Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Passing the Torch

Back before local Wal-marts, before the quick run to the convenience store on every corner, there was the once a week trek from country to city where girl would trade the daily monotony of grass and trees for the fascinating concrete jungle found in the parking lots of places like K-mart, TG&Y, and Hancocks.

Every time I would open the back door of mother's cerulean blue Delta 88 with its matching plush blue interior, my eyes would move to the concrete. It's a wonder someone didn't flatten my short figure as I walked head down, scanning the ground for lost change or (even better) rainbows caused by an engine's oil leak spread wide by an afternoon shower.

Those were the best trips, the ones where I actually found stripes of iridescent blues and purples shimmering together with yellows and greens, each rainbow unique. I can still hear myself beckoning to mother to "Look! A rainbow!" Never did she fail to look. She may not have stopped, but she turned her head and commented, thereby verifying my quest to find rainbows as important, worthwhile. There were even times when she pointed the rainbows out to me that I had missed.

Perhaps it's because of her that to this day, my heart still seeks out rainbows--in parking lots, against the darkness of sun-lit clouds after a rain shower, in chandelier-hung prisms. Just as Jennifer Lee Dukes @ Getting Down with Jesus sees the letter Y everywhere in creation, reminding her of Yahweh, I see rainbows at every turn, making me pause in continued wonder, and reminding me that I serve a covenant God who will not leave me nor forsake me.

A couple Fridays ago, I stood under broad gas station awning while husband refueled my van in the midst of a thunderstorm. As the rain poured too fast for slatted grates to keep up with, I watched an oil slick rainbow expand and contract as deep water pooled atop it, colors moving amoeba-like beneath and atop rushing waters. Eco-unfriendly? Yes. Beautiful? Oh yes.

Each afternoon, my three children have been enjoying the rainbows that decorate our stairwell, Creator God's diffused light hitting prisms at just the right angle to form temporary splashes of multi-colored light on white canvas. They don't yet connect the rainbow to the new covenant in Christ as God's ultimate fulfillment of promise, although they do connect the symbol to God, Himself.

But now? They're seeing rainbows where I miss them, their child-like view of the world making it easier to step outside the box which says "rainbow" means "ROYGBIV," and in that order.

Yesterday morning as I made another poor attempt at watering the fast-fading loblolly pines in the backyard, Emerson looked back toward the house, field between us back lit by the rising sun.

"Look!" he suddenly screamed. "Rainbows!"

I looked up. "Uh...no. Those are stripes, son. Daddy cut the grass, and it made stripes."

"Yes!" he answered, still excited. "Daddy made rainbows!"

This morning was the same. Dropping PJ's to the floor, I pulled grey-blue and orange shirt over Emerson's head and began to button it. As I finished, he looked down and patted the shirt with both hands. "Rainbows!" Again, I argued, "Stripes" only to be shot down. "Rainbows."
I just smiled and let it go. Why must creation only speak of God in a rainbow colored with ordered hues of red, orange, yellow, and green always followed by blue, indigo, and violet? Who am I to say stripes isn't an abstract rainbow sent by God to speak to us, direct our thoughts heavenward?

Sadly, like me, they'll change their minds soon enough and look only for Webster's definition of rainbow. Or maybe, just maybe, I can learn to open my mind and see the world as they do, God's rainbow awash in unexpected places--the disordered, the incomplete, the wild.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What to Do When Your Church Isn't Perfect

Sometimes, I don't like my church.

In fact, if I think about it, I've never felt like a doe-eyed newlywed who sees her beloved church as completely perfect, not ever. Even as a child, I knew churches weren't perfect--not the buildings with their sidewalk cracks, the people worshiping inside the walls.

It's not that I don't love my present church, my childhood church, or the ones in between. No, I love my church family as much as I love those whose double helix mirrors mine, with a heart that is fiercely loyal and achingly longs to be in the other's presence. With family of blood or spirit is that same sense of being home, at peace, comforted, loved.

Even so, every person who composes my church is like me--a flawed, imperfect vessel saved by grace. Stitching dozens of imperfect people together with the common thread of Christ's salvation might make up a church, but still, it will be a tapestry full of flaws for no other reason than because of the broken-but-God-mended people who make it up.

