Thursday, July 31, 2014

When Mothers Embrace the Silence

I rocked my baby today.  Pulled him gently onto my lap and cradled his head into the crook of my arm, just like I used to do when I could easily carry him from room to room.

My eight-year-old rarely needs love like this much anymore.  Then again, most days don't find him exhausted from an early morning's wake-up call as we strive to turn back the clock for school's start next week.  That combined with a small body worn from last weekend's bout with strep was enough to tip the scales towards a teary meltdown when he crashed heads with his brother.

When I held out my arms, he snuggled into me without hesitation, a broken little boy swallowed up inside mommy's big Mr. Bingle blanket with the ice cream cone "hat."  Long legs bent to curl around me, but unlike the last time he needed my lap, they stuck out well beyond the confines of the La-z-boy to kick the books atop the sofa's end table.

Still, I held him as if he fit perfectly (which he did), stroked the softness of his still-little-boy face, noticed the distinct outline of his lips, the blue green flecks in his brown eyes that focused intently on my face while I spoke words of comfort.  

"Just close your eyes and rest for a few minutes," I whispered.  "I'll sing you a song from when you were little."

Long lashes flickered then fell.

"Love. Love. Love, love.  Little Wyatt needs some love.  Needs some lovin' from his mommy.  Love, love. Love."

A slight smile tipped the edges of his mouth at the mention of his name, but he did not stir.  The minutes passed.  I rocked slowly and held him close, humming the soothing tune in an effort to slow down time against the rush of to-do lists and noise of twins almost finished eating lunch in the kitchen. 

In the stillness, I listened to his breathing, grasping this moment for all it was worth, unsure of when it would come again.

He finally opened his eyes again, tearing welling up as he finally gave voice to unspoken concerns of leaving the farm and not having anymore one on one time with his Opa once school started next week.

I understand.

He's already learning a bittersweet lesson from life, how this fallen world leaves us with our hearts divided among many people, many places.  How the fullness of loving someone is also accompanied by absence when separated.

Lately, I have been learning the power of silence, of just sitting and listening to the empty air, of waiting in the pregnant pauses without counting the minutes in patience or seeking to fill it with mere noise.  The creak of an unoiled spring, the repetitive thrum of a ceiling fan, the rush of water in the sink...

if I just allow myself only these sounds in the silence and not seek to fill it with thoughts of my own, that's when my children reveal themselves to me, when their thoughts unfurl like a sun-warmed rose into the emptiness and give me the chance to be the mother I so long to be.

Image: Oldest son wrapped in another blanket during Mexico week at our house this summer.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hiding in My Shadow

As the sun rises higher above the treetops, I awaken still sleepy children and hustle them through the morning routine of dressing, brushing of teeth and hair, and consuming a quick breakfast of milk and cheerios.  The rush seems ridiculous on what will soon be just another lazy summer day, but no one complains.  The past few weeks have taught even the little ones of this necessity.

In south Louisiana, the ninety plus degree heat coupled with nearly 100% humidity makes for a perfect sauna but a rather difficult environment to play and work in after about 11 am.  The longer it takes to get outside, the higher the sun.  The higher the sun, the more sweaty and irritable everyone will be.

This morning, though, the air is unusually brisk for mid July, a surprise gift left behind after a late night shower that swept quietly through our farm while the world slept.   Still, I know it won't last. 

Before the stifling Louisiana heat can reclaim its summer throne, we four tumble out the door for our morning mile--two journeys up and down the gravel drive.  We walk from sun to shade to sun again.  Our feet move swiftly as the sun presses down hard on our heads, then unconsciously we slow within the shadow of the trees and hay barns.

The morning run/walk may be for exercise, but for my children, it is an exciting excursion.  This week alone, the children have spotted a fuzzy wuzzy caterpillar climbing a dewy blade of grass, a freshly squashed toad with its "heart" displayed outside its body (or so says my eldest), and piles of red and yellow leaves, a promise of the autumn to come.

Today finds all three underfoot, as usual.  Difficult for a mother trying to increase speed and heart rates. 

"We're hiding in your shadow!" says one.  The other two quickly join in the game.

Three tones of happy laughter join the songbirds' morning hymn.  I can't help but smile at this song of childhood which is contagious as the three skip and leap, jockeying for position, all trying valiantly to find my always-moving shadow and rest within its shade. 

