Originally posted on April 2, 2009
On April 6, 2008, Paxten Andrew Mitchell slipped from his parents embrace into the gates of heaven. This time last year, no one was talking about Paxten getting well. He was home, with his family, with hospice. I miss him.
When Paxten was still well enough to be in the hospital, I visited him about once a week. I’d come bringing fresh Playdoh® or new dinosaur stickers. (I still catch myself looking for stickers or checking for a bargain on Playdoh® before I realize my reason for buying those things is no more.) Paxten and I would stick the stickers all over ourselves and anything else we could find; we’d sculpt new creatures with the Playdoh®. Actually I would sculpt, or Amy would, as Paxten directed our efforts. We made funny faces. We wrestled—careful not to disconnect IV cords as we played. And we laughed. We laughed a lot, Paxten & I. Eventually though, I’d have to go home to my children, often leaving Amy by herself with her boy.
In the hospital bed (it seemed huge when Paxten was in it alone), Amy slept with her boy curled into her. No doubt she did all night what she did all day—checked his temperature with her mommy hands and diagnostic kisses, glanced up at the monitors to see if everything was normal (that is, as normal as it ever got for Paxten), and readjusted his tubing so he was not lying on it. . . When Paxten stirred during those long nights, I bet he had the same conversation with his mother that he had several times every hour during the day.
“I Wub You.”
“I love you too, Paxten.”
March 31, 2009
Today I led the call to worship for our chapel service at Gardner-Webb Divinity School. As I prayed this week about what I would say, I kept coming back to the wonder that Almighty God calls out to me. In response, I am to come out of myself, away from my busyness, and into God's rest. I'm ashamed I don't always answer that call. Yet amazingly, God still calls.
A Call to Worship
Now is the time.
Answer the call to worship.
You who are broken, burdened, bereaved.
Come out of frenzied chaos and
Into sacred peace.
Come out of the mundane and
Into the magnificent.
Come out of the pressure of the daily and
Into the presence of the divine.
Come because you are called.
Called to worship.
Published March 22, 2009
Yesterday, I spent a few hours with a library cat named Dewey. I was driving back from a conference—a five hour trip—and as I drove, I listened to the audio book, Dewey the Library Cat, by Vicki Myron. I'm a sap for a good animal story (see last week’s post); in addition to that, I absolutely love libraries. Dewey then seemed a perfect fit. Yet, after just a chapter or two, I found myself strangely envious of the foundling kitty. Why? Dewey got to live in a library. Sigh.
My mother took us to the public library when we were wee ones; my heart still races with remembered anticipation when I think back on those special days. All those books! Shelf upon shelf, row after row, one room then another. Heaven on earth.
Indeed, while some kids played princesses and others played pirates, I played librarian (well, when I wasn't playing student to my sister the teacher . . . but that’s another story). A few years ago, I wrote a story about a time when I took my library play to a new level. Enjoy.
Library in a Box
©July 2006 Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore
"Wow! That is so cool." I could not believe something so completely wonderful, had landed at our little house. After all, Daddy was a Baptist preacher, and Mother just worked part-time as a substitute teacher. Where did we get a treasure of this magnitude?
"You like it?" My parents beamed at the new sleeper sofa they had purchased for our family room.
"I love it! Do we get to keep it?" My 10 year old mind stirred with plans for our new addition.
"Well, of course we. . ." my mother turned to face me, and saw I was not looking at the sofa. She started backtracking. "We are going to keep the sofa, is that what you mean?"
It wasn't. Forget the sofa. I wanted the box. It was huge. It had walls. It had a floor, a ceiling. It was big enough for at least five kids. I could see it already. The circulation desk would be at the entrance to the box. I could draw shelves on the floor and use bookends to hold the books in place. I would track usage of books using note cards and I would assign each of my friends a library card. It would be perfect.
Mother could not refuse and I got to keep my cardboard library. To my surprise, the neighborhood children were not nearly as excited as I was about my library. Thus, circulation numbers remained manageable. The lack of community involvement didn't bother me too much though. It was my very own library and I loved it. And hey! It came with a sleeper sofa.
