Walk Beside Me

The rhetoric of
Outrage
Burns itself out
In meme wars,
And cancels the
Righteousness on all sides.
Then the aching soul is left
With a clearer view,
That there are indeed
Two sides.
Sheep and Goat sides.
The only left and right
Are His left and His right,
The everlasting day of His presence
Or outer darkness.
And I, I simply
Marvel that He would welcome
Me and the one who walks beside me,
My brother, my sister, my friend in the skin,
Into the Day.

 

Mom’s Guide To Raising Sons: The Motorcycle Chapter

He’s 19 and he bought a Ducati.

A few of my friends, fellow mothers, tilt their heads and eyeball me and ask, “So how are you with that?” They seem to really want to know.

I have heard the many nicknames for motorcycles, including “Donor Sled,” a term coined by ER docs.  I’ve also been dragged to motorcycle shops by the enthusiasts in my family and (true story) had the proprietor crutch out with his leg in a cast and his arm not only in a cast but propped up on a 45-degree-angle, hip-to-elbow pole contraption. He proudly told us he had broken his femur in thirteen places and then turned to the happy and obvious task of selling us a bike. I was the only one in the showroom feeling the irony. So I left and went to an antique store with my mother in law.  No one’s ever been killed by a milk glass compote dish.

But.

Any thoughtful mother of a boy knows that nine-tenths of her job is backing up and praying. The other tenth is table manners.

So, when he tells you he’s buying a motorcycle, and you flash over the hospital horror stories and maimings and utter road pizzas you have read about, you have to make your lips say something you really don’t mean: “Son, that’s great! Ducatis are awesome.”

And then you quietly walk to the garage and you lay your hand on that bike, and you pray.  I prayed that angels would anoint the Duke with their permanent presence and blessing, that it would be an ever-visible bike, and its driver would be as savvy and prepared as a Boy Scout. That it would never leave our garage without a host, an angelic army, before and behind. And after praying, I rest in the knowledge that my prayers don’t evaporate, but are an effective conversation with the God of this universe. He hears and remembers.

My own ears have become fine-tuned instruments, cupped for the sound of the bike on its way home after a day at the work site or the twilight exhilaration of the cool pockets and mosquito slaps of a summer road. I can be sewing, cooking, studying, hostessing, or attempting sleep, and my ears are independently turning like an antenna seeking a satellite.  And although I am oblivious to the sounds of the car I drive throwing a rod, or jake breaks on the interstate ratcheting down, I can hear the cycle from a good half mile, turning off 31 on to Woodland Street, and then every neuron I possess goes soggy as a zinnia stem the morning after the dinner party.

Are there positives to the son purchasing a powerful, unprotective rocket? He is a man striding in with the freedom of a man. That’s the whole point of my neuron exhaustion, anyway, plus it makes me really happy. Surely some fine motor skills are being developed like balance and dexterity and coordination and intuitive bike IQ. Maybe some mechanical-tinkering know-how. You know, those guys.  Physics, algebra, principles of internal combustion? Or maybe none of that, but a whole lot of joy. Either way, I will look like that zinnia.

I age a little bit every time the popping, chesty rumble ignites in the garage. And I just pray for stamina to make it until someday when he is married and his wife is expecting their first child and the Duke has to be sold for diaper money.

That’s how I’m doing with it.

Moments At An Alabama Wedding

*** Warning:  This is sappy; I can’t help it; sappy is occasionally necessary.

A – Alabama. Yes, just Alabama. I love everything about this place on God’s earth. The slant of evening sunset tucking under the beams of the Festhalle, mimosa misting all the green with its garnet brushes, the solemn vesper hush of the ceremony, magnolias on the long banquet tables, Billy Atchison greeting our out-of-town guests with a heart-felt desire that they all feel welcome, Round 2 playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man, the evening feel of cool sweat and a party dress. When I walk home, this is where my feet go.

B – Beth Ann’s Box. My friend Beth Ann sent a box that would serve as assistant to Adrienne and to me since Beth Ann herself could not be here. It contained bobby pins, safety pins, tissue packs, bandaids, sewing kit, a kit “to occupy that difficult relative with a decorate-the-mason-jar task”, gum, chapstick, tea, little notes of encouragement, and a letter that contained the lyrics to Sunrise, Sunset which undid me.

C – Cocktail napkins. We ran out of water bottles, but by golly we had cocktail napkins. 1000 dove gray cocktail napkins. We’ll be chipping away at those for some time to come.

D – Dinner Plates. We were glad we bought 9-inch ones instead of 10. I think we eked out 30 more plates of food. Win!

