28.1.13

The Shape of Life | Strong Mansion Portraits

"he was trying to show me the shape of his life, 
and what might become the shape of it."
wendell berry
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"He was seeing the time to come as a possibility, and as a life that he loved.  And though maybe neither of us fully understood it, he made me love it.  It wasn't as though I was being swept away by some irresistible emotion. 

It was just... the thought of resistance never entered my mind.  When I imagined him entering the life he saw, I imagined myself entering it too.  It was a possibility that belonged to both of us.

It is entirely clear to me now.  We were coming together into the presence of something good that was possible in this world.  And it just seemed that, as we waited together for the coming of this life, it had become wrong to sit apart." Wendell Berry, from Hannah Coulter
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Happy Monday!

24.1.13

Gender Reveal | Meet Our Baby!

"what He desires, that He does.
for He will complete what He appoints for me,
and many such things are in His mind."
job 23
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My striking and courtly grandmother was the first and only child in her family.   After she married my tall, brainy grandfather she had a son, but he died suddenly at 10 days old.  Shortly after, she was pregnant again.  My mother was born, and was the living eldest in her family of six.  Three girls and one boy and two parents.  Though my mother was sure I was a boy (and my nickname was "Baby Moses"), she delightfully found out her first child was a daughter.

My childhood was spent far more in imaginary settings than in reality.  I was endlessly playing games and making up families and stories.  Dollhouse, Barbie and invisible friends were my favorite activities.  My imaginary family consisted of me as the mom, and my four daughters (dad had died in war.)  I had one Ken doll, but he mostly just sat in the kitchen while the ladies kept busy preparing for the ball or searching for the missing bunny rabbit!  Though I was athletic, I was a girls-girl to the bone.

And my mom and I were a team.  Just like she and her mom.  Grandma (Bacca, to me) and mom had the sweetest, best friend, mother-daughter relationship.  Bacca had an envious relationship with all her daughters - and all her daughters had first-born daughters (in fact, my two aunts only ever had daughters!).  But I always thought of my mom the way she thought of her mom.  I had friends who wished they had an older brother.  I never did.  I loved being the oldest, and I loved being mom's pal.  We would take the latest baby with us on weekend shopping trips.  I, and just I, went with her when she found Bacca was dying.  We flew cross-country while she was nine months pregnant, and while we were in the hospital parking lot, Bacca died.  We got off the elevator and were told the news by mom's sisters.  And I was there.  Not my dad, not all the other kids, and now not even her mom.

I'd take the baby so mom could sleep.  Mom never missed my games, mom taught me how to cook and loved to let me learn, mom tried to help me with fashion and I refused to heed her advice.  Mom went to Chicago with me before my first big trip "alone" after highschool.  Mom and I get ourselves into the most ridiculous debacles, and we're so similar: messy, unorganized, big-hearted creatives... we are full of ideas, love to relax and make things beautiful, but usually do things the hard way.  I spent a week in the hospital with mom nearly a year ago.  She was the first person I called when I got engaged, the only family member waiting up for me when we got home that night, and the most excited about wedding planning.  I had two must-haves for the wedding: to marry Caleb, and for mom to be there.  The day I found out I was pregnant, I ran upstairs to find my mom and tell her... literally ten minutes after Caleb and I found out ourselves.  Mom came with us to the gender reveal ultrasound yesterday, and we're planning on her being there for the birth (we both need her.)  And that's just how it is.
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In my mind, I always, mmm, wanted? No, I can't even say wanted... I think assumed.  In my mind, I always assumed that my first born and I would continue on what Bacca and mom, and mom and I shared.  It just seemed natural and how it would be.

When Caleb and I started planning our futures together, we both agreed we had a gut instinct that our first born would be a girl.  I was surprised when he said that, actually.  I thought he'd predict a son first. But he was oddly convinced we'd be a family of three: dad, mom and little lady.

After we actually found out we were expecting, we never even talked about "Do you think it's a boy? Or a girl?" it just was a girl.  All along.  We have a list of names we love, but one of the girl names especially seemed to fit this baby and we unintentionally started calling her that name.  When we announced at church that we were having a girl, a dear older man who has spoken into our lives through prayer and vision from the Lord, had a distinct picture of our daughter, and the phrase immediately associated with her was "what a joy! what a joy!"  I cried during his prayer for her - his prayer of not just being a joy to those around her, but having a deep and unnatural sense of God's joy.   Marked by stone-strong joy.
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As the weeks went on, I thought it'd be fun to do all those little tests.  The Chinese gender calendar.  The string-and-needle-test.  The cravings test.  The "way you're carrying" test.  Girl. Girl. Girl. Girl.  I had strangers stop me out in public and tell me I was having a girl, because of such-and-such trait or quality I apparently had.  I had a few friends tell me "I don't know, you're awfully confident, but I have a feeling it might be a boy.  Just because you're so sure it's a girl.  Little boy is going to prove you wrong!"  I'd honestly try to imagine what they would be like.

