Thursday, December 29, 2011

What "Every Good and Perfect Gift" Includes

This man with crisp white shirt and tie, the one who sits to the side, in the back of most every social event or party, his head tucked down in silent humility, realizing he doesn't know more than he knows and what he does know isn't as important as what he doesn't know.This man who spends an afternoon lifting our youngest son high over his head to do what Emerson would otherwise be unable to do--make that basket. Son grins, giggles, and runs after the ball before running back to his daddy who lifts him once again.
This man whose shirt bleeds red with sweat mingled clay as he chips through Louisiana concrete late into the night, trench only lit by lanterns as he works on an outside office so he can spend less time commuting and more time home with his wife and children.
This is the man God wrapped in a simple college desk and sent me fifteen years ago. Four years later, this is the man I swore before God and family to love and cherish.

Even now, after, in the midst of the everything of life, when I can't lift myself off my knees, can't even lift my eyes from the wood is then that I am in awe, once again, at the man my heavenly Father has given me to serve as my helpmate.

When I said "I do," my younger self really had no idea of what it meant for the man she loved to be created for her. I had no idea how he would step up where I lacked, how my flaws would be tempered by his strengths, how he would be what I needed without my even knowing there was a something as silly as his love of my feet was just part of God's overall plan to help me, the woman whom the masseuse says holds tension in her feet.

Tonight I stand in awe of my Father who created this man for me, a Father who gives me every good and perfect gift.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Breaking Through: When Flesh and Spirit Battle

The Friday before Christmas, that clay jar of sadness I'd stuck way back on the shelf somehow developed a crack, overnight seeped the dark bile into every unfilled soul recess so that Christmas Day found me just going through the motions for my children, my family.

Serve the leftover ham. Take the photos. Help assemble the Lego fortress. Smile.

To have a deep soul sadness at Christmas isn't something Christians own up to, much less think. We aren't supposed to feel this way. We are Easter people full of joy, hope, peace, and thankfulness over the babe in the manger, knowing He was born for one purpose--to die. For my worthlessness. My unrighteousness.

And yet, what I'm continuing to learn is that down here, flesh still clashes with spirit; vapors of the body's sadness can still pierce through the soul's everlasting peace and joy.

I had prepared my heart for Christmas. I made sure of it this year. Focus. Christ is coming. We lit the Advent candles, read the daily devotionals for the Jesse tree, spent less to give more of ourselves.

But in the midst of my preparedness came what I hadn't prepared for...or what I only thought I was prepared for. Family unexpectedly left to spend Christmas in heaven. Other family came for an early visit yet left mid-week to spend Christmas at their home up north.
In the fullness of the Christ child's birth, there was a still emptiness.

Perhaps it's that I thought if I prayed hard enough, if I focused on the Christ child hard enough, the flesh wouldn't matter at all, wouldn't hurt.

Not until the evening of Christmas Day when I began replacing reminders of His birth with reminders of His love could I whisper true thanks to Him for coming, feel the genuine gratitude well up through the sadness and lift higher than the ceiling.

This living in the flesh but not by the flesh is hard. Even in the promise of eternity, the long goodbyes of the present are hard. The continued absence is hard.

In this season, the only thing that makes it bearable is Him.

Nothing but my Father's loving presence is enough.

Photos: A few parting love moments with my brother and his wife last Thursday morning.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bucking Stereotypes: The Not So Boring Christian

The term Christian doesn't flood the mind with images of someone who would be first on a A-lister's party-of-the-year guest list.

For the most part, Christians tend to have a reputation for being stick in the muds, what with the list of "thou shalt not's" carved into rock first by Moses in the Old Testament and then onto our hearts by Christ in the New Testament's Sermon on the Mount.

No gossiping. No drunkenness. No gossiping. No adultery even in our daydreams. No murderous thoughts about that guy who just cut us off in traffic. Scripture might as well have said, "no least by the world's standards"

Definitely not the like the life of a party. Boring. Safe. Unadventurous.

But appearances are often deceiving, and this is one of those times.

I would love to transport you into my family's Christmas gatherings, a group of Christians having the kind of fun all in attendance will remember, laugh about for years to come.

After the fudge, cheese balls, shrimp dip, and dirty rice--our fun? It's found in an unusual place--a rollicking good game of Bible Trivia. My family rattles the windows with joy. Literally, as in we talk about how much fireproofing is in the walls between us and the next town house because our laughter is so loud and frequent.

It's been six years since we played last. Not since my Grandfather's passing months before my sister in law Liza's "I do" to my brother, not since my three children, and not since cousin's new boyfriend added to the head-count have we unfolded the rainbow board.

My face tightens and cracks as I write this and remember watching the boyfriend's surprise at how much fun a bunch of older Christians playing a boring old game about the oldest book on earth could actually be.Somehow, the game has always pitted the men against the women. An outsider would think that couldn't possibly be fair, what with the men having three seminary degrees amongst them and the women nothing but a personal dedication to ladies' Bible study.

Still, until this past Tuesday, the overall score over the years was women: 4 , men: 3. The women lost by one point, so now we're tied again. Love of the Word, luck of the draw, and a good memory are all that's required.

Taunting the opponent with good-natured ribbing is pretty much a given, as are a few running jokes (such as answering "Belshazzar" to every not-a-clue name of an obscure Bible character) or poking fun at the game's impossible questions by crafting our own like "What is the name of Methuselah's turtle?" (No, don't look; he didn't have one)Although he's too young now, my five-year-old, Wyatt, seems like a Trivia guru in the making. Just tonight, I doubled over with stifled giggles as I listened to him replay with the Little People a few of this afternoon's passages from the already-much-loved The Story for Children.

I laughed as I heard him recount "Wyatt's version" of the Bible stories where Abraham and Moses are contemporaries of King Herod. Husband and I knocked heads in laughter when we hear him rename King Herod (the one who killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem) "Herod the Cutter." Yep--I can see that being useful in a future round of Bible Trivia.

Side splitting wake-the-children laughter. Heart joy. The Word at the center of our gathering.

Now that's the best kind of fun Christmas party around. You don't know what you're missing unless you've been there, too.

Photos: All 21 of my family together for pre-Christmas fun (minus boyfriend taking the photo)
My cousin, Kimberly (who needs a Christian husband with something more than "the personality of paste.")

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas in Heaven

The occasional burst of wind shook long tendrils of moss, as if the tree were bowing its head in sadness, its thick wavy mane lowering to hide its weeping.

It is Christmas, the season of birth, of joy. Perhaps that is why the gray skies and sadness that cover our farm seem to clash, jarring against the happiness found in the manger's babe with peaceful smile, God made flesh resting in the glow of tiny white lights along our stair rail.

Most mornings, I pass the family graveyard, not really noticing the simple gray-white tombstone jutting up out of the grass. Husband mows the "hill" all summer, bleaches the tombstone once or twice a year to push back the humidity-loving black mildew.

Other than that, the graveyard never occupies my thoughts. It is not spooky or creepy or nightmare inducing. It just is. My body will lie there one day, the body of my husband, too, maybe even my children.

