I slept a lot today.
Couldn't sleep much last night. Had a weird dream.
School is about to start back in a couple of weeks and I'm ready for it, honestly. It's been good to have this summer to heal, physically and mentally and emotionally, but it's time to move back into the land of the living.
I've spent so much time alone this summer and it has been so good. It was largely self-imposed, though Don has gone on two trips where he was away all week and those have been the hardest. This time I had the choice to go with him (spending the night at campmeeting) or not, but I'm not up to it for a thousand reasons.
Campmeeting. It's an amazing event. This is the 181st year of the Salem Campmeeting-- apparently it was only skipped once for the War of Northern Aggression. It's an incredible time of the year, like a major family reunion, and the week is kept religiously by many, many people. The tabernacle is 150+ years old, and I'm always distracted by the craftsmanship I see in those rafters. Every year (I "married in," as they say, and have been going for 9 years now) I find myself looking at the rafters and trying to imagine what the carpenter looked like who made just...that...cut. I imagine that those men were strong and clever and maybe they were laughing as they worked. As an artist, I love just the roughness of it. You can feel the hands of the craftsmen in every nick.
Anyway, campmeeting is a simple but profound concept: there are a bunch of cabins ("tents") that were built all around the tabernacle. Every year, the families who own those tents move in on Friday night (or so) and set up camp (campmeeting happens here in our community). A couple of the tents have air conditioning, but mostly you just decide from the beginning that you're going to be hot. Hot and smelly. And every day of campmeeting you go to services at the tabernacle. There are two preachers who alternate am/pm times, choirs from surrounding communities, and this year, testimonies (fantastic new addition). There are countless youth events needled throughout all of this-- baseball, kickball, treasure hunts, crafts, swimming, bible study, and porch-sitting. There are people who can count five generations in attendance. Now, that's nothing but cool.
Sounds fun, doesn't it? Now that I've been going (any "real" camper would scoff at my statement that I've been "going"-- I don't spend the night any more and I tend to avoid the place during the day-- have I mentioned that this is happening in July in Georgia? Outside? 100+ year old tents?) for a number of years, I see the crazy growth of the kids: little ones who were babies last year are children this year. Boys who were skinny/chubby and short are suddenly taller/stockier this year. They have facial hair. They have zits. Girls notice them now. Girls who sat on the porch and gossipped about boys and followed them around and bugged them...do it again this year.
How is it that the girls don't seem to change much? Hm. Weird.
But I struggle with campmeeting, and I understand why it's hard to understand for those who don't struggle with it. I mean, what's not to love about what I just wrote? It's the American dream, isn't it? Everyone sits on the porch and drinks iced tea or diet coke and passes out popsicles and talks about the events of the last year or how irritating the kids are being or whatever.
And as an extrovert, you'd think the thing was made for me. I mean, PEOPLE are EVERYWHERE!!!! And not just any people-- people that I really, really love!
But for some reason, every insecurity I have rises to the surface. I'll skip the list and just leave it at this: it's hot. That affects hair, wardrobe, everything. And then, being a youth worker (not as much in the last few years), the kids (who are now adults) always feel the need to point out whatever it is that makes you feel uncomfortable: why are you wearing that? Why don't you come earlier?
Anyway, those things are actually kind of funny. It's part of the tradition of it all.
Campmeeting means the world to my husband, though. He loves it. He submerges himself into it and lets it wash all over him. He would live at Salem year round if he could. He loves the tradition of it, the community of it-- he loves what it means and how much of a glimpse of heaven it really is. Homecoming. Focus on the Lord. Relationship. He asked me to marry him on that campus, a month and a half after the first campmeeting I went to (where I stayed at a different tent from his and didn't know anyone really yet...that year was a bit uncomfortable). His name is written in the cement of the tent he stays in, with the year "1976" right beside it. He lives for it, and Joshua, my 18 year old step son, loves it, too.
But this year is especially hard because of Ben. And it's not because of the other babies there-- there are tons and they're precious-- but because this is one of the things I knew I'd be doing with him. You know, most of the days between birth and now were just normal. We might have been taking him here or there. We might have done this or that with him. But this? We knew that Don would be holding a little baby during services at Salem this year. And where my arms have been conspicuously empty for ten weeks, I have a feeling that my husband's are this week, more than ever before. And it makes my heart ache for him.
This thing, this tradition, means so much to him. He was so excited to be bringing yet another of his sons into it all. That there would be people meeting the baby this year who would, in a few years, tell him "I remember when you were first born...." That's such a valuable thing-- being known from birth.
For me, I felt that Ben's presence would give me something to do at Salem. It would give me a place. I miss him so much this week. So much, I can't hardly stand to be there. And everyone is being so, so kind to me. It's like they know.
Ben, it's the tenth Tuesday since you came and went, like a whisper of smoke, and I want you to know that your absence is felt this week in a unique and deep way. We wanted to bring you into our lives and raise you up in community. We had a place all ready for you. We were going to take a thousand pictures of you this week. Everyone wanted to hold you. I fretted over how to dress you and keep you cool and had things set aside, just for Salem, from way back in March. I was going to finally stay for the family picture, and we were going to get Joshua and have pictures of the two of you together. Oh Ben, you are longed for. And even though the tears might not be hourly, or even daily, they're always here. I grieve for you all the time. I hold you in my heart, tight. Little boy, how we wanted you. Oh Ben, how I love you. I love you. I love you.
And again, for the thousandth time, my heart sobs Why? Oh why? Why did my Father let my heart get broken like this? Why did He bring me all the way to delivery, just to take him away? Why? Oh why don't I have a son today? Who did this to me? Who allowed it? Who perpetrated it? Who can I blame? What can I hit?
Last night, I dreamed that I was a wet nurse for a woman who was too sick to nurse her child. In my dream, my son had died and my milk had dried up, but I was able to get it to come back in. But even as I said yes to the person who was asking me to help this mother and baby, I thought, but what will I do when that baby is through nursing? When the mother can take him back? Will I have to go through the process of drying out my milk again? I avoided the pain of engorgement this last time-- would I avoid it again? I asked that question out loud and didn't hear an answer. But I chose to do it anyway.
I don't understand much from this season, but I want the mark on my life to always be yes. I want this season to be one where I can honestly say that I chose to believe God in the face of torment. In the face of total devastation. In the face of silence.
12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, "The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."
Psalm 92: 12-15