Monday, September 29, 2008

Doing Dishes and Loving God

"Lord of all pots and pans and things . . . Make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates! . . . The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen . . . I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament." --Brother Lawrence

I have this quote printed on a plain piece of white paper and taped on the wall near my kitchen sink, which is where I spend a great deal of time during my days. (I'm there now, actually.) Some of the words are smudged, because the water in the sink tends to splatter pretty badly. I think it gives the quote even more character, though. I've had this up in my kitchen for several years now, and while the prayer is a desire of my heart, it is very often forgotten in the daily grind of washing clothes, picking up toys, scrubbing toilets, and cooking meals.

I know for a fact that I am not alone in this. There are a few stay-at-home moms who take great joy and pride in cleaning their houses (my sister Christy, maybe?), but I am not one of those. I take that back. I do take pride in a clean house; I just don't take joy in being the one to clean it. I feel bogged down and held back from doing "more important" things. Hold that thought--I have to go put a new load in the washer . . .

I'm back now. Just had to get supper going, too. What was I saying? Oh yes, that I get bogged down sometimes in the dailyness of life. Some days and some chores don't seem to bother me as much as others; it's mainly when there's something that I really, really want to do that is postponed because the carpet needs to be vacuumed or the furniture needs to be dusted (HA! I'm totally just saying that. I never dust.). The point is that I can get really whiny about it sometimes. It may not always reveal itself verbally, but it's definitely going on in my head. Now I will give myself some credit here. My longings to do other things besides chores do include activities with my children, so it's not a completely self-indulgent yearning.

But back to the prayer. Even when I'm feeling more whiny than joyful about keeping house, I do at least try to remind myself that I am serving both my family and God in it. How? Well, some days it's not very clear to me, either. But then last week, I had one of those "Aha!" moments as I was preparing the house for our Small Group to come over. You see, I have no problem seeing how opening our home up for friends and neighbors and even people we've never met before to come in and feel welcome and safe is done for God's glory. I long for our home to be open to everyone, to be known as a house of peace. It's just hard to keep it clean. Actually, nevermind clean--it's hard to keep an open walkway in each room!

I've kind-of gotten over the fact that my house just won't be picture perfect--probably ever. I'm even comforted by the words of those who come over and say that they actually feel more at home when there are toys all over the floor and dirty dishes on the counters. I don't think they're just being nice; I think they really mean it. So my heart problems aren't coming from other people's comments. It's more of a self-motivation problem.

During the "Aha!" moment that I mentioned, it suddenly occurred to me that it's not just the end product of my service that is to be for God's glory; it is the entire process. I should be "working as unto the Lord, not unto men" (Colossians 3:23). With every pot that I scrub, every shirt that I fold, every tile that I mop, I am serving God. I am taking care of my family. And while I may never experience utter happiness in doing the work, I CAN experience both joy and satisfaction in understanding why I do what I do and in using that time to commune with my Creator.

This is a concept that I know I will probably never consistently grasp, but it is one that I hope to never lose sight of "in the noise and clatter of my kitchen."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Worshipful Moment: The Beach

Last weekend my family and I were on vacation in Destin, Florida. On our last full day there, we spent the entire day, with the exception of going in for lunch, on the beach. It was so perfect. The sun wasn't too hot; the water wasn't too cold; and the waves were just right for Callie to ride on her boogie board. We inhabited this wide open space, sharing it mainly with seagulls and pelicans. The occasional passers-by smiled sweetly at our children and laughed at them burying their father in the sand. They laughed harder when Kevin suddenly jumped up from the sandy grave and began chasing the little undertakers, who were running from him in their brightly colored swimsuits, cackling, and squealing "Daaaaaaddyyyyyy!"

The kids all took turns going out into the water with Kevin, each of them clinging to his neck as waves hit and fish nibbled and nudged (which is why I wasn't out there). Kevin soaked up the one-on-one time with each of our children, and I soaked up the memories we were creating. The girls and I walked a ways down the beach looking for interesting and unique seashells and talking about how awesome it is to know that the same God who created all this immense beauty is the same God who created us and loves us and wants to know us personally.

There were several minutes when Kevin and the kids were all doing different things, and I got to shuffle around at the edge of the water simply observing everything around me--a favorite pastime of mine. As I dug my toes in the thick, wet sand and witnessed the majesty of God's wonderful creativity, I couldn't help but sing.

I am nothing without You.

