The Miracle

My beautiful daughter, Sophia, is celebrating her 21st birthday today with her new husband, Frankie, in Savannah, Georgia.  Since I won’t see her, I hope she will check her facebook at some point and read this memory from the past, written not long after her birth:

“The greatest act of futility an artist knows is to attempt to capture in words, in images, or in song what is elusive: LIFE.  To paint a delicate flower is futile.  Who can capture its fragile beauty?  However beautiful, the attempt is by far an imperfect rendition of the flower itself.  To write of the birth of a baby is futile.  What words can describe the miraculous?  Babies are born every day and inhabit the earth by the millions.  Flowers grow by the billions and cover the earth in fields of color.  Yet when we look at a single flower or experience the birth of a child, we know that each is a miracle.  We know that LIFE is a miracle!

Artists can only interpret Truth and Beauty knowing that their attempts fall far short of EXPERIENCE itself.  I don’t dare to hope that I can find mere words sufficient to describe the miracle of my baby girl’s birth.  Yet I am driven by a need to risk futility and so I must try.

In those short days following Hurricane Hugo I found myself anticipating the onset of labor, as every woman in her ninth month must.  Once we had safely reached my parent’s home in Pennsylvania and my husband had safely returned to our home in Charleston, I felt released to concentrate on the churnings of life in my ballooning abdomen.  Many times, often unexpectantly, a persistent thought filled my mind: ‘God’s grace is upon us.’

As I listened to my husband’s accounts of life in the aftermath of a hurricane I was grateful for grace.  Aside from roof damage and many fallen trees in the yard, we were spared major damages.  I longed to be there when I thought of my husband and our dog, Maia, ‘roughing it’ without power.  He told me of the friend from church who showed up at the gate with ice, concerned about us and the baby.  The evening news covered in depth the destruction left by Hugo.  Families who lost their homes and businesses completely found grace in being alive.  Babies were born that very night and were given the namesake ‘Hugo.’  I thought of God’s grace then for those miracles born in the midst of a storm’s wrath.  I was grateful that our own child waited to begin that journey into the world after Hugo.

One week to the day after the hurricane our baby girl was born!  I missed my husband in those bittersweet hours, when the force of nature squeezed me like a lemon being made into lemonade.  I knew the rare gift and blessing of having my mother present with me throughout labor and delivery.  The eternal bond of mother and daughter was deepened beyond understanding.  Her presence was a comfort I can’t describe.  Her love strengthened me, as it always has, but more deeply than ever.

The ecstatic joy that lit her eyes and smile at the moment my daughter slipped into view is an image I will treasure forever.  Her excited voice exclaiming ‘It’s a girl!  Oh, Nancy, it’s a GIRL!!’ is a glorious sound I will always hear.  Something wonderful, something miraculous happened in those brief (thank God for that the third time around!) moments of birth when my mother, my daughter, and I were united as one.

Although the circumstances causing my husband and I to be apart were difficult, and while I missed him beyond belief, I am grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime my mother and I shared together.  I felt God’s grace then and as I gazed in awe at the tiny face of my daughter.  My mother laughed and still does that I was on the telephone telling my boys of their sister and my husband of his daughter while the doctor was stitching me up!

Three weeks of recovery and healing passed before we could travel back home.  The days were filled with the joy of a newborn baby but the boys and I missed daddy beyond belief.  When we pulled in the driveway, the boys jumped from the van into daddy’s arms to give him hugs.  He held his baby girl with the uncertainty of a first-time father and studied her chubby face.  When we hugged one another I felt the events of the past weeks melt away and the love that held us across the miles brought us back together.

In the artist’s futility to express the inexpressible, my husband completed a painting during our separation.  It was a self-portrait he painted by candlelight.  I treasure this painting because it is the only part of him I have during the time we were away.  It is a self-portrait full of longing and vulnerability and it marks an eventful time in our life.  ‘From His fulness have we ALL received, grace upon grace.”  John 1:16. 

