Tribute to a childhood friend

Dear Naomi,

We first met over a cat. Four cats, to be precise, darling little mewling things with a sign that said “Free.” I fell instantly in love with them. We were at an autumn barn social, as I recall, where we bobbed for apples and ladled cider out of a brand new toilet (whose idea was that?!). And you, another 12-year-old with curly-wild hair and oversized glasses, brought four kittens to give away.

If my dad has told this story once, he’s told it a hundred times. I came to him, my eyes shining. “Dad! There are kittens! And they’re free!”

He smiled, sort of. The smile may have been rather pained. “Remind me again how many cats we have already?”

“Eight,” I confessed. “But they’re all grown up.”

“And these will be too,” he said. “In a few months.”

“Daaaa-ad.”

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “If you can get someone to take one of our cats, you can have a kitten.”

I thought it a surprisingly low bar. I am not an aggressive saleswoman, but within minutes I had found a lady who said “Well, we were thinking of getting a barn cat to keep the mice down. Do you have a male?”

Yes, and I knew just which one I could part with—a plain and non-personalitied tom. So I got my wish: a white and orange puffball of my very own. I was radiant. You and I talked cats a while that night, and found we understood each other. You even came to visit me and see how Butterscotch was getting along. And I think you were as devastated as I was when he died an untimely death.

Later, you invited me to your piano recital, a Christmas party where we ate and played silly games and got stuck on icy roads. That was fun.

The point is, I’d lost track of you until my sister moved to your part of Virginia. There you were, all grown up; married; two kids.

And then one winter, when the worst fog of my depression had settled over me and threatened not to lift, I heard that you had cancer. A horrifying cancer, growing fast. I am ashamed to confess this, but I envied you. I was sick too, Naomi, deep in my mind—and I envied you your ticket out of this world.

But you? You were a fighter. You lost your unborn son to that cancer and you lost your hair and your health and your future, but you fought like a Samurai. People around you knew you were losing, but you had a few more tricks up your sleeve. Even at the end, you spoke of ice packs and Vitamin C and nutritional supplements. You laughed till you coughed and you made us laugh with you and almost the last words I remember you saying, when the doctor sent you home for the last time, were “He thinks I’m dying but I think I’m not.”

In this I envy you still: you knew that cancer is not a Thing That’s Meant To Be, and you pulled from deep internal sources and gave it a run for its money. Last week I heard it won, and my heart broke. It backed you into a corner and took away weapon after weapon and treasure after treasure and forced your earthly life from your hand, but in the end I think you smiled—because in the corner behind you there opened a door of glorious light. And you were the one to deliver the fatal blow: cancer died and you passed through the doorway. You won.

I join you in fighting the evils of a broken world. Cancer is not Meant, nor starvation nor incest nor abortion nor betrayal, and we fight these things if they cost us our lives. That’s because the God who allows them will take the things of slime and horror and turn them on their heads. All things are Meant—or will be by the time He’s done with them. (Genesis 50:20) The earth is good, and worth fighting for. You learned this before I did, but I get it now. I don’t envy you your ticket anymore.

I wish I could see you for just a moment. I hope He gave you back a double portion of that wild-curly hair. I hope you’re loving on that baby boy. I hope you’re looking into the eyes of Jesus and seeing the Answer.

If I can find a kitten this time of year, I’m going to get one, and keep it for you for old times’ sake. I will name it after you: Free.

Tell Jesus I love Him but there are a few things I need to have explained, someday.

Shari

*****

Please join me in praying for the family and friends of Naomi Schrock in Catlett, VA.

This week

Confession: This week I spoke a greater volume of ridiculous words than I ever intended to. Some of them I cannot recall without a wave of horror. Chances are, if you had an email, text or personal conversation with me this week, I made a fool of myself.

This week I lay on my couch a lot, with back pain.

This week I heard words of folly from a man sought out for his wisdom.

This week I read a horrifying story of epilepsy in a little girl whose mother I love.

This week I got news that a childhood friend passed away from cancer.

This week a voice on the phone said, “I’d rather you heard it from me than from another source…”

This week, the day I planned to spend with my grandma fell through. And the weekend I planned with my sister. And the visit I planned with a close friend and her daughters.

This week I failed a test or two, and I cried.

This week my faith in the goodness of the world is shaken.

But I hear tomorrow starts a new week, isn’t that right? Sunday is coming. God is still good. There will be time with my man, alone on a getaway. There will be time, if I am lucky, to write and write. There will be more small warm arms around my neck, more beautiful music, more blue sky and falling leaves.

I hope for less news.

*****

How was your week?

The fifth suggestion

I forgot one crucial piece I was going to mention about communicating with men.

5. Round up.

Not like a cowboy, like a mathematician. He means well, it just sounds different in manspeak. Round it up to the closest equivalent.

 Hm. = I’m listening, keep talking.
 Aw. = You poor dear girl, I can only imagine how awful that must have been!
 Wow. = You’re a crazy gorgeous lady and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. You stun me.
 Um. = I feel uncertain of what to say at the moment, but rest assured I care, and will be thinking over my answer. {For the next ten years.}
 Hiccup. = Enough said. Go make me a sandwich.