Each time I go to the beach, I am in awe--of the vastness of the ocean, the profusion of sand, the magnificence of all the living creatures (yes, even though I don't want them touching me), and the splendor of the boundless blue sky spotted with fluffy white clouds. And every time--every time--God blesses me with the same message, which is this:

My love for you is constant, just as these waves on the shore are constant. It never stops. And no matter how many footprints, drawings, or castles are made in this sand, the waves will always wash them away, leaving only a clean slate, just as My love and forgiveness for you unceasingly wash away your sins. It doesn't matter how deep or how ugly or how constant your mistakes are; I will always erase them with the blood of My Son, who died in your place.

When I was little I used to wonder if God turned the waves off at night, as if it were a water amusement park. As I got older and was able to take walks on the beach in the dark, I would smile to myself as I heard the crashing of the waves even before I could see them. Once again, I was reminded of God's faithful and continual love for me, a love that is much like breathing--vital and constant. Though I don't always pay attention to it, it fills my soul and keeps me alive.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Katie

In two days my Katie will be four years old. This is my baby, the youngest of my three children. I know everyone says this, but the time really has flown. I have such a vivid memory of the day she was born. She wasn't due for several more days (much to my discomfort). I woke up at about 6:00 on the morning of September 13, 2004, and immediately started having contractions five minutes apart. After waiting it out on my own for about half an hour--all the while putting on my make-up and styling my hair in between very, very deep breaths--I decided to wake Kevin up to tell him "It's time."

Kevin sprang into action. We called our dear friend Kari and asked if she could come over and stay with Callie and Caleb while we went to the hospital, and she kindly obliged. Then we called Kevin's parents to tell them to jump on the next plane from Mississippi to Maryland to meet their newest grandbaby. On the way to the hospital, we continued to call our families to share our exciting news and ask for their prayers. My sister Julie asked if we might could hold off until the next day, so that she and Katie could share a birthday. I think I said something like, "No [pant, pant, OUCH!] . . . Sorry."

Once we got to the hospital, an attendant met me with a wheelchair and took us up to a labor and delivery room. Immediately I was bombarded with questions by medical personnel. Since I was trying to focus on getting through the INTENSE pain of each contraction, I signaled Kevin with a sharp cut of my eyes and a point of my finger (no, not the middle one) to answer as many of the questions as he could.

Now settled into the hospital bed, I waited--for the doctor to break my water (Sorry, guys.), for the next contraction, for my blessed epidural . . . It was actually really quiet in our room, though. I had learned that the less noise, the better for me when I'm in labor. No words, no music, no sounds of the ocean, no yelling. Just breathing and the sound of the monitors. Since this was our third run, Kevin knew what he was doing, too. He sat quietly on the edge of the bed, smiled sweetly (but not too big), held my hand if I wanted him to, and occasionally asked if he could get me anything.

For the most part, the pain subsided once I got the epidural. But then Katie came so fast that the epidural had not worn off enough for me to feel any of the pushing! I seriously had to act like I was pushing and ask the doctor if I really was. Kevin and I were actually laughing during the delivery, which is just so telling of our Katie-Bug, her personality, and her world.

Katie was born at 11:19 a.m. that day, and she was perfect. The moment was so sweet--just Kevin, me, and our new baby. She was the fastest and easiest to deliver, and she was such a good baby. I even recovered so much faster after her birth than I had with my other two (well, until day four, but that's a different story altogether and shall not be included here).

Kevin's parents arrived later that afternoon, and they brought Callie and Caleb with them to meet their new baby sister. Everyone was enamored with her, but no one was as touched as Kevin's mother when we presented Kathryn Dorothy Partridge to her. She had no idea that we were going to use her first name as Katie's middle name, and she was overwhelmed. In fact, I don't think she even said anything; she only spoke with her tears, which were happy ones. What a special moment for all of us!

In the past four years, our Katie has brought us so much love and laughter. She is certainly the most affectionate in our brood, coming to me multiple times every single day for nothing more than a hug and a kiss. Her favorite phrases are "Pick me up," "I want you," and "Hold me." She's also the sneakiest--in more ways than one--the most consistent being her ability to place herself in your lap without you even realizing it. She loves to giggle and do "shaky bottom" (at which you really just can't help laughing); she cracks jokes and makes the funniest faces I've ever seen; she squeals and sings and dances; she's incredibly independent when she wants to do something, but she hates to be alone; she's tough and rowdy but also sweet and shy; she collects compliments on her big blue eyes and golden hair everywhere we go; and she lights up a room with her smile.

