February 27, 2011

Sally Maria brother

This is an uncharacteristically long one. Have a cup of coffee?
I have a foe. Her name is Sally Maria brother. She is my nemesis and we spend days wrestling and struggling. I call her names, she retaliates. I attack her with fury; she gets me back every time. I complain loudly to my husband about her behavior, she sits in quiet smugness and simply and passive-aggressively refuses to comply. She baffles me with attitudes and results I cannot understand. She gives me trouble that leaves me confused and not even the handy manual that came with her can help me out of the frustrating mess she sometimes makes.
Before you judge this pastor’s wife for having an enemy she loathes so passionately you must know who Sally Maria brother is. SM is my sawing machine. My very first one. And at this rate, my last one too. One of these days, SM will find herself hurled out of the window of my dining room to an untimely death in the oblivion of the curb on trash day.
When I became a stay-at-home mom I found the joy of certain hobbies I had always thought I had neither the time nor the ability to do. For the most part I have found the time, but not the ability. However, that has not deterred my stubborn, persistent nature from trying and trying and trying until some type of result has been achieved. So far, I have marginally successfully learned to cook, bake, and crochet.
Since I taught myself to read a crochet pattern I thought...If I can read a crochet pattern, how difficult can a sewing pattern be? I must have been thinking out loud because the next Christmas my mother-in-law presented me with Sally Maria brother. To the machine’s credit, it is a beauty. My mother-in-law shops the sales, so it is a very nice machine for a rookie. She came with all these gadgets and thingy bops I had never seen and had have no idea how to use.
 I could not wait to take SM out of a run. First I went to the web, my source of all education, and tried to find patterns to use. I tried a couple in vain and then decided to go to the big dog: Hancock Fabric. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights my first time there because three different attendants surrounded me quickly and starting all talking at once.
I managed to leave there with a pattern, buttons, thread, and a cheap cut of fabric to try my hand at an “easy” jumper that should have taken two hours, according to the pattern cover. Four exhausting days later, a million hours logged into Google looking up terms and how-tos, Isabel wore the jumper exactly twice before it fell apart in every seam I had painstakingly sewn.
Undeterred by my clear lack of sewing ability I went back to Hancock and bought a more expensive corduroy to try the “easy” jumper again. Thank goodness practice makes perfect because this time the jumper held. You can still tell it is homemade, but it is no longer disposable.
With the jumper success fresh on my mind, I figured I would tackle a bigger and better project. One with sleeves and buttonholes and let SM show me what she could do. I still had not realized that in sewing there is an intimate partnership between seamstress and sewing machine. It takes two to tango here and if one is a temperamental, difficult, and moody dancer the result is an angry Argentinean dance. When they both are, the result is…war!
 SM heard me talk about my new project and decided I had been too dense to get the message she was sending me with the poorly constructed jumpers. The silk gloves came off and SM put on her fighting gloves. This time I would hear her loud and clear: I don’t like you, rookie!
I have a theory that SM is angry that she ended up with me. I think she feels she was destined to belong to a great seamstress like my sister-in-law, Kristina, who would partner with her in making amazing little outfits and beautiful, fashionable getups. Instead, fancy SM is stuck with me. A rookie. Someone who lives by the little manual that came with her and cannot even change the color of the thread without looking up the directions. So she rebels every time I want to work with her. She is teaching me who is boss. I am humbled with every project. I need a sewing machine whisperer!

