Friday, September 23, 2016

Kiddo, Will You Pray for Me?


To be fair, mothers, I don’t think this is entirely our fault, this tendency to think we are the Ultimate Need Meeters for our families and children. Our job starts out this way.

As an expectant mother, my tiny child really is 100% dependent on me, and I am 100% required for his or her survival. The weight of it is on me, and there is nobody that can pick that job up for me, even for one minute, to give me a break.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

meeting with grandma (creative writing exercise)


We’re at a kitchen table, but it’s not the one she always used. It could never seat all of them- grandpa, and their eight children. It’s the small table, in the condo, from the days when her life shrank down to smallness and the children were grown, after the neighborhood went bad and they moved where things were safer and someone else mowed the lawn.  It’s probably not her favorite table. How could it be?

Why did grandma choose to meet me here, of all places?  If I got to come back from heaven for a moment to visit a granddaughter, I imagine I’d meet her someplace wonderful, somewhere I’d made a great memory.  But here were are, meeting at the little kitchen table in the condo from the days when her life got small.

She has hair again, but it is gray, and her skin is a little wrinkled. Her smile is radiant, and I have the sense that she is merely wearing something like old age, but not quite; as if she is toning down her beauty for my sake.

Grandma has something for me inside a bag.  It’s just what I need, she says with a small smile. I cannot imagine what it could be. Can you put a nap inside a bag? Or patience, or courage?  She sets the bag on the table. It is so good to see her again.  

“I can’t carry anything from eternity to you, dear. If I could, I would give you the fruit that tastes like a sunrise, and the words to the songs that we sing around the throne, and you would eat and we would sing, and He would pour out so much healing and life that you would never grow old, never grieve, never ache in your soul ever again.  But the time for that is not yet.”

Her radiant face becomes serious, and something like sadness, but not quite, fills her eyes. “No, not yet. You have darkness to travel through yet, dear. And days of smallness.  And you will fight it and grieve the changes, but that is as it should be.  God will do His work in you and for you, and that is what matters.”

She opens the bag, and inside I see it: a flower.

“Do you remember when you were small and we would go for walks in the woods by the cottage? I loved the way you held my hand and chatted about every little thing. I remember teaching you to watch for this special flower: trillium. It was a rare flower, illegal to pick, but it grew in our little corner of the woods. I always liked to look for it, and to teach you little ones to appreciate it and respect it.”

I took the flower from her hand. That’s it? I thought.  A flower for a vase for a week, then the smell of rotting plant, then garbage and another dish to clean?

She read my thoughts. “Yes, the flower will die, it is not from the New World. But you will have the memory, and with it, the promise from our Lord: He is making all things new.  Trillium is rare in this life, and special... like those moments with your children as they grow, they bloom for a moment and then they are gone forever. I know you feel this way.” Tears came quickly to my eyes. “But it only seems to be this way, dear. He is making ALL things new!  I wish I could describe to you the trillium in the new place: our Father makes even this flower more beautiful, and somehow more unique and precious and abundant, all at once!”

She traced her fingers along the table. “It is ok to let go, dear, and to move on to the next season. No, it is not ‘safe,’ not in the way you think of it- there will be trials and dangers and real suffering.  The things that pass away are really gone… for a time. But Jesus!  He is there with your family around your noisy table, right in the thick of the the homework battles and the ‘do I really have to eat this?’  And daughter, when life changes again, when your table is small, He will be there with you and the quiet cup of coffee.”

“Don’t you see?  He gives all of this- it was all His idea! Each baby-bump, each first-day-of-school, each springtime and every trillium that blooms in this dying world: these are His good gifts, given for a time, given so that you could learn to love and trust the hands that give.  Trust the hands that give, the hands that bled for you. He knows what you need, and He is making all things new.”

And suddenly the moment was gone, and I was back in my kitchen, where the floors are crunchy and the counters are sticky and the table is huge.  

Wait! Grandma!? There are so many other things I wanted to ask! What did you do about tantrums and curfews and bad grades and sports?  Will the kids be ok? How did you survive the teen years? What would you have done differently? Does it all work out in the end? Will you hug grandpa for me?  

