Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Let's Talk About Love

I'm not sure why, but I've been thinking a lot about love in the last few weeks. For much of the last two and half years, I've tried very hard not to think about love, but lately.... Maybe it started when I first heard the song "Broken Together" by Casting Crowns.

I was just minding my own business, cleaning the kitchen late one night, when the most beautiful song came on the radio. I laid down my dish scrubber and listened, hanging on every word. It seemed to be a song about marriage--real marriage--the tough, excruciating parts. It was also about love, the realest, toughest love. I sank into a chair and put my face in my hands when I heard these lines:
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete. 
But could we just be broken together? 
In an instant, I was back in the unbearable pain of a dying marriage, powerless to save it. And now, after months of happiness, tears streamed down my cheeks.

When the song ended, I just had to hear it again because despite the pain it stirred in me, it was exquisitely beautiful, and these days I don't often take the time to appreciate beauty. So I googled the video, which paints a vivid story of lost dreams and bitter disappointment that end in healing and reconciliation.

Are you married, or do you hope to be married one day? Or do you know someone who's married? Then you need to watch this video. Go ahead, watch it. I'll wait for you.....

Anyway, after watching the video twice (or maybe three times), I went to my prayer closet for some much needed time with my Beloved. I told him all about my bitter disappointment and asked Him why it still hurts me so, after over two years. I asked Him to hold me, to quiet me with His love. And He did. After that, I slept like a baby even though the sink was still full of dirty dishes.

Since then, I've heard that song over and over on the radio. (Evidently I'm not the only one who loves it.) I've gotten to the point that I can listen and sing along without shedding a tear, but it still gets to me. I just can't stop thinking about the beauty of marriage, and how so many of us miss it because it isn't what we dreamed it would be. I keep thinking about how different real love is from the romantic crap they feed us in the movies, starting with Disney when we're little girls.

It's bitterly ironic because now I really get it. Marriage is incredibly tough, no way around that. No matter how amazing your Prince Charming seems when you're falling in love, he's going to hurt you because he can't be perfect. And you're going to hurt him too because you too are far from perfect. But if you can be real with each other, if you can accept each other for who you are, if you can love each other the way Jesus loves us--well, I don't know. I've never been there. But I believe it must be so beautiful on the other side of the struggles that lead too many of us to divorce.

Now I have all this untried wisdom and a different sort of idealism than before, but I don't see myself marrying again. See, I'm not just divorced, but twice divorced. I doubt that the third time's the charm, so you can understand that I'm in no hurry to get involved with anyone, let alone get married again.

Honestly, songs like "Broken Together" leave me a little confused. On the one hand, I can appreciate the beauty, and I can thank God for the way He designed marriage, and I can rejoice for the others who get to experience that. But on the other hand, I feel left out, as if this treasure is only for other people, not for me. Because I had my chance (two chances) and I blew it.

Last night, I heard the most amazing story of an every-day marriage with all the struggles and joys of 39 years of commitment--for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. The tenderness and toughness of this love story made me choke on a sob. Yes, this was exactly the kind of love I'd been thinking about.

For just a moment, I felt the usual stab of alone-ness as my own crushing loss took my breath away for the thousandth time. But then, I smiled for my friend, and I thanked God for giving us marriage.

Soon after, I had an epiphany. I don't have to be married to experience the kind of love in the Casting Crowns video. I am broken, and I am surrounded by broken people, and we can be broken together. I can love my friends and my neighbors and my sisters and my brother and my parents and my kids and the young girl at my favorite grocery store the way Jesus loves me. I can love them with all of my heart, soul, and strength. I can serve. I can give myself. I can be real with them so they can be real with me, and I can love them all exactly where they are despite all their imperfections. And many of them will love me back despite all my imperfections.

What a gift our Father has given us all, in this capacity to love! Life is way too short for me to waste time wishing I could go back, or wishing for a different future. God has put me right here for a very important purpose, and He has given me only one command: to love others as Jesus loves me.

I think I'll start with these two.

Ethan, age 17, and Allyson, age 8

And you, too. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Yes, My God is Good

Have you ever had a day that was supposed to be no fun, but it ended up being the most amazing day? A day that was totally not what you planned for yourself, but it turned out all for your good? Today was one of those days for me.

