Thursday, August 18, 2011

God's grace?

 I'm astounded. Every time I pick up this book, her words echo my own so similarly. Wasn't I just saying that life is meant to be savored one bite at a time?  I underline her words,

"When did I stop thinking life was dessert? [...]  The fast have spiritually slow hearts. [...] Life is dessert— too brief to hurry. You don't wolf it down."

It's as if she's reading my mind. I've read her blog for years. I remember talk of a book in works, saw the news that it had been published, saw countless entries of excited readers posting photos of themselves clutching their own copy. Inwardly I shrugged. Probably just another one of those fluff pieces for women. Part of me wishes I would have snatched this book up the moment it came on the market, but God knew. He knew I needed it now.

I flip several pages into chapter five where she tells of a day that begins by enjoying the beauty of a hummingbird interrupted by the words of her oldest son, "Levi's hand went through a fan at the barn."  Fears rush through her body as the runs barefoot toward the barn thinking of those heavy fan blades and the damage it could do- hack a boys hand off.  When she returns home from the ER with her son, his hand carefully wrapped in bandages, her mother is waiting— her mother, who knows what its like to not just have your child injured, but buried.

His hand is intact. He'll need surgery on his right index finger, but he has a hand.  Her mom whispers, "God's grace, God's grace," and the question flies wildly through Ann's mind.

"And a slippery question serpentines up me, nearly shakes my tongue with its words but I refuse it. Refuse the opening of lips to the wondering. But the words still come quiet, hard and black, squeezing me tight.
     And if his hand had been right sheared off?
     What of God's grace then?
     Can I ask that question?"

I read those words again. Again. Again.  I'm not the only one who has thought these things, I think with a sigh of guilty relief.
   Praise the Lord, it's not cancer.
   Praise the Lord, the brain mass is gone.
   Praise the Lord, her heart has grown a fourth chamber.
   Praise the Lord.
   God's grace.

But what if it had been cancer?
What if the brain mass had continued to grow, still undiagnosed (they still, to this day, have no idea what it was). It still could happen.
What if Evangeline's heart had not been completed in those final months before her birth?
What if she would have died shortly after her birth?
What if God would have chosen to take them both?
Praise the Lord?
God's grace?


No, no one would have dared utter those things thing. I long to talk to a friend.  All these years later, has she come to a place where she can whisper those words as she recalls the day three of her children were ripped from her grasp in one swoop?

That year, 2010, everyone kept telling us we were so strong.  I kept thinking, "It's easy to be strong when my children are alive. Take them from me, then you'll see me crumble."

These are heavy thoughts weighing on a heavy heart.  There's so much sadness in this world. So much emptiness. How do I really praise God in the storm?

I don't know, but I'm praising Him now.

My husband comes home. Evie instantly wakes at the sound of his voice.  The kids are flipping through playing cards in an effort to figure out how I performed my latest card trick. He plops down on the couch and asks about my day. Today I smile, really smile.  I excitedly tell him about all the beauty.  The broken LUGN bowl and the red high heels, Evie's unsteady steps on the walkway outside, the playdough masterpieces and children playing tag.  He begins to smile too. He's weary and it begins to fall away as he too soaks up the moments with our children.




A couple mornings before he had asked, "How's your heart?"
"Healing," I whispered in return.
And it is.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Life is a run-on sentence

They come running into the livingroom with a roar and a squeal.  Nolyn is the dragon, Keagan is the fleeing knight.  They are supposed to be brushing their teeth.

"Oh mighty dragon and brave knight," I begin, "Brush thy teeth.  Fire breath is good. Stinky breath is not."  Keagan chases the fierce dragon back down the hall, wielding an imaginary sword in his hand. "And remember to brush your tongue!" I yell after them.

This thing of living in the moment, of cherishing each second, of finding God's expressions of love and blessings throughout my day is not always easy.  Sometimes I feel my frustration rising.  Goodness, how many times have I asked them to pick up the livingroom?  Sigh, I sure wish they would remember to wash their dishes and put them away after they eat. We go through this every single day, three times a day. Oh great. Two poopy diapers to change.

But then I remind myself. Stop. Look. Listen.
  Look at that smile spreading ear to ear. Don't squash it. Don't stomp on that spirit.

He emerges from the bathroom, both hands tucked behind his back. "Mom, I can't brush my teeth."
"Oh," I smile. "Did your hands go missing?"
He rolls his eyes, "Nooooo...."
His hands appear with toothbrush and toothpaste in grasp. "All that comes out is bubbles."
I squeeze the tube, and a line of paste squirts onto his toothbrush.  I return both to his hands, and he winks, then runs off to peer in the mirror while he scrubs his teeth.

