The Joy of Endurance

And look–two months later and I emerge alive!

Honestly, I just have not felt the need to write, not that I really have the time. I’m appreciating seasonality right now, surprised by how quickly my focus has changed, and how content I finally feel.

Working continues to be a juggling act. I’m getting my 20ish hours (we all knew it wasn’t going to be just 20, right), but not without weekly schedule struggles. Turns out one of my children doesn’t like doing her homework in my office, even if it includes computer games and playing on the playground. Of course, she also doesn’t like staying home from school, going to school, or singing in public–unless it’s caroling. She’s an enigma, that one.

We’ve had our share of added hurdles as well: two colds, the stomach flu, and lice. Yes, lice. I neverthout I’d prefer stomach flu to anything, but it turns out that anything is lice. 2-3 hours of nitpicking (literally) that sweet little enigma, repeated daily for a solid week, coupled with 2-3 loads of laundry each day, and I was waving the white flag.

You know those things you think you won’t ever survive? And then somehow you do.

Many of these weeks have not been particularly joyful. But I’ve been meditating on this verse when they aren’t: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

Lice is not the cross, but the point is that sometimes there’s not much joy to be had in the experience. The joy comes from not giving up, from pushing through with an appreciation not for our misfortunes but on the strength that gets us through them, the memories we make in the process. In a culture full of “enjoy the moment” angst, I offer up the comfort that it’s okay if your moment isn’t particularly enjoyable. Just enduring it can be it’s own reward.

I don’t blame her for shaking

You know the cry, the one that swells from regular into wail, the one that says something is very wrong.

As the shift happened, I dropped what I was doing and moved for the staircase, my mind racing through the possible catastrophes. But before I could get far, K speed-walked into the kitchen, one hand held steady by another, her body shaking with panic. A very sizeable shard of wood had gone straight through the end of her finger, starting at the pad and coming out in by her nail, blood already spread around it.

“Oh my,” I managed. Her shaking was uncontrollable. As quickly and delicately as I could, I pulled the shard from her hand (honestly, I just wanted that thing out of her finger, freaked-out as I was). Then I examined it closely, making sure that I’d gotten every bit and that there were no other splinters than the (giant) one. I wrapped it with tissue and got her some ice. I smothered her with kisses and hugs and reassurances that it was scary but fine.

But when she was calm, we went to the banister and I asked her where she’d been holding on. I ran my hands along every inch of that banister, checking for loose wood, making sure it was smooth. There was one little chink and I smoothed it off, then talked about how the banister was old and maybe we shouldn’t run our hands along it too roughly.

I was so thankful that she came to me, panicked as she was. I was thankful that she trusted me to make it better. I was thankful that she knew I would be more skilled at the task than her, because she could easily have broken that splinter off trying to get it out, and then we’d have had a much more unpleasant task before us. I was thankful that I could care for her, both in the moment and in the future, trying to ensure she was safe and also trying to help her learn.

It’s not lost on me how very much I learn about God through parenting.

How many times do I panic? How often do I try to fix it myself? I will do better, I tell myself. I will be different. But those hurts, those struggles, those are the very times that we need our God. He is so much more capable–dexterous but gentle. He sees the big picture, the real place of our hurt, and not just the bloody spot on our hand. And He longs to comfort us, immediately and tenderly.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

I imagine the love I have for my children, the way I want to help them, keep them safe, teach them and comfort them. And then I multiply that by a million. And then I stand awestruck to know that even that doesn’t capture my Father’s love. Why, in the midst of struggle, do I still refuse that love? What do I make worse by not taking my hurts immediately to the one who loves me more than I could ever imagine?

I know enough to not task myself to do better. But I will try to remember: the way I could help K, the way God could help me, the way we could work together. And maybe the next time that I am shaking with fear, I will remember that I don’t have to face it on my own.

Squirrel School

It started out so innocently.

I still miss having pets. The rest of our family does not. Thankfully, we had a couple of squirrels in the backyard, and I took to feeding them occasionally. Or often. Maybe calling them pets. And generally pretending that they appreciated me for more than my nuts. So we went from one squirrel to a couple of squirrels. Squirrel babies. A couple more squirrels. And then I came out one morning to discover 3 grown squirrels, 7 baby squirrels, and 1 very confused little bunny.

As the rest of you probably guessed already, this does not end well.

It took me awhile to see it, what with all the cute little animals running about. But after noticing that our growing summer green beans are now thoroughly leafless–why yes, squirrels do climb PVC pipe and eat green bean leaves with the greatest of ease, even if they also eat a steady diet of nuts, thank you very much–we committed to the extrication of the squirrels. Humanely, of course. With tears. Did I mention what a pet person I am?