One of the lessons my parents taught me well is how a church family is much like a blood-related family. When I was yet a little girl, my mother was always upset over something at my childhood church. There were times when she would disagree with the way something was being done or not done and others when she was outright hurt by someone's actions in the fellowship. At home, she would cry out her hurt and disappointment while I took it all in.

And then? No, she and my father didn't yank our family up and plant us in another fellowship. We didn't just leave because we were hurt, disillusioned, or in disagreement over what Beth Moore calls a "rib issue." Although sometimes it would take awhile for the human emotion to go from boiling to simmering, we would always go back for the next service and the next, worshiping with our church family.

One time in particular, there was no one to teach the teenage girls' mission group. Instead of complaining about it (or in truth, in addition to complaining about it), she because our class' teacher. When the Wednesday night schedule would change without considering how it would effect our group, she would adapt, moving the group's meeting time, and we would keep growing in grace and knowledge...as well as unity, forgiveness, and love.

In my later years at home, my mother also showed me that listening to a pastor preach three times a week, even joining in the programs and classes with other church members--all of that would never satisfy my soul's longing for Jesus...only daily study of the Scriptures could do that. Once starting in-depth Bible study on my own and later joining her small ladies' morning class during the week, I learned just how big a hole I had been expecting the church to fill, a hole that only God could fill to perfection.

Perhaps her examples are why lately, my dissatisfaction with certain areas of my church haven't sent me running for the yellow pages but, instead, to my knees, asking God if my feelings of frustration are from Him or from my flesh, which selfishly desires to have my needs met over others' needs, to have things my way. And in response to those answers, I've asked Him what He's asking me to do.

This past Tuesday, a few of my church family started a new evangelism ministry, prayer walking in our community. After most people had gone to work, my sister in Christ and I walked on opposing sides of a neighborhood street, the two of us outnumbered by our combined seven young children who walked (or rolled) with us. For an hour, the children hung a tract on each house's door as she and I prayed aloud for each household.

It was the start of something new, something old. My prayer is that a fire for reaching the lost right at our doorstep sweeps through my church family.

But for that fire to be started, someone must strike the flint. Complaints won't ignite anything. Leaving for greener pastures won't either. But praying about it and acting on the belief that "the change must begin with me"--it just might start a fire large enough to sweep across an entire city...an entire world.

And if the fire remains small, grows only to dwindle again, or goes out completely? I, you, we must continue to ask--"Lord, what would you have me to do?"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

For Everything There is a Time

With the twins snoozing in the dark coolness of their rooms and Wyatt lying on the living room couch, quietly hiding with "his" cat beneath autumn-colored afghan, I lay down myself for a 15-minute breather.

Even routine weeks just need those times of quiet, to be still. With its new beginnings, this week has needed more than most.

One moment, I had a full 20 minutes of silence before me. The next, the clock's red numbers glared at me, showing I had forty-five minutes to convince three preschoolers that a break from the ordinary late afternoon routine was okay. Yes, they would survive not watching Miss Frizzle after nap time. Yes, their tummies were empty enough to hold peanut butter sandwiches even though it wasn't yet 6:30 pm supper time. And yes, a wardrobe change was mandatory.

Maybe newness could just start next week...

This past Monday marked a fresh semester at two of the colleges where I teach, while today found me back in an early morning classroom as a student with my Bible study ladies, all of us coming back together to dive as one into the books of Ezra and Haggai after going our summer's separate ways .

These changes are routine, though, expected, easier to manage because of their repetitiveness. It's the out of the ordinary changes, those into uncharted territory, those that require a letting go--these are the difficult ones.

Our family's biggest new beginning would take place tonight--if only I could get us there.

Although he does not meet our state's September 30 cut-off to start Kindergarten this year, my oldest son's "almost five" age meant he was finally big enough to attend "big boy " classes on Wednesday nights at our church.

Last week, Wyatt held my hand as I walked him to children's choir, his anxiety at the newness invisible except for the rare small hand willingly fitting into mine. Since he has been unexposed to daycare or preschool outside our home, I was concerned that he would be picked on in a group of older children...and that he couldn't sit still.

