A Mother’s Day Message

It was probably around this time of year in 1969 that my mom was offered a baby. A teenage girl was due to deliver in a few months, and the baby needed a home. Dr. MacInnes, physician to both families, acted as the go-between. Mom spoke to her husband about it, and they agreed to take me. I was the first grandchild in a large, affectionate, slightly crazy extended family, and my welcome couldn’t have been warmer.

Two years later, I went from only child to youngest of five when Mom married a man with four kids ranging in age from seven to twelve. Mom didn’t miss a beat. She fed us a lot of tuna-fish sandwiches (“What does she think we are, cats?” my oldest brother asked indignantly), quelled us with her famous raised-eyebrow look when necessary, guarded us like a lioness, and managed the demands of work and family with an energy and efficiency I have never been able to duplicate.

One of my earliest clear memories is of the day I was to be adopted by my then-stepfather. I was three years old. That morning I was taken to nursery school wearing a special dress—I remember the color and print—and told that I’d be picked up later for the court proceedings. But a sad accident befell me on the playground. It had rained recently, and I found myself in a patch of grassless muddy ground. For some reason I couldn’t seem to find my way out. The harder I tried to get out, the more mired down I became. Soon my white sandals were caked with gummy Oklahoma clay.

A worker found me, fetched me out, and gave me a scolding. Didn’t I know I was getting adopted today? My parents wanted me to look nice. What would they say when they saw what a mess I’d made of myself?

I was a timid child, and this rebuke made me cry. But when my mom came to pick me up, she didn’t scold me at all. She spoke kindly to me, cleaned me off, and didn’t seem to think the mud was a big deal at all. This memory is so indelible in my mind that I remember absolutely nothing about the adoption ceremony itself, though they tell me it took place and I believe them.

How inexpressibly comforting it is to look into the face of someone from whom you expect reproach, and find love and acceptance instead. My mom gave me my first picture of grace that day, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten.

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.

~Psalm 40:2

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.

When Auld Lang Syne Comes Back Around

We were twenty-one and newly married when we met Charlie and Cyndi at the newly launched Denton Community Church. They were a little older, enough to regard us as “heart-children,” as Cyndi later told me. We got to know each other over mugs of Charlie-made coffee and long conversations in the living room of their log cabin in Little Elm. The cabin was like them: warm, unconventional, authentic. Our new friends thought deeply, spoke honestly, and laughed a lot. They loved Jesus, big dogs, the outdoors, people, music, and anything handmade.

The fabric of married life changed when I got pregnant the first time—and I do mean the very first time—Greg and I “tried for a baby.” (Women have ways of knowing these things.) The pregnancy was a difficult one, weaving threads of pain, stress, and fear into our joy. Sick as I was, I could usually muster the will to make it from my bed to the car for church and for Charlie and Cyndi’s Bible study in Little Elm. Greg and I took great comfort in being surrounded by a loving community that prayed for us and cared for us in practical ways.

When at last our son was born, skinny but healthy, Charlie and Cyndi rejoiced wholeheartedly with us. I have never forgotten their hospital visit or their unmixed delight on our behalf—which, considering their own long struggles with infertility, showed great generosity of spirit.

They both played in the DCC band, Cyndi on vocals, Charlie on banjo and harmonica. Eventually I joined too. I spent many years at Cyndi’s side, harmonizing with her. I grew very familiar with her profile, and very fond of it.

Charlie and Cyndi moved to East Texas when our youngest child was too young to know them well. Later they relocated again. After our own family moved south, we learned that our old friends were now only a couple of hours away, living in another log cabin in the Texas hill country. Most joyfully of all, they’d adopted two girls, the same age as our own daughters. We’ve seen them a few times since our move, once with Steve Johnson, another North Texas transplant who was a long-haired single guy back when we all started making music together at DCC.

Following a recent illness, Cyndi found herself writing a lot of music, and she’s asked me to play pennywhistle on the CD she’s making. So last Saturday we again drove to their lovely home in Bandera for chili and cornbread, brownies and Charlie-made coffee, music and conversation. We listened to Cyndi’s demo and played around with parts. Before we left, Anna played and sang two of her own original pieces, and Cyndi offered words of encouragement and praise.

Just to see these cherished friends again and sing and play together more than a decade after sharing the stage at DCC is a delight past describing, and to see my children laughing and talking and playing with the daughters they once thought they’d never have is a gift from God so gracious it takes my breath away. What a boon. What a blessed, blessed boon.