 

When talking with men

Let me be clear on this: when I am most mocking and piquant about my husband, it’s a sign we’re having fun. When I start writing serious blog posts entitled Thirty Days of Honor, you can bet we’re not doing so well. Ultimate low point of our marriage, right there. Take my word for it; you won’t get any details. Now–where was I? Ah yes. Mocking.

*****

We’ve all been in this conversation, haven’t we?

whistling

The day you bring him a concern and he sits there and looks at you. The day you realize that the thing you asked him for a year ago has been sitting in the basement all this time. The day you ask him a question and he walks out of the room. The day you complain of shooting pains in your wrist and he says calmly, “It’s probably repetitive stress injury” and goes on typing.

(You think I’m making this up? My imagination’s not that good… true stuff, ya’ll.)

It’s a great story. It’s a pressing issue. It’s an urgent question, for Pete’s sake. And yet he is unmoved.

Are all men like this?

Sometimes I say to him, “Talk to me!” This occurs when I have been immersed in juvenile conversations all day and am desperate for words longer than one syllable; or when I have been talking too long and I know I won’t shut up unless someone else starts vocalizing; or when he is making enigmatic faces and it’s stressing me out.

whistling

Early in marriage, my husband taught me a few rules of basic marital English.

  1. Be as direct as possible already! Don’t make me guess where you’re going.
  2. Use words that start with w, not c. “Would you/ Will you?” not “Could you/ Can you?” that seem to challenge my ability.
  3. Don’t give me a task list when I’m rushed with other things.
  4. Don’t pepper me with questions!

Let me be clear on this: I was raised by a marriage counselor. When I hound this boy, I do it with style.

But sometimes, just to show off, I humor him. He comes home from the fire call or the pastoral meeting or the boy expedition and I think of the fifty-nine things I want to ask him. I think of them all, individually, and then carefully I compact them into one well-worded, all-encompassing, leading, invitational question. “How was it, honey?”

“Good,” he says.*

And exits.

{Shari rushes out of doors to slay something inanimate before she starts hurling china at living organisms.}

* {And perhaps this is unfair. If he’s had a Coke or two to loosen his tongue he may say “Really good.”}

yelling

Here are my (brief) suggestions for communicating (briefly) with men. Some of them may be my father’s, who has forgotten more on this topic than anyone else ever knew.

1. Say less.

A wise friend of mine advises speaking 49% of what you really want to say.

2. Wait.

Men’s ears are like gardens: you put in the seed and then you wait for a while. A long while. He may have every intention of coming around, but he won’t be rushed. The idea has to take root.

3. Say it one more time.

Occasionally, he actually forgets. If so, he will have only hazy memories of your initial conversation, and will not realize you are repeating yourself. Just don’t do it a third time. (He’ll think it’s the second.) That’s so beyond the pale, way out into the nagging camp.

4. Let it go his way.

I’m not advocating being a doormat. Believe me. In the Wifely Olympics I won the prize for Least Like a Doormat so many years running they won’t even let me participate anymore. But—

It’s a good day to remember that eleven years ago, or however many it was, you made a promise that it was going to be all about this man until the day you die. And he’s not the only one with faults.

And some days, magically, you’ll get it just right.

listening

*****

All photos in this post were captured, not staged–and taken by my talented friend Shaunda Stoltzfus. Featuring her son and my daughter.

Coming up sometime, probably: “When Talking with Women.”

Who said sugar and spice is for girls?

One night I watched little boy L playing with dishes in the bath. He held a toy cupcake tin in one hand, level, and with the other he carefully poured the smallest possible amount of water out of a teapot into each of the six holes. Then he set the teapot aside, chose a measuring cup, and repeated the layers. Then he chose a teacup, and repeated again—dribbling only the tiniest amounts and not spilling a drop—until each cupcake hole was brimming with water. Then he stirred. Then he dumped it all out, and began again, with the utmost patience and care.

By now I was thinking two things. Wow—check out the motor skills! And—Yum!!

“Would you like to bake cupcakes for real?” I asked him.

“Yeah!” he said. “What you gotta do is you gotta put little bits on top. Coconut on top, and butter, and…”

The next day, we made these, out of our heads.

coconut cupcakes

They were just as delicious as they’d looked in the bath.

chocolate chip cupcakes

Easy Cupcakes

1 box yellow cake mix

3 Tbsp. cocoa powder, to taste

Toppings (coconut, chocolate chips, Heath bits, nuts)

{I know. Boxed cake mix. But it’s easy for a five-year-old and hey—no frosting needed!}Mix yellow cake mix as directed on package. Remove half of batter from bowl. To remaining half, add cocoa powder. Spoon a scoop of yellow and a scoop of chocolate mix into greased cupcake tins. Stir with a toothpick to swirl slightly. Top with desired toppings. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes or until done. Best enjoyed fresh.