Thursday, January 28, 2010

When Mothers Wash Little Muddy Feet

Smiles and bounces welcomed news of a "nature walk" as Wyatt and I set out for the first time in a very wet month to search for signs of spring.

An empty cocoon. A single clover flower. Tightly-closed pink tips on silver tree limbs.

As I pulled twin-filled wagon through crunchy brown grass, I watched turquoise clogs dance in happy circles and then weave innocently into the field.

"Don't run in the mud!!!"

To his credit, Wyatt did pause, as most children would when mama suddenly unleashes a less than soft-spoken mandate in the midst of a quiet walk.

But in that split second, he chose to not retrace his steps. Instead, he decided to skip faster, maybe hoping to be like those birds whose speed gives them the ability to almost walk on water.


Water infused earth gave way, sinking shoes and blue jeans in six inches of mud.

Back at the house, muddy shoes flew across the carport as naked legs and blue Thomas undies appeared. Then I remembered the outdoor water faucet was still not repaired from the freeze earlier in the month.

Moments later, with wet cloth in hand, I knelt in the rocks before my son to wash his feet.

And the immediate image of Jesus kneeling to wash the disciples' feet flashed in my mind, making me pause.

Just yesterday, my ladies' group watched a video entitled The Biblical Dinner with Pastor Jay McCarl ($5 at Lifeway this month--well worth it), a 60-minute insight into what both Scripture and history can tell us about Jesus' last supper.
Among other things, we learned how the Jews considered feet to be the most unclean part of the body, how they lounged on their left arm at the dinner table in order to keep those filthy feet as far away from the table as possible.

According to McCarl, in Jewish society, the washing of feet was a tradition at all feasts. And if there were no servant to do the washing, then the job fell to the person at the end of the table where the foot washing pitcher and basin sat.

With Jesus sitting in the host's seat, He shouldn't have filled that role. Yet whoever sat in the foot washer's position at the last supper's table didn't fulfill his duty, perhaps thinking too highly of himself to undertake the lowly role of foot-washer.

In other words, by washing the disciples' feet, He lowered Himself below the foot washer. He truly made Himself a servant of servants.

As I sat cleaning the mud from my son's feet, God showed me something about the importance of being a mother.

I've never considered washing my children's feet a part of living as a Christian. I just figured it's something a mama does when she loves her children (and when she doesn't want her floors muddy).

But in that moment, God showed me that lovingly washing my son's feet was a way to show him how to love like Jesus loves. A perfect love of humility...of selflessness.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Coming Up Short

My three year old, Wyatt, summed up today perfectly. As the twins played under "his" mountain, he looked down from his summit perch and screamed, "ARRGGH!!! There's too much babies!!!"

Too much babies going from room to room dumping out toy boxes, pulling dozens of books one by one from the bookshelf and throwing them on the floor, refusing to nap (at all), fighting over the very air I breathe, and crying for hours at their poor mommy...because they didn't nap!!

So much angst, all because mommy can't sit on the floor 24 hours a day and be for lap lovin's.

It doesn't help that everywhere I go, I see other moms with nary a wrinkle on their perfectly-makeup-ed brow as they have yet another great hair day. I watch their perfectly-behaved, perfectly-dressed children who don't ditch their shoes or hair bows every time mommy isn't looking.

And every time I see these women, I wonder, what is my problem!? Why can't I just get it together?

How much longer before the babies grow out of this incessant crying phase? Before I don't feel a little bit insane at the end of each day? Before I am allowed 10 minutes where no one cries, screams, or sings, "Mommmmmyyy...oh, mommmmyyyy? when he can't instantly locate me"

I fall asleep many a night wondering how I'll make it through another day.

Then, tomorrow comes.

And God gives me just enough grace to make it through that one day. But by the time the last child is tucked firmly into bed, I'm again asking the same question--how can I do this again tomorrow?

Although I know God would never do such a thing, on days like today, it feels like He skimped on my daily dose of grace, almost like His gallon of grace was coming up short, so He didn't quite make my dose touch the 2 ounce line.

Fifteen months of twindom. Fifteen months of God providing me with just enough grace for each day.

He's never failed me. He is always faithful. I just have to take a deep breath, a steaming hot bath, and remind myself of who He is...and how I could never, ever make it without Him.

Matthew 6:24: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:24).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

As All Creation Sleeps

The God-etched lines in my hands long to be filled with dirt.

I know--it's not even February yet, but I'm already tired of the cold ground, of the monochrome shades of brown and beige that surround me, of winter in general.

I keep watching, waiting in anticipation for the signs of new life to peek through:

The green shoots miraculously appearing in the black earth and reaching heavenward toward their Creator. The seeds that come alive in multicolored blossoms where busy honeybees hum.

These are what I long for.

