Burst of Color

The household woke up disappointed, our hopes dashed when the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl last night in what seemed the worst possible way. The Hawks were within one yard of scoring a TD on the Patriots in the last minute of the game, only to have the ball intercepted by a nimble and perfectly-positioned Patriot defensive back. Because of family allegiances, we were really excited for the Hawks, and the stunned silence we fell into those last few seconds of the game persisted into today.

Sometimes when you wake up in a ‘blah’ mood, it can be hard to shake it. Especially when the morning is a gray and rainy one, like today was.  And when your daughter is fitted with orthodontia at 9 a.m., and decides this is going to be one of the worst things that’s ever happened to her, the day starts to roll downhill a bit faster.

These are caviar problems, for sure.  But still.  Don’t we all do this?  Be in a ‘yuck’ mood just because?

So, my funk is exacerbated by having felt a little far away from God the last few days.  That, and the headache I’ve started.  I rub my forehead while I sit in the car line, which has backed up onto the tiny street behind my kids’ school.

‘I should have left the house 5 minutes earlier and I wouldn’t be so far back on the street. Punctuality. I’m still failing there.’

It would be easy to continue berating myself, but instead, I offer up this thought.

‘I want to hear You. To see You.’

A moment or two later, I look to my left. Directly to my left. And I see this:

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Four purple flowering cabbages.  Brassica oleracea.  Someone took the time to plant this burst of color in a narrow strip of dirt between an old brick driveway and an even older adjacent Colonial-era home.  Who but the person who gets into that car ever sees them?  And yet, there they are on this cold, February day.

I sit and stare, because I have been driving this street every school day for 7 years, and I have never noticed this small piece of earth, that has always held the potential to grace my day.

 

“You will seek Me and find Me

when you search for Me with all your heart.” 

– Jeremiah 29:13 

What’s My Message?

I was making a left turn into the library, waiting for the long line of cars to pass, contentedly listening to the song on the radio, when my reverie was interrupted by something that caused my stomach to plummet into my abdomen. It was a vanity plate on a passing car.

“H8TNWRK”

Hating work. In a millisecond, my eyes shot up to the sulking man driving past. I pulled into the parking lot, just in time to watch a young mother joyfully kissing and smiling at her toddler as she snapped the child into her car seat. What opposites.

You might think I’m being overly sensitive here – that the man makes light of his life by putting it on a vanity plate, and hey – why shouldn’t he?  But I believe the mouth reveals what’s in our hearts, and I’m guessing this man’s discontent runs deep – that he’s very dissatisfied and probably doesn’t know why.  So I stopped right there in my car and thanked God for this man and the talents he’s been given, and asked that he be reminded that his gifts are meant to be avenues to joy. That somehow, he would see God in his life and through his work.

I went about my day but this man’s vanity plate has stayed with me. And I keep asking myself why it has. I think the answer is that like it or not, we all advertise something, and I’m concerned about my message.  I want it to be that I love God above all and am thankful to Him for all that I have. But I am flawed and I know it. I fail to remember my first love sometimes.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. 

– Psalm 19:15

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A Prayer and Song for Claudia’s Family

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Thank you to everyone who prayed for my stepsister, Claudia, earlier this year.  As you know, she went home to the Father, and will be rejoicing in Heaven this Christmas. But her family remains.  And oh, how they ache. If you would, please pray with me again – for them – this season.

And if YOU are mourning someone this Christmas, it would be my privilege to pray for you.  Please don’t hesitate to ask me.

Dear Lord, King of Kings,
You are Immanuel – God With Us.
Thank you for creating this Christmas season by sending your son, Jesus Christ – the Very Word of God, wrapped in human flesh.
In His life, he knew every possible kind of suffering – so that we would know,
We are never alone.
We thank you for His triumphant resurrection over death, and for His eternal grace.
Lord, you have promised to be with us always and everywhere, and your Word is Truth – for there is no impurity within you.
Please come and be with Claudia’s family.
Make your peace known to them.
Enfold them in your loving arms and touch their hearts with the expectation of joy to come.
Assure them of your never-ending faithfulness, and remind them of the ways you have already blessed them, so they can be renewed with hope for your goodness in the time ahead.
Strengthen their spirits and increase their faith.
Please hold them up and bind them together, so that they may find solace, and You, in the eyes of one another.
And Lord, bless Claudia’s children – Cata, Nick, and baby Matias – in a special way.
May their mother’s love be forever imprinted upon their hearts and souls.