Which brings us to our latest epic battle of wills. For the last week I have been cutting, measuring, basting, and sewing a little fleece dinosaur jacket for Noah. This particular boxing match between SM and me had four rounds and several trips to Hancock.
Round one started with the sleeves. They were certainly tricky and SM was vicious. What the internet said she should do, SM refused to acknowledge. I had almost decided to make the jacket into a vest when I sought the advice of more experienced fighters and I prevailed finding a way to attach the sleeves in an almost seamless way. Round one went to me.
Then it came time to make the button holes, a new adventure for SM and me. By the end of the second round the jacket had a hole, true, but it was not where the button hole should go and it was not stitched on the sides like a buttonhole should be. It was just a hole. So I retaliated with an ingenious strategy to make the hole into a button hole. I won round two as well. After all I have a brain and SM doesn’t…I don’t think. The jury is still out on that one.
The third round came when it was time to sew the actual buttons. I had wisely bought six buttons when I only needed four. SM decided it would be fun to break them one by one. No matter where I placed them, how I placed them, what I adjusted, crack…the button would go. I ended up sewing the left over ones by hand and I had to go back to Hancock for a couple more. She won that round.
Round four came when I realized I had put the button holes on the wrong side of the jacket so now the cute little pocket was covered up when the jacket was buttoned. Off came the pocket but it was not possible to place it on the other side. I decided to make another pocket and place two at the bottom on each side. A pocket is simple. You cut the rectangle, you hem the edge and you stitch to the garment. SM fought like a banshee. One by one I would cut a pocket only to discard it because SM would chew it up and spit it back at me in shreds. She would tangle the thread. She would use up all the thread on the bobbin. She would eat the material deep into her bowels. I ended up cutting five different pockets, all thrown away.
Matt came, took every screw out, could not find anything wrong. Of course whenever he was around, flirty little thing would behave like a dream. As soon as he left, she would act out again. But after a long afternoon of fighting I won that round. I successfully sewed two pockets, a little crooked and uneven, but functional nonetheless.
After several exhausting days of wrestling with this obstinate piece of metal with an attitude I was ready to put her away in the attic and give up as soon as this project was done. You win, SM: I will never be a seamstress…
But then at lunch yesterday, when the jacket was finally finished and hanging on the shoulders of its rightful owner I was handed the final score card: I had lost a couple of battles, but I had won the war. I knew it when Noah bowed his little head in prayer before our meal and he thanked Jesus for the dinosaur jacket mami had made for him.
Oh, Sally Maria brother, for such a prayer I will gladly spend my days in battle with you.

February 25, 2011

Five Minute Friday: Five Years Ago.

This is linked to The Gypsy Mama's Five Minute Friday prompts. You write for five minutes. Period. Here is what I've got.
Five years ago this month we were pregnant with waiting. We had been for only two weeks and we had no idea how long our gestational paper period would last. We were hoping against hope for less than a year. We knew not the gender of our child. We didn’t know the color of the skin. We didn’t even know how old he or she would be when we were called to bring this baby home. We had no magic sonogram to tell us those things about the child that would be ours. We just knew the Lord knew. We just knew we were praying for this unknown child that was growing in our hearts.
Five years ago we didn’t know that within two weeks we would be called to hop in the car and drive three hours early one morning to pick up a daughter. We didn’t know, five years ago, that she was already here. She had been born last month. She was already waiting for us.
I think about who we were five years ago. We were a family of two. We ached to be a family of three. We were at a strange, unknown, limbo-like place with no end in sight. But the God who goes before us was already there, He had seen her birth, He knew the color of her eyes, He was working it all according to His will. He had plans for all three of us. Plans of hope and plans of future. And He was waiting for us when we arrived at March 10th and a daughter was delivered to us.

February 16, 2011

A memorable date

June 21st,. 
This is the day we became a family in the eyes of the law. We had been together for three months by then, but it was not until that hot June day that the state declared “The Johnsons” no longer a family of two.
The building was crowded. The faces around us were mostly long and sad. Divorce proceedings, custody battles, child-support disputes. We were dressed like the lawyers: suits, ties, high heels. But among the somber faces, the angry stares, and the desperate wringing of hands our countenance was dissonant for we could not keep a smile from our faces. 
A young couple with a small baby. A happy young couple, with a happy baby, with a smiling lawyer with easy laughter, and many hugs and kisses. Such as that we were that morning like a ray of sunshine through a cloud of rain.
We waited in the lobby, laughing, making plans, cooing the baby and passing her around. Then they called us in. Neither of us had ever been inside a courtroom. It felt so formal and so real we became serious and thoughtful. The judge looked at us with narrow eyes, studying us, as if trying to figure out what this case would be about, what new dissension and conflict would she be called to mediate. Then her eyes traveled over the dossier on her desk and she looked back at us with a broad grin on her face.
She motioned us forward, said a word or two to our lawyer and asked us to sit down. She read some preliminaries and told us how pleasant it was to do our case in the midst of a morning of strife and broken families. Next she called us to the stand…
Our lawyer had prepared us. He told us we would be witnesses in our own case. Standard procedure, he said. Technically we are suing the adoption agency for custody of Isabel, except in this case everyone wants you two to win the case. It’s just a formality, he said.
So I went up first. Like the movies, I sat on the witness stand, raised my hand, swore against perjury. I was asked my name, my age, and some biographical information. Then the judge asked:
Why do you want to be this child’s mother?
I was not prepared for that question. My throat closed and my eyes became blurry with gratitude. For what seemed like an eternity I could not speak.
How do you sum up the hope with which we filled out the paperwork for a child we had not yet met but already knew we would love? How do you explain the wistful waiting time of a paper pregnancy, preparing a wardrobe in neutral colors, imagining the hue of a pair of eyes never seen before, and the tones of a skin that was unfamiliar yet surely just as soft and sweet as that of any real or imagined baby?
How do you state in words the feelings “the call” ensued in our hearts? The joy that filled our ears as we heard the details of this angel we were being offered? The longing to jump in the car to go bring her home right then and there and having to wait two never-ending days to get to her? The heartbreak of knowing our joy would be another’s pain?
How do you answer a question that encompasses the first time our eyes met, the first time our arms held her, the first night she slept under our roof, the first moments she was our daughter?
How do you describe the strong bond, immeasurable love, incredible memories, wild protectiveness, fierce possessiveness and immense togetherness the last three months had brought to our world?
How do you put that in words? How do you define the depth of emotions that is parenthood?
Because she is ours…
That was good enough for the judge. That was good enough for the adoption agency. That was good enough for us. That was good enough for the Lord. All in agreement, papers were signed.