There was a time when we thought we might lose our precious Katie. The only reason I can make it through the retelling of the story is because it had such a happy ending. Just a couple of months after her first birthday, I took her in for a routine well-check with the pediatrician. Since this was the first time we had been to this doctor, I took Katie's growth chart and records and everything. But before the doctor even looked at the chart, she simply looked at Katie and said, "There is something very wrong with your child." What?! I was so confused. We were there to get weighed, measured, and get a couple of shots; then we'd be on our way. Instead, the doctor sent us to the local children's hospital in somewhat of a panic, telling us that we were probably looking at a long, hard road ahead of us, and it might involve physical therapy and who knows what else.

We were in a fog. This is Katie. She's fine. She's just laid-back, content, not concerned with "reaching her milestones." She was the third child, after all. It turned out that there actually was something very wrong with baby Katie. After a week in the hospital, where they tested her for cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, and hosts of other diseases--where they drew blood from her tiny, tiny veins multiple times a day, fed her Pediasure through a tube in her nose and down her throat, and made her sleep in a steel baby bed--where we met with pediatric neurologists, geneologists, and gastroenterologists--where they put my baby girl to sleep and sent her tiny body into an enormous MRI machine. I can hardly think about it. I prefer to reminisce about pushing her around and around and around the hospital in a little pink car, stopping only at the nurses' station for them to refuel her with Pediasure and dote on the child they deemed "Precious Moments."

By the end of the week, the report came back. Katie had Celiac Disease. Holding our breaths, we waited for the full explanation of this disease we didn't even know how to spell at the time. And when the explanation was finished, we practically jumped for joy! After all the horrible, horrible possibilities, our daughter was labeled with a disease that was treated with what she ate! No medicine, no physical therapy, no handicaps, no shortened lifespan. All we had to do was make sure we kept gluten out of her mouth. Once we did that, Katie became a completely different child; she became the little girl that we now know is neither laid-back nor content with sitting still. And bringing her home from the hospital that day may have brought me even more joy than when I brought her home the day after she was born.

In two days my Katie will be four years old. And I am so thankful.

Monday, September 8, 2008


I wrote this and read it at my grandmother's funeral earlier this
year . . .

When I think of Nannie, I picture her in the kitchen, of course, her apron tied around her waist. Even if it wasn't a mealtime, she would still be cooking. Fried chicken, roast beef, stuffed baked potatoes with cheese, turkey, dressing, gravy (which could be put on just about anything on your plate!), fried okra, corn on the cob (unless you had a loose tooth--then she'd cut it off the cob for you), butter beans, black-eyed peas, and the best rolls you've ever tasted! (Before there was Sister Shubert, there was Helen Bevell.) While all of this food was amazing, it was still consumed as somewhat of a formality in order to get to the really good stuff: dessert! She made the best chocolate and lemon pies, chocolate chip cookies (which were always kept in the same round tin), chocolate oatmeal cookies, and yellow cupcakes with chocolate icing. My best memories are when Bapba was still around to make his amazing homemade vanilla ice cream to go along with Nannie's baked goods. This treat was made very much by the sweat of his brow, since he had to crank the ice cream by hand. It was truly a labor of love and one that was greatly appreciated as we consumed the ice cream much faster than it had been made. After Bapba died, though, Nannie still made sure there was Angel Food ice cream in the freezer and cans of Coke in the refrigerator. And if all of that wasn't enough, you could just about guarantee she had some Hershey bars stashed somewhere!

Nannie certainly must have spent a greater portion of her life in the kitchen. That's where she served others, and she was good at it. She couldn't stand to think that someone might be hungry, and she was nearly offended if you didn't go back for seconds. Thirst was also never an issue in her house, since she'd have your glass refilled with her wonderful sweet tea before you even realized you were low. There is definitely the lingering question in our minds about whether or not Nannie actually got to enjoy her own cooking, since she was always so busy refilling, asking who was ready for more on their plate, and passing out the next batch of hot rolls straight from the oven.

