Sunday, December 25, 2011

So I'm not serving Blackberry, Cranberry Compote This Year

Daddy, decked in camo and safety goggles, was dodging airsoft bullets shot by yardstick-high sons giddy with the gift of their father's presence.  And I was at my usual post, fingers flying in the kitchen, unhappy and longing to lay in hawk-like perch on the second level of the kids' fort with Cort's sniper in  hand.  So much yet to be done, and I was missing all the fun.

This is what I hate about the Christmas season.  Every year I try.  Really.   REALLY try to simplify.  To plan well.  To do in advance.  To remember it isn't about presents but about presence--that of our family and that of JESUS.  Try to keep Christ central.  But then comes the crescendo of last minute items unchecked from the lists of labors loudly lamenting my inefficiency.  That crescendo that crowds out the spirit singing Silent Night, Holy Night.  That crescendo that blows to smitherines all my careful, meticulous planning.

And tension mounts.
Grows like snow falling in Ontario winters.

Soft and slow at first, a blanket that wraps me, but it becomes heavier, weightier.  And it isn't long before I am suffocating, snowed in by it all, my shovel is still in Ontario, and I'm in Georgia and I can't get out. 

Blinded by the blizzard.
Blinded to the light.

That's where I was when Jeff was playing airsoft, and I was transferring my blackberry, cranberry compote from stove to fridge.  Blinded and singing myself a pity song.  That's where I was when the Pyrex pranced out of my hands and like Santa and his reindeer, pirouetted across the kitchen plopping herself onto planked-floor slinging her fruity purple slop on every surface within a twelve mile radius.  And I saw stars.  (Not the one on my tree or the one from Bethlehem.)  A bull chasing red, air coursed my from nostrils, and I'm sure my ears were chimneys and smoke billowed from them. 

Thirty minutes I spent cleaning that mess.  Wiping doors, table legs-chair legs-stool legs, pantry cupboards, under the refrigerator.  How is it possible for compote to centripetally sail in every direction when I had only been traveling in one?  I know it multiplied as it flew.  Thirty minutes I didn't have.  Not in my schedule.
Third batch of short breads waiting to be whipped, and two chickens chanting to be roasted. Counters littered with baking debris and my heart hurting.

"Lord, I know this is a season of joy, but I hate this.  I can't see you in this.  And how ridiculous is it that I, one so blessed, am seething when I should be singing?"

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.  The Word was with God in the beginning.  All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankindAnd the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it." (John :1-5)

The darkness has not mastered it.

The darkness of life--of the moments when gooey, glorified fruit relish slink down our walls--can overwhelm.  Can blind.  Can snow a soul in. 

And I am ashamed when that is my darkness.  Want to deny it.  Pretend it isn't dark.  Pretend the picket fence isn't stained, and the world is perfect because how dare I consider my world dark when there is a deeper shade of black than I have ever known? Children hunger. Children thirst, cry for a mother who is gone, a father who never cared in the first place. Men and women in parks huddle hoping to stay warm on their bench-beds.  How can I, fortunate daughter of North America, claim darkness?

Darkness dawns many shades and she is all humanity's beast of the soul.

Christian.  Not Christian.  Child.  Adult.  Homebound or homeless.  Prince or Pauper.  We all know her shadow.  She has dressed as serpent tricking Eve to taste, she has heaved her heavy blanket on hunched shoulders and stayed until the doctors give pills, she has clinched fists and coerced them into slinging, she has blinded the rich man to the homeless man, and she has tempted the weary mother to wallow in the mire of miscellaneous mountains that demand her attention.  I know because I am that mother, and I have seen darkness dance.  I've taken her dangling arm and waltzed a round or two.

But the darkness has not mastered the light.

That word mastered means to overcome it, to overtake it.  The darkness has never overtaken the light.  Never.  No matter the shade, she cannot conquer The Light of the World. I recall the words of Peter, the young boy in Elizabeth Yates' classic, Once in the Year when he asks Benj to further explain what happened when the angels appeared to the shepherds, "What had happened, Benj?  What made the night turn to light?"
What indeed makes the night turn to light?

I sat on the floor, eyes giving way to waterfalls of emotion--a mother tired of mothering, and I whispered, "Immanuel--LIGHT with me."

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)

These dark moments.  They're why He came.  To redeem them.  To cast light when we can't see beyond ourselves.

These moments when celebrating Christmas is a serrated knife to our gut because we're saying goodbye to the family member we loved, when children still thirst in countries an airplane ride away, when teenage children are parents too early, and even the moments when we can't find a justifiable reason.  These are the moments Immanuel--God with us--came for.  They are the moments that make us eligble for His grace.

The moments when we say,
 "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me..."
But the darkness will not master light.
"...even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you."
(Psalm 139:11,12)

And that night was a mess, but it was indeed a holy night in my kitchen. 
Oh, holy night,  the stars were brightly shining.  It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
It was holy not because I felt like the serene images of Mary--hair long, clothed in pallid blue, halo over head--but because Immanuel is brighter than the darkness that overwhelms

And the wise men followed a star that moved as they moved, guiding them to Ultimate Light.
And I too can follow The Light of Men, follow Him from darkness into light.

I cleaned in silence, wiping away the mess of my own making--my haste, my rushing.  It isn't the repercussions, the ramifications, the ripple effects that are altered by the light.  It is in the heart that walks through the ramifications--the valleys of the shadows of death, the cleaning of compote, the closing of caskets, the calling out to God for wayward children--that Light makes a difference.  Immanuel, God with us, God in us who follow Him, is the meaning of hope, the meaning of Joy To The World.

There is not just light at the end of the tunnel, there is light through the tunnel, within us as we pass her cavernous way.

And Christmas is about that light.
It is the slowing time.

The time when we light up a thousand trees and top them with glowing stars.  Just the other day I laughed in wonder at God's own light display dripping in my front yard. Not long after dawn He had ladled the dew so heavy on lanky limbs of maple trees that tiny one centimeter balls of liquid luminated the morning while blue birds made their nests nearby.  God's own Christmas tree.

And those bulbs would reflect the sun.

Too, I am a reflection of His Light.  The reflection of Son light in my home, my neighborhood, my little world.  Sometimes a poor one, it is true.

When the floors and walls were cleaned, I stood, still steaming slightly. Emotions don't always dissolve, but they are like the shadow of a monstrous cat that nested in the folds of insulation between the ceiling joists of my unfinished childhood ceiling, that dawn slowly erased.

And when, moments later, mom came I took shelter in the human arms that God sent, the mother's arms who never stops mothering.  Because we are human, after all.  We need the touching, the telling that all is well.
But my spirit already knew.  Immanuel was there.

And this is the hope of Christmas, that darkness will never master light.

There will be no cranberry, blackberry froo froo on my Christmas table this year, but lighted candles there will be.
To remind me.
He is here.
With Us.
Through it all.

Pray with me:
Immanuel, God come down into my messy kitchen, stepping with me across sticky floors.  Immanuel.  Teach me to see the holiness in every moment.  Teach me to see the burning of your Light when darkness shrouds my soul.  Let me be a display of Your Light to those with greater darkness than my own.  Help me to fix my gaze on You that my eyes will be good and my soul will be so full that a shivering world is wormed by your reflection in me.  Amen

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Mothering Chronicles 6: The Choosing Time

I remember still, the first time he consciously, willingly disobeyed.  That over seven hundred times the sun had laddered her way to the sky, and the same number of moons had taken the midnight shift for her before he made a choice to take the consequence instead of our advice is really far longer than many parents experience. 

"Nathan, if you throw that toy you will have a consequence.  You need to listen and choose.  Do you understand?"  It was Daddy that said those words, and Daddy has always been very clear.
And he did understand.  He nodded, turned, and threw the toy. 

He knew. 
He chose. 
He broke my heart.
They get to do that, you know?  Get to choose.
They do.

And it can knock the feet from beneath a surefooted person, knock the wind from a fighter, and knock a weaker person out.  Period.

Here's the thing with mothering.  We don't get to choose for them forever, and the sooner we realize this, the easier it will be when they begin to make real decision for themselves.  I've seen some moms, and I'm not gonna lie--I envy them,that wield influence over their children like carrots to rabbits and sweet feed to quarter horses.  Their children just live, eat, breathe what their momma lives, eats, breathes.  I marvel at them, wonder how they managed it.  And secretly, I wonder if it will last. 

