Saturday, January 31, 2009

Candlelight Questions

The Brontes had a mask, one that they could hide behind when telling the truth. The brainchild of a wise father. Sometimes it is hard to tell the truth in the harsh light of day. I've found in my own life some of the best conversations take place under cover of darkness. We're currently testing this theory out on the children.
Candlelight Questions
"Hurry. Brush your teeth. Get in your PJs and then it's time for Candlelight Questions." The children scurry out of day clothes and into night. They rush around the house flipping off lights but leave the oil lamps burning on the kitchen table. Someone brings a candle and sets it on the hearth in the living room. The lighter flares in the darkness and ignites the candle's wick. Everyone finds a space on the sofas or the floor.

"Are you ready for tonight's question? Who is someone you admire and why?"

"I admire JRR Tolkien. He basically spent his whole life with one set of characters."
"I admire you and Papa because you work hard to provide for us."
"I admire Aunt Dulce and Uncle Jim because they are so good at making people feel comfortable."
"I admire God because he gives us power to get candy." Much laughter and mini theology lesson ensues.

The candle flickers as children share their thoughts. It's cozy in our big living room with kids sleepy and stretched out. Everyone takes a quick turn then someone prays and all line up for hugs and kisses. One kiss for the big kids and four for Charlie and then off to bed. The kids take their cue from the hush and calm around the flame and settle quickly into their beds.

Just a few minutes at the end of the day to tie heart strings and share ideas, here in the dark by candlelight.

Other Questions:
How did you serve someone today?
What is something you learned today?
Who is your favorite character in.... and why?
What do you want to accomplish tomorrow?
Did you do anything today that you regret? What action can you take tomorrow to prevent it from happening again?
What is your favorite memory?
What has God been teaching you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

T Minus Ten and Superman

"John! Quick! Get out of your sweats and put on jeans! We're going to be late for bell practice."

whine. mumble. moan.

"I know you don't like jeans. Too bad. You are old enough to start thinking about proper public attire and sweats don't cut it!

whine. mumble. moan.

Lauren comes in fresh from the shower with dripping wet hair. "Come here. Your hair is stringy. It will just take a minute to trim off the ends... Charlie! Get your shoes on!... John! Jeans! Jeans!... No, Charlie, take the yellow boots off. Get your sneakers!"

"I can't find my sneakers."

"What do you mean you can't find them? They should be on the shoe shelf."

"I looked. They aren't there."

"Look again! Be quick! Don't step in the pile of hair. "

"I know where they are, Mom."

"Faith, you haven't brushed your hair yet! Come on!"

"I will, Mom, but I know where Charlie's shoes are. Superman is wearing them.



Note to self: Next time Charlie's shoes go missing, be sure to check Superman's feet first.

For those of you with young children clinging to the hope that you'll be able to shave off some of the time it takes to get out the door when the kids get older, let me warn you...Don't even think about it!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chim Chiminee

"Have you taken a picture yet?" Stuart asked me this when he walked in the door around dinner time. I had the counter covered with baking sheets and fajitas. Chicken Fajita Pizzas were on the dinner menu. I'm a one-thing-at-a-time girl and putting pizzas together was my one thing.

"Take a picture of what?"

"Of the kids. Have you seen the kids?"

"Oh. That." I had seen them but it hadn't occured to me that it was a moment. The pizzas, you know.

Stuart put down his computer case and, still in his jacket, he grabbed the camera to record the children (re) blackening their faces.

Then he pulled brooms from the pantry and equipped each of his chimney sweeps with one.

And he didn't even mind that dinner wasn't quite ready or that some of the black came off on the wall around the mirror.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Minus Four on a Sunday Morning

It has been some weeks since I have been able to go to and hospital and illness detain. Today was no exception. Home with Faith and Charlie. They turned the doll house upside down and got to work arranging a cozy place for their little family. I plowed through the piles in the living room and bedrooms; made beds and washed dishes. Lit some candles to chase away the gloom and sat down with Isaiah. Quiet.

A little while later Faith and Charlie joined me in front of the fireplace under a big blanket for their Bible time. Noah and the flood and a year and ten days in the ark with all those animals. I imagined the mess and the closeness. Bible time over, we picked up some stories and set about missing the rest of us and listening for car sounds.

Two more stories and the car crunched gravel in the driveway. Books and blanket went flying. "They're home! They're home!"

