Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hours Before Isaac: God's Battle Flag

The first feeder bands from Hurricane Isaac have started to make their presence known on our Louisiana hay farm.

None of the 10+ expected inches has yet to arrive, but the gusts have begun, snapping in half sturdy oak bean poles loaded heavy with a summer's worth of bountiful vines.

Husband and I sit and look at the already swaying trees that line our driveway.  We remember aloud comparable storms--Gustav, Andrew--and talk about this being some trees' last night towering majestic overhead.  How many will lay low by tomorrow at this time?

All the limbs in our forest are loaded heavy with thick, green foliage like in the early Spring, the result of six inches of rain just last weekend. This leafy weight combined with the stress hiding inside the bark from two previous summer's worth of severe drought and the hurricane force winds to come is a recipe for great tree loss.

That is what overwhelms me the most right now--not the thought of losing my life but memories of former storms' aftermaths, weeks worth of sunup to sundown cleanup. 

But it is these times when we are most overwhelmed  that God calls us most to lean on Him.

That reminder was brought home mid-morning when I fell to my knees, not in prayer but as I tripped over little children shoes while I carried inside one last washer load of rags and towels before the storm hit.

With both knees swollen and sporting a pair of shiners, I was forced to lay low this afternoon, give my body time to repair itself. Yet, in the back of my mind, I was fretting already over this inconvenience.  How was I going to clean up the hurricane's mess to come if I were on injured reserve!?

In the midst of all this frustration and uncertainty mixed with a little fear over the unknown to come, God reached down to give me and my family a reminder that He is still on His throne.

This evening, husband and I sat outside while the children ran around with felt flags tied to bamboo held high.  Apparently the gathering gray clouds moving rapidly across a sky eerily back lit by the setting sun brought to their young minds the thought of going into battle.

Unprompted, they began marching and singing in unison. "Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before."

And there it appeared overhead.  A rainbow, not just a sliver, but a whole rainbow that stretched from one side of our home to the other.
Although the colors were diffused by the storm clouds, they waved just as strongly as any battle flag to remind us of God's power over the power of the hurricane, of God's presence in the midst of the storm.

By 1:00 in the morning, the meteorologists say we'll really begin to feel the storm's wrath.  We pray for the storm to pick up speed and go north where the waters are needed, sparing us the 10+ inches of rain and the 16+ hours of tropical storm winds.

But, no matter what comes, God is in control.

He is here in the midst of the storm.

Writing in community with Jennifer @ Getting Down with Jesus--a day early, but God's timing is perfect.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Birth of a Hurricane

They never begin as anything noteworthy. A white puff set against aquamarine. Without an audience, the cumulus accumulate, stacking wider and higher over warm ocean depths. Winds hover, sucking up warm moisture as earth's Creator dips His finger in them, swirling the invisible round to add more white to this study in blue.

The warmth of this open-air, boundless womb continues to give life, an invisible cord connecting water and sky, providing nurturing energy to a formless shape not yet named. As it grows, it hovers, always circling, forming bone, adding moist sinew and flesh until more white than blue fills a camera's lens.

With each heartbeat, its winds grow stronger, pulling more sea into the sky. By now, the satellites note its existence, sending blurry sonogram images to weather doctors who measure its shape and size, their computers predicting its chances of making it to term, searching its growing environment for clues to predict its path in life.

The naming is ever-clinical to make the discarding ever easier. "Tropical Depression #1."

It is, yet is not.

Some never make it, dying at sea and buried in unmarked watery graves, sighs of relief accompanying the deaths of these unwanted children of the earth.

Then, there are those who rush forth across charted waters, as yet unborn but rotating ever faster in labor pains as powerful as its churning winds. Over land, the center will not hold. But over sea, this life gathers strength, is born through agony of wind's tearing, howling.

Finally, it is named. Katrina. Gustav. Andrew. Betsy. Those who await their first and last meeting with this child born of water and of sky hope and pray they will be able to forget its name.

With a life cycle of days and weeks rather than years, it consumes like the locust all the warmth and moisture in its path. Gaining in height, breadth, and strength, its solid cloud bank carries with it a wall of water and winds that make mankind's strongest structures appear as mere Tinker toys.

All the while, it hurtles headlong towards land, without emotion or will, mindless of the damage it is about to wreak on those who have watched its birth and growth.

None will mourn its passing.

While June 1 came and went without notice, it marked the start of hurricane season. Those of us on the Gulf Coast who have lived through the likes of a Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or a Hurricane Gustav in 2008--we have a healthy respect and fear of tropical activity. 

As dusk settles in my back yard, the sky looks like any other late summer evening.  Only a steadier than usual breeze hints at what is to come in just a few short hours when Tropical Storm Isaac will turn into a hurricane and march ashore.  The latest track shows its eye passing directly over our farm as it dumps up to 16 inches of rain.

