Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Looking Beyond Disappointment

The meteorologists had forecast up to four inches of snow for our area.

In south Louisiana where snow is almost as rare as an active volcanic lava, our entire household grew excited. All day Tuesday, the children and I watched and waited, some of us less patiently than others.  Breakfast started with repeated prayers for "one hundred inches," no matter how impossibly Arctic this mother said their request was.

We played games, read books, incessantly refreshed the radar image, and kept vigil at the french door, leaving nose prints behind as evidence, all in order to pass the time until the fun began.  Grandmama and Granddaddy even personally delivered their "Rosebud" saucer sled in anticipation of the grandkids playing in the snowy goodness to come.

In the end, though, the only result was several hours worth of sleet.  Granted, the icy rain fell heavily for a couple hours, but all it succeeded in doing was coating the concrete with a slick film of danger and trapping us on the farm.

This morning, I expected disappointment and dreaded the "sorry, God said no" conversation about prayer sure to come.

Sure enough, the cinnamon scones weren't even perfuming the air before the topic arose.

"Did it snow?"

I sighed.  "No, honey.  God decided not to give us snow.  He obviously decided we needed ice instead."

Amelia and Wyatt both didn't miss a beat.  "That's okay.  We'll enjoy it anyway"

And we did.

The winter wonderland joy didn't start off too well.  Around the base of the tall oaks, the snow white was an illusion.  My children would run up to it and grab for a heaping mound of snow only to find ice, which no amount of banging on it with sticks or boots could penetrate.  Soon, though, they learned that ice is slippery fun and giggled as they intentionally (and repeatedly) slid and fell.

Then, Emerson and Wyatt discovered the swamp's layer of surface ice could be smashed with a stick.  Although Amelia shrieked unhappily about them ruining the tadpoles' home, I could only shake my head--give boys something to destroy, and they're happy.

The best fun, though, was what they had waited for--the ability to go sledding on Rosebud (named after Clifford the big red dog's sled in the book The Big Red Sled).  Our farm is totally flat land, not a hill in sight, unless you count the two piles of red clay husband and Opa have yet to spread down by the barns.

Snow or no snow, nobody is really going sledding here.  Basically, somebody (i.e., mommy) grabs the rope attached to the sled and gives endless turns dragging three GO FASTER!!! children around the yard.  Sound like fun?  Yeah, I didn't think so either.

With a slushy yard, I just knew I'd fall and break an ankle (which my friend & neighbor actually did today).  So, I found a longer rope, tied it to the back of Thumper, and off we went.

Wyatt and I took turns driving around the hay field, making sled doughnuts in the slush and hibernating hay.  I may have wanted to lock myself in a closet later on in the afternoon, but for that moment in time, we all laughed and grinned silly together at our ingenuity, a true happiness that reached deep inside.

No, there was no snowman.  No, there wasn't a good snowball fight, although this mom is thinking that was a blessing after seeing the tears that resulted from just a few fluffy sleet balls thrown.

My children and I could have spent the past two days miserably disappointed. But thankfully, we were able to make lemonade out of our frozen lemons.

Somehow, that only makes it sweeter.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Asking God for Some Global Warming

If there had been an award in high school for “Least Likely to Be Physically Active at 40,” I’d have won, hands down.  My teenage self would have chosen to muck out the chicken coop rather than run a solitary mile.

This utter hatred of running began during my sophomore year PE class when I was required to complete a single mile as part of my course grade.  I practiced that mile at 8am each morning for a month, knowing I had to come in under the fifteen minute mark to earn my A and that I could earn ten bonus points for every 30 seconds beneath that time.  But after a few weeks, it was clear this was not my calling.  Frankly, I stunk and felt my cheeks flame in humiliation each time the boys lapped me on the track.

In the end, I was drenched with sweat, my face looked like a cherry ready to explode, and my right side felt like an invisible being had stabbed me, but I still earned my A plus ten bonus points. 

Satisfied that at 16 years old, this was the best I could ever do, I left running to those crazy people (a group which included my brother and best friend).  In college, I took tennis and aerobics—all so I didn’t have to run.  Later as an adult, I quickly found that I could speed walk faster than I could run.  So, that’s what I did, even though I felt the twinge of shame each time someone posted on Facebook about their most recent run, something I just knew I couldn’t do.

