Wednesday, September 28, 2011

wide open

it hits atlanta suddenly -- the summer heat gone, just like that.  we wake one september morning and the air is cool and the breathing is deep, and all of us, thankful to be moving into something sweeter.  it happens the same way every year.  we count on it.  i am not a southern born girl, but after 13 years in georgia, i know some of its secrets.  and this is one of them... a favorite, for sure. the weeks of late september and october are filled with perfect weather treasures:  crisp mornings. blue skies. orange pansies. purple cabbage. bermuda grass browning. fescue grass greening. harvest moon hanging. hands in the soil.  feet still in flip flops.  face to the sun.  the cool morning cardigan abandoned in the afternoon warmth.  dinner on the deck.  golden leaves falling and crunching and burning and beautiful. 

i wake this morning and fling everything open, letting the cool come in. windows and doors wide to the outside...i'd remove the roof if i could.  (probably shouldn't joke about that with a house like ours).  flies, and an occasional gecko, will wander in too, but they are worth it for this, for this glory.  it is only a season, and then gone. we can't do this as often as i'd like.  july and august arrive and we must shut things down tight and yell desperate words at our neglectful children,  "shut the door!" we close up or we end up roasting in our non-hermetically sealed homes.  we breath air conditioning and it is our stale escape from the hot cloak of a southern summer.

but then there's that first morning, and windows and doors open wide.  the breeze comes cool and the sunshine streams warm and the house smells clean.  i love living like this.  it feels right as rain.  and all the day i am drawn to those open places in my home. by days end, when the homework is finished and the dishes are done and the children sleep, i sit outside...on the the grass...on the steps.  and i think to myself, this is how life is meant to be lived.  doors and windows wide.  arms open.  hands open. heart open. what if we truly did live our lives like this?  what if we threw up the sashes and flung wide the front door? what if we unclenched our fists and uncurled our fingers from the stale things we think we need, from the small things to which we cling, from the tiny stuff which holds us hostage.  what kind of breeze might God blow in...what kind of color might come? what kind of gold?

we are born with clenched hands.  fists, tiny and tight.  we arrive in the world knowing already how to hold on to things.  as a new mother i was mesmerized with putting my finger into the soft palm of my first baby and watching her grasp.  over and over we would play this game; she predictable in her newborn reflex and me amazed in my new mother wonder. and doesn't this reflex continue even into our adult life?  when we have something good we call it mine and we hold on hard.  hunch shoulders.  turn our backs. cradle it close. afraid. but just like this fall breeze blowing in through my morning kitchen, i often hear God's whisper, "let go."   fingers spread, palms up, arms open. embrace Him.  embrace what He brings.  embrace what He gives.  all of it. what might happen if we did?  what could we do?  who might we be?

without doubt, i am a windows and doors wide open kind of gal. and my prayer is to live my life like this - not just for a season, but always.  to live unclenched. unfurled. to watch what the breeze blows in see what the cat drags in ... to embrace what my God brings in...brings me.
wide and open and ready.

"delicious autumn!  my very soul is wedded to it, 
and if i were a bird i would fly about the earth 
seeking the successive autumns."
~ george eliot

Sunday, September 25, 2011

when you block a woman's hormones...

if you had told me a few months ago that by summer's end i would have added a few extra pounds, a little bit of acne, greasy hair, some serious hormone issues, fatigue, joint pain and an outbreak of hives, i probably might have gotten seriously depressed.  that's what i have to look forward to approaching my 43rd birthday?  are you kidding me?  blah!  

i would have stomped my foot and turned my back and kicked up a pretty big fuss about it all.  i would have been mad as a mother hornet and i would have argued bitterly with you, no way! i am not going there. absolutely not!  but here's the deal, i have been on some medication this summer which is causing all of these things (and more).  and i still want to take it.  i mean no one wants to gain weight and get acne in their forties...that stinks.  i walked that path at 13, i have no desire to go back.  BUT when you are diagnosed with estrogen positive cancer, you get to take an estrogen blocking drug called tamoxifen and your body becomes this little walking chemistry experiment: let's-see-what-happens-when-estrogen-is-blocked-from-a-woman's-body! well, the great news is there is a medication for my kind of cancer and the good news is i haven't developed any problems with facial hair...but some other things have gone slightly askew.  i don't like it, but i'm pretty sure greasy hair and a few extra pounds are better than cancer.