Merika hollers from the back of the house, "Nolyn? Where's the toothpaste? Nolyn?"
I hear Keagan laugh wildly, and I assume he whips out the toothpaste from... wherever he had hidden it.  "HA-ha!" he cheers.

Tooth time is an event here.  It always involves a huge mess- splatters all over the mirror, toothpaste in someone's hair, smears all over their faces and clothes.  The other day, Keagan broke the towel bar- pulled it from the wall with chunks of drywall still attached- when he decided to hang from it monkey-bar style.  I considered just letting their teeth rot out of the heads because I honestly didn't want to have to watch over every single one of them as they brushed their teeth.  And the arguing- there's almost always a tussle as two or three children cram themselves in a bathroom, each wanting the choicest spot over the sink or right up against the mirror.

All I can think about is the fights I have to settle and the clean-up that follows and...  no, today I'm going to find little pockets of joy there.  We'll clean it together, whistle while we work (or at least hum) as if we're the seven four dwarfs. Use the moment. Enjoy the moment. Teach in the moment. Life is made up of many of these moments, I tell myself. If I allow them to be overrun with frustration, I'll have a day, a week, a lifetime full of misery.

I look at the kitchen- the dishes in the sink, the crumbs on the table.  No, I'm not going to allow this to bother me. I'm not going to gripe at them.  I simply ask for their help. Nolyn begins scrubbing dishes, and I cheer him on singing, "He's big to know how, big to know how!" as if I'm in the opera.  [It's been a family phrase ever since Merika, long ago, told us she was "big to know how" as the scribbled down the letter M.]  He tries to hide his smile, but I see it there. I see it peeking out, turning up the edges of his mouth, causing his eyes to squint, his cheeks to plump.


Merika wipes the table and sings the song too. "Big to know how! Big to know how!"  They finish, and I surprise them by pulling out playdough, plastic knives, and cookie cutters. Their faces light up, the glee tangible.


Keagan firmly grips the knife, juts out his bottom lip.  "Cut. Cut. CUT!" he growls as he presses the knife into the blue squish.  At times, I catch him holding his tongue just so as he concentrates on molding a masterpiece.

It's such a simple joy, hours of fun, but I usually groan when they ask to play with it. Why? It's less messy than the legos strewn throughout the house like Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs. I press my finger into bright pink playdough. It squishes underneath my fingernail, and it's cool softness sends me back to my childhood, that house at 805 Riverside, squishing the playdough through various contraptions to make something resembling spaghetti, forming playdough pies and miniature people.  I roll it between my palms and it forms a ball.  I set it down on the table, press it firmly, pound it with my fist, poke at it with the pad of my finger. 

Nanci calls, and I tell her what I'm doing.  Enjoying the moment. Following the advice of the book she gave me.  Playing with playdough.

"Good," she replies, and I can tell she's smiling on the other end. "I was just about to ask if you had begun to feel God's love again."  I tell her how I can see His love letters and blessings salting my day.  Salt always brings out the flavor- the juice.  It's pouring out right now. God, life is so flavorful, I can taste it even when I'm laying in bed and everyone is asleep.

The book was "such good timing," I tell her. "God's timing," I self-correct.   I tell her how I had already resolved to be more aware of God's drops of love raining down on my life, and the book, which she had given me several days after my resolution, had just confirmed that, and made me even more conscious of how possible and how important and how necessary it was.

On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur. -Evelyn Underhill.


Lord, I repent. I've been in such a hurry, rushing through moments, frustration lighting the flame of anxiety causing me to speak rashly instead of gently.  I'm been speeding through the little tasks, irritated when things don't flow as I wish or hope or plan.

Make haste, not waste, "they" say. But Lord, I've accelerated through the day, foot pressing the gas to the floor, pedal to the metal, and I don't feel ahead or more accomplished. I feel behind. All that haste seems a waste. What have I accomplished even if I get all the work done and haven't cherished the moments, tightly grasped the opportunities, taken little snapshots with the heart's SLR?

