Friday, April 29, 2011

. . . Give and Take . . .

"What do you mean you don't know where the kids are?"
            Mom didn't look up from her crossword puzzle when I came in from lunch.
            "They said something about whiffleball," she said.  "Then a little later, they mentioned a white rabbit."
            I stood on the deck and squinted out at the spring drizzle.  I cupped my hands around my mouth. 
            "Over here!"  Their voices came from the woods.  I followed the sound of whoops and hollers. 
            "Come here, baby!"
            "Missed it.  Missed it by a mile!"
            "Don't be afraid.  We're real nice." 
            Thing one, two, and three darted here and there, trying to get close to the pale, zigzagging puffball.
            "Mom! It's headed your way!  Get it!"
            Espresso, white wine, and mineral water sloshed in my belly as I joined the chase.  Over logs, under cars, and into burrows the white rabbit went.  More than once I nearly fell as my feet slid on my fancy sandals and wet leaves.  Finally, I held an empty trash can on its side, and the kids chased the bunny into it. 
            "Are you okay, Mommy?" my son said.
            I sat in the wet grass, wheezing and cradling my abdomen.  "Yeah.  Why?"
            "Your face is a weird color."
            My stomach seemed to debate whether or not to give up my thirty dollar French lunch.  Oldest Child approached, the trembling rabbit clutched to her chest. 
            "Can we keep it?"
            "Ask Daddy."

A week later Middle Child came tearing up to the third floor. "Mom!  Honey’s a girl!"
            I looked over at the clock--6:30 a.m..  
            I squinted up at her. "Honey’s a girl?"
            "Honey Bunny's a mom!  She had seven babies and they're gross! All pink and wiggly, like worms."
           A few minutes later I knelt on the cool, concrete floor in the basement.  I peered into the crate.       Middle Child leaned against my back. 
          "I bet a rat snuck into the basement and mated her."
           I chuckled and tapped my son on the shoulder.  "Go get me a tablespoon." 
            He returned quickly.  I shivered when he put the spoon on my thigh.  I warmed it with my breath.  I opened the cage and carefully scooped up one lone baby bunny and deposited it on top of its siblings.  They were all snuggled in a heap, on a nest of silky soft, white fur.
            I turned to Oldest Child.  "Go upstairs and Google 'raising baby rabbits,'" I said.  "See if it's okay to touch 'em."
            Honey Bunny hunkered in the back of the crate.  I frowned.
            "She's not keeping them warm.  Not nursing 'em or anything.  She isn't very good at this mommy thing."
            "Maybe it's her first time," Middle Child said.
            My oldest daughter came back.  "A couple of websites say it's okay to touch them if the mother's tame."
            I counted days on my fingers.  "We've had her eight days and she's never bit anyone.  That means she's tame, right?"
            I reached in and stroked the baby on top of the pile.  I cooed.  It was soft and warm, like the back of a child's neck.
            The kids huddled around me. 
            "That one's gonna have black spots," Middle Child said.  "And I bet that one'll be all white."
            "Let's name 'em," my son said.  "The biggest one should be Goliath."
            "And we'll call that tiny guy, Gideon," I said.
            "The one that keeps leaving the pack," Oldest Child said, "He's an adventurer.  Let's call him Indiana Jones.  Indy for short."
            "We should call the one with black spots Domino," Middle Child said.
            It took us longer to name the others.  One became Pogo a few weeks later when it leapt into the air, over and over. 
            "Name something that's all white," I said.
            "Alaska," Oldest Child said as her eyes followed my gaze.  "And Juno's the capital of Alaska.  Let's call her Juno."
            "But what about the smallest white one?"  Middle Child said.  "How do you say white in French, Mommy?"
            "Je ne sais pas," I said.  "Bianca maybe?  Or is it Alba?"
            "Bianca Alba," Middle Child said.  "She's my favorite.  She's little like me."

