Archive for June, 2011


I cleaned out our attic this week.  It’s only June – not even Summer yet according to the calendar – but the Atlanta area is already enduring temperatures way up in the 90s.  My goal was to work in the mornings before the heat soared past unbearable.  However, anyone who knows me knows that once I get started on a ‘project’, it’s hard for me to stop.  I’m like a freight train on crack. 

So I climbed the stairs, took a few steps onto the plywood flooring and looked around. Wow. I think there must be something about insulation, duct-taped boxes, and intense heat that promotes reproduction.  Where did all this stuff come from?  I found suitcases, Christmas decorations, papers from previous school years, air filters, clothes, and toys.  It seemed easy enough to begin editing.  I started with broken toys (how did they end up in the attic and not the trash can?)  I then moved on to parts and pieces of incomplete Christmas decorations (repeat previous question).  Clothes that no one in my family will ever wear again, luggage long past its prime, and a collection of stuffed animals that would rival FAO Schwartz brought back great memories, despite the fact that I was beginning to look and feel like I was at boot camp in the desert.

Going through each box with just enough detail to make sure I wouldn’t regret our Friday morning visit from the trash man, I was quickly filling the bags beside me.  Then I found it.  The box with Rachel’s costume from her dance recital six years ago.  It was an adorable bright yellow top and skirt that felt something like a cross between vinyl and plastic with black taffeta everywhere (literally).  Her group danced to Rascall Flatt’s Life is a Highway.  I remember her practically floating down the stairs to show her Daddy after we had the whole outfit perfectly in place, complete with slicked back her hair and makeup. She was beaming and her Daddy was speechless.

Next, I came across a collection of sports cars that Alex collected when he was much younger.  I remember the various Christmas and birthday celebrations when he received them and how he studied them, learned about the make and model, discovered all the parts that would open and close, and proudly displayed them in his room.  His favorite by far was the truck his Granddaddy gave him, a replica of his own. Alex kept a very special place reserved just for that truck and it was very often the first one he showcased when anyone else admired his collection.

With the heat sweltering and my eyes stinging from sweat running down my face, I was about ready to call it a day. My stomach told me it was well past lunchtime but I decided to go through one more stack before descending into the comfort of the air conditioned hallway. I moved a small blue blanket that a family friend had made for Stephen’s crib and opened the box underneath where I saw a stack of cards and some computer-printed sheets of paper. 

And I started reading.  “Dawn, we are praying for you and your family every day”; “Please know that Heaven is being bombarded with your name!”; “Our children pray for you and Baby Hood every morning before breakfast”; “So sorry to hear that you must undergo another surgery”; “Praying for you as you begin your chemotherapy treatments”; “Please let us know if we can do anything for you”; “You and Richard are a testimony of God’s strength and grace”; “I love your short hair!”; “The Lord brings you to mind several times each day and I am asking Him to give you strength and courage”; “Thank you for your updates by email…it helps me pray specifically for everyone in your family”; “You look fabulous with a bald head!”  More cards.  More Scripture passages.  More prayers.  Countless emails and notes of encouragement. 

I have no idea how long I sat on the floor of our attic reading those precious notes of encouragement, remembering like it was yesterday.  But what really made my heart swell was the realization that nearly ten years later I remain close to almost everyone who sent those cards, notes, and letters.  How it blessed me to realize that these friends and family have shared the good, the bad, the ugly, and the miracles of life with us! 

I was drenched when I slowly, carefully, came down those rickety stairs and closed the ‘trap door’.  But my spirit felt uplifted. Encouraged. Strong.

Eight years in the attic.  And still so very close to my heart.


 

I wrote this and submitted it to a greeting card company last year.  My Daddy was the inspiration for every word.  
  