What if this baby is a boy?  Wow.  It never really crossed my mind.  And I couldn't even begin to grasp that.  What if Little Clementine Joy Girl is... a he?  Trying to imagine that felt like trying to imagine Little Clementine Joy Girl being a fox, or butterfly.  I really want boys... in fact!  I'd love to have six boys after this first girl!  But, that's just not who was in me right now.  Between dreams, memories, desires, predictions, and plain ol' gut instinct, Caleb and I have always known she's our "she."

After basketball a few days ago, I was talking to one of the moms and she asked if I knew what we were having yet.  I responded, like I always do, "We haven't had the ultrasound yet, but I know it's a girl."  We talked for a few minutes about when she was pregnant with her first baby, and how she knew it was a girl.  "Actually, before I even got married I knew, and felt like I had it on my heart from the Lord, that I was going to have three daughters.  And I knew my first three were girls.  I couldn't really explain it, but I just knew."  I got a little misty, and felt heart-tugs "Yes! She knows what I'm experiencing!" (Oh, and she ended up having five daughters!)  Before Behr Kless was born, "we all" knew he was a boy.  Becca "knew" for years before she was even pregnant, and had even bought baby boy things! (Though, to be fair, I think she had one or two girl things... just in case.)  The first Kless baby was always "he" in my heart and mind.   We could never have fully imagined or prepared for Behr, but in the ways that we could, he was exactly "who" we were all picturing.  I know my mom often didn't have a strong feeling one way or another (and she waited to find out what it was when she gave birth), but I've been sure.  100% sure.  Just as much as I knew Caleb was "the one" for me, I knew this baby as a girl.  I would have been more shocked to find out the baby was a boy, then to find out it was twins or triplets.  In my heart of hearts, deep down deep, for maybe no rational reason.  I would probably even get a little offended when people would "tell me" I might be wrong ;)  But, how could they know and feel what I knew and felt?  They couldn't.  And that's okay.

I couldn't sleep much the night before last, and I was counting the hours until we got to go see Baby Love's face.  It took forever - like waiting for the boy you like to text you back.  But, time never stands still.  It always moves forward.  And it was finally time to (hopefully!) get the medical proof of what we've known in our hearts.
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Without further ado, our baby:

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Yup.  I was dead wrong.

When I saw that blue paint, I think I lost my breath.  The only thing that even comes close to comparing my shock was the feeling I had when Caleb proposed:  SHOCK.  I was very happy when Caleb proposed - very!  But at first, what I immediately felt?  Shock.  Surprise - but, like, more astonishment.  Lightning bolt, this does not feel like my own life, I think I'm going to open my eyes in a few seconds and wake up, WHAAAAT?!?!  My response to proposal shock was instant and hard tears.  Turns out that was my response for Baby Boy, too ;)  I cried the whole drive.  And kept saying "I'm shocked.  I'm just so shocked.  I feel dizzy.  And like this isn't really life.  I'm shocked.  There is NO WAY."

Then the shock turned into sadness.  Hear me out on this.  I was not (am not?) sad that we're having a boy, but rather, I was emotional that it wasn't a girl.  Literally decades of hope, imagination and instinct were proven wrong ;)  And it felt like I was missing someone.  The firstborn daughter I thought I not only had but who I also knew ("better than anyone else!") was "gone."  Yes, yes, I know she was never there.  But in my heart she was.

Caleb sees he's never seen me this emotional.  I had to go coach practice and was shaking when I arrived at the gym, trying to play it cool and not burst into tears in the middle of explaining 70-overload and breaking half-court traps.  Throughout practice I'd feel the little twists and spins of my baby inside. My mind kicked into auto-pilot "Hey girlie!  I love to feel you!"  Then I'd remember.  Right.  No.  Buddy!  Hey... little... guy.  I love to feel you, too!  Er, YOU.  Not "too."  Just you.  I love to feel you.