But the moment was gone.  And I was alone with the memory of a flower.

And Jesus.

(a writing exercise inspired by Voice and Vessel)


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Peter's six!


To Peter, on your sixth birthday-

Wow. What a year you’ve been through!  Last year at this time, our lives were still full of walks to the pond, and visits to the cows, and mornings with the Vandercars.  Last year at this time, I was sending you off to kindergarten, three days a week. I thought that was going to be our big adjustment!  And then God sent us a call, and before we knew it, we were packing up the house, taking you out of school at White Creek, and moving to the city!  A new school, new friends, new routines, new everything- that had to be so much for your five-year-old self to process!  

I remember you sobbed the hardest on that rainy day when we pulled away from the only home you had ever known.  You are an Indiana baby, a country boy!  We shared quite a few tears and snuggles along the way.  Like you, I was sad for many things we left behind, but it has been a joy to watch the ways God has provided for us.

In Eastpointe, I got to see you meet a whole new group of kindergarteners. You grew to love Mrs. Schilling, and Addison Skurda quickly became your new best friend.  You learned to rock every-day kindergarten, and before I knew it you were reading and even taking AR tests!  In the winter you played Pee Wee basketball, and I got to be your coach!   You even weigh slightly more than Eldon- something that causes you great joy and him great annoyance. You gloat, “I’m half a thing bigger to you Eldon!” and try get him to weigh himself daily so you can compare. He “hates the scale” and refuses to get on it now!  

In the spring we bought a boat.  You and I were both pretty unsettled by the size of the waves on the big lake. While the other kids hooted and hollered and cheered, you and I would be snuggling in the back, hoping we wouldn’t die, saying a prayer or two or ten.  Every time we went out on the boat and didn’t die, we became a tiny bit more confident, and by the end of the summer you and I were not only cheering on the big waves, but tubing behind the boat, and loving it!  And you amaze us with your super-napping powers- you can nap on the boat through the roughest seas!

Your birthday weekend will be full of family: Uncle Quinn and Aunt Sara are staying with us, Flannery in utero. Grammy and Bump brought the camper and your cousin Izzy and Lorraine’s friend Kathryn. You were so happy to get a  whoopie cusion and a Snack-eeze (star wars), tons of candy, and a Paw Patrol backpack. You are wearing it to first grade, where you are rockin’ the academics, and being chased by the girls at recess.  

The night before your birthday I snuggled you close and said, “Goodbye five, I will miss you.”
“I won’t miss five,” you said, and I was not surprised.
“I will, but I am excited to see you six.”
Goodnight, five, and welcome, six!  
We love you Peter!

Friday, September 2, 2016

goodnight, five.

Tonight, I said goodnight to five for the last time.
Tomorrow, my youngest boy turns six.

Goodnight, five, and goodbye five.
I curled up next to his pajama’d body and said a nice, long, goodnight and goodbye.

Goodnight, five,and goodbye to the days of
packing a blankie and buddy for rest time at school,
and learning to tie shoes.

Goodbye to the magical moment of I-can-read;
that miracle of letters on a page making sounds that magically form a familiar word!

Goodbye to the days of first backpack and first lunchbox and first play date with a school friend.

I rubbed his back and said goodbye to five, slowly, gently.
And the goodbye-fives turned into goodbye-everything-little as I thought about our preschool days and baby days.

Goodbye bringing babies home from hospitals,
and tiny new outfits, and milk-snuggles.
Goodbye teethers and days of dumping out toys and chewing on everything.

Goodbye strollers and baby-on-the-hip;
Goodbye afternoon naps with a baby plastered to my side;
Goodbye days spent in a blur of exhaustion and goodbye just trying to keep everybody alive.

Suddenly he whispered, “are you asleep mama?” and turned over to face me. “No, honey,” I said, “not yet.”

I’m too busy saying goodbyes.

Goodbye five, and less-than-five.
God help me embrace six, and more-than-six, too.  
I hid my tears and held him close.
He turned over again and let out a little fart.

He pulled his minion blanket up over his shoulder, made sure my arm was around his waist, and sighed.  He resigned to sleep, passing gently into the next stage of his life, fearless, and at peace.