But we are Easter people, children of the eternal King. Death is not where we dwell.

Still, it comes.

Saturday afternoon, God decided our Maw Maw needed to spend Christmas in heaven. She died while in prayer with her daughter, Jesus' name on her heart, mind, and lips.

And so on this early morning, I kneel down in the grass to capture just a few images for my children to remember when they forget. With each shutter click, the heavy dew soaks through. More dampness.

To escape this fleshly cocoon to find find real life. In a way, I envy her escape. While I tend to struggle to daily learn in part through that dark glass, I believe Maw Maw has finally grasped the full meaning of the babe in the manger, has finally truly understood how precious and perfect was God's gift to mankind oh those two thousand years ago.

What a precious Christmas gift for her.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eyes on the Father

I can imagine Jesus as a baby. It's not that hard. Look at any department store, and there he is--cute little bundle, no tear streaked cheeks or mouth agape in screams as he lays serene and warm in a sterile bed of white rags and wood. He is the perfect baby--always cooing, always smiling, always napping on schedule and sleeping through the night from birth.

Mind you, I never had one of these perfect infants, but many a mom has testified they do still exist. And so, I imagine the perfection of a Holy Savior trickling down to a perfectly content disposition in the flesh like these other wonder-children (again, not mine).

The problem comes when I try to imagine Jesus as a little boy. Perhaps it's because I have two preschool boys born under the curse, boys who overtly disobey, throw the occasional tantrum, talk back, and walk with little feet as close as possible to every line I draw in the red Louisiana clay.

This afternoon, I caught a glimpse of my sons in Christ when I read the story of the child Jesus' worrying his poor earthly parents frazzled when he went missing from the caravan.

There is a long day of frantic searching, of traveling the long road back to Jerusalem. Then came a second long day of searching, checking in with relatives, moving throughout the city shops and homes.

I've only been in Mary's shoes for a few minutes when I couldn't find my child. In the first few seconds, every worst case scenario flashes through a parent's mind. Thirty seconds into the search, this mother was literally begging God to find her son. Honestly, I can't imagine two days, two nights.

Surely, Mary wept in prayerful anguish, tears choking out the words. Sleep must have been near impossible. What if she never saw her child again? What if the angel had misled them about Him being the Messiah? What if...?

Then came day three, and there he was. Sitting. Calm. In the temple. Teaching.

Mary's words may sound archaic, but the emotion of a distraught mother screams through the text: "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You" (Lk. 2:48).

What were you thinking, Jesus? Do you know how many days we have been searching for you? We worried you may be dead. Kidnapped. Enslaved. And you're just sitting there calmly instead of leaping up in apology?

Jesus responded with the answer of a child: "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?" (v. 49).

Such a literal matter of fact answer, a "well, of course I'm here. What did you expect me to be?" answer I've heard so often from my own children.

If I blink, I might miss it. But for an instant, here, I see the connection between this Holy Son and my sons.

And in that flash, it directs me to a connection I notice almost daily between the Christ child and my sons.

A love of their father.

The grown man Jesus was always slipping away to spend time with His heavenly Father. In my mind's eye, I can see Him doing the same thing with his earthly father...something my own sons do no matter how hot or cold it is outdoors. Where daddy is is where they want to be.

Perhaps the young Jesus went to the carpentry shop to sit at His earthly father's feet, watch the planer curl thin strips of wood into ribbons and fall to the pile of sawdusty shavings on the floor. Or maybe, as many scholars have suggested because of Israel's lack of lumber, a carpenter would have worked more with stone so that the child Jesus would have spent hot days outdoors watching Joseph with chisel and hammer, chip away slowly to mold stone.

Like my sons, Jesus would have stood to the side to watch, eyes glued on his father's every movement. Then, he would have gained enough courage to pick up a tool much too heavy for his small hands before wielding it clumsily in effort to mimic His earthly father. At times, maybe the young Jesus was like my sons, doing more harm than good, breaking that stone with too hard a tap or crushing one he only intended to smooth.

But I imagine his father looked on him with love, with patience that fathers seem to have more than mothers at times. And yes, even though Joseph's blood didn't run through the boy's veins, I am sure his heart swelled with pride as he watched that little boy Jesus mimic his he saw a little bit of himself in him.

Photos: Emerson and Wyatt helping their daddy dig / fill in a water line trench.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Changing of the Guard

The cross came down this morning. It's a right of passage, I guess, when the long-proven veteran steps aside to make way for the new who come to try their mettle, be refined by the fires that will come.

Until I married, I lived almost twenty years in the shadow of my home church's steeple, its cross rising above the trees as a beacon for all to come to the cross. Playing badminton in the backyard, swimming in the above-ground pool each summer, fishing for crawfish in the cow pasture's "pond," finding a stunned bat beneath a fallen tree's bark--I lived life with a church for my neighbor. From my bedroom window each night, I could always look out and see its black triangle against the misty orange glow of security lights.

Although I didn't understand the significance of the image back then, no matter what I did at my home, I was always under the watchful eye of the cross. And like most young people, I took for granted that I could always turn north and see a white, cross-tipped spire piercing through the sky toward heaven.

God. Christ. The cross. It would always be there if and when I needed it.I didn't know today was the day she was coming down. My parents didn't even know until today.

But God knew.

And He knew I'd want to see her off, this friend of my childhood.

This morning, I drove to my parent's home for free babysitting while I hot glued my fingers together to make hair bows for my daughter. I've had the yards of ribbon for over a month, but just yesterday evening felt compelled that today was the day. Now I know why.

When I drove past the church, there sat the crane to hoist the new cross into place. Minutes later, I doubled back and parked the van so my children could see.

She lay on her side--paint-chipped, mildewed, covered in lichen, leaking droves of red wasps who had made her their summer home.

I walked around the already-loaded Gooseneck trailer. What do you do with a retired cross? It seems almost disrespectful, somehow wrong to just send her to the scrapyard.

Those who didn't drive past this church building today will likely never know of the changing of the guard that took place between sunup to sundown. The new steeple is the same size, same shape as the old one. Without a critical eye that would detect her missing scars and back lit by the same blue sky, the new steeple looks pretty much the same for us earthbound viewers.
As the afternoon wore on, I didn't stay to see the crane that lowered the old lift the new into place. It almost seems fitting, this cross changing with a new generation growing up.

Tomorrow, when I again drive to my parents' and look up, I'll see a new soldier in God's army, one to weather more of life's storms and one that will once again welcome another generation who seeks the cross.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Season of Prayer

We parents pray for our children, many times not knowing what to ask for more than protection, for God to work The miracle of salvation and transform broken jars of clay into lighthouses for His glory.

I must admit that I am a poor mother when it comes to praying for my own children. I do pray for them--for their hearts, their health, their future spouses...but never as much as I should, and never as much as I do when they are injured, sick, hurting, gone astray.

This second week of December has been one for praying instead of writing in this space, not praying for my own children but for others' precious gifts from God.

