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.

In the arms of a good hug

I woke to a small presence at the side of my bed–3:46 a.m. In silence, I slipped from the sheets and took K by the hand. We snuck back to her bed and she climbed in.

“Can you please give me an extra hug and a kiss?” she said with the utmost of clarity and politeness.

I held her close, her tiny arms wrapped around me, then took her little head in my hands and planted a solid kiss on the center of her forehead. She settled back between the sheets and I returned to my bed and that was the end of it.

In the morning, I asked her what had brought her to my room. “I just needed that extra hug and kiss. I don’t know why.”

There was something, surely. Something little, something nagging, something that unsettled her, something I could settle.

A parent’s love is a powerful thing. In the midst of the struggles of parenting, navigating their constantly growing independence, there is always that love. Unconditional. Reassuring. It tells them, whether they know what’s wrong or not, that something is there for them, backing them up. That they are important, valued, recognized. Loved, truly and deeply.

This is our Father’s love also, even more unconditional and powerful that our love for our own children. Perfect love, which we can strive for but never fully achieve.

We wake, we struggle, we fall. I fail to come to God, often because I think I can or should handle it myself, often because I don’t know what I’d be coming for.

We don’t need a reason. Sometimes we just need love.

God is waiting. God is never asleep. God is closer even than my bedroom to K’s.

“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)

So when that’s hard, when anything and everything and nothing is hard, let him love.

K slept two hours later than usual that morning. I like to the reassurance I gave her led to such rest. If I came to God, if I let him love me like that, would I be rested like that as well? Would I have as much energy as she did, brilliantly awake and cheerful?

Love is a powerful thing.

Wasting away

Jelly fish have derailed our beach-going this summer, but on one of the few times we went, K was blessed to find a sand dollar. A perfect, perfect sand dollar. Even though I have lived near a beach for my entire life, I have never even found a broken sand dollar. She brought it home, a treasured possession. She took it for sharing. She left it on a side table afterward. I found it the other day under some books. Crushed.

Too bad I don't have a before picture

Too bad I don’t have a before picture

K took it in stride, vacantly staring at the sanddollar, but I pressed at her because I was crushed. That perfect sand dollar, broken apart. It was such a waste. Such a heartbreaking, ridiculous waste of something which might come along once in a lifetime. I hate waste. No: I fear waste.

This fear runs through my entire life. I’m chronically late because I can stand the idea of wasting those extra few minutes waiting (apparently it bothers me less to waste someone else’s minutes). My freezer is stuffed full because I will not waste a single morsel of food. Not that anyone wants to eat stale cake from K’s birthday or the last remaining triangle of quesadilla. Never mind that these foods aren’t even good for us to begin with. The thought of wasting them comes with a tightening panic in my chest.

This isn’t a thing. I googled it. No registered phobia of waste. But when thoroughly examined, a lot of my anxiety goes back to this fear. Even if I’m not going to eat the cake, it will lurk in the back of my mind, taunting me. I could use that bit of ribbon or coupon or cake. I’d better use it.

I’m not a hoarder. I’m a user-upper. I’m a maximizer. Even opportunities are loathed to be wasted. This is my chance to have a cinnamon roll–even if it doesn’t sound good. This is a great outfit–which is always saved instead of worn. On the surface this is smart, but I’m tired of feeling the pressure to make the most of every thing. This hardly seems to fit into living light or life abundant.

In fact, it seems more like I’ve made an idol out of my resourcefulness.

I realize that might sound like a dramatization, but anything that gets in the way of “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” is at best a stumbling block and at worst a brick wall.

Christ did not die on the cross so that we would continue to be trapped by walls, especially those of our own making. Christ died to set us free–free from our own crazy phobias, free from the world’s values, free from ourselves. Life abundant–a free life in Christ–begins not by looking back, not with regret or fear, but with joyful eyes finding Christ in each moment.

Yes, it’s dumping bits of cake and quesadilla from the freezer, but it’s also appreciating the blessings that were those meals, the blessings of letting go, the blessings of a clean freezer and fresh food. It’s the blessing of being on time and not stressed, of saying to my friend, you are important to me. I see Christ in these choices. I see myself in the former.