After practice we road over to Target to get the goods for our "sweet treat announcement."  I cried all through the aisles.  I little boy jumped out of the popcorn section and said "wa-la!"  Caleb laughed and whispered to me "We're going to have a little guy like that!" as we passed him.  I cried more.  Praise Jesus irrational crying is pretty much the most normal part of being pregnant.  It's just what happens when you feel anything, and it makes it very very hard to know what you feel.  "Are you sad?"  "I don't know!  I don't think so!"  Caleb was perfect and told me that it was totally alright to be disappointed, it didn't make me a bad mom or mean that I didn't love my son.  It just meant I was really taken off guard, so crying is normal.
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After we told my family, my mom and I just sat there, dumbfounded.  The best way I can describe it would be if someone came up to me and handed me smooth, grey, brick-sized stone and told me "This is your pet puppy!"  I'd be like "Um, no.  It's not a puppy.  It's a... rock."  "No, no!  It's not a rock!  It's a dog!"  And then, all of a sudden, the rock starts wagging a tail and jumping around and licking my arms and it's somehow definitely a dog.  Even though - THAT GUY HANDED ME A ROCK?! HOW DID IT TURN INTO AN ANIMAL?!  It basically felt bizarre.  "No, it's not a boy.  It's a girl." "Well, actually, it is a boy." "No way." "Yes way." "Oh wow, I guess you're right.  It is a boy.  Wow.  How'd that happen?!" ;)
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So now, almost 24 hours later, I've settled into the idea and reality of my son a little more.  When I feel baby doing his flip-turns, I think "Aw!  He's getting some morning exercise in!" I have looked at his sonogram pictures dozens and dozens of times.  His full lips, his rosy nose, his jaw just like daddy's.  His super long legs, like grandpa and Caleb.  His huge ribcage, just like me.  His perfect set of man-shoulders and boyish, lifted chest.  His big feet - and big self!  He's already measuring larger than his due date ;) He does look like a little boy.  Caleb even said so before we knew.  He looks like Caleb.
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I read Numbers 13 and 14, with my boy in mind.  "Caleb quieted the people... 'The land, which we passed through is an exceedingly good land.  The LORD delights in us, and He will bring us into this land and give it to us!... do not fear the people of the land.  The Lord is with us; do not fear them.' ... Then the Lord said 'Caleb has a different spirit, and has followed me fully."  Known for his loyalty, devotion, his companionship.  For his incredible power of observation, for his fearlessness despite all odds, his whole-heartedness and sureness of God.

Oh crazy surprise boy, we did not "decide" to have you or make you.  God did, centuries ago.  He planned you, and then He made you.  And He made you you.  A boy.  A firstborn boy.  A stubborn boy ;)  Our boy.  I don't know much about you yet.  You're a flipper and spinner, not a kicker (I don't know what that means for real life, though.  I'm done with my instincts!).  You refuse to wake up if you're still sleepy.  Goodness, you had me laughing at the ultrasound.  There is no way you were actually staying asleep with all the poking and prodding.  At first you were making crying faces and had your mouth wide open "yelling."  But then you "flipped" into a ball, with your long legs STRAIGHT over your head so we couldn't "get in" and see you very well.  You held that position perfectly still for almost an hour, with the occasional good hard kick when the probe got too close to you.   We, obviously, think you are very cute and look kind of like a kitten in some of the 4D images.  The tech was pretty impressed too (and she TOTALLY is not impressed with all the other babies she sees), "Wow, you have a very cute one.  Such a cutie."  Psh.  Yeah.  That's my kid.  My son.
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You'll be the big brother to the rest of our children.  When they think "family" they'll think of you.   Both dad and I are the oldest in our big families (your family!) and we can confirm: having little brothers and sisters is the best.  You'll get to know them before they know you.  You get to be the hero in their eyes, and the boss. (Muahha.)  You get to love on them, and see how much fun it is to bless the little guys.
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Your Maryland uncles will teach you all about sports, and your Oklahoma uncles will teach you all about country life.  They know how to build airplanes on the farm! ;)  Dad (and I, but especially dad) can't wait to show you all the best places to set-up a fort, how to catch a fish and how many things you can make out of sticks.  We're even working on a house for you right now.  A real house.  But that story is for a different time.Photobucket
Oh man, you're gonna do all sorts of things to make us smile and shake our heads and thank God you came into this world.  If you're affectionate like your ol' man, I wouldn't be surprised if you're a bit of a flirt.  Don't worry - we get it.  Kissing is a blast.
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Ah!  This is so much fun!  I hope you come up with some crazy costumes.  And think you're Butch Cassidy or a snake or, like my brothers, an entire sports team all wrapped up in one-person (including referees and coaching staff.)
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You're welcome to be as adventurous and curious as you want.  There's only one rule: you can't die.  Okay?  I already love you too much.  You have to wait until you're a fat old man.  (Also!  I'm a cool mom - I'll let you adventure barefooted.  I love being barefoot.)
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Speaking of old men, we're going to teach you to be a gentleman.  "Gentle" and "man" are a fantastic pair of words to combine.   Your father is both of those.  Be like him, okay? Deal?!  You're already going to be the best old chap, I can tell. 
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But before you can get to "old" you have to get through "young."  Goodness gracious, some little training-bra wearing, wide-eyed toots is going to have a crush on you.  I hope you're clueless for a while ;) but that you enjoy (and not waste) your "young."  I'll help you out with the whole outfit thing, dad has you covered on the how to treat a lady thing, but you're going to have to go elsewhere for dancing tips.  We're just no good.
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We've been talking about playing with our kids since the weekend we met.  We are just dying to play with you.  Dares and pranks and races and stories and the whole sha-bang. 
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I have to admit, there is something about a happy little boy.  Nothing in the world quite like it.  We're going to do our best to give you lots to smile about, but I have a hunch you're going to be the one giving us reason to smile.
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I have a lifetime of words to tell you.  I won't bore these poor blog readers here with it all.  But as I wrap up this post - this post I never thought I would be writing - you're doing some great somersaults in me.  Even the process of putting this post together has given me such a vision for being mama to a little boy, mama to you.  So now I'm crying unshocked, unsad, un-missing-"someone"-else tears.  I'm crying happy tears.  I'm so happy you're you and not who I thought you were.  I've never been more pleased to be more wrong.
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You have five great-grandparents, four grandparents, 18 (including Joel in heaven) aunts and uncles, and two splendidly in love parents waiting for you.  Grow grow grow, and we await the day we formally welcome you to your family.
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What a joy! What a joy!