A city of store shelves lie empty of flashlights, radios, batteries, water, bread, canned meats and soups.  We have all prepared as best we can.  Still, our preparation is worthless, incomplete without constant prayer.

Please join with me for the rest of the week, praying to the Creator of this storm to show undeserved mercy...and if not mercy, then the grace to stand firm in the storm's wake.

Posting a remake from the archives tonight.  It's been a busy day of hurricane prep.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Learning to Walk

Hand in hand, my oldest son and I walked down the driveway late this afternoon.  The twins ran ahead of us, noisy, as they wove a drunken path of squeals and giggles to Oma's house.

I can't remember the last time Wyatt has walked this stretch of gravel with me, much less the last time he has chosen to stretch out his hand to fit in mine for the journey.

Usually, he's around the corner before my feet leave the carport, rocket-propelled feet flying to beat the wind to see his grandparents at the other end of the farm. 

Not today.

This morning, he had reached for my hand to walk him across the road to the bus for his third day of kindergarten.  Now, a few short hours later, he was reaching for me again.

Independence still needs an anchor.
He spoke of nothing memorable, nothing deep enough to be meaningful.  But the simple act of walking together again was memorable in itself. 

When we rounded the final curve by the twin barns, he asked to take the short cut, then said, "At least I don't run anymore, huh?"

My mind had already entertained that thought, but to hear it from his lips gave voice to my sadness at this change I expected and even wanted yet didn't want either.

Three days in kindergarten, and my ever-bouncing, ever-running Tigger had already succumbed to the structured, slow cadence of civilization that dictates we must walk instead of run, that our feet must be flat and not leave the ground in joyful dance no matter how happy we are inside.

I stopped hard right there in the tall grass by the old Mercedes with the flat tires.

My eyes searched him for sadness or loss and found none.  It was just matter of fact.  This was what he had been learning.  And he had learned.  I was to be proud of him.  Period.

I opened my hand, setting his free and spoke with all the authority a mother can muster.

"When you're on the farm, you can still run.  Now go.  Run!  Run as fast as you can!"

He didn't ask twice but turned and ran to catch up with his brother, already on the back porch steps.

In a world that seeks to streamline us into adults concerned about standards, outcomes, and test results, a mother must be the one who seeks to create a home where it is safe to be you, safe to explore, create, love, question, speak the name of Jesus, become...

A home where conformity is not desired over individuality.  A home where you can bounce, run, and dance your joy in every step; where you can pretend to be a pteranodon one minute and an astronaut the next; where Nerf swords clash, where boxes can be robots, and where you can buy "hunters" at the store by the dozen if they all die battling the coyote.

His teachers will help him learn to sit and walk.

And I will keep reminding him it's still okay to jump and run.

Photos: Wyatt on his first day riding the bus and playing after school in a full-body pteranodon costume.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Where Danger Really Lurks

It was the night before my oldest son went to school, and the last thing on my mind was my husband’s safety.  He was where he has been most nights for the past few months--locked away in the outside metal building he’s been working to transform into office space so he can work from home a few days a week.  

What could be safer than an empty, locked building?

Inside, I padded barefoot into the boys’ room and covered Wyatt again with the starry universe blanket he is ever kicking off.  His body rose and fell with the pattern of a deep, peaceful sleep.

A kindergartner, yes, but this was my little boy.  In repose, he looked so small, awakening memories of that two-year-old I used to crawl into bed with for a happily-wasted half hour of snuggles each day after nap time.  

This young boy still needed my protection, my daily, hourly, sometimes every minute guidance.

I leaned in and pressed my head into his shoulder, breathed in a sweet mixture of shampoo and little boy sweat.  This was what I would be sending off into uncharted waters in just a few short hours.  I'd had the lilting excited voice and happy smile glued on permanent for weeks.  Sleep would be difficult tonight.

Back in my bedroom, my mind was trying to focus on anything but the morning to come.  I opened my ladies’ Bible study book and succeeded, quickly discovering I had exchanged one all-consuming thought for another.  Exploring the intricacies of prophecy from first three chapters of Ezekiel were a good choice to replace my mind and heart’s ache. 

At half past eleven, I phoned husband to turn in for the night and then went back to my studies.  I felt the house open to receive him but wasn’t prepared for the harrowing tale he brought along.  

"It's a good thing I was wearing my safety glasses," he chuckled nervously, shifting from one leg to the other as he recounted why he was a few minutes late.  

While making “one last cut” of a 2x4 with his compound miter saw, the typical routine of drop and cut turned surreal as the saw's housing suddenly snapped without warning.  
The rotating metal teeth kept grinding round at high speed, first slicing into the saw's metal arm.  It continued to mete out destruction, chewed the board into four pieces before throwing chunks of wood directly at my husband and around the building.  One speared the twelve foot high roof above.  Slowly, the thin metal blade ground to a stop.
There had been danger.  Husband's heart still beat hard from the adrenaline.  Yet, God had spared him.