During the summer of 1996, I spent the night with Nannie every Monday, and I soaked up the one-on-one time with her and, of course, enjoyed her spoiling me with her cooking. Since it was just the two of us, I got to enjoy more conversations with her and actually saw her sit down sometimes! I loved talking to Nannie, because you just never knew what she was going to say. She had such a quick wit about her and also had some pretty strong opinions (a trait that she successfully passed down to more than one of her children and grandchildren). And if she thought you were out of line, she would let you know it--sometimes punctuating it with a tap on the behind with a wooden spoon! She was fiesty and stubborn, but she was also very loving and nurturing. I can remember more than one occasion when she picked me up from school when I wasn't feeling well, and she took me home and made me the best potato soup I have ever had. Even when I went off to college, she continued to tend to me by sending me hilarious letters--which were nearly impossible to read because of her messy handwriting--and usually included some coupons or stamps or money. She wasn't usually one for talking on the phone, though, so that didn't happen very often. One of the funniest things she did, in my opinion, was to say good-bye as she was hanging up the phone.

Nannie and Bapba always wanted to take care of all of us. They would take us on vacations to Florida, supply the grandkids with quarters, cut our grass, cook and clean, give us their old cars, provide us with the most amazing vegetables from their garden, repair our houses and vehicles, and give us advice. One of my favorite treasures is that they bestowed upon each of us grandkids a quirky, yet very special, nickname. They also provided a home that we looked forward to visiting and felt quite comfortable in. We loved the familiar surroundings and the furniture that never changed. We loved that we knew where everyone was supposed to sit and what was required of you when you were there. (The women cooked and cleaned up and then sat around the dining room table to discuss life; the men slouched in the living room in front of golf or football on TV, while dozing in and out of consciousness; and the kids were sent outside to play ball, war, or "The Dukes of Hazzard"--using Bapba's tractor as the General Lee.) We celebrated so many Thanksgivings, Christmas Eves (which was also Nannie's and Bapba's anniversary), and Easters there, and we could always count on full bellies, finding our red and green stockings--which Nannie crocheted herself--filled with money and bubble gum, and Easter egg hunts that would last all afternoon (and got pretty competitive). Holidays were important family gatherings, and it made me sad when that season came to an end. It just didn't seem right to eat Thanksgiving dinner at anyone else's house.

My Nannie worked hard, and she served her family well. She loved her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. And while I'm sure it was very frustrating for her, I think she spent these last few years making up for all the rest she didn't get when she was busy with us. I'm sure she didn't stop worrying about us all, though, because she was good at that. "Life is just a series of getting used to things," she once told me. I guess that's true, but it's awfully hard to get used to her not being here with us anymore. We love you, Nannie.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Vision of Provision

This is an article that I wrote for my church a while back . . .

About a year ago, my husband and my son boarded a small private plane that was being piloted by my father-in-law, who had received his pilot's license the previous year. Yes, I was very nervous, but I tried to conceal those feelings and trust that Kevin's dad could not have obtained a license unless he really knew how to fly a plane. But still, I was sending my beloved husband . . . and my only son (who really loves his Mommy!) . . . into the wild blue yonder . . . in a very small aircraft. I bit my lower lip while telling them good-bye and then waited for my husband's final words to me (hoping that they weren't literally his final words to me). "Carrie," he said. "Yes?," I asked, waiting for the most romantic words to trickle from his tongue. "I know this isn't the best time to talk about this, but you need to know where the life insurance policy is . . . " I can't really tell you what he said after that, because my heart jumped up into my throat; my vision blurred; and my ears wanted nothing to do with what he was saying. Are you kidding me?! was all I could think. So I spent the next few hours anxiously awaiting the phone call that told me they were on the ground (safely). The call came much later than it was supposed to, so my blood pressure was sky high! But they were fine.

I couldn't imagine losing Kevin. What would I do? How would I make it? We have three children who need their Daddy. How would I provide for us financially? I think that these are pretty normal thoughts, although in today's society we do have things like life insurance policies (that Kevin so kindly reminded me of) to help take care of loved ones who are left behind. And I'm sure I could find a job somewhere, but then who would take care of my children while I'm at work? I want to be the one to take care of them!

Obviously, these thoughts could go on forever. I could literally make myself go crazy with them. But the reality is that women become widows every day. They are suddenly left alone and no longer have their soul mates sitting beside them ready to give advice or even just to listen. A long time ago, a "certain woman," as the Bible calls her, found herself in this very situation. She was left alone with two sons and creditors banging on her door, threatening to take her sons as slaves if she couldn't pay up. I can only imagine how frightened and confused and desperate she must have felt. To whom should she turn? Well, her husband was a son of a prophet, so she went to the prophet Elisha to ask his advice.