Giving birth is on my mind on the eve of my daughter’s 21st birthday.  She is about to become a legal adult and all I can think about is her birth.  I also have two beautiful nieces who are pregnant, so they are on my mind, too.  A friend at work just became a grandmother for the first time and another friend there just had her first baby sixth months ago.  One of the bridesmaids in my daughter’s wedding in May just gave birth the other day and I saw the beautiful baby girl’s picture on facebook.  If life can be compared to the metaphor of a game, becoming a mother is a game changer, no doubt!  But it is the most wonderful game in the world even at its most challenging moments.  Long ago, when it was my turn, I wrote a poem, more of a prayer, and I offer it for all the mothers I know:

Mother-To-Be, A Prayer

LIFE churns within her body.

Ever so slowly, in silence and darkness,

by God’s miraculous handiwork,

a babe forms.

Though the child is not yet whole,

waiting for tiny fingers and toes,

she knows of its presence,

of the miracle inside.

Weary, her body yearns for more sleep.

Drained, she fights for energy

to perform simple chores.

Struggling, her body changes to prepare

for the Birth of LIFE.

She succumbs to bittersweet feelings

of joy and sickness.

Deep within smolders fear,

that the strength needed

to bear the innocent will falter;

that the patience and endurance

needed to love and care for a newborn,

will waver.

At times her fear overshadows the joy of LIFE,

stealing the quiet assurance of faith,

darkening the light of hope.

Restore to her Creator of LIFE, Giver of LOVE,

strength and peace.

Help her bring forth with faith and hope

the miracle of her child,

sweet and innocent,

needing mother’s tender love.

Image

Wild Musk and Wal-Mart

It all started with a broken bottle of perfume.  For a few days now the air in the bathroom has been greatly improved by the intense aroma of Wild Musk for Women.  In my haste to get out the door, I knocked it off of the shelf and it shattered on the tile in a puddle of golden liquid and shards of glass.  I might have been upset if it had been an expensive bottle of perfume, like the Bal a’ Versailles’ by Jean Desprer from Paris, that Pedro likes to buy me on special occasions. But that bottle is empty and since I had just gotten the musk at Wal-Mart a few weeks ago as a cheap replacement, the $11.99 loss was painlessly absorbed by putting it on my list for the next trip to the store.

Have you tried to buy perfume lately at Wal-Mart?  They keep it locked up with the razors in the health and beauty section.  On the first trip there I was lucky enough to find a “consultant” in the next aisle stocking eye shadow and mascara.  She was a nice lady who gladly opened the cabinet so I could get my perfume.  Since the store renovations began a few months ago I have felt like every trip to Wal-Mart can easily become a fiasco.  I usually feel like a lost puppy searching for my missing bone that I can’t find anywhere and I wander around aimlessly looking for it, consoling myself that at least I’m getting the exercise I badly need.  By the time I get home I’m all tuckered out and badly need a nap!  I felt relieved that on this trip, at least, I got in and out of the store without incident.

In a rare burst of Saturday morning energy that is usually sacred sleeping in time, Pedro and I decided to get up early, hit the community-wide yard sale in Goose Creek (and any others we could find along the way), eat a pancake and sausage breakfast to support a fundraiser at Fatz Cafe, and then end our morning excursion at Wal-Mart to get my Wild Musk and other essentials (like ingredients for a taco salad I was going to make for a pot-luck dinner that night).

It was a beautiful, pleasant morning and I found a few treasures: two plump cherub statues, one is sleeping and the other reading a book, to put on the shelf in my writing room (a former bedroom that became available when our sons moved out); a scrapbook with brown paper pages to keep my printed Snippets blogs in (I loved that the brown paper matches the brown paper background of the blog!); a tapestry pillow of two hummingbirds in the midst of pink flowers to put in the rocking chair (the one I rocked my babies in that is also in my writing room); and a black suede jacket that fits perfectly (all I need now is a cold day to wear it!).  After the delicious pancakes with strawberries, sausage, and coffee, I was feeling armed and ready for our last stop at Wal-Mart.