This past Wednesday, my friends' one year old daughter in North Carolina underwent surgery for craniosynostosis, a condition where the bones of her skull fuse together due to inadequate growth space in the womb. Little Ivi Grace's skull was surgically taken apart and reassembled, a path her music minister father never thought God would ask him to walk in faith.

On the same day, a ten year old daughter (Abbie) of an old high school friend underwent surgery to remove kidney stones caused by her struggle with continued medical issues. The doctors inserted stents in both kidneys in an attempt to alleviate blockages.

Wednesday night with reports of success coming back from both girls, one of my former students sent out a request for prayer. On November 15, his third child was born 2 1/2 months too soon. On Thursday of this week, baby Camden underwent surgery for excess fluid on the brain. Hydrocephalus. Big name for such a small boy.

Since Tuesday, my mind has been filled with no words for this blog. God has, instead, filled my mind with reminders to pray, pray, pray for the ones whom I promised to pray for.

And so I did, not knowing I would be the one next reaching out for others' prayers.

On Tuesday morning, Emerson fell off his bike, knocked his head hard against the concrete. By the time my mother came over to watch the children while I cleaned house, I was scared; it was the biggest goose egg I'd ever seen. I held an ice pack to his head for half an hour, then passed him off to his Grand Mama for some more TLC.

I watched him vigilantly through the night. I dusted and prayed. I folded clothes and prayed. I slept and prayed.

Tuesday and Wednesday came and went with no problems. Even his small "concrete burn" scabs were drying up. By Thursday afternoon, though, his face suddenly started swelling until his left eye was almond shaped like a little Asian child.A rushed trip to After Hours, a cool X ray sticker, and a grape sucker later, two doctors both agreed that his X rays showed what looked like a chip on his maxillary. "Not a nose bone. A bone in the sinuses." Un hunh.

That meant a drive into town to the E.R. for a C.T. scan--too many acronyms and words I didn't know (maxillary?) for a confused, scared "what do I do?" mother.

As Emerson and I sat in radiology while Grand daddy sat in the E.R. waiting room, I held my little boy tighter than I have since the last time I was scared of losing him--when he had pneumonia this past February. I held him tighter than the time before that when he tumbled off sister's bed, spilling a pool of blood from a head cut so deep that I could see the bone of his skull through the skin.

My parents and husband and his parents were already praying. I was praying. Still, I texted the only number I had in the phone for a church friend.

Please. Pray. Tell our pastor. Don't come. Just pray.

Five hours from the time I ran out of the house without my coat, the CT scan came back negative. No brain swelling. No chip. No broken bones. Nothing.

Did the first two doctors make a mistake? Did God heal the chip? My mom thinks the first is more likely...but until I reach the other side, there will always be that lingering "maybe" for this woman who believes in God's continued miracles in the mundane.

Adrenaline rush now flushed from my system, all I wanted to do was cry and thank God. Hand in hand, my son and I exited the E.R. into the 36 degree weather. He was mine for a little longer.

Unlike my son, Abbie, Camden, and Ivi Grace have a long road of recovery ahead of them. Even though this may be your busiest time of the year, drop to your knees and say a prayer for each of these children. Bring their names to our Father in heaven, the Creator and Sustainer of all life.

You never know when that one extra prayer may overflow God's blessings down and change a life.

Photo: Emerson riding his bike on a better day. All three children have been banned from bike riding until Christmas brings them the dragon / kitty bicycle helmets hidden in my closet. (When Santa asked my son today what he wanted for Christmas, Emerson stated very clearly, "A helmet." Maybe he's learned his lesson.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Unlikely Adoption

It's been a year since her funeral. Husband remembered, knowing I would forget, me the number challenged woman who can't mindlessly rattle off her wedding anniversary or her children's exact birth dates, weights, or time of birth.

I felt guilty anyway. I should have remembered the death of my first cat, Mia, the calico-Siamese mix who was my child through the years of infertility when husband and I couldn't have children.

This feline with the diesel engine purr was my companion during the lonely years when husband attended school by day and studied by night. Every night, she would come to the bath tub and drink the water I would intentionally let trickle down the sides. And every time I sat at the computer, she would sit at my feet until I picked her up for warm lap-time.
I thought she was irreplaceable. And what's more, when she died, I didn't want to replace her.

Yet, this week, I have realized the emptiness, that cavernous void I expected to follow me after her death has been filled. Why? It's no coincidence. Instead, it's one of those "God-Incidences" Jennifer @ Getting Down with Jesus has been talking about in community on her blog.

The God-incidence started this May, six months after Mia's death, when my father in law deposited a three week old grey kitten on my doorstep. Thrown away in a Wal-Mart bag, Micah needed to be fed with a syringe every two hours if he had a chance at survival. Eleven days we poured life into his too small body. It wasn't enough.

I was beyond crushed, told my husband to pass on the word to his father--no more strays. Period. As far as I was concerned, I wasn't doing this again.

My oldest son, Wyatt, had different ideas; he rejected the sadness and emptiness I wept into the sofa. By the following morning, he had decided we simply needed another kitten. Now. Faced with the persistence of a child on a mission, I began looking online at photos from local animal rescue shelters. By bedtime, I had fallen in love with an image of a tiny orange and white, long-haired fluffball named Hope.

Hope. Her name seemed to be God speaking.

The following morning, I called to make sure she was still available. Sure enough, she was and would be at PetsMart in an hour. The children and I hurriedly loaded up and drove forty minutes to the pet store. There she was in the cage with her two other siblings. We watched them play together. Precious. Perfect. Amelia said she loved her. It was a "yes."

When the worker finally greeted me, I nodded at the cage. "We want the long-haired one."

He frowned, then pointed to a lady and her husband sitting beside him. They were in the process of filling out the adoption papers for that very cat. We were literally ten minutes too late.

My heart fell in disappointment. There were no other kittens there that said "adopt me," but the worker suggested I drive down the street to PetCo where there were more waiting for a home. As I broke the bad news that "our" kitten had already been adopted, the children began to complain. I told the children God had said "no," but that we would look at this other store. No promises.

As soon as I walked through the door, I saw the calico. At ten weeks, she was older than the other kittens, composed and still while the other younger ones rolled and played. When I held her in my arms, her motor roared to life, not quite a diesel but pretty loud. It was like looking at a mirror image of Mia.

Taped to her cage was her history: "I went through baling equipment at a recycling center and then [was] discovered." Much like Abraham's wife who couldn't contain her laughter at Isaac's birth, mine erupted in audible joy as well. As a woman who lives on a farm that bales thousands of square hay bales each year, I knew only God could send me a cat who had been literally "baled" up.

This was God.

We decided to call her Hannah, a name that means grace.Six months later, I am constantly amazed at how similar Hannah is to her predecessor. Her ever-rumbling motor, her love for bath tub water, her insistence that my chest is the best place to sit each evening--she's a younger version of the cat God sent to comfort me in the early years of marriage, now here to comfort me during those trying days of raising young children.

To know that my God cares enough about me to supernaturally arrange the cosmos for something as simple and silly as a pet adoption--it's mind blowing.

But there's too many "if X didn't happen then Y" coincidences to believe differently. It's a God-incidence.