Dad,

You were the first man to ever hold me in your arms
The first man whose shoulder I laid my head on
The first man whose hand I reached for
The first man whose name I called when I was scared

You were the first man to ever kiss me goodnight
The first man to smile as I modeled a new dress
The first man to wipe away my tears
The first man to celebrate my accomplishments

You were the first man to ever say to me, “you are beautiful’
The first man who ate cookies I made from scratch
The first man who wore a “hand-painted” shirt or tie
The first man who wrapped me in his arms for a photograph


You were the first man to let me go as I became a woman

And you will always be the first man I ever loved.

Thanks, Dad.


Happy Father’s Day.  I love you.

Dawn asked me to write a guest post for Father’s Day about three seconds after I asked her to write her guest post for my blog. Being her friend, and always looking for a chance to add a writing credit, I quickly agreed.
Then I started thinking about what to write.
Should I be funny? Should I be heartfelt? What could be written about fatherhood that hadn’t been written before?
Then my grandfather got sick.
The past couple of weeks my dad’s side of the family has been on high alert over my Pop Harold. He went into the hospital with trouble breathing, only to find out he had congestive heart failure and a heart rate just this side of deadly. The docs were able to get the fluid off his heart, but they weren’t able to isolate the cause of his heart racing, so that meant an extended stay in the critical care wing. Turns out it was a tiny valve malfunction and a blocked artery. They gave him medicine and sent him home on Tuesday.
They don’t expect him to ever really recover. We’ve brought in hospice to help out.
Being on the verge of losing my Pop Harold made think about the three main fatherly influence in my life, and I realized: if pedigree were all that mattered, I would be the world’s greatest dad.
Between my father, Rickey, and my two Pops – Pop Harold (my dad’s dad) and Pop Emmette (my mom’s dad) – I have the kind of patriarchal lineage one only finds when reading Biblical genealogies. Those three men represent the finest collection of fatherly wisdom ever assembled – a Daddy Dream Team – and it is my privilege to call myself their son.
I lost Pop Emmette eight years ago this August. I remember the day he died, how I stood over his body in a tiny ER alcove while the world went to hell around me. Doctors and nurses were rushing by outside the curtain that was supposed to give us privacy, and it was a weird juxtaposition to my feeling as if the world had suddenly stood still. Pop’s body seemed half its size; without his soul to fill it, the skin just sagged.
I spoke at his funeral. I told stories that he had told me, stories that were inappropriate for a funeral because they were designed to make people laugh their butts off. I think I may be the only preacher in the world who intentionally turned his grandfather’s funeral into a stand up routine and had the audience roaring with laughter despite themselves. I remember thinking, in that moment, how much of a gift Pop had given me through his stories. How much of me was bound up in him.
Now, with Pop Harold at home but simply waiting to pass on, I find myself planning to speak at another funeral. This one will be different, however. Not because Pop Harold wasn’t a funny man – he certainly could be – but more because Pop Harold’s life has been more of a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s because I was too enraptured in Emmette’s stories to ever ask Harold for his, or maybe it’s because Pop Harold never wanted to share his stories like Emmette did, but whichever it was, I don’t know nearly as much about Pop Harold as I did Pop Emmette.
But what I’ve learned is different. Not better, necessarily, but different. It’s like having silk in one hand and Egyptian cotton in the other – the texture is soft and wonderful for each, but for entirely different reasons.
Pop Harold has shown me the challenge and majesty of aging. That when people seem to have outlived their usefulness, they still have purpose: to teach those around them about the power and necessity of love and family. Pop’s life has become one final lesson from the Good Book – something he spent years studying – and it’s a lesson that we have learned fitfully, painfully even, but one we’ve learned well. When he is gone, there will be no laughter. There will be tears and plenty of them because such is the depth of our love.
And through all of this has been my own father, Dad, as I call him. In some ways we are polar opposites – he’s quiet, good with money, not artistic in the least – and in other ways we are almost carbon copies of each other. I look in the mirror and see where my hair is going gray in the same places his did, at the same age. I see his brown eyes looking back at me through my glasses. Our hair even parts on the same side (when I part mine).
We’ve never been talkers, the kind of father-son duo that can sit up late into the night swapping stories and telling tales. When we do talk, it’s usually to-the-point conversations, even when we’re just shooting the breeze. I’ve never thought it odd or abnormal because what my father says is so packed with wisdom and meaning that it simply doesn’t take more words than he uses.
Unlike me. I can take more words than three people need. But that’s just what makes him so interesting to me. It’s part of why I respect him.
He leads by quiet example, almost by sheer force. Not as a bully forces, mind you; more like Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird. When my father sets a course of action, his integrity almost compels other people to choose that same course. This explains how he was able to become a vice-president in a major bank without his college degree: he learned everything he could, choose what was right, and got others to do the same.
And then there’s me.
I’m a father now – my daughter, Ella, is 5 and my son, Jonathan, is 2 – and one would think that given the examples I’ve had, I’d be a flawless father.
I’m not.
But even as I make major mistakes, I’m learning that perfection is not required of a father. Nothing astounds me more than when I screw up and my kids look past it. Not in a “we’ll remember this later and use it against you” way, but in a genuinely forgiving way. The more I am with my children, the more I begin to understand things like grace and love and mercy – not just from me to them, but from them to me. I can look into their eyes and see how much they truly love me, not because I’m perfect but because I’m daddy.
That’s a lesson that no one but your kids can teach you. And it’s the best lesson in the world.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you fathers out there, wherever you are.