Published March 9, 2009
Over the weekend, I took my youngest, now 11, to the swimming pool at the YMCA. She went with a friend one day; we took brother Baker with her the next. Both days, I took the kids, signed them in at the pool, then went upstairs to exercise. Blissful. Watching parents of younger kids do the locker room shuffle—get the bathing suits on the kids, get them rinsed, get their towels and goggles—then head out to the pool to swim with their little ones, I was reminded of one aspect of parenting preschoolers that I do not miss: the swimming pool rigmarole. I did it, because I really felt like swimming was an important skill to learn, but I really did not like it. Set aside the major frustration of managing three kids in the locker room; I don't like to swim. (Actually it’s the getting wet that I don't like but they seem to be connected.)
So, in recollection of those bygone days, I thought I'd pull out a classic from six years ago when my kids were 8, 6, and 4. At that time, I was teaching a kids’ fitness class at the YMCA. Enjoy—at my expense.
UGGH! I've been known to walk into a store, hand over my wallet, and promise the clerk that if she will just find me a suit in which I would feel moderately comfortable, she can claim the purse as her own. I really don't like it. Not one bit. That's why I've had the same two bathing suits for years.
So, you can imagine my frustration when I took the children to the indoor pool last week and realized I'd forgotten one of the two suits I will wear in public. Trellace, my 8 year old, had the solution, "They have extras you could borrow, Mama! Just look in lost and found."
Ahha. The lost and found. Great. Well, it was Spring Break. I'd promised to take them swimming. What was a Mama to do? I dug through the Lost & Found barrel (working there, I know everything in there has been laundered) and found a suit in my size.
In the locker room, careful not to pass on any negative body messages to my two girls, I said, "I don't know if I can wear this swimsuit, girls. It looks like a granny bathing suit."
"Mama!" Trellace said. "It looks like Gangi's bathing suit; I like it."
"Trellace. Gangi is my MOTHER!"
"Right. But she's not a granny or an old lady or something."
Would that the story ended there.
"Mommy I like that bathing suit," Baker said when I exited the locker room.
"With that skirt on it, you look like a ballerina."
"A ballerina? Thanks Baker. We'll go with ballerina then."
But there is more.
"Hey Miss Aileen!" One of the children in my homeschool gym class had just joined us in the pool area.
"That bathing suit looks exactly like my mom's!"
"It surely does," Mom said. "But I lost mine. Can't find it anywhere."
Originally posted on March 3, 2009
I knew the day was coming; I just expected to have a little more notice. So when Baker came into the kitchen on Saturday morning, having grown overnight, and announced, “Hey Mom, look! I really am taller than you now,” it surprised me that he was indeed right. After all, Baker may be turning 13 in a few weeks, but he was just born a few moments ago.
Baker weighed nine pounds at birth and was three inches shy of two feet long. By the time he was three months old, he was in size six months clothes; nine months later, he was still wearing clothes for kids twice his age and was as tall as his three year old sister, Trellace. Over the years, his older sister caught up with him a time or two, but never for long and now never again.
From day one, Baker’s hands stretched way beyond the fingertips of the other babies in the nursery; his feet edged past the toes in other cribs. In no time, he began measuring his hands by mine, noting that his first grade fingers were nearly as long as his mommy’s. By the time he was 10, I could wear his shoes—and that’s no small feat (pardon the pun) as I’m rather sure footed myself at a size 9.5-10.
So there we were last Saturday, me, looking up at my son, his shoulders an inch and a half above mine. We stood side by side, looking in the mirror.
“Whoa. You are—no kidding—taller than your mother,” I said to my baby boy. “Come on, let’s go show Trellace.”
“Look Trellace.” Baker and I stood before her, shoulder not quite to shoulder, expectant.
She looked back, not getting it.
“Baker is taller than I am!”
She nodded, smiling a little, “Hmmm, he sure is.” She paused, knowing what a sap I am about my kids growing older, cocked her head to one side, then said with a smirk, “But don’t worry Mom, maybe you’re just losing bone mass.”
Have you noticed all the half-priced candied hearts and discounted chocolates? Ahha. It must be February. February: Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and Dental Health Month! I wonder. Did America’s dentists choose this month because we eat so much chocolate, or because George Washington’s teeth were notoriously unhealthy? The world may never know.