My mind returned to years before when husband hadn't been so blessed to escape harm.  After Hurricane Katrina, a brushy limb from a falling tree had kicked the chainsaw's still-rotating blade up off the ground and into his calf, causing permanent nerve damage that he lives with even today.

It's one of those questions for the mystery file--why did God allow my husband to be saved from injury one time yet not the other?  I hope one day to know the why.

It's also one of those events that reminds me of how even things I think are safe--like my children staying home with me each day versus going out into the world to attend school--they're really not.  

Nothing is safe unless God deems it so.

I just must pray all the harder for my loved ones, even those whom I think are safe and far from harm.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When Something is Missing

It wasn't that long ago my firstborn was just cutting his first teeth.  At four months old, Wyatt awoke with four tiny points of white having broken through smooth gums during the night.  He thought it was funny, mommy rubbing her fingers inside his mouth and then going "ooh!" when she would find another jagged part.

Husband and I were excited and called to tell all the grandparents.  It's funny, silly how new parents get excited about things that are uncontrollable, are un-worked for.  But we felt the thrill of newness anyway.
Sunday after church, husband finally gave a final tug to set free one of those firsts.  My little boy suddenly yelled out my name with urgency while his feet pounded loud down the stairs.  One hand stuck a tissue to the now-bloody hole; the other held out the prize to me, more precious than silver.

It looked so much smaller lying in my hand than as part of a full set in the ever-present grin I've grown to love these five and a half years.
With one tooth missing, Wyatt has quickly made a list of things he can't do.  Right at the top is "can't easily chomp my favorite raw carrots."

I understand this concept.  When something is missing, sometimes it's difficult.

Friday morning, Wyatt will take his first bus-ride to join throngs of other children attending their first day of kindergarten.  He is ready to meet his new teacher in a new school room in a new school building.  I am excited for him...and scared to death for him and for myself--this is not a road I know how to walk. 

Most of my close friends are these awesome home school moms who are divinely inspired to train up their child without public education.  I do so respect their choice.  Unfortunately, I haven't yet felt God's call to do that with my own children.  In fact, I've felt just the opposite, that God expects me to send my little light out into the world now for a list of reasons He's made increasingly clear through prayer.

The past year has been extraordinarily difficult and I know my blogging has suffered from it, mainly because the emotions have often been too consuming, too raw, and too overwhelming to put into words.  I find it oppressive even tonight to just sit here and think, write, make sense of it all.

I have watched my friends swap home schooling tips and tricks, get together for these awesome field trips....all while I stand alone on the sidelines.  Even in the midst of great fellowship with them all, still, it's been a lonely year simply because I've been missing someone to go through it with me.

Over the past few months, God has blessed me with several ladies who have been in my shoes before, who have been a listening ear, a prayer warrior, and a helpful guide for me on this journey.

Yet, I have yet to find someone who understands in "real time" the agony of this choice, who can go through the stages of mourning, of separation anxiety alongside me.  I only have the "Yes, I remember...", not the "I feel this now along with you."

Even husband cannot relate.  He tries, but he just doesn't get it and can't even really pretend to.

This week when you pray, lift my name before the Father.  He can fill any missing part of our lives, I know for sure.  If it's not with someone else, then with Himself.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What Happens When Children Pray

My youngest son said something from the van's back seat.  As usual with two other children using their outside voices along with the Ipod blaring, I couldn't quite make his words out.

"What did you say, honey?"  I turned off the music and glanced in the rear view mirror just in time to catch a frown before he practically yelled his annoyance at me.

"I was talking to God."

In other words--"Butt out, mommy.  This doesn't involve you."

I felt chastised, but had to smile since this was the third time in a week I had listened to him spontaneously praying in the back seat.

Emerson is turning into my little prayer warrior.

And this mother?  She is learning to turn to him, to all three of my children as prayer support.  When there's nobody I can call at a given moment and ask to pray--just pray--I am learning to stop and ask these little ones to pray when the need arises.

What's more, I am learning to ask them to pray for me.

As we left worship service on Sunday morning, I turned around and asked Emerson to pray for some rain for mommy's plants.  He didn't take a breath before lifting up his petition to the heavens.

A few hours later, our area was hit with a white-out thunderstorm that was so intense, the satellite went out.  His smile lit up the kitchen table when Opa revealed how much the rain gauge reflected--two full inches.  "I prayed for two inches!" he squealed.

This isn't the first time I've seen it happen--a request answered when children pray.

