Saturday, August 6, 2016

Y’all, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. The Buckner family has experienced sorrow that’s unimaginable to most of us. They watched their son/brother who’s struggled with addiction lose the battle on earth. 

The extended family watched a mother plead for healing for her child. We prayed for her as she let him go.  As a mother, no matter how old your child, part of you always sees and remembers the baby he was, recalls the precious and tender moments of that babyhood.

I woke up this morning, the day of Blake Buckner’s funeral, with dread in the pit of my stomach.  I knew today was going to be nearly impossibly hard for Jan and Barry, Bree, Ben and Brandi.  My prayer for peace and comfort for them has been an almost-constant chant the past few days, and I know others have been doing the same. I can say without a doubt, they felt all those prayers.  Those prayers are part of the reason they could stand up today and not fall down in despair.

Even though they grieved, the Buckner family’s faith in Jesus was evident to everyone today.  I’ve never been so proud of kids (I know you’re not kids, but in my mind’s eye you’re the toddlers in the photos flashing on the screen during the video.) Brandi, Ben and Bree, you were amazing, so amazing, standing up to pay tribute to your brother.  You celebrated him in a way you know he would have loved.  You described him using words like charismatic, funny, brilliant and with phrases like “lighting up a room,” and “commanding attention.”  You painted a truly glowing picture of your brother.

Barry, as you read the words of the text Blake’s friend sent you, the thing that caught my attention the most was that the boy who wrote them had said to his mother as a kindergartner, “I made a friend!”  Every person has felt unsure and nervous about that at some point in life, maybe most especially at the beginning of school, but that’s what Blake did.  He made friends.  He made you laugh. He made an impression.  

But the thing he made that was most important was a profession of faith. Just as we were reminded today, putting your faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection secures your eternity with Him, but it doesn’t guarantee your life will be easy.  More than once in the service, the word addiction was mentioned. But as Bree said, the enemy didn’t win.  Though they didn’t get the miracle of Blake’s healing in this world, he did NOT lose the ultimate battle, for he is with Jesus right now: no more suffering, no more struggle and no more fear.  

I was filled with pride when I heard my brother’s eulogy today.  He is an anointed man of God and I had every confidence in him, but I had been praying for him nearly non-stop too, because I knew this particular funeral service would be so terribly difficult. He honored Blake by acknowledging his addiction but assuring us that his faith was absolutely real.

Chad said that sometimes a star isn’t even burning anymore, but we still see its light.  That light is still making its way to us.  Even thought Blake isn’t here, he left a bright light behind. I pray that light spurs us all forward in our Christian walk: to be more loving; to give our time and money freely to help those in need; to serve with glad hearts.  Especially that.  I’ll always remember Blake as someone who did everything with a glad heart.

I will remember a fair-haired baby cousin who looked like his grandfather, who delighted me with a sweet gap-toothed grin. I’ll remember the kid in the picture who always made the crazy face.  I’ll remember a smiling young uncle adoring his nephews and niece. But most of all, I’ll remember that Blake was a Christian – just like me: I'm an imperfect Christian who struggles daily with all kinds of sorrows and fears; battles with the enemy; fights depression and anxiety with God’s help and medication.  We’re all broken in some way. We’re not promised an easy life - in fact, the Bible says in John 16:33  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." . Some people may not win the battle here. But just like Blake, if you put your trust in Jesus, your victory is assured. 

Jan-Jan, Barry, Bree, Ben and Brandi, I love you all so dearly. I’ll continue to pray for you. I’m overwhelmed and inspired by your faith.  May you feel the light of Blake’s love in your hearts until you meet him again.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thank you for the World So Sweet

At Kiddie Kollege Preschool, the children learn a prayer that begins with that line. 

Before I had children, I was sentimental.  Once I had them, I began my descent into a puddle of my own tears.  I suddenly understood the “stay little” wish.  I counted my blessings that they were healthy and growing, but the growing happened at warp speed!  

When Rafe, my firstborn, went to preschool, I was the nervous, self-conscious mother.  His Kiddie Kollege experience was wonderful for him, but I couldn’t relax.  Was I doing everything right?  (Um, no!) Was I sending the right snack? Was he on track with learning? (Um, yes, thanks to director/teacher Ginger Brooks and Sonya Walls -love you!) First child syndrome, right?

