Sunday, August 22, 2010

Of birthdays and BIRTH days

It was around 3:00pm when I finally sat down to rest on Thursday, August 19th. I had been busy all day, preparing my son's favorite foods - mannacoti, salad, and a homemade red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. I signed the cards I had so carefully chosen for him and placed them on the coffee table beside his gift. Then, as I sat there in the quiet, I received one of those rare and precious gifts that God gives me when I slow down enough to truly "be still and know....." I remembered the first time I held my son in my arms. I don't mean that I had a fleeting thought about Heath's birth. I mean I remembered - really remembered. I remembered in a way that was almost as if I were reliving the moment. I felt the softness of his skin. I smelled his sweet, baby-smell. I touched the down-like softness of his hair and marvelled at the way it grew. I remembered thinking, "He has 'boy' hair, with little hints of sideburns." And I saw his eyes - looking at me. Looking at me, as if to say, "Are you my mommy?" I felt his tiny hand as he reached for mine and held tightly to my pinkie finger. And I remembered my heart almost exploding with love for this tiny being. I remembered wondering how I could ever love him more than I loved him at that moment.

This gift - the memory of my son's birth - lasted only a few seconds, but they were priceless seconds; seconds that seemed to last a lifetime. And when it had faded, I bowed my head and thanked God for this precious gift. I thanked Him for the gift of this glimpse into the past. I thanked Him for the gift of the birth of my son, for the honor of watching him grow, and for the man he has become.

Throughout my pregnancy I had silently worried that I would not be able to love a second child the way I loved my daughter. I just couldn't fathom there being that much love inside one person to give. As I held my son in my arms for the first time and basked in the shear miracle of him, I knew these worries had been for naught because, already, I loved him with every fiber of my being - just as I loved his sister. I thanked God that, on my son's forty-first birthday, I had (once again) been wrong. I had come to love him more - even more - than I had on that long ago day, in the Summer of my life, when I held him in my arms for the first time. Through good times and bad, I have loved my children more with each passing day.

I had a lump in my throat as I thanked my Heavenly Father that love has no bounds; that it cannot be measured; and that we truly have an endless supply of love that seems to multiply every time we give it to another of God's kids. What a blessing! What a gift!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Family Blessings

The first part of June was devoted to the marriage of my neice, DeLacy to her beloved, James. If I had to describe this wedding in one word, it would have to be perfect. Everything went off without a glitch - well, except for that brief period of time in which I was freaking out because I had locked my keys in my car. Even that was insignificant and was handled brilliantly by Jana, a special person who was there as my son, Heath's, guest.

As always, I was in the middle of the event - decorating; displaying hand-held fans containing the program, goody bags for the children in attendance, baskets filled with bubbles, and another filled with items that might be required for minor mishaps and/or emergencies; large decorated boards containing name tags with table assignments; a large fish bowl filled with Hershey's Kisses and Hugs and a sign reading: Hugs & Kisses from the Mr. & Mrs; and a memory candle containing the names of James' and DeLacy's loved ones who have departed this life, yet were there with us in spirit (as they always are).

The fact that this wedding went off so beautifully is actually pretty amazing. Especially when you consider the fact that the bride and groom live in Virginia, her parents in Florida, his in the Washington, DC area, I live in Alabama, and the wedding was held in Tennessee. This speaks well for DeLacy's organizational skills, as well as the cooperation of a lot of people. Attendants were chosen and their dresses purchased months in advance. Riverbend, the site of the wedding/reception, was booked early on. James' sister, Kim, designed and prepared the Reserve the date cards, the invitations, the Table Assignment cards, and the Rehearsal Dinner invitations. DeLacy selected the perfect wedding gown for herself, with a little encouragement from both mothers and her "Aunt Betty" and had it altered well ahead of time. We met with Shelby Bailey, the florist, weeks in advance and knew immediately that we could count on her to provide just the right floral pieces. We were not disappointed. And, when we decided (the week of the wedding) to have it videoed, Shelby recommended AVO Communications. It was a joy to work with Keith on this and I can't wait to see the final product as I know it will be an inspiration to this special couple that will provide them with a lifetime of beautiful memories of the day they began their lives as husband and wife.