E – Estrogen. Our house was bridesmaid-central and estrogen soaked . Every maid needed loving on through cramps, hunger, sore feet, pink eye, torn dress, nerves, bouquet making, chalkboard painting, singing, laughing, dress steaming, brow plucking, nail painting, cross-cultural experiences, accessorizing, dancing, crashing, and sleeping. They brought so much joy to the house.

F – Friends!!! I could not have done this without my friends. Jessi, Nancy, Denise, and Janice, take a bow!

G – Grandmothers. The best toasts of the rehearsal dinner came from the four grandmothers. Love, humor, wisdom, scripture, their words showed the heritage of faith and deep rich soil this couple came from and now carries.

H – Happy Groom. His face as he said his vows was one of those primary life moments I had to both look at and look away from in respect.

I – Invitations. Thinking we were cleverly saving money, we had the RSVP information printed on the back of the invitation. No one looks at the back of an invitation. Which meant we were flying on a wing and a prayer when we gave the reception caterer the number of plates we needed. Lesson: Spring for the cost of the separate RSVP card. 🙂

J – Jet Lag. Four days after the wedding I am suffering from jet lag and postpartum (not exactly) depression (but definitely a re-living of all of mothering this child in one big flood). “From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2.

K – Kittens. The best parlor trick ever. We have two, and at the after-party, they were the hit. From groomsmen to toddlers to patriarchs to dear sisters to college roommates, we never knew who would stroll through with a kitten in the crook of the arm. The kittens were the common denominator that held the party together. Update: One kitten has gone walkabout. Will is trying to forgive us for being ironclad outdoor pet people.

L – Laughter.  My siblings and I gathered at my dad’s gravesite on Father’s Day, the day after the wedding, and placed Eliza’s maid-of-honor bouquet on his grave.  And we laughed together. As my sister-in-law said, when the grave holds no fear, there is joy in being together.

M – Mom. She put her hand on my back while Adrienne walked down the aisle and I cried.

N – Nieces and Nephews. These awesome people, young and younger, fill all the gaps. Calling it the wedding in cullmanalabama, they danced with skirt-swirling abandon and visions of sugar plums; they brought their smiles, hugs, and eagerness (Evelyn!); they ran impossible errands like the nephew who forever claimed my heart by bravely entering the seething world of the bridesmaids’ room to unearth a particular purse needed desperately and to present it within two minutes. That, my friends, is impressive. #michaelduboseismyhero

O – Odds and Ends. Cake knife, candle lighter, airport run, cups, ice, thank yous, half and half. These things kept me up at night and these were the very things God provided in the sweetest of ways and with His palpable smile.

P – Parenting That Never Ends. Our newly-married daughter dashed with her man through rows of sparklers and cheering family to the car chauffeured by her brother that would whisk them off to this new thing called husband and wife. Adults, they were. As she got into the back of the car Andrew and I simultaneously leaned forward because the train of her gown was about to get caught in the door: here, let me help, I’ll just go with you and hold it, OK??

Q – Quiet Moment. After the reception dancing and the cleanup, I limped home barefoot, sweaty, still in the party dress. Knowing I probably shouldn’t, I walked down to her bedroom and saw her dress flung across the bed and her gray suede sandals tipped over in a hasty, hand-holding run toward the honeymoon. I realized that this thing really happened. And it will be good – it already is, judging by the new family I inherit by virtue of her vows – but, like taking them to kindergarten or summer camp, it does take getting used to.

R – Red Pick-Up Truck. A serendipitous addition to the reception decor, the bed of Rachael and Kent’s 1971 Ford became our drink station. Alabama married New York, after all.

S – Social Media. On social media today, I see the word ‘wife’ and I see a different last name, like a whole different person, which in a way I guess it is. Once again, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, what exactly has happened here? Life is a big deal. Marrying off a daughter is as heart-squeezing as having her in the first place.

T – Trains. Small town life at its finest is the moment when the train roars through and everyone celebrating in the Festhalle alongside the old depot cheers the conductor on his northbound way. (Maybe it’s all computers now, but I like to think a conductor was waving back.)

U – Ushers and Groomsmen. The backbone of the wedding, these young men set up and took down and in between they were gentlemen. Yes, I do too know them, and I still say gentlemen.

V – Vases of Flowers. Oh, the flowers. I never knew. Curly willow, larkspur, orchids, seeded eucalyptus, the names themselves begin the enchanting thing that flowers do. Kim and Kelly guided the whole flower endeavor and taught us all how to let the flowers tell us where they need to go. I am a believer.

W – Water. Well, we ran out. Lesson: For outdoor receptions, however much water you think you need, triple it. And then throw in two more cases for good measure. Thank you, Jay, for a mid-reception Walmart run.

X – Xavier.  High school the groom and his brother graduated from. I needed an X. They captioned their picture: “On the bus going to Jonathan’s graduation.” The ceremony took place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue in NYC.  Much as I love cullmanalabama, I have to admit, that reaches a level of cool we just don’t have. A bus to graduation?!? A bus, period?!?