In the name of our Saviour, Jesus, we pray,
Amen.

 

Worth the Extra Effort

Today I set out to mail two packages containing Christmas presents to family members across the U.S.  At the post office, I was quoted an absurdly large fee for each one – a base cost plus a surcharge, which was determined by the dimensions of each box. I was flabbergasted.  The base costs were expected – but the surcharges?  Highway robbery.

I felt the heat rise to my face – a combination of shock and embarrassment, knowing that I just couldn’t in good conscience pay that sum – at least, not without a fight. The clerk was obviously miffed when I politely told her I would take my packages back. But I did. And I turned on my heel and walked right past the long line of waiting customers, threw the boxes in the car, and drove 1/4 mile to the UPS store, where I mailed them for a whopping $33 less.

Later, I told my 11-year old son about this incident. I also happened to mention that I hadn’t written a blog post in several days. He told me to write about how I made an extra effort today – and that it was a good thing.  I told him my blog is mostly about faith, so I didn’t see a connection.  He said:

“Going to UPS was worth the effort, just like spending time with Christ is.”

I was so surprised, that I giggled and started to object – then realized he was absolutely right.

He smiled and said, “And you can give me credit for the idea.”

I told him I would.

Then, just to make sure I had heard him correctly, and to confirm that he really understood the meaning of what he’d said, I asked:

“When YOU make the effort to spend time with God, do you think it’s worth it?”

Without missing a beat or looking up from the Minecraft world he was building on his iPad, he said:

“Absolutely.”

Finding a few minutes to pray, read Scripture, and reflect on my blessings takes work and commitment, but even a kid knows that time spent focusing on God is always worth the effort.

 

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Day 27 – Beagle in My Lap

So, I’m approaching the end of my first 31 days of blogging, and I wasn’t sure what I’d write about today, but I really wanted to post something. I had a few ideas, but every time I started to write, I was sidetracked…by someone.

It was my youngest child, mostly.  He was hungry.  Then he needed a different show on TV.  Then he’d seen too much TV so we cleaned bathrooms together. Then we ate lunch and went to the store.  We came home and unpacked the groceries.  We picked his siblings up from school.  It was crazy warm for November today (71 degrees!) and the kids wanted to play outside.  I sat out there with them and tried to write.  The neighbor dropped by to say hello.

After the sun went down, I sent all the kids into the basement and plopped on the couch to try one more time. Our beagle climbed up next to me and laid her head on my chest. I kissed her and then she looked up at me with those big brown eyes of hers, and she crawled right on top of my iPad, into my lap. I let out a deep, deep sigh.

Yesterday, I wrote about the need to leave white space – margin – in the calendar. The main reason is because days like this happen to me all the time. I am blessed with a family who needs me, and while it is appropriate that I have time to myself to pursue my interests, the reality is that my life is not my own. It is a gift that has been entrusted to me, and I am just the steward, trying to do my best to take good care of the people, responsibilities, and things I’ve been blessed with.  I ask for His wisdom and guidance to prioritize my days, and to see what I need to see. From that point on, it’s better if I’m not trying to steer.

Today, each cry of “Mom!!!” was a divine appointment. And that’s what I needed to remember.

 

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Day 26 – When I Heard

It was at least 6 years ago, in the springtime, but I didn’t write the date down in a journal, so I don’t know exactly what year it was. We hadn’t redone our kitchen yet, so I remember the dark cabinets and sand-colored tumbled tile countertops that my husband and I had installed ourselves. I was standing in the corner, between our dishwasher and microwave, looking out the window at our neighbor’s trees.

That’s when I heard, or should I say felt, His voice tell me, “Be still. Know ‘I Am.'” It was the first time I’d heard Him speak directly to me, and I obeyed. Stock-still, mesmerized. My oldest son and daughter (my only children then) were playing just behind me in the family room, but they seemed much farther away, and I was unconcerned.  Everything was safe – there was no fear in me – my need to be in control had vanished. When I think of it now, I consider it among the most holy moments of my life.

At the time that this happened, I was unaccustomed to moments of silence and stillness. But I took this experience as another step in His unfolding invitation to go on a journey – one He knew I was ready for.