Photos: Mia and her brother, Ming, back in 2002.

Mia knocking her toys downstairs (her favorite game)
Hannah and her adoption papers

Thursday, December 1, 2011

To Catch a Monster

Monsters aren't easy to catch. Just ask Winnie the Pooh. Or my son. They'll tell you.

Heffalumps and Woozles lurk all around us, just waiting to steal any honey pots left unattended in the night. And so, you need to dig a hole, create a trap, prepare to catch one.

It's amazing how children have an innate sense that the world is composed of both good and evil, this almost intrinsic knowing that there are evil monsters among us, even if they are invisible, indescribable phantoms of the creative mind.

Before my oldest, Wyatt, could even talk, I knew I didn't want nights of him waking in tears over a monster under his bed or in his closet. So, I avoided anything with monsters--movies, books, music, toys. I even avoided using the word monster.

But somehow in the fifteen books a week from the library over the past five years and a few G rated movies meant to show the silliness of being afraid of the unknown, he was introduced to the concept anyway. When he finally heard the term "monster," he latched onto it, at last a word to put with the fully formed ideas already inside his head.

Perhaps it was one of a thousand books depicting knights, swords, and dragons. Perhaps it was his love of all things Pooh Bear and The Great Adventure movie. Or maybe it was How to Catch a Heffalump where the gang is afraid of the unknown adorable Lumpy character only to learn how silly their fear was.

But that's not how Wyatt perceived it. No, he'd never seen a monster in real life. No, Pooh Bear and Piglet hadn't seen one either. But logic was pointless. Wyatt was sure they existed. And so, he needed to set a trap.

For months, my counter tops have been filled with page after page of schematics for monster traps, intricate line drawings with our house, my in laws' house, and some elaborate contraption-of-the-day made of hay string, boards, nails, and sometimes tar (which he said I could just "get from Wal-mart).

Around the farm, every remnant of rope, crochet yarn, dental floss, or hay string were conscripted for monster trap duty...tricycles, trowels, Tonka trucks all tied together in a messy conglomeration.

Today was his best yet. Serious business. Brow-sweating labor of rolling large boulders of red clay up the newest dirt pile, stacking them on top of a long piece of string left over from pouring the garage's foundation a few months back.
And then there was the sign that he came bouncing in the house to ask for help with. Could I help him spell the words? Could I nail it on? Unable to hammer the stake into the ground, himself, he'd simply piled small dirt boulders around its base. Two staples later, he was in business--one gen-u-ine monster trap.
I'm not sure who the sign is for, maybe me? Supposedly, the monster will pull the string, and the clay boulders will fall on top of him. (Monsters are incredibly stupid, you know...obviously illiterate, too.)

When he wakes tomorrow, I know the first thing he'll do is run down the stairs and out the side door to see if something tripped the trap or (better still) is lying there tied up in the string.

With a little pinch of motherly magic, who knows what his imagination might find.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Avoid Being Enslaved by Gift Giving

No matter how much we may romanticize about the simplicity of life in the past, for those first Americans moving westward across the plains, life out on the prairie was not at all an easy life to be coveted, especially in the winter.

Bone-chilling months spent in mud-chinked cabins stretching meager rations around a never warm enough wood stove? No snow plow to clear the roads for a horse ride through a blizzard to find help?

No. I'm not willing to transport myself back in time, leave behind the modern creature comforts of indoor plumbing, central heat, and food more plentiful than any generation before has seen.

But one thing I would like to keep from that by-gone era is their way of celebrating Christmas, the simplicity of it all compared to the mad sprint to New Year's that Americans seem to love and hate all at the same time.

The part of Laura Ingalls' Christmas I'd most like to transport into the twenty-first century is their concept of gifts. Ma and Pa didn't have much extra money, so most of the gifts were not store bought. In fact, the most treasured gifts came from the heart, from someone's investing time in another by hand crafting a gift.

I've often wondered what would happen if we just said no to the gift-giving madness at Christmas, the kind of madness where you make a list, check it twice, and then buy something, anything, just for the sake of not hurting someone's feelings.

My friend only tonight asked what I wanted for Christmas, but I don't want or need anything, not really. What I would love, though, is time with her, something we don't usually have because of raising two families a road hour apart.

Although I have yet to convince my entire family that a gift of time is what I really want to give and receive, I'm trying to break down their preconceived notions of Christmas by giving gifts that I invest myself in.

Last week, my children received part of their Christmas gift, simple crocheted hats that I made from a pattern by designer Elizabeth Alan who has adorable, easy patterns for sizes newborn through toddler (you'll be seeing more of her here!). Even if you're not a fantastic crocheter, her patterns are simple, include pictures for those "huh?" moments, and have helpful YouTube videos.While her pattern technically was intended to be this precious little holly leaf beanie for 3T and under, I have boys...dirt-pile, earth-mover, tree-climbing boys. Ribbons don't exactly fit the bill around here. After adding three stitches increase to make her pattern big enough for my five year old son, I created eyes and a beak, then called the braids "wings." Voila...birds.I thought I would add a flower on my daughter's hat, but no. Amelia wanted to be a bird, too. The mistake I made was in letting her wear the hat before I had added the eyes and beak. When she saw herself in the mirror, she had an absolute show-stopping meltdown in a public bathroom. When my mother could finally understand Amelia through the tears, her only words were, "Not a bird!!! Not a bird!!!"

Three precious little sparrows. (Or a bluebird, purple finch, and peacock if you ask them.)

Even if you don't know a crochet hook from a cake tester, maybe you could give the gift of your time in some other way. Perhaps it is offering to help with a project around the house that you've been ignoring, offering to spend the day with someone or maybe just do lunch. Or perhaps you could show your love by giving a homemade baked goodie, maybe these heart-shaped Christmas cakes like the ones Ma Ingalls put in stockings for her girls.

Whatever you choose. Choose to invest yourself in your friends, your family, your gifts this Christmas. Don't let gifts be a "just because" thing.

Let our heavenly Father be the example. For His Christmas gift to us, He invested Himself wholeheartedly, giving His only son, a Savior in a lowly manger.

(While there's something probably better out there, I'd be happy to send anyone my pattern for the eyes and beak if you're interested.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Canceling Thanksgiving…Twice

I had already said “no” to this trip.

Too soon after our last driving trip to D.C. Too close to the end of the semester. Too exhausting to live two full days in a metal box.

I hadn’t questioned my decision, not once. My only problem was feeling a bit sentimental over lost Thanksgiving traditions from years gone by. Still, I cured that by just cancelling the holiday. My children and I tucked autumn away in boxes and fast forwarded the house to Christmas with all its sparkly decorations and festive atmosphere.

Then everything changed. A week before my parents were to leave for Michigan, they asked to take my oldest son to visit Grandma Della. And at almost five, I knew Wyatt would do fine. It was Wyatt's mother I was worried about.

By Wednesday night, I still hadn’t made up my mind and asked my husband to decide. No pondering, no agonizing—just a simple “yes.” (Obviously, he lacks the maternal gene.) For some reason, he asked, “Have you thought about going?”