But now, all I see are bare limbs making long shadows on the ground in the late-afternoon sun. Winter weeds crisp and brown after the 15 degree freeze of a few weeks ago.In the season when creation has fallen asleep, I wait much like my three-year-old waits in line with me at Wal-mart.

And I prepare for the spring.

Cutting off last year's canna lilies and chrysanthemum stems to make way for what is to come.Tearing down seed-laden vines from salvaged wood hanging in the green barn.And also, preparing my heart for spring, for Easter.

This year, I am celebrating Lent.

Many people consider Lent to be purely a Catholic celebration. But there is no reason it cannot be a Christian celebration that transcends denomination.

In fact, one dictionary defines Lent as "The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday until Easter observed by Christians as a season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter."

40 days of preparing my heart to embrace the fullness of Jesus' sacrifice for my sins.

Yesterday, my ladies' group gathered once again to do just that. We hadn't met since before Christmas, so the atmosphere was much like a family reunion (one where the family wanted to attend).

Over the next eight weeks, we will be studying God's Word with Ann Marie Stewart's Preparing My Heart for Easter: A Woman's Journey to the Cross and Beyond. By studying the women's role in Scripture, we seek to prepare our hearts for our Savior's journey to the cross and for His glorious resurrection from the tomb.
Stewart's book provides daily devotional-type, Scripture-based writing. The devotionals aren't too intense or time-consuming in themselves (unless you like to hop off on bunny trails like I do). But they help keep your heart and mind focused on Jesus.

If you're like me and need help keeping your mind focused in Scripture, perhaps you would like to go through this devotional book, too. Although my group is starting early because of our children's holiday schedule, the first devotional in the book is intended to start "Seven Weeks Before Easter"--that's the week of February 15, so you have time to order the book.

Even though most of you are miles away, I would love for you to join my ladies' group in spirit.

Think of how much preparation you put into preparing your heart to experience Christmas, the birth of our Lord. Why not try the same thing for this Easter?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jesus Take The Wheel

To me, it's a garage sale treasure that caught my eye as I whizzed past one wet morning after a night-long rain.

But I'm not the only one who knows the red foot-propelled car is more than a hunk of faded plastic. To my children, it is the corvette of all the vehicles parked on the back carport.

And now that the twins have learned to drive backwards in the car, title ownership is almost as contentious as the Gaza strip. One child pulls open the door and drives off before another child has time to fully exit the same car door.

The real problem comes when both twins want the car at the same time (which is often). Emerson will be happily backing across the concrete when Amelia suddenly toddles over, throws open the car door, and pushes her way inside, trying to make room for two in a one-seater.

Emerson screams. Amelia screams back. Eventually, somebody will give up, exit the car. And there'll be peace for awhile until someone hits rewind and plays the scene again.

As I watch them , I see myself. I can recall too many situations where I was that little girl grabbing for the wheel so I could steer my life where I thought it needed to go.

Sometimes God screamed back at my arrogance. Other times, he simply exited the car, letting me drive off the cliff, and then waited for me to return in repentance and submission.

My prayer is that God will give my hands a good swat each time I reach for that wheel again.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Twelfth Night Sugar Rush

In Louisiana, the Mardi Gras season begins on January 6--Twelfth Night. Mardi Gras brings to my mind images of cheap beads I have to keep my children from stuffing up their noses, sparkly masks, parades, floats, marching bands, and plastic doubloons.

My family doesn't participate in most of the festivities because of unwholesome images of drunkenness and debauchery found at many of the events, but we always make sure to enjoy one part of the season.

The King Cake.

Just looking at this confection will give you a sugar rush.

Imagine a decadent sweetbread coffee cake formed in a circle. Then, fill this cake with thick, oozing layers of your favorite fillings. (Strawberry and cream cheese make me drool.) Finally, top the cake off with more sweet, white icing and a thick layer of poured green, gold, and purple sugar.

At three, Wyatt has no memory of king cakes. But he knew the box daddy deposited on the kitchen counter contained a cake. And he automatically declared it "my favorite" as he suddenly became the "I'm-so-hungry" boy who wasn't remotely interested in food minutes before.

But his daddy and I told him that this wasn't just any cake. This cake is special. It has meaning.

To us, the king cake is a reminder of the Wise Men who came and brought gifts to baby Jesus. The circular shape of the cake represents the circular route the Magi took to keep King Herod from fulfilling his plan to kill the Christ child.

And hiding inside each cake? One small, plastic doll representing baby Jesus whom Mary and Joseph hid from King Herod.

Wyatt's first piece of cake yesterday had "no baby." But through some good ole mommy magic, his piece today didn't have that problem.

I watched as he put a too-large bite in his mouth, knowing what lay inside the sugary morsel. As he started to chew, he suddenly stopped and sat there, not knowing what to do.

