Day 14 – Spider-Man

imageI pretend not to notice as he creeps around the side of the kitchen island and aims his little hand at me…his thumb, forefinger, and pinkey sticking out, the other two fingers curved back into his palm. “Gotcha!” he half-whispers, smiling his sly, playful, dimpled smile. “UAAAHH!” I shriek, “Not your web!  You got me again!”  And he giggles with delight, then runs away.  Practice makes perfect, and my little Spider-man’s got two weeks to work on his webs before Halloween.

I like Halloween – when it doesn’t upset my kids or me. And yes, the bar is low for that. I admit it – I hate the dark side of the holiday. If we could get rid of anything associated with blood, gore, violence, scariness, and fascination with anything related to that macabre stuff, it would be wonderful.  But since I know that won’t happen, I just focus on the lighthearted, wholesome aspects which lead to joyful memories of the fall season – trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and of course, innocent kids’ costumes.

Costume selection is always interesting because each year I’m curious to see what appeals to the kids and why. My oldest son (now 11), has, for 6 of the last 7 years been some kind of warrior.  If a costume expresses an inner desire, then perhaps he wants to be tougher than he feels he is.  My 8-year old daughter’s tastes vary. In recent years, she’s been a princess, a cat, a glamorous witch, a female warrior cartoon character, and a pirate. This year, she had trouble deciding between a vampire and an angel. I sensed she just liked the idea of being a vampire, without really understanding its full import. So I showed her costumes and vampire makeup.  The fake blood disgusted her, and she settled on ‘angel,’ and a full-length gown. In the end, it was really about the gold and white dress. But, I was quite happy with her choice.

Whether a person wants to try on a whole new identity, or express some hidden side of themselves, no one ever puts on a Halloween costume and then hangs out at home all alone. The fun is in circulating amongst other people incognito, or somewhat so. Everyone wants to be noticed in their chosen garb, and to have a good time wearing it for a little while. And sometimes a person feels even more brazen in their costume – willing to step out boldly in ways they wouldn’t otherwise – just because the garb gives them added confidence as they “become” the character they portray. I saw this firsthand with my oldest back when he was two and chose to be Buzz Lightyear. His costume had inflatable wings that attached to his back, and I have photos of him walking up to complete strangers with a huge smile, bag out and ready for handfuls of candy.

Why do we do this? Why do we try to be noticed? I actually think we are looking for something divine. We want to experience someone seeing us not only for who we are day-to-day, but also as who we wish we could be, or think we might be – a better or alternate version of ourselves.  No matter how much time we spend with our family, friends, or acquaintances, we sense the truth deep in our souls that none of these people can actually fill our deepest need – to be fully and wholly known.

So, a costume is not merely a covering up – it is also a reaching out. It’s a way of saying, “Will you still love me – like this?”  Too often, the costumed are not yet aware of why they want to be noticed.  The psalmist says it perfectly:

O God, you are my God–

for you I long!

For you my body yearns;

for you my soul thirsts,

Like a land parched, lifeless,

and without water.

–Psalm 63:1-2

Day 13 – Patience

Have you ever been honked at by a fellow driver and thought, “Wow. Here? Why are you honking here? Are you crazy?”

A week and a half ago, I was in the parking lot of a funeral home, about to go into a wake. The parking lot, filled to capacity, came to an abrupt end behind the building, but I couldn’t see that until I was already halfway down the building’s back alley. There was a car ahead of me, waiting to pull into a spot being vacated by another car backing out on the right. There was just enough room about 30 feet farther up for one car to turn around at a time. It was a situation that required some patience.

I was ready to back up to the broader section of the lot, when another driver came up behind me and honked. I didn’t move, so he pulled to my right, inched between me and the parked cars, pulled ahead of the car in front of me, narrowly missed hitting the car reversing (whose driver slammed on the brakes), and did an aggressive 3-point U-turn in that narrow space to exit the alley. Now really, I thought, was getting into a wake that much of an emergency that it called for such outrageous driving?

