Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pray Mama, Pray!

bella is teaching the mcnatt family a little something new about prayer.  you don't believe me? you think i'm stretching? exaggerating? at the very least,  elaborating.   i've been known before to stretch, exaggerate and elaborate.  in a writer's world, this is called literary license.   it makes things sometimes more interesting to read, but truth be told, it is wrong.  i have worked very hard in my adult years to keep this tendency on a tight leash.  i even tried to anaylyze this need to tell the Big Story and i think i can trace it back to my upbringing (but, of course).   you see, i come from a pretty good size family.  and when you grow up with multiple siblings you kind of learn to compete for speak speak efficiently...loudly.  and i guarantee you'll learn how to eat quickly.  otherwise the listening ears will have moved on and you can bet that last chicken leg or  donut will be long gone.   these are survival skills i owe all to my childhood.  i have since learned how to slow down when speaking.  i have learned how to chew my food thoroughly and completely and, i hope, politely.  and now as a woman in her forties it is probably a good thing if that last donut is snatched up by another quicker hand.   i never realized how funny our family was until i went away to college.  growing up i kind of thought everyone's dinner tables were loud and chaotic and competitive. it was my friend, patti, who first opened my eyes to our quirkiness.  she had come home from school with me one weekend and had the opportunity to dine with the seaman's.  i remember her kind of sitting back and taking it all in.  we all talked at once.  boisterously.  sometimes food would fly out of a mouth.  we ate as if we had missed many previous meals.  everyone talked, but no one really listened. and the dinner?  well, that was over within 8 minutes.   okay.  so maybe i do exaggerate.  i have to say, though, my parents did their very best.  it wasn't that they didn't try to instill good manners and good communication skills.  i know they addressed these things with us.  i give them a lot of credit. now with my own dinner table and five kids, i can clearly appreciate the daily challenge.  we have threatened etiquette school, duct tape and solitary confinement.  somedays, however,  the dinner-time-din hovers just around shrill.   not too long ago i heard rick proclaim, "there's to be no singing at the dinner table!"  now, i would have denied that phrase EVER being declared in MY kitchen.  we both remember growing up when our parents said the same thing to us. and i was outraged.  how could a parent EVER prohibit a blossoming child from singing any time.  it is a thing of beauty.  it is a thing of delight.  it is a gift.   but now as a mother i kind of get it.   timing is everything.  and  the dinner table is not the place for singing.  sweetly or not.

