My mother

Confession: There is a whole new level of pain and beauty involved in seeing your mother without her hair. It was such pretty hair, long and thick and shining white. I miss it, and I miss the part of her that is not the same without it.

The first time she took off her hat to show me her shorn head, it was a jolt and a sickness, a thing wrong with the world that could never be made right.

But I also got a good look at her face. It seemed revealed, as though a skin had been pulled away, giving a glimpse of personality I’d never seen before. I’m a face reader, but I had missed a whole layer in my mother.

Once I went to a ladies’ seminar where each attendee was asked to bring along a sheet and a pillowcase, no explanations given. When I arrived at the registration table, I was told to wrap the sheet all around my clothes and put the pillowcase on my head, covering all of my body but my face. Every lady at the seminar wore that absurd disguise for half the day, and I was a little sulky about it and let some of my hair show. But the point was (and I liked it afterwards) to see how you felt about yourself, and how you viewed other people, if all you could see was a face.

Gone were the quick summaries – Oh, she goes to that kind of church – She has gray hair, so she must be over this age – Wow, nice dress – Okay, I’d never wear that together – She’s a trendsetter – That one’s Amish – All of it was gone. All you had were the faces, and what nice, friendly faces they were! Separated from all other impressions, they were more visible, more speaking, more important.

So with my mom.

She has common sense and grit and earthy wisdom and not-quite-kosher humor in that face.

And she is not well right now. But she is well cared for. It’s a team effort, loving a cancer fighter, and I am a small cog in the wheel with my four kids and my multi-faceted sickness germs to steer away.

But family and friends are offering incredible support. My siblings and their spouses send up love and texts and beautiful gift packages – my two nurse brothers stay tuned to her numbers and vitals – my remarkable sister with a cancer history of her own used her furlough to offer in-home support for a whole month – and my dad is doing everything else singlehandedly. Okay, not quite. There are many, many other givers: You know who you are. Thanks so much for doing this for my mom.

On the right is my mom with my baby, last summer. On the left is my mom’s mom with me!

We are very proud of her. And God is in the redeeming business.

Shari

Call back later

Confession: When my phone rang at 5:44 Monday morning, I thought it was the alarm, and groggily I punched around on its face a few times until it finally stopped.

That is how I sent a text template to Faith Builders Christian School (calling to inform parents of a two-hour delay), saying Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

After I stopped blushing, I wished I could’ve used that response on several more of the unexpected events December brought me.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the third person in my immediate family to face the c-word, not to mention my sister-in-law, my aunt, and my late grandma. Sorry cancer, we’re busy. Call back later. Mom is brave and calm, trusting Jesus to take care of her through chemo, hair loss, and a lumpectomy. But oh, we dread to walk this path again.

My baby got hand-foot-and-mouth disease and spent a miserable week with it. We missed a Christmas party or two. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later.

And then (all three of these events occurred in the same week), my six-year-old daughter developed acute stomach pain at school one lunchtime, moving from a pained face to tears to sobbing to screaming in less than an hour.* We thought appendicitis, but when they did the CT scan in the emergency room, they said “If it is her appendix, it’s already ruptured. There’s a mass in there. We can’t tell for sure.” And they transferred us to Children’s Hospital. Sorry, my daughter is busy. Pain, pain, go away. Please, please.

*(This is how my friend Anna described it, and she was there.)

in-the-hospital-20161206_074000

Hours crawled past us.

“There’s a mass of tissue, not fluid. Probably an ovarian cyst,” the surgeons told us after the senior radiologist’s report. “We don’t know what to expect until we remove it. They’re usually benign, but we may need to take her ovary as well. Please sign here.”

I will sign if you will help my daughter. Please, please.

In surgery, the doctors found and corrected an ovarian torsion, the “mass” nothing but her own body tissue, swollen but healthy. Nothing to remove? Really? Oh Jesus, really? And because it was all laparoscopic, she had very little recovery time, no stitches, no scars. The path felt interminable as we walked, but in retrospect I could measure it—from the onset of the pain to the first apple juice post-surgery was exactly 24 hours. Two days after her operation, she returned to school for the dress rehearsal of her Christmas program. On the third day she was her own sassy self, having to be reminded not to run.

Our resurrection story, just in time for Christmas. Thank you, thank you Jesus! We felt his miraculous healing in the skill of the surgeons, the kindness of the staff, the gift of living in 2016.

I spoke with another woman I love. She was cutting vegetables at my sink. She said, “I know it’s supposed to be such a season of joy, but it’s hard. It’s always been a little hard for me.” I know, I know. There are so many things we cannot say.

Sometimes I think that if we really knew what was involved, we’d say no to everything. Sorry, I’m busy. Call back later. Picnics and marriage and doorways and friendship and babies—and it hurts worst when everyone around seems so happy.

(Didn’t you know they each carry their own sorrows?)

But if we said no, we would never have the answers, the miracles, the resurrection stories, love. Sometimes I think if we really knew the joy on the far side, we’d say yes, yes, yes! Pain is the unexpected ring of the telephone, the bad news. Jesus is the one who shows up at the door at the same moment, with a loaf of warm bread and a stiff drink. His body and blood. God with us.

He is not afraid of sorrow, a man intimately acquainted with grief. We don’t have to make ourselves rollicking and carefree to celebrate Christmas properly. We just have to watch for him, answer when he calls, pick up the pain and say hello.

He said it will be all right.

Gifts

Confession: I was up so late last night, three hundred and forty-two miles from home, that my brain is buzzing and my husband said to me “Are our phones goofing up? You sent me a text that apparently came in at x:xx. Were you really texting at that hour?”