I don't know what it is lately with my appliances, my house, my pets, etc., but it seems like one little trial after another. This time, it was my car. I'd been noticing some stains on my driveway the last few days, some sort of fluid but not oil. It seemed like it was coming from my car, but I couldn't be sure because a lot of Ethan's friends come and go, and most of them drive beaters--though my 2002 Nissan Sentra is probably older than any of theirs.

I kept moving my car to different quadrants of the driveway and watching for new stains, but I couldn't catch it leaking. I made a mental note to take the car in soon and then forgot about it.

When I dropped Ethan at school yesterday, I noticed that the car wasn't warming up. In fact, even after 15 minutes of driving, it still felt like the heater was blowing cold air. I switched it to the vents on the dash. Sure enough, cold air was coming out. No, wait. The passenger side was blowing warm air, but the driver side was cold. I jiggled the temperature knob back and forth several times, hoping it would fix itself, but no luck.

I found this highly ironic because my friend Lizzette had just commented on Saturday when we went to dinner that it was so nice having a car with heat. Her heater isn't working. And now mine wasn't. Had she jinxed me?

Last night after Celebrate Recovery, I notice that both vents were now blowing cold. Darn it! How much would this cost? Maybe I could just live with it. Ugh. Two more months of winter.

The next thing I noticed was more alarming. The temperature gauge on the instrument panel was pushing to the top of the normal range. In fact, I could see the needle slowly rising. Crap. It must be the radiator. How much would this cost?

My stomach tightened. I wasn't worried about paying for the repairs; thanks to Dave Ramsey, I have a fund for that. No, what concerned me was whether it might be time to sell my faithful old car. I've held onto it for 13 years now, and it has been so reliable. It looks pretty pathetic because the paint is wearing off in spots, but it runs beautifully and gets great gas mileage. My plan has been to keep it until Ethan finally gets his license--if he ever does--and then pass it on to him. I don't see any point in having two cars if I don't need them.

But I don't want to sink too much money into a car that probably is worth less than $2000. So I figure if I have a major breakdown, I'll have to part with it and buy Ethan something else. The tricky part is, where do I draw the line? A thousand dollars? Fifteen hundred? Given this car's amazing track record, doesn't it make sense to put a little money into it? It's had only two other breakdowns in 188,788 miles (the alternator, both times). What if I buy something else that is less reliable?

These were the thoughts tumbling around in my head as I pulled into my driveway, with the needle now pointing to the H.

I also wondered how I would get Ethan to school this morning, and how I would get the car to the mechanic. I figured I needed to put water in the radiator, but I'd never done that before. A glance out the window told me that Neil, my 30-second hero, was in town. I knew he'd be happy to help with the car and with transportation, but I didn't want to bother him. For one thing, I didn't want to take advantage, and for another thing, I remembered my friend Gentle's encouragement to take this single life as an opportunity to learn some new things.

I was very, very tempted to text Neil, but I didn't. Instead, I prayed. I asked God to work everything out, to guide me through this and to take care of me, just as he had done with the plumbing problem the week before last. (Remember? A $110 plumbing bill? Whoever heard of that?) I told God that even if the answer was getting a new car instead of fixing this one, I would trust His timing.

I decided that I would put water in the radiator myself, and I would ask my friend Kim to take me to the mechanic today. I also called my ex-husband Bill for advice--a total of three times. With his help, I figured out how to open the hood--I knew how to pop it from the inside, but not how to unlatch it--and also the timing of pouring in the water, turning on the engine, and pouring more water. I did all that this morning in time to get Ethan to school right on schedule. I was feeling almost as proud as I'd felt when I fixed the garbage disposal by myself, two days before the plumbing incident.

That lasted about four blocks, until I noticed that the needle was rising toward the H right before my eyes. "I don't know if we can make it to school, Ethan," I said, just as we pulled up to a four-way stop.