That's why I can hardly recall the first year of Nolyn's life. I was in such agony, masking the pain, avoiding life. It would have been so different if I would have focused on the blessings, big and little, but I was blind. Why did I spend so much time magnifying misery?  I resolve never to live like that again. I can't.  One simply begins to wither away when living like that.  I'm just now learning what it means to be full and overflowing- how it feels. Lord, it feels good.  The echos of laughter and love and smiles played in my dreams last night.  These are the moments that never lose their sweetness.
Life is a gift, and gifts are made to be enjoyed and appreciated.  Why do some of us set it on a shelf, inactively wasting our days?  Why do others spend it intoxicated, time passing in a blur, always having to indulge again and again and again to catch that twinkle of fleeting happiness before the hangover or the come down sets in? Why do some of us spend it complaining, finding discontent in every single second, grumbling at every perceived injustice?  I've been in all of those categories and then some.

He crawls up on the counter using a small Igloo cooler as a stepping stool. I warn him gently, "Get down, please." He obeys, but seconds later, he slides his bottom back onto the counter. I remind him, "Remember? I told you to get down. Off the counter, please." He looks down. The cooler has pushed away to a distance he's not comfortable with.

"I stuck," he frowns.
His sister comes to his aid, and he topples a small cup filled to the brim with water, and it splashes on her new shoes and puddles on the tile.
"Keagaaan!" she exclaims, her tone rising, her frown deepening.  I immediately recognize she's imitating her mother. She's about to switch into second gear- scolding.  I call out her name softly- just above a whisper- as I slowly rise from my spot at the table where I'm watching Nolyn form creatures with the playdough.  I walk slowly. I breathe normally. I process the scene in my head.  I think it through.

"Good thing it's just water," I smile as I gather him into my arms.
"And tile, not carpet," Merika comments, adjusting her reaction as I attempt to diffuse the situation.
I hug Keagan, kiss his chubby cheek. "I thought that might happen," I tell him.  "This is why we have to listen and be really careful." I raise my eyebrows when I say really, making my eyes bug out slightly, and he grins and scrunches his nose and tells me he's sorry.  I lower him to the floor and set about soaking up the water as I press towels to the tile with my feet.  He watches me carefully, and I wonder if he's thinking that I could burst into an angry monologue at any moment.  Is he waiting for that?

Instead I do the twist and shout as I dance across the floor, towel still under my feet wiping the floors as I shake and move.  He laughs and dances beside me.

Merika decides to pick up the cleaner and a towel and sets about cleaning the dining chairs and benches.  "This is a great day! A fun day," she exclaims jubilantly as she scrubs. "And this is going to be a super clean chair. Someone is going to sit in this chair and think, 'Boy, this is a clean chair.'"  She's approaches the task in all seriousness, not missing a nook or cranny.  She catches me watching her, and she giggles and hums. She tucks her hair behind her ear but strands still manage to escape. She licks her lips and returns to scrubbing.

It's become an enjoyable task because I made clean-up an enjoyable task. I sang and I danced and she noticed.  I've always known they are watching, paying close attention, but I'm even more aware of it now.  I see how my attitude can completely change the course of the day, the mood of the moment.  I feel pangs of regret knowing I've missed so much, made it so much more difficult on all of us.

It doesn't come easy to me. I work at it. I'm determined to break this vicious circle.  I know I must. I don't want these moments to be few and far between. I want them to be constant.  They're everywhere, I just have to notice them, accept them, enter into the moment instead of letting it pass me by.

I look at my book. I want to devour it all at once, but I want to savor it.  Nanci encourages me to take it slowly. One bite at a time, as that boy with down syndrome used to repeat over and over at lunch time. One bite at a time.


Life is meant to be enjoyed one bite at a time.  God never purposed for us to fly through it, missing the flavor. He never meant for us to miss right now because we were too busy trying to savor that moment from long ago when life was "good" and the planets were aligned and everything was just so.  He doesn't desire for us to be so focused on tomorrow that we forget to savor the present.

I know you do it- just admit it. You keep thinking of that time in the future, days or weeks or months from now, or maybe it's titled just, "When."  You'll be happy, life will be joyful, things will be better when.  When you finally get pregnant. When you buy that house. When you sell your house. When you fall in love. When your marriage is mended. When you're finally divorced. When you get your license. When you graduate. When you go back to school. When you get this, do that.  When you just get a break.

I don't want to live like that.

I'm finding that, yes, you can still savor moments amidst hardship. Even when you receive news that a friend has died from stage 4 cancer (yesterday) and your bff has miscarried (also yesterday) or one son breaks a bowl and the other spills water and the dishes are piling up in the sink and the livingroom looks like a mob of monkeys swung through and, be-tee-double-you, the baby has strings of snot running out both nostrils and her diaper smells like a garbage dump.  Hello, life is one big run-on sentence.