My fears aside, it was time. He was ready.

Our shoes moved from the familiar concrete sidewalk to the soft cushioned grass as I took Wyatt across the field to a mass of children playing kickball with our music minister. There, our pastor's youngest daughter and her friend called my son's name and took over, mothering this little boy who needed someone to take him by the hand and lead him, soothing this mother's heart. An hour later when I came to pick him up, she was there again, just like a teacher, giving me a rundown of how they had taught him the game, how he had done well singing.

And Wyatt? His face beamed, his step was airy, and his hand flew free.

Tonight was his first night in both big boy classes, one to study Scripture and the other to sing praises to God. (Yes, we made it.) Unlike last week, there was no hand-holding. Wyatt leaped before me down the covered walkway, opened the door, and flew upstairs. Once I was sure he had found the right place, the twins and I turned and went back downstairs, but for him? There was no turning back.Ice cream and chocolate marshmallow cookies have time with mama beat any day. Still, I pray he will continue to reach that hand out every now and then, even when mine cups small in his instead of his in mine.

Photos: The boy that used to be little.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

In the Front Yard

The two summers before this one, we lived in Maw Maw's house with its exterior walls so thin and devoid of insulation that the sound of husband walking on sun-parched grass outside our bedroom awakened me from many a Sunday afternoon nap. You wouldn't think the sound of sneakered feet crunching, swishing through growing blades could travel through wood, but you'd be wrong.

My then two-year-old son learned to hear the steady hum of the tractors vibrating through cracks in plank walls. In self defense, I learned the sound, too, the first hum finding me either collecting shoes to go outdoors or rushing to turn on a window unit to keep my son from hearing it, too, and begging to see the tractor.

Although I didn't realize it at the time, those two years were serving as a transition, molding this high heels, crepe blouse, and black pencil skirt college professor into a farmer's wife. It was in that old white house--a quarter mile's walk down an overgrown, all-too-narrow, country road--that I began to learn the sights, sounds, and smells of life on a hay farm.

I learned to catch the tell-tale whiff of freshly cut hay on the occasional breeze, to name the different pieces of equipment that attached to the back of the tractors, and to watch the radar for the rain's abundance or for its lack.

But there, life on a hay farm took place in my back yard, far beyond the carport, the pear tree at the yard's far corner, the ever-soggy slash of wetlands' tall swamp grass, and the single tombstone where Paw Paw was buried beneath the live oak tree.

From my front window, my yard looked ever-similar to the one I'd had when living on the outskirts of the city, a wall of always-green azaleas walling out the wilderness. I could pretend nothing had changed.

Only when I looked out back (and only if I looked really hard) could I see in the distance a blob of the classic John Deere green amidst a billowing cloud of dust. I had to look even harder to make out the raised bumps where square hay bales sat on an otherwise brown field, waiting to be picked up .This is the first summer with hay season taking place out my front door.

The hum is now a steady, unconcealable roar, the blurry image much more crisp so that I can count a line of single bales evenly spaced to the horizon, can see the sweat on husband's shirt as he drives past. Eyes closed, I now hear the difference between sounds of the rake, baler, and stack wagon.

It's been an adjustment, what with the clouds of hay dust creeping past the front flower bed barrier and quilting every leaf, chair, vehicle, window in their path.

This past week with husband windrowing as I clicked camera into falling sun, I realized it no longer feels awkward to be this farmer's wife by day, college professor by night. It all seems to fit.

The next day when I woke up to thunder, my thoughts instantly flipped to not my own yard's sun-singed plants with drought-curled leaves but to a field of hay on the ground. With each rumble that jostled me from sleep, I said a prayer for the rain to go past.

Prayer. It shows the state of the heart, reveals where the heart's interests, concerns, longings, allegiances lie.

Only God could make my heart large enough to love a farm filled with what I'm most allergic to, to love another set of parents I once could not have imagined living an evening's walk away from.

I've heard that prayer changes a person, and I know this is true.