"Hey, look. It's Tin!" Ethan replied, pointing to the car on our right. Sure enough, it was his old middle school friend, whom I hadn't seen in years. If you've been reading a very, very long time and have a prodigious memory, you may remember Tin as the one who enjoyed (!) helping Ethan dispose of a dead cat we found in our yard. He's also the one who helped Bill and Ethan fell many of my beloved trees when we got the pool.


Ethan and Tin, 2009

"I bet he could take you to school," I said, pulling over to the curb.

"No, Mom. Don't-"

"I'll try to flag him down," I said, rolling down my agonizingly slow driver's window. (That window motor is on its last leg. I need to get that fixed.)

Whew! The window rolled open just as Tin drove by. I waved wildly, avoiding eye contact with Ethan, who had probably sunk down to the floorboard by that point.

Tin slowed his car to a crawl and rolled his passenger window down, "Good to see you," he called politely as he passed.

"CAN YOU TAKE ETHAN TO SCHOOL?" I screamed--because he was a few feet past us by now.

He stopped, and I pulled up alongside. "My car is overheating. Can you take Ethan to school?"

"Sure," he said with a smile.

"Oh, thank you so much."

As I turned back for home, I marveled at God's goodness. In all these years, even though Tin lives just around the corner, we've never run into him on the way to school. Well, not since the days when he walked to school. Surely God had sent a ride for Ethan, right to the very corner where my car was overheating, right at the very moment we arrived. What are the odds?

Kim graciously agreed to follow me to the mechanic, even though she is frantically studying for a physical therapy licensing exam that's coming up next week. We had the most lovely talk on the way back, which continued as we lingered at my driveway.

Now this next part is pretty ironic. Who do you think texted me about my car repair just a few minutes later? I'll tell you. It was Neil. He was helping his friend Wade at the shop, and when he saw my car of course he had to tease me. He told me it was a cracked head, and it would probably cost $2000 to rebuild the engine. I figured he was kidding, but I replied that it must be time to get a new car. He said yes he was kidding, and it should be less than $500. I said, "Good."

Several minutes later, he said, "You don't owe anything."

Again, I thought he might be kidding. But he wasn't.

On the way back to the shop, I told Kim the whole story. I told her I believe all of the things that happened to me today were evidence of God taking care of me, a direct result of my prayers last night, when I turned everything over to God.

"Whether it was God or it wasn't," I said, "I believe that the biggest blessing God has given me is my friends. You are such a blessing, Kim. Not for the things you do for me, but because you are such a good friend. I'm so thankful."

"Aww," she said. "I'm not such a good friend."

"Oh, but you are!" I said, my eyes a bit moist.

Back at the shop, Wade informed me that the problem had been a leaky hose. He had checked all the other hoses, and there were no other problems. He handed me the keys.

I cleared my throat. "Um, Neil said there's no charge. Is that true?"

"Yes. You don't owe anything."

I thanked him profusely, and Neil also. And then I drove my 13-year-old car home with joy.

I'm still pinching myself. Whoever heard of a free car repair? That's even crazier than a $110 plumbing bill! I realize it was a very minor repair, but surely his labor was worth $50. And I'm sure he must have added antifreeze as well.

I pray God blesses Wade richly for his kindness. And Neil. And Kim. And Tin.

To borrow a phrase from my friend Gentle, I have to say that God really knocked my socks off today. When I texted the whole story to my dear cousin Jenny this afternoon, she replied, "You are blessed, woman. Your God is good."

Yes, I am. And He is.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Why I Don't Want a Dog

A few have you have been asking me what happened next in the story with Zeus, and boy do I have a story for you--only I don't have time to tell it tonight.... But I'm going to tell you anyway. I'll try to be brief, but you know me, so no promises. 

On Tuesday 12/30, I swung by my friend Nicole's house after Celebrate Recovery to pick up Zeus; I'd agreed to pet-sit for a week while they visited her family. From her quick update, I learned that her kids absolutely adore Zeus, just like my kids. But the difference is that they brush him for hours and take him for walks every day, no matter how cold it is. I felt rather guilty to take him back to his sedentary life at our house, but he seemed happy to be here.

Zeus and Allyson, during his first stay

Ethan gladly welcomed Zeus back into his room that evening, and everyone was happy. Until the next afternoon.