Because though I'm convinced my own mother could hang the moon with her love of God and faithfulness in life, I just don't think like her.  She raised me, nursed me, bathed me, brought me tea and toast when I was sick, prayed--still prays--for me, bought me school clothes, took me to visit colleges, and I have to say, she has a purple and silver Christmas tree.  Purple and silver.  Never. Will. I. Have. A. Purple. Tree.  Never.

 We are both fearfully, wonderfully crafted individuals.  Individuals. 
God did the hand-making of mankind.
No two alike.
One of a kinds.

Like infinite, humanity consists of the flesh and bone original creations of God.  And if that is the case, then I think it is safe to say, at some point, even those mommas who raise little mini-mommas will someday be forced to accept that their little cookie cuts are gonna iron out all those folds that fit them to the pattern of mom or dad and, like wind catching a kite, the breath of their Creator will blow them full of His plan, His design.

And if they get to choose, they also get to break our hearts.  They do.

Because they will not always choose what we believe to be the best.  They won't always heed our counsel, our warnings, our guidance.  Sometimes they'll be right, sometimes they won't. 
He's almost twelve now--that little guy that threw the toy ten years ago.  I can count on one hand the number of times he has willfully disobeyed since that day.  He's a line tower.  He's a rule follower.  He's a tell-me-what-you-want-and-I-will-do-everything-in-my-power--to-obey kind of guy. So far.  But there are no guarantees. No flawless formulas for forever promises.

Just tonight he told me,  "Mom, sometimes I get a little annoyed."
"Why's that?" 
"Because there are so many Christians, and they know they should help people, know that there are people who don't have enough, but they don't.  Why do we always have to be the ones to do it?  It's hard giving things up so other people can have." 

I knew he wasn't really annoyed--the only thing he gets annoyed with is my sister's cocker spaniel that refuses to follow the rules of dogdom.  What he was really talking about was the tug-of-war between selfless and selfish choices. I knew he had Christmas in mind--our family choosing not to go over the top tipping the scales in retail's favor when there are orphans, and parched people without water.  I've struggled too.  His heart is gripped, like Paul's with the good that he should, and the fact that that good is not exactly what his heart always wants.  And I hear him.  I understand.

The choice.  The choosing of direction in life.  It's his now.  Because now, despite what his outward actions may indicate, it is his heart that is deciding what direction it will take.  He may fall in line on the outside, but what about his spirit?  Where is it walking?

Robert Frost whispered over my shoulder.
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. "

And claiming credit for the thought because really, there is nothing new under the sun, Mathew chimed in with, "Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Mathew 7:13)

There is the reality that our children may choose wrong over right, and I don't want to think about that because it feels like a thousand mice chewing at my heart.  Mothering is a guiding of the heart, but there comes a point when the heart will choose its path. 

When reading the Christmas story from Mark's gospel, John the Baptist's words got stuck in my mouth.  I'm still chewing them.  "Prepare ye the way for the Lord." (Mark 1:3)

Could that be the great mandate of mothers, to prepare the way?

Could it really be just that? Mothering?
Preparing the way for the Jesus choice? 

We have family coming for Christmas.  Our home will, the day before their arrival, be a hive of activity.  The final mopping of floors, the sloshing of suds in toilet bowls, the fresh bedding, the special groceries.  It seems so simple to prepare the way for guests.  They don't stay forever, though.  They visit and leave.

With mothering, we're preparing the heart-home for a permanent resident. 

Jeff and I designed our home--before the first thrusting and heaving of 6X6 wall ever occurred, we knew every single centimeter, every corner, every closet.  But we didn't design our children's hearts.  Their hearts are like buying a home sight unseen.  I remember once when my dad sold real estate, a lady who, I think came from California, bought a house without having ever been through it.  She showed up, with her kids, her husband, her grand piano, and her home made toffee that stuck to dad's dentures and nearly choked him to death, without the slightest idea what it was really like here.  It's that way when our own burst free from womb-water into hands that hunger to hold forever.  We don't know their hearts.  We weren't the designers.

To prepare them, we must know them.

To know them, we must be with them, spend time, get low on the floor, get scuffed, get muddied, get dirty, get bored--Candy Land is only exciting the first five hundred times you play.  Then later, to continue to know them, we must watch football when we'd rather be quilting, have a tea-party when we'd rather be watching football, and stay up until four in the morning because they get talkative at midnight.

It's in the mundane, the hard, that we discover the closets and corners of their hearts.

But it is dangerous territory--the heart knowing.  Because it leads to heart-loving, and there is a fine line between heart-love and heart-control, and our Father knows the line, shows the line. He loves perfectly and with perfect love comes the freedom of choice.  He gives us that freedom.

And, when they are ready, we must give it to our children.  The freedom to choose.

Sometimes it will be like standing before a magnificent orchestra--they are the players, and we are the audience--every note on key.  But other times, they are the waterfall, and we are crushed beneath the rush of their choosing.  We'll lose our breath, and it will hurt.  Hurt to let them choose wrong.  Hurt to see them live the consequences.  Hurt to stand back when our muscle memory insists on running to rescue because that is what mothers do.  Rescue.

For a season.

Preparing the way begins with rescues, but eventually, it involves letting them tumble, letting them wrestle with the tough thinking, the mom-sometimes-I'm-annoyed-kind-of-thinking.  The kind of thinking that is heart-path choosing. 

Mothering is preparing the way for the greatest choice they will ever make.  Will they allow Jesus as their permanent resident? 

Essentially, Jesus did that with the disciples.  He prepared the way for them to accept Him as their Messiah. 
He spent time.  He told them stories in a language they understood.  He ate with them, slept near them, prayed around them.  He trusted God before their eyes.  He wrestled with God's will in His life to the point of bleeding, broken capillaries, and ultimately said, "If it is possible, let this cup pass, nevertheless, not my will but thine." (Matthew 26:42) 

In preparing the way, He surrendered His will.
The prepared heart has born witness to a parent's surrendered heart.  And that sentence is like The Great Wall of China before me--there's no getting around it.  To prepare my boys' hearts, I must be surrendered myself. 

Surrendered to His plans for them.  His purposes for them.  His ways for them.  His care of them.  His love for them.

Because whether or not I can see or understand them, His are all better than mine.  Are they not?
As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. (Psalm 18:30)

Choices.  They will have them.  But so do I.  And the thing I'm discovering in mothering is this:  If my goal is to prepare the way for God's perfect way, I must first live out the belief that His way is, indeed, perfect.  They will know He is trustworthy by the proof of my life.

After he--that little boy who barely needs to wear deodorant and yet wrestles with choosing a yielded life or a self-centered life--went to sleep, I lingered long by his side.  I cried for the past, and I cried for the future. 
"God, I want him to want you always.  Want your ways.  I want him to agree, to see that Your way is joy, life, that it will make all the difference."

I am a shield to all who take refuge in Me.

"It is so hard, Lord, to trust You with this child.  It is so hard to let him make his own decisions, form his own opinions.  Help me, Father, to let You woo Him to Yourself.  Help me to trust the mind You molded in him, help me to hold him with hands opened."

I won't have the privilege of choosing forever for these that God has forged through the love of mother and father.  None of us get that privilege.  So, in our mothering, we must prepare the way of the heart-home for a resident who will care more completely, wield greater wisdom, and love to fulfill fully all their soul-longings.

It's a gut wrenching task.

But along the way, there is a fulfilling of our great soul-longings too.  And mothering becomes receiving.
Receiving the loving of Father.

And in receiving, we're freed to free them.
To free them to receive him.
We'll be unraveled, but He is the Great Weaver of life.