But prayer also can show a changed person.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Well-Trained Husband

I read it in His Word, red-lettered lines Spirit-etched on my soul. I hear it in praise music that streams through my van's speakers, pulsates from the CD player by kitchen sink, and comes out the mouths of my three babes. I even see it in the images posted on Katie's blog depicting a life in Uganda that makes mine seem all but worthless and trivial in comparison.

This life is about love, showing Christ's love, being a servant as He was a servant, acting in humble submission to one another in that love, willing our flesh to die as we wash another's feet.

Yet, it's not just the willingness to show His love that makes the difference; it's the willingness demonstrated in action--the getting on our knees, stretching forth our hands to bathe fevered brow, feeding the hungry, wiping away tears in comfort, bandaging blood-soaked knee, gently cupping wrinkled hand or clasping shoulder of one who simply needs human touch...love.

I'm not in Uganda. I'm here in the United States. It is here that I live as a stay at home mother to serve my family in His name. While my money, my prayers may circle the globe, it doesn't seem like much when I read, listen, see the greatness of others' servanthood.

Then, I get sick (again), laid low by a summer cold that won't let me go, one that my children catch and release in haste, like late-afternoon Popsicle on the back porch. These times are some of the hardest, my inability to be a servant even to husband and children. What's worse is the waiting on husband to wait on me, stepping out of comfortable servant's robes into ones fit for a queen.

I've never been a good queen, the one who has to wait for something to happen when she could just easily fling off the covers, march downstairs and go do it herself. It's hard letting husband be a servant to me, especially when I watch a 15 minute task turn into 45 just because he's in the household driver's seat where I have the experience to be most efficient.

But his being a servant is just as important as my being a servant. To take charge, refuse to allow husband to fulfill His Godly role is sinful. And so, I bite my tongue, try to ignore the ticking clock, and whisper thanks for husband who is a floor beneath me, caring for louder-than-mommy-lets-them-be-indoors children while I am surrounded by pillows and the cooling darkness to help me recover.

Earlier in the week, a good friend of ours laughingly balked at my statement that I had a "well-trained husband." I countered that I consider myself to be a well-trained wife as well, and I really do.

The training, though? It didn't come from each other. It came from The Servant of all servants, Himself, Our Savior. When we tried to train each other in our early marriage, we failed. Yet, in submitting to Christ, husband and I have learned what it means to be a servant. It's an education unto death, one we'll never master, and one where being a servant is many times easier than being served.

This may not be the magnitude of servanthood that makes people shake their heads in amazement, read a book about me, and say, "Wow, I wish I could love Christ by doing that!" Then again, in this present moment, this is where I am called to be--a servant of Christ in raising three children to love Him, in keeping my covenant relationship with my husband, and in not impeding my husband's service of God when He bows the knee to Christ in loving me.

Photo: Husband cooking chicken and mac-n-cheese, comfort food for a worn and weary wife.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mile Marker 139

As air conditioner repairman stands in my kitchen with yellow ticket in hand, I push aside the makings of peanut butter sandwiches and absentmindedly write "Jul" in big swirling cursive before stopping mid-word.

"It's August, isn't it." The thought voiced was more head-shaking at my mistake rather than question, but he answers anyway. "Eight eleven."

The date resonates. But with children gathered 'round the lunch table waiting on me, I simply write August atop the former letters rather than scratch out and try again. He raises an eyebrow at this written messiness as I turn back to cutting late-summer tomatoes with tough, mottled skins caused by drought and excessive heat.

Later, I flip the upstairs calendar backwards just to check my flawed memory. August 11. Yes, four months to the day exactly from when I chose to make a change for me. It's nothing huge, but it is a milestone for me, one of persistence, of not throwing in the towel even when I had to take a break for illnesses.

Since that day in April, I've traveled 139 miles to nowhere. No, that's not a typo. One hundred and thirty-nine miles. I've counted. For most of it, my feet have clipped along at a meager pace of four miles an hour, again, nothing to write home about, and yet, here I am doing just that.