At his original home, Zeus was used to being confined to the master bathroom when Elizabeth's family was gone. His bed and food were in there, and he never seemed to mind--even when he spent a whole week in there when they were on vacation. I'd put him outside twice a day, let him run around a bit, and give him a dutiful pat after I'd filled his bowl, and then he'd wag his tail and settle contentedly on his bed.

Remembering the horrible mess he'd made on Elizabeth's carpet the time I simultaneously poisoned him with cat food and also left the bathroom door slightly ajar, I figured it would be wise not to give Zeus the run of our house when we're gone. And since his bed and food are in Ethan's room, that seemed the logical place to lock him up, despite the carpet.

So before I went out clothes shopping on New Year's Eve, I told Ethan to pick up anything in his room that Zeus shouldn't get into and to confine him there if he went anywhere. "I will," he muttered, turning back to his video game. I glanced dubiously at the dirty dishes and fast food bags littering his floor and went on my way.

An hour or two later, my cell phone rang while I was agonizing between two cute shirts at Target.

"Mom? When are you coming home?" Ethan asked, his voice rather urgent.

"I'm at Target, so it might be a while. Why?"

"Zeus found my box of chocolates and ate a bunch of them and now-"

"He ate chocolates?! That could kill him! Why did you-"

"He's going to be fine. He puked it all up on my carpet. It's the biggest pile of puke I've ever seen from a human or an animal."

I pictured the giant Whitman's Sampler box that Ethan had brought home from his dad's house. It was literally over two feet wide, and had about 50 chocolates with a variety of fillings.

"How many did he eat? Were they milk chocolate or dark chocolate?"

"I don't know. I think it was still half full. He ate at least half of what was left. Some of them were dark chocolate, I guess."

"So ten? Twenty? We probably should take him to the vet."

"I don't know, Mom. But I'm telling you, he's fine. He got it all out and he's running around like nothing happened. But my room reeks. Please clean it up as soon as you can. I'm leaving to see The Hobbit with Bryce."

What's probably crossing your mind right now also crossed mine. Ethan was the one who left out a giant box of chocolates, so why should I be the one to clean up after Zeus while he went off to the movies? Well, you'd have to know Ethan. There was no way he was cleaning up that mess. To even suggest it would be laughable.

I sighed heavily. "I'll get checked out and come deal with it. I have no idea how to clean up a mess like that, but..."

"Great, Mom. See you later."

I phoned my own mom straightaway, but she didn't have any ideas for me. Tears gathered in my eyes as I pictured what waited for me, and imagined the smell. In the past, Bill had always dealt with stuff like this. Now, I was on my own.

On the way home, I prayed for God's mercy. "Please help me find a way to do this," I pleaded. "Please help me be strong." I thought back to the time God helped me down a whole gallon of Go-Lytely solution for my last colonoscopy prep. "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," I said.

Back at home, I filled my diffuser with water and added ten drops of Purify essential oil blend, which is purported to be the best oil for neutralizing odor. I cracked Ethan's door and set the diffuser on his messy floor, plugging it into the socket next to the door. Whew!

While the diffuser did its work, I consulted Google. The second link down in the search results had the most sensible solution, way easier than I could have hoped for:

  1. Pour a ton of baking soda on the wet stain, covering it with at least an inch of powder. 
  2. Pour on a few drops of fragrant essential oils. 
  3. Cover with a towel and wait 24-48 hours. The baking soda will soak up the odor and absorb all the moisture. 
  4. Scoop  the hunks of baking soda into the trash and vacuum up the remaining clumps of dry, crackly baking soda vomit. 

Genius! Thank you, Jesus!

After a quick trip to Wal-Mart Market to buy a pet stain solution and two large boxes of baking soda--they were out of the giant bags they usually keep in the pool section--I opened Ethan's door and surveyed the mess. Hoo-boy. The spot was roughly the size of the chocolate box, about two feet across. Indeed, I'd never seen such a pile of puke.

But I have to say, as far as vomit goes, this wasn't that smelly. It was very chocolaty, which was somehow revolting, but I've smelled far worse.

Still, I wrinkled my nose and my forehead too. "This is why I didn't want a dog," I whined to God.