Then in 2012, my mother gave me a  local newspaper article about a “Kids Marathon” wherein I would chart my children’s running the full 26.2 miles over a nine week period, the last 1.2 mile leg to be completed on “race day” downtown with several hundred other children. 

In my mind, it honestly seemed completely undoable.  My then four year old daughter running 1.2 miles?  You had to be kidding.  And me?  I couldn’t run a quarter mile, much less that distance.  Yet, I chose to do it anyway as a way to challenge myself and as my attempt to be a good mother teaching her three children the value of healthy living that includes exercise.

Despite a good many tears, the children and I did complete the race.  I’ve never been more proud of three worthless pot-metal medals dangling from their little necks.  Two months later, we had already signed up for the January 2014 race, only this time, I secretly put myself down for the 5K.  Since I didn’t believe it was doable, I didn’t tell anyone, including my husband, until a couple weeks before the race. 

As race day approached, I was horrified to see the anticipated temperature for the race’s start time was 34 degrees.  The problem?  I couldn’t run in weather that cold.  During my training when I had tried to run in forty degree temperatures, my lungs would burn and my naturally cold-natured self would be freezing by the time I returned to the house.

I watched the weather forecast daily for the entire week before the 5K.  I prayed numerous times each day for the temperature to miraculously go up.  It did not.  And so, the night before the race, I did the only thing I knew to do.  I got on the phone and contacted a dozen friends and family, asking them to pray for the weather and for us.

The next morning as the starting horn sounded, the thermometer read 29 degrees. To anyone who knew what I had prayed for, it looked like God had simply not answered or said "no."  But in truth, God answered, just in a different way.  

I wasn't cold.

Call it adrenaline.  Call it layering tights under pants and a short sleeve under a long.  But me? I call it God.

You see, I'm the woman in a year-round sweater huddling close to my husband in worship service each Sunday as I freeze to the point where I can't feel my toes at the end of my high heels.  Yet, here I was, standing around waiting for the race without feeling the least bit cold.  God had not changed the external temperature on my environment, but He did change the internal temperature of my body.

Nowhere along the 3.2 miles route did I feel the pain in my lungs from breathing 29 degree air.  I simply ran the race set before me, and even though I was afraid I'd come in dead last (or not at all), even though I was intimidated by all the skinny super-athletes around me, I surprised myself by finishing in the middle of the pack in thirty-eight minutes.
Afterwards, my three children and husband ran their 1.2 mile race without me as I cheered from the sidelines.  My youngest son Emerson's minor leg injury from a fall earlier in the month kept him from completing the entire mile (which led to more tears), but big brother whizzed through the course in 10:20 and his sister in a little over 12 minutes. 
While I felt a sense of personal pride at doing what this book-geek, closing-in-on-forty mama did not think was possible, what made it totally worthwhile was the look of pride in my oldest son's eyes as he jockeyed to be able to take a photo with his "you rock" mom before asking if he could train for my "grown up" race next year.  
This past Saturday, Paul's words "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" took on new meaning.  I experienced a miracle of warmth that those around me never knew was happening before their very eyes, an inner strengthening because I was so well prayed-for.  

The glory goes solely to God.  Thanks be to Him who has helped me be a healthy example for my children and to Him who has strengthened me to do what I still thought impossible only a few short weeks ago. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

What Makes a Girl Into a Ma'am

It's hard to remember when I became a "ma'am."

In my mind, I'm still that green twenty-one-year-old girl dressing beyond her years in heels, silk blouse, and a pencil skirt, all in an attempt to up the intimidation factor as she walked into her first college class to teach students a mere three years younger than her.

In those early days, I lived and worked as an adult yet was always uncomfortable with the authority of that role since most of my students were my age or older. It was as if I were playing at being an adult, a usurper who claimed the throne of authority and adulthood without any rights to lay such a claim.

While I wasn't looking, that age gap kept widening into an unleapable chasm until the authority that comes with age finally caught up with me.  The funny thing?  It still feels false.