Goodnight, five.


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Dun Cow: Book Review

The Book of the Dun Cow (Chauntecleer the Rooster, #1)The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a story about talking animals, and it's a story that put words to some of my deepest griefs, and made brighter the most shining joys of my heart.

This series offers the best kind of escape from reality: it swept me up, tore out my heart, rearranged it, and sent me back to real life aspiring to greater love and deeper wisdom.

"Don't mind mommy, she's just crying over her rooster book." So I said, unable to explain any further. It's all I can do, to close the book and walk away, wiping tears from face, wishing I had a copy for every person I love in this world so I could put it in your hands and plead with you, here, read this book. Seriously, just read it.



View all my reviews

Monday, August 15, 2016

we shall get in

I watch my children play in Lake Michigan at sunset.  The water looks like it is made of magic; the blues and pinks and golds mix like liquid ribbon.  It's beauty, and it's a play place for the bodies I love best in all the world. The magic drips off their arms as they walk to me, begging me for just five more minutes. I'd like to give them an eternity, and I'd stay with them, right there, on the shores of Lake Michigan.


But we are looking forward to something even better...



Thoughts from CS Lewis (Weight of Glory)


"We want something else which can hardly be put into words--to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. 

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in. "

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites me to use. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects."




Sunday, July 17, 2016

an invitation to be held.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."

Isaiah 30:15


I hear this verse with a child on my lap, fighting me. The other kids are sitting by my side, doing their best to use their "church manners" and not to be distracting.  It's not working.

Rest and quietness!?  
I wish. 
Grumble. Resent.

But do I?
Do I really wish I had a quiet house and a short list and all the time in the world to rest, relax, and be still with God?  Or, if I had a quiet house and a short list, would I simply add things to the list until I had a noisy house and a full day again?

I'm driven, busy, and task-oriented to a fault.

Rest and quiet are about as natural to me as... well, returning, and trust.

Returning to the Lord. 
Returning, when my life has changed suddenly, to God Who does not change.
Returning, when darkness threatens to swallow me up, to The Light of the World.
Returning, after a failed battle with my own sin, to God Who forgives.

Ceasing from activity, from problem-solving, from justifying myself, and from worry,
and quietly resting in His love for me.

And remembering who I am, Whose I am.

A child of God.
Weak and loved. LOVED.


Mary hears the invitation to rest,  but Martha is distracted with her many things. I understand the distraction, I see the many, many, many things.  But Jesus speaks to me and to you with a rebuke-invitation: there is only one thing necessary!  Sit, child, and let me be your host.  Let me provide that which your soul needs.  You are not the glue that holds the world together: I am.

Let me hold you.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength."


Father,
Teach my heart to do what does not come naturally.  Open my eyes to the pockets of time in my day when I may rest in You.  I often miss those moments, when the children are quiet and no tasks are urgent, and I fill them up with mental chatter, worry, or little things that could wait.  May I not just breathe and to rest my body, but rest my heart as well, in You.  Fill me with returning and trust, and let Your strength be my strength as I enter this day.

In Jesus' name, Amen





Thursday, June 30, 2016

earthly spirituality



I'm not above this. Any of it. Not the clutter, not the scrubbing of kitchen floors, not the making of dinner again and again and again.

Life in the Spirit doesn't raise me above these little things.

On spirituality- a quote from John Kleinig:

When I speak of spirituality, I do not envisage something extraordinary-- a superior way of being a Christian that is open only to a religious elite or a more advanced stage in the spiritual life.  I have in mind what is given to every faithful person.  Christian spirituality is, quite simply, following Jesus.  It is the ordinary life of faith in which we receive Baptism, attend the Divine Service, participate in the Holy Supper, read the Scriptures, pray for ourselves and others, resist temptation, and work with Jesus in our given location here on earth.  By our practice of spirituality we are not raised to a higher plane above the normal, everyday, bodily life, but we receive the Holy Spirit from Christ so that we can live in God's presence each day of our lives as we deal with people and work, sin and abuse, inconvenience and heartbreak, trouble and tragedy.  We are not called to become more spiritual by disengaging from our earthly life, but simply to rely on Jesus as we do what is given for us to do, experience what is given for us to experience, and enjoy what is given for us to enjoy.

