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.