unfortunately, the rash which attacked my body a few weeks back was not something i could handle.  i was covered in hives and welts from my armpits to my thighs...and then it began to spread to my arms and legs.  i initially thought bed bugs (i have no idea why i thought bed bugs) and then scabies...neither proved true.  i went to the dermatologist for a scabies test and sat there on the table thinking, surely not, Lord. surely you wouldn't give me cancer and scabies in the same year.  i felt a little like Job at that moment.  my husband even jokingly called me Job-y. uuggh! actually, that's not all the funny.  the scabies test was negative and that led me to finally call my oncologist.  he told me to get off the tamoxifen immediately.  i was having an allergic reaction to the medication.  i hung up the phone and immediately burst into tears.  (keep in mind i am, at the moment, still hormonally challenged). in my distress, my thoughts went something like this:  but i need that drug.  i need that estrogen blocker.  it is what is keeping my cancer at bay.  it is keeping me healthy and safe and alive.  i started to tremble and that lead me to pray.  and as i prayed, it became clear, i am absolutely not dependent on a drug.  God is my protector, not tamoxifen.  i am in His hands.  the reoccurrence of my cancer is in His hands.

it has been three weeks since i stopped taking my medication.  i can't tell you i am always calm about this fact.  i am daily drinking these synergy drinks (organic and raw) from whole foods, in hopes they will naturally block the estrogen while i am drug free.  the rash has mostly gone away, not completely, but much better.  i am still feeling a little bit like a hormonal ticking time bomb though.  perhaps some of you have noticed. i am absolutely certain my husband and children have!

i am writing today to ask for your prayers.  i will meet with my oncologist this tuesday.  we'll do some blood work and talk about other medication options.  i have other options, i know that.  i have much to rejoice in with my kind of cancer. i am thankful for good medicine and good doctors.  i have been so blessed in this journey to find both already.  i am also writing today to as a reminder (mostly to me) that God is in control.  He was in control of the initial diagnosis and the radical surgery and He remains in control of the little bitty details of my medication.  i love my doctors, i do!  but i can't trust in doctors and medicine alone.  we are thankful for both and, trust me, both are wonderful, but this little bump in the road is such a reminder to me that my faith has to be in God alone.  i didn't even realize how much credit i was giving that little white pill until the doctor told me to stop taking it.  i was amazed at my physical reaction to the news.  sometimes we have things like that in our life. things we depend on so much and we don't even know it.

cancer has a way of setting you scared.  i have never been jumpy about anything medical.  but even this past month i went for an eye exam (another thing i am having some issues with -sigh).  my eye doctor kept pausing and poking and huh-ing and hmm-ing.  it seemed he was spending a good deal of time looking at something in my left eye.  i sat there with my face pressed up against the machine as he tormented me with puffs of air and beams of light and i was certain, absolutely certain, something was desperately wrong.  i have eye cancer!  i am going blind!  i just know it!  none of that true, but, again, i realized i am a little on edge.  a little unsure.  a little vulnerable in the status of my health these days.

o Lord, my days are in your hands.  you know everything about me.  you know the workings of my created it.  you know the number of hairs on my head.  you know the breaths i have left.  you have written in your book every day of my life.  please calm and quiet me and remind me of your power.  my every breath is in your hands alone.

oh, and Lord, about that greasy hair, few extra pounds and acne... 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

tequila and you...and temptation.

i'll admit it, lately i've kind of had a thing for country music.  i blame my teenage daughter entirely.  she got me hooked.  but well after emily climbs out of my car i find myself still listening, still singing along. i guess it has something to do with the stories - every song a story. and this country-kind-of-city girl is a sucker for a story--any story. sure, a lot of them tend to sound alike:  hard times, hard woman, hard life...that kind of thing.  blue jeans and beer and country roads and kissing...those kinds of things too.  the words are predictable, the rhymes often laughable, but in a strange, sweet way, i like it.

and earlier today, on a sunny september afternoon, while driving along with windows down and my suv emptied out of children and their noise, the song tequila and you came on the radio - now there's a title for some suburban afternoon errand running!  in his song, kenny chesney explains that both (tequila and you) drive him crazy.  i guess he was paying "you" a terrific compliment, comparing her to a bottle of booze.  how could "you" be anything but flattered?  regardless, he somehow makes it all sound good.  it's a good kind of crazy.  the kind of crazy we all want to feel every now and then. that kind of crazy that takes us a little to the edge...a little out of the box...a little bit away. i drove down the road (a quite paved and very stop-lighted city road, mind you) and had to laugh at my pondering a song about tequila while heading to the neighborhood cleaners and market. 

except the song isn't really about tequila at all.  "one more is never enough" he sings further into the song.  and it is this line which hits home.  ahh, i think.  that's it. that's so true.  kenny chesney has not only the perfect country singer's name, but he perfectly sums up sin.  he gets it: one more is never enough.  kenny isn't just country, he's right on -- one more is never enough.  at least not for this sinning girl it isn't.

i don't really have a struggle with tequila, one is usually plenty.  to be honest, one is usually more than enough.  but i've got my other things, and i know what one more is never enough feels like in my world.   so often i think just one more time, just one more thing, just one more this, just one more that. knowing full well i am flirting with the line. camping on it. crossing it.  i am astounded at how often i convince myself just one more won't hurt, won't harm, won't hinder.