I have three children who call me mommy, but some days, I don't think myself old enough to be a mother of three. I am a wife of thirteen years, but I look across the room and still feel the heart flutters of one just starting to date her beloved.

And then there are the teenagers and college students--all of whom call me ma'am.  All of them.

I fear losing my ability to be relevant since most young people around me don't understand my references to things that happened in the 90s.  The bag phone the size of a thick phone book that cost my parents $20 a month for 20 minutes makes them shake their heads and laugh nervous.  AT&T calling cards for phoning family out of state or country and lower rates per minute for specific calling hours are alien notions as well.  Yesterday, I had to explain what it meant to be a "cad" after I used the label to describe someone in a movie.

I have to reign in my shock as the downy-chinned boy about to be married speaks stiffly to me with complete respect, much as I still speak to those twice my age.  It is still odd to be reverenced and feared as some sage being when I am the one still reverencing those older than I.

Suddenly, I am the ma'am who is perceived as so very different from the younger generation.  Since my actions are less than spontaneous, since I am laden with everything required to be responsible for a family of five, surely, since I must be home routinely before 8 pm because of children's bedtimes, I have become something other than they are.

But in my mind, I keep wondering when I'll ever feel grown up.  When will I ever feel like I deserve to be considered an authority figure?  When will I ever feel like I have arrived at being an adult?

This past Monday, I asked a woman just shy of eighty years if she felt any different than she did at forty.  As I expected, she spoke of age's wear and tear on the body, but stated her mind, her thoughts, what made her who she is--this had not changed.

Perhaps this is what God intended from the beginning--eternity where we always are who we are.  Sin just messed that plan up so that our bodies deteriorate while we, ourselves, remain the same person within that shell, its added lines and wrinkles belying that constant status.
The only thing that seems to change is my perception of age.  65 no longer looks ancient.  40?  Still a youth.

Yes, those who can't remember a time before email look up to me and think "old."  But I look in the mirror and think "Yep.  Still young."

Photos: Amelia and I at Christmas with my family; my birthday gift from my brother and sister in love--earrings crafted by a deaf group in Africa.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Changing A Room's Purpose

Building a house on the family farm isn’t like building a home on a random plot of land.  In other situations, a family may build, live there for awhile, then move and build again.  Perhaps that family goes through this cycle more than once or twice, each time making changes based on what didn’t work well in the last house in hopes that this time, they might finally create the perfect house plan.

When husband and I chose to build on his family’s hay farm, we realized that we had one shot at perfection.  God willing, there would be no do-overs.  No adding or deleting square footage.  No knocking out or moving walls with the next build.  If we didn’t get it right the first time, we would just have to hope any heavenly mansion awaiting us on the other side fixed our first home’s shortcomings.

With that knowledge, I poured over our house plans for years.  Husband and I put together a set of plans before our oldest son was born in 2006.  Back then, I made certain there was a room just for me.  Labeled the “sunroom,” it was the space I imagined the most on those cold days living in an old off-the-ground house completely devoid of insulation.

I would come in from work to the blue-black cold where the winter wind slipped between the crumbling seals around the windows and crept up between the panels of wood flooring.  With the house's two room-sized heaters left off during the daytime, sometimes, the house’s internal temperature would be colder than the weather outside.  I never understood that. 

On those coldest of days, I would close all the doors between each room, huddle in front of the living room’s single gas heater, and imagine the room of my dreams, that long, narrow sun room with its four windows spanning the outer wall. A room of my own.

My frosty breath visible in the forty-degree interior, I would imagine the aqua-colored walls reflecting the sun’s radiant glow as it bathed my face in morning light and gave life to the deep green plants growing around me.

My plan was to eventually buy a used baby grand piano to take up one end of the room, a wicker settee, two chairs, and coffee table the other.  I even contemplated hanging a lacy hammock in one corner where I could lie and read in perfect peace—no south Louisiana mildew or mosquitoes to mar the picture.  This would be my sanctuary. 

Our life’s path then shifted dramatically with the loss of husband’s career, and those plans gathered dust, propped in the corner of a closet.  Three children and a steady income lost later, the plans needed to be adjusted.