wow.  that last paragraph was quite the exceptional rabbit trail, even for me!   okay, so lately, bella has been teaching the mcnatt family about prayer.  i know... crazy!  for heaven's sake, she just got here and i am pretty certain there wasn't a lot of praying going on in her orphanage back in china.   but one of the first things bella began to copy in our home was that we would bow our heads, close our eyes and fold our hands to pray before meals.  immediately she began to consistently do the same thing.  now it has turned into any time food enters the scene bella directs everyone in the room to fold their hands and pray.  i am talking any time. any place.  any food:  granola bars in the car, cheez-its on the couch, peanut butter out of the doesn't much matter...she gives you The Point and The Little Grunt and The "Pray!" and you know there is no other option but to bow your head and thank Jesus for His provision.  we are all completely tickled with this.  it is unbelievable.  she is relentless. passionate. committed.  there is no arguing with her.  she will not rest (or eat) until we have all shown ample gratitude.  just this morning we were at the market getting (yet) another load of groceries.  it was nearing noon and to hold her over, i ripped into a bag of apricots.  as we were cruising through the frozen food aisle, she brought her hands together to pray and began to point vehemently at me.  i knew what she wanted me to do, but was sort of bent on finding buttermilk waffles and didn't really feel the need to stop and thank Jesus for our bag of dried fruit.  but oh no!  bella would not settle for my whispered "later bella."  oh no!  she started The Point.  she began The Grunt.  it escalated quickly into a loud, "Pray Mama, Pray!"  she kept attempting to grab my hands off of the cart and direct them together in prayer. we were beginning to make a scene.  i had no other choice but to pull my cart over by a freezer and bow my head....a little whispered prayer was said and i closed with an a-men.  now the other thing you need to know is how bella loves to raise her hands high in the air at the end of the prayer and yell "A-MEN!"  furthermore, she really likes it when we all yell it with her.  so, yes...that is exactly what occurred somewhere between the bag of apricots and the buttermilk waffles earlier today.    i am not sure what this is all about.  but i have to at least believe God is equally amused.   we've always been a family which has taken time to bless our food. this is nothing new.  maybe when we are gobbling down chic-fil-a in the back seat of my SUV on the way to soccer practice we might not always pause and give thanks.  but pretty much any time we are gathered around our table it is what we do. what we have always done.  but bella brings something new to it all.  i have a feeling we were starting to  just go through the dinnertime motions...reciting the dinnertime mantra.  we were thankful, yes.  we knew every morsel came from God, yes.  we even made up our own prayers, yes.  but lately i am not sure we have been really thinking about our words.  with bella pointing and grunting and even adamantly demanding, "Pray!"  our dinnertime, or lunchtime or snacktime prayers are suddenly much more a focus...much more pronounced.    does she know this Jesus to whom she demands we pray.   no, not really.  she's hearing more and more about Him.   but, i am pretty sure it isn't Him to whom she is committed.  i think right now she just loves the routine of it all.  i can tell she likes to do the same things over and over.  but the fact that we are talking about praying  is kind of cool.  we know God has big plans for this little girl. we just know that.  He saved her.  He literally is giving her new life.  we are just sure there is something really special up His sleeve for her little life.   i suppose as her mother i am touched by this little thing she does because it is our first evidence of her getting to know Jesus.  my prayer for this little peanut is that she will learn more of His love for her. that  she will grow closer to His heart.  that she will understand further His rescue of her.  we pray these things for our children, don't we?   i want bella and all of my children to have their needs also makes me happy to see a lot of their wants met....but ultimately my desire is for them to WANT Jesus and to see Him as the only answer for their NEED.  there is nothing quite like the prayers of little children.  in these past 14 years of parenting i have heard thousands of my kids' prayers. there have been many times when i have heard them praying sweetly and my eyes have filled with tears.  i have been, at times, overwhelmed with the honest simplicity of their words and their hearts.  but, let's face it,  sometimes we rush right through without really thinking....without really listening.   it is the end of a long day.  we are tired.  we just want to crawl into our own beds.  with rick traveling a lot, i am often on my own with the bedtime thing.  and with five kids to be tucked in, this can sometimes take (it seems) an entire evening.  the older ones certainly don't need what the younger ones do...but they still need me to be available.  accessible.  they need me to sit on their beds and listen.  or maybe they want to sit on my bed and talk.  regardless, i want to have the time and energy to carve out just a few minutes for each of them.  if i could have asked for one additional thing in my parenting,  it would be more time.  more time and more opportunity.  it always seems to be not enough.  but isn't it funny how God knows just what we need.  He didn't bring us more hours in the evening or easier bedtimes.  He didn't bring me a nanny or a new and improved night time routine,  He brought us bella. He brought us another little one to be tucked in at night.  another one in need of bedtime story or a sip of water or a tummy tickle.  He brought us another child's prayers to hear.   He brought us bella... who after just a few months in our family is stopping her mommy in the grocery store and reminding her to pray...even over a bag of apricots.    God knows what we need.  He knows exactly what we need.  and He hears our prayers.  all of them.