Kids and Papa and groceries tumbled into the house. Bibles scattered over clean countertops. Shoes piled near the shoe shelf. Door opened and slammed shut. Noisy. Kids mixed in among the grocery bags and stayed to visit.

Our house is rambling but mostly we live in one room. A puzzle sprawled across the coffee table. Toys piled behind the stained sofas. Books. Everywhere, books. Sometimes I shut my eyes against how lived in our living space is but Stuart loves it. "It just shows how much we like to be together."

He's right. My favorite housekeeping verse is Proverbs 14: 4 Without oxen a stable stays clean but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. We are raising a harvest! These books, Bibles, coats, games and shoes, all necessary tools. It's not a mess I want to wish away. Choose quiet over noise? Peace over chaos? I like an upside down house. Which is why this morning when I read to two, I was listening for four more.


Nerf Darts on Modern Art

Monday, January 19, 2009

To Arms!

It was a day. Malaise hung thick in the air affecting children and school work and chores. I hauled the stragglers back to their tasks and felt the weight of responsibility heavy on my shoulders. At eleven I asked John to start getting ready for a doctors appointment. At twelve he was good to go. At twelve-thirty I asked the children to begin getting in the car. By one, all were assembled. Steam gathered between my ears and Charlie cried because he couldn't get his shoes on.

I started to wind up for a good tantrum on the highway but refrained. "Guys! We are at the crossroads and and we need to choose the good way. Let's take turns praying that we would choose peace." We did while Charlie cried louder. "John! Help him with his shoes!" Peace eluded.

Smack! A stone flew out from under the tread of a tractor trailer and hit the windshield. A round hole remains to tell the tale. Charlie cried, "I need a pillow! My stomach hurts! I want to lie down!" It will be a while before he can face a doctor without anxiety.

John hacked and coughed and Claire tripped over the curb and fell flat on her stomach on the doctor's lawn. Charlie passed his doctor's exam and John flunked. Onto Wal-Mart for John's prescription where the children closed ranks round the cart. I thought hard on patience and was mostly successful until the entertainment department. "I cannot take a step in any direction! Will one of you please move!," I cried in a voice loud enough that several gentlemen backed away from the row of televisions. None of the children stirred. A prescription and a bathroom break later, I was back in the freezing wind, tripping over children, lifting two-ton Charlie out of the cart and into his car seat.

And now we ride home in relative calm and I take stock. This is not a Woe-is-Me day. This is a day to celebrate, to delight in. A day where dross rises to the top. A day common to man. A day to persevere. Not much crossed off on my list of things to do but God is probably checking off a thing or two on His. Bring it on!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Do Unto Others

I am never finished. I never arrive or achieve or accomplish. As fast as I begin to get the hang of a thing, another is set out before me to work through. I do not mind this for I love growing beyond myself. The task at hand? Do unto others...

A thousand commercials tell me that I am the center of the universe. Billboards, magazines, and my own selfish nature spur me on to grab what I can, spend as much time as I can on serving myself. The end result of self-centeredness is loneliness and dissatisfaction in everything. Join in. This been the relentless message of the past few months. Fortunately the response of friends and neighbors to Charlie's struggle has given me a better direction.

We've not lived here long and I often worry. Who can we turn to if we need help? A needless thought. Neighbors rallied and picked up and dropped off childen. People dropped by the hospital. Pastor, neighbors, and our favorite visitor...a young father who just started working for Stuart a few months ago. He prayed over Charlie on his way into surgery and then returned the next evening to check on him. He is fifteen years younger and many years wiser in the ways of joining in with the lives of those around him. An example we will not forget.

The phone rang and cards came in the mail all wishing comfort and a speedy recovery. Our favorite packed by the hands of a young boy and girl in Texas. Children we have never met! Their mother and I are friends via our blogs. Xandra offers mountains of encouragement in my comment section and because she is one who knows how to join in, words were not enough for her when she read Charlie's story.

So Nathan and Gracie illustrated colorful cards for Charlie on construction paper and signed them with big, exuberant letters.

They picked out Mix-Em markers to include in their package. These were a big hit! The children have covered an acre of paper with marker artwork.

Nathan sent a little red car from his personal collection. Now that's sharing!

And here is Charlie with the card from Xandra. It is our favorite card because it sings. Mary Poppins belts out A Spoonful of Sugar everytime someone peeks inside. Charlie likes to open it. Sometimes he listens to the whole song and sometimes he opens it many times in a row to listen to A Spoonful of Sugar in rap. We like it both ways.