I prayed about it.

By Thursday afternoon, the big red suitcase was packed with enough clothes for three children and me, and we woke before sunrise on Saturday to drive northward to a Grandma who might just outlive us all.

My belief that God said “yes” to me going with my son was confirmed when Saturday night, Wyatt came down with a short-lived stomach flu. Miles away, my church family prayed, and he was almost instantly better, eating a full meal just a few hours later.

Three days, we enjoyed visiting with Grandma. My daddy loved his mother. Wyatt climbed the chestnut tree. Amelia was enamored with the cozy fireplace. And Emerson fell in love with the five ever-whistling, squawking birds in cages just like his favorite pet store.

At the end of day three before bedtime, the rest of us caught the stomach flu. Whether God just delayed the bug’s usual 48 hour incubation period or whether we caught it from somewhere else on the trip up, I’ll never know. But I truly believe when we prayed, God stopped that initial illness in its tracks only to allow us to catch it later so we could finish our 1100 mile drive.

Today, with everyone well but not really prepared to be stuffed with a weighty meal of turkey and dressing, my Thanksgiving was cancelled a second time. So, we said our goodbyes a day early and started for home.

This wasn’t the Thanksgiving I intended...not even the Thanksgiving I’d “not” not planned. But for a chance to see family, I am always thankful.

Photo: Seed-flown milkweed pods in Grandma's lower garden.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tattered Wings for the Harvest

This year's harvest was bountiful. Our freezer is stocked full of the blessings, others' freezers, too, enjoying the fruits of God's supply.

The tomato vines in the garden have long since been plowed under, black soil turned over to the light, making way for the lettuces, carrots, kale, and strawberry plants.

Though long ago gone to seed, this year's basil crop still greets me each time I open the door. The late summer heat sent my basil plants soaring until they looked more like small shrubs than dainty herbs for making a dish come alive. More the once, the plant's pungent aroma overpowered our senses, densely filling the kitchen as we gathered it in mounds on trays of plenty.

I have pulled up a few of the miniature trees that were crowding the rosemary and thyme, but even though they're not really lovely in their present flowering state, I just haven't brought myself to rid my herb bed of them all. Yes, the first freeze is coming, overnight death for this warm weather plant.

But until then? These few "has been" plants are grand central station for all flying six legged creatures, trying to store up just a little more nectar, make a little more honey to help them survive the barren days ahead.Time is precious as the crew competes for the remaining flowers. Each creature is in perpetual, exhausting motion, face and legs frantic burrowing amongst the petals or wings carrying bodies aflight to the next course.

Where did they all come from? The children and I have spent an entire summer and early fall out of doors, and at no time did we share the land with this many neighbors--the fritillary, painted lady, checkered skipper, and buckeye butterflies; black quarter-sized bumble bees; the slender honey bees; and another few varieties I can't quite identify (a hairstreak? a blue?).

Somehow they know the coming season.

I take a step to get a closer look at one of the larger buckeye butterflies. With my movement, the bushes take wing, air filling with dozens of frightened patterned stripes and spots who swirl and swoop before going back to their intense labor.It's not hard to notice that these butterflies don't share the perfect beauty of the ones who frequented my roses in early summer. They are road-weary, colors faded in places where microscopic-sized scales have been brushed away. Each's wings are tattered, war wounds from battles won against hungry birds.

It is a somber thought to think I am looking at the ones who have overcome. These are the survivors.

This. Just this. This is what I want to be.

I want to run my race well, fight the good fight. Get too many wrinkles and lines from smiling too broadly, laughing too much, crying in real hurt with a friend. I want to put my heart out there to love, love, love as Christ loves, even though I know that loving means someone's going to take a big bite out of it and leave me with an ugly, broken, tattered heart...but one my Savior only sees as beautiful.

I want to live like these creatures before me with kind of energized passion, an intensity for His harvest.

The seeding, planting, watering, and harvest are almost over. We must be diligent. Winter is coming soon.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves" (Lk. 10:2-3).

"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Through the Looking Glass--a World with No Christ

Is Christianity no longer relevant? New Atheist Christopher Hitchens thinks so. His and other new atheists' stance that religion is at the root of all the world's ills begs a very serious question--what would the world look like without "deluded" Christians who still believe in the person of Jesus? Who believe in the God of grace, mercy, and judgment?

This is the question historian and Christian apologist Larry Alex Taunton poses in The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief. In a friendly round table debate at a local diner among Taunton, Hitchens, and Oxford Math Professor John Lennox, Hitchens asks, "What does Christianity give us now?...Yes, it has given us science and universities. Yes, it has given us great art and literature. But that was a long time ago, and we can get along very well without it" (12).

It is here where the author initially wonders what society would look like without "common grace...the idea that when there is a significant Christian presence in a given society, it brings tangible benefits not just to the Christian, but to the society as a whole" (10-11).

The remainder of the novel takes the reader through the looking glass to the world of the former European Bloc where atheistic unbelief enforced on an entire society from the top down has resulted in, literally, a world without Christianity...a world without the concept of "hope" and "common grace."

A combination of autobiography and history of socialism/communism in that area of the globe, Taunton takes the reader through his family's personal quest to adopt a ten year old girl, Sasha, from a Ukranian orphanage. One critic has said this is a "must read for anyone pondering adoption from the former Eastern European Bloc." I'd say that is an fair statement, as Taunton details the frustrations that await those seeking to maneuver through the labyrinth of government corruption in a country seemingly devoid of Christian morals.

While I found myself skimming through the yawn-worthy history chapters of how socialism destroyed a society with its rejection of belief, Christian morality, and grace, the bulk of the book gripped me with the personal story of one little Ukranian orphan girl's first glimpse of Christian grace.

The struggles Taunton presents may make a reader ask why anyone would put themselves through the chaos of even trying to adopt from former Russia. Yet, the answer becomes obvious when reviewing the Russian Interior Ministry's own data, which show that "30 percent [of orphanage 'graduates'] will enter a life of crime, 40 percent will become addicted to drugs or alcohol, 60 percent of girls will become prostitutes, and 10 percent of these children will commit suicide." Of those who with severe disabilities who don't "graduate"? "In Ukraine, 30 percent...will be dead by the age of eighteen." (99-100).

Does Christianity make a difference? Definitely. As Taunton summarizes, "common grace does much more than negate the evil impulses of mankind; it is a positive force for good. As one experiences grace in his own life, he extends grace to others. Through the inward transformation of the individual, there is a corresponding outward transformation of society...the 'grace effect'" (22).

Christianity's common grace is strong enough to reach around the globe and provide the healing power of God's grace, one individual at a time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Guilt of Being An Inadequate Parent

Some people spend their lives in knots of worry. Me? I feel guilty. All the time. And then I feel guilty about feeling guilty. It's a vicious cycle, an almost daily soul-wrestling for almost five years now.