If you look closely at this broken bit of sand dollar, you can see the space where the creature once lived, the thin and fragile shell that protects it from the raging sea, the five tiny crests to which it clung. I pointed these out to K and her vacant expression melting into fascination. What was once a waste became a teaching opportunity, not only about the inner workings of a sand dollar, but also about seeing the opportunity for understanding Christ and His creations, for appreciating what each moment in life can teach us. That nothing is wasted when experienced with God’s joy.

My fear is far from cured. But I fear and trust God far more than anything else, even broken sand dollars and wasted quesadillas. I pray I have His eyes, that I may have His freedom as well.

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.

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!

Light-up, my life

It took me six trips total to come up with K’s new shoes. After wearing out two pairs of boots in two months, I was determined to find a pair of shoes that would last, and also be fun to wear (without breaking the bank, of course). I hunted high and low and we finally settled on a pair of (heaven help me) clearance sequined up the calf Twinkle Toes. Light-up shoes: my nemesis. I have sworn since they were small that there was no sense in light-up shoes whatsoever, and of course K has wanted them ever since. I caved–they were just so her, and with durable soles to boot.

As we drove to school that morning in her sparkling new shoes, I noticed that I’d left the “I light up!” tag at the base of each set of laces. “I’ll cut it off when we get home,” I told her. Apparently she forgot. Instead, when I picked her up, I noticed the laces of one shoe tied in a knot at the base. “Did you cut those laces?” I asked her, my voice trembling with frustration. She too began trembling, the apology tumbling out of her. “I’m so sorry, Mama. Are you mad, Mama? Please don’t be mad!”

I was mad. I had told her I would cut the tag off later, precisely because I knew that the laces ran underneath and it would be tricky to cut the tag but not the laces. Six trips to buy these shoes, and they were snipped through on the very first day. And she was afraid, because she knew she had made a mistake, that she had disobeyed me and damaged something valuable that I had given her.

“For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” (Psalm 96:4-5)

Fear of God is a major theme in theme in the Bible, but I’ve always struggled with the idea of fearing God, partly because the God I know is so full of love and tenderness that it’s hard for me to imagine being afraid of Him. But I also know that it’s critical, because “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Psalm 1:7), and I can use me some knowledge.

But what God’s been directing me to in this verse is that “He is to be feared above all gods.” Regardless of how my fear of Him is getting along, it’s still possible for me to evaluate instead what I’m fearing above Him. Which can be a lot: Judgement from others. Rejection. Lack of success. Even piddling things like weight gain and blog readers (which, now that I look at them, are related to the earlier three).

These are idols, even though they’re not shiny and gold, even though I hold them in the recesses of my heart instead of on an altar in my home. While my human nature may never allow me to let them go completely, that’s not exactly what’s asked in this verse. Instead, we are called to fear God “above all gods.” I think He knows we’re human, that we struggle to be loved and valued in a crazy, messed-up culture. But He wants us to let that go anyway, because being afraid of God is something much safer and healthier–after all, He is that loving, caring father.

K was afraid of my anger, and rightfully so. But I, a loving though flawed mother, responded firmly but tenderly. I pointed out her mistake, but with sweetness and forgiveness. I told her that we all make mistakes, that I loved her very much, that I was sorry she had cut her laces. Then I worked them carefully, tying a tight knot in a cute bow, finally presenting them back to her as nearly perfect as they would ever be now, with the comfort that it was okay, that it would all be okay.

God loves us even more. We should fear Him, because that fear says that we value His rules above the rule of anything else. But we should also know that in contrast to the harshness the rest of the world doles out when we go against it, God will always love us. No matter how off course we get, He will make our paths straight if we surrender to Him, just as I was able to mend K’s laces only when she surrendered them to me. And just like our fear of something else is replacing our fear of God, if we aren’t surrendered to God, we’re surrendered to something else.

Who knew it would be light-up shoes that would help me see the importance of fear, and the love that follows?

Language art

Aminal.

That’s exactly how she said it: aminal. For years.

And then we coached her, just the other night, on the correct pronunciation. A-NI-mal. Which she repeated, after a few tries, in her sweet five-year-old voice: animal.

I will forget, someday, that she forever mispronounced animal, just like the sound of M’s cimanin (for cinnamon) is already fading. So this morning, when she mispronounced it again, B and I just smiled at each other and lot it slide. They grow fast enough as it is.