The most heart-warming aspect of their engagement was that DeLacy truly enjoyed the journey leading up to her wedding. She got together with friends and family to prepare small jars of Tupelo Honey (complete with dippers and a small scroll explaining the uniqueness of this honey) to be provided as favors to their guests. Bridal showers were held in both Virginia and Tennessee. It was a joy to see her face light up with the opening of each gift. Friends in Virginia treated her to a bacholorette party there, while my daughter, Tammy, put together another that was held immediately following the rehearsal dinner in Tennessee. James' parents hosted a fantastic rehearsal dinner at the Museum in Fayetteville, with guests being treated to bar-b-que and an array of sides prepared by Richard and Debra McFerrin who own Camargo Bar-B-Que. My sister, Katrina, made the trip to Virginia to attend one of DeLacy's showers - a memory that both of them are sure to treasure. Both Tammy and I enjoyed a couple of overnight visits from James and DeLacy during the course of their engagement, which gave us an opportunity to come to know and love James so that, by the date of the wedding, we already considered him a part of the family. The planning stage afforded us an opportunity to get together with Nina (DeLacy's sister), Mary Hannah (her cousin), and Amber (her very best friend forever) and, of course, our little flower girls, Marley and Ellie (Nina's and Tammy's daughters), as well as a lot of other friends and family members. It has been a time of love and laughter for all of us.

DeLacy and I had a long conversation on the way to Hobby Lobby to buy more ribbon about three weeks prior to the wedding. As almost always happens, there had been several last minute expenses that had not been anticipated and my neice was worried about the extra money and the affect it would have on her parents. As we spoke and I encouranged DeLacy not to worry, I thought of my own weddings.

I have been married twice. Once, in the early Summertime of my life, when I was young and full of unrealistic ideas about what marriage should and would bring. The truth is that I brought so much baggage into that marriage that it never had a chance. Like so many married couples, we got so busy with life that we forgot to work on the relationship between the two of us, focusing instead on work, our children, and the day-to-day struggles of living. By the time the marriage ended (after twenty-two years), I didn't even know who I was anymore, much less who he was. Do I regret the twenty-two years I spent in a marriage that ended in failure? No way! I brought from that marriage the two greatest gifts God has ever given me - my son and my daughter.

Like most people who go through a divorce, I swore off love forever. I would never get married again. Never! But then, in the Autumn of my life, I met Mr. Wonderful and he totally and completely swept me off my feet. Our meeting is a story in and of itself and I'll save it for another time. For now, I'll simply say that, while I didn't know where the relationship would take me, I did know (after our first date) that my life would never be the same. And it hasn't been. I believe, with everything in me, that we are who we are because of where we've been. We appreciate the love we have for each other - truly appreciate it - because it is the first time either of us has had a relationship in which each of us is the top priority for the other. It is still, after twenty-two years, a rare and wonderful thing.

In spite of the fact that I have had two marriages, I have never had a real wedding. I got married the first time in a church I had never attended because I was determined to be married in a church. It was officiated by a minister I had never met. On the positive side, however, it was attended by my best friend, Angeline and her husband, Harold. I wore a white suit and did my own hair and make-up. We went to Gatlinburg for three days for our "honeymoon."

The second time around, Mr. Wonderful and I finally managed to get off work at the same time and for long enough to go the courthouse and get married, after which we spent the night in Guntersville at the lodge in the state park and spent the next day realxing and hoping to see one of the bald eagles that had recently began to show up there.

I've never regretted not having that fairytale wedding that most girls dream of throughout their lives. But I would definitely have regretted DeLacy not having hers. And that, I guess, is how it came to pass that I found myself admonishing her for worrying about the few hundred dollars extra that it would cost to make her wedding perfect - and perfect it was. (Even Connie thought so!)

