Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ah, shucks

Wow. When BooMama links, people clicken. Howdy, everyone. I'm honestly a bit overwhelmed at the response to my last post. Thank you. And trust me when I say the one incident I related is not the norm for me.

It's not unusual for me to say in the morning, "Lord, help me die to myself today and live for you."

And by that evening, in a desperate bid not to spank my three-year-old in public, tell him -- after the umpteenth time he's asked for the sucker with the built-in fan: "You can't have that candy because it's poison and it'll kill you." Yeah, that's livin' for Jesus.

It happened at Blockbuster. The teenager behind the cash register looked at me aghast and said (glancing first at my check to get my just-askin'-for-a-CPS-visit name), "Mrs. Clay, you did not."

I said, "Hey, talk to me when you have kids." Then I grabbed "Barbie: Fairytopia" and marched right out of there ... as Connor asked in sonic-boom voice, "It's-poison-and-it'll-kill-me,-mom?-it's-poison?-mom?-it's poison?"

I had some explaining to do.

Anyway, BooMama, thanks sincerely for expanding my blogging world. Some folks I'd already discovered via Leslie's haply thinking; others I will be visiting for the first time. Can't wait. I'm still new to the blogging world, but already it feels as though I'm on the threshold of a fabulous sisterhood. Thank you all.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The one

I went on a mission trip to Antigua, Guatemala, in January. It was a wonderful experience. We spent a week ministering to a group of mostly-teenaged girls at an orphanage. The opportunity to focus on ministry, completely away from my everyday life (which is where life is really lived) was soul feeding. A few nights into our visit, a few of us splintered off after dinner, wandering about the cobbled streets of Antigua looking for a place to enjoy ice cream and more conversation. I had already come to love the people in our group of 15 or so. All but two of them had been complete strangers before we met on the trip. As we wandered aimlessly in search of dessert, we laughed plenty and acted silly. Along the way, I passed by a homeless man and felt sorry for him. But I didn't know what I could do for him. We walked on by. You have to walk on, right? There are so many people like him across the world.

I read a book recently that really has my attention. It's "Always Enough" by Rolland and Heidi Baker. The book details the Bakers' experience sharing God's love (right along with food, shelter, medical attention and education) with the poorest of the poor in Zimbabwe. Along with incredible hardships, they've also witnessed and been part of incredible miracles: the blind seeing, the lame walking and more amazing things.

But it's not the miracles that hit me squarely between the eyes (though their accounting is remarkable). No, it's Heidi Baker's conviction that God has commissioned her over and over again to take care of "the one." The one in front of her. Likewise, God has commissioned us -- we Christians -- to care for the one in front of us. In other words, we shouldn't spend our time shaking our heads about how "the poor will always be with us" (and I'm not just speaking of the monetarily poor). Rather, when we see someone who is obviously in need, we should discover if we're able to help him -- and, if so, act.

That's scary stuff, y'all. At least it is for me. What, I can't keep walking past the homeless guy when I'm having a good time with my friends? Well, of course I can keep on walking. Of course I can. But should I? Will I?

Monday Roy and I got the kids up and headed to Georgetown, where our awesome friends Janet and Wade (I have to put Janet first; I've known her longer and she's The Keeper of Girlhood Secrets) were hosting a Memorial Day party, complete with bouncy house and 1,000 hamburger patties. It's about a three-hour drive. Normally.

My daughter doesn't look a thing like me. She doesn't have my hair, my eyes or (thank you, Jesus) my absurdly long toes. She does, however, get carsick like her momma and her momma's momma. Let me just say pulling over quickly when you're traveling 70 mph in the fast lane alongside concrete barriers is no small achievement. But Roy, bless his heart, did just that. Major points to Madeline for being able to wait long enough that the Crayon box did not become a receptacle of something the folks at Mattel never dreamed of.

After repeating this scene a second time, we decided 10:30 might not be too early for lunch after all. So we stopped in Temple at -- what else -- McDonald's. Sure, their food is gross and the McNuggets are barely edible pieces of chicken wrapped in fat. But, HEY, they have a playground. And there's really unimaginative, cheap toys in the Happy Meals!

Roy and the kids walked ahead of me into the restaurant. A middle-aged man in a black, Lynyrd Skynyrd cowboy hat sat a few yards from the entrance door. His feet were Indian-style and pulled under one bony elbow was a small travel bag. I had noticed him when we drove up. Now I would have to walk past him like the group of people ahead of us. He didn't speak to anyone.