Pray with me:
God, when it comes to mothering, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  And grant me trust in Your unwavering commitment, unfailing love for my children.  Help me to prepare the way.  Help me to receive from you, Peace.  Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Just Jesus

"Auntie Sarah, baby Jesus is missing from our manger scene."  It was my niece, face the shade of almond skin--the one that never misses anything, but she was missing this.
"Oh, yeah?  Really?  Where'd he go?"  It is true, I wasn't fully listening; a list of to-do's plugged my ears and numbed my heart, and I was deaf.  And aren't so many Christians deaf to this truth--that it is sometimes US, those that are supposed to have Him, that are in fact missing Him?
"That's just it; we don't know.  He's missing."
"Who?"  Mmmhmm.  That was me, asking who when she'd already told me.  "Jesus?" And isn't it true that so many of US, that are supposed to know who, forget WHO this season is about?
"Yes, Auntie!  He's missing from our manger scene."
And like waking from one of those falling dreams, I felt I'd hit the floor; truth had her foot to my throat.  Because we lose Jesus at Christmas, don't we?  We never mean to do it.  But somehow, though He is the centerpiece, He becomes small. 
Her ceramic Jesus was missing from the nativity.  Jesus missing at Christmas.  Of all the pieces of painted porcelain, how could one lose the focal point?  Why not a shellacked sheep or shepherd? But Jesus?
Every year, four scraggly sisters and I took turns tipping our toes and stretching arms to reach the mantel top where we placed a member of the milk-white nativity on a stable floor of black velvet scrap.  And Jesus was shorter than my pinky finger.  But mom never lost Jesus.  He was always present, when she pried back cardboard boxes and unwrapped tissue paper padding, waiting to be placed up high for all to take in.
He's there this year too, in a blanket of ceramic straw atop the same midnight velvet on the same mantel.  But that's not the Jesus she never lost.  Hers is the living Jesus, the one who reigns in her heart--the one from whose offered cup of living water, she's awoken every morning of my life to drink. And in my haste to accomplish and make progress, I've thought more than once that perhaps for just one day she could suspend her routine.  But when my honey-hay haired niece told me she was missing Jesus, I swallowed hard the glob of doughy truth.  I miss Him too--miss Him at every turn.  He's not just in the stable, or on the mantle, he's in that sweet girl's chocolate cheeks, in my boys' laughter squeaking like clarinet in beginner's mouth, He's in the strong back of my husband when he carries a patient from home to ambulance.  He is present when husband and fellow fire-fighter drive home, and the car a few feet in front is stopped dead, and His hands cushion as they miss by inches, and though husband's hands shake, His remain steady.  Jesus in a manger; Jesus on the highway. 
God with us. 
He's everywhere, and I miss Him.
And Herod too missed Him, hunted Him, wanted to destroy Him, had babies murdered in an attempt to eliminate him, but how can one destroy what they cannot see?  And Herod couldn't see. Herod hungered for the worship of mankind, and I hunger for autonomy in my life, but I can't have it both ways.  I must choose--no one can serve two masters.  And come now, how many of us want it both ways--especially at Christmas?And if I want Jesus, I must choose to lay aside my agenda long enough to notice Him, to drink from His living water.
John said, "Prepare the way for the Lord," (Matthew 3:3b) and I wonder if I have prepared the way for Him this Christmas season. 
The Jesse Tree
The Christmas Tree
The Birthday Cake
The Cantata
The Nursing Home Visits
The Elijah's Closet Toy Ministry
Surely I've made the season about Him, haven't I? 
But He isn't in a list, He IS the list.  John said prepare the way for Him because it is HE who IS THE WAY for life.  And when the Hebrews used that word, way, they meant a well-worn path, a dependable route.  It is He is that well-worn, that dependable route.  He is the firm footing for my fluttering size eights.  He is the box that holds all the great gifts, and yet, like the drum set your thirteen year old boy wants for Christmas, He is unwrappable, uncontainable.
My weary eyes have read a thousand tales telling me I need new things this season.  A Kinect 360, a Droid phone, more apps, a red toaster because black and stainless are not nearly as pretty anymore, Christmas sweaters knit and pearled by some machine that can't give life.  The flyers faint with the weight of all the stuff.  And how can my life be so full and yet, without Him, it is empty?  Because in Him is fullness of joy. 
"You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight." (Psalm 16:11)
I can't help but think how many Christmas sermons I've heard, how many devotions I've read, and my mind is saturated with their refrain, but I desire to be squeezed free of the myriad of mantras, like confetti crowding my mind, so that I can see clearly.  See just Him.  Just Jesus
Is He really worth all this fuss?  Does He really make a difference?  Tell me, fellow followers, is it true?  Is there really absolute joy--absolute--in His presence?  Sheer delight?  Really?  Because if that's true, than it is no wonder my mother, body aching in exhaustion with the raising of five girls by herself, climbed the morning with the sun to greet her Jesus day after day, year after year. 
Errands took longer than I hoped this week, and I treated the boys and myself to a quick bite at a fast food spot. Who am I kidding?  I dallied with the doing of errands until stomachs demanded supper--I'd had a hankering for a Buffalo Bleu Chicken Salad for weeks.  But when I got home, I couldn't even get the groceries inside before I ran for glass and water.  Thirsty. Junk always leaves you thirsty.  And so do the other paths in life--they leave us soul thirsty, a condition beyond parched. 
And I have drank from rancid wells in my life, but this absolute joy is not that kind of cistern.  The Hebrew word literally means satiety--the condition of being satiated.  To be satisfied.
Just to be satisfied.  That in itself would be such a gift this season.  And my thoughts agree, "Yes, to be satisfied in my marriage, in my home, with my physical appearance, with my children's progress in school, with our lot in life, with...."
No, I am the way.
In My presence is absolute/fullness of joy.
I give sheer delight.
Already I missed Him.  Started hunting for wise men and shepherds. Satisfied with this, content with that. There is no satisfaction apart from the baby in the manger, the person of Jesus.  He is the way to satisfaction. Satisfied with Jesus can be a permanent condition when all other things will drive me to further thirst.  Everything else is a Dead Sea, and like a flopping fish my life will float to the surface because joy doesn't survive in salted waters.
When Mary, mother-to-be arched her back in labor pains, the inns were filled with travelers on their way to be counted.  And Jesus would not be born among the counted because you cannot count Him.  You cannot contain Him.  You cannot contain the kind of satisfaction, of joy He grants.  It is infinite.  It is satiety. 
And I see that it is not He who is missing, it is we who are missing Him.
And it is not just this season that He desires to be seen.  It is not just this one month, when carols call His name and candles are lit, when mistletoe is hung and hearts are tender, that He pours out living water while we swallow eggnog instead. 
He came that we would have life abundantly, more than just life in December.  His Kingdom is in our hearts and Peace can reign all our days, if we drink from His cup.  Jesus on the mantel, all year.  Never lost because He is never removed from His rightful Home. And all the world's a stable and wherever I go, the manger is before me. Jesus while I fold five thousand loads of laundry, Jesus while I rejoice over a miracle for my Aunt, Jesus while I weep over the separation of body and soul of a boy so young, Jesus while foreclosure court dates loom, Jesus when children leave for college and choose spouses.  Jesus.
Jesus, remaining on my mantel this year because "Better is one day in your courts, than thousands elsewhere."(Psalm 84:10).
Days ago I woke slow and on my way to coffee, my morning accelerator, I stopped to look out the backdoor.  An indigo bunting perched on the naked arms of some spent shrub in my garden.  She was like a wild blueberry that somehow survived harvest just for this moment.  This moment when I stop and see Him.  Jesus dropping in for coffee and living water.  Jesus saying, "I am the way, I am here.  I am joy.  Do you see me wearing clothing you can understand?  Do you see me perching my creativity for your pleasure?" 
And I do.
See Him.
I do.
Pray with me:
Jesus, teach me to slow down more, to lull and pause, to wait and wonder, to anticipate your appearance.  Teach me to seek You in the nativities of my life.  Teach me to discern when I am drinking from salted wells instead of your living water.  Thank you for clothing yourself in the form I could understand, the human form.  Let me live the Christmas season all year long.  Amen.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Way Up In The Rain

The rain started before my feet touched the frigid wooden planks and fell full and wet long after sleeping heads nestled in feathery pillows that night.

"I haven't had a very good day," my youngest one mumbled.

"Why not?" I turned from the kitchen though it clamored still for my attention.

"Because it is just gloomy, mom. It's a gloomy day."

Gloomy. Those days come, don't they? The ones when life is a constant downpour and our soaking, socked feet slosh in puddles that rise like bread dough until we are swimming/treading and praying for the rains to cease. One minute my neighbor was scrubbing, the next she was slipping, dislocating her shoulder, wearing a sling, aching in shrill pain. One moment. And the next moment brought the storm.

I've known these moments well--the day when wedding rings held no more value than the plastic ones in dime store toy machines and vows became subject to change. Rain. Sometimes the rain is our tears and our hearts drown beneath them as they soul pelt. And I've heard the cries of sisters, of brothers begging God to make the gloom stop. The burying of child--life never lived. The tumor that swells like a savage balloon beneath a skull that cannot contain the expansion. The locking of doors that once held home, the giving of keys to a bank that insists it no longer belongs to them.

Jacob knew the rain too. It came because of his doing--as so many storms do in my own life. I choose wrong and rain pours. He tricked his brother out of his birthright. His brother wanted to kill him. I'd say that classified as cloudy with a chance of torrential downpours. So he sought refuge on a journey to his Uncle Laban's.  I can't help but think how often I seek refuge in a person when The Refuge and Strength stands, arms open.When he stopped to sleep along the way, he had a dream. It's the dream the toys are made for--the Jacob's ladders. He dreamt of a stairway to heaven. In the dream God spoke to him, telling him he would have as many children as there was dust on the ground,  that He would protect him, bring him back to this land, and never leave him until He accomplished all He promised.