Willie Nelson made these words famous crooning about all the girls who had been in and out of his life for various purposes (some honorable, some not so much) and for varying lengths of time.  Father’s Day is quickly approaching so I’d like to share about the men who have deeply impacted and influenced my life. 

Tomorrow you will be treated to a special guest blogger – a dear friend of mine and former co-worker who, in my humble (but accurate) opinion, ought to be famously famous and hangin’ out on top of the best seller list for months at a time.  But I guess if those things were true about him, I wouldn’t know him as a friend.  He is as “Southern gentleman” as they come, possesses a wonderfully salty personality complimented by a heavy shot of Tabasco, and shares Biblical truths with deeply profound insight.  Not to mention he’s crazy in love with his wife and over the moon for his kids.  I’m confident you will be delighted by tomorrow’s blog featuring Jason Brooks.  But for now, I’d like to give you my perspective on some pretty incredible men…here they are:

My first crush: I was in Kindergarten and his name was Bruce. I really can’t tell you much more about him except to say I have warm memories of my 5-year-old smile, happily swinging my shoulders back and forth, dreamily fantasizing that he was crushing on me, too.  Unfortunately, even among our small Kindergarten class of boys and girls, I’m fairly confident he didn’t know I was alive.

David Cassidy, lead singer for the Partridge Family.  I thought he looked like the older, more grown-up version of my brother, and I absolutely adored my brother (more about him later).  I knew every word to every song, every facial expression, and probably the pattern on every 70s-inspired shirt he wore.  Driving down the interstate one day, my Dad pointed out that their tour bus was beside us.  It was destiny!  I just knew that David Cassidy would look out his window, see the girl (literally – I think I was 10) of his dreams and serenade me into the gorgeous Eastern sunset.  Alas, the old man driving the bus was not influenced by my frantic waving or my Dad’s honking and did not sense the urgency of waking my prince from his slumber somewhere in the back of the bus.  And down the highway he went…

My Grandfathers, PawPaw and PaPa.  PawPaw was my Dad’s dad and PaPa was my mother’s.  PawPaw was very much like a piece of M&Ms candy: crusty and a little hard on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.  He bragged that I was the only one of his grandchildren he ever changed a diaper for.  PawPaw was a WWII vet, a self made man, and an expert gardener.  He graciously allotted a small area of his massive back yard for a swing set where my cousins and I spent many hours sliding, swinging, and teeter-tottering on summer days while he and my grandmother harvested summer vegetables and fruits.  He was a collector of all things Coca-Cola, loved to go antique shopping, and spoiled my grandmother. I was angry with him when he re-married quickly after my Grandmother died and it was PawPaw who first taught me that no one can dictate how another person grieves.  You see, my Grandmother died of Alzheimer’s and he had grieved the loss of the woman he knew and loved for so long that by the time she physically died, he simply moved through the steps of her funeral and burial.  I didn’t like being angry at him. I felt as if I were somehow betraying him, but it was driven by the sense that he had betrayed my Grammie.  It didn’t last long.  The first time I met his new wife and saw that big Andy Taylor smile on his face, all was forgiven.  He was a good man and I loved him. 