I went to the Exotic Jungle on account of Bianca Alba.
            "Failure to thrive?" I said to the pre-vet salesgirl.  "Does that mean she'll die?"
            "Not necessarily," she said.  "Follow me."
            She stopped in front of a display.  "I've raised tons of baby rabbits by hand," she said.  "You need kitten milk.  And one of these eye droppers.  And some of this stuff." 
            She handed me a package of three small metal tubes.  "In the wild, they'd eat their mom's scat to get the healthy organisms for their gut, but since she's not bonded with them, give them each a little squirt of this once a week."
            We headed up to the cash register.  "She's not taking to them 'cause you held them.  You shouldn't touch them while they're pink.  Gotta wait until they get their peach fuzz."
            I whimpered.  "Aw, man!  The web--"
            She reached across the counter and patted my shoulder.  "Don't worry," she said.  "They'll be okay. I do this all the time."

One night I woke with the answer.  To why Bianca Alba wasn’t thriving.  I snuck down to the basement and peeked into the crate.  No nursing. 
            I pointed and hissed at Honey in the dark.  "Bad mommy!"
            "The website says they usually only nurse between the hours of midnight and five a.m.," I told my husband the next morning.  "Sometimes only once in a 24 hour period.  Man!  Rabbits must have super mama milk.  Still, I haven't seen 'em--" 
            My husband's eyes narrowed.
            I tilted my head.  "What?"
            "What are you up to?" he said.
            I shrugged.  "Nothing."  That you need to know about

After school I called for the kids.  They followed me to the basement.
            I pointed at them one by one.  "You, get a clean bath towel.  You, get Honey.  You, hold this strawberry basket while I get them and their fluff nest inside."
            "What are we doing, Mom?" Oldest Child said as we headed back upstairs.
            "We're gonna give Honey lactation training."
            I sat with my back against the dining room wall, the towel draped over my lap.
            "Hand me Honey."
            I stroked her and whispered into her long, warm ears.  "It'll feel like a Shop Vac on your nipples at first, but don't worry.  You'll get used to it."
            I flopped her on her back.  Nodded at my son. 
            "Hand me two babies."
            Each of the bunnies quickly located a teat.  They squirmed as they nursed, their back sides scooching left and right, like windshield wipers.  After ten minutes, the wriggling bodies relaxed.
            "They remind me of piranhas," my son said.  "Like the ones on the Discovery Channel.  Are they hurting her?"
            "Naw!" I said.  "She's fine.  Nudge Bianca.  She's asleep on the breast.  She needs it most of all."
            And that's how it went.  Twice a day, for weeks.  We bribed Honey with apples, carrots, and plantain leaves from the yard.  She gobbled our offerings non-stop while the babies nursed.  She was after all, eating for eight.

One day I squatted in front of the bunny crate.  Per usual, Bianca Alba was not with the others. 
            I used a broom handle to scoot her to them. "You have to stay with your brothers and sisters," I said.  “They'll keep you warm."
            I gave her extra nursings.  Encouragement too.  "Thrive, Baby Bianca.  Thrive."
            I fed her kitten milk in between feedings, putting the tiny dropper into her mouth and squeezing the rubber part.  I sighed as most of it ran down her chin and chest.
            "Let's stay up with her tonight, Mommy," Middle Child said one afternoon.  "To keep her warm.  And to feed her."
            I nodded.  And to pray for herI had this bad feeling.
            Middle Child lay on the love seat under her purple, fuzzy blanket.  I sprawled on the sofa with a zebra-striped throw.  We took turns feeding Bianca and holding her on our chests.
            "I'm giving you another name," I told Bianca at midnight.  "You're going to be Bianca Alba Lazarus 'cause Jesus is going to bring you back from the death cave."
            I wiped my eyes and sniffed.  'Cause I think that's where you're headed.
            She was so wee.  She'd fit in a quarter cup measure.  Her fur wasn't sleek like the others.'  It was streaked with milk and sickliness.
            "Another name," I whispered to her at three in the morning as she lay like a comma between my breasts.  "You need another name.  Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle.  That's your new name.  Please live, tiny angel bunny.  Please?"
            And then my prayer became my grief, and my grief woke Middle Child.
            She sat up suddenly, her eyes huge.  "Is she--?  Did she--?  Why are you--?" 
            Middle Child's breath sounded wheezy.  She held the sides of her face.
            "Oh, no!  But I prayed!  Why didn't God--"     
            I stroked Bianca with my pinky.  "See how peaceful she looks?" I said.  "She's all better.  Not here.  But better."
            I slept until daybreak with Bianca on my chest and Middle Child between my legs.  She'd cried herself to sleep there.
            I got up from the couch and covered her.  I took Bianca into the basement and wrapped her in some Honey Bunny fluff and a scrap of fuchsia silk.  She looked like a Valentine, for a dead person.  I tucked her into a jelly jar and screwed the lid on. 
            "Rest in peace, my peewee darling." 
            I set the container on the washer and fished in the laundry pile for one of my husband's t-shirts.  I covered my face with it, blew my nose, and sobbed.
            After lunch we all wrote goodbye love notes to Bianca and slid them in the jar. 
            That evening, my husband and son laid Bianca Alba Lazarus Miracle to rest beneath the chestnut tree, beside the creek, with all our other beloved pets.
            "What did you say when you buried her?" I asked my husband when he came home.
            He wrapped me in his arms and spoke into my hair. 
            "I said, 'The Lord gave us eight bunnies, and the Lord took one away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord."
            I nodded and spoke with a stuffed up nose.  "That's good.  That's real good."

