Thursday, September 30, 2010

Almost Invisible

Fall has finally come to south Louisiana. The days of upper ninety-degree blistering heat have turned into breezy seventy degree afternoons. Each morning this week, I have opened windows, trying to bring that autumn smell indoors. But still, its coolness only teases me, beckoning me away from dishes, laundry, and mopping into the beautiful fullness of fall only available out the front door.

I doubt a single person in our area has missed the twenty degree drop in temperature. "Big" eye-popping developments like this--we notice. They assault all the senses, making sure we don't miss them.

Yet, while joy can be found in the big, it's more often available in the virtually imperceptible instances that show God's hands criss-crossing throughout the universe as he weaves the strands of time together.

It all started after several big rains--pond-sized mud holes grew overnight in some low areas near the kids' "playground." Although we never saw the eggs, in no time at all, two mud holes were zipping with tadpoles.

That was early September. Then, the rains ceased. And the puddles started shrinking.

I have no problem with dead baby frogs. To me, lots of little frogs mean snakes to munch them. So, I prepared to enjoy the tadpoles for a few days and then move on with another science lesson.

Wyatt, however, had other plans. This crafty critter told me that "God doesn't want the animals to die"...and I'm pretty sure he taught Amelia to squeal "fish" each time she went outdoors to play. Then, he came up with a plan to "water" the frogs.

And that's just what we've done the past few weeks. Crazy as it may sound (even to this mama), I've succumbed to three-year-old logic and lugged cart-loads of water to the "hole" in my yard, sustaining life where there would be none had nature taken its course.
To his credit, Wyatt did have to make a difficult choice--I told him mommy couldn't water both pools of tadpoles. One of them had to die. And so, he chose. A few days later, the unwatered ground reclaimed the extra water, and I noted the flies atop a circle of flat, dead ovals clumped together.

Our other tadpoles, though, are thriving. Had I known it would take eleven weeks from eggs being laid to a tail-free, fully-developed, hopping frog, I might have said "no" to Wyatt's pleas.

Now, I'm glad I said "yes" instead of "no." I admit I'm rather enjoying see the Creator continually create the intricacies of our world.

The "big" news at our house is actually "little" news. If you look really, really closely at the center tadpole in the picture, you can see them--tiny frog legs sprouting in front of the tail.
If you walked into my yard, you would most likely never see these wonders. But the small, the almost-invisible--that's where God is.

He is in the creation of each tiny frog leg.

He is in the camouflaged invisibility of each walking stick.
And He is in the love each little girl has for her daddy.Look for Him in the small, the out-of-the-ordinary. And you will find Him.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: The Nativity Collection

For those who believe it's never too early to celebrate the spirit of Christmas, pastor and author Robert Morgan's newest release will warm the heart with a peek into the true meaning and spirit of Christmas.

The Nativity Collection: Six Stories that Share the Smiles, the Heart, and the Hope of Christmas is a compilation of six short stories that Morgan wrote over the past six years to share on Christmas Eve with his congregation.

Sadly, Morgan's writing style is lacking in print because his stories are more focused on a rapidly-moving plot intended to be read aloud, on a tell-not-show kind of narrative that lacks much-needed character development. However, each story does end with an interesting twist, many times that the reader doesn't see coming.

With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed the book's first two stories "Ollie" and "Poet Boy" but thought "Over My Dead Body" and "Five Quarters of a Mile" tried to shove too much plot into a short space that needed more development for readers to be able to relate to the characters.

Overall, the book is a nice purchase for a coffee-table piece, as a last-minute Christmas gift, or even as an easy read to get you in the Christmas spirit. High literature it is not, but then again, that's not what it is intended to be.

**I receive no compensation for my review, merely a complimentary copy of the book.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dream Big...But We Don't

It was the title of Oprah's new book last December. It was the underlying message in the cryptic "If you build it, he will come" line from the 1989 blockbuster Field of Dreams. It was the impetus for the westward expansion across the plains of America to California. It is at the root of many an immigrant's journey to a new life in America.

Dream big.

Bigger than you can imagine. Bigger than your parents and grandparents dreamed. Bigger than seems possible to dream in your present circumstances.

Dreaming, goal-setting--they seem to be synonymous with simply being human.