I've read so many magazines filled with these super-women who start back with their exercise routine the week after giving birth. But since the day we brought home two babies instead of one, taking care of three little ones nonstop during the day and teaching late into the night have left me unable to find even a half hour to carve out for myself. A hot bath uninterrupted was and still is something big!

Once the twins started crawling and pulling up, I did try to start walking again, only to feel like a pathetic failure. Once the machine's whirring started, three sets of little fingers made a bee-line straight to the tantalizing danger of a moving treadmill. I tried yelling, threatening, putting up a barrier, and begging. My words, they ignored. The barrier, they pulled down, figured out a way around , or turned over onto themselves so that I had to stop and soothe the crying. Nothing worked. So, after a week, the treadmill started collecting dust again.

In 2010, I gave a half-hearted attempt, but it wasn't long before I couldn't reach the treadmill for all the boxes packed up for the move to our new home. Since the move, I have blazed a trail outdoors, working to tame the wilderness and create a yard, no small feat but still, inconsistent.

In April, I felt the call once again to sweat, walk, run--move! This time, I didn't tell anyone, not even my husband. I just started walking, jogging, running. And it felt good.

As the weeks turned into one month, then two, I still kept silent, waiting for something to kick me off the wagon. As you might expect, my backside is covered with boot-prints, but there's also evidence that I've been dusting myself off a lot, too.

Maybe it's just that I've reached a phase of my life where I can realize that one defeat does not make the task a lost cause. Honestly? I think it's more than that.

If there has been one thread woven throughout the tapestry of the past few years, it's one of grace. The more I study God's Word, the more I understand about His grace towards me. How great and vast it is, how unending.

I have so many minutes, hours, days where I beat myself up for failing as a mother, failing as a wife, failing as God's messenger.

I fail so much
, I often wonder how He could even want me to get back up and try again! But He does, and so I'm learning to stumble onward, to be grateful for this daily grace as it is a gift of the greatest kindness for those of us who fail to measure up to any semblance of perfection.

This life is not a sprint.

It is a learning how to walk consistently with my eyes fixed on the prize, to extend and receive grace, to focus on the whole and not just the part.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Going to Hell in a Handbasket? Not So Fast.

I remember the first dot matrix printer that my daddy hooked up to our pre-Windows computer. Twenty years ago, this was huge! Unlike today, though, there was no way to sneak through a late-night print job without waking the whole house, the back and forth rhythmic screech unending as it ate reams of mile-long paper folded in the yellow square bucket it sat upon.

Back then, each 8 1/2 x 11 sheet was connected to the next by a perforated line. Attached to the sides of this unending ribbon of paper were half inch strips marked by evenly spaced holes that helped the printer feed the paper through. This kind of paper saved a lot of taping together of sheets, especially when I was called upon to make a time line for my high school science class.

Assigned by a coach who was great on the ball field but less than enthusiastic about the classroom, the final project had to be hand drawn, hand colored, and thirty feet in length, depicting life from Precambrian single cell organisms through present-day life on earth. Paleozoic. Mesozoic. Cenozoic. Definitely not rocket science but incredibly time intensive.

I recently thought about what a time line of my life would look like if I spread it out like this on paper that reached across my living room and down the hall. Thirty-four years instead of billions. My mind immediately listed the births, marriages, and graduations, then shifted to family vacations, the famous first's, and finally to bullet after bullet composed of mostly losses.

I have watched cancer ravage my beloved great-grandmother's body until it withered to eternity; crumbled over the the poison wrought by one woman's life-altering lies; and fallen on my face over the loss of two never-born babies. I have felt the extreme emotional highs and lows of years of infertility treatments; endured the abandonment of all but one hand's breadth of our "friends"; and lived through the loss of my husband's livelihood.

It is so easy to get caught up in the loss, the bad, the "worst" the life has to offer. But to do so is to spin a lie of one's life, to cultivate a heart of ungratefulness for all our heavenly Father has given us.

Life isn't all bad. It's not always getting worse. Yet, this tendency towards seeing the world as spiraling towards imminent destruction seems to describe America's vision of itself and our world as a whole.

In sociologist Bradley Wright's new book, UPSIDE: Surprising Good News About the State of Our World, he explores America's tendency toward pessimism when it comes to just about everything in life.