it can be one more drink, one more cookie, one more minute of sleep, one more pair of shoes, one more errand, one more commitment, one more sassy response...pretty much anything.  and some of these things are even good.  but it is not really about the things, it is about me.  i am amazed at how persuasive i can be with myself.  i am amazed at my ability to justify a bad choice or an unhealthy decision.  i am amazed at the battle which rages daily in me.  temptation - that's what it is.  that's what he's really singing about. plain old temptation.

i don't know all that much about tequila, but i do know temptation.  i am certain if eve hadn't taken a bite from that apple, i would have been next in line. i would have been right behind my girlfriend eve in that garden.  no doubt about it.  that slippery, sly serpent would have barely had to hiss in my ear and i'm sure i would have taken a nibble, taken a taste.  just to see. just to try. just... i can hear myself already justifying my actions and making excuses for my behavior and explaining it all away to adam and God and myself.  because i do that. it comes so natural for me. my natural self.  my natural sin.

it doesn't matter if we're talking about tequila or apples, temptation is hard. we aren't tempted by ugly things, we're tempted by that which appears good. it's about the desirable.  we're tempted by things which make us feel good and look good. and it's a struggle. it's a battle. always. 

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good 
for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable 
for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  ~ genesis 3

the apple was beautiful...and it would make her smart. see what i mean? eve didn't stand a chance. she was doomed from the start. she had an opportunity for both beauty and brains with only one bite. the world wrapped up in an apple.  it was just like that pair of suede slingback heels i saw earlier this week at DSW.  well...okay, maybe not exactly.  but temptation comes in all forms.  serpent or sheep's clothing or shoes.  

eve's gotten a lot of flack for her decision. she knew the rules.  she knew the boundaries.  she even knew the consequences.  but she took the apple.  so true for often we know what we're doing.  we can hide (eve hid) we can blame others (the serpent made me do it), we can tempt others (here you go, adam). we can explain away our actions and point the finger elsewhere...but we know.  and we end up afraid and naked and scrambling for our fig leaves.

"then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.  then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  but the LORD God called to the man, “where are you?” he answered, “i heard you in the garden, and i was afraid because i was naked; so i hid.”

temptation is really about hunger.  we are all created hungry for something. we have this hole inside and it comes with a great need to fill it.  isn't it funny God chose to use food as the image of first sin.  the apple.  for it is our aching spiritual hunger which sets us out searching.  we spend a lot of time tempted by the things of the world, pouring them into this hole, only to find they are never enough. they never fill.  they can't.  we remain hungry and empty and searching.  and the only thing able to fill this hole...this gaping, aching, empty God.  the apple didn't do it...and nothing of this world will.  only Him. 


* so if country music isn't your thing, maybe you'll like the song i am posting below.  alli rogers is one of my favorite artists, and she sings well of this garden temptation.  she sings of this good and evil battle.  she sings of the hunger inside all of us...the hunger which can lead to His hope.  i am attaching the lyrics, 
but listen to the song, if you get the chance.  i think you should be able to click on the link below.  i think.  


Tonight at the end of light
Tonight, I feel lonely
I thought I heard my heart stop beating
I long for you to hold me
I guess I feel like Eden
The twilight tried it’s best
Tonight I feel good and evil
Against my chest 
Would I love you less or better
If I didn’t miss your face
Read your words like a love letter
Would I have known your grace?
I guess I feel like Eden
Aware of all I amTonight 
I feel good and evil
Against my skin
We’re all homesick Is love the reason?

My hunger led me to your hope
Until the end of this colder season
Keep us warm
Cause we are always Eden 
The day after she fell 
We feel good and evil 
And choose which one to tell

Monday, September 19, 2011

behind and blessed

we clearly need help.  today clinched it.  it was just that kind of day -- a reminder of how unbelievably inept we are (i am).  from the moment the day started moving, i felt far behind. way behind.  while trying to get five kids out the door for school, i realized we were low on lunch fixings and completely out of milk.  

how can we possibly be out of milk?  

i run to the grocery store at least 17 times a week.  we should absolutely never be out of milk. years ago, my husband made a rule.a plan.a policy:  if ever we step foot in the grocery store we must pick up a gallon of milk. no matter what. no exceptions.  considering the amount of times my feet cross the threshold of our local market i should have a reserve of at least a dozen gallons in my garage fridge at all times.  but this morning, we were out of milk.  and waffles.  and the dog had eaten the bag of bagels the day prior.  that was the start of our day: no milk. no waffles. no bagels. and a potentially sick dog.

dropping my children at carpool, the 8 year old boy turned back to me, tears in his green eyes.  "please don't be late to pick me up today, mom."  he waivered, clutched the door handle, and then closed it quiet. i watched the sad slump of him join the stream of school children.  he threw one last look over his shoulder for emphasis causing a hard swallow deep in me.  i drove away in my pajamas and slippers and frizzy hair and thought, are you kidding me?  what have i done to cause this deep sense of insecurity in my boy so young? it's not like we ever left him at church after a christmas eve service...that was his older brother. we've hardly ever left this one.  by the time he came along we had older, more careful, children, helpful in their prompting to remember everyone.  we've hardly left or lost a child in recent years.  but i drove away low.  clutching my cold morning coffee as the youngest whined in the backseat for her lovey and juice.  we had left both on the counter at home in our hasty departure.  and she was left to stare out the window,  thirsty and lovey-less.

