Transition

Two weeks ago, I was shopping in Whole Foods when I saw my friend. She was standing by the olive bar with a downcast face, spooning a mixture of fruits into one of the plastic cups provided for purchases. We’ve known one another for more than a decade and met through a playgroup when our oldest kids were babies. She’s always smiling – one those people whose eyes twinkle joyfully most of the time. But her sadness hung on her like a heavy robe. And I understood. Completely.

Our “babies” – two vivacious boys – had started Kindergarten that day, and though we knew the boys were fine and wholly ready for this stage of their young lives, the transition was going to be hard – for us. We’d both been ‘at home’ with at least one child every day for the last 12 years. And while the separation from them would be brief (7 hours can go very quickly), the days suddenly seemed quiet. Too quiet.

I told her, “I lost it while driving yesterday. Started crying. Not good! And he didn’t know what to do. Poor guy. I told him through tearful smiles, ‘I’m so excited for you! But I’m going to miss you!'”

Apparently, my friend had had exactly the same experience. While driving. And then there we were, hugging in the produce section of Whole Foods.

What is it about following routines that can trigger the deepest of emotions? When something in our lives changes, routines suddenly seem anything but routine. They become more focused, more deliberate, somehow. We start to think more about where we’re going, what we’re doing, and why.

So how have I spent my last two weeks? Doing some of the same stuff I always have, but I’ve also gone full bore into a long list of projects that I’ve been waiting to tackle…

Sewing.  FullSizeRender copy 2

Shopping for artwork for the barren walls of my office.  IMG_2441

RedoingIMG_2452 our daughter’s room…I cleared the knick-knacks out of the way, and my husband painted the color our daughter chose. (Can I just say what an awesome dad he is?)

 

FullSizeRender copy 5Thinking about taming our overgrown  yard. (Whoever sits on our porch is risking their life.)

 

 

Tackling years’ worth of albums and scrapbooks that haven’t been updated (or in some cases, even started!).

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FullSizeRender copy 3And, deciding it was time to relinquish a few safeguards that are only required when parenting the very young.

 

 

So, I have my work cut out for me.  Rather, I’ve put some work on myself.

See, it’s easy for me to throw myself into these tasks, thinking that by going through the motions of improving the external, I can become ‘settled’ on the inside.

And over the last two weeks, I have certainly focused on the “shoulds” that have been pestering me for a long time.

I should beautify this house. I should get rid of the clutter. I should follow-through on projects I never finished. I should…I should

What an awful word. Should. It always makes me feel like I’ve fallen short. Of my capabilities. Of my responsibilities. Of my dreams. Of my expectations, however unrealistic, which are so often not exactly mine, but what I presume others’ expectations to be – of me. At the core, should makes me believe I’ve missed the mark – of ‘goodness.’

Separating what’s truly important from the ego in me that wants to just “get it all under control” takes effort, discernment, and quiet. The kind of quiet I can fill up with projects that aren’t intrinsically bad, but that might not align with what I know to be my calling in this life – to love and serve others according to God’s plans, not mine.

In my recent study of Galatians, I came across this verse:

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise. But just as then the child of the flesh persecuted the child of the spirit, it is the same now.  (Galatians 4: 28-29)

Every day, I have a choice. I can be an Isaac, and live fully freed by the grace of God through the covenant he established with me when I recognized that Jesus Christ  came to set me free from the traps of my own making that separate me from God. Or, I can be Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother, who was pushed into the wilderness, cut off from any of his father’s inheritance. Worse yet, I can live in a transitional spot, teetering between knowing and embracing the gifts of a Spirit-led life, while also entertaining the shoulds of my flesh, which followed outright will drive me to ruin and despair. Basically, my flesh can persecute my spirit. Where will I lean in this transition?

As a child of the Promise, I’ve experienced the priceless fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). But to enjoy them in this earthly life, I need to stay close to Him.

My oldest son was poking fun at me the other day, prodding me about those albums.