In the very first chapter, Wright explains that while individuals may believe their lives are going well, they automatically assume others are doing worse than they are, a trend forty-five years in the making. As Wright states about this "optimism gap," "we tend to think that the grass is browner, not greener, in other people's yards...'It is as though there are two different countries, the one people know personally, which they are happy with, and the one they see on television and read about in the newspapers, which they think is in bad shape'" (20,22).

The reason we're pessimistic? Advocates who support a particular cause and the news media, which puts forth stories sure to make a big splash. Positive stories? Not so splashy.

Wright's text tracks statistical changes over time, breaking his analysis up into several distinct topics: finances, intelligence/education, health, stress/happiness, crime/war/freedom/faith, marriage/family, and the environment. In the end, he presents an overview chart comparing life in the United States today versus 30 and 60 years ago, although many of his statistics reach farther back to 1900, showing a century's worth of change.

Overall, except for a few categories (such as obesity and divorce/single-parent families), the book's data shows we should be counting our blessings to be living now versus sixty years ago. Since his book was presented as more for a secular audience, he did not discuss the fallacy of Christians divorcing at the same rate as non-Christians, but his blog gave those statistics.

While the book is less than a fun read, it is approachable and a worthwhile read to get a good picture of what is really happening in our world versus what the news media is depicting. If I have one criticism, it is that in a dry book of statistical charts and paragraphs analyzing the data, I would have liked to have seen more of Wright's humor that, when it came through, was really quite entertaining.

We as Christians are guilty of latching on to every last pessimistic story or statistic around because such ideas fit in with our theology of the world coming to an end with Christ's return. But before you start spewing a doom and gloom gospel on every street corner, read this book first.

*I receive a complementary copy of the book from the publisher but am in no way paid for my good or bad review.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Take Time to Look...

The earth's full tilt toward late-summer sun causes radiant heat and light to shimmer through front arch window, a brightness diffused only by energy efficient glass covered by a thin sheer of gathered lace. This is the time of year when I know what will come with the sun's lowering across early evening sky.

Children's noisy chatter filled with wonder and excitement strike louder than any grandfather clock. Six o'clock, and six growing feet pound rapidly down the stairs towards me standing before supper on kitchen stove. My very own herd of cattle.

Longest legs arrive first, arms fluttering wide round my own legs and encircling me with their sense of what is important. All three beckon me to come, come where they are, where they've seen the miracle worth seeing over and over, a place in the stairwell where chopping blocks, simmering taco soup, and dirty measuring cups hold no power.

"Rainbows? Yes, I know!" I say, seeking to dissuade fresh smiles that reach their eyes. "I've already seen them. Aren't they wonderful!?"

Such logic doesn't work, though. "Come see them again!" cries little girl. "Make them dance" yells her younger by three minutes brother.

I could say no, be like T.S. Eliot's Prufrock, saying, "And indeed, there will be time." But fall, winter will both be here at the turning of the page. Short men will grow tall.

So, I step away from my labors, turn towards the waiting throng.

There is no locking hands, no dragging this woman forward like wedding picture we call "Doug dragging his new wife back down the aisle." Instead, these three leave me behind and race ahead, again the pounding, but this time upwards as I plod more slowly behind.

It is then that I lift my head to see the needlework piece from my childhood that I pinned just last Saturday to the wall at the stair's landing. Growing up, I always thought it was beautiful--sequins hand-stitched by my own mother, three-dimensional butterflies. But the message? Totally lost on the child me. Who doesn't take time to look at rainbows? How ridiculous to even have to tell people that.

Only twenty years later do I understand. It's a choice to take time that is not automatically there to take, time that is always filled with something else I may not want or need to step away from...but that I can choose to carve out if I reorder my list of what is important.

Dinner will be late...again.

With children laughing and jumping, I reach up, take monofilament between my thumb and forefinger, and spin each prism. Unmoving rainbows suddenly take flight around the room like dozens of butterflies disturbed in a field or a carousel set into action.

Downstairs, the side door opens. Husband is home from work. I need not worry--he knows where to find me (not in the kitchen).