Holding my breath, I edged over to ground zero and quickly dumped nearly two pounds of baking soda over the goopy brown mess.

That's a rolling desk chair in the pile, and a practice drum pad on the edge.
Next, I poured about 15 drops of eucalyptus oil over the powder and then draped an old yellow bath towel over the mess. Done!

Over the course of the evening, Zeus made four smaller piles around the house, thankfully all on the hard flooring surfaces. They were mostly water, but still very disgusting. I remembered again why I am so not a dog person.

By the next day, Zeus was fully recovered, and Ethan's room smelled faintly of citronella and eucalyptus oil.

The following evening, I couldn't put off the worst part of the job any longer. While Ethan and his friend Bryce looked on, I pried up hunks of solidified, brownish powder with the edge of an old dust pan. It wasn't nearly so easy as it had sounded on the Internet, probably because a lot of those chocolates had caramel fillings. Ugh.

"How did Zeus get into the chocolates, anyway?" I asked. "I thought you said you were going to put away everything he shouldn't get into."

"I did. I hid them, but he found them."

"Where did you hide them?" I asked, as I pried up a stubborn hunk of caramel-y baking soda.

"I put the box way back under my bed."

"Under your bed?" I repeated. "You really thought he wouldn't find them there? He's a dog. They can sniff out anything"

He shrugged.

"Well, now you know," I said with a sigh.

I vacuumed up the last crackly bits, revealing a huge brown stain. "I think you're going to need new carpet," I said. "But I don't know how quickly that will happen."

"Maybe you can buy me a rug to put over it," Ethan suggested.

After searching Google again, I poured all of my rubbing alcohol on the stain and then blotted up lots and lots of chocolate using all my old towels. Ick.

The carpet was still brown, and so were my towels.

I spent the next hour scrubbing that stain with Bissel Pet Spot Lifter foam, blotting it up, and scrubbing it again. Guess what? In the end, there was only the faintest hint of a circle. If you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't even notice it. But we're still going to get new carpet as soon as I get around to it.

Another Calamity
Over the course of that next week, I had more reasons to miss having a helpful husband with an iron stomach.

On Sunday the 4th, around bedtime, my garbage disposal quit... right after I had thrown down some week-old veggie lasagna. I flipped the switch several times and also pushed the red reset button on the bottom of the motor, all to no avail. All it did was hum.

There was about an inch of water in the sink with bits of broccoli and corn floating around aimlessly, so I knew I couldn't leave it for the next day.

I called Bill for advice. "I'll handle it," I quickly assured him, so that he wouldn't think I was hinting for him to come over. "Could you just give me some pointers?"

He told me to push the reset button.

"Did that."

"You'll need to put your hand down there and try to spin the blades. Probably something is blocking it. If you can get the blades to turn, it will probably come back on."


I hung up the phone and pulled out several handfuls of soggy lasagna noodles,  broccoli florets, and squishy mashed sweet potato.

With the drain mostly empty, I gingerly touched each of six blades, trying to block out a horrible scene in one of the Final Destination movies. All the blades seemed to turn freely.

Crossing my fingers, I turned on the water and flipped the switch again. Hmmmmm.

Now the sink had two inches of water. I got the toilet plunger (ewww!) out of the garage and plunged the drain. The water went down. I rinsed out the sink and went to bed.

First thing next morning, I turned on the disposal, and it was working fine! I had fixed it all by myself!

A few days later, I found the source of the problem when I reached into the disposal to retrieve a measuring spoon I'd dropped. It was one of those two-inch plastic scrapers from Pampered Chef, now well chewed on all four sides. "So that's where that was," I thought. It had been missing for weeks. It must have been lying flat under the blades, and then somehow it got lodged between the blades. Mystery solved.

...And Another Calamity
My last yucky task was the worst by far.

On Tuesday the 6th, we woke up to a mysterious puddle of water in Ethan's bathroom. When he alerted me to the problem, he insisted that he had not made the toilet overflow.

I sopped up the mess with some beach towels and went back to making Allyson breakfast. A few minutes later, I saw that more water had gathered between the toilet and the sink cabinet. On my hands and knees, I examined the toilet thoroughly but could find no sign of a leak.