In my former life, I served as a TRIO Coordinator, a position that required me to mentor low-income, minority, first-generation college freshmen, helping them find and stay on the straight path to a college degree and, supposedly, a "better" life.

One of the first lessons I "taught" my flock was how to set goals--immediate short-term goals and long-term goals (5+ years down the road). When faced with this assignment, most of the students very quickly wrote down their list of long-term goals, some needing more lines than were allotted on the page.

One thing I learned from the exercise is that no one needs to be taught how to dream big.

The human soul knows it was made for something more than its present circumstances. And so it reaches out, trying to fill that void with one big dream after another.

This past week, Ann Voskamp over at A Holy Experience returned from a trip to Guatemala where she visited the little girl her family sponsors through Compassion, a Christian organization at work spreading Jesus' gospel and love along with fighting against poverty in 26 countries around the globe.

While there, she visited the Guatemala city garbage dump and met the families, the children whose tin-walled houses line the streets in the midst of the dump. You can read her story here, see the pictures of each child's face, feel the extreme, rotting poverty with her every step through the garbage heaps.

But the part that brought me to tears, that broke me and hasn't left my mind or heart this entire week was when she asked a father if he had dreams for his children. His reply wasn't what I expected. Not dreams for his children to leave the dump or to go on to an easier life elsewhere. No.

Instead, he merely said, "It doesn’t matter to us what our children grow up to become or do....All that matters is that they follow the Lord, that they live only for the Lord."

We have it ALL WRONG.

We only think we're dreaming big. I only think I'm dreaming big.

My dreams have been for my children to be intelligent, to be obedient and kind, to be loving, to be well educated, to find good jobs, to find Christian spouses.

These goals and dreams? They're so small as to be completely insignificant in light of eternity.

But for my children to come to know and love Jesus as their personal Savior? To live only for Him? To make their life's goal, their life's mission to serve Him with all their heart?

That would take an impossible miracle that only God can work in the depths of their souls.

I've been thinking of my children learning to love Jesus as just one prayer, one "dream" I have for them in a whole long list. But I've been wrong.

I only need the one dream, one prayer for them. And everything else will come together in God's hands and timing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Vision of Work Gloves

It hangs high from the end of our bed and has for over two weeks. Each time I pass by, I suppress the urge to swish its skirt--a dream of white silky smoothness hemmed with circle upon circle of fluffed up crinoline. Scarlett O'Hara, eat your heart out.

Such a garment was made for twirling, sashaying, strutting...for feeling beautiful in. At $20, it was more expensive than any dress in Amelia's closet, but I bought the slip, anyway (although I must admit the spent-thrift in me bought one size too large so I could take a tuck and make it last more than one year).
It seems wasteful to spend so much money on a garment no one will (hopefully) ever see. But to this mother, it is the epitome of "girly-ness," of the feminine, of the beautiful daughter of the King I know my daughter to be and who I hope grows up to one day believe herself to be. As one who struggles with rejecting our culture's concept of beauty, herself, I know how difficult this is.

Perhaps that's why I have yet to put it back in the closet, because just a glance at such frilly little-girl duds in a household so long empty of children makes me smile.

Or perhaps it's that I want to hold this particular image of a little girl for just a few moments longer...because I know in my heart Amelia will be more like me than the dainty princess this skirt suggests.

She loves dresses and shoes and "tails" in her hair...until they get in the way of her driving a tractor across the yard, walking down a fallen log, or playing in the dirt with grand-daddy's work gloves. At the first sign of trouble, she tugs the dress over her head, finds her dust-laden clogs, and tugs the tails out of her hair--free from the trappings that slow her down.

While her mother may be lost in moist-eyed visions of ruffles and bows, at least Amelia has her priorities straight.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To the Lady of the House

So you think you've had a bad day. Yes, I heard you complain about the twins spooning the cat's litter onto the floor and into your husband's shoes, about your daughter who sat on the naughty bench for 30 minutes because she stubbornly refused to say "yes ma'am," and about your cat who shredded a couple places on the new sofa.

Let me put this as gently as possible: "So what!?!!"

You think I have it easy simply because I'm made of cotton and can go through a wash, rinse, and spin cycle?

Seriously? When's the last time you were almost drowned and then rotated at warp speed in the belly of that metal beast you call a washer? You should try it some time. I'm betting you'd toss more than a few cookies.