When Jacob awoke he said these beautiful words. "Surely the Lord is in this place, but I did not realize it!" Thirteen words strung like pearls into a sentence for all mankind, and I have missed it until this morning when the rain slapped windows and caused the sky to droop grey with its weight. Then, amidst the dusky morning they glowed on the page--a light in the gloom.  The Lord is in the place of danger, the place of running, of hiding, of seeking refuge.
Surely, surely the Lord is in this place. And I didn't realize. We never see Him in the rain, do we? We forget He is present in all places, at all times.

And God asks,

"Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?"

I have to be honest and say that sometimes my mind may know that He is an ever present help in times of trouble, but my heart thinks He isn't there.

"Do you really think anyone can hide himself where I cannot see him?"

I sometimes think I'm not worth finding, not worth seeking, so why would this great, worthy God bother with a worthless me?

"Do you not know that I am everywhere?" The Lord asks. (Jeremiah 23:23-24)

Everywhere. Did I not realize it?
I didn't.
I don't.
Not always.
But He is.
He is.

He is present when the toddler rages, spews hurt and pain, and we want to scream with them because we just don't know how to raise them, and parenting is harder than we thought it would be, and we would like a refund, please. He is present when adult child chooses wrong, and leaves aging mother bent in anguish. He is present when the Ugandan child we kept goes home, and I can't be there to help him through life, can't be there to see that he is fed, can't be there to shelter him from a country that is desert and desolate. He is present.

And doesn't His presence change everything?

Because if He is present and He is good and His love endures forever, then there are love and goodness in the murky, moving rain.

And if He is present, and He is a strong tower and He is the Prince of Peace, then there are strength and peace to clothe us when our soul shivers in pelting storms.

And if He is present than we can "consider it nothing but joy when we fall into all sorts of trials" because He takes all things and forms them for our ultimate good. All things.

And if He is present than we can "in all things give thanks" because He is in it and so it must be in some unutterable, unfathomable way be good.

"We needed the rain, son," I told him gently. "Remember those tulip bulbs you helped me to plant yesterday? And the daffodils? A little rain helps their roots grab hold."

It does, doesn't it? A little rain helps our roots to grab hold of The Anchor of our souls. We need the strong, right arm of our Father, need to grab hold. Sometimes we need the rain to force the hand, force it to reach deeper into His love, His grace, His mercy.

I remember a day a couple weeks back when the rains came. It was the same boy that went digging in his drawers for summer's swim trunks. I wondered where he'd gone when I didn't hear him for a few minutes. But every mother knows that rain in November and swimming trunks out can only mean one thing. I looked out into the yard for the rain-catcher. He was there--at the peak of the apple tree. Branches lifting, carrying, supporting him, he'd climbed it. A way up in the rain.

"Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me.
If I were to say, "Certainly the darkness will cover me,
and the light will turn to night all around me,
even the darkness is not too dark for you to see,
and the night is as bright as day;
darkness and light are the same to you.
Certainly you made my mind and heart,
you wove me together in my mother's womb.
I will give you thanks..."
(Psalm 139:7-14a)

I will give thanks, even for life-rain.

Pray with me: Surely, Lord, you are here. Even now. You are present. Teach me to stop and remember You are present when it hurts, You are present when it is all good, You are present and I give You thanks. Thanks for the rain. Lengthen, strengthen my roots, Father. Let me feel your arms, making the way up while rains fall.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Chreestmas Boys--When Less Becomes More