I loved both my Grandfathers.  But my PaPa and I shared something special. I don’t know why, I don’t even know how to describe it.  It simply was.  He was a perfect balance of strong and tender.  An unexpected quick wit, he could make us laugh about anything.  I remember one summer when the five granddaughters enjoyed an extended stay with him and my Grandmother.  Every morning started out around the breakfast table on our knees.  We were all too young to appreciate the prayers he prayed over us, but the love that motivated those prayers was undeniable.  PaPa had a way of making each one of us believe that we were his favorite.  He loved ‘his girls’ and told us at every opportunity. He approached the pulpit before every sermon with a sense of deep gratitude that he had been given the privilege and calling to impact other people’s lives with the grace of God.  Losing him to cancer was almost more than any of us could bear.  PaPa lived with dignity and showed us how to die with the same.  He ran his race well and finished strong, telling everyone his greatest regret was being forced to leave his family. He loved us hard and I miss him every day.

My Dad. He was raised ‘Bobby’, a beautiful boy with snow white hair (even then) and crystal blue eyes.  My Mom started calling him ‘Bob’ when they began dating and I’ve heard him called several nicknames over the years, Father Time and Mr. C. among others.  He is the strongest man I’ve ever known.  Period.  I loved crawling up in his lap as a little girl and remember many vacations being launched into what felt like outer space as he threw me across the pool.  I was his shadow, following him around as close as a second skin any time he was home.  He and my Mom bought me a beat up old baby grand piano that he lovingly restored to a work of art.  My Dad is not openly affectionate but one look in those pools of blue and there is no question about his love.  On the flip side, those same eyes could make my blood run cold when I knew I’d disobeyed or disappointed him.  And I returned the flash of lightning only once, when he inadvertently referred to someone else by my nickname, ‘Sweetie’.  No words necessary.  That is one mistake made only once.  My knight in shining armor, my manager, the calm waters in my sometimes turbulent life, my hero.  My Dad. 

My Brother.  I think I must have loved him even before I was born.  When we were young I told him I wanted to marry him.  “We can’t get married,” he flatly replied. “We’ll have messed up babies!”  My solution was simple. “We don’t have to have babies.  I just want to marry you.”  Yes, we had our share of fusses and fights but nobody, and I mean nobody, other than him dared to mess with me. We had daring (and often dangerous) adventures throughout high school that involved fast cars, unchaperoned parties, and the Chattahoochee River (details intentionally omitted).  He moved home to Georgia from South Carolina when I was diagnosed with cancer and dedicated a tattoo on his right arm to my battle.  It is a sunset with the Chinese symbols representing, “Dawn, my bravest sister.”  No matter how long between phone calls, emails, or visits, I know we will always pick up where we left off.  He is a terrific uncle to my kids and one of my greatest sources of encouragement. 

My Husband.  I was a tough cookie when Richard and I began dating.  Divorced and a single mom, I was bound and determined not to get hurt again.  Richard was patient, funny, a great debater, and knew the way to my heart was through my son, Alex.  After four years of dating (some great dates, some ‘Hell nights’ as we refer to them now), we married on a hot and humid August evening.  After a North/South honeymoon to New York City and Charleston, we woke up Saturday morning to Alex climbing up in the bed and asking why Richard was there.  “Remember Mommy and I got married last week?”  Alex propped himself up on his elbows, rested them on Richard’s chest and asked, “Does that mean I can call you Dad now?” Yep.  I got a winner. Two houses, more cars than I can remember, five dogs, one lizard, and two more children later, we have had our share of good and bad times.  Richard married me for “better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”  He has lived up to his commitment.  We have been better and we have been worse, we have been poorer and by contrast there have been seasons of richness.  And he was the rock by my side in sickness.  Every day, sometimes moment by moment, he cared for me.  He handled the house, the children, drove me to endless doctor appointments, and sat beside me for every doctor’s appointment and chemo treatment.  We may never have one of those marriages that everyone looks on and says, “Oh, we want to be like them” but we are in it to win it. 