“Mom, are you gonna cry over the photos of us?  Boohoo! My babies! Boohoo!”

As he curled his fingers into loose fists and rubbed his jolly eyes like an infant would, I returned his smile, but with a smug, knowing grin. It’ll be decades before he understands how much I love him and his brother and sister, that I would cut out my heart to save each of theirs. And then I think…

Yes exactly. You’d die for this child of yours. But the Way of eternal love is felt most acutely by fully embracing the present as the gift that it is. So don’t cry over the past. This is the start of a different era. Embrace your new freedom. Live within peace and gentleness. Focus on what has eternal value. Look ahead. Joyfully. 

There is an appointed time for everything.

And there is a time for every event under heaven—

Ecclesiates 3:1

Three Italian Women

We’re standing in the church sanctuary, a place of holy refuge, and I know she feels safe. She’s facing a very tough day. She’s been carrying heavy burdens for several people, trying to help where and however she can, and I can see the weight of many hard weeks bearing down on her.  She’s got herself together – she’s beautiful and graceful, keeping up with self-care, but none of us can do the impossible. We can’t bring people back from the dead, or stop the march of a loved one’s disease right there in its tracks with one desperate, pleading prayer.  Her eyes fill up and flood over and I don’t have words so I do what friends do then.  I hug her.  And I don’t let go until she lets go first.

Later in the day I remember three women I haven’t thought of in many years.  I dig up their picture:

3_ItalianWomen_Jan1993
Three friends. Rome. January, 1993.

Arms linked together, they were a bit of an obstacle walking down the Roman street at dusk on that cold, January day.  I followed them for a little before snapping this photo.  They were in no hurry, and didn’t sway from between these yellow lines.  People went around them.  I was wishing I  spoke Italian so that I could catch snippets of their conversation, though I’m fairly sure the bulk of it was the same as that of women’s talk everywhere – mostly family, the work of homemaking, marriage, schedules, maybe some chit-chat about clothing, books, and other entertainment thrown in for fun.

But I took the picture because I was most captivated by the fact that they were linked.  They were unified. They were together. They were walking through life, sharing the journey, and their joined arms confirmed to one another not just an intellectual support system, but a true physical presence.  My arm in yours says, “You are really not alone.”  Touch comforts when words can’t.

Valentine’s Day is coming up.  Who else needs a hug?  Maybe even a walking hug  – where we join arms and travel some of this life together, sharing what we can, and letting the silent strength of one another’s arms be the reassurance we need when words fail us?

A friend loves at all times, 

And a brother is born for adversity. 

– Proverbs 17:17

 

Valentines for Everyone!

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They burst into the kitchen, their young faces flush with excitement. “We have a GREAT idea!” they said.  “We’re going to make Valentines for everyone in the neighborhood!”

“Um, ok.”  I said, incredulous. “That’s a….good idea..??”

With amazed and delighted disbelief I watched my daughter and her friend follow through on this loving, joyful impulse.  In the unusually warm weather, they spent all of Sunday afternoon sitting on our front porch making Valentines for neighbors, most of whom they don’t know, taking breaks now and then to run off with exuberance for “deliveries.”  If the recipient was a friend, he or she received the card face-to-face.  If not, the Valentines were left in the house mailbox, one from each girl, sweetly signed with only their first names. In a span of 4 hours, the girls industriously covered our little section of the world, 4 tiny streets, with love.

We were all conceived by the One who loves like this – with abandon. But somewhere along the way, we usually acquire a harder-hearted response – the one that I showed yesterday – to love, freely given. Lord, open my eyes today.  Help me to see all the ways you love me.  Help me share your everlasting love with the world.

Many waters cannot quench love,

Nor will rivers overflow it;

If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,

It would be utterly despised.

–  Song of Solomon 8:7

 

Sleeping Trees

 

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The sun rises in our capital city today, but things are different.

