She is currently, at this very moment, sitting on her back porch coaxing the largest raccoon I have ever seen into eating bread out of her hand. She gives me the play by play.
"OK. He's getting closer. And closer. Can you believe this?!? He's not even scared of my voice!"
"No SIR. Do NOT eat from that bird feeder! Do you understand me? That is not yours. Do not eat from the bird feeder."
"Mom," I try and get her attention, "Who are you talking to now?"
"Oh- still the raccoon. He knows what I am telling him. He understands my voice."
And somehow you get the feeling- listening to my mom converse with this wild raccoon- that perhaps it actually does speak her language and does understand her voice.
Her. The lady who talks to- and names- wild raccoons. The one who fearlessly sang Jesus Loves Me to an angry longhorn who's horns were pointed straight at her, because she was sure this was the best way to calm him down. The one who decided to rent a sheep from the neighbor down the street, to bring to church and use as a sermon illustration. Her. The one who frantically calls me with a sheep bleating in her back seat, wondering why the sheep isn't calming down when she sings it Jesus Loves Me.
I mean- it worked on the longhorn.
The one who has made the absolute best of the empty nest and the daughters and granddaughters living all over the country. Not once giving up on her rights to be the most active grandma ever... even if it means playing hide-and go-seek in a self-made tent over Skype.
The one who has always encouraged alone time and freedom of expression. Even when it has meant children (and grandchildren) who hide under blankets and threaten to move to the woods behind the house (but actually just run-away to the laundry room). "I'd run away too!" She would say. And inevitably this leads her into quoting- and butchering- the entire storyline of Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. "Move to Australia and eat worms!" she says in a moment of solidarity with her troops.
Who has built Annie a "magic house" deep in the woods. Complete with year-round Christmas ornaments, ribbons, wind chimes, Gnomes and magnificent stories. Her. The one who taught me to dream and think and pray and ask good questions and make craft projects- even when they all sucked- and not be afraid to build forts in the woods and produce my own newspaper by the age of five. Her. The one who keeps giving Imagination. Creativity. Curiosity. New eyes for things long forgotten in this world. Like bugs and magic houses and old people with stories rich in heart ache and beauty.
The one who gave me my sisters. And by extension, my nieces. And kept my dad around- even when he was really mean- a long time ago- before he was the dad, the amazing dad, that he has grown to be now. Her- who has loved us all well. And fought to keep us together. And fought to keep us loving each other. And fought to keep underwear on our bodies and food in our bellies and fight in our spirit. Her. The one who was stepped on by people who claimed to love her- who was fired, humiliated, betrayed- and kept going back for more. Because it wasn't about HER. Or them for that matter. It was about something bigger. It was about love winning. It was about Christ being constant- redemptive- worth it... even when people broke her.
The one who keeps fighting.
Who calls to let me know that Annie is hugging a chicken... and she is sure that Annie was gentle and didn't squeeze the chicken too hard... that the chicken is just fine and loving it. LADY- I DONT CARE ABOUT THE CHICKEN. How is my daughter? Her- who keeps modeling over and over and over again for anyone who will listen and pay attention... that life isn't really all that complicated. Wake up. Sit and stare at a few birds. Listen for Jesus. Go do something that matters- mostly- pay attention to the people and the world around you... no matter what your job title might be. Love well. Hope deeply. Drink richly. Call your kids- or someone else you care about. Befriend a few wild animals. Hug a chicken. Repeat.
It just shouldn't be as easy as hugging a chicken- but my God she makes it that way. With her, life isn't all the complicated- even when it hurts like hell. Even when it is insanely complicated. She is chaos- but knows no chaos. Somehow- she is peace. She is content.
Her. She is maddening and absolutely freeing in one fatal swoop.
Her. Who sang Amy Grant songs before the rest of the world understood that Amy Grant's songs were life-changing. Her. Who explained to me and my sisters what it meant to live in an old man's rubble, why angels watched over us and how there were so many names for God but El Shaddai was one of her favorites. Her. Who told us we had our Father's Eyes. Over and over and over again. That we had our Father's eyes. That we were made in the Father's image and likeness- bearers of that goodness, freedom, grace, hope and love. We had our Father's eyes. He made us and longed to use us. And dad agreed. God didn't make us as girls and then limit how we might be used in the church and in the world... God made us fully in God's image. We had his eyes. We were to hold nothing back from the church or the world. Just like...
Her. Our biggest fan. Who brought cow bells and bull horns to football games to cheer for us.... the cheerleaders. Yes, it was embarrassing. Her. Who was so worried that my heart had been shattered in the 9th grade when all the other cheerleaders got homecoming mums and I didn't, that she went and ordered one for me herself. It ended up weighing about 20 pounds and was the most hideous thing I've ever seen in my life. But I wore it proudly through the parade because she loved me so much- she didn't want me to feel the sting of being alone. That was worth wearing ugly proudly. Her. Who texted me as I left this summer for South Sudan and told me she was proud of me and that also- if I felt threatened- to scream wildly like a monkey and furiously itch my armpits and crotch- because "People in small villages are superstitious. They won't touch you if they think you are demon-possessed."
Who told me time and again, "Jenny it was just an accident. Accidents happen all the time. It's no big deal." Who cared very little about the "stuff" in our house and much about the people walking in and out of it. Who taught me more about scripture than how to apply make-up. More about grace than about stuffy, alienating, pretentious living. More about mercy than judgement. More about freedom than bondage to what others thought about me or what others might be doing. Her. Who would rather we paint our bodies and our walls and our world with bright big strokes- than live small and afraid and neat and tidy and conventional. Paint washes off you know? That's what she would say. There was never an accident worth a dirty glare. Oh God how I'm grateful that there wasn't an accident- in her book- worth a dirty glare.
Who loves my baby girl more than I seem to love her sometimes. Who loves me more than I seem to love myself sometimes. Who just loves. And loves. And loves.
Who has taught countless men and women- now spread out and trickled all over the world- that if you dig your feet into the sand long enough or stare at a sunset and shut-up soon enough- you will hear from God. Because God speaks. Now one way. Now another. In dreams. During "silent sounds." On camping trips. In the mountains. At the beach. In your backyard. In the bathtub. On a bus with three hundred students driving to summer camp. God speaks. Over and over and over again. She has taught us that. Her. The one who heard God speak when she was stoned out of her mind and angry at the world and broken in a million pieces and all kinds of dirty and unusable- she heard God call her name and whisper to her that she had purpose. That she was loved. That she was known. That she could be set free. That he loved...
And she hasn't turned back. And her daughters- we rise and call her blessed. And those she has pastored through junior high and high school. Through divorces and teenage pregnancies. Through lost jobs and lost love. In delivery rooms and deathbeds. In magic houses and talking to raccoons on her back porch... God has used HER...
To remind us that HE IS- and that's enough.
I love you mom. This world is different because you have danced through it and shown us its beauty.