In any case, I’m thinking more about truffles and petit fours than toothbrushes and presidents, how about you? Chocolate. It’s everywhere. No longer content to be confined to the candy shelf, in February, Chocolate struts its stuff on every aisle in every store. It sprawls out over office desks, offering free pleasure to all who will take and eat. Shameless!
So what’s a sweets-freak like me supposed to do when Chocolate starts putting on the moves? Tell you what I want to do. I want to jump headlong into the waiting arms of the tempter: gorgeous, luscious, sweet-talking Chocolate. Chocolate accepts me just the way I am. It doesn’t care if I add a Hershey bar to each hip every hour. It never asks me to limit my portions. Never. Instead, Chocolate says, “Have just a little bit more. It’s okay.” Who could resist?
Meanwhile, there stands Healthy Choices. HC says, “I love you just the way you are too. And I love you too much to let you abuse yourself.”
I don’t want to hear it.
HC persists. “I’ll take long walks with you. I’ll keep you company when you plan your meals and when you do your grocery shopping.”
Chocolate’s melting, looking a little weepy.
HC stands taller. “Come on, let’s grow young together.”
And so we live happily ever after. Occasionally we even enjoy the company of our friend Chocolate, a real sweetie who I like to visit, as long as Healthy Choices comes with me.
Only one child got it right.
Oh, all the children knew their parts; the creation play in this morning’s worship service was lovely. The flowers, colorful and bright, stood tall, blooming and blushing. The birds flapped otheir wings. The fish swooshed, the mice crawled, the frogs hopped. The apple tree, its branches menacing, taunted. The young man who played Adam delivered his lines masterfully, having us laughing at all the right times. Eve entered the garden, singing with a voice that sounded as if it had indeed been created by God for this moment in time.
But only one child—only one—captured the wonder.
Our church has been celebrating creation for the last few weeks—art, the written word, music, drama. During this time, sermons, anthems, and special events have focused on the beauty of creation, more specifically on the wonder of the Creator. The point, it seems, has been to bring our minds, our hearts, to a state of amazement. We’ve had the work of a local artist hanging in our atrium: wall sized paintings depicting the explosive dynamics of creation. We’ve had dancers—yes dancers in our Baptist sanctuary—offering their gifts in worship. We even had kites one Sunday (they called them liturgical kites to make them sound more churchy but they were kites all the same). Our orchestras played, our handbells rang, our authors read from their books. It’s been a time to delight. It’s been a time of awe.
And this morning, Cameron Brown, full of wonder, delighted in the awe of it all.
Of course, Cameron is exceptional, gifted really and it is not fair to compare others to him. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite that usually happens: he’s often compared to others in a most unfair way. (Some people are such slow learners.)
When Cameron came down the aisle this morning wearing a bright red shirt, carrying a gigantic rose-red flower, his eyes sparkled. When his little brother came down, dressed like a mouse, Cameron giggled a little, watching his favorite person mount the stairs then crouch like a critter. He looked around at all his friends standing there with him, his smile growing, his eyes dancing. When the audience laughed, Cameron laughed too. When Eve sang, Cameron watched her every move. And when it was over, all too soon, Cameron stayed in place. He looked around that great big sanctuary, appearing every bit the picture of pure, innocent wonder. The director came to him, he took her hand, and flashed her his full-face grin. And as they slowly made their way back down the aisle, Cameron continued looking over his shoulder. It was as if he didn’t want it to be over, not yet. It was too wonderful, too delightful.
Anyone could tell by the look on his face: Cameron got it. And once again I thought, I want to be more like Cameron. I want to see the world like he does. I want to see God like he does.
“One quick question,” I said to my pastor. He was heading back to his lunch table with a full cup of coffee; I’d finished my lunch and wanted a word with him before I had to leave.
“Oh hi, Aileen,” he said, more gracious than most would have been, having been caught between coffee and dessert. “What’s up?”
“A lot. For one thing I just lied to my pastor." I realized in that moment what he no doubt already had guessed. “My question is neither quick nor singular.” Guy Sayles smiled, relaxed and unhurried. I forged ahead.