With our shopping nearly done and the cart almost full we headed across the store to get the perfume.  Once again I felt lucky that another nice consultant was nearby.  She gladly opened the cabinet and I picked up the perfume.  She locked the cabinet door and put her hand out for the perfume.  “I’ll be happy to take that to Lawn and Garden or Aisle 14 for you,” she said.  I must have looked at her as puzzled as I felt and was thinking, “No thanks, I’m sure I can handle it from here.”  Now if she was offering to carry the 20 lb. bag of dog food that would’ve made sense but the 10 oz. bottle of perfume was no trouble at all.

She explained, “We have to escort customers to the register now with perfumes and razors since we  have had a lot of theft.”  I sarcastically thought, “Okay, nice lady, whatever you need to do,” but I joked with her and said, “Well, okay, Aisle 14 then.  This is starting to feel like I’m at airport security.”  She tersely smiled and as we walked to the check-out lines, she enlightened me further on how Wal-Mart continues to offer the lowest prices by reducing incidents of stolen merchandise so that those costs don’t have to be absorbed by the customers.  I wondered who was absorbing the costs of all the store renovations that were driving me crazy.  I suspect the COMPLETE rearrangement of merchandise is to make customers lost, frustrated, and weak so they will need to buy MORE stuff to make them feel better.  For all my trouble, I may decide I deserve the $75 bottle of perfume instead of the $11.99 bottle.

As the nice lady consultant escorted us to Express Aisle 1 for 10 items or less, I had to point out to her that we had more items than that.  (I mean, did she not notice the cart piled high with the 20 lb. bag of dog food that my husband was pushing beside us as she enlightened me on the newest store policies?).  Then she escorted us to Express Aisle 4 for 20 items or less but she changed her mind since we OBVIOUSLY had more than 20 items.  She finally took us to Aisle 17 after passing by Aisle 14 where there was no light on and nobody appeared to be home.  At Aisle 17 there were TWO consultants helping a lady in front of us and at first I silently groaned because if it took two consultants, I assumed there was either a problem or, God forbid, a price check was required.  Fortunately, the lady was checked out without incident and it was soon our turn.

The cashier consultant had already been given the perfume and she rang up our purchases while the other one bagged them.  A manager came over to watch and I quietly quipped to Pedro, “He must be back-up in case you try to assault the consultant and run off with the perfume!”  We got through the line quickly and headed out of the store.  An elderly greeter consultant (a.k.a. undercover security guard) stopped us near the exit and asked to see the receipt.  Pedro patted his pockets and shrugged his shoulders like he lost it while I clearly had it in my hand and offered it to the lady.  She laughed at him and I told her “He can be quite the smart mouth.”  She quickly glanced at the receipt and handed it back to me.  “Have a nice day!” she said with a smile.

Then it happened.  Just when we thought we’d get out without a fiasco, a fiasco happened.  We walked through the security gate and the alarm went off!  “BEEP!  BEEP!! BEEEEPPPP!!!  The LOUD alarm caused everyone to stop and look at us.  The only thing missing was a flashing, glaring searchlight shining on us!  Pedro and I kidded around and put our hands up in the air in an act of surrender.  I told him, “Now we’ve done it!”  The elderly greeter “hurried” over to us, looking at us suspiciously.  I told her, “It’s probably the bottle of perfume we bought.”  I handed her the receipt and she said, “Yep, there it is right there.”  I figured we were free to go but, no, she needed to SEE the bottle of Wild Musk for Women (and I was literally ready to become one – a wild woman, that is, as I searched through all the bags to find it!)  She took it with the receipt to the nearest check-out and removed the security alarm tag from the bottom that the TWO consultants AND the manager overlooked removing on Aisle 17.  We got the perfume back and left.

Thank God for homeland security that makes a trip to Wal-Mart feel like an airport security check.  It is so nice to know illegal contraband like perfumes and razors are safer now in America than ever before.  I may feel like a criminal but at least the prices are low and I can smell nice.  BEEP!  BEEEEP!  BLEEEEP!

