My part, His story

The boy and I have taken to reading together at night. It started out as a bribe–I’ve been bound and determined since before they were born that they will read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, and they will love them as I have loved them. Of all the books I’ve read in my life, these have been the most loved for their combination simplicity and complexity, for the beauty of both story and prose.

M tried them and passed.

“How can you not love them?” I implored. And yet, he did not love them.

What he does love is time with me, so I made him a bargain: I would read with him for the last fifteen minutes of the day, if we could read The Chronicles…. And so we have.

(Insert parenting guilt: Perhaps I should never have stopped reading with him. Perhaps I have missed out on banking countless moments of togetherness by trading reading together for reading apart. Perhaps that time was critical and without merit lost forever. Perhaps, perhaps–the story of a parent’s life. I love that Christ is so in the moment when our flesh so desperately sticks in the past. What’s done is done, what is will be)

We are nearly at the end of the third book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and coming up to my most heart-wrenching moment in the series (spoiler alert–if you haven’t read the books, be aware!). Reepicheep, the leader of the mice, is about to set sail for the end of the world, never to return.

No matter how many times I’ve read this series–and it’s a lot–I come to this moment with my heart in my throat. Reepicheep is a strong and noble character, full of life and humor and enthusiasm. Promise. This mouse, two feet tall, is bursting with more promise than almost any other character. And here we will leave him at the end of the world, sailing away into a sea of flowers for adventures untold. This has always been his dream, his destiny, the one thing he wants more than anything else in the world.

Still, I cannot bear to part with him.

I want to hold onto him forever, find out what he might say or do at any moment, be part of his every adventure. I do not think it’s fair to be given a character that’s so incredibly lovable only to have to let him go, even if it’s his heart’s greatest desire and the logical next step in his journey.

The worst part is, he’s right next to me, and she’s sleeping in the other room.

As we’ve approached this final chapter of the book, I’m seeing for the first time how difficult the parenting road really is. We are gifted these children to guide, protect, and grow, only to have to let them continue their own journey alone. Granted, I pray that my children will always include me in their lives, but that’s not a given, nor will it be the same as the closeness we have now. We love them to the point of letting them go.

I do not want to let them go.

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-14)

As with the characters in a story, we become so attached to the things and people in our lives that we begin to think of the story as our own and thus subject to our own desires. The story is God’s; everything in it belongs to Him. We have our own part, and that it is to fear God, love Him, serve Him, obey Him. It is to make subject to Him all that we have, including ourselves and our children. Even if they are written to sail away to the very end of the world without us.

Holding onto anything as if it’s mine places me in direct conflict with the will of the Lord, and it prevents me from being able to completely focus on my part in the story. I can enjoy the times this part overlaps with the most amazing people, places, and ministries, but I cannot let that enjoyment become confused with ownership, because it never belonged to me in the first place. I belong to Him.

So the question is, what are you holding on to as your own, and how does that weigh you down on the road you are called to walk? How could you shift your perspective to consider it His and not yours? There’s a freedom in that, knowing that you are not responsible for the rest of the story. Leave that to the author of Creation–He’s clearly up to snuff.

The parenting guilt, it lifts as little as I consider this: walking in open-handed obedience to God allows Him to rewrite those missing moments in a way I never can. I rest in His grace; I trust in His competence; I live in His story. In His hands, what is will be good, in Narnia and now.

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Good and perfect gifts

We interrupt this load of laundry to bring you a special stone:

  
Such is life with kids.

My son burst in from the backyard as I sorted through the fabric sea that had become my laundry room. “Mom, can I show you this rock?”

Of course. There’s nothing I would love more in this moment than a distraction.

“It’s really cool ’cause it’s all smooth and black and it’s got this neat line in it.”

Yes, it is really cool. In a backyard filled with jagged gray and white or milky pea gravel, it’s an utterly unique find. A gem.

“I think I’m gonna smash it.”

And off he went, set to smash this gem of a find. Also, I was now putting together the sounds of hammers I’d been hearing. Let’s just chalk that up to fostering independence and creative thinking. And LAUNDRY. 

It got me thinking, though. How often are we just like this? We have a gift (let’s say, I don’t know, writing. Or for you it might be sewing or a love of food/books/basketball/etc.). A special gem placed in our heart by the Creator. A unique and special gift

How often do we smash it with the hammer of our lives, our schedules, or feelings that this gift really doesn’t provide anything truly useful?

God is good to give us what we need. We can get so caught up in what we don’t have, but what about the things we have that we think we don’t need: gifts, and what they could give if we took the time to cherish them. We must need them, or He wouldn’t have chosen them so deliberately.

“Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed…Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:14, 16-18). 

God gave us our gifts, and He is solid, not shifting. His decisions are not made without the seal of perfection. In other words, He didn’t get your gift mixed up with anyone else’s, and He didn’t throw it in just because it was lying around. We were given these gifts as a sign of the many and various fruits of His creativity, no matter how we try to deceive ourselves otherwise. Their existence is their usefulness, as is their enjoyment. 

So my question is, what are you doing with those gifts? Are you cherishing them? Ignoring them? Or are you smashing them, simply because life (or your laundry-minded mom) gave you a hammer and that seems way more useful, constructive, or satisfying? What are you missing out on through that destruction?

As a side note, my son wasn’t out the door before he changed his mind. The stone remains, beautiful, as are we all.

Pride and the virtual fall

My kids got me hooked on Dragonvale.

If you’re not as loaded with technology as we are, Dragonvale is an app game where you build your own dragon zoo, breeding new species and decorating the park in hopes of earning more money for visitors.

This is not a quality game. There’s a big push to make in-app purchases and use social media, not to mention the questions that come up around “breeding.” They learn nothing in this game. And now I’m unlearning with them. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

No, really. Feel free to follow in my footsteps.

Technology has been a big topic of conversation in the house lately. M is in a school with a 1:1 iPad program from 3rd grade up. A program I have fought against every step of the way. A program which continues to go forward.

We finally got him his ipad, turned on all the restrictions, and sent him to school. He came home, day after day, unable to do the things asked because of these restrictions. We took it to the principal, who we nailed to the wall: “Are you saying you have a system where my eight year old needs access to Google in order to do his class work?” Yes, that’s exactly what he was saying. And if we didn’t like the school we chose, we were welcome to go to another one.

Except we weren’t the ones who chose it.

God directed us to our home. God laid public school on our hearts. And despite my ipad-loathing prayers, God continues to keep us in the system.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Walking humbly–by accepting the path God is leading you on without pushing your own agenda.

Okay, so I needed to take myself down a notch. If God wanted us here, there’s a reason. My pride was keeping me from seeing it, keeping me from acting justly or loving mercy.

Maybe I don’t have it all figured out. Maybe I shouldn’t fight so much until I do.

I’m not saying I should be a doormat. But I was so quick to take up my arms that I KNOW I wasn’t acting justly or loving mercy. I wasn’t even interested in walking where God led, humbly or otherwise.

As a consequence, I was missing the good. God is good, all the time, even when I see anything but.

Take Dragonvale. On the surface, there was nothing good. My heart overflowed with guilt for encouraging my children to play. But then I stepped back. With my agenda out of the way, I started seeing the good.

The kids were getting to teach me something, and getting self esteem from that. We could talk about different aspects of the game, building bonds of communication. Even things like in-app purchases and social media (which are disabled for them) brought conversations about how apps work, how media works, and how careful and critical we need to be. Yes, I’m a grown woman playing Dragonvale. But I’m also a mom who isn’t above getting down on the virtual floor with my kids. A mom willing to see that there might be good I’m too busy protesting to notice.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalms 27:13)

Even in Dragonvale, iPads, and everything in between. That’s not to say the battle’s over–God demands that we have standards for our children, and that we defend what’s right. But before I battle again, I’m retreating. I’m praying, I’m giving thanks, I’m clothing myself in humility. Because I have a feeling that my poor son being in the prinicipal’s office, singled out and unable to do his work, wasn’t the result of my acting justly or loving mercy. When I battle again, I want to know the Lord is on my side, so that I may see the good and share it as well.

All good things require some strength

They were so excited. A new teacher, a new class, a new year, plus all their old friends.

I clung to summer.

2am found me still awake, crying. Just one more day, Lord. One more week. Forever. 6am came anyway, with youthful giddiness and packed backpacks and chocolate chip bagels. My babies so big, so ready.

It feels like I’ve pulled my heart from my chest and sent it off with them.

I know the plan God has for us. I know it means being in the local school, ministering to our community in the process. I know keeping them home would be self-seeking. But I want to anyway. I pray for forgiveness, for a new focus, for hands willing to take what God has for them, instead of holding on to what I must let go.

It was such a great summer. Breathtaking! We had so much, with such a great balance of friends and family, of staying home and going out. We built and rebuilt Legos, forts, obstacle courses. We swam and swam and swam. We went to the park, the beach, Nickel City, the movies. We experimented with Mentos and cookie dough and moon sand (though not all at once).