“My friend’s son—he’s 10—has inoperable brain cancer. He got bad news yesterday, really bad news. His mother and I were talking last night, and she asked me some tough questions. I’m only in the second semester of seminary here. I have no idea what to say.”
"I’m not sure theological degrees give you the words to say under those circumstances," Guy said, speaking the frustrating truth of pastoral care.
“My friend's question was this: ‘If God is omnipotent as we believe God is, then why hasn't my son been healed?’ Good question right? So, ya know, why?”
Setting his coffee on the counter, Guy shook his head. “Well the first thing I would ask myself is, 'Is this really an appropriate time for a theological discussion?' It probably isn't. If not, I would say, ‘I don’t know. I’m so sorry. I love you.’”
I found this to be brilliant instruction. How many times do we spout off theological treatises when it just isn't the time? The person really needs to hear, “What you are going through is awful and I’m sorry that you are going through it because you matter to me.” And we start quoting scripture, telling them about God’s will or the nature of creation. Sometimes, we need to say less in order to say more.
Guy continued. “If it is a good time for a theological discussion, then I might say, ‘Well, God doesn't always get God's way.’”
He must have noticed my hesitation because he elaborated. “When people disagree with me on this, I ask them, ‘Does God always get God's way with you?’ Of course not. If it is true with one person, it must be true with others. And if God doesn't always get God's way with people, then God doesn’t always get God's way in the world. After all, if God did, then why would Jesus have commanded us to pray for God’s will to be done? It would just be done whether we prayed or not.” (Intriguing, huh?)
“But,” Guy said, “If God is omnipotent, and we are Christians, then we believe
Christianity is confusingly full of contradictions. The equations just aren't as simple as we would like them to be.”
I knew he was right. But what could I tell my friend that could comfort her, if only momentarily?
“There is one simple formula, though,” Guy went on. “God loves us. God just loves us. God always, completely, beyond-our-imagination loves us.”
“So, when our hearts are breaking. . .”
Published September 17, 2008
“Mom, you can't go out like that.” My daughter somehow managed to express horror, disgust, and the scantest level of pity in one glance as she took in my outfit.
I looked down at my t-shirt and denim shorts. I couldn’t imagine what fashion rule I was breaking with this most basic of outfits.
“Why?” I asked, clueless.
My 14-year-old’s eyes grew wide and unbelieving; she responded as if I were joking, “Mom, your shirt is tucked in.” She shook her head, exasperated and not a little defeated, and walked away.
I untucked, but it was too late. Once again I had proved to my teenager what she already knew to be true: I am the world’s most un-cool mom. But the thing is, she’s wrong: because I had the world’s most un-cool parents. And I'm not even kidding.
Start here: my children are being raised in the new millennium. I was raised in the seventies. My children’s parents wear “Life is Good™” shirts and “Levi’s™.”My daddy (a truly wonderful human being but a product of his times where fashion was concerned) wore plaid polyester leisure suits and ties that were at least six inches wide. In the 70’s, we didn't so much style our hair as glue it into place. . .or not. My mother had a lovely and lofty bouffant and my daddy, God love him, wore a toupee for at least a decade and a half. He stopped wearing it for good after our family vacation one year. He'd stripped the thing off when we'd pulled out of the driveway, curled it up so it looked not unlike a sleeping ferret, and placed it in the glove compartment of our 1973 Chrysler station wagon. Ten days later, the toupee had permanently molded into its rodent shape. Daddy, looking not nearly as upset as a person should have been after having lost an entire head of hair to a faux ferret, never replaced it.
My children’s parents can dance. We boogied in college and two-stepped as newlyweds. We're good. My children are delusional when they say we can't dance.
It’s different with my parents. Now, in all fairness, because Daddy was a Southern Baptist preacher, he didn't get much opportunity to practice. Had his career taken a different path, perhaps he could have been the next Fred Astaire. But things were what they were and Daddy’s dance moves were somewhat. . . well. . .let’s just say unrehearsed. Once, my brother--a teenager at the time--returned from a shopping trip with Daddy ashen-faced, “I think I'm going to be sick,” he said, plopping in Daddy’s recliner and covering his face with his hands. They'd been shopping for speakers for my brother’s car. Daddy, listening to the music as they tested quality, had, well there’s just no other way to say it, Daddy had busted a move. Busted it wide open.