Over the last 10 days, I thought several times about what might have possessed this honking driver to act in this way. And as I thought about it, a small, little voice inside began to sing the refrain from a song of my childhood by Agapeland Music:

Have patience. Have patience.
Don’t be in such a hurry.
When you get impatient
You only start to worry.
Remember! Remember!
That God is patient, too,
And think of all the times when others
Had to wait for you.

As you can see, the lyrics are straightforward. They speak right to the heart of Matthew 7:3 -“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

Only after I found it on YouTube (see link below), did I notice that the song, which is sung by a snail named Herbert, is about being patient in traffic. Now, isn’t that funny? And who do you think might get antsy when the cars pile up at a traffic light, and she’s ready to shove forward with her own schedule?

I might have thought I was being patient because I wasn’t judging the drivers ahead of me in the parking jam that day, but I did get angry and judgmental about the man who drove up behind me. I wasn’t very patient with his impatience. Hmm. I wonder how many times I’ve had to be forgiven for this particular transgression?

Day 12 – Family Movie Night

Saturday night is usually “family movie night” at our house. Our selections generally need to have broad appeal since the audience of five ranges in age from 4 to 42 and includes both genders. So – it’s not all action movies or cartoon animation, and it’s not all princess stories, either. Lately, we’ve been trying out some classics we think the kids might enjoy.  I’m happy to report that in the last few months, The Wizard of Oz, The Goonies, and The Sound of Music were hits!

Photo credit: "Maria" by jessowey, www.fanpop.com
Photo credit: “Maria” by jessowey, www.fanpop.com

 

What I cherish most about these evenings is not the break in routine from our very scheduled lives, but the feeling in our home just before we descend to the basement to get settled in. We make a bunch of popcorn. Then, the kids grab pillows, stuffed animals and blankets from their rooms and loudly haul them downstairs. They are jubilant and pumped with adrenaline. They “call” spots.  Who gets the little hideaway between the sofa and the Elvis lamp? (It was from my husband’s first apartment – none of his roommates claimed it when everyone moved out, but we still have it….worth some money, maybe??…..the kids love that nook.)  And who will get the alligator chair? – a green stuffed animal/pillow that we bought for child #1’s baby room, but that has mysteriously lingered for almost 12 years. And who gets the sofa, to cuddle with Mom?  (Thankfully, this last choice is not always the last choice.)

These joyful family rituals are the ties that will connect my kids’ childhood memories, along with family dinners, outings to museums and sites in nearby cities, school events we all attend, holidays, church on Sunday, etc. And the truth is, I know I couldn’t really appreciate these situations without a modicum of God’s grace.  Not because I don’t love my kids, but because try as I might, I still love them as only a human mother can.  And sometimes, the noise they make drives me nuts.

When I’m tired, and just looking forward to putting my feet up on a sofa, and watching a nice movie next to my husband, I sometimes have to step back and remind myself where all this luxury of time, good health, food, and a home came from. And when I do, and I offer thanks to the One who gave it to me, my preconceived notions of how I think I like my house to be – which is QUIET – go away. My perspective shifts.  And I love how it does. Every. Single. Time.

My perspective swings off of me and my preferences, and onto Him and His gifts to me…..Too numerous to count. Among them – three kiddos just psyched that we’re all here, and going to do something together, yet again. Thank you, thank you, thank you….

Day 10 – The Smith Wrinkle

“Do you have the Smith wrinkle?” my distant cousin asks me over breakfast with a small group of family members, reunited in a Denny’s in Vancouver, WA in July. “Umm…I’m sorry?” I say.  This lady is my dad’s first cousin, but because I’ve spent my life on the East Coast, I’ve only ‘met’ her a handful of times in my adulthood. She is lovely, but….the Smith wrinkle?  She continues, smiling, “On your arm,” and reaches across my aunt who is sitting between us to turn over my right arm and push up my sleeve. “You do!!” she declares.  I look down and realize then that the strange little line about one inch above the crook of my elbow now has an endearing name – my maiden name. “Do others have it?” I ask quizzically, shocked and delighted by this family tidbit.  “As far as I know, all of us Smiths have it. It’s a genetic trait. It gets more defined as you get older.”  My aunt is equally surprised.  We roll up her sleeve. She’s got it. At the table are my grandpa and his sister.  They both have it. The minute I get home a few days later, I check all three of my kids.  They each have it, too. Well, I’ll be darned.