And I said “Yes.”

In the strictest sense of the word it was no longer “last night” but we are not discussing that in this forum.

scarves on us

I want to stand up and say what the Lord Jesus did for me in the last week. It is so complex a sequence I can only get a hold of it in bullet points.

  • Several weeks ago, my mom asked if I would like to join in a surprise visit to my sister in Virginia for her 30th birthday. Joy! We got it all planned… how long we’d be gone, when we’d leave, who would go along.
  • Three days before departure, Jesus gave us an answer to prayer: a foster son. Yes, yes, absolutely yes!!
  • Could I still swing the weekend plans? Should I give them up? We decided to hold them with an open hand and see what turned out.
  • As K (our foster son) adjusted and adapted, Ryan said “I really think I can do this. Go ahead and plan to go. You’ll have Kelly; I’ll have the boys.”
  • Then we found out that K’s court date was set for half an hour after our estimated time of departure. I told my mom I wanted to stay for it if she was game—could we leave an hour later than planned? She was more than gracious, and we went to court.
  • In the hallway outside the courtroom, we found out that a kinship option had suddenly materialized and K was going to leave us. That day.
  • And then I said, “Oh thank you Jesus thank you.” That I got to meet this small person and love on him for three days. That I didn’t cancel my weekend plans and miss the trip to Virginia by one hour. Most of all, that I didn’t leave before the court date, and miss the chance to say goodbye to a child I thought we’d have for weeks and weeks.

When I release a foster child I think how lucky I was to meet him. All the training and waiting seems so worth it because in this short slice of time I became part of an amazing person’s life—I got to hold him and love him and find out his favorite things and give him one toy to keep and kiss him and make him giggle and pray over his sleeping head.

And the trip?

To die for.

My mom, my sister, my daughter. I am most blessed.

the four of us

kelly and jean

kelly and i

There are several things I will never understand:

  • How three people can laugh so much alike, over and over again: our forms bent double and no sound except desperate gasps for air.
  • How you can talk and talk and talk all weekend and still have to stay up till the wee hours of the last night, to get it all said.
  • How there can be so much beauty and color in the world.

scarves

  • How Jesus can answer my child’s earnest wish for “a balloon that goes up without me running.” She clutched her dollar and begged, as we drove the six hours and as we walked the pedestrian mall. “Honey, I’m sure we will find one!” I said over and over. We did, in Hallmark—and the white-haired shop owner made her laugh and played pranks with her and taught her math facts and then—gave her the gift of helium, for free.

kelly with balloon

This right here was the low point:

kelly with hydrant

Hot, tired, waiting, missing Daddy. We sat on the street because in Kelly’s emotional condition I could not bring myself to navigate the toy store where my mom and sis were shopping.

lying in the street

We sat there like the homeless and the poor, wishing and fearing that someone would come drop money in our bag. To cheer ourselves up we passed the time acting.

Happy–

happy

sad – (she can do the suffering sheep look better than anyone I know)

sad

crazy.

crazy

There is a final thing I do not understand:

  • How we could have agonized in this city, a year and a half ago, with my sister so weak we thought we might lose her. Stem cell transplant; and a woman so drained she had to start all over again. Learn to eat, to laugh, to run, to care for herself. Now she stays up late with us and she eats what she wants. She sasses me back and she runs a lap around the hotel and she dresses cute and she finalizes plans to move to Israel in January. And when we visit the hospital room where she lay, so that we can draw that painful circle closed, she is strong–

jean in UVA

and she walks out on her own two feet.

walking out of uva

I want to stand up and say what the Lord Jesus did for me in the last week.

Gratis

Confession: Yesterday I walked out of a restaurant without paying.

This is not a joke. And nobody else paid either.

I just forgot.

It was a little coffee shop where I went to get a drink with my mom and my daughter. Because our drinks weren’t all ready at the same time and because they were busy, they said “Oh, just sit down. We’ll bring your drink out and you can settle up when you’re finished.”

We nibbled biscotti and sipped a bit.

And I walked out.

At 2:30 that afternoon I woke up from a nap, la-de-da, la-de-da—oh my word, what have I done? I just knew. Suddenly knew. I’d become a shoplifter. Horrified, I called the coffee shop. Um. I walked out this morning without paying. Can I come in and settle up?

Sure, okay; thanks for calling.

Wow.

It was only last summer that I got stopped for speeding for the first time ever, so as you can see my career as a lawbreaker is really ramping up. What should I take up next, do you think? Forging checks? Jaywalking? Rumshpringa?

Travels

Confession: I’ve never met so many beautiful, polite, and tastefully-dressed people in my life.

Charlottesville is a lovely town.

downtown mall 1

This is me and me mum having caramel Café Au Lait on the Downtown Mall. I called it caffe ow late, but the barista never blinked.

me and mom

In my town I say sir and ma’am when the need arises, but these guys sneak it into a corner of every sentence. My sentences don’t even have that many corners. Delightful.

They walk slower here, speak softer; their manners are pleasant and gentle and modulated. The men wear dress shirts everywhere, the women such charming spring dresses. I think it sweet of them to collect so many of my favorite things into one adorable area, pave it with brick, pop up umbrellas, and tumble cafés and coffee shops into the street. It’s clean and quiet, warm and green.

downtown mall 2

My sis is out of the hospital now, and two doors down from us in a suite. We’re grilling chicken on the deck tonight. I’m going to wear my souvenir—a turquoise scarf wrapped gently around my shoulders by the lady who sold it to me on the street.

Happiness.

I’m eating grits and soaking up sunshine, wearing sandals or less on my feet. So tell me–why don’t I live farther south?