Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Dreams Are Dashed

Peripheral vision:

something falls from the sky.

(Swoops. Dashes. Dive-bombs.)

Even though I’m busy glopping on mascara, it gets my attention.

There’s a window next to my bathroom mirror. I look out, and notice a messy bird’s nest atop a square column* on the upstairs balcony.

*(On the capital, for architecture enthusiasts.)

Dumb birds! I think. Making a big mess all over the porch. Just can’t wait to clean up all that goop and poop. And feathers and moss and grass and twigs.

A while later, as I’m getting ready to head out the door, I see her looking at me. 

An insignificant little brown bird. Nothing special about her at all. But we stare at each other, separated by glass and about 5 feet. Neither of us blink. I try not to move. I can actually see her round brown eyes. Strange, I think, that she’s not scared of being so close to a human being.

 Truth be told, I am the one who should be scared of her.

But scared is not really the word.


I suffer from ornithophobia.

(Ornithophobia: an abnormal, irrational fear of birds. Can cause the following symptoms: breathlessness, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, dry mouth, feeling sick, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to speak or think clearly, a fear of dying, becoming mad or losing control, or a full-blown anxiety attack.)

I can pick up insect, spider, lizard, or (tiny) snake and remove it from the view of screaming friends or relatives without a flinch. I can march into woods, underbrush, or creek without a moment’s trepidation.  I can dive into any dark opaque green Georgia lake and let fish nibble my toes without freaking out. I can walk around the wrong side of town without getting the heebeegeebees. I can get through Russian Customs without even sweating much.

But I completely lose my mind if a bird gets too close to me.

Part of it has to do with experiencing Alfred Hitchcock at a vulnerable age. Then, there was the time when a large, flapping bird was seeking retaliation on my cat… and, when I tried to rescue the cat… on me. A pigeon nightmare at St. Mark’s Square in Venice, combined with several other European blueberry-ingested crow-dumpings in my hair, cemented the phobia. (Birds are obsessed with my head. Love it. Take every opportunity to baptize me in drippy excrement when there are no sani-wipes to be had. My husband thinks this is hysterically funny.)

But I think my phobia may be larger than merely circumstantial. It could actually be genetic in this case.

The loveliest… most elegant… genteel… relative I have (think Jackie Kennedy, but Southern and even classier) once overturned a bridge table when the hostess’s canary escaped its cage.

For whatever reason,

(Or at least I hate them up close. I like the idea of them. I like the romanticism connected with them... the symbolism.)

But I hate their sharp, mean, pointy beaks and their nasty, crunchy feet. (Claws that can scratch your eyes out.) I hate their frightening, flapping wings and their disgusting, unhygienic feathers. (Drive heave.) I hate their beady eyes and the way they rush at your table before you’ve finished eating outside. (Especially at the beach. They are without shame.)

But I am far more terrified of a dead bird than a live one. Then those horrible claws and gagging feathers can’t fly out of my way.

One of the worst terrors of my life was stepping on a dead bird in a pair of thin sandals. That’s the one and only thing I remember about a family trip.



Evidently, I must spend a lot of time “getting ready.”

I start noticing that silly little bird sitting on her nest outside my bathroom window more every day.

She’s there when I yawn into the mirror to inspect the depository of food in my “adult braces.” She’s there while I’m washing my face. Brushing my teeth. Drying my hair. Lining my puffy eyes.

Her swift, downward plunges still catch me by surprise.


Down, down, down she goes. Three stories down.

After a few minutes, she wafts back up to resume her perch.

I am reminded of Horton the Elephant

She sits, and she sits, and she sits, and she sits.

Man, is she faithful, one hundred percent!

Bizarrely, inexplicably…

The Enemy and I become friends.

 I grow sad if I don’t see her for a while. I worry.

Where is she? What happened? Have the eggs hatched? Have the babies flown?

Did that scary hawk get her?

Reassuringly, she always comes back home to sit on her eggs.

There’s something about it that touches me. Makes me feel like the world’s a better place. It causes me to think about faithfulness and selflessness and patience and tenacity.

The sacrificial heart of a mother.

Those baby birds will never even know how often she flung herself down from the heights just to feather their nest. How she clipped her own wings… gave up her joyous dancing flights through the trees… to patiently sit and warm them with the beating of her heart.

Just as our babies don’t remember the times we human mothers lay down our own desires in order to meet their needs.

Watching my little friend day after day, I see the beauty of self-sacrifice.

Weeks fly by.

We leave town several times and come back. She’s still there.

Until one day, when I look out the window and notice the nest leaning precariously on its side. I hear agitated bird-talk coming from the trees.

Since, technically, I’m still scared of birds, I go out to the hall and yell for my husband. I want him to do something… to fix it back before all the eggs fall out…

But by the time I get back to the bathroom, the nest is completely on its side, and I can see that there are no eggs left in it.

I feel a surprising, sickening sense of loss.

My husband and I go out on the porch. I guess that hawk got ‘em, he says.

One little broken egg remains on the porch, bright yellow yolk against the brick.

So that’s it, I think. All of those weeks she sat and sat… all of her dreams for her babies… come to this.