Y – Yonder.  Where everyone came from, where the bride and groom went on honeymoon, where they might live, where I need to return borrowed cake plates, coolers, candles, and cloths.

Z – BelZes, BelZes everywhere. In desperation I Googled ‘Max Belz Family Tree.’ While there was much mention of him, I was on my own in terms of filling in all the branches and leaves and sprouting sprouts of this flourishing tree. I am reading Jean Belz’s Tell Someone Your Story and am finding in her a friend and kindred spirit in every essay. So it was meaningful to me to meet so many of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and if my mental tree-chart is accurate, perhaps even a great-great or two.

To God be the glory!

~

What Kind Of God Do You Have?

What kind of God do you have?

I have one who cares when I lament over
The burdens my friends bear,
And who shows me that
He is also big enough to hear my little prayer
That I find a figurine – a wedding cake topper –
In an antique store of
3 floors and 57,000 square feet.

How many millions of pieces are there
In a market that big?

And He not only says yes, but He
Leads me, as we talk about it all –
Friends and figurines –
To the third floor, to the
Locked cases, at the back end of the
Second hour scanning shelves,
To the
Very
Ceramic bride and groom that I
Had not bought in a thrift store in Michigan
Three days ago.
I don’t know why I didn’t buy those
Two dancing, happy people then,
But I see now that

These same two were waiting for me here,
Deep among the artifacts in
57,000 square feet of Alabama
Called Highway Pickers,
So He could show
Me that He hears me when I say His name,
That He enjoys my little ideas,
And that while I can marvel at
Fresh expressions of His love,
I shouldn’t be surprised at His character.
It’s just who He is.

That’s the kind of God I have.

My Life Is His Answer

God answers prayer.

He uses the answer itself,
When it comes, to
Comb my heart and tease out the snarls.
Always, always.

His answer and my repentance –
One brings the other as sure as a
Baby’s head at my shoulder
Invites a storm of kisses.

The enemy of my soul feeds on my heart-snarls
Rasping in my ear that all I have done before
Is empty.

His accusations are exact, a perfect recitation
Of my rankest hidden moments.
But he is so very limited in his conclusions.
He takes the pieces, but
Fails utterly at the point of ‘Therefore, . . .’
And isn’t that the magic of the gospel,
That the enemy is right,
But I’m still not condemned.

Because
The Lover, the Answerer, breaks in and speaks
Truth.
Even as He answers my prayer,
He fills all I did before with
Himself. And so His
Good answer, the fruit I bear, is whole and
Life-giving;

His answer and my life are
The same thing.

         

April on Woodland Street


 

Ode To March: Covered up

January showed herself as
Sticks against the
Indifferent back of
Stephen Crane’s deity.

March is those sticks fanning out from
Within themselves,
Expanding their marrow
To the east and west,
Joining hands and
Becoming thatch –
A Radagast roof that
Turns the softening sky into
Tiny triangular pieces.

March is the blush-beginning of
Being covered up.
~
Covered up.
Around here, when people say they are
Covered up, they mean they are
Busy,
Behind,
Overwhelmed;
Their production line isn’t meeting
Incoming orders and sirens are going off
All over the factory floor.

I get covered up like that,
Flat covered up. Oh, me.

And when I do,
I do the Adam-and-Eve thing –
Worry
And sew up a fig-leaf.
As a spider’s web is made of
Spider, so my skirt is woven of my
Panic and pride and dyed with a
Peacock’s palate of self-righteousness.

I wear my skirt to Sunday
Worship and there sing,
“Cover my defenseless head
In the shadow of thy wing.”
Tucked up there, He lets me hear
His heart beat the calming rhythm of
“It is finished.”
He removes my scrappy fig leaf,
And covers me up
With Himself.
He whispers over my head that
The production line is not my job.
~
I am covered up, oh, me.

My Warrior

I would not have chosen this
Particular fire.  Or any fire. But
Here it is, licking my toes and
Eyeing my legs for a good shank
Of meat. I am done for. And then . . .
In a flicker, I see into the air,
Or through it, to the
Other side of its translucence.

A Warrior there fights for me
Against arrows aflame.
Tireless, frontline, He shields my soul.
How He must value my soul that He,
War-clad and wielding, would
Condescend to rally for the smallness of me!

David’s shouts of deliverance
From ever-attackers suddenly speak for me
As his war songs never have before.
My enemy lives for my foot to slip,
My walking feet of joy, of peace, of faith!

But my Warrior is my salvation;
He explains to me with His arms and His strokes,
That I could never love to
Watch Him save me from
The fire if there was no fire.

Psalm 37 and 38

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