Tuesday, July 31, 2012

To Get Out of the Nest

I turn the calendar to a new set of opportunities, to a new season.  Already, almost a dozen days in August are spoken for, but my eyes skip ahead to the page's center, the fifteenth, where the faded sepia-colored image of the compass in the background forms a cross in the center of a bulls-eye.

Funny how even this pre-printed schedule of days already knew which day would be the target of change.

Mid-morning, my mother calls encouragement across the miles, telling me I was just as excited about my first day of kindergarten.  She knows how hard it is for this mother about to send her young bird out of the nest for the very first time.

Funny how I don't remember the excited part of elementary school.

What I do remember clearly is the fear of not being able to find my bus in that double line of yellow and black.  Mine had the green construction paper bear taped to the glass-paneled door that opened accordion-style.  Then, without warning, the paper wasn't there anymore, and I had to remember the large black number printed on the side; even back then, remembering numbers was difficult.

As an adult, I realize how silly my fear was, especially since I lived literally a mile away from the school.  But every day, it was the same few seconds of panic before I found the right bus.

I make a mental note to repeatedly remind Wyatt that if he misses the bus, it's ok.  Mommy is only seven minutes away.

As the days grow closer, Wyatt has started to vocalize some of his own fears--what if he doesn't know anybody? what if nobody wants to be his friend? what if he can't do the work? what if he gets lost?

I have felt each of these even as an adult and encourage these questions, knowing those that are spoken aloud can be dissolved or at least put into perspective with logical answers before they grow into irrational monsters.

For the past week, he has continued to walk up to me and say, "Sometimes I'm afraid.....but."

Yes.  This is how we grow.

He points proudly to the purple and black tiger-striped bookbag he chose, leaps high in the air at the LSU Tiger patch embroidered on the front pocket.  Firsts are special.

I remember my first book bag, now boxed away in my attic.  Living in a home with little that was store-bought, I was so proud of it--royal blue with red piping, its stiff appliqued apple on the front with the worm, another smaller apple hiding inside with my name, address, and phone number.  Somehow, I never lost it.

Then, there was the shimmery, leaf green pencil with its broad, always-dull point, the scratch-n-sniff stickers for good work, my watercolor painting of the giraffe, and the cardboard TV with its rolled up "slide presentation" on gerbils.

These were the good memories, the ones I have always kept alongside the bad ones, the scary ones, all tucked away together in paper boxes.

He's like me and yet he's not like me.  I try to prepare him for the struggles I faced, prepare him for rejection, for change, for sitting still.  But there's only so much I can tell and show.  In the end, he must go and do in order to learn it for himself.

It's a lot like the baby birds in our front porch flower pot.  The children and I daily checked the nest to see gaping mouths and fledgling wings unfurling until one day, we peeked inside to find emptiness.

While that feathered mother surely taught her children everything she could to make their first foray into the world, ultimately, just like my son, they had to get out of the nest if they ever were going to fly.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Catching a Glimpse of the Thin Veil

"Can I dive and get the mermaid?" asks my daughter.

As always, I shake my head yes and reach to help her slip off the pool noodle she holds beneath both arms.  Amelia holds tight and waits for me to count to three, then plunges her head underwater as I give her a push downward.

I watch, amazed at how far she's come over the summer, how many seconds she can hold her breath before coming up.

This time, she kicks out away from my legs to get a second mermaid with the purple hair.  Then, she's on the surface again, grabbing hold of me and pushing that ever-annoying hair out of her eyes.

This is the routine for the half hour we're in the pool most days--me as the lifeguard encouraging three little ones to practice swimming and diving.

While she and her twin brother still can't technically "swim," they've learned as long as they hold that pool noodle beneath both arms, they won't sink.  While we own arm floaties, the pool noodle gives freedom to dive underwater, something they couldn't do with big balloons stuck on their arms.

It's with this freedom that they have grown comfortable with having water over their heads and in their faces, something that didn't happen until I took the safety of the floaties off and allowed them the potential for danger.

There is such a fine line between freedom and danger, safety and restriction.

As a mother afraid of being in deep water, herself, this decision to let the twins swim and dive has been difficult.  Yet, with one pond on our farm and Opa itching to dig a second one, sticking my head in the sand to ignore the possibility of my children drowning isn't an option.

Leaving them in flotation devices is safer while in the pool but not in the long run, not for teaching them what to do if they're in a situation where floaties aren't an option.