Little shades of brown in itchy blue oxfords wiggling, squirming, inching and us--almond milk skin, hair any shade we choose, and clothes any style that suits. We make small talk among ourselves and grin-gaze across the room at khaki pants and collars colored sky. We wait. Somebody's doing paperwork, and it seems like we're waiting an hour. They eye us cautiously, but familiar. They've done this before. We eye them, giddy. We're all thinking the same thoughts. Which one is ours? Which sweet thing do we get to take home and love on?
And maybe they were thinking too. Will I have a bed tonight or will I sleep on a pallet? Will I share or have my own? What will they feed me? Will the house be too worm? Will it be too cold? Are there dogs at the new home? I'm afraid of dogs. Will their children be nice to me? And it's me that finally asks because it doesn't seem natural for us to sit and stare--they're humans after all, not puppies. Can we talk to them?
Then there's an explosion of bodies, mixing, asking, helloing, and we're all on the floor with them--red and yellow, black and white. Hands shaking hands, ears straining to understand accents not native, and all of us smiling to tell them in the universal language that we are kind, we are safe, we will love them.
A few weeks prior, I asked him if we could host two boys from Children of the World. ( He's my husband; he knows my heart has rooms for a thousand more children. He knew it would impact us. It did. How can you invite two children from impoverished circumstances into your lives for a few days and NOT expect your hearts to be sliced just a little? We would give them the boys' beds; we would skip school on Monday, spend the day spoiling these little lives. We did that. We are still bleeding.
The man in charge enters the room, papers in fist--a list of rules--all of them designed for the children's comfort and protection.
Don't ask about their past.
But I want to know. I want to know just what it is they will return to. I want to know if they will make it into adulthood. I want to know if they have a mother waiting for them. Is she burying face in pillow at night crying out the raw loss of giving up her little boy for ten whole months? Is she praying he'll learn English well enough to give him a better chance in life? Is she wondering about him while I carry his suitcase--a Jenson containing everything he has in the entire world--to my hybrid? I look at night sky and tell her--heart speaking to heart--I'll be good to him. I understand he's precious cargo. And I long to hold her too, that sweet mother born in a world where her options were so few that separation from the child she grew within would be the sacrifice demanded of her.
Maybe it is me the rules are made to protect. Perhaps my heart would crush beneath the weight of the truth.
They travel the United States for the flipping of ten calendar pages and sing--a choir of needs and hopes in children's frames--to promote awareness, to get sponsors. They sing for their lives.
Water you turned into wine...
They sing these words--they that come from a world with no water, while mine flows freely from 7 different taps at any temperature I desire.
Open the Eyes of the blind.
And it is me that is blind--blind to the needs of the world. Blinded by my own wants, by a country whose God is their stomach, by a media that insists I need everything on sale on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and my online shopping carts are filled. My stomach is engorged, and I am blind. Open my eyes.
They are hungry. They are thirsty, and they sing about the God who is greater, the God that turns water--that precious thing they walk three hours one way for--into wine for wedding feasts.
God, you are higher than any other.
They sing and I wonder if they understand.
But they do. They understand more than I do. It is I who will learn this week.
If our God is for us, than who could ever stop us?
And If our God is with us, than what could stand against?
I wonder if it is I, a part of North American selfishness, that has stood against what God wanted to do. Could He have used me to share. Did I stand against these sweet children while I filled my closets and my stomach. Were they stumbling over dusty paths with parched tongues like double sided tape while I quenched my thirst with the flick of an oil rubbed bronze tap?
We travel home; the conversation is hard. I don't know what to ask--me, the girl who always has something to say. They respond with "yes" to everything leaving me aching for their true thoughts, their true opinions. My own boys know exactly where they want to eat, and the olive and the black skinned children are just 'yessing' me no matter what I suggest. Yes to ice cream. Yes to McDonald's. Yes to eating at the house. Yes to rice. Yes to juice. Yes to water. Yes to chocolate milk. Yes. Yes. Yes. And then, I hear it--a gasp in word form. The olive skinned one with buzz cut says, "The lights. I love the lights!" His exclamation was a whisper unused to expressing itself.
This one likes the Christmas lights. He thinks. He feels.
And he sings for his life. For the life of others and probably doesn't know the luxury of expressing his own opinions and ideas. But He likes lights; I heard the gasp. Without hesitation, I start driving to town Square where our tree is lit up, lighted holly and poinsettias dangle from lampposts. I drive by every single house I know of that is lit all the way home. He utters and exclaims, and I point left, and my own boys point right, and we are all in awe of the light.
Jesus says, I am their light. These that know the greatest darkness receive The Light readily because they're not blinded by the gaudy light of the world like I am. They see Him. They exclaim over Him.
Christmas music seeps from the speakers into the car, and I sing a bar--a note here and there to fill the empty spaces. They are timid; I hurt at their silent moments. Are they afraid to speak? Do they know the lady whose car in which they ride would keep them forever if she could? Do they understand that she is suffocating sobs because she knows what it is to love a boy, and there are two who just might need that loving bumping shoulders in her back seat? Do they know that were they to cry she would hold them until the night ended? The music is throbbing from the speakers and Drummer Boy begins. I turn the volume up and palm flat I bang the beat onto the console, "Uganda, do you know this one? It's perfect for you! It's the Drummer Boy! Can you hear the drum?" He hears it. He begins the rhythm with me. My boys join in. And we are an international percussion section united by a rhythm we all understand. Shall I play for you pah rum puh pum pum beats air and our hands are bang bang banging on any surface we can find. I wonder which is louder, the beating of my hand or the beating of my heart.
The song ends and we are happy, laughing. Their smiles are electricity; my boys are feeling the shock. We want them to smile enough for a lifetime. Can we give them enough to last? Away In a Manger begins. They recognize it, tell me it is their carol. They sing it. The tune is a little different. We laugh when we all mess it up. But there was no crib for his bed and I wonder what bed they will return to. When the second verse begins I am dumbstruck. Bless all the dear children in thy tender care. Where has that line been my entire life? How many times have I sung those lyrics and not prayed them, not understood I was asking Jesus to bless ALL the children? All of them, in his tender care. All of them. Even these. These two that for forty-eight ridiculously short hours will be mine to give smiles, laughter, joy. The remainder of their lives will be in his tender care. Can I accept His tender care as sufficient?
And how can I sing the words, ask Him to bless, but turn my own eyes away when they leave? What if it is through me He wants to bless them? What if it is through you?
But what if it is me He wants to bless through them? It is He who turned water into wine. He doesn't need my pennies to drill wells and deliver rice. They don't need me--their God is greater--it is I who needs them. I need their need in order to be freed. It is I who needs to be freed from the American Dream--the I-can-have-it-all mentality of North America. Because you can have it all, and have nothing at all.
As they vie for nomination, the republicans debate the status of a country where once an immigrant could cross crashing cloudy seas to make his fortune. They insist we should return to our great economic state, but I mourn the reality that we are among the world's wealthiest ten percent and yet we want more, better, faster, mightier. And children are hungry. My heart knows there is no answer a President can bring, that true change doesn't occur from the top down, but from within to without. From within my heart, my children's hearts. From selfish to selfless to Christ-filled to hungry children filled.
I remember James' words, Grieve and mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:9) I understand him. Be broken, he said. See things for what they really are. See them in light of Jesus' heart. The New Living Translation says, "Let there be sadness for what you have done...." Yes, let there be sadness for a life of selfishness, and let their be an anchoring of my soul this day. Let me be pierced deeply enough to leave a scar. Let me bleed a while that I might be left with weakness for those who have less.
Words we mulled on after dinner during memory time pulse in my spirit. Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. I wonder if it is possible to have both? It isn't wrong to have possessions, is it? But the ones that I choose to store--meaning to keep for the future--should not be physical. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And I want my heart hunger to be eternal, not temporal. But the catalogues come in the mail. There is a new cell phone out that would make my life easier. There is a better gaming system that would surely mean family fun. And our BBQ is now 13 years old; is not that old enough to merit a new one for Christmas? The eye is the lamp of the body. So, the things I see then, the things I choose to see, to focus on will cast light for my entire body, my life. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. And mine has diseases that cause blindness. Our nation too, needs bifocals. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:10-24 There it is in black and white--we can't serve both. We may have both, but we cannot serve both. We will be a house divided. We will eventually collapse under the pressure of two lords. But perhaps what I want is less that I may gain more. And if I left the grill to sit with all the other BBQ's at Home Depot and bought 3 goats instead then 3 families would have milk--nutrition, and an income. And wouldn't that be more for me too? More for my children too? Wouldn't the nourishing of 3 families who have never owned a BBQ and cook their rice three times a day over an open fire with scraps of garbage as fuel become food for my family's soul?
My oldest is working on writing his life's purpose statement. He lamented to me, "Mom, sometimes I've been thinking about my life's purpose, and I see that a lot of things don't line up with it."
"It's hard, isn't it?" I look into his creek-water eyes and wish I could raise a boy to live the easy life, a boy that could take the road more traveled.
"Yes, it's the broken life." We've talked about this--broken living. It's the better way to take communion, we believe. There is a time for the wafers and juice, but we find that we remember Jesus better by breaking ourselves--stepping outside of what is comfortable. Giving up a meal, feeding homeless families, hugging powdery seniors' necks at nursing homes--things not comfortable for raggedy, rough boys--are a part of our family communions.
"Remember Jesus? It had to be hard for him watching his brothers and sisters growing up doing their own thing while He knew He would be breaking loaves and fishes, walking amongst the poor, the diseased, hanging from a cross. He lived to redeem. Lived broken so we could be whole."
"Yes. He probably didn't always enjoy that." My son relates to the idea of Jesus as a boy.
"When we give up here, we gain later. Those who live poor in spirit inherit the Kingdom of heaven."
"But we'll be rich in a better way in heaven, mom. That's what it means about storing up treasures in heaven. We'll have that in eternity." He knows. He gets it. He holds my hand and I look deep into his riverbed eyes--the pupils water smoothed pebbles--and love him.
The Ugandan and Philippine boy slept the last two nights in another host home, but they were with us still. We carry them now. We carry their people, their families, their thirst. A Christmas tree towers over ten feet tall in my living room--the room that only weeks ago I lamented being too small to host the homeschool mom's Christmas party, the room that when they entered, they exclaimed It is so big, Auntie! I had thought they would enjoy seeing the shiny decorations. Playfully, I wrapped one in strands of crimson wooden cranberries. "I'm a Chreestmas boy, Auntie! A Chreestmas boy," he had exclaimed.
Indeed, he is a Christ-boy. In his face I see a hundred thousand faces--hunger, pain, thirst, need, loneliness. Those were the real reasons Christ came, weren't they? The real reasons for all our merry making this time of year are about what we can give, not what we will receive.
Open my eyes, Father. Leave me bleeding a while longer. Let them linger in my heart--The Chreestmas boys. Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Embers--The Lifting of Stooped Shoulders