Happy Father’s Day.

I love music.  With the exception of rap and jazz, I love every kind of music from 70’s rock to classical and everything in between.  Music moves me emotionally (soundtrack, Somewhere in Time), spiritually (Ginny Owens, If You Want Me To), and at times physically (Blackfoot’s Train, Train, or Kirk Franklin’s Stomp).  This morning was different – I got all three in one song.  Driving home from an appointment with a new eye doctor in one of those rare instances when no one was in the car with me, I was actually listening to my station of choice on the radio.  The song started playing and immediately caught my attention because it opened with a piano solo.  A bit of a haunting melody, I turned up the volume.  And then she started singing.  The first few words grabbed me and I turned up the volume again.  By the time I she reached the chorus I had pulled over on the side of the road and stopped the car. 

I’ve been hearing a lot about burdens lately.  The cares of this world.  Trials. Storms. Thorns. In general, the stuff of life that pulls us down. Talk to your friends, ask your neighbors, strike up a conversation with a total stranger, everyone is struggling with something. And for all of our “don’t get too close; don’t ask me to open up” masks and barriers, most people are quick to share the weight of their heart.  Bad times have a way of leveling the playing field.  We all feel a kindred-ness of spirit.  My pastor has been dealing with this subject a good bit lately.  Even our old (very old) friend Job, from the oldest book in the Bible, suffered the unimaginable loss of his property, his crops, and tragically, his children.  His initial reaction was shock and grief, but unbelievably tempered with insight and understanding.  Job 2:10 records these words which Job spoke to his wife, “…shall we accept good from God, but not trouble?”

It’s hard accepting trouble.  We are born into this world naked, cold, and screaming.  Someone clothes us, cuddles us, and speaks tenderly to us. And we are calmed.  Expectation established.  In those very early moments of our lives, we somehow develop the belief system that trouble should never darken our door.  Heartache should never touch our family.  Disappointment and frustration should never furrow our brow. But we know, we know, trouble is never far away.  Someone once said that we are either coming out of a valley, in the middle of a valley, or heading into one.  I personally feel like I’ve been in a valley for quite some time.  Not of anyone’s doing or not doing, simply the stuff of life.  Which is why the song I was listening to on the radio hit me right between my frustrated mind and disappointed heart.

The song gave me perspective.  Helped me shake off my self-imposed assumption that I’m being ignored by God.  Even spanked me firmly on my seat of self-pity.  What if, as the song says, God loves us too much to give us the lesser things?  For you, wherever life has brought you this day, in this moment, stop.  Listen to the music and words of this beautifully simple, deeply profound work of art. 

 Blessings.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CSVqHcdhXQ

I have a dear friend whose husband is undergoing a stem cell transplant this very day to fight a rare form of cancer his doctors discovered a few months ago.  Turns out, because he is a diabetic, there is a specific protein used as a marker at his checkups.  A spike in that protein marker was the red flag that alerted his medical team to do more testing, thus finding the cancer.  His prognosis is good, very good in fact.  As I shared coffee and a bit of an emotional visit with his wife recently, she said almost in passing, “for all the hassle of [her husband] being a diabetic, it may very well be what saves his life.”

When I was diagnosed with cancer almost ten years ago, our midwife found a lump in my breast at my 8-week “well baby” check.  I wasn’t scheduled to have a mammogram for several months and there was no reason the midwife should have examined my breasts that day.  But she did.  They could very well have shrugged it off as hormones related to the pregnancy.  But they didn’t.  And the pregnancy with my third child  may very well be what saved my life.

