Gumberries

My love for crimson clover started my senior year in college. I’d never really paid them much attention before then. Every spring since, I’ve waited expectantly to see them blooming on the side of the road and in yards all over Arkansas in April. They have never failed to appear. Their grassy, earthy smell reminds me of everything alive and good in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we added two small rooms onto our house last year and repaired septic lines, the dirt work necessitated ruining most of the grass on one side of the house. My husband’s ingenious solution was to spread crimson clover seed across the area. His solution not only covered the muddy, ugly mess in the side yard; it also created a blast of color this spring for me to enjoy.

I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed the clover. Maggie loves learning names of plants and animals. She asked for the name of crimson clover, and then quickly rejected it, dubbing it “gumberries” instead. Gumberries it is. Maggie has frolicked in the gumberries almost every day since they appeared, chasing butterflies, listening to bumblebees buzzing, and picking select gumberries to share with our neighbor’s horse, dubbed Mr. Gray, when we walk down the road on sunny afternoons.


If the video isn’t playing properly click here.

I recently recorded her chasing butterflies in the gumberry patch. While watching the video later, I expected to be mesmerized by the clover brightly swaying in the breeze, the birds calling to one another, and the yellow butterfly gently resting atop tiny gumberries. Instead, I was captivated by one short moment in the brief video when Maggie clutches her belly in rapture, squealing in glee, “Dragonfly!” The joy in her heart took my breath away.

I watched this moment repeatedly. I felt so lucky to have been there to see my daughter amazed by something so small, something I rarely even notice. Almost immediately, I simultaneously wondered how many times I had overlooked magical moments like this because of my obsessions with being on time, minding our manners, learning the alphabet, or crossing items off my own to-do list. Don’t get me wrong—those things matter, and running a business while staying home with Maggie is more than a full-time job. The laissez faire approach sounds great, but at the end of the day, if no one’s being the Mama, Mama’s business, Maggie, and the household are pretty amuck. I have to be quite the juggler to manage work projects, keep in touch with clients, and provide Maggie with a fun, balanced, semi-educational day. Oh, and keep the house moderately uncluttered and clean, too; my expectations of perfection long since vanished. Then there’s the list of things swimming in my head that simply never get accomplished… exercise, grocery shopping, vaccinations, painting my nails, etc… :).

But nothing matters more than living.

I needed 60 seconds recorded–so I can watch them every time I fret over the list of things I never get accomplished–to remind me to open my eyes, turn on my listening ears, and dig in the dirt. To notice the dragonfly, the beetle, and the eight kittens growing stronger every day, which we’ll soon share with other families. To be where my hands are with my own little kitten, who is four-and-a-half-and-don’t-forget-the-half-part, while she’s here.

Greener grass

This morning, I awoke to the adorable chatting and fussing of my nine week-old infant daughter.

Moans and groans followed–not from the nursery monitor. From me. I attempted to separate my eyelids from my eyeballs unsuccessfully several times before managing to pry them partly open. I turned my bleary gaze toward the alarm clock.

6:33 a.m.

ImageAbout 30 minutes later than the time of day I used to set the coffeepot for back in the day when I worked a “real job” and got paid in actual cash for showing up and performing tasks. I contemplated the drastic 180 degree pivot I’ve made since then as I hauled my pathetic parts out of our warm, fleece-laden sanctuary and plodded a few painful steps into my bathroom to hurriedly brush my teeth before trudging down the hall to feed our daughter.

Thud, thud, thud.

My daughter heard my heavy, aching feet, attached to my still-sore knees from the after-effects of swelling during pregnancy. She began cooing and turning up the volume on her hunger protests. I pasted a semi-smile on my face, recited her special verse to her, and leaned over to lift her out of the crib, cracking at least three vertebra in the process.

“Babe.”

Silence.

“James?”

Peaceful silence, the sign that my better half had chosen the better path and stayed in bed a little longer.

“Babe, babe, please….”

A tired voice croaked in response.

“Yes?”

“Coffee, please. I need it.”