Sophie, my middle child, is finishing her last year of preschool tomorrow.  Mrs. Brooks has become like family to us. We love her dearly.  The other teacher, Emily Edwards, is so precious and also has a God-given heart for nurturing and teaching them.  We’ve come to love her too, in just a year of knowing her. We had the opportunity to know and love Leigh Ann Thomas as a Kiddie Kollege teacher too.

I’m having a really tough time with this whole Sophie-being-finished-with-Kiddie-Kollege.  I didn’t have such a difficult time with Rafe.  Not because I love him less, I just didn’t GET IT.  I didn’t truly grasp the concept that when kindergarten begins,  they’re not really mine anymore.  I don’t get to snuggle on the couch and watch Sesame Street.  I don’t get to feed them lunch and tuck them into their little beds in the afternoons. Whoever said, “The days are long but the years are short,” was NOT joking.  

I’ve been blessed with a job that allows me to work from home. It makes for some wild days, because aside from two hours a week, I’ve always had at least one of the littles home with me. Bryce greets the crew at Huntsville Event Magazine on Skype every Monday morning during our production meeting. So don’t get me wrong.  It’s not all rainbows and unicorns at home with my kids all day.  It’s messy and loud and there’s yelling and tears, and that’s just me! But through the chaos (and there’s PLENTY of chaos) of, “Don’t touch that,” and, “PLEASE, PLEASE STOP WHINING!” and, “Ok, I’m gonna be on the phone for about five minutes, please don’t do anything crazy,” while someone inevitably follows me around sobbing at top volume, I’ve enjoyed being at home, watching them grow and hearing their comedic pronouncements.  

When big school starts, someone else spends the entire day with my babies: teachers who will be kind, or not – they’re human after all (we've never had this experience, for the record,) children who will say things that will hurt them, situations when they’ll feel left out and less than and homesick.  Such is the nature of life.  They can’t grow into human beings who can love, nurture and serve others without these experiences, but it still hurts – them and me!

This mama’s heart aches at sending her little blue-eyed girl with the wedge haircut and the giant hair bow to kindergarten in the fall. She's frankly not too thrilled about it either.  She's mourning her last day at Kiddie Kollege.  I KNOW I'll see her dimpled cheeks elongate and lose their baby plumpness. With Rafe it was such a surprise, the face changing, but now I KNOW.  My heart cracked a little when we dropped him off at kindergarten.  I was relieved (for him) and admittedly sad that he didn’t ask for us to stay longer, rather, he was excited to begin a new adventure.  But now I KNOW.  They lose their tiny perfect baby-teeth and the enormous replacements change their appearance, packing them up for the road to adulthood much too soon. The sorrow is different this time, because Rafe was the first one and I didn't know how drastic it would be until he was in kindergarten.  I KNOW she’s leaving that sweet, baby world of innocence.  Because I’ve already lost Rafe to the rigors of big school, I get it now.

I can’t even contemplate when Bryce, my baby bird, will fly the preschool coop, have his last Kiddie Kollege program and repeat those oh-so-final words: “In years to come, you’ll hear from us, and be amazed at our knowledge.  Just remember where it all began, was here at Kiddie Kollege.”

Y’all!  I realize I sound like a crazy person – and hey, if the shoe fits…  This is just preschool!  The puddle of tears will drown me by the time they graduate high school and I have to contemplate them MOVING AWAY!  

Thank you Ginger Brooks for making Kiddie Kollege “the world so sweet.”  I wish all their future teachers could love them as much as you have and do – and Rafe’s teachers have been precious ones who loved him,(Melissa Bartlett, Amy Beck, Amy Graves and Anna Leigh Battles) with no exceptions!  But I’m so thankful that all my babies had the treasured opportunity to spend some of their first school mornings with you, learning facts and prayers and songs, finding out how to function in a classroom, learning discipline and most of all, being loved by people who share the love of Christ in their vocation every day.  I thank God for you and for Mrs. Emily, and for the fact that Rafe, Sophie and Bryce’s journeys all began at Kiddie Kollege.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mama's Girl

When I was a little, I was a mama’s girl. Now that I'm 41, I’m still Mama’s girl. My mother went back to work when I was four years old and I went to a wonderful preschool where I was loved and treated with kindness and care. I was miserable. I wanted nothing but my mama. The children whose parents were teachers picked them up (so I’m told now) about half an hour earlier than I was collected. Those thirty minutes were an eternity to my little-girl heart. I remember very clearly sitting by the chain-link fence on the playground waiting, waiting, waiting. And the thrill of seeing that mile-long red Buick LeSabre coming down the road, sweet relief!