So, two months ago, I enrolled my three children in week-long swimming lessons.  My oldest son, Wyatt, did pretty well at kicking his feet and using his arms as long soup spoons to propel himself across the pool.  Then again, he can stand in our four foot above-ground soup bowl with no problem.

The twins?  At three and a half, they learned well how to kick and how to paddle, but not really how to do both at once.  Holding their breath just added a third item to remember.  As I well know, multitasking isn't something young preschoolers do well.

More than anything, though, Mrs. Glenda taught them pool safety, to be comfortable looking around underwater, how to "kick up" from the bottom, and what to do when you jump in a pool--immediately find the side. 

This past Thursday morning after prayer walking, Amelia finally had a chance to put some of that training into practice.

As Wyatt and I scooped up the remaining diving rings and sticks on the pool's bottom, Amelia tried to lie on her back and be "silly," something I'd warned her about already.  This time, she slipped off her floating device and sunk underwater, as I knew she would.

Although scared, she knew enough to kick to the surface and grab a breath before ducking below the surface again and kicking towards me. 

It was mere seconds before I caught her.  But that's all it took for her to learn a good lesson about sticking close to the pool's side, about really not being able to swim on her own yet, about water being worthy of a fearful respect.

She and I clung together at the water's edge as she gulped tears, fear and relief mingling in the safety of her mother's arms.

When I asked her why she didn't call for help, she said she "couldn't talk underwater."

I shook my head solemnly, reminded all three now serious children that this is why mommy always insists on being the "lifeguard" in the water, not a play partner.  After chastening Amelia for her silliness that caused the scare, I also encouraged her for doing the right thing--for kicking her legs so she could surface and get closer to help, to me.

And I prayed to God right then and there, thanking Him for taking care of my daughter.

The veil between life and death is just that thin...just that quick to part.

While Amelia was giggling moments later, my heart still felt the sinking fear late into the night.

I'm well aware that pool noodles are "not intended to be human floatation devices."  Then again, the arm floaties we own are stamped with the same exact statement.

There is no 100% safety in the water.  So, we take precautions.  But, life doesn't carry any guarantees either.

As her mother, I must do my best to protect Amelia by preparing her for potential dangers beyond my doorstep, by preparing her for how to react in those moments when mommy isn't there to scoop her up...

and by praying, praying, praying for God and His angels to watch over my little ones and protect them better than I ever could.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sugar & Spice: A Lesson in Acceptance

I attend a lily white church filled with lily white people who hold to most of the same conservative values I do.

Truthfully? This lack of diversity is a bit sickening at times, especially when it doesn't reflect a reality of cultural unity and acceptance I want to impart to my children.

Although fifty plus years have passed since desegregation began to make strides towards equality, life out here in the country is still mostly segregated.  It's the inner city or areas within the corporate limits of the smaller towns that are mostly populated by the diverse rainbow I miss way out here on the fringes of civilization.

On Thursday nights when I drive an hour into the city to teach ESL, the world shifts, and I'm the only white person in the room.  The deep midnight black skin from Eritrea, the creamy Hershey's chocolate coloring from Rwanda, the copper-tones from Myanmar, and the light khaki tones from Mexico...

It's so beautiful.

Some are Hindus, others Buddhists, Roman Catholics, or nothing at all. 

But diversity isn't just about skin color or ethnicity or even religion anymore.  Increasingly, diversity is being boiled down to a single lifestyle choice--homosexuality.

Everywhere I turn, there is such a dialogue of hatred spewing from Christians over this subject, it would be a shock if  Christianity weren't being labelled harshly as judgmental, bigotted, a progenitor of dark hatred rather than love and light.

It was just last week that a beautiful Christian woman whom I respect encouraged me to not shop at Target because of their open support for the gay and lesbian agenda.  Earlier in the year, another woman criticized my desire to take my children to Disney World since it, too, openly accepted  homosexuality.

I understand this desire to take a stand against sin.  I do.  Still, each time, my lips clench tight as I smile polite, thin.

The downward spiral of immorality in our country scares me.  But what scares me more is the hearts of professing Christians, hearts that are so focused on taking a stand against single sins outside the body that they're alienating a world of lost people before they even have a chance to present the gospel.

And it's all  because modern Christians have chosen to hierarchize sin.  While the Christianity of my grandmother's age placed divorce and fornication at the top of that Babel-like tower, modern Christianity seems to have concluded it has all but lost these wars.  So, they've cleared the top floor for a new "worst of the worst" sin--homosexuality.