Friday, December 3, 2010

the perfect christmas photo

as i sit down to compose this year’s Christmas letter i am not sure we will have a picture to include. WHAT? is that possible? is that even permissible? at this point in early december one hasn’t been taken and i can’t see one being orchestrated in the near future. mind you, i had plans. my photo genius brother-in-law was coming to georgia for thanksgiving last week and i had pictured all seven of us in coordinated outfits with a backdrop of gorgeous fall leaves. except, we got the flu. and then it rained. even if i could have propped us all up indoors, bella was so sick she had wiped a patch raw from her nose to cheek. i couldn’t very well include our newest family member with a red nose and a redder slash across her face. so i set my sights on this next weekend. but alas, that is now out of the question as well. last night after climbing into my bed in the wee hours of morning, bella promptly fell right back out, smacking the nightstand on her way down. she woke with an impressive shiner. nope, can’t photograph that one either! oh good grief! i spent this morning sad about bella's eye and arguing a bit with God. “but this is a BIG year God. this is the year we adopted. this is the year of bringing home bella. this is the year we went from six to seven. i was planning on the perfect photo declaring all of this to our friends and family. i had a vision. i had a dream. i had outfits already selected!” perhaps you are not quite so extreme. i, however, have come to terms with the fact that i am a complete sucker for those norman-rockwellian-scenes. i will go to great lengths for the Picture Perfect...great lengths to recreate charming vignettes of idealism. but, let’s face it, this is not life. none of us live this way. even those of us who might pretend, we still get the flu, have runny noses, and wake up on rainy days with shiners. there is something about Christmas though which evokes in us a stronger than normal desire to capture beauty and comfort and joy. i have always loved the song Silent Night. i used it over and over again as a lullaby for my children. and when i nursed newborn babies at 3am it was silent and it certainly seemed at times even holy. but now with five children running amuck there is absolutely nothing silent about our home….and it goes without saying, we are quite far from holy. i head to bed most nights stepping over someone’s dirty underwear or for that matter, clean, makes no difference. from my own bed, i often find it necessary to scrape off a few crumbs from the children and a lot of laundry - dumped there in hopes it would magically make it to drawers. i grew up on daily doses of The Brady Bunch and always liked the part at the end of the show when Carol and Mike would sit in bed – he always in a clean robe and she in a lovely blue gown – and they would lightly discuss the day’s events and their silly, six children. now i realize rick and i have one less child, but regardless, this is just not Reality TV my friends. i don't believe i ever saw a pile of mismatched socks on the corner of their well appointed bedding. i believe that even back at the age of nine, i was set up for grave disappointment. we know this isn’t how it really works. i don’t wear lovely gowns and we are often too tired to prattle on about our five darling mischief makers. our pillows are not plumped and pristine…they are often, in fact, missing – absconded and used somewhere in the house for a fort or something. our sheets are not smooth or heavily starched and folded. oftentimes i find buried in them some little person’s random sock or a candy wrapper. (just for the record, we don’t actually allow our children to climb in our bed and eat candy - i have no idea how this all happens). anyway, i know you get what i am saying. our lives are messy and full of all sorts of unholy things. we can’t always capture The Perfect because the truth is we are living knee deep in The Imperfect. I have right now on my refrigerator door the verse, "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (~ james 1:17). i am not, for one minute, going to suggest altering any of God’s wording in the Bible. i am only saying i believe we might need to rethink the word “perfect.” i am the one who messes up this verse. my version of perfect often gets in the way of the truly good gifts. the noses which run and the sheets with the crumbs….well THESE are good and perfect gifts. They Are! i don’t always see them as such. but that’s my issue. well, actually, i’d still like to blame it on the Brady Family. i know, however, it is my imperfect and unholy heart which isn’t always able to grasp the goodness of the mess around me. as a mother and as a wife and and as a woman i have hopes to improve on my own heart’s imperfections. and trust me, my hope has little to do with myself. i, alone, am utterly hopeless. i know it is a process. there is a refinement needed…which is sometimes painful and hot, but all the time necessary. and so today i look ahead to this season of beauty and though we have no beautiful photo and no card ordered and no immediate plans of accomplishing this task….we have hope. we have Great Hope that in all our imperfections we have a God who loves us enough to give us Great Gifts. gifts which might not make it to the glossy pages of House Beautiful, but which He brings to the tables and hallways and bedrooms of our own dirty homes. and so tonight, though i will not climb into bed wearing a lovely blue gown, i will climb into it wearing a heart closer to Him and holding a hope which is beautiful because of Him. the mcnatt family may or may not be photographed this year. but Christmas has nothing to do with our family photo. the only picture needed is of that perfect babe in bethlehem lying in an imperfect manger.