Help the one, I thought. So I stopped in front of him. He looked up without speaking.

"Do you need anything?" I asked.

He stared a moment more. "Something to eat," he said. I told him I'd get him a burger. Just before I walked in the door he added sheepishly, "And a cup of coffee."

I told Roy what to add to our order and why. When we got our food I asked the man if he wanted to eat with us. He did. The playground was an outdoor one, and as it turned out, the kids never sat down with us anyway. So we sat at an outside booth and talked.

His name is Leray. He was mugged getting off a bus somewhere. They took all his luggage but the one bag. They took his money and his bus ticket. He was sleeping at a mission, waiting to get past the holiday weekend before he started hitchhiking toward a friend's house in New Mexico.

At Roy's questioning Leray told us, haltingly, he had served two tours in Vietnam. I noticed, though he was in need of fresh clothes, his shirt was tucked in and he wore a belt.

I felt the Lord urging me to say more, pushing me out of my comfort zone. So near the end of the meal, I told Leray the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, about how Jesus told the woman, "If you drink this water, you'll be thirsty again. But if you drink of the Living Water, you'll never thirst again." I told him we were happy to buy him a hamburger and give him a little cash, but he'd be hungry again and run out of money. "Jesus," I said, "is the Living Water. He can take care of you far past this meal. If you don't have him, I want you to."

He just stared at me a moment, his eyes moist. "I do," he said simply.

When we said goodbye, I hugged him. He told me, "Thank you for talking to me about Jesus." What a simple thing.

I share all this for two reasons: to remind myself that once is not near, near enough. That I must minister to the one over and over and over again -- even when the one isn't so pleasant. And to say that if I, the greatest of sinners, can begin to do this, we all can.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Introduce your inner Picasso

My friend Elise sent me a great link the other day (Web, not sausage) which anyone with a kid who can handle a mouse should know about. The site allows the untalented (moi) to play at being an artist and the enviably talented to do some amazing things (see the "gallery"). Madeline, who will start kindergarten at the end of the summer, has LOVED getting artsy, and I've been surprised at her creativity. And, let me tell you, turning off the computer when she's done is considerably quicker than vacuuming up the glitter that was the hallmark of her most recent creative outlet.

One of Madeline's recent pictures is particularly notable for its text. Madeline knows her letters and their corresponding sounds, but I haven't made a real effort to teach her to read. (Before my Mom Card is revoked, let it be known I do read TO my children.) For starters, I figure that's what kindergarten is about. But, more importantly, if I tried, I'm virtually certain at least a month of any future counseling she might seek would involve describing "the summer my mother became the writing nazi."

So the little sprite spells everything phonetically. I correct her, of course, but mostly she just goes wild stringing sounds together. (Her kindergarten teacher will just LOVE me.) So, ahem, you'll notice in the photo, in red, it "says" iwutmbrdu. Which translates: "I want my bread." Now, like me, you might wonder what that last u is about. I asked Madeline and she explained, "Well, it's 'unh,' like when you're really tired and hungry, so you say, 'I want my bread.'" At this point she drops her shoulders and, with the weight of the world on her, adds a breathy: "Unhhh."

Keeping with her theme, the rather fancy breadbox is marked (translating): "Bread. Unh."

I would share something Connor has drawn, but so far everything resembles a plate of maroon spaghetti. In the interest of at least acknowledging I do also enjoy my son's company, I'll share a brief story (since you insist).

A few months ago when we were working on potty training (which is a whole, 'nother, deeelightful post), he was standing in front of the toilet, waiting for, I don't know, Santa, the Second Coming, a growth spurt, his mother's bum to meld with the tile floor ... out of desperation and a dash of the absurd I have never outgrown, I implored in a sing-songy voice. "Wake up, tee-tee! Come out!"

To which Connor immediately replied with crinkled brow, "It doesn't talk, Mom. It's tee-tee."

Thanks, Son.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

A bottle of wine and unfinished business

A few of the things within my eyesight at this moment are a famous photo of Joe DiMaggio hitting a homerun (that would be Roy's), a photo of my children in which the difference between Connor then and now is startling, a fist-sized typewriter replica reminding me I'm a writer (a gift from Elise), a charcoal drawing of me 8-months pregnant that has disconcerted the occasional roaming guest (it IS in my bedroom), a marble curio box Roy brought home from Russia, the president's signature from the days he was governor and I worked in the capitol, Roy's unfinished passport application, a Yankee candle Roy loves and I think smells like dead crickets (Midsummer's Night) and an empty bottle of Concha Y Toro 2003 Merlot.

