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?

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