But back to me. How can I say this...oh yes, I know.

You have no idea.

Imagine, if you can, your children wanting to love you only when they are screaming, crying, or wailing at such a pitch that you want to put in ear plugs or go hide in that prayer closet of yours.

Would you really feel loved? Used, abused maybe.

It's never "Boo Boo, come read a book with us" or 'Boo Boo, why don't you share some of our carrots" or even, "Boo Boo, come sleep in my nice cozy bed."


Instead, it's the same routine several times a day, starting with the horrific cries of "Boooooooo Booooooo" that I hear drawing nearer, muffled only by the insulated door between us. I know what's coming even before you fling open the freezer door and stuff me consolingly into a little grubby hand where I am instantly coated in tears and snot as they wipe me across their faces.


Sometimes I'm "loved" for minutes; most of the time, it's mere seconds before I'm tossed aside like a used Kleenex only to be shoved back into the Arctic when you discover me--muddy (like today when Emerson managed to sneak me outside), crunchy from so much snot, and definitely showing wear on my once soft, ice blue fur.

At least Amelia has learned to say "Night Night Boo Boo" when I'm exiled for a few more hours to the north pole. keep on complaining about those children and their mischief-making ways. But remember, they say "I love you, mommy," they give you hugs and kisses, and they want to spend time with you 24-7.

As for me, I think you have it made.

Your much neglected and ever envious Boo Boo

Thursday, September 9, 2010

When to Stop Praying

I'm supposed to be the one with the ability to teach my children. It's what we mothers do--listen to the zillions of questions they lay before us and provide the most simple, straightforward answer possible to help satiate that burning desire for knowledge and understanding.

Yesterday was filled with questions about blood that oozes red from cuts and then dries black, about small "culvert" pipes inside us that carry the blood to our feet and mouth and brain.

It was easy to answer those questions about what to do if mommy found live yellow jackets still in the hole she was about to dig up for a quick science project. About what happens to tadpoles when they grow up and why we need to stay in the shady parts of the yard when the afternoon sun blazes high overhead.

But on the subject of prayer? Yes, I provide answers. But I always replay them in my mind, wondering if I'm giving an accurate response. That's probably why this post has been in my draft box for a little over two weeks. I still haven't figured all this out.

As an adult, a long-time Christian, a mother, I'm supposed to at least know the basics like prayer.

And yet, the more I read Scripture, the harder I'm finding it to provide my oldest, Wyatt, with the easy answers. The black and white doesn't roll off my tongue when my own recent study of the subject is leaving me floundering in those in-between gray areas like the early morning fog that falls heavy, making it impossible to see the car you know must still be in front of you.

Thankfully, despite my own failure to find resolution in my own prayer life, I have successfully taught Wyatt that we pray for God to heal us.

When he was running 103+ fever a few weeks ago, it was natural to pray aloud for him. Two o'clock in the morning, me holding a hot-to-the-touch boy crying on the couch because he "hurt." We talked about the bugs inside him, white blood cells (AKA "the white stuff") and how God could kill the bugs. The next afternoon when his fever spiked again, he asked, "Mommy, can you get me some water and pray for God to heal me?"

Water and a prayer--two things I can manage.

A few days later, Wyatt went into his daddy's prayer closet--a literal closet of our new home designated for prayer. I initially fussed at him to get out because that was daddy's place to pray."I can pray," he replied. And so he did: "God, please help mommy to get better."

He paused and I scratched my head, silently wondering what was wrong with me (and if he knew something I didn't).

He obviously questioned the prayer, too. "Mommy? Do you hurt?"

"No, sweetheart. Mommy doesn't hurt."

Another pause. Then, stumbling over words before saying, "God, please help me learn to be nice. Amen."

Pray for all things. That's what I teach. That's what I've learned.

But in my own prayer life, I'm guilty of not practicing what I preach. I don't pray about all things. Yes, I rattle off dozens and dozens of one-sentence prayers every day for the little things--prayers for no rain, for lots of rain, for the traffic to subside, for a boo boo to heal, for a cool breeze, for a cloud to block the sun, for economic security, for my classes to make, for Doug's employer to be financially blessed, for my children to obey or just hush, for the gas tank to not empty before I can get to the next station.