When I got home I put the bleepin’ bottle of perfume IN the bleepin’ basket on the shelf in the bleepin’ bathroom so I, hopefully, won’t have to go through that again any time soon!  Our mantra that helped us survive parenting will now help us survive shopping:  “Give me humor or give me death.”  That night, after the potluck supper, as we sat in a Latin Night Jazz Concert downtown and enjoyed the fantastic music, I felt the dust of the day melt away, just as the host said it would in his welcome.  There is way more to enjoy in life than is worth “sweating over the small stuff” but sometimes it helps to vent before letting it go.  Oh, by the way, “Have a nice day!” 🙂   

Many of the essays and poems/lyrics that I have shared in Snippets are from the past and have come from an unpublished manuscript I wrote when my children were younger called “Pink Balloons.”  Who knows one day I may get lucky and get it published!  Of course, that would mean sending it out numerous times to publishers and having to face rejections!  I have never sent this manuscript out but I did try with one of my children’s stories called “Tilly the Churchyard Cat.”  I came close on that one, had a small press interested and they kept me hanging for nine months while I worked on the illustrations but in the end they didn’t offer me a contract.  I was so disappointed that it took me YEARS to work up the gumption to try again.  I wish I could say I have been consistent and persistent but I have not.  I am working on the issue though and that is progress!  

“Pink Balloons” came to me as the title for my collection of essays, anecdotes, and poems following an experience my daughter and I shared in our backyard with a pink balloon when she was three years old.  It was a rather mundane incident where her pink balloon escaped her hands and floated away into the sky, leaving her heartbroken.  She cried inconsolably and insisted I go get her ”boon.”  I couldn’t use logic on her as to how it was physically impossible for me to fly up into the sky to get her “boon.”  Something so simple made her very happy and just as quickly it was gone, making her very sad.  I wrote about this and how after that pink balloons became metaphors of joy to me.  Following my brother’s unexpected death earlier that year at the age of thirty-seven, I also wrote about the grief and sadness we feel when a pink balloon (loved one) leaves us.  One day, while struggling with the title of the manuscript, I looked out my bedroom window and saw a pink balloon floating in the sky.  Perhaps it was coincidental but it hit me then that this should be the title of the book about mothering and family life.  Pink balloons became symbols of anything or anyone that brings joy, especially the joy my children bring and of being a mom.  Well, the manuscript has collected dust and the metaphor lost its significance over time. 

Recently, the metaphor returned but in a different form as pink flowers, symbols now of the irrepressible spirit of the individual.  In spite of futile efforts to subdue, control or extinguish the unique beauty and worth of each person born on this earth, sometimes pink flowers will blossom and bloom against all odds.  Last fall, while walking at Cypress Gardens, I came upon this beautiful tree full of pink flowers and somehow it reminded me of the pink balloons metaphor though in a different form and I was filled with joy.  As far as the rejection issues with writing (or anything else in life) I find the most help by repeating the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

Image

Hurricane Hugo

I am probably pushing the limits on the definition of “blog” on this one but I can’t seem to help myself.  Today, September 21st, it is the 21st anniversary since Hurricane Hugo ripped apart Charleston.  The significance of the 21st anniversary on the 21st day of the month is momentous enough to justify this lengthy remembrance, I hope.   I wrote about this life-changing event several days after it happened and just before the birth of my daughter who will be 21 in about a week:

“It is five days after Hurricane Hugo swept through our town of Charleston, SC on Thursday, September 21, 1989, leaving a path of devastation behind.  I have been completely consumed with the stress of the situation and the many life-threatening decisions we’ve made that I have not stopped to think about what I’ve just lived through.  Fortunately, the choices we’ve made have turned out to be good ones.  The best decision we made was to evacuate the area and head inland for Columbia….We packed what we could and anxiously left our home behind with our golden retriever secured with ample food and water in the house.  My conscience was laden with guilt leaving our dog there but there was no choice.  With two small boys, my husband, our belongings, and myself nine months pregnant there was no room for a toy poodle much less a golden retriever.