Oh the look of joy on his face as he pulled out the gold-colored baby.
Watching the amazement of one small child over a plastic baby Jesus makes me wonder how amazed were the wise men as they saw the real baby Jesus (or toddler Jesus, as the scholars say). I get goosebumps imagining their faces bowing in awe before God's son and presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to Become a Picky Eater

My three-year-old, Wyatt, survives on a consistent diet of Cheerios, cheese, milk, bananas, apples, scrambled eggs, carrots and peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches.

Apart from those foods, daily meal-time is a that I refuse to engage in. This mama's policy is that she is not a short order cook. If you don't want to eat what I fixed, that's fine, but you must take one bite. And if you still don't want it, you must keep us company at the table while we eat and just wait until the next meal for something "better."

I firmly stick to this hard line. And yet, with each children's magazine harping on a child's need for a certain amount of protein, fruits, and veges, I feel the strain of guilt, worrying whether this is just a defiant toddler phase or a life-sentence of being the mom of a picky eater.

I'm still scratching my head over what happened to my good-eater. The first two years of his life, Wyatt ate everything except melon and baby food sweet peas (which I could hardly criticize after I smelled them). With two gardens supplying bushels full of vegetables, he ate a well-balanced diet. Lettuce, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, squash, peas--you name it, he ate it.

But for the past year, I wake each morning with no inkling of what foods he will accept / reject that day. The chicken soup he ate two bowls of last night is suddenly "not good." The shrimp he's stolen from everybody's plates for the last year are now impossible to get past his clamped-closed lips. Ketchup? Not ever. Broccoli? "Yeuch!" Beans? "I no like them." Mushrooms? Don't bother.

Since mommy's food is magical, I let him eat from my plate way too often in an attempt to simply get him to eat something healthy. I've also tried getting him involved by helping me cook the meals.

This past Christmas, my mother in law gifted me with a hand-crank pasta maker. Last Friday, I mixed up a spinach dough to make fettuccine. Although the hand-cranking grew old pretty fast, Wyatt did help. That evening, he jumped up and down with pride as he told daddy about "his" pasta.After a couple hours of me hand-cranking beautiful strings of fettuccine, peeling shrimp, and getting a little help from Mr. Ragu and his garlic Alfredo sauce--the house smelled wonderful. But come meal-time? "I don't like sauce!!!" And so he didn't eat supper again. My sigh was a bit more weary than normal.

But my 14-month-old twins consumed every spoonful. Every time they excitedly opened little bird mouths for another taste, I wondered how soon before they, too, would be going on strike against a mile-long list of foods.

As I watched each little energetic bite, I remembered a few Biblical comparisons of Christians to babies. In one passage, Peter admonishes, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2).

Evidently, these Christians were excited about the "milk of the word" at first, but that excitement to know the Scripture, to know Christ, to consume His word, diminished with time.

I wonder if they became picky eaters, too, only wanting to read the Scriptures they agreed with or understood without a brain ache. Whatever the case, Peter reminded them to return to their initial, excited desire for the Word so they would grow in Christ.

I understand God's warning to me. It's all too easy to lose my excitement for the "real food" of God's Word. It's all too easy to become a picky spiritual eater...just as picky as Wyatt.

Photos: Wyatt choking on his "one" bite of broccoli and my spinach pasta in progress.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Forced to Listen

It's been five whole days of no playing outdoors. The three caged gorillas and I have filled our time with indoor fun, while struggling to stay warm in our leaky, uninsulated house that has no fireplace and only a few space heaters. South Louisiana just isn't supposed to be this cold.

But despite my yearnings to escape the indoor blizzard of chaos each time I glance out into the silent, still backyard, God has given me a lot to laugh about this week.

I've learned the good thing about being unable to go outdoors is that I have had to actually listen to my children.

Ok, so that's really a good and a bad thing.

Listening is bad because Wyatt has mastered the annoying sound of the incessant "Why?" question. Even worse, he is in a stubborn, "do it self" phase and says things like "No! I do it!" and "I have no pee pee" each and every time he's told to use the potty. On Sunday when my husband picked him up to take him to the car, he screamed, "I walk!!" When my husband put Wyatt down, he turned around, walked back to the spot he was picked up from, and then walked out to the car!!

But listening is also good because my husband and I get a lot of joy seeing life from our three-year-old's point of view.
  • On Monday, Wyatt felt so bad, he said, "I have two fevers."
  • Later, when my hubby asked how to spell "Thomas," Wyatt said in a sing-song voice, "B-I-N-G-O."
  • On Tuesday, he drew a picture of a sleeping bag (looked like another dinosaur to me), which he told me was "for dreaming." When I asked what he dreamed about, he said, "Flowers. And Percy and Thomas...and dancing." He then did a donkey kick in his chair.
  • That same day, he kept saying a word I couldn't understand. Frustrated with my failed attempt at the enunciation game, he finally gave a mommy-style exasperated sigh and said, "No! You're saying the wrong word. It's _____ like I already told you."
  • Finally, when I asked him what he would do if Amelia wasn't happy, he responded, "I say, 'Peek-boo 'Melia.'" And so he does to keep his sister happy.
Listening. It's easy to miss the joy when words are scattered to the winds or are not spoken at all as little ones play in the wide expanse of our farm.