later that morning, the theme of "left behind" continued steady and strong. while sitting in a meeting, a text popped up on my phone:  "i left my lunch in dad's car."  this from the oldest girl.  almost 16 and in high school and my immediate thought, we'll that's just too bad sister...this one's your deal.  wow. i was somewhat surprised by the defensive thoughts which bubbled up to the surface of my sympathy.  i mean, i truly was sorry for her.  she faced a long day at school and a late practice and, remember, we had had very little breakfast available in our home that morning.  but there was nothing to be done.  i very rarely helicopter in and rescue my children. i am not much of a swooper. it not only goes against my grain, but it is not remotely possible with five of them.  my rescue helicopter is officially on overload these days. i texted her back, "so sorry honey." 

it was 1:30 and i made the preschool pick up on time.  i'd just like to note i was there with the sign in the car window and plenty of gas in my vehicle. (not always the case).  i had a smile for the teacher and the lovey and juice cup waiting for that thirsty preschooler.  all of a sudden,  i felt quite accomplished.  look how well i was doing.  the day seemed redeemed, i was back on my game.  an hour later we headed for the 3pm pick up.  remember the 8 year old's tears?  i was determined to be there not just on time, but early.  it took everything in me, but i made it.  he looked absolutely shocked to see his little sister and me standing curbside. gone were his mom's slippers and pjs and frizzy hair.  here was his mother, early and pretending easy efficiency. no biggie - i can do this.  be early, be on time, and occasionally wear heels and lipstick. how hard can it be?

the rest of the day didn't go quite so well. my facade fell apart when a neighbor, with a need, stopped by unexpectedly.  i ended up late getting middle girl from her volleyball practice at 5pm.  and strangely enough, rick was even later picking up oldest girl from her practice (that had nothing to do with me, by the way).   i won't go into the details...but there truly were good reasons and unavoidable situations.  it is just what happens in our home.  it is called life.  i am not looking for a way to excuse tardiness or justify the possible lack of planning, but is it not okay for our children to sometimes have to wait a little? i am thinking a little neglect is not particularly a bad thing for these well fed, well loved and well cared for children.  

we live in a culture which allows little girls to walk around wearing t-shirts advertising, it's all about me. we call it cute and yet wonder when our kids can't share or serve or wait for something.  what are we doing when we make our kids the absolute center?  don't get me wrong, i adore my children, but i also do not want them thinking anybody, including their mother, rotates around them.  this doesn't mean i don't take my motherhood seriously.  i consider it my highest calling.  i do.  but in our home, we are a team. we work together and help each other.  there are no superstars or MVPs.  (i think they all are pretty special). but everyone is expected to do his or her part. everyone is expected to help themselves and help each other. it is what we do.  and sometimes the team captain or coach or whatever you want to call me, needs help too.  she needs grace...needs a little extra wiggle room and somedays (like today), she needs a lot.

dinner was on the table by 7:30 that night.  children fed.  dishes done. homework completed.  three were tucked in and two continued late in their studying.  i headed for our porch and reflected on our left behind kind of day. somedays it seems my family of seven is all squished together on a hamster wheel, running and running and running.  i suppose we could get off.  move to the country.  take off our watches. turn in our phones. put our feet in a brook and our nose in a book.  homeschool and bake peach pies and grow something good. raise chickens and children. we could trade in the giant SUV for a tractor and pickup.  (don't tell my boys i wrote that).  i've thought about it.  i've dreamed about it. we've even talked about it.  is there a more idyllic or ideal way of life?  maybe.  i am pretty sure busy-ness and being late though can follow you to the country. i am positive it would follow me.  i am not sure that's the answer.  i am not sure there is an answer, except to embrace fully the crazies and give grace in the daily.  tomorrow is new, i think to myself. i'm not sure we'll do any better. but we'll try. we are busy and behind, but mostly, we are blessed.  and though i might forget to pick up the milk or a child here and there, i don't ever want to forget the blessing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


"do not go where the path may lead, but go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."  ~ emerson

there are paths carved all over our woods.  i can see their beginnings from my kitchen window.  i can walk them on an early morning or wander along in a late afternoon.  they aren't straight, but they are clear.  clearly paths.  when i see them, walk them, i feel pleasure because i know this is the work of my boys -- their hands.  young arms and shoulders and determination all bent together to create something visible. paths which take us not very far.  but path-making which takes us worlds away.
they clear these trails not for their mother, but for their boyhood.  my boys forage through the wilderness of our few acres, perhaps thinking themselves in amazon rainforest or african jungle.   survival hardly the game for these suburban children who will come in when called to hot water and clean sheets and dinner on the table.  