When my mama picked me up, I was the hook to her loop. Velcro city.
I’m told that this state of unbearable misery was quite short-lived, that I adapted quickly and stopped being so sad all day. Again, I’m suspicious.

As a child, I recall occasions where I awoke afraid of something: the dark; a noise; my own vivid imaginings of monsters in the closet. I would call out in the softest voice, thinking I’d surely have to call again. But no, before I could finish the thought, she’d be there by my bedside, her soothing voice calming me.

In college at Auburn, even though it was exciting and fun and oh yeah, an education I was blessed to get, I still missed her. One awful night when I had strep, I called home at midnight and my mother literally hung up the phone, got up, got dressed and drove three hours to get to me. To crawl in bed next to me with the comfort only she could provide.

Fast forward to me, bringing my own child home from the hospital. Our first one. My hormones turned on me and dumped me deep into postpartum depression. My mama was still working full-time then, but even so, was nearby. There were a few days that I called and said, “Can you please come over here now?” and she dropped whatever she was doing and came. Velcro again. I physically sat on her lap one day when I felt so afraid and anxious. I was hanging by a thread. She spoke not only words of comfort and encouragement, but tough-love words. She said, “Go to the doctor. Tell the truth. Don’t sugarcoat how bad this is. You have to get better for that sweet baby.” My kind, generous, and admittedly bewildered husband must have been so relieved!

I did go, I did tell the truth. I did get better. I did start to feel a bond with that sweet baby that I was terrified I would never feel. Though it lasted only a few weeks, that illness was the scariest, most insidious thing that ever happened to me. My mother’s encouragement and our “little talk” spurred me to get the help I needed. It took a whole team of people plus medication to pull me out of the depths of that depression: including my precious mother-in-law who would come and sit beside me for hours because I was afraid to be alone; and my sisters-in-law Jamie and Angie who heartened me by telling me I wasn’t crazy; and most notably, Jason, who went out of his way to handle me with care, and I’m so thankful for them.

My mother amazes me. I’ve never seen her waver in her faith. Even when Daddy died, she grieved, but it didn’t take over her life. She has a peace that comes from that deep faith. I envy it and pray that someday I can achieve that kind of relationship with God. And especially that kind of peace.

She has seemingly unlimited energy – she can work circles around us, and does. Her outlook is most always sunny and her generosity of spirit has put her at the center of our jokes because she had kind words about everyone, even if she had to dig deep to find them!

She likes the dates on her snapshots, and if her camera gets turned off that setting, why, she’ll just write in the date on the front of the picture with a Sharpie (also the subject of our terrible teasing.)

My mother told me when I was a child and as I grew, that only God loved me more than she. Even when God feels far away, the fact that my mother loves us as she does shows by example how God loves his children. It was only after I had children of my own that I could understand what she meant.

I know now how hard it is to get up on Sunday morning and get everyone ready to go to church. That’s with two adults (thank you Jason Boatfield for being such a good daddy and husband!) working like maniacs to do it. My mother did it by herself when my dad had a job that prevented him from going with us. And she made a hot breakfast to boot – not just on Sundays.

Now she gets up every Sunday and makes lunch for all of us before church because it’s a labor of love for her. (It’s a battle of denominations, with the Baptists trying to starve out us Presbyterians by having such long church services. Their pastor is apparently long-winded.) Most Sundays it’s like an insane asylum, with kids running around playing with the loudest toys on earth and adults running around putting ice into glasses and clanking silverware and asking, “Sage do you want peas?” or “Will Bryce eat green beans?” or often, “Mom, did you set a timer for the bread?” But it’s an insane asylum propagated by the calmest woman imaginable, burned rolls notwithstanding.

To quote my Aunt Mona, I don’t have enough words in my vocabulary to say how much my mother means to me. She has given me life many times over: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I wish I could be the calm, unflappable mother to my children that she always has been to us. She is the rock of our family, the glue that holds us together. 

Thank you Mama, for not only being my cheerleader and my advocate, but for giving me the worst punishment I could imagine when I did wrong, telling me that you were disappointed. I never wanted to disappoint you. I still don’t. 

On this Mother’s Day, I wish you all the joy you’ve given away to others, though I’m not sure your arms or your heart could hold it all. And most of all, I wish to wish you Happy Mother’s day a thousand more times. I love you.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

15 years ago...