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Family traits come in a variety of packages.  There are genetic traits – like this fun little wrinkle in my family, or another family’s perky nose, or auburn hair, deep-set eyes and long eyelashes, feet that all look the same, etc. There are also personality traits – like inherent joyfulness, ambitiousness, or a strong preference for organized surroundings and schedules (or lack thereof). The possibilities are endless, and families fascinate me, because even where similarities exist, countless differences do as well. No two people, even genetically identical twins, are absolutely the same through and through. The most important part of them – the soul – is one of a kind.

In the past, I wondered about the malleability of my soul, because I’d heard many proponents of various belief systems stipulate (in one way or another) that we can change ourselves. They are loud and vocal in today’s world. Usually they advocate some sort of introspective process in which a person peels back layers (often painful memories) to try to uncover the essence of who they are, and from there, harness internal raw energy to embrace life with newfound vigor and awareness. While we can probably make small changes on our own, it’s been my experience that profound, lasting change requires more than…well, more than me.  This introspective process worked for me to a point, but stopped when I came to grips with the fact that if I truly had the power to change myself, I would have already done it. My willpower alone should’ve been enough. But I was still plagued with bad habits and personality traits I disliked, and I hurt others with them too. I had to admit the possibility of a power greater than myself, and that I was NOT it.

Once I fully acknowledged that God was not me, and that I was not in control of much of anything, I returned to the faith of my upbringing and began to hear again the whisper of His voice.  Here and there at first, then more as I began to study Him in earnest, and finally, regularly as I went to Him in prayer. What He taught me was so much more profound and soul-filling than anything I had found rooting around on my own.  He showed me that not only is He more than enough, that He is who my soul was looking for, but also that to the degree I allow Him, His Spirit comes in and replaces my bad qualities with His perfect ones. He alone can heal my wounded and wayward soul. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells me, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” Further, I want to throw myself into His mercy, because the fruits of His love in those who love Him are so precious:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance,

kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Against such things there is no law.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

— Galatians 5:22-25

Lord, make your traits more defined in me as I mature in my relationship with you, just as you’ll make the Smith wrinkle stand out more in my ‘senior’ years.

 

Day 8 – My Niece and Nephew

I’m sitting in car line again and all’s quiet…..so I decide to look at Facebook for the first time in a couple days.  And surprise!  Just posted!  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law welcomed their first child into the world less than two hours ago – a gorgeous baby girl. I’m sure we’ll talk to the proud mom and dad very soon, but for now, the immediate gratification of a photo is fantastic!

Night before last, I dreamt of a baby who I presumed –  in my unconscious state – to be my niece. This princess was crowned with a nearly-full head of dark brown hair, and snuggled up against her mother’s shoulder. Today, I see in the photo that my new niece looks so very much like the sweet child of my mind’s eye.

But before I get too carried away and start to think that maybe God was telling me this birth was going to turn out well, I relax and sink into what I already know. First of all, thanks to modern ultrasound technology, we knew in advance the baby was a girl. (Her tea party baby shower was a flurry of flowers and pink fun!) Secondly, and more importantly, my conscious thoughts about this baby’s birth had nothing to do with the reality of it. Yes, my stepsister died just 3 weeks ago after complications from childbirth, but that is no reason to be overly concerned or worrisome about this birth today.

A verse I was taught so well as a child often echoes in my mind – probably because my parents shrewdly detected an up-and-coming professional worrier:

Cast all your worries upon Him, because he cares for you.

— 1 Peter 5:7

This verse, and others that echo the same command, speak Truth to my struggling heart when lies about God’s loving providence worm their way in. To fight back against the enemy of my soul, I take the worries captive, and give them all to the One who has a plan for both my niece, born today to two parents, and my nephew, born a month ago and left with only his dad.