but i call them hesitantly. i call them slowly. i wait as long as i can.  dinner almost cold.  dusk turning dark.  i wish not to disrupt the blaze of their trail.  these boys and their blazing. i wish to protect the spark in their eyes and the adventure in their day.  it is almost impossible living as we do in the luxury of our present.  but i treasure it.  my boys need to be boys.  outside and wild.  trail blazing and tree climbing.  hooting and hollering to each other across wood and dirt and debris. forts and burrows and barefoot.  there will be time later for civilization and clean feet.  but for now i am slow to give up these child savages.  for now i am passionate to protect the moments of exploration and expedition.  they will be better for it.  i know it.

preparing dinner tonight i watch them from my window.  tyler home from cross country practice and not even stepped in the door.  straight to the yard with little brother, dragging rake and shovel behind.  he changes out his running shoes for something dirty and they are off.  and i stir rice and chop chicken and i watch brothers go.  and i wonder about these boys and their paths. right now i can step out on them and know they will take me down to the creek or circle back to our house.  i know this and am glad for this knowing.  but there are paths out ahead of which i know nothing.  paths, dim and dark and winding.  paths which intimidate, paths on which i won't be invited.

and this is why i want them to path-make now --  to dig and rake and plow and clear.  i desperately want them to hone some skills. i want them confident in their blazing abilities because i know someday these suburban born boys will be blazing in another kind of wilderness.  they will face some kind of tough terrain in their future;  a wild place which won't include mom or dad.

and as their mother, i can only do so much.  i won't pretend to be too important. i won't imagine myself more than i am.  from the moment of birth begins a process of letting go of our children.  both boys were clingers of the greatest kind. especially the oldest.  there was a time when he cried if i left him at sunday school or preschool or in the kitchen.  now he carries shovel to the path and digs hard.  i am quite sure he doesn't look back.  when i go out to watch their progress or comment on their plan he is cool and teenaged and tolerant.  sometimes he says things like, "mom, you might want to be careful." he doesn't look up from his work, but he wants me to know he's in charge.  there was a day when he didn't want me out of his sight, and now, he isn't so sure he wants me out on his path.  gone are the boys holding to my legs.  gone are the boys climbing into my bed.  my sons have new trails to cut, new paths to navigate.  and though i won't always be able to watch them from my window, i am so thankful for The One who watches over them, The One who goes before them, The One who blazes right along with them.

"the Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; 
He will never leave you nor forsake you."  ~deuteronomy 31: 8 

"trust in the Lord with all your heart acknowledge him 
and he will make straight your paths." ~ proverbs 3:5-6

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

helping hands

i was working in our yard, laying pine straw in the front beds, when little miss sauntered out of the house and plopped nearby in the grass.  she watched quietly for a few minutes and then finally chirpped, 
"whatcha doin' mom?"  
"oh, mommy's spreading pine straw," i replied. 
"bella help." it was more of a statement then a question.  it usually is with this one.  
"well honey, sure, you can help me...but the pine straw is kinda might hurt your hands." i explained. 

she watched me a little bit longer and then disappeared back into the house.  it was a good 15 minutes later before she reappeared.  this time ready for the task.  she came running down the driveway in her sundress and bare feet with the biggest smile on her face. "look mom!"  she exclaimed, holding up her hands as she ran.  and there she was my littlest thing with her fancy white dress up gloves on. "we match!" she smiled.  i smiled too.  no, that's not completely correct.  i didn't just smile,  i sat down in the grass and laughed and laughed and laughed.  oh, how i love this girl.  no telling where she had to look for these fine little lady gloves.  but there she was in her white satin gloves with pretty pink bows and all ready for some yard work.  ready to help her mom. ready to dig in and assist.

i let her help, but obviously these gloves didn't really keep her hands from feeling the prick of sharp pine straw.  as cute as she was in them, they just weren't enough.  thin and flimsy, they didn't provide the protection needed. they didn't quite cut it.  kind of like when God is working in our lives and we feel the need to jump in and help.  am i reaching here? maybe.  but it struck me that so often i come running in my white satin gloves and bare feet announcing, "look Godi 'm here!"  planning on participating in my ill-equipped and incapable way.  thinking the entire time, "He needs me. He really needs me."  he doesn't.  He really doesn't.  but, just like with bella, i know He wants me around.  He wants me to watch Him work. occasionally He asks me to take part, but often He desires His daughter only to be quiet, be close, and be still.