But I've decided, it's time to use punctuation, to put in commas and enjoy the space between the periods. I don't have to speed through the chapters. I shouldn't. One chapter is not better than the next. They all have the ability to be just as delicious if I would just enjoy each line. I tell my children to enjoy their childhood. They think it's going to be so cool to be a teenager. "Enjoy being eight," I tell Merika. "Enjoy being six," I tell Nolyn.  No one has to tell Keagan. He enjoys teetering on the edge of three. The baby doesn't even consider it. She just goes at her own pace.
I've got to follow my own advice.  Enjoy being twenty-seven. Enjoy being a mother of four. Enjoy being pregnant with number five, even if it's ends prematurely, as it could and has before. I'll enjoy nursing, even when she bites. I'll try to enjoy the moment, even when my nipples are sore from the pregnancy, and I have a list of pressing items awaiting me. It won't last forever.

I wish I would have enjoyed the other stages, the other moments. What if I would have allowed myself to relish in my singleness all those years ago instead of throwing myself into relationship after relationship I knew would not last?  What if I would have been content with my state of unattachment and really used it, employed it to its fullest?

We waste it. We spend all this time hoping for and wishing for and praying for and demanding the next stage of life instead of appreciating the here and now where God has planted us. Ungrateful brats, we are. I am.

I resolve to be thankful. Right here. Right now.

I like you, I love you, & Peep-toe pumps

Through my sleepy haze, I feel a soft hand on my arm. He's nearly four, but there's still plenty of pudge on those fingers. I'm laying on my stomach, left cheek nuzzled into my pillow.  I figure I only have a limited amount of time my growing pregnant belly will allow this (so I'd better enjoy it while I can). I swivel my head around. "Hey baby."

He rubs his eyes. "I sad. I weally, weally sad."
"Oh?" I say. "Why is that?"
"Woah-nen woke me up," he pouts.
I know he's sad, but it's hard not to smile at those big brown doe eyes, plump lips, and the way he says he says his brother's name.  I beckon him to join me under the sheets. "You can steal Daddy's side," I say, and I've sealed the deal.
He delights in this. He grins and I can see his eyes sparkle.  He looks around. "Where Daddy?"
"He's at work, Honey."
"Oh." He looks a little fallen.  After all, stealing Daddy's spot isn't as fun when he's not here to catch you doing so. 

They just love when he comes at them, his large hands poised for tickling.  "Are you in my spot? Are you in my spot?" he'll growl playfully.  The kids will screech, squirm, and giggle as they try to hide under the fluffy duvet.  Not today though.  It's just Keagan and me, our heads perched upon navy pillows.

He smiles at me, his cute little teeth spaced perfectly.  Some of them are already slightly chipped from his crazy adventures.  "I like you, Mom," he whispers.
"You like me?" I ask. "Is that what you said?"
"Yeah, I like you."
"I like you too, buddy."

He begins a monologue of what he ate yesterday.  I don't ask why. Preschoolers do random things like that.  Watuhmelon. Frawberrwies. Crackers wif that little line and the cheese. He holds his hands up in attempt to convey.  I know he's talking about those crackers that come with a little dipping of cheese and a red stick to smooth it on. It's not the healthiest thing, but the munchkins had been eyeing them for months, asking every time we went down the snack aisle.  During our last grocery trip I figured, Why not? Why not allow them to try them out?  I remember how much I loved those things as a kid, begging my mom to toss them in the cart. Maybe it was the little red stick or just the idea of smearing my own cheese on my own cracker.  *Shrug*

He rambles on about food, and I shut my eyes to calm that dull morning headache.  His hand smooths across my cheek.  I flicker open my lids, and he smiles and says, "Mom, I love you."

My heart swells, and I'm glad that he's laying next to me. I'm glad I didn't miss this moment.  I'm glad I didn't shoo him away so I could attempt to get a few more minutes of sleep.

I hear something shatter just outside my bedroom door.  I rush into the kitchen to find pieces of one of our IKEA bowls scattered over the tile.  Nolyn has that look on his face- the one that says he doesn't know what to expect.  Is mom going to be angry?

"It's a good thing we bought those inexpensive IKEA bowls," I smile. The LUGN bowl is only $.79. Cheap to replace. I know because my cousin broke one a couple months ago when he came to visit.  That's the reason we purchased the LUGN set of dishes and bowls in the first place.  Stuff will break.  No sense in using fine china when you have clumsy children (they get that from their mother).