Did my dream tell me of God’s plan for my niece?  Was the warm embrace of mother and child an indication that from this day on their lives will be unmarred by difficulties such as illness, family strife, broken hearts, financial strain, or countless other possible kinds of suffering? No. We live in a fallen, imperfect world. But He does have a plan for these babies, and they will not be automatons living the plans out – they each get to make a beautiful choice. In His infinite love, God offers these children – Himself.

For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says The Lord,

plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope.

When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you.

When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all

your heart, says The Lord, you will find me with you….

— Jeremiah 29: 11-14

Day 5 – Car Line

I’m sitting in car line waiting to pick up my kids, curious to know what they’ll tell me about their day (because, thankfully, they still do that, often without any encouragement from me). What emotions did they feel during their 8 hours away from me?  What are their impressions of the day? Concerns? Comical memories? Will this day have made a lasting mark, or just be one in a long trail that makes up the fall of 2014?

I’m not so naive as to think they’re telling me everything, mind you. I’ve had the heartbreak of catching each child in a lie, and prayed the punishment would be effective enough to make them think twice before lying again. But if as parents we are the first models to our children of how God loves us, I want them to know they can share with me – good and bad – what’s been going on with them. My husband and I try to instill the values we believe will benefit them in their lives, and I’m sure you are doing the same with your children. It’s being conscientious and concerned for their futures.

The thing is – I know that I will fail. On my own I cannot do this. We cannot do this.  I have a short fuse and get impatient with my kids. I have unfair expectations of them.  I hold them to standards that I myself fall short of, and when pressed, I have denied this.  Only in the light of God’s pure love can I really see just how imperfect I really am, and how many times throughout my life I’ve messed up.  I’m blessed to have figured this out before my mothering years are over, so I can apologize to my kids when I make mistakes that I can see hurt them, and hopefully, they’ll become more empathetic to other sinners in the future.

So in car line, while I wait for my babies, I stare up at the gold cross on the top of the church adjacent to their school.  To think that Mary watched her baby die an excruciating death, hanging from a cross. The only way she could have borne such misery was in total surrender to the infinite grace of God. And by clinging to God’s promises of love for the world.  She stood on rock solid faith – belief in the evidence of what she could not see.  As all of mankind’s evil was heaped on the shoulders of her son, she could not have understood in full the Lord’s plan. She must have been confused, in emotional turmoil and wracked with pain. What mother wouldn’t be? But she stayed there with Him. She needed to see her baby through the ordeal, and she knew she could trust Him. I trust Him too. And when I mess that up, I make the choice to trust again.

If there is one lesson I hope to teach my kids it’s this: He is worthy of ALL your trust. NO-THING and NO-ONE you will ever know is so worthy. And he hung there for you because there had to be a penalty for all of the things you’ve done that you want to hide from God, the same way you’d like to hide stuff you’ve done from me or Dad.  Because in Perfect Love, absolute and Pure Light, there’s no room for dirt, no room for darkness. He KNOWS what you’ve done, but he wants you to come to Him, much the same way I want you to come to me – so I can show you again how much I love you and so I can help you see your problems in proper perspective.  Because I want a permanent relationship with you. And so does God. So show HIM the dirt and the ugly stuff and He’ll gladly wash it away forever.  Because he loves you more than you love yourself. And that’s a promise He can only keep, because God CAN’T lie.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life,

neither angels nor demons,

neither the present nor the future,

nor any powers, nor height nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation will be able

to separate us from the love of God

that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

— Romans 8:38-39

Day 2 – Thinking About Bats

It’s nearly dusk and I’m navigating an unfamiliar and winding rural road with the help of my GPS when my youngest inquires, “When will the bats come out?” For a split second I marvel at how his new mind and my older one are in such different places as we look at the same stretch of road. I answer – “I don’t know. Soon.” Will this answer suffice?  It doesn’t satisfy me….