I'll never be a fan of this bitter cold. But I can still be thankful my Father sent it to once again give me a lesson about listening--to my Him.

Photo: Wyatt-the-Green-Knight "kills" the nearly-deflated Thomas balloon from his birthday party a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Year of Restoration

Five days into a new year that I've been struggling to find the "new" in.

Same old battles with my children over nap time and sharing. Same persistent cold that has clung to each family member in turn for the past month and drained every room's box of Kleenex. And what seizes my heart most, same issues that have continued to haunt my husband's security where employment is concerned.

Tonight, he is out in the coldest weather our state has seen in fifteen years. Not battening down the hatches to protect the pipes in this old house or the potted plants out back. Not tucking in the two outside cats against the bitter cold.

Instead, in the dark of night, he's moving the remainder of his books, files, papers, and even the huge wall clock to the new office he started moving into during the pre-dawn hours this past Monday.

Armed with three layers of clothes, felt black cap, fleece-lined gloves, and a mini van emptied of children's car seats, he trudges up and down stairs. Boxes filled from the old; boxes emptied into the new--just one more move in a list so long I've lost count, humbly doing what it takes to keep himself employed.

Not content to take away from his evening after-work time with the children and not able to take time away from his busy 9-5 workday, he subtracts from the only category left--his sleep. And I sit up waiting for him, wishing I could help instead of keeping watch over the sleeping flock at home.

But even in this newest twist that brings me to tears, I am thankful God continues to give him--even now--a good job.

And I see hope coming.

Even in this impenetrable cold, in the true darkness not found near any, I know restoration is coming.

Ann @ Holy Experience talks about naming each year.

As I look back, I know 2009 was the Year of Survival--just surviving a first year with twins; just surviving each semester's overwhelming teaching load; just surviving my in-depth Bible studies that many times seemed more than I could intellectually handle.

But in my heart, I believe 2010 is the Year of Restoration.

I hear it just as clearly as I hear the warmth creaking through this old house each morning when I rise to turn on the heaters before the children lumber out of bed.

As I struggle to find the new, I hear God whispering Joel 2 in my heart.

"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed (v. 25-27).

I whisper back, "Yes, Lord."

As I write this, our house plans have been dusted off.

Five years hath the locust eaten. But restoration comes in the morning.

I cannot say it loudly enough. Praise the name of the Lord my God who has dealt wondrously with me and my household.

Photo: My dad this past Christmas Eve, reading the story of our Savior's birth.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Bittersweet New Year

New Years Day--typically a welcome breath of newness and hopes for a better new year.

But for my family, it was a day of vainly wishing time to slow down to give us just awhile longer. It was a day of shedding private, quick tears in darkened hallways and behind closed doors. It was a day of wrapping ourselves in a few final loving embraces and mental snapshots of a brother, son, grandson, nephew, and uncle before he and his wife go to make a new life far away from us.

For my family, January 1 meant the last day before letting go of my brother, Johnathan, and his wife, Liza, as they follow God's call to sixteen years of service as a chaplain in the Navy. And around bowls full of gumbo, we stopped time, just for a moment, to treasure what could well be the last time everyone is together in one room.

A lot can happen in sixteen years.

And although his words will never say it, he knows.

As he plays with my daughter, his eyes say he already knows the pain of the many sweet little girl hugs and "mwah" kisses he's leaving behind. He knows the rough and tumble games with my two boys will no longer be a part of the Sunday afternoon routine. He knows Grandmother hugs may not be here when he returns.
And yet, this is what we as Christians do. We give up what God asks us to give up because the call is sacred.

But we still cry and mourn because the road Christ asks us to walk is not easy...and because we are still made of flesh.

Letting go is hard.

Sometimes I think it's harder on those of us left behind because we don't have the busyness and excitement of newness spreading wide before us.

We're left to gaze upon the empty seats across the Sunday table, to answer little boy questions about where Uncle Johnathan is...all the while wishing we could go with them, too...if only God would call us to do so.

Tomorrow before my children's heads even leave their pillows, Johnathan will be high up in a plane on his way to a 5 week training in Rhode Island and then on to South Carolina for another training. Then, he'll come home to get his wife and together, they will start their new life in Washington D.C.

Pray for them. Pray for my parents. And pray for me.