After my first surgery – a lumpectomy – I developed an infection at the surgery site.  Our doctor was dumbfounded as it was extremely rare for an infection to occur with what he referred to as a ‘clean’ surgery.  I was on antibiotics for ten days before we could schedule the next surgery.  Because of the Christmas holiday and a skeleton crew in the lab, there was a delay getting the results.  This caused a delay scheduling the third surgery, a mastectomy.  At the time, we were frustrated with the multiple surgeries which delayed the start of chemotherapy.  After my chemo treatments ended we had a very narrow window in which to deliver Stephen before I began radiation.  The last week before he was born Stephen gained enough weight to avoid going to the NICU.  If there had been only one surgery on the front end, I would have started chemo several weeks earlier.  Stephen would have been born several weeks earlier, meaning he would most certainly have had days or even weeks in the NICU.

We all have had experiences similar to this.  Maybe not cancer, or diabetes, but what about the time you walked to your car and realized you had left something you needed in the house?  You took those few seconds or even a minute to go back inside.  And as you were driving you came upon a horrible accident, one that you could very well have been involved in had you left on time.  Little things like a forgotten item, big things like cancer or diabetes, every day, seemingly insignificant, sometimes frightening or frustrating.  May I encourage you to be mindful of today – and even thankful for – the speed bumps?

This morning while washing the late-night edition of yesterday’s dishes I was looking out the window above my kitchen sink. The view is not particularly inspiring.  There are shapeless, overgrown holly bushes on either side of the window and a little ‘V’-shaped island a few feet away which separates our yard from the neighbor’s.  As much as I love to garden, I’ve failed miserably at creating anything of beauty in this particular area of our yard.  The sun plants don’t get enough sun and the shade plants don’t get enough shade. Hmmmm.  However, in spite of all my digging, planting, killing, digging, planting, and killing, there is one small hosta plant that seems to make its way up out of the ground about this time every year. 

As I looked up from my soapy water I noticed a fat little chipmunk making its way across the railroad tie border into the island.  He moved so fast and was so dark brown that I almost had trouble keeping up with him.  Mr. Chipmunk darted around in no apparent pattern stopping here and there to sniff or dig through the mulch, raising his head every few seconds to watch for predators.  He would then scurry back across the railroad ties and disappear; I assume he has made his home somewhere behind or under the railroad ties.  This pattern continued for several minutes.  I was quite amused and thankful for the mental vacation as I neared the end of the dish pile.  Then I looked just beyond the island to see a large gray fur ball making its way toward the island.  You guessed it, a cat was headed straight for that railroad tie wall.  Well, I was hooked now!  National Geographic’s got nothin’ on what was about to happen outside my window.

With amazing premeditation, Miss Kitty stepped gingerly into the island and settled herself on the high side of my stubborn little hosta plant.  Tail curled up and still as a statue, she waited.  And I stood frozen at the window, willing that little chipmunk not to stick its head out.  In hindsight I should have just bumped my fist against the window and scared her away but for some reason I just stood there watching.  Waiting.  Just like Miss Kitty.

Well, you guessed it.  Mr. Chipmunk stepped out, climbed up on that railroad tie wall and wham! It was all over.  In one graceful, quick-as-lightning moment, Miss Kitty caught her brunch.  I felt sorry for the chipmunk but in awe of the cat.  I know, I know, survival of the fittest and all.  But it somehow seemed unfair that Miss Kitty had a huge advantage to be able to use my hosta plant as stealth cover!  She sauntered off to enjoy the fruit (or meat) of her kill and I let my hands – which had a death grip on the edge of the sink – fall to my side.

Am I worried about the family Mr. Chipmunk left behind?  A little.  Am I impressed with the instinct, speed, and agility of Miss Kitty?  You bet.  I know in theory that it is the ‘circle of life’ and that some animals have to die for others to live. Nature at its honest-authentic-and-real best.  How strange that the “ewww” and the “ahhhh” can co-exist in my brain, in nature, and in life. 

It is indeed life in all of its (sometimes) miserable glory.

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