My children’s parents are hip too. I watch American Idol; Jay watches Deal or No Deal. We both liked the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks and if that’s not cool, then what is? When I was a kid, we did not go to many movies. One of the few I remember us seeing as a family was Song of the South. After the movie, I was consumed by the idea of meeting the real Uncle Remus. My daddy, who had always told us Uncle Remus stories at bedtime, gave me the bad news: the actor who played Uncle Remus was not in fact the REAL Uncle Remus. Once I got over that bad report, I decided that meeting the actor would be sufficient. Poor Daddy, unable to break his promise never to lie to us, had more bad news. The movie we had just seen was in the theaters for a second run—it had come out a very long time ago; now even the actor who played Uncle Remus had gone on to the briar patch in the great beyond. Totally uncool.
As for TV, when I was 14, my parents were watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. Actually, my sister and I wouldn't let them watch anything else because those were our favorite shows. Remember when John-boy fell in love with Jenny? Oh I loved that one--except, of course, for the knife-to-the-gut ending: “To Be Continued.” And who didn’t weep when Mary became blind or cheer for Laura and Manly? (Okay, so my parents were pretty cool about TV.)
Here’s the amazing thing when it comes to coolness and parenting, though. My kids think it is cute when Papa dances in public. Cute! They love the stories about Papa’s toupee and can't even imagine Gangi with big hair and therefore don't really believe the hype. “Gangi always looks so pretty,” they explain to us patiently. “She never tucks her shirt in.”
Update September 1, 2015
Since I published this seven years ago, Caleb Spady slipped from his earthly father's arms into the embrace of his Heavenly Father. He passed away 15 months after his diagnosis on July 21, 2009. Many others have been diagnosed with DIPG since then. It is a cruel and horrible disease.
But there is good news. Research is being done; treatments are being perfected. Because people are becoming more aware, more funding is available for all pediatric cancers. Don't be afraid to learn about pediatric cancer. Awareness doesn't lead to cancer diagnoses. Awareness leads to hope.
Knowledge. It really is a good thing.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Each year, Chili's holds a Donate-The-Profits day to benefit St. Jude's research hospital. This year, that day is Monday, September 14, 2015. Find a Chili's that day and eat up! Just by doing that, you'll be making a difference in the life a child.
Published on: Aug 29, 2008
Five months ago, at a huge party to celebrate a life that we already knew would be way too short, Paxten Andrew Mitchell gave me a big hug and a kiss. As he fell into my embrace, I rubbed his fuzzy head, feeling hair there for the first time in our year-long friendship. Later Paxten wrestled me to the floor and stood triumphantly above me giggling at my weakness.
In less than a month, Paxten’s fight against cancer ended at Heaven’s gate. Now my friend Kim Spady is fighting for the life of her son Caleb, a vibrant ten year old boy with a ticking bomb in his brain called a Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Caleb, like his brothers, is the joy of his parents’ hearts and the pesky younger brother to Jacob and older brother to Seth and Luke. DIPG is totally random. Kim & Ken could not have protected Caleb from this monster by having the right genetic mix or by sealing Caleb in a bubble from birth. They could not have kept DIPG from attacking their son. But now they will move heaven and earth to win the fight over DIPG. (Caleb passed away on July 21, 2009. He was 11 years old.)
Surely we can all do something to stop these random pediatric cancers from ripping open our hearts and tearing out our children. Kim believes, and I know she is right, that the first step is awareness.
Would you visit one of these links and become a little more aware?
You don’t have to become an expert. Just learn one thing. You don’t have to spend your whole night on the internet (Kim’s already doing that). Just learn a little bit. I’ll never get another hug from Paxten on this side of Glory, but one way I can honor the gift God gave me in Paxten, is to spread the word about pediatric cancers.
Join me, okay? Together, we can strengthen the hope for a cure. Because as Kim says, “One day a child with DIPG will be healed. Maybe even today.”