21.1.13

Enjoy Writing | Oh My My My | Part 14

"because some of us are pirates 
and some of us are damned.
but all of us, need all of us to ever find the land.
and though the passage of good hope may seem
like a needles eye
.
we're floating on tranquility
on this beautiful night."

josh ritter - beautiful night
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There are varied and colorful reasons a person might decide to "be in a relationship" with someone else.   More than these, but these:

The together-ness of it.  "A lonely existence is fate worse than death," after all!  
The flattery of it.  The need to be wanted, the want to be needed.  
The game of it.  It's madness, and the human heart loves hopeful, spirited contention.  
The fear of it (or the fear of not having it).  The "what if's" and "could be's!" and "I hope not's" and "I'm scared's."   
The hard-to-get-ness of it.   The one you can't have, the bad boy, the challenge, the hide-and-seek, hunt-and-chase, the tag-you're-it, the "timing isn't right, but our love can make it work! It will survive!"   
The chemistry of it.  The "bam!" person (people?) who change the game once and for all.  Who actually drive you wild and… stupid.  The ones who make you forget or forego your standards.  The ones you "just can't say no" to.  The ones who introduce you to your, ahem, drive.  
The expectations of it.  What you assume or predict or plan to happen.
The bragging rights of it.  Being able to walk into a room with him  on your arm, and post bitterly-adorable-heaven-on-earth-special filtered phone photographs of you two, and to have someone to talk to all your gals about.  It's fun!   
The pressure of it.  "Everyone" thinks it's meant to be.  "Everyone" "knows" you are made for each other.  "Everyone" thinks you're an idiot to pass it up.   
The enthusiasm of it.  Like when it snows in October.  It's out of the ordinary, it's something to talk about, it's unboring. 
The "it's so perfect on paper" of it.  The lists.  Oh the lists.  Burn the lists.  (In the meantime, have personal conviction).  
The confusion of it.  Puzzles are confusing.  That's why it's so satisfying to put it all together.  Victory! Perseverance! Now we dance!  
The safety of it.  What is known is far less horrifying than what is unknown.  "There could be better for me, but there might not be."  
The imagination of it.  The soggy, schmaltzy, triumphant make-believe you do believe is on the verge of happening, of becoming  tangible.    
The idea of it.  It's quite a delicious concept.  Me and you, you and me, against the great, big, bad world.  The place you belong.  Being "more yourself with him than without him."  It pulses.
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And sometimes, it's the "him-ness" of it.  He's not an illusion, trick, game, hoax, hole-filler, activity, chore, nest, or dream.  Maybe he comes with a side of deep ba-chow-pa-chow fireworks, or irresistible good looks, or arresting vocabulary, or charm that could hang off a dainty silver chain.  But it's himHe is who you want, and why you're together.