Yes, Scripture shows homosexuality to be a sin.  But it also shows living together outside of marriage to be a sin.  It shows most divorce to be a sin.  It shows hatred in one's heart to be as sinful as murder.  It shows lust in one's heart to be as sinful as the physical act of adultery.  It shows putting anything before God to be a sin.

If God, Himself, is willing to say that murder in my heart is identical to actually pulling the trigger, something that just sounds wrong to my fleshly sense of morality, then I'm obviously unqualified to go around thinking my sin is less heinous to God than another's sin.

Our Savior dined with tax collectors, refused to stone the adulterer, extended mercy to the divorcee.  He said the second most important commandment was to love our neighbors as ourselves, not love our straight, morally-upright neighbors only.

Christians are called upon to present the gospel, not do the Holy Spirit's job of convicting men and women of their sin.

Christians are called to be the light of the world--to live morally upright in the world while not being like the world.

We must learn that extending mercy, love, and grace to those living in sin is not the same as giving our blessing to the person's sin.

We don't have to accept a person's sin in order to still show that person Christ's love in word and deed.

It's a lesson we need to take to heart, ourselves.  It's a lesson we need to pass on to our children.

Otherwise, there's a hole in our gospel...and a partial gospel can be worse than no gospel at all.

Image: Sugar and Spice dolls I crocheted for my children to match their "Sugar-n-Spice" magnetic paper dolls.  Something as simple as diversity in the dolls seated on our sofa has already sparked such great discussion about others' differences and how God calls us to love.

Friday, July 20, 2012

If God is Good....then Why?

Refugees from Myanmar
A new student sits at my table and stoops over the enrollment form, lead pencil scratching out the tiniest, most perfectly formed script I've ever seen.

I smile and hold my heart out in greeting, already knowing without knowing that he will be one in a line of dozens who will flow into my ESL class for a few weeks or months before disappearing when a job or poverty takes him elsewhere.

Even if they don't smell or look like me, the bond is there and the parting is still loss.

I live in the deep South where if I go to my favorite mall with the best deals, I'm in the minority.  All around me walks a rainbow of God's creations.  Yet, this young man looks different even before he speaks English with a thick tongue.  He reminds me of a picture I might find in my National Geographic magazine or in Ann's blog entries about Haiti.

His skin is so black, his eyes glow.  Even his teeth seem to be almost lit from within each time he smiles, which he does frequently as we laugh together at our mistakes, even mine. The close-cropped tight curls cover great intelligence that comes through easily despite the language barrier.

But behind the smile and sparkling eyes is a history that would surely give me nightmares if I knew it all.

After class, I try to make small talk, find out a little about him, his life before being given refuge, permanent residency status here in America.

He names his country.  I nod as if I know where he hearkens from, but later, I have to go home and look it up on google.  Rwanda, I've heard of--it's in the news all too much for all the wrong reasons.

His country is smaller, much smaller, but still suffers from the wars, the tribal infighting.

I ask if he is here with family.  He shakes his head. "No. I am alone."

My heart nearly breaks.  Alone.

Most of the other refugees I teach from Myanmar, Mexico, Rwanda at least have other family members with them, and if not family, then others from their country.

But this one? He has no one from the home country.

I could stop here.  Our time is up.  I'll sleep better without knowing.  But I keep asking the hard questions anyway.

Does he have siblings?  Yes.  But they are all back home.

A father? No.  Lips tense.  Not ever.

His mother?

"My mother is dead."

As he speaks these last words, his eyes drop for a split second.  This is why he is alone.  There is a story here of pain, still tender.

Yes.  He is alone.

The conversation shifts, but I want to cry out to God and ask why.  Why does He allow such hatred to exist, to erupt in brutality? I fall asleep with him on my mind.

This morning, I wake to the news of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Twelve dead, nearly sixty injured.

More senseless brutality. Why God?

With heavy heart, I look back at the photo that has sit on my desktop for the past few weeks, the same one that begins this post.  Its caption speaks of the same senseless brutality, but also of intolerance, fear, hunger:

A Rohingya Muslim man who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence cries as he pleads from a boat after he and others were intercepted by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh, June 13. Bangladesh has turned back more than 1,500 refugees in recent days. A global human rights group has urged Bangladesh to keep its border open to people seeking refuge from sectarian violence in western Myanmar.