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Mourning After

I will be naked soon, for the rending of my garments.  Hairless too.  The women tell me grief softens with time.  Not mine.  The pain in my mother’s heart is like Job’s pottery shards.  Never will the knife-edged fragments cease to cut me.  From the inside out.

The women grip my wrists.  To keep my nails from my face.

“You’ll be ugly.”

What do I care?  I have no need, no desire, for beauty.  For a husband.  I have John now.  My Jesus presented him to me, and I to him, a parting gift.  Dear John, the only one who didn’t flee—trembling, bleating, denying. 


I knew.  I sensed it from the very beginning.  In that moment when I heard his first wet breath and mewling cry.  A seemingly ordinary infant until you drew closer and felt the urge to be with, to listen to, to learn from.  What?  What is it that a babe can know?  Any other?  Nothing.  This one?  Everything, and more.

Joseph had stood behind me in that place, in the moment.  “It is . . . he is . . . as the angels said.”

I felt my thoughts and Joseph’s melt together. My words came out into the night air, with the silver mist of my breath.

 “This babe will change everything.  Everyone.”

My consciousness withdrew from my husband’s.  I felt a contraction, a wringing, in my womb.  I had a vision of a grape press--ancient and of stone--pressing, crushing, seeming to destroy my son.  I tried to stand there in the stable.  Bent at the waist, I pushed my fists against my gut.  A growl of a moan worked its way up and out of me.  I shook my head, felt the whip of wet hair in my eyes.  Over and over.  My tears wet the dung at my feet.

Then every day, as he grew into his destiny, this was my prayer.

‘Not today, LORD.  Nor tomorrow.  One more day, Master.  He’s my precious boy child.  Let him live to teach, to heal, to love, another day.  He has all of eternity to be with you.  Please. Just a few more . . .”


The women hover, their hands and fingers like insects, close to my face.  I swat and moan.

“Leave.  Me.  Be.”

I look toward the Temple Mount.  “Take me, Abba.  Sooner than later.  Today, please?  I want to see him, touch him, kneel before him.  One more time.”

I consider the rope on the bucket in the well.


Elizabeth is on her way.  She sent word.  It will be a comfort to spend hours, no, days, mourning our sons.  They were the bright stars of this world.  For a season.  So brief.  Then they were snatched by evil men, for the sake of pride, power, pleasure even.

We can starve together, Elizabeth and me.  Call it fasting.  We have no appetites.  They died with our sons.  Moses himself could bring manna and we’d turn away.  Purse our lips, bow our heads.

I’ll let Elizabeth hold me.  Rather, I’ll cradle her fragile, diminished frame.  I’ll let down her hair.  Comb its grayness with my fingers.  Whisper into it.

“You pretend I’m John.  I’ll make believe you’re Jesus.”