I soaked up the water again and finally realized that the water was seeping up through the grout that bordered the sink cabinet. What on earth?

Just then, an ugly realization dawned on me. We'd had a cold snap the last few days, and the temperature had dipped below freezing. Probably there was a broken pipe under the floor. My stomach tightened as I wondered how a plumber would fix that. Would he have to bust up the tile and cut into the floor? Surely that would cost me thousands!

I laid more towels down and dropped both kids at school. I then spent an hour or more calling plumbers. I think there must have been some broken pipes in our area because the soonest anyone could come out was Thursday--two days later!

I cried, prayed, and cried some more. And then I sent a text to my sister and my brother. Rick's wife Diane quickly replied with the contact information of a really awesome plumber. Yay!

But even after I gave him Rick and Diane's name, he said he couldn't possibly come out that day. He was booked solid.

Tears filled my eyes again.

"I can give you the name of a colleague closer out your way, though," he said. "Mike's a great guy and very reasonable."

Thankfully, I was able to schedule an appointment for noon. Disaster averted.

But then I did something stupid. I was totally out of towels, and water was still seeping. I really needed some dry towels, but I didn't want to put dirty towels in my dryer. So I decided to run them through a short wash. The moment the idea occurred to me, the voice of reason cautioned me against it. I had a plumbing problem. I probably shouldn't be running any water.

But the problem's in the bathroom, I argued. The laundry room's on the other end of the house. And I really, really need more towels. 

So I threw in that load of towels, ignoring the rock in the pit of my stomach.

At last, I sat down at my desk to work while I waited for the plumber. About 15 minutes later, I heard the familiar sound of the washer emptying. Right on the tail of that sound came an unfamiliar, peculiar sound, issuing from my bathroom, right next to me.

I cautiously stepped in to investigate. The bubbling was coming from my toilet, whose water looked like it was at a slow boil. What on earth?

All three drains in my bathroom were making bubbling sounds. I walked to the tub, afraid to look. Ugh, there was a small puddle of brown water around the drain.

But that was nothing next to what I found in my shower: about an inch of raw sewage! Yes, there was POOP in my shower. I covered my mouth and ran out of there, my blood running cold.

At that point, I hurried to Bill's house to borrow a shop vac, but I couldn't bring myself to use it. Sucking up that... crap... wouldn't be so bad, but then what would I do with it? I was pretty sure you're not supposed to pour sewage on the lawn.

For the second time in a week, I plugged in my diffuser with some Purify blend.

The good news of the day is that Mike was able to find the problem almost immediately, and he did not have to dig as he had initially feared. There's an outlet pipe right under my shower, and he was able to snake the pipes through there. Thirty minutes later, the clog was clear, and all the drains were emptying freely. And the bill? Only $110!! Who ever heard of a $110 plumbing bill?

Thank you, Jesus! And thank you, Mike. Those of you who are local, contact me if you want the name of an honest, reasonable plumber.

After Mike left, my joy and relief deflated. Now it was time to tackle something even worse that chocolate caramel dog puke. I headed to Wal-Mart Market for some Clorox bleach spray, some Comet scouring powder, and a really good pair of latex gloves.

And then I put on my big-girl panties, thanked God that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, and cleaned up that mess. I cleaned the tub and the shower three times, mopped both bathroom floors twice, and called it a day. That evening, I had Ethan clean his own bathtub, which had been stopped up but did not have sewage in it.

I hope I never have another week like that one, but it's good to know I really can do all things through Christ.

About Zeus
Okay, so you're wondering whether we're keeping Zeus, aren't you? Short answer: I'm not sure. Nicole says she thinks she wants him, but her son was injured last week and now needs surgery. She said once he's recovered from his surgery, I can bring him over. [Pray for him, please. His name is Micah.]

Zeus has been with us for two weeks now. Aside from the chocolate incident, which wasn't his fault, he's been such a good boy. I have lots of stories about him and the cats, but I'll have to save them for another day. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Allyson's First Spelling Bee

Today was Allyson's first spelling bee. Shortly before Christmas break, she had qualified by taking a written test. Over the last few weeks, in the middle of Christmas celebrations and a trip to Canada with Daddy, she spent her spare moments studying a list of very challenging words.