The tendency is for us to ask God why? Why does a good God allow this to happen?

To ask such a question, though, shows just how little we know about who God is.  God is not just good. The God of the Christian Bible is also jealous, holy, sovereign.  He is full of gracious mercy, yes, but also full of righteous wrath, anger, and judgment. 

We can't accept one part of God's character without accepting the other, or we have denied Him all and fashioned a god of our own creation.

Because we don't know who truly God is, we're asking the wrong question.

In a world that denies God's existence...in a world bent on worshiping itself, the question should be, "Why not more often?"

God's goodness and grace are showered on our world in abundance.  We just miss it.

The sleeping child pictured in the boat could be the thin boy who sits each week in my class, but for the grace of God who brought him here.  

The young African man whom I help navigate the English language each week--he, too, could be a senseless victim of tribal wars but for the grace of God.

The hundreds of theaters, subway cars, schools, skyscrapers--they all could be ground zero for mass brutality...but for the grace of God. 

It's easier to see God and His good grace when the brutality strikes overseas, to the nameless foreigner. 

Yet, when such tragedy strikes at home, it's then we must decide if we know God at all.

Image: MSNBC: Refugees from Myanmar flee their country, beg for entrance into Bangladesh.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When the Winds of Change Come Early

The Sunday circulars yelled in loud block letters of glue being given away at 10 cents a bottle, crayons fifty cents a box.   Even for the would-be-ostriches among us, it's hard to ignore such obvious signs of school starting in just a few short weeks.

Yet, change knows no calendar, is no respecter of the time things are supposed to begin anew.

When the winds of change blow through the house, it's time to open an umbrella and take to the skies like Mary Poppins.  With children already soaring above her head, there is no choice but to push off and fly with them.
Our house is abuzz with sounds of kindergarten coming.  Three months shy of their fourth birthday, the twins are even excited for their brother, not realizing that they, too, are so near the edge, a few steps away from death and rebirth into a world where they are no longer the "little" brother and sister but rather kings of the mountain, makers of their own destinies while older brother is away at school.

There will be no more big brother to lead them on morning romps through the Hundred Acre Woods, to commandeer expeditions for collecting locust shells, to dress up as knights and dragons for fighting imaginary coyotes with imaginary hunters.

Even though these changes aren't something the twins can even understand at this moment, they do know something big is coming.  

As if right on cue, they have developed a sudden interest in learning to do what Wyatt does.

And so two weeks ago, I began carefully writing out all the ABC's each day and giving them markers to trace them.  By last week's end, though, they were flying through this activity.  It wasn't enough for my soaring birds.
On Monday, I told them we were going to start writing our uppercase letters "for real," just like Wyatt.

This change was good.  It was fun....until a few letters into the project when reality set in that there are rules to follow for how to create letters, that you can't draw a clockwise circle for your letter O because then you draw the letters C and G backwards, too, that if you draw it incorrectly, you need to erase it and try again.

Change is not easy.  

My daughter was the first one to balk.  Her typical go-to complaint of "I'm tired" was followed by loud sighs, the pooched-out bottom lip that quivered, then blubbering tears, and finally downright defiance.

I not-so-calmly explained that she could fuss all she wanted but she and I weren't getting up until she had written all twenty-six letters.  Armed with a big eraser, Amelia wrote and I erased, she fussed and I instructed, she tried and I encouraged.

Fifteen minutes and a bunch of fussing later, she succeeded as I knew she would.  Now free, her tears were miraculously gone and she was back assembling a Mr. Potato Head mermaid on the living room rug.

During the whole ordeal, Emerson kept passing back and forth by the kitchen, getting the lay of the land.  By the time it was his turn, he had heard enough to know the drill.  Still, he, too, huffed and puffed when I erased the letter K several times until he got it right.  But like his sister, he, too, succeeded.  
Today was day two of writing their letters.  I was prepared for another round in the boxing ring, but unlike yesterday, there was no fussing. No tears. No huffing. No pooched-out lip.

In one day, change swept through our house.

I awoke with toddlers but lay to rest two preschoolers tonight.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Crossing off Our Bucket List

It's like I'm in a classic b-movie, a horror one at that.  No matter where my feet take me, the haunting sound of the ticking clock is close at my heels--ever present, ever louder.

Those around me seem oblivious to the sound and go about their carefree summer routine as I struggle to stay focused and make out what they're saying over the loud roar of this countdown to death.  I smile, talk of such mundane, safe subjects as rain, the cost of peanut butter, and summer colds. 