I do not expect that it will be a quick process to get to the place where I easily join in the lives of those beyond my immediate family. But I will not tarry in the place where I am. I want more joy than I have to offer myself. Joy overflows in Doing Unto Others.

Thanks to all who joined in our lives this month with your prayers, phone calls, visits, and gifts. You have been excellent teachers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Day Eight: High Five!

Day Six: Regrouping

Five bags in the trunk.

5 medical supplies in a Wal-Mart cart.

5 kids in the car.

5 repetitions of "Are we almost there yet?"
High five! Charlie is home!

If you are praying: Last night the pediatric ward filled up with children suffering from a nasty stomach virus. Hopefully we did not cart those germs home with us! John has come down with a cold so we are keeping him under quarantine. Charlie's immune system has got to be pretty compromised after seven days on three types of antibiotics. We also have another week of bandage changing ahead of us. The drain has been completely removed but Charlie still has a small open hole in his neck.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Day Six: Regrouping

Day Five: Speaker Phone Prayers

"Mmm. You look nice," Stuart said into my neck this evening.

" A little sleep, some makeup, and a change of clothes will do that for a girl."

Stuart stayed at the hospital with Charlie last night and I came home to get some rest and spend some time with the other kids today. I should have gone right to bed but instead, I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning updating the blog. Then I climbed in my big comfy bed with my big comfy comforter (ahhh!) and watched the end of Return to Me.

Woke up at quarter of eleven, visited with our next-door neighbor, made lemon-raspberry muffins, did a little laundry, trimmed my hair and gave my son, Absalom, a full fledged haircut. Comforted Claire. This separation has been the hardest on her. The kids snacked this morning and we finally sat down to eat breakfast at three this afternoon! This confused the kids. They didn't know whether to do their after-breakfast chores or after-lunch chores. I put an end to the rollicking argument and then showered and after that we went grocery shopping. We were down to a half a roll of toilet paper!

Dropped doughnuts off at church for tomorrow (Hope they don't mind that they won't be Krispy Kreme fresh) and arrived at the hospital in the early evening hours. Brought Charlie some applesauce and cheese sticks and new socks and stumpy Star Wars figures. He said, "Tomorrow I want crackers with Cheez-Whiz." He's been really been into the idea of Cheez-Whiz ever since he saw an picture of it on the back of a cracker box. He thinks Cheez-Whiz on a banana might be a good idea. Tomorrow I'll bring him some but I'm not letting him eat it on anything but crackers!

Stuart was red-eyed and unshaven. The fold-out sleeper chair is not so comfy as our bed and Charlie's needs preempted a shower and a shave. I bathed Charlie while Stuart attended to his own needs and the kids crammed together in the tiny room and watched Mulan.

Then it was time to go. Charlie wanted me to stay. "You take more better care of me!" Ha! Stuart came equipped with the Game Cube and his laptop. He and Charlie played Lego Star Wars. He hooked his computer up to the television and managed to play lullabies through the speakers of Charlie's bed. All he got when I was there was Mama singing Aiken Drum in a very sleepy voice.

Tomorrow, the changing of the guard takes place in the afternoon and it will be my turn to go back to bed head and a big flannel shirt and wool socks. Hope Stuart remembers that I looked nice today when he shows up after work on Monday.

Day Eight: High Five

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Day Five: Speaker Phone Prayers

Day Four: Psalm 91

The big guys have been holding down the fort off and on this week. Neighbors pop in to check on them during the mornings and in the midafternoon they ride with Stuart to the hospital.

They've been impressive. I got home last night after being gone for five days to a CLEAN house. Laundry washed, folded and put away; dishes done; rugs vacuumed; beds made... They've helped each other with their school work and have put in about three full days this week on their own. The chore chart and family schedule have helped to give their days structure.

The thing that has impressed me most is that they have come together for Bible study all on their own each day. We're beginning to see fruit. Hallelujah!

Every morning around 9:30 or so, I called to help them get organized and to supervise as best I could via speaker phone. "John, no media this morning. Faith, use a small bowl for your cereal, that way you'll waste less. Claire? Is your bed princess worthy? Go fix it and come back and tell me when you're done." The rate of obedience increases when they hear directions straight from the horse's mouth rather than second-hand from a sibling.

The best part of these phone calls has been joining the kids for prayer time and being able to hear all of their little voices call upon their Father. (They sound so much younger over the phone than they do in person.)