It all started when I took on the title “mother” and a baby boy was given to this untried woman to raise (what was God thinking!?). Oldest son wasn't but a few weeks old when the guilt kicked in. Guilt when I screamed in his little face to STOP, STOP, STOP the hours of night time colic crying when I should have whispered calm words that didn’t work either but that would have been more motherly. Guilt when I learned part of his crying was because I had made him go hungry the first month of his life, all because no one told me my medical condition would likely make me not produce enough milk.

Somehow after all my screw-ups with the one, God gave me two more. Now as a stay at home mom of three toddlers, I still feel those pangs of guilt, only now triple-fold, for telling a little face "No, I can't do that right now" because…, for choosing cooking/cleaning/washing over playing/reading/rocking, for typing an email or taking a student's phone call.

Even when I drop everything and give the little ones my full attention, go on nature walks, push swings, sing nursery rhymes, dance in the kitchen, and read books to them, those feelings of guilt still well up like an underwater volcano. This time, it's because I didn't read them enough books. I didn't color long enough. I forgot to do the ABC puzzle with the twins. I didn't provide enough structured learning time for my oldest. I didn't go over the books of the Bible again today.

Last week, the sense of my worthlessness as a mother was so overwhelming, I called my husband and spilled over with liquid guilt that I wasn't preparing my children well enough to survive in kindergarten, that I was cocooning them too much in an unstructured environment of independent playful inquiry versus a rigid inside-the-box mentality necessary for survival in this world where learning is judged by how well you fill in a bubble, by whether your letters stay between the lines.

Then Saturday, Wyatt came to me, leaping, radiant with excitement. “Get the caterpillar book!” he screamed. And so we tromped out to the swamp to identify a plump hawk moth ready to cocoon for the winter. Later, I watched as he and Emerson built a wild animal “trap” with every yard object light enough to carry or drag to the playground.

This morning, I listened to Emerson mumble prayers along with me on our prayer walk. I overheard Wyatt sounding out words in a book I had read to him earlier in the week. I caught Amelia telling her kitty, “Shh. Shh. It’s okay. Mommy’s here.” This evening, I even strapped roller skates on my 34-year-old feet and gave my three a lesson in how not to fall down.

My children may not be the quietest or stillest. They may never be the best at taking tests, the fastest at learning a new concept. They may have difficulty using inside voices and learning to walk versus bounce. But their compassion for each other overflows even when mommy isn’t watching. Their creativity, imagination is wide and deep.

Besides, how can I expect them to fit the mold when I don't. To be social butterflies when I have to work hard at not being a recluse. To be normal when everything I am shouts different? To focus on the cares of this world when my passion for Jesus defines my every action and marginalizes me as a freak, a radical?

This living in the uber-competitive world but not of this world--it's tough. This "different" mother is not sure how to navigate my children through it, to seek my God's definition of success and not be at all concerned about the world's version, wondering if the two versions must necessarily go in opposite directions or if their paths can cross, even parallel.

It's a question that keeps me knocking on His door at all hours of the day and night.

Photo: Mommy letting Wyatt be Wyatt--pink wig, sword, and all.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Growing More Imperfect

It's dusk when I finally leave the eye doctor's office, the children asleep before I exit the city limits and aim the van due north towards home.

Praise music plays in the background, a slight mist on my windshield to warn of blessed storms moving in for the night. This is the quietest moment I've had all day, but I don't really hear the words I know by heart. Instead, the words glorifying "Jesus" are overpowered by the scrawny young doctor's smile and his rapid-fire chair-side manner probably the result more of his tardiness than nervousness.

"So, have you noticed a change in your distance vision?"

Uh...not until you dilated my eyes so I can't even tell time on my watch if I wanted to. I'm the one who still stands across the room and reads the scrolling news at the bottom of the TV screen. Really? Me?

My confusion is evident.

"It's just two clicks," he reassures, pointing to the machine that looks more like some medieval torture device than something used for good, to perfect my no longer perfect vision. "I'm going to give you the prescription, but it's optional. Maybe for when you drive at night."

Then, he drives his positive message home: "You're just one step away from perfect."

I can't help but laughing out loud. If only he knew how many steps away from perfect I really am. It seems my vision might be finally starting to catch up with who I really am, the windows to my soul finally coming to grips with my sinfulness and taking a step back from the holy bar of perfection it knows it has no legal claim to.

I continue my path towards home, this twinge of my mortality weighing heavy in my running conversation with God. What else is there to do in traffic with sleeping children but pray?

My pupils the size of peanut M&Ms, every headlight looks like the star over Bethlehem with their icicle-like points radiating outward, each traffic signal aglow with red and green halos. "Why my distance vision, God? If anything, I'd expect my close up vision to deteriorate with age. Not this."

I remember husband's eyes improving over the past year; eyes are always changing shape. I haven't been to the eye doctor since I was ten. Perhaps this is just another one of those lurking post-twin-pregnancy changes like going up another shoe size.

The dialogue continues. I give voice to the fears this simple diagnosis reveals lurking in my heart. And He responds, reminding me that sight is not merely of the eyes. Although I have to look up the verses later to see them in their entirety, He speaks the Words of Jeremiah over me, saying, "Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see" (v.21), the Words of Jesus saying of the masses that "while seeing they do not see" (Matt. 13:13).

There is peace in the reminder that sometimes the blind are the ones who see best, that physical sight imperfections such as this are easily remedied and temporal. It's the soul sight that is a miracle and of eternal value.

As I finally take off the sun glasses, I do smile at the irony in all this. Over the past seven years of in-depth Bible study, my soul's distance vision has only grown more perfect. With each passing season, I glean a less cloudy picture of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The old hymn speaks wisdom here.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."

The important thing is not that my distance vision is no longer perfect, but that my soul's distance vision continues shifting its sight from this dim world that is fading fast to what awaits for me beyond.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

When Hearing God's Voice is Foolishness

The world can make you feel like a fool. It's not unexpected, what with Christ's economy turning everything on its head--the last becoming first, weakness becoming strength, slavery to Him becoming freedom, going down in submission becoming the way up.

It's the unexpected dismissals from other Christians that make me pull the covers up over my head in defeat, feel like the fool the world already tells me that I am.

Cluck your tongue in a what-did-she-expect tone; shake your head in disbelief. No, I still haven't learned.

I'm still foolish enough to believe one person can make a difference. Still foolish enough to believe if God reveals to me a vision that I can rally fellow soldiers to action, that others will be convicted as well if only I will offer up myself in sacrifice to do my part.

I'm still foolish enough to believe I was saved by grace not to warm a pew and merely enjoy the fruits of warm fellowship but to serve Him with my everything, even if that everything takes me into the ripe fields of labor and away from the comfort of fellowship.

Foolish. Me.

Sure, my rational mind tries to wave its hands to disperse the gloom, to say it's really not foolishness, that the only other option is to have a heart seared and unresponsive to God. But my hurt heart speaks otherwise.

* * *

This morning began with the trumpet blast of my alarm piercing through the lulling background rhythm of gentle rain dripping from the eaves. My heart fell in disappointment. There would be no prayer walking this morning.

Bleary eyed and yesterday evening's discouragement swallowing me again, I spoke aloud in sighs. "I'm thankful for the rain, Father. Please know I'm thankful. I just really needed this time with you today."