Yet, whether treasure hunting for mermaids at the pool's bottom, sweating it out on a prayer walk, reading a book to my children, or grocery shopping in a crowd, my mind continually hears that piercing, repetitive "stroke of the blacksmith's hammer upon the anvil."* 

The death sentence has already been pronounced.  I'm just waiting.

It's not as if a person is dying, although in one way, it is just that serious.

One month from today, my oldest son, Wyatt, will start kindergarten.  This phase of life we have lived to the fullest for the past 5 1/2 years is about to die a sudden death to be replaced by a new one. The little boy I have raised for the same time will die to his old self, too, and be replaced by a young man.

To be reborn, first, you must die.

Somehow, Wyatt's body knows this rebirth is coming.  Each day, his first baby tooth wiggles looser, its roots being pushed out by the newness invisible beneath.

He's proud of this.

Earlier in April when he first walked through those large metal doors, he bounced with more excitement than you would expect from a child registering for school. Yet, even now, the word "kindergarten" echoes through my home, its name hallowed on all three children's lips.

When I decided to home school my children through preschool, I never knew I had claimed a "side" of a debate.  I didn't know my actions meant I was making a statement about being a good mother or a good Christian.  I didn't know about the pressure on Christians to withdraw their children from secular education because of a myriad of reasons.  I just did what I felt led to do.

Making the decision to "change sides" and send my son to public school is the most difficult decision I've made thus far as his mother.  Husband was home schooled; I was public schooled.  We have lived in both worlds and understand the pros and cons of both.  As such, we prayed, agonized, listened to the warring factions, become literally ill, even sought our pastor's guidance to get to this moment, this decision. For now, this is it.

Honestly? Even though I believe we have chosen correctly, I'm still sick with fear that I'm about to screw up my little boy's whole life--I fear this will be true no matter what "side" we choose.

One of the worst parts has been feeling others' disapproval over our decision....

It stings.

But here I am-- with so little time left.

Several months ago, I made a bucket list of things my son had already expressed interest in, things I wanted to teach him before others would work alongside me to mold and shape his young mind.

I wanted him to read aloud to me the remainder of the four second grade readers from the 1960s primers he's been consuming like chocolate cake. 

I wanted to be the one to teach him how to tell time on an analog clock, to count to 100 by 5's and 10's, to count money.

These fundamental building blocks of life, itself--reading, telling time, counting, and using money--I wanted that initial knowledge to come from his mother.

One month left and the bucket list is almost all crossed-out.  He's ready.

Wyatt wiggles his tooth again, back and forth with his tongue, brings me a tissue to see if I can pull it out yet.

I'm not ready, but I give it a strong tug anyway, then exhale in relief, fold him into my arms for the few seconds he's willing to stay there.

At least for today, his tooth is not quite ready to grow up either.

*Ambrose Bierce. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

Monday, July 9, 2012

What is a Child's Life Worth?

The question is simple.  How far would you go to save the life of a child?

Is there such a thing as too far? Or far enough?

What's more, do a person's motives matter?  Or is the action important, no matter one's intentions?

Levi Benkert's newest memoir No Greater Love: One Man's Radical Journey Through the Heart of Ethiopia invites readers to ask these questions of themselves.

As the author's business goes into bankruptcy, a friend asks him to fly to Ethiopia and help start up an orphanage for rescued children.  Six weeks later, he and his wife sell everything to move them and their four children across the ocean to Africa.  His hope, ultimately, is to bring an end to "mingi killings" where tribesmen kill all children who are conceived out of wedlock, who are conceived in marriage without prior permission from the elders, whose teeth come in in the "wrong" order....all because of superstitious fear of spirits.

What follows is the author's stumbling (literally) journey through the process of setting up the orphanage, changing gears to find adoptive American homes for the orphans when it is evident the orphanage is failing, and then moving forward to creating an organization called "Bring Love In," which seeks to create multiple foster homes for orphans, each led by a native Ethiopian widow.  This structure both gives orphans a loving home, a family, and a future but also gives widows much needed jobs and homes.

Benkert's uncertainty, his humanity pierces through the text. This is not a guy who has it all together or who even has the next step figured out.  But this is honest narrative, tracking his mis-steps, exploring the underlying currents of impurity in his motives to leave America in the first place.  This is a man readers can relate to--someone unsure of where God's call will lead.