His lips were reduced to a single slip of pink embroidery thread--a thin line holding back a torrent of tears--when he came. Already, he had thrown the Newton's cradle, a tangled knot of weighted silver balls and fishing line, into the bulging garbage can. In full resignation he announced, "It's broken; we can't fix it this time." Shoulders stooped, his head drooped, and his eyes filled with drips he refused to let flow. Bent over. My boy. And I saw the words, none of them eloquent, all of them embers in the furnace of hope. The Lord...lifts up all who are bent over." (Psalm 145:14) Life bends us over sometimes. It just does. A single slip of hand had sent Cort's hard earned Newton's Cradle soaring through the air where a thousand invisible fingers worked together to tie and tangle the lines so that they were spaghetti, and his heart couldn't bare it all. Holding his rescued wreckage in calloused palms, I thought of my own tangles--the motor in our car that gave up with Christmas around the corner. I thought of the family who saw the soil cover the coffin this week, the neighbor who went from blowing leaves off her deck to immobile in less than a week. I remembered my sister's text telling me a baby where she works died. Another boy overdosed. Life bends, and bends, and bends. My hands held a child's set of knots, but in my heart there grows the knots of a lifetime--a mass of death, divorce, tumors, and billowing bills. Some my own. Some others. All twisting, turning, touching my spirit, whispering, Bend. And that word bend? It means to submit--to bend before a King. And how is it that it is life that causes us to bend when we say we are followers of the King of Kings? How is it that we slump our shoulders and stoop our hearts to the overwhelming flood that gushes when the King of Kings says, "The Lord is near all who cry out to him," (Psalm 145:18) And when did we start crying instead of crying out to the God who is near? Lord, help me to bend to you, that you might lift me up. Show me how to bend to you and not the circumstances. What if we purpose to bend to the King when life demands we bend to it? Daniel danced this waltz--the one where he bends to the one true God. The decree was that no one would pray to any human or God other than King Darius. That was the decree. Bend. Bend to another, not your God. And Daniel bent. He bent to his God offering prayers and thanks. The situation was dire. Surely he knew he risked his body to the shredding of lion's teeth. Yet he bent. He prayed. He thanked. Scripture says, "just as he had been accustomed to do previously."(Daniel 6:11) He was in a familiar pattern where bending to the Sovereign God was his habit. And I think of my own habits. I examine them next to Daniels'. Why, when difficulty bares her jagged teeth do we bend to her when our God remains enthroned? Don't we realize all the raging universe is on a leash? "The Lord has established his throne in heaven; his kingdom extends over everything." Psalm 103:19 Everything. Extends over everything. Extends over the suffocating moment when we know our child is no longer present in their earthly frame. Extends over the moment when husband of twenty years walks out, and we are left murmuring a thousand times, "Don't leave." Extends over the negative bank account, extends over the day when the sun climbs into the sky and you realize you've chased a dollar your entire life and yet have nothing. Extends to the babies in Haiti at the orphanage where they haven't had rice for three days. In His kingdom, His subjects, we are. Even the suffering ones? Even the destitute ones? Yes, even them. And even the bravest of us, the most-determined-to-not-question Him of us all must sometimes admit we want to know. Why? Why then, if we are all His subjects, must we be bent? Why, Oh Great King, do you sit back when children starve? Why do you let young ones die and old ones wither? Why do you allow the wars and the pain? I am just an untangler of human knots, the child-sized spider's webs, not the great universal utterings that together become a theological loftiness beyond the reach of my 67 inches. But still, I hear mankind's murmur--a low mumble at first, and then the fields sway, and the trees flail and I hear them all together--a chorus of questions. "He is the one...who heals all your diseases, who delivers your life from the pit, who crowns you with his loyal love and compassion, who satisfies your life with good things...executes justice for all the oppressed." (Psalm 103:3-6) Now hear me whisper here because I don't mean to tread toes, I only mean to explore our hearts in truth. What if the promise for healing isn't always realized in this parenthesis we call life? What if it comes on an eternal timetable our human minds can't fathom? And what if it isn't our finances He delivers from the pit but our very life--the heart that is freed to make good decisions with the resources we have? What if we still see foreclosure, but our spirit is unchained from the pit of self indulgence and greed, from the sense of entitlement that insisted we needed that mortgage in the first place? What if while our white knuckled hands wring the empty swaddling blanket we sense the Holy Spirit lullaby that soothes our sorrow in His loyal love, in His compassion? What if it still hurts, but He's present? What if justice for the Haitian, the Ecuadorian, the African orphans comes when eternity is revealed? What if pain is sometimes the precursor to joy? What if His ways are higher than ours? What if we bend to the unknown of God's ways? I thought about quitting. That darn Newton's Cradle took me almost an hour to unknot. We waited six weeks on China to ship us that $4.99 desk oddity, and somehow I knew it was more than a proof of Newton's laws. But those embers--The Lord lifting up those who are bent over--they were still burning in my heart. I had to lift the shoulders of my boy because really, when he threw that toy in the garbage and told me it was hopeless, he still had the embers too. He hadn't given up. He'd come to me, hadn't he? He'd hoped. He'd hoped that maybe, just maybe mommy could take the tangles and sort them out, piece by piece. I won't always be able to do that for him. But he'll know, won't he, that I still love him? That day, when the mess is too big, and the circumstances aren't going to be changed by the keyboard clicking pads of mommy's fingertips? On that day, he'll still know he is loved. I'll grieve, and I'll ache, and I'll swallow forkfuls of swollen angst as I watch the day I can't make things better for him. It is somehow the same with God--those who suffer greatest are the most deeply attended by the heart of God. The promise is not that He will fix the Newton's Cradle, not that He will shift the continents of our lives into alignment, but that He supports all who fall, and lifts all who are bent over. Supports ALL. Lifts ALL. Extends over ALL. What, my friends is your ALL? Because there is a decree demanding you bend to that ALL. Can you name it ALL? God gave Adam the chore of naming. We too must name, both the good and the bad. Now can you turn your back on ALL that you have named? Can you turn your eyes upon Jesus? Can you go to Him and bend before His ways, before His goodness, before His mercy, before His compassion, before his purpose? Can you bend to Him? Because if you can, He will lift you up. "Now unto Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or imagine...." (Eph. 3:20) "And we know that all things work together for good..."(Romans 8:28) Hope burns not because the world is right, but because the God who made the world remains right. And He will never let go. It has been written and sung more beautifully than I can express. Will you click and listen?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Mothering Chronicles 5: Of Mustard Seeds and Faith

