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

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.