The text was an easy read and a great picture of the frustrations of trying to work in a third world country.  But, I found it falling short in a couple areas.  First, the communication of the gospel to those in Ethiopia was all but absent from the memoir.  While I realize that "saving children's lives" was Benkert's chief theme, presenting them Jesus is of equal importance- (saving the body and soul) but wasn't given much page-time here.

Secondly, the memoir ended prematurely--once the author finally discovers what God's plan is for his family's work as missionaries, that's it--there are no success stories, nothing.  The reader is left wondering whether this vision, too, might fall through the cracks like the other two attempts at running an orphanage and seeking to pair orphans with adoptive American families.

Even so, Benkert's epilogue is powerful, compelling Christians to get out of their comfort zones when there is a world beyond their front door where children are dying because we are not being the hands and feet of Jesus.

He also argues that even when our motives aren't lily white, God still can see if our heart's desire is truly bent towards serving Him.  He can both use and mold a willing spirit.  And that is a message worth sharing.

(To read a sample of No Greater Love, go here.)

**I receive a complementary copy of the text from Tyndale but am not compensated for my review, whether it be praise or criticism.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Living in a House of Mirrors: What Children Imitate?

So much of a mother's day is filled with teaching her children how to live rightly and then attempting to fully demonstrate in action teaching before ever-watchful eyes that miss nothing.

These little eyes follow her every move, note her every facial expression, mimic her every action, and repeat every syllable that escapes her mouth.

For me, these are the eyes that turn the red "record" light on with my every screw up, shutter flash when I fall on my face, registering their disappointment that I am not always the perfect, understanding mommy they wish I was.

Three tape recorders play back a version of me in all their stories, Little People exchanges, puppet shows, and interactions with each other.

It's like living in a house of mirrors where I'm constantly confronted with the best and the worst of who I am.  Sometimes I cringe at how accurately they mimic my tone, faces, and hand gestures, make a mental note not to use that phrase again.  This week, it's the word "stupid" I need to remove from my vocabulary. 

I struggle to crucify the "worst" of me, knowing that I have little paparazzi following, even if I don't see them hiding behind the swing set, peeking around the corner of the dining room, or leaning over the stair railing.

And then there are those times when I can breathe, when my heart leaps at that rare evidence of parroting gone right, proof of my imprinting something positive on tender hearts.

Yesterday afternoon, I rounded a corner to find my youngest son lying on the wooden paneled floor, Pooh Bear blanket drawn high up under his chin, and an arm half covering tired eyes.

Emerson spoke a few simple words aloud, the kind that caused my feet to stumble and pause.

"God. Please make me better. Please God. Amen."

He wasn't talking to me, didn't even look at me as I passed.  Such prayers aren't a big deal, are just part of the daily fabric of life around here; they are just what came natural, what he knew to do when he hurt.

Later in the day, Amelia couldn't find kitty (a maddeningly daily occurrence in this house).

"Mommy!  I can't find kitty!  Wyatt HID her again!  Do you know where she is!?"

My reaction was less than kind and maternal.  No. For the thousandth time no.  And I don't care about your stuffed kitty either.  She's made of cloth and poly fill that has been squashed such that her proportions are no longer very cat-like. Go love a different animal!

Thankfully, I squelched that entire thought and found, instead, more inspired words on my lips. "Why don't you pray to God and ask Him to help you find kitty."

Without a word, she padded to the prayer closet.  I didn't hear any words, but minutes later, she bounded downstairs, one kitty found.

"See," I smiled.  "I told you God could help you find it when mommy couldn't."

Then today, after praying for rain and then praying thanks for God's bountiful response, the electricity went out for four hours.  The children and I played Monopoly by the light of two oil lamps, read books near unclothed windows, and talked about the power truck came down our driveway twice.

When the lights finally came back on, I heard Emerson down the hall in the kitchen say aloud, "Thank you God for turning the lights back on."

I sighed. The house of mirrors was kind to me today.

Unfortunately, I know too many reels stored inside their heads could show too much of me that I'd like to hack off with a butcher's knife and burn beyond recognition, but even in the midst of the negative, I see light and faith growing.  It gives a mother hope--not only for them but for herself, overcoming the sins of the flesh to live triumphantly in the spirit.

Image: "Alternative Reality" by Josephine Wall

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can One Pumpkin Change the World?