He is working all the time though.  He'll include me in the process, for sure.  but does He need my help?  He's God, after all.  funny how often i forget what that means.  we get in trouble - okay, i get in trouble - sometimes thinking that i always have to weigh in on everything He's doing. like the God of the universe is just waiting for my tiny hands and two cents.  and oh, how prepared i am to fill Him in ... just in case.  there are moments when i want to help things along,  speed things up,  smooth things over. and yet, i am pretty sure what He wants most is for me to sit back in the grass and watch for a bit.  not meddle.  not fix.  not dig in. 

when we try to take things into our own hands we often end up feeling the prick of something sharp - our vulnerable hands, perhaps, not meant for the task.  i know this sounds weak and kind of dependent... and for those of us that pride ourselves on our strength and independence, this can be hard.  i know - i am one of those prideful, fix-it-myself types.  but, i have learned, (am learning), (continue to learn) often being dependent on God takes a whole different kind of strength.  i really do want to be that kind of strong.  sometimes i have to take off my meddling little dress up gloves and just open my bare hands to Him.  just Him. only Him.

 "now to HIM who is ABLE to do immeasurably 
MORE than all we ask or imagine, according to 
HIS POWER that is at WORK within us..." ~ ephesians 3:20

"but He said to me, "MY GRACE is SUFFICIENT for you,
for MY POWER is made perfect in weakness."
therefore i will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, 
so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 corinthians 12:9

Saturday, September 10, 2011

when we stop roadside

it was a gentle spring day and we were traveling home from a weekend full of good lake and great friends.  a beautiful weekend. the car was strangely quiet; the children, all laked-out and half asleep in backseat, my own sleepy head hard against glass. husband driving and no one talking. only the afternoon sun  urging me to shut heavy eyes.

but then i see it.  field covered in yellow bloom and white cows and blue sky and fence line all blending together in glory.  my sleepy thoughts fly fast out the window and i reach for husband's arm.  "stop," i say low, but hard.  "honey, stop the car."  he glances at me and then his eyes, too, move out past my window. and he knows.  i am not sure he sees what i see, but i feel the car slow. his foot on the break and he turns wheel right, heading for gravel.  the children roused and wondering and asking all at once, "what's going on?  why are we stopping?"

my hands grab camera and door handle and out i run - perhaps before the car completely stops. perhaps before any of us really understand. i run roadside wild. camera swinging and skirt flapping and i cross down into the ditch.  weeds and whatnot tangling at my ankles. my eye already at the lens.  i know a more judicious woman would watch where she walks, but i watch what i want. what i seek. and though this sometimes gets me in a bit of trouble, i am sure it is too beautiful to look away. 

the camera captures. click.  my finger on trigger.  a buttercup ocean spread before me, white cows bobbing along and all beneath the drinkable blue of spring sky.  i can't get enough.  i drink in and click down and camera snaps on.  i have forgotten the black yukon behind me until i hear them.  "mom, come on! what are you doing?"  exasperated voices of my children.  each echoing the other.  windows down and heads thrust out doing their child-best to interrupt my pastoral moment.  words float softer in the open expanse of countryside.  i ignore them a few minutes more.  "mom, let's go!" oh how they want to yell, "you're nuts!" from their backseat perches, but they know better.  at least i hope they know better.  their father is in the car - they had better know better.

and i take one more drink of white and yellow and blue. the cows stare back at me.  "what is this woman doing?" they ask each other.  i can see it in their eyes now that i am up close.  and i laugh.  yes, what is this woman doing?  i sometimes wonder myself.  kids, cows, and woman all wondering. i don't answer the cows, but instead turn and walk slowly back toward our running vehicle.  i walk the gravel dust back to my family.  and as i come near i can hear my husband explaining, "it is better to just let your mom do this, trust me, kids, i've learned."  children all comment at once. they've seen this same thing before.  he cuts them off laughing, "this is just how God made her."  and i grin and climb into the car. 

tolerant husband and perplexed children and happy woman drive off.  but camera carries in it a treasure from this stop.  and content woman carries in her the affection of being a tiny bit understood.  and together family travels away, wide awake, from a moment roadside when we stopped.

 the soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone. ~johann von goethe

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

labor days

"unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain."  ~ psalm 127:1

labor. i know this word. i know it as a woman who labored long and hard in four sweaty, slow births. i know it as an adoptive mother who labored, even longer and harder, through a year of paperwork and pleading. i have worked for my children - each and every one of them -- toiled hard, in fact.  but, i can tell you, the bringing of them was nothing in comparison to the keeping of them.

i understand labor as a mother of five who gets up early and stays up late and still feels her work here is never done.  

there is always one more load of laundry to throw in or one more load of dishes to take out. there are beds to make and floors to wash and children to feed every day -- nope, no holidays in this home. there is toothpaste spittle in the sink, grime growing in my garden tub and unmentionables found hiding in old containers from the fridge or underneath beds. labor day or leisure day, you can count on it!

and some days this toiling mother is just plain old worn out and overwhelmed. some days this weary woman wants to sit down in the middle of it all and cry. i love my life and i even love my mess (for the most part), but every now and then i feel the urge to stand up on my sticky countertop and shout "calgon, take me away!" except there's the issue of that grimy garden tub...