He and I have not discussed bats since a summer evening several weeks back, when we watched them flit among the trees behind our home.  Come to think of it, the sky looked much like this one. Perhaps that’s why he thought of this subject?  But who knows with 4-year olds?  Our conversation is short and covers the few basic facts we both know about bats.  They like to eat bugs. This is helpful to us humans. They sleep during the day and come out at night. Together he and I practice the big word – “nocturnal.” When I try to explain echolocation, even in simple, simple terms, I just stop. Eleven years of motherhood down so far, and I know that his ears are turning deaf as he spots horses in a pasture rolling by.  The road is getting darker. I need to concentrate. And besides, now I can reflect on the good things that even darkness can offer.

In this fallen world of ours, where suffering of all kinds is around us every day, it can be so easy to become discouraged.  As I wrote yesterday, it’s been a sad month. It has included the deaths of three women, two in my family.  And each one has left behind people I want to support through encouragement, prayer, and whatever else I can give. My faith keeps me from despair, because I don’t worry about what God is doing or why these things happen.  I love the tapestry analogy so many have used: this life is like the bottom of a tapestry – a jumbled, tangle of knots and string, but when we can look at the other side, we’ll understand and see it was a small section of His masterpiece.

Nevertheless, I’m still asking the worldly question, “What can I do?” Emphasis on me.  I still feel like somehow I need to do more. I want a directive – a clear plan on how to help.  And I’ve been surprised by the depth of my fatigue because, geographically, none of the family and friends I have been concerned about supporting live close to me. Maybe you have this same problem?  Self-centeredness?  The feeling that although you trust God, you should still DO something?

So, in my current darkness, God sent me a question about bats to contemplate. Bats are His creatures, too, of course. Ugly-beautiful things that help keep the ecosystem in balance by doing what they were designed by God to do. They find their nourishment to sustain them by listening to echoes….which may be loud to them….but are hardly above whispers to us. I too am an ugly-beautiful thing.  A sinner washed clean and made new by the blood of the Lamb. I can best do my part for His kingdom by doing what he has designed me to do. Follow Him. This requires listening.  And listening again.  And again and again to whispers and echoes of whispers, repeated again and again, in scripture and in the depths of my heart, when I am still enough to hear His mighty voice.

31 Days of Seeing Beyond

31 Days of Seeing Beyond

cropped-g_easternshore2014.jpgThree deaths over the last month have left me tired…..and sad. My beloved great aunt……a dear friend’s niece who took her own life… and my stepsister –  who passed after nearly 4 weeks in the ICU fighting to recover from extremely rare childbirth complications.  It’s my stepsister’s passing that brings me most often to my knees. I cry out to the Lord on behalf of her third child, a now 1-month old baby boy who will never know his mother.

They say there is a cycle of grief.  It has various stages. And I’m watching devastated people go through it now.  But in the midst of all this anguish, I  have been blessed to remain thankful and aware of God’s infinite goodness. I have also been given new opportunities to serve Him, and follow Him more closely – sometimes in ways that push me beyond old boundaries. I posted a prayer for my stepsister on Facebook. And soon, the family requested more.  It seemed the Lord wanted to use me.  It made me both nervous and strangely excited – not because people appreciated my writing, but because I had stumbled upon a way to really serve. And I learned – when there are people hurting, perhaps then more than ever, the Lord wants me step out of my safety zone and walk in new terrain, keeping my eyes on Him.

About 10 days ago, I saw the invitation from Myquillin Smith to take the 31-Day Challenge and write in October. I could hear the whisper that always leads me to good places — “Try this” — and felt that tinge – of joy.  And as I sat down to write tonight, I remembered a verse I taped to the front page of one of my journals four years ago when I first intended to write in earnest – but never really did.

A bruised reed he will not break,

a smoldering wick he will not quench….

             —  Matthew 12:20

The Word is full, so full, of promises. And for myself and so many people I love, I am holding on to this one right now.  Whether we are writing or just trying to get on with living day by day, the terrain in my world seems new and tough.  We are bruised and bent over, trampled and beaten down, hardly like flames alight. But when I fix my gaze on Him, when I ready myself through surrendering prayer, I am given all the strength I need.

Lord, help us. Thank you for the confidence you’ve given me – the knowledge that you alone are fully trustworthy, and that you are my only true help – my Savior.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.