It all started last autumn with a small orange globe the size of a softball.  The children had begged for it right there among the bags of miniature carrots and unruly clusters of grapes.  Could they please have one, just one, to decorate the house for Thanksgiving?

The black and white sign overhead showed this fruit was priced by the pound, and most were larger than I wanted to pay for something I knew the kids wouldn't eat anyway.

Even so, the idea of brilliant fall colors in the house was appealing, so with children bouncing, I dug through the precariously-assembled mound of sunset oranges and snowy whites, carefully pulling out the very smallest ones as I checked for dings and dents.

As the other shoppers turned more than one raised eyebrow our way, we weighed each on the scale before placing the winner into the buggy.

Seventy-nine cents.

All autumn, it was the crowned jewel of our kitchen, little hands daily moving it around the raised counter tops and then back to the center of their small breakfast table.

Before Christmas when its skin began to turn rubbery and its newness had long ago worn off, I dropped it on fallow ground behind the red barn, invisible to anyone who didn't make the special trip back there.

All winter, it silently sunk into itself until the first spring rains came, washing away the melted away skin and pulp to reveal a pile of sun-bleached seeds.  When curious hands wanted to pick them up, I mentioned the possibility that God would make them grow.  Maybe.  Maybe.

And then, oldest son found a book at the library that sparked more excitement than 79 cents should be able to buy.

Out of all the fourteen, 12-foot long, triple-tiered shelves devoted to children's books, God ordained that Wyatt should "randomly" pull out Pumpkin Jack, the story of a boy who carved his very first pumpkin.  When the pumpkin began to rot, he put it out in his garden, covered the seeds with dirt, and watched as the green vine sprouted, sported orange blossoms, then green globes, and finally, another large, orange pumpkin.

Even as we sat together on the sofa, I could see Wyatt's mind turning.  Sure enough, the book was barely finished before he realized why our seeds hadn't already grown into a great pumpkin.

"You have to put dirt on top!" he chastened me.  "And they need water.  We have to go do it now."

Now it was.  My three helpers took turns using a garden trowel to scoop up a couple fist-fulls of dirt.  I tamped it down on top, added the requisite water, then felt a motherly urge to warn them it still might not grow.   

Who knew what kind of seeds these were.  Sure, they came out of a pumpkin, but if they were hybrid seeds, we might merely see a vine with no fruit--or no vine at all.

And so I did what I have learned to do only since becoming a mother.  Children listening, I spoke a simple prayer out loud for the insignificant miracle of life from these seeds.

Pumpkin Jack returned to its home at the library, and the late frosts of spring turned into the too-early summer of April.  One Saturday afternoon, my face broke open to see the first sprouts of a vine.  For a month, it stayed there, small, bush-like, with sickly pale green-yellow leaves.

Then, with the hot days of May, the vine suddenly woke up, trailing six feet, twelve feet from the barn's edge, leaves turning a deep emerald and growing large enough to give shade to the orange flowers forming beneath.
With great excitement, we watched as it set its first fruit, two tiny green balls the size of a nutmeg.  But in days, the fruit had withered to nothing.  Again and again, the vine set fruit only to have it turn to a mushy pile of mold.

Even though I had expected as much, I still felt disappointed.  Explaining that the "pumpkin was gone" felt like telling the children someone had died.  I gently broke the news several times, then tried to emphasize the brighter side--at least we got a beautiful vine from the seeds.

Surprisingly, that was an okay answer.  We had done out best, so we quit beating a path to the barn to say indoors through a solid week of rain, then another of too-hot summer.

Once outdoors again, there it was--a pumpkin.  Not a small nut.  Not an apple.  But a pumpkin the size of a softball, green, round, and perfect. We literally grasped hands and danced around in the open hay field.

That was two Saturdays ago.  Today, we went to check on our baby.  Guess what we found?
A miracle of life, a blessing from the Father, solid orange and all ready for picking.....and holding and sharing and running with right across the field to Oma's house.

All grins, all happiness, all thankfulness for our God who took a simple prayer and gave it breath.

I can't help but hope this one answered prayer will help continue to build a lifelong foundation in their young lives, teaching tomorrow's hope to pray, no matter how small, no matter how impossible something seems.

It's this kind of foundation that we all must have if we're going to change our world for Christ.  We must remember His faithfulness in the small things like growing a single pumpkin and then keep lifting those prayers to heaven--courageous prayers, radical prayers,prayers that will literally shake the place where we are standing.