Sunday, October 23, 2016

these days (3)

These are the days between volleyball season and basketball season- it's costume season, candy season, and light-jacket season.  It's a season of never feeling caught up, and not enough time for writing, which is why I just said to a child, "I love you dear but I really just need you to go away right now."

Mama needs some rest after hosting the Nerf gun party, and then dressing up like a crazy Lorax and painting faces at the early childhood center.  More than that, I need rest after dragging myself out of bed just after five all week long, and being cheerful and dressing like an adult and punching a clock and NOT wearing yoga pants.

A fire burns in the fireplace.  It's a glorious, cool, October day.  Father and son work to clean and winterize the boat. Little one wants to go on one more boat ride, even though daddy says the water would turn to icicles on his face and he would be frozen to the seat.  The leaves fall, and one son watches them with greedy joy, seeing money to be made in raking them up. Meanwhile, the littlest boy takes a nap in my bed, because first grade is hard, and he just really wishes he didn't even have brothers because they are always mean to him and he "always has only bad days and bad days."

These are the days of legos on the carpet and lost library books; of practicing memory and being tortured by spelling tests. These days, I hear "can I read to you?" more than "can you read to me?" from the younger ones: the older ones hide away in silent joy as they escape into stories all on their own. Suddenly they can all get breakfast for themselves and pack their own lunches, but they leave me smears of peanut butter on the table to remember them by.  These are the days of giant bags of Veggie Chips and shopping at Costco and using up a loaf of bread nearly every day.

These are the days of heart-bursting pride as I watch my daughters bloom.  They play piano songs beyond my comprehension. They shine on the court playing volleyball, or when they don't shine, they still encourage the others, and try hard, which is even more lovely.  They use kind, high-pitched voices with little children, and they know how to make tiny friends in ten seconds or less.  They craft, they sing, and one wears makeup.

These are the days of sleep-in saturdays while they play on kindles, until drama over racing games wakes the parents, and we ban electronics and shoo them outside.  They ride bikes and play with neighborhood friends (like city kids!) and they let me know when that man comes who asks for our pop cans, or the lady with the missing teeth who talks to us about her back pain and her yorkie dog and smells like cigars.

These are the days when I feel like a celebrity when I stop by the playground at recess- all the kindergarteners love "Miss Emily" because we played together in the firefly classroom last year. And my youngest joins them in the running hugs, while the older kids simply nod in my direction, or maybe give me a quick hand flap and a "hey, mom."

These are the days when mom makes the best nachos on the planet and all the kids celebrate, and we settle down in front of the TV for a Smallville marathon.  When Clark kisses Lana, some of the kids squirm, and everyone tries to guess everyone else's crush and they all protest and giggle.

We've been here a year now, but these days we still marvel at the convenience of the city; how we can go to the grocery store and be home again in fifteen minutes.   Kohl's is so close we can sneak away to it any evening, and we can order pizza online and they DELIVER it to our HOUSE.  These are the days of praying when we hear sirens, talking about stranger danger, and thanking God for "rescue heroes."  And we have met people of varied skin color and foreign cultures, and it's awkward and different and beautiful to see the variety in the works that God does.

The variety of works that God does- how can I begin to count them!  He's pouring out His mercy through His Word here daily, and He's using my husband as His mouthpiece.  He's starting a coat closet, helping neighbors serve neighbors, and making a daycare grow like crazy.  He's nurturing kids daily in school through the hands of the teachers, and He's putting His name on all who come to be baptized.  He's growing community and gathering saints around His Word and it's a sweet miracle every single time.

These are the days when the church bells of St. Peter's ring out sweet hymns during the day, and the music lifts my soul to heaven as I walk through the cemetery to the school.  As we walk, the boys smack each other with lunch boxes and I make them run laps, and I listen to stories about pop quizzes and crazy preteen boys and missing assignments and epic games of kickball.

These are the days of October, when the falling leaves remind me that this season, though it is bright and new right now, will also pass away, but God's faithfulness will remain.