It's the empty bottle of wine that cracks me up. I imagine what it might look like were an acquaintance unfamiliar with my habits to walk in at this moment: the kids, playing happily (it does happen occasionally) while Mom sits in front of the computer next to an open bottle of wine.

"And she's a Baptist, at that!"

Well, the bottle has been empty a few weeks. Its demise can be attributed to a lovely dinner party. Roy liked it so much he asked me to save the bottle so he wouldn’t forget the label. I'm tired of looking at it, so yesterday I brought it in here so that I could email label particulars to him at work -- and then throw away the bottle.

Haven't gotten to that last part yet.

There are lots of unfinished things around this old house. Further north or east, 80-year-old houses are commonplace. But here in East Texas, they aren't the norm. We bought it six years ago as a fixer-upper. It has wood floors and plenty of charm, all right, but it also has a seemingly endless to-do list. Thankfully, I have a very handy husband (who can translate Latin AND build furniture), but he spends long hours at work and understandably isn't interested in tackling The List every evening. So we've hired a few things done. Most of our counter-balance wood windows with the wavy glass (love the wavy glass/hate the rotting wood) have been replaced by sturdier, insulated windows. The job required most of the windows to be completely ripped out, so there's now exposed 2-by-4's inside that we'll have to cover with trim and paint. We've got a beautiful new front door -- that's unfinished on the inside. The siding on the garage was rotting, so Roy's replacing boards at this moment. The porch doors are only half painted (my job).

It's just my nature, I suppose, to be bothered by unfinished things. Almost-done this and nearly-complete that. No matter how good something looks, if it isn't complete, it hasn't reached its potential. That really bugs me. I've been thinking the last few days about why it bothers me so much, and I think it's because I am so unfinished. If I'm unhappy about the trim that still needs painting (which, yes, is my job to do), what must God be thinking when he sees where I am in my faith walk and where I could be? Sometimes I feel as though I'm little more than stud walls and exposed plumbing. I have the foundation, but I lack the will to do the hard building, much less the finish work.

Thankfully, the Carpenter hasn't given up on me.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Graduate

My daughter graduated last week. No, not from high school. That would make me 16 when I had her. Uhm, I mean 10. Yeah, 10.

Heck, it wasn't even Kindergarten graduation, where adorable six-year-olds act out literary classics like "Little Bunny Foo-Foo" before walking across the stage to receive sheets of rolled-up printer paper.

No, she graduated from Angel Keepers Pre-K (where she and her brother have been going twice a week for some time now).

I know most moms -- heck, every other mom I know -- say these things are not boring for mothers. Yes. Well. Some mothers also spend hours scrapbooking events such as The First Time Johnny Ate All His French-Cut Greenbeans. Some mothers make mock museums in their living rooms in preparation for a visit to a real one. Some mothers regularly cook healthy meals for their family. What is WRONG with these women? (I'm not looking so good now, am I?)

OK, so I wasn't actually bored at the program. But I wasn't riveted every minute. What I was hoping for was The Moment. The moment when one of my children (Connor is 3 and his part in the program involved intensive sulking and slumping during song time) did something that imprinted itself permanently on my gray matter.

Well, it happened. Madeline and her fellow Angel Keepers Class of '06ers lined up at the back of the sanctuary, waiting as their names were called one-by-one to walk on stage and receive their "diplomas" and a Bible.

I had a prime spot, thank goodness, to watch as her excitement grew. She knew I was there. I could tell it pleased her, but she didn't watch me much. She watched the woman on stage. She delighted in the anticipation. When her name was called -- Madeline Clay -- her face transformed in a way I find hard to describe. She lit up from the inside. She threw her hands to her face with the joy of it. She made an almost-squeal sound no adult can approximate. Then she looked at me for just a moment before bouncing up the aisle.

Oh, the joy of being a mom at that moment. Of being her mom. Madeline Clay's mom: the girl who knew all her lines without prompting. The girl who knew almost every other child's lines. The girl who stood up during one song and bounced because she couldn't contain herself.

I pray out loud over my children every night, and almost always I tell the Lord, "Thank you for making me Madeline's mom; thank you for making me Connor's mom."

And I mean it. How I mean it.