Day 16 – Getaway?

Today we are leaving on a 4-day family getaway to Colonial Williamsburg.  We’re all super excited, and every single one of us has had a checklist of items that needed to be done prior to departure. My older two kids both had big assignments due today that should have, and could have, been completed at a more leisurely pace before last night. But they weren’t.  And one child had completed an assignment, shown it to me, and since it wasn’t what the teacher was asking for, put me in the position of saying, “You need to redo it.”  The other had a gazillion math problems I didn’t have time (or memory) to solve while cooking dinner. If you are (or were) the parent of school-aged kids, you know where this scenario is headed.

I’ll spare you the drama, but let’s just say that by 6:30 last night, my dear husband, who was still at work trying to clear his desk for vacation, had just received a full-on “vent” phone call from me. (It was soooo not fair to him.) After we hung up, the other 4 of us sat down to dinner.  All three kids were crying.  The older two because of their schoolwork. The younger one because of the older two; he couldn’t stand their tears and wailing.  How I sympathized.

It was time to pray.  And pray I did.  Not your normal dinnertime prayer, NOOO. I risked the food getting cold.  I asked Him to step in.  I called on Him by name for each of us, by name.  The red eyes and red noses started to clear as we ate in silence.  And miraculously, everything got done and everyone was in bed on time.

This morning, the day dawned and I was given a second chance to do better. The plan was to drive 1 hour round-trip to take my husband to the Metro so he could leave his car at home (instead of in a lot somewhere) for the next few days. Then, load up the dogs and drive 75 mins. round-trip in the opposite direction to the kennel, before dropping my little guy off at preschool for lunch and — get this — PICTURE DAY.  He was dressed and ready to go at breakfast.  All his other nice-looking clothes are packed for the trip…..Life was going well….And BOOM!  He spilled a full cup of orange juice down the front of him.

I could have lost it. I was definitely frustrated, even slightly angry. But I looked at what I had been given at that moment.  Time.  I stripped him down, put him in sweats, and had just enough time to wash and dry the outfit between runs to the Metro and kennel.

“His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion.”

–1 Peter 3:1

Everything.  His divine power has given us everything we need at any given moment to move out of that space where anger and frustration is going to spill out and harm those we love. The only thing required is the only thing ever required – turning to Him and letting His grace in.

Day 11 – Why Being Present Matters

Yesterday marked one month since my stepsister’s passing. In the course of the day, I had yet another opportunity to thank the dear friend who was the first person to come through my door to offer condolences to me when she heard the news.  At the time, she didn’t even know the details of the event, she just came – with a warm blueberry cobbler cradled in her arms.

Why was her unannounced visit so precious to me? Why was I so surprised she came?  And how did the gift of her presence come to mean more once she was gone?

All my life I have lived far away from most of my family.  This builds self-sufficiency in a person, which can be a good quality. I have learned to push past my shy nature and introduce myself to strangers; I don’t fear finding my way around a new town; and I have eaten alone in a restaurant more than once.  But when we are down, when we need to be consoled, I think that’s when a friend is needed most – standing by your side, in the flesh. And my stepsister’s death was a watershed moment for me in that I realized just how much comfort it is to be surprised by a sympathetic friend crossing the threshold of your home and extending her arms to you for a hug. Nothing needs to be said. Sometimes the right words don’t exist. But she is there. Fully present. And she cares.

What is it about our ‘presence’ that matters?  Why doesn’t a phone call or letter have quite the same effect?  I think it’s because it’s concrete – touchable – not virtual in any way.  By being ‘present,’ a person validates the reality of the situation, be it happy or sad. Until my friend came through the door, only my husband and I shared the grief of this death.  But when she came, our insular world was broken, and before she even spoke, her presence and her eyes told me, “I heard the news. This is real and it’s sad. I’m so very very sorry for your loss.”

I have no doubt that God sent my friend that day to help carry my burden of sorrow. I believe that’s a big part of why Jesus came, too. And why he returned, in the flesh, after his resurrection.  It was to tell us in so many parables, eye-to-eye, and then again and again, “I’m here, beside you.”

Day 3 – Good from Darkness

I’ve been thinking more about good coming out of darkness today, because God can and will use any situation to bless His people. As I’ve reminded others since my stepsister died, St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that “[W]e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It’s nearly impossible right now to see or imagine how that might happen when a baby stays and his mother goes on, so we must make the difficult choice to trust – sometimes one tiny moment to the next.

Just a couple years ago, when two events linked up in a timely way, I saw them as nifty “coincidences.” I’ll never forget that powerful moment in my Bible study when I told a story and called it a “coincidence,” and my group leader, a woman of great and gentle faith looked me straight in the eye and said in the most tender way, “I don’t believe in coincidences.”  I felt convicted, and it changed my point of view from that very moment on.

So – goodness and darkness. Timely events. How does this fit into my life today?  How does death fit into the wild cacophony of my blessed life? A husband I deeply love. A marriage that has endured enough to let us know that we CAN endure – together.  Three healthy, happy kids. Good relationships with our families. Deep, abiding, heart friendships I can count on. It’s not a perfect life, but it’s definitely, abundantly, overwhelmingly blessed. We have scheduling problems because of the blessings.

Our beagle barks upstairs. Kids play loudly, laughing outside my door. Why now, Lord? What do you want me to learn in sadness? In darkness? Is there beauty in this tragedy, even now?  Right now?

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb…

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!

— Psalm 139: 11-13, 17

I consider again the bats of yesterday.  Many fly about in the darkness not seeing at all. Yet their needs are met with resources provided for them through the infinite beauty of God’s design. They have both instinctual and natural assistance which create opportunities for their nourishment and growth every night.  In literal darkness, God has a plan for them, and complete control of their lives. There is nothing hidden from God.

Therefore, in my life, I can trust that God has nothing malevolent hidden for me in my current darkness. He only allows it. He could turn on the lights anytime He wants. And he wants me to draw closer to him, to trust Him more in the midst of it.  My Creator knows my innermost being down to a sub-molecular level. And as I have read and understood as Truth: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)  Let this be retraced again and again onto my bruised heart.