Daughter's shadow disappears within mine for a split second before reappearing behind, her long legs stepping high to catch up again.  Both sons try but fail to completely vanish beside me.

"I'd need to be a lot wider to hide either of you anymore," I laugh. "You've gotten too big."

Logic is irrelevant, and they repeatedly keep trying to seek shelter within the thin strip of protective darkness I cast.  Soon, we turn a bend in the road, the sun's angle shifting to where our shadows now walk before rather than beside us.

All three finally concede the impossibility of what they've been attempting and race ahead.

The moment of needing mommy has passed, and all scatter to make their own way.  Daughter lags behind in pursuit of something in nature that catches her eye.  Oldest son runs far ahead, ever desiring to be first to beat his younger brother who stoops before me to examine a rock.
I can't help but think of Jesus' words as he entered Jerusalem before his death: "'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!'" (Lk. 13:34).

The verse hearkens back to the Psalmist who wrote, "How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings." (Ps. 36:7).

Even in their shadow play, my children remind me of both my desire and my inability to protect them.  I long to be that mama hen who gathers her brood to hide them in the shadow of my wings, but I am insufficient for the task.  I'm simply not "big enough"  

My God, though, is "big enough."  No matter the sun's angle, my brood can fully rest within His shadow, completely protected. 

With summer's end just a few short weeks away and my twins starting school for the first time, I rest in this thought, knowing His shadow is large enough when all three of my independent little chicks leave my side.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Following the Hurricane (Whether I Want to or Not)

I am not a fan of inclement weather.  My children will readily tell you the first thing this mother prays aloud for each time she sees an Elijah-sized thundercloud headed my direction is, "Please, Lord, don't let the electricity go out."

There was a time when storms were exciting--cancelled school, strong winds to play outside in, eating hot dogs and baked beans on a Bunsen burner, and the homey smell of oil lamps burning.  Then came the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and suddenly, the romance of hurricane days was no more.

Mental images still flash through my mind as clear as any glossy photo in my hand--images of around-the-block lines at the gas stations for weeks after the storm, of bread and milk rationing at the grocery store, of the hum of generators instead of the hum of crickets and the fear that I couldn't pull start the machine again if it ran out of gas during the night. And that was all while living north of Interstate 12, away from the worst ravaging in New Orleans and along the Louisiana coast.

A month later, Hurricane Rita followed with more power outages, and a few short years later, another hurricane barreled through.  That time, I rode out the storm with a two year old and infant twins, the winds blowing hard enough to bring the impossibly tall pine in the front yard level with the earth, all while I huddled indoors concerned about my babies sleeping without their window AC unit.

Tonight as I write this, another hurricane blows sheets of rain sideways against the house windows again, only the house is not mine.

Months ago, my parents and I began planning a trip to visit my sister in love, Liza, while my brother, Johnathan, was deployed overseas on the U.S.S. Bataan.  We only thought we were leaving Louisiana for a fourth of July party and good family fun with my children loving all over their Aunt Liza.  Never did we consider God had us coming at this particular time for a very different reason.

Even when we left home and started driving north, we thought surely the storm would head out to sea, but it has persistently hugged the coast, inching westward just enough to bring the storm to her home and to me and my children once again.  

Hurricane Arthur is only a Category Two storm, with 100 mph winds, nothing like Katrina, and it's expected to make landfall just east of Liza's home later this evening, putting us on the "good" side of the storm as it glances off the coast and continues northward to New England and beyond.  Still,the winds whip hard, strange whistling noises spooking the cat who grows big-eyed at my feet and scurries for cover in some dark corner.

I don't understand the Sovereignty of God.  I don't understand how both God's Sovereignty and man's free will coexist simultaneously.  Yet, by faith, I believe they do.   I have to.  To believe in coincidence and random acts with no meaning or purpose is chaos and doesn't line up with too much of what Scripture tells me.

In that faith, I know God sent my family here to be with Liza to "ride out the storm" with her, not because she needs us to really do anything much.  But because I know it gives her and my brother half a world away both a good measure of comfort knowing we're here.

To me, our presence in this hurricane with Liza is like God saying to both Johnathan and Liza, "Do not fear, for I am with you.  I'm still here. I'm still in control.  I'm taking care of you both even though you may not see me and things may not be easy."

These are the moments when I feel God the most near, when I see the impossible line up to the possible, when I see how God uses me to bless another even when I wasn't aware I was doing anything that could be used for His glory.