There is one big thing, though, that I have stopped praying about, something that consumed my prayer life for years, something my husband still prays about and still believes God will do--restoring his law license.

It's not that I've given up hope. I believe with my everything that God can restore my husband's career and livelihood. He has the power.

Where I'm having the problem is reconciling Philippians 4:11 ("I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances") with the parable in Luke 11 which implies we are to continuously seek, knock, ask, and petition God to "wear Him down" in a sense.

I have accepted God's "no" to my husband having his law license and a secure, stable job in the legal field. When the gavel slammed down with the decision, I grieved. And I moved on. I don't think about it much. I don't worry about it. Dwelling on it only brings back memories of pain, heartache, betrayal, and shame. It's not a good place for me to reside.

And to pray about it every day like I used to do just seems like that would make me less content with where God has placed me. It would seem to put me in a cycle of waiting, of constant anticipation for God to do something He simply may never do because it's not in our best interests or not in His kingdom plan. And if that's His ruling for the rest of our lives, I'm OK with that.

If God would only speak and tell me what to do, if "yes", this is still something I should pray for, this would be easy.

But for now, He is silent, and I just can't reconcile being truly content about something with constant pestering, uh, "petitioning" God about the same topic...

Possessed By The "No" Woman

I'm not sure when it happened.

Perhaps it was between the bowls of Cheerios spilled on my floor and the leaky-diaper-peed-on sheet washings.

Or maybe it was between the "But mommy!!" whining that started before I could even pour the breakfast milk and the episode with the shirt-and-floor-drenched three-year-old standing on the ottoman (now pushed in front of the fish tank) while telling me, "But I was trying to catch a fish."

Or maybe--yes, that must be it--between Amelia yelling "Pee pee!!!" in every store she knew must have a potty and Wyatt bending over dramatically while moaning, "I'm hun-gry" even though he had eaten a banana less than 15 minutes ago.

Somehow, someway, I've become the "No" woman I told myself I'd never be. She's taken over.

When I had but one child, I had the energy to think up cute phrases to avoid the word "no" such as "I don't think so," which I would say in a sing-song voice sure to elicit a smile.

Now? With the twins and their double dose of terrible two-ness plus Wyatt's belief that 100% of what I say just can't possibly be right, it seems I have lost my mental capability to spit out anything other than "no."

I try--oh how I try to emulate what all the brilliant PhDs say parents should say instead of the awful "N" word.

"Yes...we'll do it later." " can have it tomorrow." "Yes, of course...after your nap."

But for some reason, the little people hear "Yes" and nothing more, so they continue asking and whining and fussing as I repeat the textbook phrases...

Until I stomp my foot in frustration and yell, "I SAID NO."

The problem? I don't like being the "No" woman. If I were OK with it, maybe I wouldn't feel guilty each time I hear Amelia rattle off her "No, no, no, no, no" at everything, herself.

So, I've been making a special effort lately to say "yes" (not that the little people have noticed).

Yes, you can drink the water instead of playing in it. What else would you do with an outdoor water toy?
Yes, you can play in the rain and splash with great abandon in the mud.
Yes, you can sit in the sandy driveway until your diapers, shoes, and clothes are full of tiny pebbles and sand that I'll be vacuuming up till I'm 90.Yes, your mommy loves you. She feels many days like she's going to lose her mind. But she prays you will all grow up to love your family, love Jesus...and maybe learn to say "Yes" a little more with your own children.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Prodigal Cat

Since Tabby didn't really ask to leave the comforts of indoor living for the great outdoors, technically, she doesn't quite fit the analogy of the prodigal. But in a way, she does.

Tomorrow marks two months since I threw out the cat. In that time, she definitely "squandered her wealth (uh...fat tummy) in wild living." Heaven only knows how wild.

In the eight weeks of her exile, we caught 3 or 4 flashes of Tabby--all of them of her backside, running towards the woods. Unlike other cats who come when you call them, take siestas on the back porch wicker sofa, and play with my small children, she lived like a ghost.

The food bowl, full when the lights went out each night was sometimes empty in the mornings, many times not. I often wondered if I were feeding a possum or coon rather than an angry cat.