I don’t really have a theme with which to wrap all this up. I can think of nothing more to say than, in all reverence, “Thanks be to God.”

Kim was looking for stray airsoft pellets when we drove up.

Reminds me of Little Elm.

Charlie and Cyndi’s view!

Charlie took his glasses off after Greg started taking pictures.

Getting ready to try some pennywhistle licks on one of Cyndi’s songs.

Executing one heck of an F#.

Aren’t we glad they make these harmonica-holding things so Charlie can play two instruments at once?

Cyndi with the guitar given to her by Margaret Ashmore. The title of her upcoming CD will be “Margaret’s Guitar.”

They assured us they would use the airsoft guns on leaves only.

Taking a break from tennis balls.

Aren’t they charming?

Of Houses, and Dreams, and the Chambered Nautilus

I have a recurring dream in which I discover new rooms in my house–not the house I actually live in, but some other house which belongs to me in the dream.  I turn a corner, open a door; and there is a room I have never seen before!  Inevitably I think, Now I can have a writing room.

I love this dream.  It is a message of hope, I think, of untapped reserves waiting to be explored, of possibilities previously unimagined.  It fills me with a sense of energy, freshness, discovery, and renewal, even more than dreams in which I can suddenly breathe underwater or fly.  Doorways and corridors open up where none were before, revealing chamber after chamber of lovely usable space–an inner space, secret and mysterious, like the compartments in the shell of the chambered nautilus, a sea creature which I understand is very good at math.  This clever cephalopod builds its own environment, adding new chambers to accommodate its growth, spiraling its shell to the tune of some fancy irrational number known as Phi, which is the ratio of two consecutive Fibonacci numbers.  (Go figure.)

nautilus alive

Personal environment, a sense of place, is important to me.  My taste in architecture favors old houses with window-seats, dormers, and odd little nooks and add-ons.  I have never lived in a house like this.  Our current house is 1620 square feet of very open floor plan.  There is little wasted space:  no foyer, almost no hallway, certainly no writing room.  Here I have lived for nine years with a husband, three children, two dogs, up to two cats at a time, and assorted rodentia (domesticated).  The rooms are spacious and full of light.  Even the surrounding countryside is spacious:  a flat, wind-swept prairie, with a wide prospect all around.  Quite simply, there is no place to hide.  We have homeschooled from the beginning (the children are sixteen, thirteen, and twelve), so we are all here together much of the time, knocking around the house, competing for space and hot water and computer time.

All this is funny, because I love seclusion, and hidey-holes, and woods, and hills, and hollows.  As an artist, I confess I sometimes feel, though I really know better, that I have a birthright to solitude and private spaces.  (Didn’t Virginia Woolf have something to say about this?)  Yet I deliberately chose this location and this house plan.  (Greg had quite a bit to say about it too.)  It was the right choice.  At the wise age of thirty-eight, I understand that if throughout my adult life I’d had license to indulge in all the privacy and quietude I thought I needed, I probably would have grown into a confirmed nutball, with little of interest to write about.

What privacy and quiet time I get usually come early in the morning, or (ironically) in a crowded Starbucks, tucked into a corner with my laptop and noise-canceling headphones (and ceramic mug from home and lumbar pillow, and a shawl to take the edge off arctic-blast air conditioning).  And it has been enough.  Indeed, God has blessed me abundantly with a beautiful family, meaningful work, and the drive and wherewithal to put words to the page or screen.

If the Lord wills and the creek riseth not, we will soon leave this house for an even smaller one:  two small bedrooms, one bath, tiny kitchen.  Do I feel any sense of constriction at the prospect?  Not at all.  I feel the world opening up before me like a newly discovered chamber.  This move is part of a change of lifestyle that we have dreamed of for years.  We are returning to the land where Greg grew up, in order to become professional farmers.

The plan is that Emilie and I will move down first, in order to clean the house and get it comfortably habitable.  Meanwhile, Greg, Daniel, and Anna will stay in our current house, finishing some home repairs, mowing the grass, and generally keeping the place presentable for prospective buyers.  At first we thought both girls would make the move south with me, but when I considered what sort of diet the guys were likely to subsist on in such a case, I suggested that Anna stay and cook.  At thirteen, she is already very capable in the kitchen, and I believe the experience of planning and executing meals for three people will test her mettle, and prove it.

Emilie and I may move as soon as early June, with a dog and a rodent or two.  After years of dreaming and planning, we are about to get a foot in the door.

And that door, I think, will open to a spacious chamber, with room for us all.