And I start crying.

For a bird.

But I realize that it’s about much more than a bird.

The world will break your heart into a thousand different pieces in a thousand different ways.

There’s a choice:

You can harden your heart until it’s as rigid and unyielding as a hard-boiled egg,

or you can allow it to stay soft.



Sometimes dreams are dashed.

Babies are miscarried.

There is death instead of birth. Emptiness instead of plenty.




We cannot always protect ourselves. We cannot shield our children from pain and suffering.

Sometimes fragile hearts shatter against such hard realities, and life and joy seem to spill out like yolk from a broken egg.

For there is no truly safe place on this fallen planet.

No place you can hide, where your heart won’t sometimes be dashed into brittle bits, and your guts spilled out on the hot bricks.

Except for in the arms of the One who knows when every sparrow falls.


Back in the house, I dry my eyes and get a grip.

Glancing out the French doors on my way downstairs, I see that mother bird perched back up on the overturned nest. Not willing to believe the story’s over.

And then this amazing thing happens.

Another bird comes and perches on the railing alongside her. They talk. They pirouette through the trees, then come back. She returns to the overturned nest; he waits on the banister below, keeping her company.

They repeat the dance several times, but keep coming back.

They’re still at it the next morning, even though the nest has finally fallen down to the brick floor of the porch.

They circle back by for several days.

(One is on the far left; the other on the far right. Can you see them?)

We leave town again. When we return, I come back to these musings. I start looking through the crummy pictures I’ve taken to illustrate my story. A technical difficulty has wiped out the recent photos on my Iphone, so I go back outside to take another picture of the fallen nest.

And this is all there is:

I get a little chill.

What happened to the nest?

What if those birds didn’t give up? What if they came back and picked through the rubble to salvage what they could? What if they used the broken bits to start again somewhere?

Sometimes dreams are dashed.

But there is always a future and a hope.

And there is love, 

which comes alongside to face the pain 


and start again from the broken shells of dreams.


This was mostly written in June, when I started thinking wistfully about blogging again. I decided to publish it today because it seems to speak to our current situation in many ways. Btw, does anyone recognize what kind of bird it is? 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lemon Meringue


for your love, support, good wishes, and prayers.

We made it through the weekend!

Apart from the fairly severe physical pain, Katherine was most distressed about having to renege on the commitment to the Seasons Weekend.


We convinced Jay to go without her.

You don’t understand.


In addition to being her soulmate, Jay is also Katherine’s nurse practitioner, advocate, and watchdog.

Primary care-giver.

I’m sure he must have felt torn in two.

But after much prayer and talk, he was finally convinced to fly out to LA in the early hours after Katherine’s release from the hospital, and fulfill their joint commitment at Seasons.

Meanwhile, back in Georgia, Katherine battled physical pain, sadness, and disappointment. My husband and I learned some new nursing skills and took turns sleeping on the sofa. (I even mastered the art of giving my own child a shot! Trust me: after years of tears at the pediatrician’s office, this did not come naturally.) Sweet friends came alongside to help us. Delicious food appeared at our door. Beautiful flowers came to cheer us.

And then there was lemon meringue pie. (Thank you, Rachel!)

The pie was delicious. My favorite.

But this lemon meringue was even sweeter:

Katherine got to speak at the conference anyway.

Somehow, techno-idiots that we are, we skyped her in. On prescription pain meds, broken leg in the air, she shared her thoughts with the audience from a hospital bed in our family room. We saw her sisters give big thumbs up as the camera scanned the crowd afterwards. Mentally, I gave God a high-five.

It was a difficult and exhausting weekend for all of us.

But I am so grateful for many things that have come out of it.

Most of all, this reminder:

God’s purposes cannot be derailed by circumstances.

And we can choose to make lemon meringue.


Thank you all for the wonderful comments on the last post. It feels good to be back.

I left you hanging as to what actually happened. Katherine did not fall down the steps. She simply fell.

The “simple fall” shattered her tibia and fibula. The surgery involved inserting a steel rod in her leg. It will be a long and painful recovery. But her attitude is astonishing.

I’m sure Jay will give you a more thorough update when he recovers from his jet-lag. (He arrived back in Athens around 11 p.m. last night

…just in time to take his turn on the family room sofa! (Naw, he’s not tired.)

But he is one heck of a trooper.

They both are.


(By the way, both sisters texted that Jay was AMAZING at the conference.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It's All Good

This isn’t primarily about me. I am not the victim here.

But I’ll be honest:

I wasn’t at my finest.

I felt sick, weary, and frazzled after a month-and-a-half with no down-time. We have been either out of town or hosting house guests (family, but still) since June 4. (The taking-care-of-me thing has been a middling success.)

I tried to take a nap, but it didn’t really work. Chills-and-fever, aches-and-pains. Dizzy and spaced-out. An upper respiratory virus was making its way into my chest and sinuses. I admit that I’m a wimp when it comes to a virus. We hate each other. It’s usually a weeks-long struggle.

I finally gave up on the nap, and dragged myself to the kitchen to make a strong cup of tea.