the wood floors of our house are covered with scratches. dog feet and children's feet and roller skates (i never once gave them permission).  there's a large dent in the family room floor from the great end table and lamp crash of 2009.  on the front stairs you'll find the perfect shade of candy apple red nail polish, compliments of little-miss-help-myself-girl. and if you look closely you'll notice the back stairs host a residual throw up stain, compliments of the cat. there are splotches and smears and cracks and creases all over this house. it is a home.  and it comes with all the markings and makings and utter mayhem of a family.

we love it and we labor in it every single day. oh, how we have labored over our home - almost not a square inch of it left untouched. much of the work we've taken on ourselves. sometimes it has ended well and sometimes it has ended with a desperate call to a professional. thankfully, it has never ended with a trip to the emergency room--but we've come pretty darn close.  
boy in tree

man in tree
cooper, bella and me --- supervising (praying).
last weekend my husband and sons began taking down a top-heavy tree in our front yard - a bradford pear with some issues. i came outside to find man in tree with chainsaw and our children running around hither and thither below. judiciously, i decided the scene was in need of at least one more adult person, so i stayed. bella and i sat in the grass and watched the arbor drama unfold.  

and i wondered to myself what would we do without a home and a yard and a whole bunch of children?  i can't tell you how many times in our marriage rick has said to me,  "what in the world did we do before kids?" it is such a funny thought to us both. we really can't quite remember.

the year after we bought this house so much went wrong:  hot water tank replacing, electrical system failing, phone line malfunctioning, deck rotting, sinks leaking, showers leaking, roof leaking, air conditioning not cooling, sprinkler system was quite a year. (so much for that thorough home inspection)!  when we were first considering whether or not to purchase this place on buttercup, i did my very best to convince rick the house needed "only a little TLC... only some cosmetic updating."  only a little carpeting and paint was needed to make it our dream home. 

he would tell you today to beware of a woman who claims a house needs only a little cosmetic updating.

and so we dug in and moved in and then, guess what? the roof caved in. do you remember the 1986 movie "the money pit" with shelley long and tom hanks?  that was us. though rick and i were only in our junior year of high school and hadn't even yet met, i'm pretty sure (somehow) they based that movie on the mcnatt family. you think i'm kidding? go ahead and ask my husband. on second thought, please don't -- that subject matter puts him in a terribly ugly mood.

one morning, i was so distraught over the various grievances in our home, i got up early and sat on the couch pleading with God. i cried out and asked Him to intervene. in the middle of my pleading (and whining), i decided what i needed to do was to pray over every item in our house -- every surface --  every thing i could think of.  i prayed blessing and protection over the roof, the walls, the floors, the plumbing, the electrical, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the garage, the driveway, the yard...all of it. literally, i walked around from room to room praying fervently. praying passionately. i prayed like a woman on the edge ... like a woman insane. i was a woman insane.

i had no sooner finished my fervent praying when, walking back into the kitchen, i felt something wet hit the top of my head. i stopped and looked up at the beam separating the family room from the kitchen and noticed a nice bead of water dripping from its painted lip. at that same moment my sock covered feet connected with the puddle below. it was a perfectly sunny day and my roof was leaking.  i knew right then we were in some serious trouble.  i looked up that beam and looked up at the Lord and cried, "okay, that's it God, i give up!"

i am still not completely sure what He was telling me - teaching me. if i had to guess it would have something to do with my need to surrender. yes, that's been such the theme of this blog -- from cancer to kids to chaos. i am being taught to unclench my fists and unfurl my fingers. i am (slowly) learning to release the white wrapped knuckles of my lists and my laboring. i am finding that unless God builds it, unless God is in it, i will labor in vain. whether it is updating my home or training up my children -- if He is not in it, i am chasing the wind. and all my toil and talents will return empty. void. in vain.  

i don't pretend  to know the mind of God. but i do know that the next year, He prepared our hearts to go to thailand and to prayerfully consider mission work.  i know the year after that He opened our eyes to the possibility of adoption. and the year after that he brought bella home. and well, this year, cancer came calling. i am not trying to wrap up all of these messy things in a tidy little package, but i do know each year God has brought us something which has required us to surrender and submit. whether it be our kids or our homes or our health ... God desires us to release them to Him, to His hands. 

our homes and families take so much of our time and energy. and what blessing can be found in both! i believe, very much, i am supposed to be right where i am working, laboring, loving. there are always projects to be completed and there is always building and work to be done. but, as a mother with a long "to do" list, i need to remember what kind of building really counts. i am pretty sure God isn't all that concerned about the color of my walls or the cleanliness of my carpet.  this summer i came across this verse in haggai,  

"'what you brought home, I blew away. why?' declares the Lord Almighty, 'because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.'" ~ haggai 1:9 

God chastises the israelites for being too focused on their own homes and not working on the building of His home - the temple.  

i don't know about you, but that makes me pause in my tracks and ponder a bit: what am i building? where am i laboring? what is taking up my time, my energy, my focus?

something to think about on this labor day ... something to consider for those of us with our long "to do" lists and our many hours of labor. 

definitely something for me to think about.
"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."
work isn't a bad thing. God created us to work ... to even take pride in our work. paying tribute to the contributions of those who have labored hard for our country is a great thing. we have much to celebrate. but we can't forget, whether in our country or in our homes, who we are working for and what we are working toward.

"whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." ~ colossians 3:23-24

"why spend your money on what is not bread, and your labor on
 what does not satisfy? listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
 and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. "  ~ isaiah 55:2

Monday, September 5, 2011

going bad

it was not too long after my 40th birthday when i noticed the change.  "you've got to be kidding me," i thought.  it was too textbook, too classic, too cliche -- and it was only the beginning.  i wasn't able to deny it: medicine bottles, menus, newsprint, and my nightly novel were all becoming harder and harder to read.  either the font had miraculously shrunk (on everything) or my eyes were going bad.

"going bad" is a relative term. i've had bad eyes pretty much my entire life.  i was dubbed nearsighted and started wearing glasses at the extra-confident age of 12 --   a lovely experience for any fragile young female.  i think i got glasses, acne and a bad perm all in the same month. my first pair of glasses was nothing special. i tolerated the boring gold wire rims, but it was the case they came in which pleased me the most.  it was bright blue and pictured a young girl.  underneath this girl (wearing glasses, of course) it read, "please be patient, God isn't finished with me yet."   i loved that.  when you're 12 and sporting both glasses and acne, it just helps to know things will get better, you will improve. there is hope! i can remember climbing in bed at night and tucking my glasses into that blue case on my nightstand.  i didn't need to store them quite so securely over night, but i liked reminding myself of that little promise.  "God isn't finished." and He wasn't.

somehow i was able to convince my parents i would be headed for a deep depression and costly counseling if they didn't allow me to swap out my glasses for contact lenses.  and somehow they made that happen.  between the dermatologist appointments and the contacts, i probably cost my parents some good money that year.  but they made the sacrifice and kindly helped salvage the delicate remains of my almost-teen self.

i've been wearing contacts for about 30 years now.  that means every morning sticking little round plasticky pieces onto my eyeballs.  one of my boys told me a few years back, "you look smart in your glasses, mommy."  i kind of liked that comment and occasionally i wear my glasses with high hopes.  most of my life i've been nearsighted and only just recently have found myself not even that. it seems, i am no-sighted.  i can't see far and i can't see up close.  this leaves me virtually blind.  to be honest, this leaves me a little depressed, not to mention a little dangerous. i suppose it is time to face the facts. i suppose it is time to make an eye appointment.  i suppose it is time for bi-focals. (cringe).

i am not sure what happened to that blue case with those encouraging words.  it stayed with me for a long time afterward.  i remember finding the case years later when i was home from college and cleaning out a drawer one summer.  i remember thinking back to that young girl -- that insecure 12 year old who didn't exactly like what she saw in the mirror every morning.  as a college woman things had changed.  my skin had cleared...and so had my eyes.  i still needed my glasses or contacts, but i had a new perspective by the end of the teen years.  i was seeing things a little differently. sure some of it had to do with growing out of that awful, awkward pre-adolescent stage, but it had more to do with the growth taking place on the inside.  my relationship with God was deepening and it was changing how i looked at things.  nearsighted or farsighted, i was learning to keep my eyes on Jesus.

that wasn't always easy.  throughout the high school and college years i wanted to look only at myself, my wants, my desires, my comforts.  there was so much to distract me - good stuff and, of course, there was some bad. i was pretty enamored with the world and its ways - so often tempted and just wanting to taste.  but God was at work in me.  He wasn't letting me go and He obviously wasn't finished with me. and the closer i walked in my relationship with Him, the better my eyes became.  i began to see my own sin more clearly.  it was ugly and awful.  but i also began to see more clearly God's love for me--regardless of ugly sin.  i was developing eyes to see His forgiveness and his grace.  one of my very favorite songs has always been "turn your eyes upon Jesus."  i remember singing it as a small girl in our small church and over the years of motherhood, i have sung it as a lullaby to my own children.
turn your eyes upon Jesus
look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of this earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of His glory and grace.
and now in my forties, i am a lot like that 12 year old girl again.  the eyes have reached a new level of "bad," i've traded the acne for some wrinkles, and, i can assure you, the things of this earth are most definitely growing stranger and dimmer each day.  but this is where i have to remind myself that my earthly eyes are only temporary -- they aren't meant to last for forever.  these eyes and this body will both fade and fail someday.  that's just the way it goes. but the eyes of my heart can continue to improve when i "look full in His wonderful face."  there's hope! and even though i am over forty, God is still hard at work -- He isn't finished with me yet!
 "open my eyes that i may see 
wonderful things.."  ~ psalm 119:18