John Kleinig, Grace Upon Grace, p 23.  (Buy this book!)

Sometimes I wish being Christian meant checking out of everything and finding some nice happy place of inner peace and sunshine.  Sometimes, I wish it meant being above the mundane, earthly, repetitive things I must do to serve my neighbor in this place. But God insists on meeting me here, in this noisy house, in my vocation.  His grace does not call me to escape from life, but equips me, draws me deeper into my work on earth by teaching me to love and serve those around me.


Jesus, be with me today in the noise and the bickering and the headache and the mess.  Equip me to work and play, to love and care for these little bodies and souls.  Point them and me to You for strength and joy today, and teach us to see and rejoice in our daily bread.  Amen.

updated from 6/30/11

Monday, June 27, 2016

celebrating Aggie

It's time for her routine MRI. Time to trace around the scars again, hers and mine.
They'll look in her brain for signs of that tumor.  I hope they find none.

I'll look in myself for signs that I could handle any bad news that could come. I already know I will find none.  Not inside, that is- only outside. Only in Him.

A moment ago I said to her, frustrated, "What in the world are you doing?!" She was swinging her body around in the living room, (I can't quite call what she does "dancing," exactly,) and papers were flying off the piano, when she should have been practicing.  "I'm celebrating mama. I just played that hard song through twice!"

Celebrate, dear child.
Celebrate, and remind me and all the world that this fragile slice of life is worth celebrating.

I look at the calendar and do the math. Has it really been almost 7 years since her brain surgery?

We have new friends now, friends who did not know her when she teetered on the cliff that falls down into eternity.  Yet she is really no more a miracle than any other child. Each one here today is here because God sustains; each one a gift of grace, a gift for a moment.

But God knows how this child, especially, shines bright joy into our lives, and her very brightness highlights the shadows.




Father,
Hold tightly to your Aggie-Sue-Cook-Peter-Pan.  Sustain her smile, her generous heart, and her body, according to Your will.  Thank you for the gift that she is to all who know her.  In the name of Jesus, who loves her even more than I do,
Amen.

------
UPDATE: MRI all clear!
Celebrate!!!
----
If you don't know her story, start here:

http://www.weakandloved.com/p/hows-aggie.html

Saturday, June 11, 2016

weak prayers, resting

The architecture of a church points me upward, reminds me of God's majesty.
I am small, God is big. This is most certainly true.

I feel my smallness mightily this week after a depression flare, a reminder that I do not control a single thing that really matters.

I kneel in the pew after communion.

My prayers are weak, quiet, uncertain. I don't know what I even need. I only know that I have need, I am need, I am a huge black hole of need that doesn't even know what to ask for. My thoughts are tired. My prayer is weak.

There in that big church, I am small, and my God is big. But he's not too big.  He's not so far up there, not high in the sky where he can only hear loud prayers or confident prayers.

I know this because I know His Word.
He is near to the broken-hearted, to the crushed, to the tired in spirit.

My God is not way up there, waiting for me to assemble a good prayer and shoot it up to him.
He is with me, even me, even here.

What words do I pray that day after I receive His body and blood?  Were they profound, lengthy, or holy?  I remember only a quiet "thanks" and a weary "help me." But He prays with me and for me, right alongside me.

I imagine him there with me, on the creaky kneeler, His feet like mine resting on the torn coloring pages under the pews. I imagine Him letting me lean right on Him in my weary praying. His arm is around me for comfort and support. His other hand rests on my praying hands, and He prays with me and for me.

He sweeps my prayer up into His; he takes my prayer and amplifies it, sanctifies it.

He untangles all my tangles, and He knows exactly what I need.  He sees me with clear eyes and looks upon me with the love of the Father. He lives to advocate for me, and He does this even when I am too weary to pray.

My weakness takes refuge in His strength.

In His arms, surrounded by His prayer, I wait in safety.

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But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head. (Psalm 3:3)


He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him,
since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

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For more on depression click here.
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