But everything–everything–has a lesson from the Lord. Here’s what He’s teaching me:

1) Identify your needs

Those spaces in our hearts, we fill them with all sorts of things. Food, clothes, legalism, etc. Even squirrels. I might say on the surface that I needed a pet, but I was also lonely, slowly left behind by school-bound children. That hole, I’m never going to be able to fill it without know what shape it is, and that might require opening myself up to find out.

2) Accept no substitute

Once that need is recognized, be very careful to be filling it with the right thing. I might gently argue that most of those right things come from God, but in the very practical sense, I was not going to meet the need for a pet by calling a wild squirrel by the same name. Substituting at this stage may seem like the ideal solution–it certainly did to me–but it ends up causing even more pain when you recognize that you’re just going to have to rip that ill-fitting piece out of the hole. Trust me.

3) Boundaries are there for a reason

God bless boundaries. The limits we set on our time, our space, our values–they are there to keep our hearts safe. It may seem to easy to toe the line, to cross it every now and again, say yes to something that we know we shouldn’t. Just this once, we tell ourselves. But crossing boundaries is a tricky feat, because there often is something else just a little farther begging our attention. And once we’ve crossed that line, it’s hard to see it quite so clearly anymore. So the one squirrel turns into two turns into an extended animal family. Before you know it, it’s not you on their territory but them on yours–your heart, your values, your green beans. What started out as cute, helpful, or gracious ends up hurting things you value. So guard what you value carefully.

4) Right stuff is often hard, and hard stuff is often right

Reestablishing those boundaries, removing substitutions, and taking a long hard look at what you really need are all super big feats. They may be the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come with a hefty emotional price tag. Trapping those beloved squirrels, taking them elsewhere, watching them scamper away, returning to an empty backyard–talk about traumatic. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do. Give yourself some time, some space, and a whole lot of grace. It’s okay for it to be hard. Stay the course and rely on your team. Which means–

5) Know your team

These are the people on your side. God, spouse, family, friends. You know, the people who don’t think you’re crazy for befriending a squirrel (or at least try to understand it). Whatever you substituted, that’s probably not on your team. Like the squirrel, who did not seem to care where my boundaries should be or why green beans weren’t included. Know who’s on that team and turn to them for support. In turn, be ready to support them when they struggle–be gentle in helping them see the need, eliminate substitutes, maintain boundaries. And be especially graceful as you walk with them through the hard stuff. Next time it might be your squirrel heading up the block. You want to dole out the kind of grace you’re going to need.

So that’s that. Squirrels and decimated green beans and heavy emotional fallout. God truly does work in mysterious ways, but I take heart that I can trust in their inevitable goodness.

(I hope it’s) Hump day

I’m in a strange middle ground, this Wednesday. My entire core feels as though it has imploded, tender to every touch, breath, movement. No one sees this pain, hidden under my oversized t-shirt. I feel as lazy as I look, oscillating between our laz-e-boy and my bed, and yet I cannot seem to will myself otherwise.

I want recognition for this pain, as unseeable as it is. I want fawning. I want words to offer me comfort that I cannot find by other means. I want strokes on the head and kisses on the hand and the babying we might offer our three year old. And I feel like a three year old wanting it, because I’m also reading Kay Warren’s Dangerous Surrender. In it, Kay Warren highlights her conviction for serving AIDS and HIV victims in Africa, as well as child prostitution in Cambodia, all while battling two bouts of cancer. Hmm. So I want sympathy, only to want immediately to pass it along to someone far more deserving. At the end of this week–okay, probably at the end of next week–I’ll be back to normal, blessed beyond measure, surgery and all. I love that God knew, that He could anticipate my own weakness, and keep it so gently in check. I trust my body then to Him, in hopes that He can heal me quickly, that I might be able to turn that sympathy into something more helpful.

Unconventional, but Happy

A thousand things he could give me–candy, cards, jewelry, etc. The one thing I want: his hand in mine, home at last after a week away, at my side when I’m scared. As the kids open their valentines, as the world bubbles with romantic tidings, I go for hernia surgery, happy to know that I will at least come home to those I love the most. Having us all together, even under these less-than-optimal conditions, makes for a happy valentine.

My innards are making a break for it

Having the hernia repaired doesn’t bother me nearly as much as having a hernia. Oh, it’s not the persistent burning ache or the occasional popping sensation, nor the endless giggles from the kids each time it gets mentioned (hernia is, I grant, a funny word). It was this line, paraphrased from my doctor: “If you see it bulging out, just gently press everything back into place.” And by everything, he means my intestines. There’s just something very wrong with that.