Our cramped car was one of hundreds headed down the hazy highway that gloomy morning.  My thoughts and feelings as we traveled steadily along were partially of relief and hope that we were driving towards safety.  Yet I also felt scared and anxious in anticipation of what was coming.  The fear of the unknown was strong.  We often drove in silence, feeling very connected as a family.  I concentrated on remaining calm and honest in answering my oldest son’s many questions about the storm.  ’Why are we leaving, Mommy? Is the big storm going to hurt my toys? Will water come in the house? Is Maia (our dog) going to get hurt?’

It seemed like days before we reached the motel in Columbia.  Luckily, we had guaranteed a reservation the night before, after calling numerous motels that had no vacancies.  Our room was waiting for us, something for which I felt great relief.  We didn’t know where else we’d go.  We unloaded our boys and belongings and got as comfortable as we could before going for breakfast.  For the boys, the motel was a big adventure and we tried to relieve our own tension by making the experience as fun as possible.  Still there loomed a shadow of fear and worry in us as we waited, waited, waited….The hurricane was predicted to hit Charleston late Thursday night anywhere from midnight until the early hours of Friday morning.  It was also predicted to pass through Columbia a few hours after that.  I was afraid that even in Columbia we may not be safe…but I was just grateful that we left.  I was overwhelmed with the maternal instinct to protect my babies, born and unborn….

As darkness fell so did the rain.  We tucked our sweet boys into bed and spent the evening following every single weather update.  Exhaustion finally took over and my husband and I drifted to sleep….It was a weird feeling to think that as I drifted to sleep around midnight, Charleston was in the midst of the hurricane and there was nothing anybody could do but hope and pray….Fear loomed heavier than ever because I knew we were next.  With my baby due in a few days I feared she would come in the middle of a hurricane.  I blinked my eyes hard at the thought of my husband delivering our child while our boys watched….I prayed for God’s protection and presence.

I awoke suddenly in the dark hours to the sound of pounding rain and beating gusts of wind that sounded as if someone was beating on our door.  The hurricane was here and the noises from the dark startled me out of sleepiness….Nervously, with pounding heart, I made my way across the shadowed room and peeked out the water-streaked window.  Trees were bending in the wind the way tall grass in a field wavers one way then the other….I didn’t want to see anymore and hurried to the bed….My husband was awake by now but the boys slept soundly on the sofabed near the window.  When the lights went out and the wind sounded more fierce than ever, we quickly moved the boys to our bed….by now they were awake too and as my son rubbed his sleepy eyes he asked ‘Is the big storm here, Mommy?’  ‘Yes, it is honey.’  A few minutes later we were huddled in the bathroom, the boys in the blanket-lined tub with their pillows and stuffed animals.  The candlelight and the battery-powered tv provided a little light and distraction from the storm’s wrath.  My eldest son of four was afraid and stayed very close to me.  His little brother held ‘Little Bear’ with the pink nose and munched on crackers in the cozy bathtub nest….

Eventually, the end sounded like it was near and we returned to the bed.  All of us cuddled together, waiting for the wind to stop and sleep to overcome us.  I was so relieved that we had made it through the hurricane.  My son was still scared and stayed close to me.  I wondered what secrets the darkness now held as I drifted to sleep to the hypnotizing sound of a normal, steady rain.  Several hours later, I awakened to the light of dawn streaming through the crack in the heavy curtains….I looked over at my angels,  peacefully sleeping….Gratitude buoyed my spirit to get up and peek out the window.  The brightness of the morning sun in a sea of blue sky greeted me.  I looked for signs of damage in the parking lot but couldn’t see any, except for a few snapped pines at the edge of the lot….I thanked God for keeping us safe, no matter what awaited us that was all that mattered at the moment….