The cloudy darkness wasn't just outside. It quilted my head and shoulders, heavier than the fleece blanket I pulled back over my head. God had sent the rain at this exact time, knowing my prayers for others would have been out of obedience only and of a divided heart that was not focused solely on the salvation of my neighbors. He's wise like that and just took me out of the equation.

Here on this blog, I might have seemed a bit distant lately, but it's not because God and I have been having a long distance relationship. For the past several months, my heart has been heavy over three major decisions, the kind of agonizing choices that consume my thoughts from sunup to sundown, that lead me to seek His will in earnest because I want to do what He wants, not what I want.

I don't want to screw up when I only get one shot at this life.

In only one area of the three did I feel He was providing a clear answer. Others came to me unprompted, reiterating concerns God had already lay on my heart. It got to where it seemed God had lined up an entire parade of gentle and not-so-gentle nudges, all just for me as a reminder I had heard His voice correctly and that He wasn't going to let this go until I made a move to obey.

I've prayed about it, waiting patiently, and seeking to put into practice what I've learned from the prophet Nehemiah who waited four months from the time God put a mission on his heart to when he first had the opportunity to share that mission with the king. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he waited some more, surveying the situation before speaking it aloud to enlist help.

The mission God gave him was miraculously fulfilled in 52 days because others believed in it, too, and literally put their necks on the line to fulfill it. Perhaps my discouragement is that I foolishly expected a smooth path, a quick path, for my vision to be as contagious as was Nehemiah's instead of it being stuck on the back burner for another nine months like in politics when something is sent to "committee" so it can wither and die there.

This is why Christians don't bother in the first place. This is why Christians church hop.

Both are wrong responses, I'm certain. But in this moment, I do understand these reactions. They're easier than silently sitting by in frustration when you can't just do it all yourself, when you know that you know that you know God spoke to you but aren't the Holy Spirit to convict others' souls towards action.

I can't give you a well-considered, insightful conclusion to leave you tapping your chin.

I just don't know the answer.

And so I sit, pray, and wait again.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I am afraid of Amerika...They will rape me

I am reminded of the rather odd librarian I grew up with, the one who seemed to know about every book on the five foot tall shelves that divided the closet-sized room in half and lined the walls from floor to ceiling. With her prompting, I read more missionary biographies than I would have otherwise chosen--those about Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, William Carey, David Livingstone.

These biographies, though, seemed to be more dead words on wood pulp than a real life captured in print. There was so much first person insight missing that I wanted to know, the little details that turned a two dimensional paper doll into a living, breathing human with flaws and failures. I wondered about the person's struggles with faith, with difficulty, with not making a huge difference within their lifetime. Sure, these names are set on pedestals now, but not back then when the person answered to it.

* * *

As you might imagine, I don't read many page turners. Most sentences that cross my desk are either written by green college freshmen struggling to communicate clearly in non-texting English or by serious, soul-searching PhDs that send me Scripture-scampering to contemplate theology in practical application.

And yet, I've spent the past week with two such page-turners on my night stand, their glossy covers tempting me to sacrifice sleep and devour their as of yet unknown wisdom.

Audra Grace Shelby's Behind the Veils of Yemen: How an American Woman Risked Her Life, Family and Faith to Bring Jesus to Muslim Women is an account of an average family who stuffed everything into a crate and moved to the conservative Islamic country of Yemen to be missionaries.

Shelby describes her family's struggle with health issues, with family who thought they were crazy, a foreign language, loneliness, Yemen men's treatment of females, and the inability to break through barriers the Islamic community keeps in place between foreign "infidels" and themselves. As she says of one woman she became guarded friends with, "She wanted my prayers, my strength and my hope, but she wanted to get them her way" (163).

Unlike some of the biographies of my childhood, Shelby's text gives the living breath of autobiography. She's a living testament who shares honestly, sincerely, those personal struggles with her own wavering faith in Christ, a concept I tend to forget when I hear the almost hallowed term "missionary."

Shelby shows the power of prayer, the difficulties of giving people to God when all you've done is planted seeds that seem to fall on hard earth, and most of all, how even being in the center of God's will does not exempt Christians from experiencing difficulties that try our faith.

More than anything, Shelby's book is a call for other Christians to pick up the gauntlet and search their own souls for whether God would have them serve in any way within oppressive Islamic countries like Yemen. She directly addresses the fear Western Christians have about working in such countries, describing a scene where she told her Yemeni friend she should visit America:

"'Oh no!' Amal's eyes grew wide. 'I am afraid of Amerika. They will rob me on the street or shoot me there!' Her voice trailed to a whisper. 'They will rape me...My friend tells me. She watches the news from Amrika on the television. Every day there are killings and robberies and raping of women!'"...
"I paused and cleared my throat. 'Amal, do you know that my friends are afraid to come to Yemen?'
She was astonished. 'But why?' she asked.
'They are afraid they will be killed by terrorists.'
"Oh! But we are not like that, Audra. Only a few!' she exclaimed.
I smiled. 'Aywa [Yes]. And Amrika is not like all the bad news you hear. Only a few.'" (213)

It makes me wonder what joy Satan gets from spreads the contagion of fear across the airways, fear that binds Christians, keeping them from sharing the gospel on hard soil that needs someone to help till it.

**For my review, I receive no compensation from Bethany House Publishers other than a complementary copy of the text.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Wives are Submissive

In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention painted a bright red target on its back, becoming the focus of much public derision when it revised the Baptist Faith and Message to include the words "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband..."

I remember it quite well. Newly empowered with a bachelor's degree, halfway through my master's and a blossoming career unfurling at my very touch, I was furious that a bunch of men found it necessary to pull out one verse in all of Scripture guaranteed to stir up a feminist and media firestorm.

Sure, the concept was Scriptural. Yes, Ephesians 5: 22-23 said the same thing. But that wasn't the point.

Overnight, my faith had become a very public joke. And as expected, the critics quoted only the part about submissive women, conveniently leaving out the rest that included the phrases "She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him" and "A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church."

But it wasn't just the covention's wording that bothered me. I knew the entire passage, of this mutual giving of self to the other, but still, God's Word telling me to submit seemed contrary to who I was. Why should I submit if I was right and my husband was wrong!?


These three little syllables have always projected in my mind images of soft pastel, fuzzy Victorian women, images of weakness, lack of backbone, indecision, lack of intelligence.

Mousey women are submissive, and I am no mouse.

My childhood was directed by a mother who ran shovel, axe, band saw, electric drill, and hammer as well as the needle and thread, sewing machine, wooden spoon and mixer. Because she valued our family's time with my father, she never waited for him to do something she could possibly do.

I am my mother's daughter--too capable for my own good. Too resourceful to say "I can't," too creative to say "I don't have what I need." If I can, I do, even if it takes me three times as long as it would my husband to do the same task.

Because of who I am, the early days of marriage were a struggle with submission, especially since husband was still a student in law school and I was the primary breadwinner. Then in 2009, I read Thomas' Sacred Marriage and learned what God intended a marriage to be. Life changed in this household.