Anna brought confusing clarity when she said 
"I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it, but I didn't, not really. Only the smudgeness of it; the pink-slippered, all-containered, semi-precious eagerness of it. I didn't realize it would sometimes be more than whole, that the wholeness was a rather luxurious idea
I didn't know, don't know, about the in-between bits; the gory bits of you, and the gory bits of me."  
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The gory bits of me and you.  The gory bits of him.  Before our comical Strong Mansion first date, I had gone on two other "first-dates" with a boyfriend (those other boyfriends, by the way? BOTH relationships combined didn't last four weeks.)  Caleb was my third actual boyfriend.  And the second "him."  I crushed on, and was fooled by, and pondered, and played the game with, and accepted the attention of others.  But on that Strong Mansion date, I was 21 and had made my way through a decade of middle school, high school, and "college age" with less hugs from males than fingers on my right hand, and without holding hands with a boy, having a first kiss, or saying "I love you."
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But, I went to coffee, lunch and dinner (alone) with different guys (those are dates, right?).  I "talked" with guys.  I "tried" to see if there was anything there.  I "waited patiently" when something was there for me, and then… the guy dated and married someone else.  I was a strange combination of smart and clueless.  Of experienced and naive.  Of sharp and innocent.  

So when it came to Caleb and I, I knew I liked him.  I wanted to date him.  I wanted to fall in love with him.  (As opposed to "just wanting to fall in love.")  He, rather than the idea of he, had my respect and affection.  He was my good friend (so important so important so important).  He was a man of conviction, and action.  He lived and loved with a soothing and honest modesty.  He was excitable, but intentional.  He seemed to have the most perfect balance of "work hard, play hard" of anyone I'd ever met.  He was a gentleman and also a little boy and also a grandfather.  Honorable, energetically delightful and patiently reassuring.   He had a beautiful mind, but didn't give away thoughts easily.  "… these stories were't routinely told.  These stories one had to earn."  He had a nearly word-for-word identical vision for future, marriage, family and life that I saw for myself.  He was generous.  He listened to me.  He, in one sentence, could hush and challenge and inspire and affirm me.  He was tearfully real with me about his personal insecurities and fears.  He was flexible and content and faithful.  I felt like I had known him longer than I really had, I had feelings for him, I daydreamed about making-out with him.  He was my friend.  We were figuring each other out, and didn't know each other well yet, there were "the in-between bits" left to discover.  But I knew I had my sleeves rolled up and my work-boots on, and I was in this for the gory bits of him.  Not the thought of or fun of or flattery from him.  
(By the way, female readers, don't confuse "what he does to you" and "he."  Also, don't ignore "what he doesn't do to you" and "he."  I know that sounds complicated, but it's important.  You should feel something, but you shouldn't be willing to DO ANYTHING because of said feeling.  If it looks good on paper, but you have no desire… don't do it.  If you have more desire than you ever imagined, but have no/broken trust/meaningful-friendship… watch out. Seriously.  Beware.)

But here is what I did not know.  I didn't know if it was enough.  I didn't "know."  Which.  I know I know I know! You don't HAVE to "know" right away.  But I was aware that you can have a great friendship, and emotional romance, and sizzling fires… and it doesn't mean you should or will spend forever together.  And since I had been hurt, since I had relationships not work out, since Caleb himself had "broken up" with me once before, I was somewhat frozen in my square.  Like playing a board game, and genuinely enjoying it, but when it came time to roll the dice and move forward, I just… stayed put.  I didn't want to not play, and I didn't want to lose. Because he was so… good… I could talk to him about all this "stuff."  I told him that I thought he liked me more than I liked him, which was quite a flip from February.  I told him I was nervous, but that I definitely wanted to be in this.  When I was being silent, he'd force me to talk.  And when I couldn't shut up, he'd force me to be quiet.  Not "forceful" in a controlling way, but in an unstoppable way.  There were a few qualities of his that still were different from what I expected and hoped for.  Mostly it was this:  he wasn't the funny guy, the life of the party, the quick-witted, loud energy, "full of things to say" man.  He wasn't like my dad.  He wasn't like most of the other guys I ever liked or "considered" or connected with. He certainly wasn't the personality of the man I imagined for myself.  Was this okay?  Was all he was "enough"?  Was I okay not having that quality?  These questions were another reason I knew I liked him.  He was not my type - at all.  He wasn't what I would have picked for myself if you gave me a line-up.  And yet, in all of that, there was a wholeness I clearly couldn't deny.  Was it my heart fighting my mind?  My mind fighting my heart?  I don't know.  I couldn't let go, but I was scared to hold on.  A phrase I said often was "I want him to be 'it' but I don't know if he is."
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These sentences are what, looking back, I wish I had understood a little better.  Or maybe they are exactly what I did come to understand.  
“I used to think that finding the right one was about the man having a list of certain qualities.  If he has them, we'd be compatible and happy.   Sort of a checkmark system that was a complete failure.  But I found out that a healthy relationship isn't so much about sense of humor or intelligence or attractive-ness.   It's about avoiding partners with harmful traits and personality types.   And then it's about being with a good person.   A good person on his own, and a good person with you.   Where the space between you feels uncomplicated and happy.  A good relationship is where things just work.   They work because, whatever the list of qualities, whatever the reason, you happen to be really, really good together.”  deb caletti - the secret life of prince charming
"He blessed them… and behold, it was very good.  And they were naked and unashamed."  [Genesis 1 +2]  Acting openly, without guilt, embarrassment or fear.  Without protection, defense or anywhere to hide.  Vulnerable.  Free.  It was good.  Ironically enough, feeling open and unrestrained with someone else is not a particularly exciting or "jazz you up" feeling.  It's not the peak and pinnacle of all sensation.  Like walking into your mother's kitchen, with her household famous homemade meal waiting for you.  Where she can already tell you had a hard day, and saved you a plate because you were home late.  You can take a deep breath and "Aaaaaah…" and relax.  Rest.  Savor.  Enjoy. Spill.  Not think.  Or think too hard.  Be.  