At the age of sixty-four, I am now into the Winter of my life. I have experienced a memorable, if not always wonderful childhood and survived my teen-age years with a minimum of lasting scars, thus bringing me through the Springtime of my life. My Summertime has long since fled, taking with it the joy of setting up house-keeping, long nights of playing Rook with Angeline and Harold (and discovering 14" of snow on the ground upon opening the door for them to leave), babies, Brownies and Cub Scouts, Little League, 4-H projects, the Lincoln County Fair, craft shows, teaching art, winning Best of Show, and an array of other poignant memories - far to many to recount. And, if Summer took with her these and so many more joys, she took also the worry and heartache borne of letting ones children make their own mistakes and find their own way in life, losing my beloved Gloria ( my Aunt, my mentor, and, often, the sole source of my strength and what small amount of self-confidence I had), too little money to pay too many bills, the closing of a business, the death of a marriage, and the feelings that come when things we thought would turn out so well end so badly - fear, anger, loneliness, and that demon that haunts us all at various times in our lives: that overwhelming sense of failure.

Then Autumn came and she was bearing that precious, unexpected gift of love. And I knew, at last, what it felt like to be accepted and cherished - just exacly as I was. How I had longed for this rare, yet simple, gift. This acceptance. And how hard it was to accept. Most days I would bask in the sheer joy of being loved. Then, out of nowhere and for no reason, Connie would wake me from a beautiful dream and whisper softly, "You'd better be careful. You know he's too good to be true. And soon, very soon, the other shoe is bound to fall." And Mr. Wonderful would respond, "All I can do is love you - and hope that one day you will realize that my love is everlasting." And, eventually, the reality of his love did set in and it filled me with a peace that I had never known. What a blessing!

My hope for DeLacy and James is that they will place each other second on their list of Important People - just after the loving God who brought them together; that they will know enough sorrow to appreciate the joy and enough joy to make the sorrow bearable; that they will work hard, play hard, and rest easy - enjoying the fruits of their labor to the max; that they will make their decisions, both the smart ones and the "wish we had done that a little different" ones, together then live with the results gracefully; that they will remember, in this hectic life we lead, to slow down sometimes and just enjoy life; that they will remember also to be grateful for their blessings; that they will someday have a child (or children) so that they may experience the awe of creating a human life and the unconditional love that comes with it. I hope my neice and her new husband will have a long and happy life together, welcoming each Season of their lives with open arms - living each hour, each moment, each second of the journey to the very fullest. And when, like me, they reach the Winter of their lives, I hope they still look at each other the way they did on the steps at Riverbend in Fayetteville, Tennessee on June 12, 2010.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Who Am I and What On Earth Do I Have To Say?

The decision to start my own blog was not one I made lightly. Like most everything I persue, it began as a fleeting (yet persistent) image. It popped into my head, uninvited, then refused to go away. I dismissed it, of course, (several times) over the next year or so, only to have it return again and again. Finally, it took up residence there and simply refused to leave.

"Why on earth would I want to do such a thing?" I asked myself. "Especially when I already have more on my proverbial plate than I can handle?"

It wasn't as if I didn't recognize that the many hats I wear were beginning to fray at the edges and, more often than not, sat slightly askew atop my head. To take on yet another task (one that I knew absolutely nothing about) was a prospect that was both exhilirating and neasuating. But there it was. Like a tiny, winged creature it had perched itself on my back, dug in its heels, and settled in for the long haul. "Drat!," I said aloud, "She's back.

"What will you write about?" she asked. She shifted about, settling herself comfortably into the imaginary throne she had positioned on my shoulder.

"I don't have a clue," I replied, hoping she would, by some small stroke of luck, just shut up and go to sleep. I knew, of course, that this was merely wishful thinking on my part. She was in this for its entire life cycle, however long that might be. It had begun. And on it would go:

"You could write about your pets."