To say my conscience was burdened with thoughts of how I should have (or could have) handled the situation differently is an understatement. Then, through a totally unrelated conversation with my husband, God brought the nagging concept of "everybody deserves a chance at redemption" to my heart.

Yes, she's a cat and not a person, but the idea wouldn't let me go. So, I decided to bring her back into the fold, to welcome her home with a can of wet cat food and lots of snuggles...if I could catch her.

Enter one live-raccoon-trapping-cage, some prayers for God to bring her home, and voila, she was back indoors, purring and sleeping curled up in my arms before noon.

Over the past nine days, with a few modifications on my part to keep her prior sins from repeating themselves, her return has been celebrated much like that in the parable of The Prodigal Son.

True to form, her older sister became angry and spent several days hissing at Tabby's very presence before reluctantly accepting the change. While I haven't killed any fattened calves, I've broken open more the usual number of wet cat food cans . Then, there has been a lot of hugging, purring, and snuggling. And even though Tabby hasn't confessed that she sinned against me in her actions, she has behaved impeccably well, seemingly better for her two month hiatus from the cushy comforts of home.
You may see only an ugly cat. But in this story, I see the pattern of sin, of grace--unmerited favor--of mercy and love...of redemption.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Day after day of plowing the earth, discs bringing deep red Louisiana soil to the light before turning it over again. With each pass, the clods of dirt grow smaller, finer. Baseball sized chunks break apart to become a handful of marbles.

For the past several weeks, my husband has waited for the ground around our new home to dry enough so he could level the ground and plant grass seed. The problem has been the rain. Doug would spend one afternoon plowing, and then it would rain for three days straight, making the ground too soggy to walk on, much less drive a massive John Deere on top of.

Even my 36 pound son Wyatt got his boots stuck in the mud while playing in the "yard," which (of course) resulted in him walking barefoot back to the porch, crying all the way. Since then, my children have spent their outside playtime on the porch...but they're not happy about it.

One daredevil will "accidentally" roll the ball off the porch. Then there's little mama Amelia who watches her brothers and screams at them when she sees a daring finger dangling over the concrete edge to defiantly scrape the mud.

Thankfully, last week, my husband caught a good three-day stretch for plowing and leveling. What once looked as lumpy as a bowl of brown flower that someone had started cutting butter into now looks like a crumb coat layer of frosting on a chocolate cake.

Saturday morning, he plowed one last time, then went out to hand seed the soil....and it started raining. Again.Saran wrap atop the seeder to keep the seeds loose and dry until they hit the earth, he did what had to be done. Wet, muddy, and with a captive audience that wanted nothing more than to help daddy, he was a hero to this stuck-on-the-porch-with-kids mommy.
Today, three rain showers later, I noticed tender blades of green peeking through, glistening in the afternoon sun.
The first of September may seem more like the start of a season of harvest rather than of rebirth.

But it's a reminder that our God is so big, He can create life where there was none...both in and out of season.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: The Heavens Proclaim His Glory

When I saw the cover of this book, I really, really wanted it. But once it arrived, I was amazed to find it is so much more than I ever even imagined.

The Heavens Proclaim His Glory: A Spectacular View of Creation Through the Lens of the Hubble Telescope does just what its title claims, providing the reader with glossy, full-color pages of photo after magnificent photo from the Hubble Telescope.

From the photos of infant stars or a planetary nebula to photos of colliding galaxies and a supernova--each is spectacularly rich in vibrant, crisp color.

While the photos are fabulous, what truly makes this book worth perusing is the presentation of material. Intermixed with the artfully-presented photos are Bible verses and quotations from authors such as Anne Graham Lotz, John MacArthur, and Max Lucado.

One such quotation by author Francis Chan pretty much sums up what I thought after viewing its pages: "Why would God create more than 350,000,000,000 galaxies (and this is a conservative estimate) that generations of people never saw or even knew existed? Do you think maybe it was to make us say, 'Wow, God is unfathomably big'? Or perhaps God wanted us to see these pictures so that our response would be, 'Who do I think I am?'"

This book is a coffee-table book, a book one could be proud to give as gift to both young and old. beauty. But more than that, this book is art. And it beautifully points to a Creator, the greatest artist of all.

(For this review, I receive nothing except a free copy of the book from Thomas Nelson.)