I had never experienced that with someone else, and I often wondered if that sense of comfort, home and total safety was a cop-out?  If it was boring?  If it was "normal"?  Is it supposed to "feel" like this?  I sometimes over-explain myself - which is probably more a sign of poor writing than misunderstood readership.  BUT. I'm not using the words "naked" and "unrestrained" in a dating relationship with the meaning "DO WHATEVER YOU WANT! ALL THE TIME! NO RULES! NO CONSEQUENCES!  NO WORRIES! HAKUNA MATATA!"  I'm simply meaning: I'm not faking anything with this person.  I'm not keeping anything from this person.  He knows ME.  And I'm learning him.  Not a game-playing him, or "yes-man" him.  The REAL him.  And the space between Caleb and I was uncomplicated and happy.  He was good.  And we were very true with each other.  And all of that didn't "feel" like things I had experienced before.  Not because these "new feelings" were louder and bigger than other ones, no, no.  That's what I was expecting, to be honest.  They were quieter and calmer. (And they were there.  I'll repeat until I die: they must exist.) This caused disharmony in me.  
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Our dates were always filled with good food, cute outfits, special adventures, and happiness.  We saw each other every single day.  Because we both  wanted to.  I was quite thrilled when I was with him, but I'd wake up and start asking all my questions and have to talk myself off the ledge, and then - without fail -, when 4:00 or 5:00 o'clock rolled around I was anxious for that text that he was finishing up work.  I had to see him.  After a few weeks of double-dates, movie-nights at friend's houses, hiking trips, group church activities he had made some new friends in Maryland, but I realized he was with me all the time.  I felt bad, so I told him to go have a guys night, to go do something by himself.  He decided that he wanted to hang out with his new friend Josh, who is married with three young kids, and lived about an hour away from our town.  Caleb loved talking with Josh, and genuinely loved spending time with families and guys "ahead" of him in life. 

 I didn't see Caleb before work.  I didn't see him during work.  I didn't see him after work.  By dinner time, I was physically hurting.  I missed Caleb heaps and handfuls.  I was trying to be "good" and not text him 12 or 13 times.  I was trying to enjoy hanging out with my dad (he was in town and staying in the apartment with me.)  I made him dinner and we caught up.  Josh's wife was being wonderful and texting me the funny things they were talking about it.  Laughing at Caleb's drink choices.  Around 7:30 or so she texted and said Caleb had thrown up.  WHAT! Thrown up! "Yeah!  He was fine one second, and then the next he excused himself - quickly - to the bathroom.  And then he was puking!"  She told me he seemed to be feeling better.  Until.  He threw up again 30 minutes later.  "He's laying down on the couch now.  He says he can drive home.  But I'm not so sure…I'm sorry I poisoned your boyfriend!"  I immediately left.  "Tell him I'm coming.  Don't let him drive."  

I arrived after 9:15, and he was limp and sweaty on the couch.  It was all humorous (and the makings of a great story) but still so so sad.  He looked pathetic.  Not "man-cold pathetic." But actually really, really bad.  Slumped over we helped him to the car.  He ever-so-sweetly thanked Josh for having him (with drool slugging down his cheek.)  Every bump and turn caused a panic.  "Please drive slow!  Please be careful!"  We made it back to my house in the nearer-to-11:00-hour.  He had thrown up again a couple more times in the car (thank you, Kelley, for the bags you sent with us!)  He propped himself on me as we inched up the stairs and into my living room.  He wilted into the cute white couch and moaned.  I left to get him a blanket and pillow, then I heard scampering and awful heaving.  He slammed the bathroom door and had himself a time.  I brought him some ginger ale and crackers once he laid back down.  "Try to eat a little?"  He refused.  Ice-hugged-washcloths were the next need.  I held the cloths over his head and under his neck.  "Please try to eat something?"  He nibbled a cracker and fled to the restroom again.  While he was in there, I got a bucket for him so we wouldn't have to make "the run" every time.  Within the hour, he "emptied out" into the bucket.  I cleaned the bucket in the bathtub.  He was freezing now.  I hunted for a warmer quilt.  And Pepto-Bismal.  He exploded again.  He asked for popsicles and he was too hot.  His face was bright red and raining.  I sped to 7-11.  It was nearing 3 am.  I came home to him dry-heaving and pleading with God to "make it stop."  I tried to rub his feet to help calm his body down?  Relax him a little?  