"What do you have in the house?," he asked her. "Nothing except a jar of oil," she replied. Where is he going with this? she probably wondered. He then proceeded to tell her to go ask all her neighbors if she could borrow empty vessels from them and then to go back into her house with her sons, shut the door behind them, and begin pouring her oil into these vessels. Okaaaay. Whatever you say, Elisha. She apparently didn't ask him any questions out loud. After all, this is the guy who, just a couple of chapters ago, got two bears to destroy 42 young boys for calling him "baldhead"! Yeah, you don't mess with this guy, nor do you question him when he tells you to do something.

So this "certain woman" and her sons did just what he said. And what happened next was simply a miracle. They began pouring oil from their own jar, and it just kept flowing until ALL of the borrowed vessels were full! I wish I could have been there to see the looks on their faces and hear their comments as they saw this happening. I'll bet the boys were especially excited, and however you say "No way!" in Hebrew probably escaped their lips a time or two. And what must their neighbors have thought? I'm sure they were full of questions about what really happened behind those closed doors.

I find it really interesting that God so often chooses to perform His miracles behind closed doors and with only a handful of eyewitnesses. Jesus even told some of those whom He had healed not to tell anyone about it. I'm not sure why that is. He also seems to enjoy healing and helping people in very creative and unusual ways--using things like mud and spit, a fish with a coin in its mouth, a rod that turns into a snake and then back into a rod again, or even a talking donkey! In this case, He multiplied enough oil to allow this woman to sell it and pay off her debt as well as have enough money leftover for her and her sons to live on. Truly a miracle!

I personally haven't experienced anything quite like this woman experienced. When Kevin was in college, he received a large box of samples of shaving cream, and he didn't have to buy shaving cream for TEN YEARS!!! Yes, it's true that he doesn't like to shave all that often, but that's still a very long time to go without having to restock. That's about the closest example I can come up with to compare to the never-ending oil spill. But that wasn't a miracle--just a big promotion by Edge. Now if he had gotten ten years' supply out of just one can--well, that might be comparable!

God's love, compassion, and concern for our daily lives is always so overwhelming to me. He cared about this woman, and He performed a miracle through Elisha so that she could keep her sons with her and not ever have to worry about money. The oil is such a picture of His love for us--filling us up completely and constantly--more than enough for all of us! God promises never to leave us or forsake us. He promises to provide for our needs (our true needs, not our wants for things like big screen TVs). He tells us to look at the birds and the flowers and how much He cares for them but how much MORE He cares for us, His children. I think about how much I love and care for my own children and how I would do anything in the world to provide for them. That doesn't mean that I spoil them or give them everything they want. I even allow them to go through tough experiences in order to teach them a lesson. They receive consequences for their poor choices. But it doesn't mean that I don't love them. It is because I love them that I discipline them. And while they might get angry at me at the moment, they never question my love for them. Neither do they wonder if I'll give them something to eat or a place to sleep for the night. They know that they are being provided for, just as God provides for us. His love is rich, and His promises are true.

My challenge is for each of us to be aware of how God provides for us on a daily basis. I think that we take far too much credit for how our needs are met. And I'm not just talking about our physical needs. We all have spiritual, emotional, and mental needs, too. We should be aware and be thankful for those times when God sends just the right person into our lives to give us advice or a listening ear, when He provides an especially beautiful day that lifts our spirits, or when He brings a particular song or Scripture to our minds that was exactly what we needed to hear from Him at that moment. And look for His creativity in your life! It may not be as amazing as never-ending oil, but it is still amazing. His speaking to you might also occur behind closed doors, and you might be the only eyewitness, but that just means you can praise Him and thank Him and act as crazy as you want, because it's just the two of you! You can even shout, "No way!" in Hebrew, if you want.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Callie's Poem

I have never seen my eldest daughter so excited! Callie received news today that a poem she wrote in first grade (last year) is going to be published! Her teacher entered the poem in a contest, and out of thousands of entries, hers was chosen. It will be published in an anthology called A Celebration of Poets. The contest was open to students K-12 all over the nation, and I believe they chose ten winners in each of the four age categories. Here it is for your enjoyment.

At Night When You're in Bed
By Callie Partridge

At night when you're sleeping,
You know the room is quiet.
You want to act right
And sleep nice and comfortable.
Everything in your head,
As you dream nicely in your bed.
Everywhere it's quiet.
Nicely and sweetly you want to sing a song!
Before you notice that you're sleeping,
Mommy takes off her silky ring.
One more blink
Before your last wink!
At night when you're in bed!