Fifteen years ago tonight, I was packing a ridiculously overstuffed suitcase to go on my honeymoon, (that suitcase the airline left behind in Miami for an entire day and night after we got to Barbados. If one more person had said, “It’s your honeymoon, you don’t need clothes,” there would have been violence.) But I digress. That evening, I sat in my childhood bedroom floor having a long talk with my brother about marriage and our parents and life in general. As I ALWAYS do, I stayed up way too late and didn’t wake refreshed on the morning of our wedding.

But nothing could hold me back! Not exhaustion, not forgetting to unlock the church for the florist, not locking my keys in the car at the beauty salon. Nothing could break my purposeful stride toward that altar.

I remember very clearly having a headache and taking a Goody's powder that I now know was the cause of my head feeling as though it would spin off my neck with anxiety -think Linda Blair minus the pea soup. I’m grateful to my brother-in-law, David Putman for making a turbo trip to the Douglas Texaco to get a Little Debbie oatmeal pie and a Dr. Pepper to settle my stomach. I also remember very clearly my mother interceding for me with God to bring me peace from the caffeine-induced anxiety occurring about 10 minutes before walking down the aisle. She’s an effective intercessor. My anxiety lifted almost immediately and my excitement returned. 

My daddy, who was never much for big events, crowds and making fusses about simple things like getting married, was the sweetest, most pleasant and smiling person that day. He offered his arm, told me I was beautiful and proudly walked me in, neither of us realizing what a beloved memory he’d leave behind for me to cherish.

We took communion with watermelon Kool-Aid and bits of white sandwich-bread because I also forgot to check on the elements. But as my friend Keena sang, “How Beautiful,” we were reminded that the elements used for communion are symbols, and the body and the blood of Christ were represented. It didn’t affect the covenant. Most importantly, His Spirit was there in Bethany Baptist Church.

It was a beautiful ceremony and wonderful reception. It was everything I’d dreamed of as a little girl.

But what happened in the ensuing years is part of a beautiful tale too, albeit a realistic one. We’ve had seasons of anger, seasons of doubt, days of unforgiveness and self-pity. We’ve made mistakes and not shown grace to each other. We’ve slammed doors (well, I have) and both spoken hateful words filled with blame.

But we’ve remembered and forgiven. We’ve laughed and cried, and laughed and laughed. We’ve appreciated each other. And maybe more so in the past couple of years, we’ve truly empathized one with the other. He’s seen the challenges I face with motherhood and a job worked from home, and treated me to surprise-cooked dinners and cleaned kitchens, unexpectedly bathed children, tucked peacefully (haha) into bed. I’m thankful for a husband who doesn’t shirk his responsibilities to his job, household or his children. I hope I’ve been as understanding with his particular frustrations and taken steps to make his life a little easier and a bit more pleasant as he has for me.

We’ll still have seasons of anger, and seasons of fear, days when we’re tired and sick and aggravated with each other. It’s just being human.

We’ve created, through God’s miracle, three beautiful and exceptional children who amaze us and make us proud and send us a little closer to the edge every day. We planned to have two and God laughed. We’re so grateful for that third little baby bird, the change-in-plans named Bryce. We'll be a hundred years old when they graduate from high school. We’re hoping science creates some youth serum so we can someday appreciate grandchildren – but all in good time! 

The point is, after 15 years, the raised eyebrow and the smile with the tiny space between his two front teeth can still give me butterflies. Heaven knows the butterflies are less frequent than before because we’re often both exhausted and just glad to sit near each other while we gaze, nearly comatose, at the TV, phone or laptop. In other words, we’re fairly normal. But I still think he’s absolutely the handsomest, funniest, smartest, most charming and considerate man. 

My prayer for our marriage is that we always look for the strengths and not dwell on the weaknesses. I pray that we can show our children that our relationship takes precedence over every other relationship except for the one with God. I know we’ll face trials. We were promised that, but I pray that we search for answers in the right place – that as we look forward, we always look up – to the source of our lives, the source of our love, the source of our joy. My prayer is that we know whatever we must face, that with God’s resources, we can tackle it together.

We’ve got a lot of plans, some of which I can see coming to fruition, and some which may, as plans sometimes do, fly away with the wind. I pray for discernment to distinguish our selfish ones from God’s perfect ones.

I’m more grateful than I have words (all evidence to the contrary) for these 15 years. May the next 50 or so find us healthy, with my Jayboat by my side, smiling that crooked smile, holding my hand, kissing me hello and goodbye every single time.

To Jason: my friend; my love; my comedian; my hero, I promise you our little picnic on that private beach we found on the leeward side of Barbados! Thank you for our wonderful past! Here’s to our future. Happy anniversary.