The first thing to go was the two-car garage.  We'd park on the gravel for a few years.  Next was my sun room.  Although not eliminated, it was slashed in half, transforming it into just another normal-sized bedroom.  The four windows turned into two.  The room faced north and not east with the rising sun.

There would be no baby grand.  No hand crocheted, ecru-colored hammock. No piercing dawn light.

Still, in 2010 when the house was finished, it was my room. And it was beautiful. My childhood collection of sea shells, a practical day bed, and bamboo-inspired furniture made it one of the most enjoyable rooms in the house to be in.  Although smaller and not what I had envisioned, it was still my room, and I loved it as mine.
This past summer, God led husband and me to offer that sun room to a college student we barely knew.  Overnight, the beautiful room became infused with LIFE.  A garden of clothes, shoes, books, board games, and everything else that could fit in her car and dorm room grew up in that space and planted seeds of love in our hearts for this new member of our family.  

When the young girl left in August and my room became mine again, it looked so suddenly emptyLifeless.  Her return for Christmas break brought to life those seeds that had been lying dormant, making this past December one of the most enjoyable Christmases of my adult life.

This Monday, I took out the room's piano and replaced it with a second bed in hopes that another young girl God has placed in our hearts will be staying with us this summer and throughout the next year as she finishes her last year of college. I know she won't understand the love God has placed in my heart for her since I can't understand it, myself.  But what I do understand is how my obedience in opening my home and my heart has helped bring healing.

For four years, each time I passed my room, I felt the loss of what could have been.  But, this past year, God has shown me how He can create beauty from ashes, how He can take what I call "less" and transform it into "more," how he can take what I call "mine" and bless me so much more when I answer His call and offer it back to Him as "His." 

Today, when I pass "my" room and think of all the love and joy it has brought to me and my family, all I can feel is full and complete, not loss.  The warmth that fills my soul as I look at the teenagerly chaos within its four walls is more fulfilling than any sunlight a couple extra windows could have poured in on me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

When Time Stands Still

Our Christmas tree is still fully decorated.  Mary, Joseph, and two dozen village artisans in the nativity are still being rearranged multiple times a day.  The children's gifts litter the living room rug, too new to have found a permanent dwelling place as of yet.  And sparking gift bags laced with curling ribbon pile high on my dining room table. 

Walk into my house, and you might easily believe it to be the afternoon of December 25 rather than late evening, January 1.  Even the aroma of the season still lingers in the air, what with husband cooking two pots of shrimp and andouille gumbo.

Although the new year has begun, I have been living in a timeless space for the past four days.  These are the days that have no date, no time, no agenda.  Bedtimes are pushed back; chores are put off for tomorrow; playtime has no limits or boundaries.  Mealtimes, though flexible, become the only way of marking time. 

Such is the story of what happens each year when my brother and his wife drive down from North Carolina for a visit.  The calendar simply stops moving.  It is as if for just a moment, we are able to step outside the lightening fast stream of time and just pause, enjoy each other's company.  Nothing more. 

Just.  Family.
We do nothing extraordinary enough to be memorable and yet everything is memorable.  Aunt Liza braids little girl hair, makes a crayon masterpiece, and plays UNO for the umpteenth time without complaining.  Uncle Johnathan plays hide and go seek and tag-you're-it, sinks several fleets in Battleship, and brightens three children's day by letting them fire the cannon, then swirl smoky sparklers through the air.

We smile and laugh more than we will for the next year.  

This is happiness.

Tonight, the family all said our goodbyes.  I hugged necks one last time and inhaled the scent of loved ones who I'll see through Skype but won't be able to experience like this, not with the warmth of flesh and blood soft beneath my fingers. 

Oldest child crying from exhaustion in the back seat, I put the van into gear and merge back into the blur of light that instantly propels me into the realm of responsibility, deadlines, a refrigerator that needs cleaning out, and laundry piled to the ceiling.

But even as I stuff a second load of blue jeans in the wash, I can't help but think that I just left behind what was meant to be and what will be again. 

Timelessness.  Together.  Family.