I have learned to ask husband's opinion even when I can make the decision myself. By now, I do it unconsciously I hardly notice it, and my marriage benefits in the closeness of these simple exchanges. Husband meets my submission with his love and respect of me as his equal, his wife.

This past Saturday, God sent me a gentle reminder of the importance of this submission. I had planned one meal for Sunday, but husband wanted pork steak instead. Yes, I completely disagreed but simply said he could do as he pleased...and he did, going out on the back porch to dig through the deep freezer for frozen meat.

A few minutes later, he came back in with "good news and bad news." The good news was that everything in the freezer was still frozen solid. The bad news was that it had somehow tripped the breaker and the freezer was off.

Had I exerted my will, I wouldn't have checked the freezer again until several days later and would have likely lost all the contents within. Spine tingling, this God of no accidents whom I serve.

Submission cannot be forced. It is not a sign of ignorance, indecision, or an invitation for one's husband to mistreat her. Likewise, submission is not weakness. Submission is a wife's choice, one that shows her love and obedience to God as well as her love for her husband.

Sometimes, it takes more inner strength and self control to submit to husband's will than to force my own. But when he and I both seek to fulfill the roles God gave us, a holy sense of harmony and loving unity results. Peace.

Image: The Back Pew comics.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Shades of Grace

Don't you wish it weren't so difficult to live life as a child? For there to be no need to make such an effort to see as they see, to do as they do because it still comes unconsciously? naturally?

I envy my three, their lives uncluttered with duties, calendars, and concerns.

A bucket of sidewalk chalk and any semi-smooth surface becomes an impromptu canvas for creating abstract art. A flower petal headband becomes a "pointy" waistband, good for becoming who you are not.Especially when I am crunched for time, when there is work to be done, it is more difficult for me to stretch my mind beyond the literal, the physical here and now.

During last week's trip, I was scurrying around the hotel room, hurriedly shoving PJs in the suitcase so it could be repacked in the van, dressing children one piece of clothing at a time, and painting on just enough make-up so as not to scare the gas station attendant. To make it to Johnathan's by supper time, we had to move. Now.

The children? "Hurry" was not in their vocabulary. The three of them crowded behind the room darkening curtain, looking out from their second story cows. A field of cows. Important stuff.

With me out of sight, they were suddenly in a world of their own, holding a somber conference about cows and hay.

And me? I am the one who interrupts their world, who drags them back from the majestic mountains of imagination to the unending plains of reality where running isn't allowed, all toys must be picked up because someone might get hurt (like mommy), and nap time is still required.

As I write this, the boys are laying a single line of track over my head from their bedroom door all the way across the foyer to my bedroom. Sounds of wooden track clanking together and murmured exchange of plans as to where to put this curve or that bridge drift downstairs.

I tiptoe up the first few steps, just enough to see over the ledge to the world I am not invited to be part of.

Amelia quietly sits, driving the train up and down a hill. The boys set up trees, a stop sign, and sword-wielding knights within "crashing" distance of the track.

I descend the steps, unwilling to interrupt this shadowy gray world of play where dragons still exist and must be seriously pursued and slayed with Nerf sword and shield, where carnivorous dinosaurs peacefully coexist with Strawberry Shortcake girls, where a paper girl's lunch time prayer over plastic corn and carrots is as important as giving thanks for real food...where it's difficult to tell fact from fiction.

Their world is wonderful, but it isn't easy to navigate, what with its rules being different from the one where I live, where black isn't always black and white isn't always white.

Wyatt's loud "smack" heavenward in church? Upon seeing my stern face, he leaned in and whispered too loudly, "I was blowing a kiss to God." That strong push Emerson just gave his brother? NO, he didn't push Wyatt--he pushed the monster.

Black is not so black.

But maybe motherhood is bending my definitions, too. This mother who always tells the truth? Just last week, I told Wyatt the green flakes in his soup were parsley, consciously choosing to leave out the part about some of the green actually being broccoli. White isn't so white for me either, it seems.

It's not just the children who have turned my two-toned world into one full of color variances. Time in God's Word has done the same. Just last Thursday during prayer walking, I presented my pastor with my most recent head scratcher from the book of Ezra. The Scripture just didn't jive with what I had learned this past summer in my study about God and how He regards covenants. Conveniently, none of the commentaries attacked that passage either.

Shades of gray.

Before children, before seriously beginning to examine the mysteries of God's Word and not just brush over what I didn't understand or add up, life used to be so black and white with everything being clear cut, good or evil, wrong or right.

The more I learn from my children, the more I study His Word, the more I learn how unclear so much really is, how I must choose to live not in the black in white, but in shades of grace...

Grace for my children. Grace for others. Grace for myself.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wanted: One Sister Penguin

My smallest shadow doesn't want to go outdoors. It's too cold. It's too hot. It's too windy and messes up her hair. She wants to be inside with me...folding laundry? Really?

And so Amelia feeds her dolls, fills Noah's Ark with Little People, makes her "paper girls" say their mealtime prayers, brings me tea, or simply follows me around chattering and singing. Other times, she sits in the school room and flips through book after book, looking at the pictures and sometimes reading aloud whatever words she's memorized.

Even when she brings me books to read, if she's not an audience of one, she still sits mostly to the side, quietly flipping through another book in the stack while I read aloud another to the boys.

Oh, and did I mention that her every little injury is worthy of a torrential flood of tears, not to be quenched by Boo Boo?On our trip last week, I watched her interact with four little girls. It was so different.

She sat on the floor in a ring of four sisters and just smiled as each gave her their dress shoes to try on. None of them said too much as they played together. And there was definitely no sword-wielding, dragon-chasing, monster-finding, dirt-throwing physical games like her brothers dream up. Just lots of whispering and grinning.

As I watched , my heart ached for her to have the near impossible--a sister of her own to share secrets with, to play with this way using her God-given maternal instincts versus having to be "one of the boys" when interacting with her rambunctious brothers.

But perhaps the ache I feel is not for her alone. Perhaps it is mine as well because I always wanted a sister, too. In high school, I had a friend who was as close as one, but somehow with marriage children, and a country between us, that sisterhood stretched too thin, leaving the gaping chamber empty.

One glance at Amelia's face and mine in the mirror is all it takes to see myself in a smaller vessel. I know how lonely it can be without that female sister-friend to call daily just to chat a few minutes, to share a laugh with. I find it so difficult to make friendships deep with other women who are just as busy raising a family as I am. I don't want that for her.

For now, though, perhaps forever, I will be her mother, her sister, her friend, helping to cultivate what she loves. Now, that's not too hard.

I let her wear my old childhood dresses as she plays barefoot around the house.Take her to fairy parties at the library so she can soar in knee-high covered coat hangers (uh..."wings") and eat icing-laden butterfly cookies.
Put on that $2 thrift store Princess Belle dress for the thousandth time. I know one day she'll be a teenager and will need someone besides me to confide in. But maybe God will somehow send a sister friend whose heart will knit with hers like a penguin--for life.