We have no need of husbands.  It is no longer necessary to pretend we love them more than the fruit of our loins. 


Jesus never resembled me.  Didn’t have my eyes, the cleft in my chin.  But he belonged to me.  I carried him in my inmost parts.  His purity came through mine.  No woman has ever, will ever again, do what I have done.  My life will be the death of me.

“He will save his people from their sins.”  The angel told Joseph that.

The most glorious purpose the world has ever known and yet, I hate it.  My LORD knows and loves me still.  My confession is the world’s victory.  How can there still be fools?  Have you not seen?  Have you not heard? 

No, he was not beautiful, other than to me.  Most did not appreciate his not-of-this-world-ness.  Only if you sat at his feet or knelt before him could you glimpse heaven’s light.  And then, only if your heart was at the perfect angle of understanding.  The shalom of Yahweh—a greeting, a farewell, a covenant, an overwhelming peace—would engulf you for all time when you were surrounded by the light that was Jesus. 

That.  I will hold fast to that.  Light.  Shalom.  Yeshua HaMashiach.

Friday, April 15, 2011

++I Pity the Fool++

Psalm 53:1 tells us, "The fool says in his heart, there is no God."  That scripture makes me feel like a small, white, female Mr. T.  I read it and think, "I pity the fool."

One time I sat in an adult Sunday school class and the teacher said, "If you think God comes to you in dreams in the bathtub, you are certifiably crazy."  I never went back.  Know why?  'Cause I don't see dead people.  I see God.

I see visions of me on a potting table made of old barn wood, with a one inch lip on all four sides for my fluids, just in case.  It's out in an open field and the sun is a brilliant yellow white.  I look like a life-sized, girl version of the board game, Operation.

God stands next to the potting bench.  His hands work inside me.  Tweeking a spleen.  Polishing a wishbone.  My friend I ask God questions to said it reminded her of this one part in Song of Solomon.  I love the translation that reads, "You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain."

Another time, I watched God hold my heart.  Actually, I just saw his hand.  It looked like the giant hand chairs outside the Cool Ridge store on High Street.  My body's engine was nestled in his ginormous palm and it was huge too--beating, throbbing.  Ba-boom, ba-boom.  ba-boom.  And it was aqua.  God knows aqua is my favorite color.

When I consider God, it's like I have to set off an M-80 in my brain.  Not to hurt it, but to clear out the junk--the recipes, pin numbers, and vocab lists from high school.  I have to do that to even begin to think on God.  He made and he knows every person--past, present, and future.  He is aware of every thought, prayer, and deed they will ever come up with before they ever do.  He intimately perceives the detail of every creature, each cell.  He knows the greatest thing beyond my peewee comprehension, and he knows the least thing ever--sub, sub, sub-atomic stuff.

Sometimes when I pray, I picture God and Jesus and heaven.  There was a lady mystic who did the same thing, centuries ago.  I read about her in an A.W. Tozer book.  I'm glad I'm not alone.  I spend a lot of time wondering if I'll be able to see the Spirit when I get to heaven.  Will He be a silvery aqua mist, hovering over us all?

Some believers poopoo me trying to envision God.  They say I'm trying to create my own God like that guy who wrote The Shack.  To them I say, am I so very different than Moses?  He wanted to see God too and Bible scholars call him great.  I just want to look at whatever God'll show me, even if it's his backside.

Sometimes I picture myself up in heaven with God and Jesus.  I sit criss-cross applesauce on the floor of the throne room.  In fact, I'm snuggled right up to them.  My left arm is looped around God's right leg, and my right arm hugs Jesus' left calf.  Don't ask me if their appendages are flesh, spirit, or polished bronze.  They just are.  God and Jesus pet my hair as I take it all in--endless worship, passionate intercession.  Folks are flinging crowns and those wild, flying creatures--all eyeballs, wings, and praise?  I come undone.