My children don't understand that some people believe prayer is reserved for a private closet or church only.  To them, prayer is the very fabric of their days.  It is something mommy does aloud dozens of times a day--nothing fancy, nothing long, but rather short, simple statements of faith and proclaiming an inability to do it all on her own.

I saw this faith just today reflected in my oldest, Wyatt, as we took the seven minute drive to school where he underwent simple kindergarten testing.

All morning long, he had been telling me, "I'm excited, but I'm still a small bit scared."
When 11:00 came, he buckled himself in the backseat, then repeated the same statement once again before starting to pray out loud.

At the driveway's first curve, Wyatt prayed first for rain, then his prayers soon focused on school, on his fears.  As I drove through yet another rainstorm, I could tell how scared he really was when he prayed the entire trip.

He's never had much to be afraid of in his sheltered life thus far.  In fact, this is the first time he's been somewhere where there wasn't a family member around.

It was uplifting for this mother to know that Wyatt knows how to contact the true comforter when mommy isn't there.

But it made me wonder--what would happen to our world if we called upon all our children to pray for it?  If we didn't leave the "big" prayer requests for the adults, but if we involved our little ones in praying for every request, big and small?

These little ones with faith that many times surpasses our own--what could their prayers do?

If you haven't already, I encourage you to take five minutes and watch this video from Gospel for Asia entitled "The Power of the Meek."  It gives a glimpse at what miracles can be wrought on earth when little children pray.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What to Do When Change is Difficult

Perhaps you're one of those creative souls who is constantly thinking of new ways to rearrange the living room furniture.

My mother is like that, ever imagining new ways to turn the area rug, position the La-z-boy chairs, hang the picture over the sofa.

Growing up, I never understood why she couldn't just leave it all alone.  Why couldn't everything be simple and stay the same? 

Then, I left home and came to the grown-up realization that remaining static wasn't possible.  People are just like the plants in my yard--they grow or die.  Even the seemingly forever oak tree must fall.   

Clinging to lack of change is just an illusion, a comfortable quilt of self-deception.  

Still, we "grown ups" are supposed to just deal with it.  And we're supposed to raise children who can go with the flow, who can live through whatever flux life throws at them.

Honestly, I have never known how to do this.  My heart was created for eternity where there is no loss, no partings, no yesterdays or tomorrows.

I was made in the image of an eternal God who never changes, so, how am I supposed to just embrace something that isn't who I was created to be?  I'll admit--I don't have that answer.

Ironically, I birthed three children who are carbon copies of me--they all abhor change, thrive on consistency, and need a running start to get used to any change that's about to happen.

When they were babies and toddlers, our house would slowly change to and from Daylight Savings' Time a week in advance, fifteen minutes every day so the shift wasn't so debilitating.

Now that they're older, we're turning back the clock already to prepare for the start of school.  We also try to provide the comfort of consistency in the form of weekly routine activities like worship at our church, story time at the library, mommy going to Bible study, prayer walking through the neighborhoods, and enjoying movies and popcorn at Oma's on date night.

Then, there are the little sprinkles of excitement thrown in to mark major changes. 

Over the past two years, we've started having small get-togethers to mark the seasons' change--nothing fancy, just family and friends roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over an open campfire.  While the children refer to them as "parties," in reality, they're a way to prepare our household for what is to come.

The idea of celebrating change began with my oldest, Wyatt, reading in a children's book about an "Autumn Harvest Festival" to celebrate the first day of Autumn.  That was shortly followed by another book about a "Berry Blossom Festival" celebrating the First Day of Spring.

Considering how long and oppressive the summers are down here in Louisiana, it seemed like a good idea to look forward to a more appreciated season.

By the second year, Wyatt was creating his own theme for each party, and this mother was sending e-vites, putting up a few handmade decorations, and making simple craft projects for the children.

With Wyatt heading off to school in a little over a week, I decided to add a third party to the annual rotation, this one to celebrate school's starting.  The theme?  Fireflies.

The problem was it had been dripping hot last week.  On Tuesday, the heat index was 110, and with the intense humidity, nobody could stand outside without melting into a large puddle. 

What else was there to do but pray?  And we did--for clouds, for cooler temperature, for a breeze, a sprinkle maybe, but no heavy rain.  Yes, we were that specific.

An hour before the party, the thunder clouds formed all around us, and it began to sprinkle, then stopped.  The temperature dropped from 87 to 78, and yes, there was a cool breeze every once in awhile.

God had shown up for our little party in a big way, blessing us with everything we had prayed for.

Nine little children bounced and romped, took turns swinging and eating their fill before heading indoors to make a glowing firefly with an Easter egg and also painting glow-in-the-dark paint in Mason Jars for make-believe fireflies.

In a stressful season of life, it was fun to take a step back.

When change is inescapable, when it is difficult, choose joy.  Kick up your heels, invite some good friends to join in with you, and pray for God's blessing on it all.