These babies of mine, they’re at such a sweet age. They’re tall, responsible, opinionated. They’re losing interest in picture books and toddler programming, but they’re also discovering new foods and books and skills. K has mastered the cartwheel and is now working on doing them one-handed. M nearly has the lay-up. We tried our first summer camp–a half day karate camp for M–and he was beyond bummed we hadn’t signed up for a second week. And yet they are still young–still pretending stuffed animals are real and Orbeez are pets and making up restaurants and art shops and letters for us. They still reach for my hands, still hug me with abandon.

Maybe I’m holding this moment so tight because I know how soon it will be gone.

As I wrote M a note for his lunch, I wondered if he’d be embarrassed yet. If there was something I would say that would make him blush, sitting at the table with his friends. As I said goodbye to him this morning, I wondered how affectionate to be. Yes, I know he’s still young, but I want to respect his maturation as well. I don’t want to hold on so tightly that they aren’t free to grow.

This conscientiousness, this is how I know I’ll be alright.

Because at the end of the day, as much as I loved our summer, as much as I treasure my sweet babies, I want even more to see them walk the path God has for them, and that takes me walking the path God has for me. With tears, sometimes, but with joy as well, even if I have to choose it sometimes instead of it coming naturally. And the joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10), on all days but especially ones like these.

Choose joy. Find strength. Use that strength to choose joy again and again and again. Praise Jesus for a cycle so divine.

Life abundant!

As we were driving the other evening, the music shifted into random shuffle and an old Hullabaloo song came on. The flashback was instantaneous–driving to parks, playdates, Sea World in a minivan with two tiny children (and often we were singing just to stave off the tears). Of course, the kids didn’t remember the song at all, so I told them, wistfully, about how often we used to sing it. Those times were amazing.

But these times are amazing too. The Hullabaloo has been replaced by Christian artists and Veggietales, the van gone, the kids in full elementary swing. Not so many playdates these days, but soccer and karate and gymnastics, shopping for things together because these little ones now have full-fledged opinions of their own. I’m notorious for being sentimental, but as the song shifted again, I found myself satisfied. It’s hard to let go, but unless you do, you can’t embrace the now.

And our now? It’s been full:

1) Books. Booksbooksbooks. M finds series after series to spin through, though he’s been thwarted by the untranslated conclusion of the Ulysses Moore series and the lack of the complete Beast Quest saga in the public and county libraries. K has discovered the Magic Treehouse books, as well as her brother’s insatiable passion to read. Hey, it’s easier to bring a book into a restaurant than a half-dozen cars.

2) The yard. Sometimes we get a little crazy. Like decided to pull out all the grass in our front yard and put in drought tolerant plants among eight cubic yards of rock. Because we couldn’t get the sprinklers working right. That makes sense, right? Too bad, because three weekends and $1500 later we’re grass-free up front. Which is good because the backyard garden is well under way. Woo hoo for green beans and blossoming tomatoes!

3) Cookie dough. Yes, I’m devoting a whole section to cookie dough. The passion began with cookie dough eggs at Easter, the kind of cookie dough you can eat raw. Yummy yum yum. Except my quest for cookie dough kept leading me back to a healthy version with (don’t gag) chickpeas. Uh huh. That’s what I thought too: no way can that work. Except it did. I love it when I snigger behind my non-bean eating munchkins. I also love when I get cool mom points for letting them have extra “treats.”

4) Parties! Cakes! Birthdays! (Oh my!) K’s birthday is coming up and I’m in full planning swing. We’re going Jessie this year, as in Toy Story but without the rest of the toys. As long as my little cow girl doesn’t change her mind in three weeks (anyone want to take that bet? My sanity is on the line), she’ll have a great time. Of course, I’m also capping that off with a groom’s cake in a zombie wedding theme. Yep, nothing like keeping busy.

5) Trader Joe’s. Of course I shop at other places, but by the way the checker at Trader Joe’s went on and on yesterday about how often I’ve been in there, you wouldn’t know it. I kid you not, he must have mentioned it in every sentence of our conversation: you’re always so good to bring bags, this is one of your smaller trips, I’ll see you in a couple days, etc. Not charming. Creepy. But even creepy can’t keep me out of Trader Joe’s.

6) Retreat. As in my first women’s retreat with my new church. I was plumb out of everything when I left following a really really really rough week, and I was so looking forward to getting restored, making friends, and generally filling up. But you know what they say, right? We plan, God laughs. Can we just say that God had entirely different expectations for my weekend away? Praise Jesus through gritted teeth, I say. Turns out sometimes we’re meant to stay empty a little longer than expected, but to my great relief I discovered God with me even in the emptiness–or maybe even more so. We’re a partnership, pressing on. There is no better companion, and it certainly has eased my heart to realize that I’m not as alone as I imagined.