" Please, God, hold the surgeon's hand as he fixes Charlie's neck."
"Thank you, God, that you knew what was wrong and that you did all of the work to save Charlie. "
"I can't pray right now, Mama. I'm so thankful, I can't say thank you enough times."
"Please help Mama to get enough rest and help Charlie not to be afraid."

And then my turn. "Jesus, thank you for children who love you. Thank you for these faith-filled children who are such a good example to me. Guard and protect them. Fill them with a spirit of peace and a spirit of obedience and cooperation."

Prayers that have been abundantly answered.

Day Six: Regrouping

Day Four: Psalm 91

Day Three

"You have to print a retraction and take that Calico post off your blog, Mom."

"No, John. It stays."

"Why? It just shows how wrong you were."

"Yes, sweetie, it does but to delete that post would rob God of the credit that is due to him."

Charlie stood just a step away from Heaven's gates while we called him the Calico Boy.

For weeks, the abcess grew, deep withing the recesses of Charlie's neck tissue; swelling invisible to human sight or probing fingers. Not once a fever, no sign of illness revealed until he began to sleep for long hours only two days before we brought him to the doctors.

"The abcess was huge. It extended from just under his ear, down to his voice box and went behind his esophogus." The surgeon measured of span of one and three and four inches with his forefinger and thumb as he described the area to me. "He's lucky still to be here."

The surgeon left the room Wednesday night and I sobbed into the phone to Stuart. He almost DIED! The gravity of Charlie's illness finally dawning on me. The battle for taking my every thought captive begun.

I shouldn't have been so impatient with his whining. We should have taken him in sooner. What if the pediatrician hadn't...? What if the abcess burst? What if...?

The funny thing is from the time we left the house on Monday, through the surgery on Tuesday and recovery on Wednesday, we had been blanketed with an impenetrable peace and now here I was trying to peel off the feather comforter by reliving the events, adding in imaginary senarios, magnifying the ways I had failed Charlie.

My iron sister-in-law came to the rescue with Psalm 91 and corraled my wayward thinking.

"I didn't know. How could I not know?"

"You didn't need to know, because God commanded his angels concerning Charlie. They were guarding Charlie in ALL ways. They were lifting him up before God's throne the WHOLE time! Your family acknowledges God, you called up Him and He is DELIGHTED to fulfill his promises to you because he is FAITHFUL."

Charlie's fight has strengthened the faith muscles of our entire family. We are rejoicing in the difficulties of this long week because they prove we worship a a mighty God.

Calico Boy stays to bear witness. It is a powerful contrast of our frail limits as parents and our Father's all knowing, glorious, saving power.

Quick Update: Charlie went into the hospital on Monday, January 6th with a bronchial cyst caused by a staff infection. The good news is that the infection is not resistant to antibiotics. The bad news is that the damage caused by the infection was so extensive that he will have to remain in the hospital until sometime next week on i.v. antibiotics. I am guessing he will get to come home sometime between Monday and Wednesday. He has a five inch drain in his neck that needs to be removed gradually.

If you are inclined to pray, please pray specifically for Charlie's peace of mind. He is very anxious about blood work and bandage changing. Also pray that the four older children continue to hold up. We have been asking them to carry a lot of responsibility and they have risen admirably to the occasion but they are beginning to miss their normal routine.

Day Five: Speaker Phone Prayers

Friday, January 9, 2009

Day Three

Stuart, Charlie and Underbear
Orange Popsicle#27

Charlie and the Magnadoodle. He drew a birthday cake and told his nurse, "Go get all the other nurses so they can see my picture." A minute later our tiny room was filled with six oohing and aahing nurses. The hospital staff has gone above and beyond for us. Last night, Charlie's nurse brought in a flashlight and helped him make his glow-in-the-dark underwear glow.

Happy Birthday. Charlie's favorite stuffed animal.
Here Charlie is coloring but mostly he told Lauren what colors to use where. His right hand is a little tied up. He was very disappointed when he discovered this made it impossible for him to play with his Gameboy.
Waiting. A long afternoon at the hospital.
Goodnight, Charlie.

Day Four: Psalm 91

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Day Two: Waiting

Day One: Charlie's Comfort

It rained today, great heaping buckets of the stuff cover roadways and lawns. Lakes and river and little ponds stretch their borders and gobble up ground to store the abundant cache of rainwater. I saw this when I drove home today from the hospital to relocate the kids but mostly I saw grey skies dripping on a flat, black roof a few stories below Charlie's hospital window.

