, washed my frenzy away and allowed me to focus. Later, my miscommunication led to my friend not being at the church to take over when I need to leave to rush home for a shower. The back up crew of my Pastor, the small groups leader and my decorator took over. They shooed me out, I trusted something good would happen while I was at the ceremony. When I returned two different friends were there, the food was all arranged, better than I could have hoped, dishes were done, it was magical. No cake server, my sweet pal ran home and got her mama’s. A legacy, a tradition she shared with us, a piece of history well loved to start the union of this couple. Gifts of time and talents and love given so freely, I didn’t even ask, people just showed up.

This couple may never realize all the hands that went into the evening, they don’t attend our church. They don’t know all of my friends, the people who attended the event don’t all come either. We showed them the love of Jesus, the amazing hospitality of folks who just love, love new beginnings  and love to support each other when times are crazy and no one has a list. Sometimes I ask too much of my friends, often I forget to ask at all. I forget that I have friends who will support me, that I am worthy of their time and gifts. God takes over at those times, nudges people into action who live out His desire that we be the hands and feet of love. His grace lit up the church last night, brighter than the candles and little white lights strung about. His grace came in the form of friends who showed up and threw a last minute wedding reception for a couple they didn’t even know, a couple they will continue to pray for as the wedding ends and the marriage begins. I didn’t make a list that included God’s grace, that included prayerful loving hands touching every aspect of the evening. God fixed that for me, He had a plan all along. I couldn’t feel more blessed.


Loving Who God Brings

I found this post I wrote 6 years ago about loving and leaving, filled with worry but also trust in God that the future would work itself out.  Looking back on those years, I see how we struggled in mighty ways, how we relied on our faith and the prayers of our community relentlessly. The following is that story, from November 9, 2010.


Several years ago, Chef and I went to visit a home that advertised a Border Collie mix in the paper.  We already had one who was hyper and we thought, wrongly, that getting another would give her someone to play with and burn some energy.  As we circled the area downtown, I became skeptical, it was getting rougher by the block.  What were we getting into?  When we found the house and approached the door, we were startled to see a mangy, dirty mutt tied up out front, eating rocks and barking frantically.  We tried to talk to the owner but she had no care or concern about the dog, couldn’t tell us much beyond the fact it was 10 months old and had been in 5 homes already.  This woman never got off of her phone.  Her small, dirty-faced, raggedy-clothed children wandered aimlessly through the duplex, unattended.  It wasn’t the dog we wanted but we knew we couldn’t leave it there either.  Without even a second glance from the owner, we untied her and put her in our car.  She shivered and shook, looked at us with distrustful eyes the entire ride home.  Chef dropped us off and went to work, probably feeling a bit relieved to have an escape from what was clearly a mess.  I just kept looking at this dog and at our other, oh so beautiful full-blooded one and thought, “Well, I can give you a home I guess but I just don’t really love you…I don’t even like you.  Your coat is ugly, it is so dirty and you are smelly.”

I set to work.  I bathed her and fed her and let her sleep.  We let her create a safe place just for her so the other dog didn’t bother her.  She began to fill out and we discovered that her hair shone, really sparkled.  I have never seen that on a real animal but it does.  She flourished in this safe place, knowing her food was steady, her bed was secure. She clung to me, followed me everywhere, I was proud to show her off.  One day we realized we loved her as much as the other dog, that all the nurturing back to health was falling in love time.   

Our story with Mama is much the same.  It just isn’t over yet.  We took her in for a night and she stayed for 10 months. She came with a just backpack, as she left it took 2 trucks and 2 cars to remove all of her belongings.  She came to us emaciated, broken down, scared and depressed.  We love her and when you love your children, you have to say no as often or more than you ever get to say yes.  I look forward to the day of saying yes, you can come back, we love you.

I have been blessed to love many pets but there will never be another like that one we rescued. I miss her still, my shadow, my sweet snuggler. I have two new beasts that I adore but my heart still belongs to that girl who needed so much nurturing to come into who she was and then gave back all that she had. Our friends and family have watched me invest the same amount of nurturing into Mama. They question the wisdom of getting involved again, many times I do as well. There are days when I am sure that I hate this child, I am so full of resentment, anger, frustration that I pray to never have to see her again. God ignores those prayers. He brought her into my life as surely as he brought my favorite pet. People aren’t so easily convinced that we have their best interests in mind, people don’t trust just because you give food and shelter. People just aren’t always lovable. I know this because I am so often not. Yet despite any efforts to protect my heart, I love this girl. The nurturing time long ago was falling in love time.

This young woman needs a mother, I long for my daughter. Neither of us are the one we would choose. We are each who God has provided. This week I am helping her plan a quick courthouse wedding, I am making food for the after party. Twenty excited phone calls a day asking about details, several lamenting the lack of interest from her mother, I can’t help but be reminded of Stella’s wedding that I was not included in. I am careful to ensure Mama’s mom has her rightful place, mine is very much behind the scenes. I know the hurt that comes from snap decisions about forever memories. Still, God just keeps throwing this young woman and me together, the seeds were planted almost 7 years ago. I look at how she has grown into a woman who truly sacrifices for her child, who tries so very hard to be the best mom. I see her doing it, all the hard stuff, telling him no as much or more than she tells my Plum yes. I see that she is maintaining her own home, feeding her child, attending parent-teacher conferences and acting as a real advocate for her son.

I don’t mean to compare Mama to a canine in any pejorative sense. I love dogs. And damnit, I love her. I let my actions tell her, I keep showing up with food and support, giving her a safe place for her emotions. I am trusting that God only asks that I love who He brings, He will handle the transformation into something beautiful. After all, I know He is still working on me. I am forever grateful for those who set aside frustration and anger and let me come back, time and again, as I grow into my own beautiful coat, shining with the love of Christ.