A little over a year later, one November morning, we did it again. The same courtroom, the same lawyer, different judge.  I would like to say it was easier this time. I thought it would be. I assumed it would be.
We are old pros. We have been there. This time no tears, just joy.
I was wrong. I knew the question was coming. I had rehearsed a more cohesive answer. One that was more complete and would do better justice to the vastness of my feelings. But I was wrong. All that came were tears of gratitude. All that came out was the same answer.
Because he is ours…
But yet again, and forever, that was reason enough.

February 11, 2011

God, my God.

I sat on my recliner, tears pouring down my face. I held my Bible between my hands and prayed:
I don’t want to open this book. I am terrified to read it from cover to cover and find not one word to comfort me or guide me or encourage me. Such is how I feel right now. There are no words, no hope, you are simply not around. It’s too dark for me to find you.
I was at a crossroad. Decisions before me, unknown all around me and I didn’t know where the path was and how to walk it.

Are you still there, God? Are you listening? Why are you so clear some days and some you are as murky as muddy water? I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know where the road is that you are carving before me.

There was no comfort in prayer, there was no comfort anywhere. I was confused. I thought I knew God's will and now this…

I want to follow you wholeheartedly but I just don’t understand where you are going.
I held the book some more, feeling the soft leather between my fingers, turning it from side to side, trembling with the certainty that I would not hear from God from within its pages.
Not so bravely, with a sigh, I slowly opened the front cover to a place towards the beginning, without thinking. Had I thought I would not have. My comfort comes from David, from Jeremiah, from Paul, from the disciples. Never from Moses. Moses, so removed from my own life. Moses, who had spent time with God and knew the sound of His voice.
But my fingers touched the name Deuteronomy on the top of the page and I despaired.

What good can come out of Deuteronomy, the book of wanderers? How are they like me? I'm not wandering away from you, God; I'm seeking you. Oh, God, you are not listening still.
Then my foolish eyes landed on a phrase, straight up, first words. And I began to read and I did not stop:
“I tried to relieve your fears: ‘Don’t be terrified of them. God, your God, is leading the way; he is fighting for you. You saw what he did in the wilderness, how God, your God, carried you as a father carries his child, carried you the whole way until you arrived here. But now that you are here, you won’t trust God, your God- this same God who goes ahead of you in your travels to scout out a place to pitch camp, a fire by night and a cloud by day to show you the way to go.”    (Deuteronomy 1:29-33. The Message)
Oh, God, my God, you hear, you comfort, you speak still. God, my God, you are still leading me, you go before me, you fight for me. I remember, God, my God. I remember what you have done through all the many wilderness of my life. You carried me, you did. You carried me lovingly as a father until we were safely on the other side. I live with two remembrances of how you, God, my God, carried me safely through a wilderness once. They kissed me this morning, they called me "mami," and I remembered your goodness.
I want to trust you for you are the same God you were then, and you are still before me showing me the way to go. Carry me now even still until we stand together on the mountain top again, away from this valley of dry bones, and we sing a hymn of worship to God, our God, the never-forsaker, the promise-keeper. In you alone, I place my trust.