"It's impossible for me to have self control. I can't do it no matter how hard I try." Beliefs admitted in a current of puddles poured from a hurting heart. Brother gets a Kleenex for our youngest, and I wish it would wipe away more than tears, cleanse him of his doubt. With God ALL things are possible. All things.
Sometimes we call them thunderstorms--they churn and swirl and threaten our peaceful days above the overgrown wheat that shades Corty's eyes. The powerful emotions, the passion, the deep sense of conviction about things that insist on trying to control his tender young heart. And he tries. Oh how he tries. Tries to swallow big gulps of tempers and squelch the downpour of feelings, like Mt. St. Helens, that rage and roar. I know his journey. He is his mother's son. We share in this. Feelings that become mountains. And self-control being a fruit of the Spirit, we are bankrupt at times to conquer the mountains.
At night I pull the downy comfort tight over his shoulders--two bones covered in creamy skin-- and think of amazing grace that covers his raw heart. He feels helpless, not having passed enough days yet to understand what it means to be held in the hands of the Mighty God. Lord, show me how to teach him. Show me how to help him harness his passions for you.
And when, though she has risen, the sun still hides below the mountains beginning to bald now with the season's shedding, I linger long enough between lemongrass sheets to ask again, Lord, wisdom for this day. Wisdom and patience.
After beans are ground, dark elixir brewed, oatmeal spooned to break fasts, we gather to eat The Bread of life. We are wading like fishermen through Paul's letter to the Hebrews. Theology for 9 and 11 year olds, theology for a mother, theology for daddy--we've gotten water in our boots. It's heavy stuff. Daddy's better at it than I, but he's at the station, so it is just mom. I'm relieved when the chapter is 11 and I've eaten these words before. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1) And I know why it took us over a week longer than I'd planned to pass through this book. He knew. Omniscient. He always knows. He's in the business of ordering our steps if we will but still ourselves long enough to notice. We need the faith chapter on this day.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for. Sure--convinced--no question--without doubt. That's what I say to the boys. But later I look and find it is, in the Greek, a compound word. Hypostasis. I like it for it's ease of pronunciation. A preposition combined with a verb. The preposition telling the verb just where the action will take place. The action is to make stand, to place. The preposition is under. Faith is a state of being in which there is a sure foundation placed under our feet. A sure foundation. I am remembering the cement trucks bringing their sloppy stone soup to our giant square hole we dug from the side of the hill--they carried our liquid foundation. Frames had been erected to hold the elephant colored glop until it had hardened. We waited patiently. You can't rush poured concrete as it dries. You can't rush a sure foundation--that thing that sets everything else to rights, that thing that keeps homes level, corners square, walls that don't wave. And faith is that to us--that thing that keeps us level when life is upside down.
Then this other word, so little I almost missed it, what. Being convinced of what we do not see. Spoken in Greek it would have read, "Being convinced of the established fact we do not see."
So this is faith: A sure foundation placed under our feet setting our lives to right, to stability, and the condition of being convinced beyond question of the established facts that we cannot see with our naked eye. Father, give us spiritual eyes to see YOU as an established fact. When we watch the blazing maple catch fire with autumn winds, may we know You are consuming fire. When we listen to the morning dove pair sing sweet serenades may we know you as Love. Let us see with our hearts that the visible has its origin in the invisible. (Heb. 11:3)
Then there is the list--the greats--Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. And this, "And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised." (Heb. 11:39) All those years. Four thousand years of believing, being sure, and yet not one of them actually saw the full fruition of God's promise. So theirs was a life of faith--feet placed with God-facts underneath. Lives built on that.
I fell in love with a farm house perched like a canary on a hillside of honeybees and rabbits tobbaco. If strings were attached to my heart, that farm house gripped them all in her hands and drug me to her, heart first, logical mind second. Patient and wise, my sweet husband walked her floors with me. My dad too, came. Both of them knowing and yet realizing I would have to see reality for myself. She was perfect. Then we looked beneath her heart pine floors. Like a hundred arms with elbows resting on the clay, rocks were stacked, sometimes with shims of wood, sometimes large, other times the size of my husband's fists, 2 feet or so high. Spread at somewhat regular intervals, these ancient piles held the yellow bird atop her perch. How had she stood all these years? When "structural re-engineering" came up the strings were snipped, and I comforted myself with extensive photographs--I could replicate her. Still, I can't help but think somehow that house stood though her foundation appeared crazy to the logical mind. It was a sure fact the naked eye couldn't see as sensible, but somehow she stood a couple hundred years.
And I have a son who says, "It just isn't possible, mommy." He's looking with the naked eye. But Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." (Matt.17:20) And I am thinking, How small then, must our faith be? And my young one is thinking his faith must require a microscope to view because he can't control his emotions. And I'm thinking about the big things. Bills. Raising rowdy boys to be mighty men. Staying married when my parents didn't make it past 17 years. Educating my children in a way that goes against the norms. Are they learning enough? Can I really do this? And the friend who knows that everyday with her son is the last day he will have that much physical capability because Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy has taken up residence within the frame of his flesh and bone. The mother and father who have spent nearly 2 months gripping the railing of some hospital bed wondering if their daughter will recover from the accident. Faith the size of a mustard seed. Surely our faith is that large, and yet we don't move mountains, we don't see healings all the time.
I remember the dear one who just passed through the cancer cadence and though she is whole, she was made so by medical technology. What of mustard seed faith? I think, then, of the charm my grandmother passed to me. A marble sized sphere of glass, one side spider's web cracked, the other in tact and suspended in its center, a mustard seed. A mustard seed to dangle on a chain about my neck. God knows no accidents, and He knows I need to see what Jesus meant when he spoke of mustard seeds and faith. I've always felt it a piercing truth that mine is smaller than the charm I wear.
But today, as hazel almond eyes and foamy, foggy blue eyes look at me, hurt by what they feel is their inadequate faith, I realize it. I hear it in my spirit. Outside the window there stands a small mountain dressed for Thanksgiving in topaz and cinnamon. They can move that mountain. One shovel at a time. You can move that mountain. One shovel at a time. One shovel. Noah built that boat before he ever saw a drop of rain. The showy miracles were few until the days of Moses. But yet generations believed. Generations of people stood on firm foundations of sure faith. They moved mountains of people to continue to believe one child at a time, one person at a time. Self-Control comes one heart-yielded moment at a time--a small shovel filled with the emotions of a mountain of passion that will one day be used to glorify God. And if the healing comes through radiation, then the mountain to be moved is not the cancer, but the life learning to fully yield. And if the child isn't restored to full health, the faith is not small. The foundation remains sure--but the mountain will not be moved in a single sweep of His strong right arm every time. Sometimes the mountains are in our own souls--the visible mountain is the sickness and it has roots in the invisible heart learning to trust the goodness of God. And maybe the man with greater faith is he whose feet remain planted when the visible miracles don't come, he whose back grows strong with lifting the small shovels of mountain.
And I realize I can't always give these boys perfect answers, easy solutions. Sometimes it is in the shoveling day after day after long raw day that the mountains are moved. All I can offer my children is the sure foundation. Faith. Faith in the God who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, the God who is working all things together for our good, the God who is able to keep you from falling, who promises the fruits of His Spirit in our lives, faith that with that very God, ALL things are possible.
An afternoon object lesson seems like the most practical way to take this faith theology and rub it into the fibre of our lives like oil on a leather saddle. We take a bike ride through the mountains--and I see them today as movable. I choose a long hill. I say you can climb it, boys. It is not insurmountable. And they do. And calves burning, hearts quaking at our temples, I whisper, "You did that one foot pushing one pedal down at a time. Look what you climbed. You can develop self-control. One moment at a time. One day at a time. Believe that with your God all things are possible. He won't quit on you; you have faith the size of a mustard seed--maybe even bigger." And mouths smile. And I see that perseverance is faith's best friend.
If we give them faith--a sure foundation--we teach them that their lives are not built on educations, family wealth, knowledge, skills, or even what they may amass, but on the Rock of Ages. Give them faith when they are young, and show them that faith is not just about the miracles that make us cry out in awe, but about the slow and steady trust over measly moments, the winters, the springs, the mountains that make up our lifetimes. And when we fail, my fellow moms, when we fail? That is when we remind them of our own humanity, then point them to their feet and remind them that their feet are firmly planted, not in us, but in the great unchanging I AM.
So, tonight, as a joke I serve mustard seeds for dinner. And the boys think I'm serious. Maybe they are just half starved because the dinner bell dings late, but they chase those tiny pods down and eat them. If mustard seeds are our faith, then our faith has a kick. I laugh at the creativity of our God, that he would choose the spicy mustard seed to illustrate his parable, because mustard seeds and lives grounded in faith both pack a punch. And while they eat the seeds, eyes crossing, noses curling, voice boxes squeaking, swirling with spice-laughter, I pray. Father, cause their soul soil to take these seeds of faith and let them grow. I remember that what I do in moderation, they will do in excess and I add, "Father, I confess my days of unbelief. Cause my faith to multiply. Let it grow before the eyes of my wee ones. Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Mothering Chronicles 4: Falling Short of Picket Fences

November nodded at me today, with her egg-yolk sun and scattered whites on a blue sky plate. Her trees rusty, with October's last rains and breath like maple candy, brought four visitors--a fellow firefighter and his family. A fine family we now call friends. Theirs are two sweet boys with hair the color of butter left to sit from breakfast to dinner. Little ones. Smaller than mine. And I remembered. I remembered feet that fit in palms of hands. Chatter only I could decipher. Soothers that needed microchips because God forbid we lost them. Faces stained with food. Feet that longed to climb, to jump, to do the things big brother did. Smiles. Smiles that set off fireworks in my stomach. How a dogwood stick was fascinating. How stairs were to them like midnight lights to summer bugs. How I remembered. Seven years have seeped away since last I saw those images in flesh and blood. I look at the masterpieces life painted in my heart and wonder what images will be there seven years further along this arc of time. So much of myself is reflected in who the boys are becoming. So much of their daddy too. (How I thank God for that.) Mothering them--this heavenly calling that somehow found me when I didn't know it was all I wanted, all I ever truly longed for in life--has been like a mirror to my soul. They show me who I am. I haven't always liked the reflection. A spilled cup released bitter words. Did they fall from my lips? Babies at my bedside in buttoned jammies, and I am resentful that Daddy doesn't hear them. It is me again, lifting downy covers and arching my back to make a cocoon in which they curl. It is me scratching backs until eyelids fall and breathing steadies, while he sleeps. Resentful? Me? Yes, at times. Even if we pretend it isn't so, our babes show us the truth. Admitting, acknowledging, and refusing to accept unloveliness are the changing ingredients. Visions of perfection, of milk and cookies, and picket fences were all I knew when Nate lay safely in my water bed tummy. My heart broke when the reality of my imperfection deluged my soul until I was asphyxiated with the truth. So far from perfection. Far far from that word. But still, so high, so holy a calling. To fall short seems unacceptable. Unacceptable, yes. Inevitable? That too. But Paul said he forgot what was behind and strained toward what lay before him--his high calling. James said consider it pure joy, brothers because perseverance is cooked in the crock of trials. And mothering, though I longed for it, is indeed a trial at times. Paul too said, "Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord...for it is a safeguard for your faith." (Phil. 1:3 NLT) Whatever happens, rejoice. Paul said he had many valid reasons to be confident in his flesh, in his ability, his education, his skill. But he rejoiced in none of that. His joy came clothed in swaddling clothes. He rejoiced not in who he was, but in a savior who already paid for each failure. A savior who washed those dropped moments, those careless words, those selfish feelings with the spilled blood of a life fully spent. If I could sit knee to knee with the mothers, eye to eye, hearts in hands held open, I'd say, "You'll fail. You'll be less than you hoped. You'll smudge your masterpieces with paintbrushes dipped in darkness. But Jesus. But Jesus, my friend." Jesus repaints the soiled spots because "Love covers a multitude of wrongs." (I Cor. 13) And He is love. He covers. He restores. (Is. 38:16, Job 33:26, Joel 2:25-26) He heals. (Psalm 107:20, Is. 57:17-19) He makes all things new. (Rev. 21:5) And when we feel entirely unable, it is He who remains "able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or imagine." (Eph. 3:20) To mother, and mother well, we must plan to rejoice when we fail--not in the fractured fragments of brokenness that can result from our humanity, but in the opportunity to point our children to the flawless Father who fails not. It will prove the safeguard of our families and our personal faith. Rejoice, sisters, in the net that catches our oopses, our man-I-wish-I-could-take-that-backs, our will they ever survive me as their moms, and purifies them. When nighttime swelled, I slipped into their room just to watch them sleep a moment or two. And there were the locks of hair, curtains over Cort's eyes. There were the freckles--eleven years of crumbs we forgot to wipe away dozing on Nate's cheeks. I sat, swiping hair and connecting the dotted freckles, by each boy. And I prayed. Father, redeem the times. Redeem the moments when this passionate, creative boy pushes against this passionate, creative momma until we hurt and bruise. Redeem the minutes when math is wrong, and he doesn't get it, and I can't figure out why, and we lock our horns together, and turn and twist until our emotions are tangled. Let not my failures mar their beauty. Let them see you when they see me, when they hear me. And I rejoiced. They sleep warm, in peaceful beds--made by their father's hands and their mother's heart--with brows at ease, and hearts filled with the knowledge that they are loved, that they are worthy of love, that they are fearfullyand wonderfully crafted. They know. And I rejoice. It is enough.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Mothering Chronicles 3: Take Back Your Time