One time--  No, there's been lots, Jesus asked me to dance.  We waltzed on the crystal sea.  Perhaps it was the Sea of Galilee.  When we dance I'm a cross between a kindergartner and an eighth grader at her first dance.  The kindergartner part of me stands on my daddy's feet to be taller, to let him lead.  The eighth grader in me laces my fingers behind my date's neck and melts against him, longing to be one.  And then the best thing happens.  A hole opens in my chest and his.  My heart beats inside him and his heart beats inside me.  We are one.

I'm not making this stuff up.  I saw it all with the eyes of my heart.  It's not imagination or fantasy as some will no doubt say.  Those people who put God in a wet matchbox?  I pity them too.

Friday, April 8, 2011

++A Heart, a Cross, and a Key++

Jesus kissed my daughter and me at least three times last weekend.  We were on a mother daughter roadtrip.  In search of the college.
I gassed up the Honda in Summersville.  The cashier let me mix bold roast coffee with flavored cappuccino for no extra charge, but he wouldn't look me in the eye.  I squinted at him.  Look at me.  Nothing.
I put my dollar five on the counter.  "Can I ask you a weird question?"
He cowered.  "Weird?''
"Have you heard of people who are afraid of big, long bridges?  And sometimes state troopers'll drive 'em across?"
He used his finger in the corner of his t-shirt to clean the ledge over the cash drawer.
"I've heard of it, but I don't think they do it 'round here," he said.  "You scared of the New River Gorge Bridge?"
When he said the name, my heart revved.  I nodded.
"You can't see over the sides, you know."
I took a breath.  It sounded like a death rattle. 
"But it's super high and really long.  And it's raining to beat all."
"Just drive slow.  Stay in the middle."
And pray like nuts.
He peered out into the soaking wet night.
"The wind," he said.  "Be careful about the wind.  It'll blow your car all over the place."
My fingernails bit my palms.  I walked over to the door and got my umbrella ready.
"Thanks," I said inside the store.
"For nothing," I said outside.
I pecked on my daughter's window.  "Your turn to drive."
We went five miles.  I waited.  For the mist to form on my palms.  For my heartbeat to make my shirt move.  For my daughter to look over and say, "You okay?"
We turned left onto State Route 39, miles before the gorge.  Drove past the low level of Summersville Lake.  Wound through a mile or two of rhododendron and mobile homes.
"Pull over," I told my daughter.
"We missed it," I said.  "You don't have to drive after all."
I looked at the stars as I walked around the back of the Honda.  I clasped my hands and made my index fingers point up.  Like a steeple.
"Thank you so much."

The next morning, after our complimentary continental breakfast, we took our bags out to the car.  It wouldn't start.  My palms felt slick.
"Your dad's gonna be so mad at me," I said.
The front desk clerk didn't have jumper cables.  The maintenance man fussed me out for not having AAA roadside assistance.  I went back out to the car.
"I guess we take a taxi to the college tour."
My daughter stuck her lower lip out.  "If you could find out who has the car on either side of us, maybe--"
I walked back through the lobby, toward the dining room.  I paused outside.  Lord . . . . help . . . please.
The room smelled of waffles.  I removed my eggplant-colored rain hat and stood inside the doorway.
"Does anyone have a red Sebring or a light green Chevy Malibu?"
A man in a Nascar hat raised his hand.  "Red Sebring."
I squeaked.  Lifted my eyes to the ceiling.  Thank you so much.
Nascar man and his elderly father followed me to the Honda.  The son popped his trunk and produced extra long jumper cables.  I reached out to pet their bright orangeness. 
"They're beautiful."
The older man squinted at my battery.  "Looks original.  If I were you, I'd high tail it up to Wal-Mart and spend $30 or $40 on a new one."
The car started.
"Just let it run 15, 20 minutes," Nascar man said when his dad wasn't looking.
I dug in my pockets.  "Can I give you twenty bucks?"
The man swatted air.  "Pa-lease."
I bit my lip.  "A hug then?"
He opened his arms.
"Thank you so much, you guys," I said.  "You saved the day."
My daughter knocked on the windshield.  Tapped her wrist watch.
"We best be going," I said as I opened the car door.  "Have a nice life."