In between his "sessions" he'd sort of fall asleep, only to be abruptly awoken.  I cleared and washed his bucket over and over.  By 5:30 am he had fallen asleep for real and at 6:00 am, I wrapped up in a sheet and slept under the kitchen table with a few pillows.  We both woke up around lunchtime.  I was in the same clothes as the day before, with various juice, medication, soap and puke dots all over me.  My make-up was mostly rubbed off, and the bags under my eyes were too big to carry-on.  I smelled salty and bloated. And that was the morning he "fell in love" with me.  My dad laughed at our appearance.  "Good night, huh?"  Perfect night, actually.
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I, of course, didn't know what had happened that night for quite some time.  But for him, that series of events, caused him to "fall hard."  He was in love.  

The night before his disastrous food poisoning, we had whipped around Washington DC for a nearly perfect date.  He got off of work early and told me to "dress nice."  I had a dress I had been waiting for the right occasion to wear.  This was the perfect time.  We drove to the metro and took the train into the city.  After being captivated by the detail and grander of Union Station, we walked and talked all the way to dinner.  He had reservations at the restaurant I'd be talking about for months: Founding Farmers.  We agonized over the menu.  It's so hard to just pick a couple items!  We moaned with delight when our food arrived and we could finally taste it.  We spent most of dinner talking about his new plans:  his new "I'm not leaving Maryland" plan.  Though we had only ever talked about and agreed to him coming for 4-6 weeks, once he was here, I kind of forgot he wasn't staying?  The conversation was richly meaningful, but also, you know, scary ;)
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He told me how he thought he could get more work here once he finished his project.  He talked about selling his house and land in Oklahoma if he needed to.  He didn't want to, but he was willing to.  I was almost alarmed.  His land? And house?  That place was his lifelong dream, and was half-way into being complete!  And… he would consider giving that up to stay here with me?  To make things work with me?  The idea shook me to the spine.  I felt honored and horrified.  We then talked about his house.  I asked him all about it.  He told me every little detail and plan and idea he had for it.  He told me why it was located where it was, why he didn't put the house in the original plan (on the hill), how he ended up getting the land, where he wanted to build a gazebo and stage to play music in the summer, about the deck for big BBQ's, about the tall ceilings for a 15-foot Christmas tree, the stone fireplace, the spiral staircase, the wood beams ("to wrap garland around at Christmas time!").  He spoke of these plans like he was telling me about the glory days in war, or recalling the night he met his sweetheart, Shirley, at the local bandstand.  He was lost in world, with swift movements and hungry eyes and animated descriptions.  He loved that land, and what that land meant to him.  It was the first night I ever thought "Maybe I could live in Oklahoma.  Maybe."  

After eating, we walked to the Capitol building.  In the summer there are weekly free jazz concerts put on by different military branches.  We sat on the white steps of the iconic building, and clapped and hoo-rah-ed and watched the sun go down, with the reflecting pool and Washington Monument in the distance.  Not too long after, we took our shoes off and walked around under giant trees in the soft green grass.  We found a spot to sit down, and I pulled out my favorite ND Wilson book.  He'd been wanting to read it with me, so I opened to one of my most cherished chapters and took off into the story.  I read aloud for a few pages, leaning my back on Caleb's shoulder, rubbing the grass with my none-book-holding-hand.  Then I noticed Caleb seemed really stiff.  He was fidgeting and not comfortable.  "Are you alright?  Am I hurting you?" "NO! NO. I'm good.  You're fine.  Yeah. Keep reading!"  I read on and he arched his back a little.  It almost felt like he was holding his breath under water.  I stopped again. "I can move!  It's okay… want to find a tree to sit against?"  "I'm really fine.  I promise!"  I picked up where I had left off and… a rain drop fell onto my hand.  And my dress.   Another one landed in the middle of the paragraph I was reading.  