Time. Moments into seconds into minutes into hours into days into lifetimes. Into lifetimes. Lord, "teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Our first child came as an unexpected gift, and we wondered if we could afford to have a baby. We wondered the wrong thing. We should have asked ourselves if we were willing to give up enough time. In the early days of Nathan's life I remember thinking it mattered that the floor was clean. I remember thinking I should be involved in ministry, should serve my neighbors and community, should learn to quilt, and cook from scratch. I recall days when I watched the clock for his next nap time because I had more things to do, more to accomplish. I'm a doer. My mother used to tell me, "Sarah, nap when he naps." It is true, I probably wouldn't have slept, but how I wish now, that I had lay beside that sparkly eyed, button-nosed bubba to watch as he drifted into soft slumber. How I wish. Almost twelve years have passed since he needed two naps a day. Today as I sorted knitted scarves and winter's bloated jackets, I discovered it will be Cort wearing Nate's camo coat from last season. Nate has out grown it; yet again he hurries beyond my reach. Bigger. Faster. Older. And I can't get any of it back. Do I dare ask myself how many times it was my senseless mouth that parted to utter those poisonous words, "In a minute, baby. I'll be with you in a minute." I don't dare. I can't. Or do I attempt to count the times it was my pointer that stood straight up signaling my red-cheeked-just-in-from-outside-with-a-discovery-in-hand boys to wait while I finished a phone conversation? Was that my finger? Oh that I could cut it off now. I can't get their questions back. I can't get their curiosity back. I can't get their discoveries back. If there was only one thing I could say to a mother while her waist stretches to hold the tender life within her cocoon, it would be this: Take back your time; your wee one will need it. Harvey MacKay, author of bestseller Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive said, "Decide what your priorities are and how much time you will spend on them. If you don't, someone else will." Selah. (Am I allowed to say Selah after a non-verse quote? I think I will. It bares repeating.) If you don't claim your moments, they will be eaten--scratch that--devoured by the world in which you live. That's a fact. I know. There is just no way around this fact. Children need our time. Practically speaking, children are needy. They need to be fed, they need to be changed, they need help with their homework, they need their laundry washed, they need new clothes, they need boo boos kissed, and they need bedtime stories. Later, they need help with learning to drive and college applications. But more important than their practical needs is their deep desire for connection. Every human being on earth longs to matter to someone, longs to be heard, longs to be enjoyed for who they are. This need, THIS NEED, oh yes, this need is the challenge. Unlike our children's physical needs, this illusive need will take our time when offered, but will rarely demand it. It is this need that is most easily ignored. But mothers, this is the reality: If we as parents don't meet this need, someone or something else will. Period. Albert Einstein said, "What counts can't always be counted; what can be counted doesn't always count." In my kitchen sits a bucketful of peppers, a table spread with green beans, and a mess of other miscellaneous vegetables we pulled from the garden after the second hard frost. They're waiting to be put up for the winter. My youngest son too was waiting today. He never said it out loud, but as he diligently pushed through his cursive lesson and attentively answered his Greek and Latin questions with eyes wandering in opposite directions--one to the clock, the other to the window--I knew what he was longing to do. Like the Pied Piper, his chartreuse (don't tell him that's the color) birthday bike was beckoning him to climb the autumn mountains. Do you know what his face looked like when I said, "Let's go for a run--you can ride your bike." Do you know? Of course you do, because you've seen it on your own little one. His heart sang in harmony with mine and we needed no words. The peppers and beans can wait. Take back your time, moms. Take it back so that you can strategically release it on those precious souls that matter more than the telephone, more than the ladies luncheon at the church, more than your job, more than facebook, more than television. I can give you a count of some things. At least eight loads of laundry in a week--sometimes eight in a day. Two trips to the grocery store a week, minimum. The floor gets swept at least fourteen times in a week. (I don't really know how many times it gets swept. I have a dog and two boys. Our floor needs to be swept 14 times a day!) There are 21 meals and ten to fifteen snacks per child each week. There are the dishes that are washed. The dog that needs to be fed. The garden. The home projects. But the truth is, one could never measure my days--not the parts that count. There's no way to account for the extra three chapters of Huck Finn read to boys hungry for adventure when the moon is high, and their minds are free to run. There's no way to tally the bounce tag bruises that tar my shins from trampoline tumbling. No one will know, when my floors are dirty, I spent that time learning how to run a post with my boys on the greatest football field in the world--our yard. But those are the moments that will last. Plan now, young mothers, to give your children your time. It will lay a foundation that later you will wish you had. If your children are not accustomed to interacting with you, talking with you, sharing their interests with you, sharing their discoveries, their fears, their hopes, their crazy ideas with you, then when they are old, and you feel their ideas and opinions matter, they will have long ago learned to share them with someone else. Someone who knew they mattered all along. Don't offer them the entertainment of a TV show when you can offer them the comfort of your voice and a vivid book. Don't crowd your life with appointments, and social engagements every weekend when you could give them a hike to the nearest waterfall to drink in the creativity of their Creator. They need you. They need you to point them to their Creator, and that takes hours and hours of time laying the foundation for a connective relationship that will someday leave their hearts open to receive the greatest wisdom from you. And for us moms who have perhaps missed a few opportunities along the way; it is never too late. Never. Our heavenly Father hungers to redeem all things, longs to restore years the locusts ate, invites us to allow him to bring from the ashes of time burned away a beauty that reflects Him. His mercies are new every morning. So receive them afresh. Begin again today. Take back your time, and then, give it to those that matter. Pray with Me Lord, how undeserving I am of these sweet children. How careless I can be with their hearts. Teach me to number our days together that I may not miss a moment. Restore those times when I've forgotten what is truly countable. Open their hearts to me that I may reflect you to them. Help me to release my calendar, my plans, my to do lists and grasp this gift of their lives instead. May they see in me a reflection of your desire to be with them always. Amen. Read with Me Psalm 90: 1-6, 12 Ecc. 3:1-14 My Personal Top FIVE Time Takers (There are a lot of other things, but these seem to be the most pressing on my life recently. Please don't feel I think any of these things are inherently wrong. That's not the case. They can just sometimes start to monopolize my life.) 1. Responding to emails and facebook messages throughout the day instead of at one set time per day. I hate a full inbox/can't stand to leave something unreplied to. (My hubby told me research says that for every email you respond to, it takes you five minutes to get back on task. I've implemented a new plan for my inbox!) 2. Telephone. I've learned to set specific times in the day when I talk on the phone or respond to phone calls. I always check my messages in case of emergencies, but as a homeschool mom, I have to realize the kids need me to be present mentally as well as physically while they learn. 3. Television (Get rid of it if you can bare the thought. If not, get DVR so you choose when you watch, and fast forward through the commercials) Think of all the incredible novels you could read with the time you spend vegging out watching cooking shows or I love Raymond re-runs. 4. Guilt based commitments. I hate saying no. Hate it. But people will never stop asking. Learn to say, not this time. If that's too hard, learn to say, "Let me pray about it." 5. Overbooked Social Calendar. (Yours or your kids) In his book, Have A New Kid By Friday, Dr. Kevin Leman recommends one or two family social commitments per month. That may sound extreme, but here's the thing, God gave your kids to YOU, not your BFFs. And how low is your self esteem anyway that you believe your kids need a friend with them at all times in order to have fun? Put your big girl pants on and become relevant to your kids. YOU are a family--treasure time together. My Five Fave Ways to Connect 1. Jumping on the Trampoline, playing football, frisbee or other outside sport. The boys EAT.THIS.UP. They love it. 2. Games. Inside we love games--CLUE is our newest board game. UNO. Yahtzee. 3. Walks/Bike Rides/Hikes 4. In the summer, at the lake, the kids love it when I get in the water with them. I do too. In the winter, they love it when I go out in the snow with them. 5. Asking questions about their favorite activities as if they are the expert and I have NO clue. Ask question after question for a minimum of ten minutes. Sometimes my boys actually hug me when we're having this type of conversation b/c they are spontaneously overcome with joy that I'm just listening to them.