The champ managed to drag himself out of bed long enough to get the coffee going before collapsing once again into bliss.

As I sat in the recliner about to nurse my daughter, a lamp illuminating her chubby little cheeks as they grinned at me in anticipation of the goodness coming her way, I reminisced about the green, lush grass of my former life.

I’m not referring to my lawn, trust me. I used to celebrate when the parched heat in August finally sucked the life out of my lawn; I could finally stop paying those men with Bad Boy mowers to spend 20 minutes on my acre of land each week or relying on my generous friend’s husband to mow it out of pity for me.

No, I’m referring to the “greener grass.”

Image

Three years ago, photo by Say Cheese Photography

The lifestyle I led as a single, sexy lady who’d just turned 30. The beer and wine imbibed on my front porch under a full set of stars while carrying on scandalous conversations with my friends.  The cigarettes I carelessly smoked as accoutrements to all of my fashionable ensembles that clad my skinny arse. The concerts and coffeehouses I frequented with friends, one of my many cashmere or hand-knitted scarves casually knotted around my neck. The countless novels I consumed voraciously, my cats perched on the edge of my couch. The miniature meals I cooked for myself, never needing to consider plating for more than numero uno. The insistence that monthly facials were not a luxury–they were an essential budget item. The notion that having lunch plans AND a meeting after work meant I was swamped with responsibility. The absolute silence that enveloped my home–always–since I chose to rid myself of the annoying din of the television for an entire year.

Aahhh.

My daughter’s bright eyes gazed up at me, and she cocked her head to the side and flashed me a genuinely joyous grin.

I suddenly recalled that the grass on the other side was also cluttered with weeds and required tedious maintenance. Working two jobs at times and still not making ends meet due to living way beyond my means and to the debt acquired by my frivolous ex-husband. Driving one hour each way to arrive at jobs I wasn’t truly passionate about and dealing with, let’s face it, the inevitable work drama and estrogen fest resulting from too many females in close quarters. The creaks and crunches outside my bedroom window that kept me awake night after night as I attempted to sleep in a house too big for just little ole me, keeping my bedroom door locked just in case. The horrible dating experiences that resulted from my countless attempts to find companionship. The quiet ticking of my clock, as I sat curled up under a quilt in my living room, pondering and praying and contemplating and wondering and waiting.

By myself.

ImageAs I sang one last morning song to Maggie, her heavy little eyes closing and opening more and more slowly, I sipped the cup of coffee my husband had poured for me. The mugshot on the cup captured a tiny moment in time when my three week-old newborn baby lay cradled in my arms, squinting her eyes at the brilliant sky, our 100 year-old barn behind us.

My life is different now. I can’t sit on my porch in the morning with a cup of coffee and spend an entire hour watching the grass grow. I can’t show up at the spur of the moment to enjoy my friend’s excellent guitar picking because the one pair of jeans I purchased postpartum now sag too significantly to avoid mooning the public. I insist on screening family members and friends prior to their visits since many of them pooh-pooh the flu epidemic. I don’t have the luxury of spending two hours waking up before arriving at work, listening to my own loud musical selections while downing an ungodly amount of caffeine.

I get about five minutes before it’s go time each day.

As I burped my baby this morning, the sunlight barely creeping in through the sheer curtains, I listened to the nearly inaudible ticking of the same clock that used to count the seconds spent in mostly meaningless, lonely ways.

My time is almost always accounted for these days. Thank God that how I’m spending it matters.

ImageIt’s the middle of January, and the grass has never been greener.

For all of it

My mom’s infamous bikini-clad turkey

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This year, we’ll celebrate it a little differently since we’ll be caring for a brand new baby and won’t be able to participate in family festivities. I’m hoping and praying that our families will feel sorry for us and deliver some of their delicious dishes to our doorstep :).

Regardless, we will have plenty to be thankful for–namely, our brand new baby girl who will undoubtedly change our lives.

A simple gratitude prayer has resonated within me the past few days. It seems that my husband and I have been bombarded with blessings, surprises, bad news, and challenges all at once. With our baby set to arrive any day now, we’ve been feeling overwhelmed, broken-hearted, and hopeful, all at the same time.