After a morning quest for breakfast and a survey of the area, we returned to the motel and waited for phone lines to be fixed.  Damages from the hurricane were obvious everywhere we went, mostly in the form of trees snapped like toothpicks, signs on the ground, and roofs ripped off buildings.  By mid-afternoon we were able to get through on a pay phone to my worried family in Pennsylvania to reassure them of our safety….More difficult decisions awaited us….with the certainty of no power for weeks and unknown damages to our home, we didn’t want our third child to be born into this very stressful environment.  We decided the boys and I should go to my parent’s home up north and my husband would return to our home to deal with the damages and our dog.  The hardest part of that decision was that he would miss the birth of our child.  My parents were  more than willing to pick us up but saying good-bye to my husband was very difficult for the boys and I….Somehow I felt a quiet assurance that out of a tragedy a miracle would come.  My father worried as we bumped up the highway through the mountains that that miracle was going to bounce out into the world on the backseat of his conversion van….These words from Psalm 121 comfort me when I think of what we’ve been through and still have yet to face with childbirth approaching any day:  ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth….The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.’ 

One week and a day later, out of the devastation of a hurricane, our beautiful daughter was born!  She was and is our Hugo miracle!  Our dog was fine, many trees were down in our yard but none, thankfully, on our house.  Like most people we needed a new roof.  Our neighbors weren’t so lucky, or maybe they were…a huge pine landed in the center of their house and narrowly missed a four year old boy sleeping in the room but it got them on the Oprah show.  I watched the aftermath far away in Pennsylvania as I healed from childbirth and kept up with my baby girl and the boys with the help of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Three weeks after our daughter was born we were elated to be reunited with my husband.  I will never forget his face when we pulled in the driveway and he met his little girl for the first time!     

There Is A Place I Know…

…where healing springs now flow,

over rocks hear the water spill

in the center all is still.

There is a place I know…

free from pain, free from woe.

Near the calm pool I humbly wait,

Lord, with You I’m never late.

There is a place I know…

where peace and beauty grow.

From the cool stream drinks my soul,

all is still and I am whole.

There is a place I know…

where gentle winds do blow,

Breathe on me, set my soul on fire,

Lord, You are my one desire.

Deep in the heart still waters flow,

There is the peace I long to know.

Deep in the heart His breath I breathe,

Here is the place I’ll never leave. 

There Is a Place I Know…

Several years ago I accompanied our children on a youth trip to the mountains in North Carolina.  We hiked and climbed a mountainside and as I watched these many teenagers fly by me non-stop up the steep incline, I felt my heart pounding in my head and I was beyond parched.  Breathless, I had to stop and rest many times along the way.  I remember my eldest son’s concern for me that his forty-something momma would have a heart attack right there on the mountain and tumble to the bottom.  He stayed with me, sacrificing the fast pace of his friends to make sure I was okay.  He may not remember this but I will always remember his love that day.  I found out then how out of shape I was and thought “next time they will ask a younger chaperone to come along.” 

Well, I made it to the top and somewhere along the trail was an oasis of a waterfall where thousands of tiny purple butterflies rested on tree trunks or flitted about like tiny Tinkerbells.  It was a magical place where I rested among the butterflies.  When I returned home, sometime after the trip, I imagined this painting and it came to be more as a remembrance than a realistic rendering…no that wasn’t really me, a naked nymph, in the waterfall!  But symbolically, she was a part of me, an ideal, better version of a woman, refreshed, her thirst quenched by the Holy Spirit, communing with her God.  

Sometimes the soul just thirsts, sometimes it knows not for what, yet thirst it does.  The void gets filled with all the wrong things sometimes and if there is too much dryness there is the risk of brittleness that can make a twig snap or a bruised reed break.  I know this thirsting and have found the only answer for me to avoid prolonged droughts in the soul to be found in the unconditional love of God.  ”There is a place I know where healing springs now flow.  Over rocks hear the water spill, in the center all is still.”  (This song I wrote long before was in my mind as I painted and the full lyrics I will post another day.)   

Image

Previous Older Entries