It was a waiting day, and a pinching day. The vampires came to visit at six this morning and the phone rang at seven and these things brought the short night to a close. Stuart panicked at being away and came early. We waited for the doctor, waited for a diagnosis, for action, for anything. Our pastor came instead and he prayed and the phone rang during our visit. "Mom, we just finished Bible and we prayed for Charlie."

I repeated his words out loud. "Pastor Rob is here, buddy, and you are making us look good." That got a chuckle.

More waiting. Charlie sucked on popsicles. First orange and then red and then purple. Then the surgeon came. He poked and prodded; Charlie screamed. "It feels like a bronchial cleft cyst. We'll know more after the CT scan."

Back down to x-ray. A long wait. Too long to sit in a wheel chair so he laid on a stretcher with his pillow and blanket and Happy Birthday, his stuffed dog. "Lie still; don't move your head. Don't move your lips. Perfect." Then back up to the room to wait and eat more popsicles. Orange ones he decided were his favorites. The phone rang and rang with people checking in. We only told one here but news travels fast. Many reached God's hands out to us today.

I left to change clothes and check on kids and by the time I got home, Stuart had called. 'Yes, it is a cyst. It's pushing his throat closed. The surgeon doesn't want to wait. They're prepping him to operate." Cheers for a decisive doctor.

By the time kids were picked up and dropped off and the return trip made in the dark and pouring rain, Charlie was being prepped for surgery. I pulled in just as they wheeled him in to the operating room. We grabbed a quick bite and as we finished the last our our salads the phone rang. "He's good to go. We'll be bringing him up in a little bit."

The vampires met him at the door and stole another vial from our boy and this time was the final straw. Charlie stirred and whimpered, " Don't pinch." All the fight drained from his little body. Stuart's face crumpled. It's been a hard few days.

Charlie sleeps, a still easy sleep. Little body on a big hospital bed. Peaceful for the first time in days. I sit under a blanket and a load of mother guilt and wait 'til tomorrow to hear details about surgery and type of infection. "A few more days," they tell us.

I am tired.

Day Three

Friday, January 2, 2009

Calico Boy

First Charlie had a cold. The cold is gone but a stiff and sore neck hangs on. Charlie hasn't had much experience with pain so he copes by crying. And whining. And blubbering. He crawls into our bed in the middle of the night so we can better enjoy the cacophony. We long for a good night's sleep.

We are sympathetic. The girls read him armloads of books and heat a rice-filled sock for his neck. John rubs Charlie's back and shares his Gameboy. Stuart and I medicate and massage. We rub Vicks into the sore spot and gently stretch neck and shoulder while he shouts, "Don't work on me!" We bribe him with candy cane bits and get him to tentatively shake his head no. Still he lists to starboard and cries. We pray over him and are thankful that he's not really sick.

Once we took our cat to the vet because she was limping and crying. Crying and crying. The vet prodded gently and the cat lept straight up off the examining table. "I'll have to put her to sleep to examine her. Calicoes are notorious babies." So we left her and after the tiny abcess on her paw had been discovered and attended to, we brought her home.

Last night, I tucked Charlie in, very gently so as not to jar his neck. I brushed fingertips through his hair and whispered a kiss on his forehead. "Stop! Stop! Don't touch me! You're hurting my head!" he screamed.

I think Charlie has a bit of Calico in him.

This is only the beginning of the story. It continues with Day One: Charlie's Comfort

Thursday, January 1, 2009

An Unlikely Excuse

"Please, John. Grab me a package of ground beef from the freezer." He's mailing laundry and the freezer is only a few steps away from the clothes room. He comes back empty handed. "Did you forget?"

"Did I forget what?"

"The meat. You forgot the meat."

"Oh." A few minutes later the meat appears on the kitchen counter.

And then, "Where was I going?" John is holding an armload of dolls and looking bewildered.

"Might you have been going to put those in the girls room?"

"Oh. Right."

He's back in a bit with an explanation. "The problem is, Mom, that I keep passing through the Fogs of Forgetfulness. They seem to be thickest in the hallway."

I chuckle with him. He will have to do battle with the Fogs of Forgetfulness for his entire life but humor is a powerful coping mechanism. One that I hope holds my absent-minded boy in good stead as he sets out to make his mark on the world.