“God, thank You for all You’ve given me

For all You’ve taken away

and for all You’ve left me with.”

This prayer captures our lives right now–and really, it defines my life in general at any given moment. While most people tend to have an overabundance of things given, things taken away, or things left on any given day, sometimes the categories blur together. In fact, I find that my faith grows the most during blurry times when I simultaneously feel hopeful, desperate, and sorrowful.

In times when it seems He has taken away many things from me–or at least allowed things to be taken away from me–it’s easy for me to dwell on despair, depression, and grief. And while it’s healthy for me to spend some time grieving and even digging into pints of Ben & Jerry’s while watching old Humphrey Bogart movies accompanied by Kleenex, it’s not healthy for this season to last for too long. When I’ve lost the most significant things in my life–marriages, my role as a stepmom, my father to divorce and drugs, my innocence to rape at age 16, loved ones to death, and my own financial well-being–I’ve shamelessly participated in self-pitying-ice-cream-time on each occasion, in one form or another.

But I can’t stay there.

Because there are two other lines to the prayer. It’s not just about dwelling on the sad, pathetic things I’ve lost and throwing my own pity parties. It’s about recognizing and being grateful for all He’s given me–and after losing precious gifts, no matter the source of the loss or the identity of the taker–recognizing and being grateful for all He’s left me with.

Me and Beijing

Rather than spill my guts about one of the bigger losses in my life, I’ll share a story about my cats. I once adopted a kitten named Beijing. This kitten was seriously the most affectionate, infant-like kitten I’d ever known. He was neutered too early, and immaturity resulted, which is a common outcome when clinics don’t follow best practices for neutering. However, I accepted Beijing for the baby he was. He slept right next to my face. He nuzzled himself in fleece blankets and attempted to nurse corners of the blanket. He ate anything and everything (as his weight and size reflected). He played well with others and knew no strangers.

Unfortunately, his love for others might have led to his demise when he was attacked by some creature in the woods behind my house in 2009. Bleeding profusely, I wrapped him in his favorite blanket and drove maniacally to the after-hours vet clinic. After examining him, the vet concluded that his chances of survival–if he underwent surgery upwards of $4,000–would be about 15-20%. Not only did I lack the financial means to pay for said surgery, but I also knew that the odds were against him. I saw his pain and knew the best thing for him was to let him go. So I did.

I didn’t want to. He was a real source of joy and comfort to me. Losing him, and particularly losing him in the midst of my rapidly unraveling marriage, crushed me. I grieved his loss heavily for a few weeks. The feelings of sadness were never totally eradicated; I still feel pangs of grief and sorrow when I see pictures of him or when friends remind me of the funny things he used to do.

But I thank God for helping me to let Beijing go and to end his pain as quickly as possible. I don’t believe God killed my cat. I know that God’s in control, and He could have miraculously healed my cat, but for some reason, He didn’t. I don’t have to understand why; while my losses have been great in life, my gains have been greater.

Me and Tigger

In February, I awoke one morning to a tiny cry outside the back door. I still had two other outdoor cats, but I knew the cry was too tiny and too shrill to blame on either of them. I opened the back door in freezing temperatures to find a miniature tabby kitten hiding on the porch beneath objects. I brought him inside and fed him some milk and wondered how my then-boyfriend would react to this new addition to our family.

He loved him. This surprised me at first because he is not a cat lover; in fact, he has never enjoyed being around cats his entire life. But Tigger is different. From the moment I scooped him up into my arms, I recognized that there was an eerie resemblance between Tigger and Beijing. Physically, they resemble one another remarkably. But it’s more than that. Tigger is just as cuddly and playful and comical as Beijing was. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes when I realize that God might have given me Tigger to fill a hole left in my animal-loving heart after losing Beijing.

For everything that I’ve lost, there’s something greater and more beautiful I’ve gained, even if it takes time to see it.

How can I dwell on all He’s taken away when He’s given me and left me with so much?