I tell Keagan to grab me a pair of shoes from my closet so I can protect my feet while I sweep up the shards.  He returns with his favorite pair.  Bright red peep-toe pumps.  Laughter rolls off my lips, and I want to hug him.  It must have seemed perfectly reasonable (in his mind) to choose them for the task.  He gives me that adorable smile, and I feel myself melting into the kitchen floor, melting into the crumbs and the shards of LUGN and the dirty tile I need to mop.

I'm so glad I decided to cherish the moment,
I think to myself. It could have turned out so much differently had I not.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Parched



The groceries are tucked away on pantry shelving, plump watermelons, sufficiently thumped to determine their quality, perched far back on the counter tops, and bright red strawberries giving off their delicious scent every time I open the fridge door.

The children are quietly napping, legs curled underneath them as they snuggle under their covers.  It's hot outside (the temperature gauge registers 101° F), but inside, I can hear the hum of the air conditioning, the whir of the fan above me, and the feline-like purr of the refrigerator.

I snuggle deeper into the cush of the couch, One Thousand Gifts (Ann Voskamp), a gift from a great friend and sister in Christ, spread open to where I had previously saved my spot with a green Crayola pencil. I flip back a few pages, resting my eyes upon phrases and paragraphs I had underlined with that same pencil.

This book is amazing, and I've only just cracked it. These last couple days, it has spurred me to blog about some of the thoughts and struggles I've been battling these last few months (blogged at A Fighting Faith). It is as if the author has captured my own thoughts, fears, and intimate spiritual tussles. I'm sure that's why Nanci gave it to me.

It seems to go hand in hand with the other book I've only just begun (The Power of the Spirit by William Law, which I have also blogged about at AFF).

Ann's words press into me:
I wake up and put the feet to the plank floors, and I believe the Serpent's hissing lie, the repeating refrain of his campaign through the ages: God isn't good. It's the cornerstone of his movement. That God withholds good from His children, that God does not genuinely, fully love us.

I am reminded of the first few lines of the first chapter in Law's book.
"There is but one that is good, and that is God." This was true when God had as yet created nothing; and this truth has not changed after He has created innumerable hosts of blessed and holy heavenly beings.
I've been pondering these things for a while, but only recently have I been able to actually pin-point what, exactly, has been on my mind.  I suppose that doesn't make much sense unless you've been peeking into my brain.  With all these thoughts flip-flopping and cartwheeling through this noggin, I never stopped to consider that, at the base of it all, I was questioning the goodness of God, not just whether He really loves me.

Maybe the two go hand-in-hand as a couple paragraphs later, Ann notes the same thoughts that have plagued me as well.
Does God really love me? If He truly, deeply loves me, why does He withhold that which I believe will fully nourish me? Why do I live in this sense of rejection, of less than, of pain?
She eventually comes to the same conclusion I have, one which I am still working out within my own life.  I could tell you, but it's hard to explain without quoting the whole second chapter or writing a half-dozen entries explaining how I got there myself (which probably won't make much sense anyway).

I lay the book beside me, marking it's place with Law's book. I stare out the window, most of the view hoarded by my neighbor's red brick walls and gray peaked roof except for at the very top.  The sky is a bright blue, beautifully landscaped (skyscaped?) with fluffy white clouds.

It hasn't rained in a long time.  The sky looks beautiful but the land looks parched, starved.  The sprinklers barely keep it alive.  We need rain. Nourishing, life-giving rain. This city water is a poor substitute. The grass crunches under our feet. It's no longer the soft, lavish rug it was months ago. It's crisp and yellowing, bare in some spots. The ground is hard.

The weeds thrive while the garden withers. Honestly, I've given up on that patch.  The cucumber vines have disintegrated.  The corn stalks had a good start, but even though I tried to water them daily, they couldn't hold up through the heat and drought. My husband plucked them out months ago. I had hoped they'd pull through. They were so close.

The bellpepper plants have produced two peppers, both of which disappeared before they had fully matured. The zucchini produced many buds, but only one zucchini. It too became food for the wild.  Our carrots have been quite pitiful.  Thankfully, we've been able to enjoy some of the fruit of our labor- our varieties of tomatoes did well, although we have not had anything from those plants since the drought hit us harder.

It's a metaphor for my own life recently, I'm sure of it, except I suppose I've been watered quite well and have still failed to grow much.  Or maybe it's just that I've failed to turn on the spigot. That's probably more like it. The Source of life, the satisfaction for my thirst, has been there all along. Waiting. Calling.  And I'm over here questioning whether He really loves me, if He's really good.

(Also see my recent post on A Fighting Faith: Do I believe God is good all the time?)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Officially....



Lord willing, we will be adding another wee one to our crew in March 2012!