Thank you God, giver of all good things, for these days.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Things I don't do.

As strange as it sounds, one of the most difficult challenges in my life right now is managing abundance:

Abundant hand-me-downs, toys, and books

Abundant kids and their abundant needs and wants
Abundant friends, emails, events, and new experiences

Add to this a newsfeed that never ends, a constant stream of laundry, and ministry that is never quite done, and you have a woman on the verge of crazy!

Why it is all things seem to demand equal, immediate attention? And why does my brain seem incapable of handling all of those things equally and immediately?

I am not a computer. I cannot help with homework, make dinner, reply to a facebook message, and listen to a piano song all at the same time.  I cannot care equally about the skinned knee and the threat of ISIS and the funny elephant video and the boys' pet cricket and the lady in the hospital.

I am learning, albeit slowly: I believe there are a thousand ways to do this life well... but "do every single possible thing" is just not a realistic option.

As part of my plan to not lose my mind entirely, I've been reading. And I want to share a gem from a book that stopped me in my tracks.

The book is called Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. She was talking about this struggle, and the list making, and the feeling of never catching up, of always feeling the pressure to do everything better. 

The author shared something she learned from a friend:

"she said it's not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What's hard, she said, is figuring out what you're willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about." (54)

We hear "DO EVERYTHING BETTER" when a friend knits or sings something beautiful and we think we could never do that, but maybe we should.

When the kids get dressed with clothes straight from the dryer, we rebuke ourselves with a silent "DO EVERYTHING BETTER."

When we're socializing, we feel like should be cleaning, and when we're cleaning, we feel like we are neglecting relationships. 

If only we could do it all, better.

DO EVERYTHING BETTER is the song we march to when we forget that we are mere mortals.

DO EVERYTHING BETTER sucks the life from our souls.

DO EVERYTHING BETTER makes us do nothing well, especially not those things we were made to do like love and rest and rejoice, and leaves us crying on the floor in a heap of guilty failure.

It is easy, so this author says, to decide what we want our lives to be about. I agree.  I want my life to be about loving my kids and my husband, being loved by God and sharing His love with others.

But what are we willing to NOT DO so that we can do those things?
Because we are mere mortals, with limits that even caffeine cannot overcome, we must ask this question.

What do you do?

What DON'T you do?

What does it look like for YOU to love serve your family and love your neighbor and feed your spirit? We are not in junior high, friends. We don't have to look like everybody else to be liked. There are a million ways to do this life well. What does YOUR list look like? What can you cut out that may be keeping you from the more important things?

Things I do
Feed my Spirit through the Divine Service and devotions
Cook at home
Make quality time with hubs
Read aloud to the kids
Read quietly for the joy of it
Take tons of pictures
Nap when my body tells me to nap
Fellowship with others around the Bible and other good books
Work hard daily at a job I love 

Things I don't do
Scrapbook (I store memories with words, not photos, and never, ever, with fancy borders or decals. I use scissors for opening cheese.)
Make clothes or sew
Clip coupons, bargain hunt (If only Amazon sold groceries!)
Keep my floors perfectly clean (it's much faster to just wear shoes in the house.)
Attend every sporting event (even if my kids are playing.)
Volunteer for every church and school thing offered
Sell my stuff on ebay
Chores kids should do
Spend time with pets
Interior decorating
Blow-dry my hair except on special occasions
Pay attention to my fingernails
Stay up past ten, except on special occasions
Watch TV (with rare exceptions)

As I added in a part-time job this year, some of my favorite things were squeezed out, like gardening, and daily writing. I am still figuring out what I can rearrange and what needs to be put on the chopping block. The goal, however, is to find a livable balance, not to simply do EVERYTHING better.

Do your soul favor today, and add to the list of things you DON'T do to make more space for things that matter.

What's on your chopping block? What do you love, what do you live for, and what do you NOT do?

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."

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
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