Last night, while I quizzed her over dishes, she began to lose her nerve as she missed word after word: journey, university, apologize, vineyard. Each time, she was so close, but missed it by a letter or two.

"Would you pray for me before bed?" she asked.

Of course I would!

As we snuggled in her twin bed, I prayed that God would give her courage and confidence, and help her remember what she had studied. Most of all, I prayed that she would have fun.

This morning in the car, Allyson asked me about my own elementary spelling bee, back in fourth grade. "What word did you miss?"

I smiled ruefully. Funny how I can still remember that awful moment over 30 years later. "Kiwi."

"How did you spell it?"


She chuckled.

"I had never heard of a kiwi back then," I said.

As we pulled into the turn-around, Allyson admitted that she didn't expect to do very well. She'd be up against fourth graders, and she hadn't had enough time to study. Still, she was excited to have this experience and was determined to do her best.

Long before her big moment, she had already made her mama proud!

Waiting, Cool as a Cucumber (#19)
Twenty-six kids took their places on the stage. Allyson was number 19, and I wondered if that had been her rank on the written test. "Oh, Lord," I prayed. "Please don't let her get knocked out on her first word.... Even so, not my will, but yours. Please let her have fun, and let her get what you want her to learn from this experience."

They started with a practice round, in which no one missed a word. The word for contestant #1 was "gum." All the kids seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. This wasn't so hard!

Four kids were eliminated in the first round, including some in the front row, so I figured my hypothesis about ranking must have been wrong. My heart went out to them.

When Allyson stepped up to the mic, my heart was pounding and my palms were sweaty. I quietly removed my coat.

"This word has a close homophone," the moderator said. "The word is daze. Verb. To stun or or stupefy. Daze."

"Oh, Allyson," I telegraphed. "We practiced this one. Remember, it's not days."

"Daze," Allyson repeated in a strong voice. "D-A-Z-E, daze." She pivoted on her heel and returned to her seat on the back row. Yes!

By the end of round two, about half of the contestants had been eliminated. But not Allyson. "Coach," she said clearly. "C-O-A-C-H, coach." Whew!

Her word in round four gave me a shudder; she had missed "journey" just last night. "Don't forget the E!" I thought to her.

She caught my eye and smiled. "Journey. J-O-U-R-N-E-Y, journey." That's my girl!

Number 23 missed her word, so it was on to round five, with only six contestants left. Allyson was the only one left in the last two rows.

By the time Allyson's turn came around, it was down to her and numbers 1 and 3, both fourth graders. I was beginning to wonder. Could there be a chance? Might she go all the way?

"Ingot," the moderator said.

Uh oh. I didn't remember practicing that one. It must have been on the second page that I told Allyson they probably wouldn't get to in the first spelling bee. Tough word! I wasn't sure how to spell it myself. Did it start with an I? Or was it an E?

"Could I have a definition?" Allyson asked.

"Ingot. Noun. A mass of metal cast in a convenient form for shaping, remelting, or refining."

Well, that didn't help.

Allyson took a deep breath and pursed her lips. "Ingot. E-N-G... I-T. Ingot?"

Ding! went the bell.

"Thank you," the moderator said softly.

Allyson smiled politely and walked off stage.

The last two boys battled it out for six more rounds, spelling words like "abominably" and "devotee." Even though I was anxious to get to work, it was pretty riveting. In the end, number 1 won, just as I had predicted from the beginning. Turns out, all the kids in that family have won all the spelling bees they've entered, at all grade levels.

Allyson on Far Left, Wearing Her Participant Ribbon

After they posed for pictures, I gave Allyson a quick hug and told her how proud I was. She was pleased, having done far better than she expected, and she was happy for her friend Elijah, who will be advancing to the district final.

Tonight at bedtime, Allyson prayed, "God, thank you for helping me feel confident and do well today. I was so nervous last night, but I gave my whole day to you, and you helped me do my best and have fun."

That's my girl!

Maybe next year I'll get to tell you about Allyson winning her first spelling bee.


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