Emerson hears him, too, and shrieks with delight, "They're dancin'! They're dancin', daddy!!! Come see!"

And much like me, he too comes to see the miracle of promise, the bow set on our wall, reminding us to pause, give thanks for these happy times, and laugh along with our children as they each try to catch the impossible and hold beams of colored light.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stretching Wings Wide

We warned him this would happen, both me and his Grand-mama. But what did we know, we crazy Chicken Little women who warn of dangers like lightening traveling from sky to green earth, the train-like sound of tornadoes, chicken-thieving coyotes lurking in dark woods...all things that he has never witnessed with his own senses.

To a four year old, seeing is believing. Anything else is met with, "Oh mommy. You worry too much." But last Thursday, truth became sight on our front porch, and the tears began to fall in revelation that mommy had been right all along.

The problem is Wyatt is a lot like his mother. I've always been apprehensive of trying new things for fear I would fail, because it's easier to do what I know than what I don't. Wyatt is the same way.

Since his third birthday when Oma and Opa got him a "real" bicycle (with training wheels, of course), everyone has encouraged Wyatt to learn to ride it, warning that if he didn't, Emerson would. Earlier this year, with much, much, much prompting and practice, Wyatt did finally learn, but still, he has virtually refused to ride it, instead choosing to steal away one of the twins' tricycles since they are easier to ride with pedals that go forwards or backwards.

Like any other day of outside play, I was tired of telling eldest son to "give back" to younger son what was his. So, I told Emerson to try and ride Wyatt's bicycle, not believing that he could but that he would simply try, giving me a few more minutes to enjoy squabble-free playtime.

Just as I expected, Emerson concluded my idea was worth delaying a tantrum. Although two years younger than Wyatt, Emerson is only a year behind him in terms of growth, on track to be a towering tree like his father and Opa. What he lacks in age and maturity, he makes up for in tenacity and sheer strength.With that strong body and patient disposition, he slowly raised his leg over the back wheel, reached forward to grab the handle bars, and pulled himself up onto the black seat. Then, with both feet on the pedals, he pushed, but as I had expected, the pedals moved backwards and locked.

Instead of giving up or getting frustrated like Wyatt did when he was younger, Emerson got off, pushed the bike forward a few feet, and remounted--once, twice, each time rocking the bike and pushing with his feet as he obviously remembered Wyatt doing when he learned how to ride several months ago.

And then, it happened--the pedals rotated clockwise, bare feet pumping slowly, methodically with effort as he made his way down the porch.Instantly, his face cracked with a grin. I cheered, whooped, and clapped at his triumph, encouraging him to keep going. Only then did Wyatt realize what was happening. Still sitting on the red tricycle, he leapt to his feet, yelling that he wanted to ride "his" bicycle, and then crying when I refused to make Emerson get off.

Back and forth that little boy rode across the porch, dismounting at each end to turn the bicycle around. All the while, Wyatt howled and moaned until he had to go inside for some alone-time reflection on the naughty bench.

When I finally made Emerson stop for the afternoon, his whole head was wet with sweat, his brow firm from concentrating so hard. Last week, he did a 25 piece puzzle all by himself. Two weeks ago, he mastered the concept of "filling in" an image he is coloring versus "scribbling." And now he could ride a bicycle. Wings spread in independence, he was radiant.

Earlier in the week after getting in trouble for some mischief, Wyatt told me, "I just have so many ideas in my brain," his wingspread sparked by expanding mind.

It's been a month for growth, especially with my two boys. Sometimes, I believe I have pteranodons instead of human children, their increasing wingspan stretching wide enough to carry them across imaginary oceans, aloft on the highest of currents.

These growth spurts and testing of limits in their quest for independence--they are exciting, wonderful, and frustrating all at the same time. In the same breath, I give thanks and grumble.

When the lights go down for the evening and I sneak back in to pull tossed-off covers over little chests rising and falling in sleep, to inhale sweet scent of freshly bathed child...in those stolen moments of quiet stillness, I find the strength to say "fly!" and whisper a prayer that God will always show them the way back home.