And in the midst of all that, I somehow managed to turn thirty-four. It’s beautiful–this time, this age, this life. Full and hectic and unexpected even, but beautiful nonetheless. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

The way, via the truth and the light

“There is a way that appears to be right,
    but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

In our school district, the kids get a week-long break in February knowns as “Ski Week.” We don’t ski, so for us it’s a blissful week without alarm clocks and lunch boxes and homework. I’m much more okay with this than snow and ice and fast approaching trees.

But I still look forward to any break with the kids, mostly because I miss them a lot when they’re not at home. I make plans, the center of which is our annual two-day trip to Disneyland. Except this year, B’s work schedule narrowed it to one day, and then an unexpected fever for the boy stole it completely. We returned home and I settled in for a very different vacation than I’d expected. And yes, I was bummed. Really bummed. Like on my knees in tears bummed.

God drew me to my bible study, where I read a really insightful quote from author Jen Hatmaker on the function of humility: “Humility is looking toward heaven through tears, through bone weariness, and thanking Him for the freedom that’s coming… Humility identifies every goodness God was able to work in spite of captivity, maybe because of it” (Tune In, pg. 134). It sounded like what I was feeling, but humility? What did this have to do with humility?

Except that I’m often making plans, sticking to plans, loathing changes to plans, and at the heart of the issue, I’m wanting my plans more than God’s. I want our trip to Disneyland. I don’t want to admit that there might be something better. And hence my problem with humility.

So I got on my knees, surrendered my pride and took up a cloak of humility, and then set to finding the goodness of our “captivity.” We played Upwords and Life and War. We discovered the music channels and danced. The kids took bubble baths in the middle of the afternoon and spent all day in their pajamas. All day. Canceled playdates led to a tent becoming a rocket ship and soda/mentos fountains and a post-dentist lunch made of ice cream. I am deliberately thankful for each of these things, because I know God asked me to trade them for a reason.

There is a way that seems right to us, but that’s only because we see about three inches ahead. Sometimes God calls us into the woods, in a direction away from the sunlight or the flowers or whatever it is that we see in those three inches, and we need to follow Him, because He can see the big picture (which could mean, for example, a sheer cliff on the other side of those flowers). Not only that, but we need to follow with humility, because blinded by pride fail to see the goodness He has waiting for us. There is always goodness, whether we choose to see it or not.

Conquering the real giant

M had another belt test in Tae Kwan Do this weekend, but this time he tested with the 7-12 year old set instead of the younger students. He did fantastic, really showing improvement in several areas, and even broke a board with a spinning back kick. But it was different, watching him among mostly ten and twelve year olds. I was struck by how small he was in comparison, how tiny his hands seemed, how a few years increased their focus and ability. He had my grace in that moment, in that he still is so young and doing what he can for his age. And even the older kids still stumbled with board breaking and sequence recall. When put under pressure, even their faces cracked with the fragility of youth.

The next day, our pastor began a series on faith, starting with young David. If you’re not familiar, David was just a boy when he arrived at the Israelite camp, shocked to find that they were cowering in fear of Goliath, the giant Philistine warrior. David, just a boy. I’m not sure how old he was, but I pictured M, dwarfed in size and ability by kids merely a few years older than he, going up against a giant.

“The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine,” David told the Israelite king. To the giant he proclaimed, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied…All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:37, 45, 47)

There was nothing to make David think he was capable of conquering Goliath–every logical fact was against it–except his faith. He believed. He trusted. Whether it was lions or giants, he knew that even more powerful than all visible facts is the living and mighty will of God. The real battle is often not the one we see–the giant with spear and the boy with stones–but the battle to believe that what God asks of you is possible.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

It starts small. For David, it was shepherding, and for M a belt. For me it’s been a variety of things, from a lost wallet to an Oreo to an unexpected donation. Each time I hope something will come true, but through myself I can only hope. Faith is knowing they will, and when we know they’re real, as David did, we act on these hopes. It is through our actions that we gain assurance–proof that faith makes the impossible possible, that we are meant for more than what our human expectations tell us we can achieve. It is through our action that the battle is won, regardless of the true outcome.

I pray that I welcome these small but important moments to practice my faith, that I not only hope but through Christ believe, act, and witness the transformation, not just on the outside but on the inside. And I pray also that someday, when I’m ready, there’s a giant. I’m looking forward to introducing it to the almighty hand of God.