I looked up at the clear, hot, summer sky.  Dry as could be.  I turned towards my date.  My literal hot date.  He was not a normal shade of flesh-color.  And he was sweating, big time.  It was a particularly humid night, and summers in Oklahoma are dry like never-used diapers in Egypt.  He was not used to dealing with this much perspiration.  "Oh my, that's disgusting.  I'm so sorry.  What a gentleman I am!"  I dropped the book and rolled around laughing.  "Take off your button-up!  You have a t-shirt underneath!" He was so relieved to hear me say that.  He didn't just have "pit-marks."  He had chest-marks, neck-ring-marks, wrist-marks and pit… pools.  Slightly cooler, and slightly more relaxed, he came nearer to me again.  As we were preparing to re-settle, he, um, cut the cheese, burned the bench, stepped on a duck, experienced some thunder from down under.  It was silent.  But venomous.  My first thought was that we had accidentally arranged ourselves into a nest of dog poop.  "Is this dirt?! Or is it… UM. CALEB. Did you just…?"  He leapt away from me and sheepishly apologized.  He, thus far, had been nothing but proper, classy and gentlemanly.  Well-spoken, clean and fresh-smelling.  And his image was unraveling at the seams.  I felt like I was witnessing Kate Middleton walk around with her dress tucked into her pantyhose.  This was not like him!  And his mortification only made it funnier.  He didn't play it off or make a joke.  He was in SHOCK.  He tried to wave his BO-laden J.Crew button-up around the air to fan the smell away.  While doing that, he let loose again.  

"CALEB!" I screamed, mostly teasing.  He looked so defeated and ashamed with himself.  I laughed and laughed.  "YOU!  You of all people!  Are sweating all over your date, and rubbing body odor on her!  AND FARTING!  In her FACE!  HAHAHHA!"  Once he saw my pleasure in his crudeness, he started laughing too.  I loved seeing him "come out of his box."  Not be perfectly groomed, cut and polished.  I loved seeing his reaction to embarrassment.  I egged it on more and more.  Maybe it wasn't all that funny, but the tickle-bug hit and we were stumbling around re-telling the story to ourselves, imitating our faces, roaring on the lawn.  
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We finally sat down on a bench and tried to re-group.  He told me he was glad - "like, major glad." - he was staying.  He hoped I was too.  I was quiet for a moment.  


"Caleb.  What I'm about to say might seem ludicrous to you.  And I don't expect you to understand it.  But, I kind of really believe it."  I had certainly perked his attention.  "When I was 15, I had a dream.  And.  I don't know.  It was different than other dreams.  I had met this stranger in my dream and we were together and I fell in love with him.  But it all happened at this one moment.  Like, it was a specific 'thing' that happened.  Well, maybe I fell in love with him over time, but I didn't know it.  Until one specific time.  And I won't tell you any details of the dream, but I remember it perfectly.  I could draw it out for you right this second.  But when I knew, I knew.  And.  I think that's going to happen to me.  I think I'm going to KNOW.  And, I don't know yet.  And I want you to know that.  I really am happy and am loving all of this.  And we've only been together for two months, so I know there is no rush.  I'm not trying to speed anything up or put pressure on us.  But since you're staying, and saying very big things about how you feel about me, and what you'd give up for me… I just thought it was fair that you know."  

He was, rightfully, confused by my eloquent speech.  "So, you have to have 'this moment' like in your dream before you… marry someone?"  "Well!  Kind of!  I mean, I'm not even saying marriage, per se, I'm just saying… I've never KNOWN with someone.  Except that time in my dream.  And I want to have that sureness, that total 'Yes. I KNOW.' before I committed to something big, you know?"  He asked, rightfully, if I didn't have 'that one moment' if I'd maybe "know" another way.  "God works in many ways.  You might know with someone, but it might not be like it was in your dream."  I agreed.  And I had no biblical or conviction-al or even helpful support to back up my dream theory.  He could tell I was closing up.  "It's okay!  You don't have to know anything yet.  I don't know yet.  We're just dating.  We're having fun.  It's okay.  You're not leading me on.  Don't worry.  You can take your time, crazy lady.  There is no deadline for this.  I know what I'm risking, and I want to.  Don't feel pressure.  I mean it."  I got chills and almost cried, but decided to change the topic and take pictures instead. 
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Just hours later, he was puking on my couch.  I couldn't help but tremor inside when the in-betweens of he and I made their way onto our stage.  Unpracticed, disgusting, raw, human us.  On display for the other to see!  It was good.  And June was telling the story of such goodness.  We'd come a long way since December.  We had a long way to go.  But I was starting to the CS Lewis sentence come to pass, "Real friendship will have naked personalities." 

And I had the gory bits of "him" very much in love with me.  Tale as old as time.  True as it can be.


to be continued...