Yesterday, a fire in a very large waterfront home tragically took the lives of 4 children (cousins from 2 different families) and 2 adults, their grandparents.  I heard about it midday, when a beloved friend called – very, very upset.  Her kids were friends with those kids, and she would have to deliver unthinkable news…

I don’t know the families, had never met the children or their grandparents, but….well, I guess when you have kids, this kind of news is just especially gut wrenching.  So awful. Devastating. How would I as a parent, feel?  Instinctively, I hold my breath just imagining the sudden free-fall into darkness.  I reel like this every time a story hits, literally, “so close to home.”

I look at the barren trees this morning and in my mind hear my youngest son’s words: “The trees are sleeping.”  That’s what he said, back in the fall, when the preschool class was learning about seasons, and I immediately fell in love with the analogy – perfect for a 4-year old and 42-year old alike.

A cold, dreary winter combined with sad news can make people huddle and hide, withdrawing from the light. Right now, we can’t see it for all the bleak grayness of the world, but something new and beautiful will be visible in time.  I have faith.  I believe. I will hold a candle for those who can’t right now.  I believe – in Him.

And Jesus said,

“I am come a light into the world,

that whosoever believeth on me

should not abide in darkness.”

– John 12:46

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Only believe, only believe;

All things are possible, only believe.

Fear not, little flock, whatever your lot,

He enters all rooms, the doors being shut;

He never forsakes, He never is gone,

So count on His presence in darkness and dawn.

“Only Believe,” Paul Rader

(From The Bible Promise Book for Women, Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2014, p.13)

Day 28 – Blue Angels and Loops

“Do the Blue Angels have an airport?”

“Do the Blue Angels wear helmets?”

“Do the Blue Angels practice?”

Like top-of-the-hour-news reports, preschoolers can get on loops that change only slightly from day to day.  Mine has been ‘looping’ about the Blue Angels for a week or so now. We live in Annapolis, home of the U.S. Naval Academy.  The mega-impressive demo team flies here during Commissioning Week each May and it’s one of the highlights of our town’s year.  We also live near the Navy stadium, so we drive past a retired Blue Angel plane parked outside of it – at a vicious angle, no less – every single day. It’s no small wonder my son would have an interest. Thankfully, we are prepared. We’ve collected several small Blue Angel planes over the years. (See Exhibit A: attached photo).  The dents and missing paint belie hours of death-defying stunts. My husband and I can answer most questions. If not, there’s the internet.

Anyway, while my 4-year old son has been ‘looping’ lately on this fun topic, he’s also been circling back to a heavier one.  I’m astonished, humbled, and proud to say that completely on his own, he has remembered to pray for his friends’ father every single night since I first heard him during bedtime prayers on October 30. (See Day 18) That’s nearly a month ago.

When my son first heard about this man’s need, he and all his classmates only knew that “Ava and Charlotte’s dad was in the hospital.”* Now, he doesn’t know much more except that it was an accident and the twins’ father was hurt by some tree branches.  But we parents have been told details. Things children don’t need to hear. He is still in the hospital. He still needs prayers.

I think about this as I watch my son pray, and how his perseverance in prayer, is what faith is really about. It’s about not getting caught up in the details, but instead choosing to believe in a big, Big, BIG God. Yes, prayers might not get answered the way we’d like them to, but that’s not the point. The point is that in prayer, we acknowledge our need for God.

For a few days now, after bedtime prayer, my son has had a new ‘loop’ question. “How can God hear us?” I tell him again and again, “God knows, and sees and hears everything because he is the Master and Creator of everything. And he wants us to talk to Him, because he loves his children and wants them to tell Him what’s on their minds and hearts. To stay close to Him, we need to talk to Him.”

So we carry on with our questions – about things for which we can find answers, and the things we can’t.  And the peace that I feel when I spend time in prayer is all the confirmation I need that He is near, and hears me.

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us. 

— 1 John 5: 14-15

 * Not their real names.

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