Frankly, I was relieved that I would finally have some time alone the next day. The house was emptying of loved ones. Middle Child left Sunday after the second family reunion; the youngest went back to LA that morning. Katherine, Jay, and James were to depart the following day.

Katherine came up from the basement, where she and Jay were trying to work on their talks for the Seasons conference* while entertaining James at the same time. (Check their "bios" page.)

Endlessly energetic, she had invited my mother and sister over for hors d’oeuvres.

(“We’ll do everything, Mom. You just rest.”)

Katherine asked only that I get out some trays and serving pieces for her.

She started back down the basement steps carrying a glass of tea.

Something made me activate from my stupor and say, “Wait. I’ll take it down for you.”

“No, I need to tell Jay something, anyway.”

A slight feeling of guilt? Trepidation?

But I went to the kitchen and started looking for serving pieces. Forgetting how things can change in a millisecond.

Then I heard screaming. Screaming like I’ve never heard before.

I barreled down three steps at a time.

Katherine lay writhing on the floor. Jay was trying to hold her.

“What happened?” I exploded.

In a calm, deliberate voice, my son-in-law said, “Calm down, Kim. Katherine, try to be still.”

But I could see a large protrusion stretching the flesh of Katherine’s right leg.

“Should I call an ambulance?” I hyperventilated.

“No!” said Katherine. “I’m okay.”

“Yes,” nodded Jay.

Shaking, I tried to call. “Is it 411 or 911?”

The paramedics got there fast.  (Love my Oconee County folks. Endless thanks.)

As they punctured her vein with the IV needle, deep red blood spilled out onto an incongruously tropical print pillow, grabbed from a nearby sofa. I cupped my hands to capture it. Flashbacks to UCLA. I told Katherine to do Lamaze breathing. (What’s that?) Jay told her to breathe deeply. In through the nose, out through the mouth.

“It’s okay,” he said with quiet authority, as he held her. “It’s all gonna be okay.

 It’s all good.”

I looked over my shoulder at him.

“Yeah, it’s all good if you believe Romans 8:28,” I said. Not without a trace of irony, I’m ashamed to admit.

As they lifted Katherine into the ambulance, my mother cried quietly. “I wish it were me,” she wept.

We were all thinking the same thing: Hasn’t she suffered enough?

Before they left, the paramedics pulled us aside to tell us what a tough cookie we had. “Man, if I were her, I’d be yelling up a storm.” Katherine had made no cry since the initial fall. Just apologized to everyone for the inconvenience.

After the ambulance pulled away, I scooped James up and tried to get him to eat something resembling dinner. He had offered Mommy a band-aid when the fall first happened.

As James picked at his ‘dinner,’ Jay’s phrase replayed in my mind.

It’s all good.

How the heck is this all good, God? Are you kidding me?

Even as I asked, answers came.

I remembered the last time I’d heard the sentiment expressed.

A week and change ago, we'd pulled into the retirement home driveway, returning my mother after a long weekend away. One of her old acquaintances sat on a bench outside the front door with her care-taker. They seemed oblivious to the 100+ degree heat. The friend has lost the gift of language. But the caretaker helped direct our conversation. “She’s trying to say something to ya’ll.” We remembered how the lady had been in better days, and told her how pretty she looked. Another friend came out, and we all tried to say something… anything… positive and uplifting. Conversation lagged.

Out of the blue, the care-taker spoke up. “God is good, all the time!” she announced with conviction.

“That’s how I gets through everything.”

God is good all the time: all the time, God is good.

Even at the end. Even when hope seems gone. Even when there is pain.

God is great, God is good.

Before the fall, Katherine told me one of the focal points she planned to share at Seasons. It was based upon Phil. 4:11-13:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

Whether we are in plenty or in need…

Injured or well…

God is good.

And is working all things together for our good and His glory.

I remember teaching my children this.

But do I really believe what I preach?

Can I now? In this?

Lord, I’d like a sign. It's been a dry time. I'm rusty.

My sister took care of us until James and I finally got in bed together. My husband and Jay were still at the hospital. It was late. I was wiped out.

But I told James, “I will read you two books tonight if they’re two we’ve never read before.”

He brought back the same two we read last night. I sighed and said, “Okay, then you only get one if I already read it last night.”

He chose Pete the Cat, by Eric Litwin.  (Art by James Dean.) My sweet cousin Hadley gave it to James a few years ago, with a personal inscription to him from the author.

Pete’s feet get him into all kinds of trouble. He keeps stepping into one mess after the next.

But he keeps walking along and singing his song.


...and all God's people said



I force myself to reexamine these anchors, these memorial stones:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

“For all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Dame Julian of Norwich

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…” (Phil. 1:29)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (I Peter 4:12-13)


So, then we took the book to Mama this morning, and James read it to her. Twice.

And then he grabbed Mimi's camera and started taking shots:

Thank you for praying for all of us in the recovery days ahead. But especially pray for Katherine.

Please pray for the Seasons conference this weekend in Los Angeles. It is dear to her heart. This timing is a mystery.

Oh, I guess I'm blogging again.

We'll see how it goes.