"Naaah. That's not really what I had in mind"

"What did you have in mind?"

"I don't know. Not pets."

"What about your art?"

"Which phase?"



"Colored pencils then!"

"How about rubber stamping? Lord knows you own enough of those things."
"Uh Uh."

"Stained glass?" She was obviously beginning to lose her patience with me.

"I haven't done stained glass since Ellie was born," I said. "What could I possibly have to say about stained glass?"
"Oh, I don't know," she responded. "I guess you could tell them about how you saw a display of glass, fell in love with it, took a class, invested thousands of dollars in supplies, made two windows and a couple dozen stepping stones then abandoned the whole thing!"

"I don't want to tell them that," I retorted. "And besides, I'm gonna get back to that."

"When?" she said (in her most sarcastic tone), when you get the shed cleaned out enough to get to your supplies?

I refused to answer, determined to ignore her.
She sat there, pouting, digging the base of her throne into my skin.
"Stop it!," I yelled.


She arose, slid down my arm, and leapt onto the rim of my coffee cup. She sat there, arms crossed, and stared at me.

"Don't start again," I said. "I mean it!"

Silence. For all of 30 seconds. Then her face softened. "You know? Personally, I always liked those handmade books you made. Especially the ones with the stories and poems you wrote."
"Thank you."

"You're welcome."
Silence. For almost 30 seconds. Then, "I always thought you would write one about me; one of your stories, I mean. Or at least a short poem."

I stared at her, dumbfounded. "Well, ..........." I began. It was no use.
"Well, what?!" she snapped. "It's not like you haven't written one for everyone else."

I was speechless.
Now - lest you should think I'm deranged and actually do hear voices, I must take a moment to explain "her" presence. Her name is Constance. She came to me in the Springtime of my life and has been with me since. She is that voice we all have inside us that reinforces whatever measure of confidence we have in ourselves at any given time. Depending on how we feel about ourselves at the moment, she offers either criticism or support.

Throughout the seasons of my life I have experienced periods of what I can only describe as the disease of selfism. It's symptoms include self-doubt, self-criticism, self-consciousness, self-condemnation and an array of other feelings that tend to block creativity and set ones self up for failure. I'm not exactly sure when or how this disease manifested itself but, at some point, it took on a life of its own. The disease became something I referred to as "It." Eventually "It" became "She." I began to see her as a tiny, fairy-like being who would appear without warning and for no apparent reason that I could discern. Realizing that she was going to be one of the few constants in my life, I began to address her as "Constance."
Over the years she has been my nemesis, my teacher, my confidante, my worst critic, my most loyal supporter and, finally, she became my friend - Connie. She is the part of me that wants to learn; to grow; to do. She is also the part of me that sometimes wakes up in a world of vulnerability and asks, "What in the world were you thinking?")! And so our conversation continued:

"Why don't you write about your family?"
"Or Al-Anon - that twelve-step thing that changed the entire way you look at life?

"That's certainly worth sharing," I mused. "But I don't want to write about just that."
"Your childhood," she asked, hesitantly. "Not the bad parts," she rushed on, "just the good things."

"Hmmmm. I don't know."

"Well, Fiddledee!" (An expression she uses frequently to alert me to the fact that she is quickly losing patience with my refusal to make a decision without first weighing the pros and cons of said decision). "Why don't you just write about ALL of it - your childhood, your family, all the phases of your art, your career, food, things that happened when you were a teenager, a young mother, a grandmother, fun, pain, heartache, starting over, love, laughter, movies, holidays, writing, books, friendship, life, death, , hope, surrender, teaching, learning, dogs, cats, vacations, and (of course) Ellie Grace!!!" She let out a deep, exasperated sigh.

"That's a wonderful idea," I said. "That's exactly what I'm going to do. And I think I'll call it 'The Seasons of My Life."