I glanced over at my daughter as we climbed a monstrous mountain between here and there.
"You know Jesus has kissed us twice on this trip."
She didn't look up from her AP biology book.  "I know," she said.  "I just hope he kisses me one more time."
I was pretty sure I knew what she was talking about--the ring.
Two days ago, I had walked into my favorite jewelry store.  Showed a picture of the ring to the store owner.
"A heart, a cross, and a key," he said.  "It's clearly Christian, but what does it mean?"
"It's a promise ring," I said.
The jeweler shook his head.  "No, it's not.  A promise ring has a tiny diamond that tells a young lady a guy intends to marry her someday."
I took my jean jacket off and laid it on the glass case.
"Actually," I said.  "It's a purity ring."
The man squinted.  "A purity ring?  What's that mean?"
I pushed my shirt sleeves up and puffed my bangs off my forehead.
"It means she's saving herself for . . . you know . . . marriage."
The jeweler huffed.  "In this day and age?  Whoever heard of such a thing?"
I didn't smile.  "A mother can hope."
The jeweler snorted.  "I grew up in the age where women did that.  Saved themselves for marriage."
He kept talking as he bent to examine a stack of catalogs.  "Every woman I've ever talked to said she wished she hadn't waited."
I put my hands on the glass case.  "I wish I'd waited."
The jeweler paused his searching and glanced up.  "You do?"
I nodded.  "That's something you can only give away once.  I wish I'd given it to my husband, instead of . . . "
The jeweler massaged his jaw.  "Wow," he said.  "That's really nice."
I looked at my hands on the case.  Touched my wedding ring, then the ring my husband gave me for Mother's Day the year our middle child was born.
The man stood.  "You still married to him?"
I nodded and pointed to the black opal ring on my left hand.
"He bought this here, remember?"  I said.  "For our twentieth anniversary."
The jeweler lifted my hand to his face.  "Him?  Ah, he's a good guy."
We looked through the books for religious rings.  We saw faith, hope, and charity charms.  Star of David rings.  Crucifixes, with and without Jesus on them.
The jeweler closed the last catalog.  "No purity rings," he said.  "I can make one.  Engrave a signet ring with the heart, cross, and key."
I headed for the door.  "I'll get back to you."

The college tour guide was not earning his keep.
I leaned over and whispered in my daughter's ear.  "Wanna cut out?" I said.  "I'd rather go back over that mountain today than tonight."
She yawned.  "Yeah.  Let's."
We found the Honda in the vast commuter parking lot.  I held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition.  Success.
Before I backed out, I handed the Mapquest directions to my daughter.
"Basically, we're going to follow 'em in reverse," I said. 
She turned to the last page.  "We need Route 29 West," she said.  "Turn right at the second stop light."
After the second stop light, that's when I saw it.  The Lifeway store.  I flipped my turn signal on just seconds before I whipped the car into the parking lot.
My daughter clutched the grab handle over her window.  "What’re you doing?"
"This is your third kiss," I said.
"How do you know?"
I smiled as I put the car in park.  "Just a feeling."
There they were.  Up by the cash registers.  Not one, but two.  Two different styles of heart, cross, and key rings.  The sign said, "Ask cashier to order your size."
My daughter flipped the display case back and forth.  "Which one do you like better?"
I shook my head.  "It's your ring."
"I like this one.  It's--"
"More delicate.  More feminine."
She smiled.
The salesperson took it out of the case.  "We can mail it to you in your size, but it'll take a few weeks."
I leaned against the counter.  "If this one fits, can she have it?"
The salesperson took the ring out of the box.  "Sure.  If it fits."
I put my hand on my chest.  My daughter slid the ring on, gave it a nudge to get it over her knuckle.
She extended her arm and smiled at the ring.  "It's perfect."
I grinned.  "Awesome, but you can't wear it home.  You have to wait 'til Easter."
She batted her lashes at me.  I shut my eyes and shook my head.
"Oh, okay," she said.
Out in the car, she opened her phone.
"Who you texting?" I said.
"What’re you saying?"
She smiled at the keyboard.  "I'm telling him Jesus is the best kisser ever."


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