As I prepare for Thanksgiving this week and the start of Advent next Sunday, I’m trying to build margin – by that I mean, white space – into my holiday schedule. Without it, there will be no room for silence. The shopping, parties, gift-wrapping, and kids’ holiday events will dominate my days if I don’t prioritize right now.  Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting. For a child. For a King. Advent says, “‘I Am’ coming into the world.  Will you hear me?” 

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Day 23 – Song in My Head

Hello Friends,

First, to my Followers, please accept my apologies for the notification you received yesterday concerning a post called “Lucy and Aslan.” I had just started working on a draft of that post and inadvertently published it. I could delete the draft, but not the notification.  Thus, when you try to view the post, you get a message saying it is not available. Please bear with me, a very new blogger!  I will resend that post when I complete it.

Today, I’m hearing a song in my head, one that plays there more often than any other.  It doesn’t repeat ad nauseum; it never drives me crazy.  You know what I mean….You hear a song on the radio, a portion of it gets stuck in your mind, and it plays endlessly, torturously, until you want to rip your hair out?   No – it’s not like that at all.

This is a song I learned as a child, and now, it is sung from the heart as a praise offering. It’s “Doxology.”

Most Christians of Protestant traditions are familiar with it, and many Catholics are not.  But there’s nothing theologically controversial about it.  It was composed and first published by Anglican Bishop Thomas Ken in 1709, and the lines were actually taken from the closing stanzas of three of his other hymns. If you’d like to read more, here is a succinct article on the subject:

http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1991/issue31/3118.html

The song itself is a short, simple tune with simple words.  May you be blessed by hearing it today.

 

 

Day 19 – Turn-down Service

Last night I was talking with my grandparents (now both 92) about a trip we all took together 30 years ago, when I was 11 and my sister was 8. We stayed in a hotel where I experienced for the very first time a little luxury I haven’t seen recently – turn-down service. Here’s how I remember it:

It was late in the evening and my eyes were heavy. My grandparents, my sister and I were all dressed up, having just attended a banquet dinner – the final event of a boating race weekend that my grandfather had been participating in. We had gotten ready in the room before dinner and left in a hurry. (Now that I have children, I know how the adults present must have felt at the time.  Trying to rush along two young girls who are busy styling their hair and admiring themselves in the mirror is no small feat….but I digress.). The dinner had been lovely – multiple courses, an ice sculpture of a prop in the middle of the ballroom, dancing afterwards. My sister and I felt like celebrities as the only kids there, and though we all had a great time, we were ready to get back and into bed.

To my young eyes, the room was like a dream. Lights dimmed just so. Toiletries neatly organized by the sink. Clothes hung or laid carefully across the suitcases. Bedspreads folded and set aside. Blankets tucked in perfectly at the ends of the beds. Crisp white sheets folded down from the center of each bed into neat triangles. And perched atop each perfectly fluffed and sleep-ready pillow was a foil-wrapped chocolate mint. Trying not to muss anything, I sat on the edge of the bed and let that decadent little piece of chocolate melt on my tongue. It was glorious!

The best part of the ‘turn-down’ experience for me was the chocolate mint. I recognized in that one little thing, a singular moment of unexpected joy.  For someone else, the experience might have been different, or lacked sparkle altogether. But for me, it was a gift – a sweet lightness.

Is it possible, as an adult, to find the same kind of joy?  I think so, but I also think it requires a kind of practice….Practice at keeping my clouded eyes open to see where the gifts are, so I can recognize them as such and then savor them like I savored that mint.

Sunlight was streaming into our room today as my alarm went off.  For weeks it’s been dark, but with daylight savings time, morning feels like morning again. I hit the snooze and lay silently studying the yellow rays peeking around the sides of the curtains, wanting to burst into our room. In the quiet, I could savor the miracle of that sweet light and feel joy rising again, as I gave thanks for the gift that it is.

Day 15 – Keep Him Close

“I love you, Mommy,” he says as he greets me in the morning, still sleepy-eyed and warm from his bed. He wraps his arms around my legs and squeezes. I have to unwrap him to kneel and hug back. Hours later, after he’s the last to be picked up from school and we return home, amidst the noise of his older siblings clamoring through the front door ahead of him, dumping their backpacks on the floor and tossing their shoes to the side, he does it again.  He stops me where I am, and wraps himself around my legs. “Mommy, I love you. I love you SO much.”  And when I bend down to hug him, he’s puckered up for a big kiss – then gives two of them.

My youngest does this all the time. He is extremely affectionate with me, and always has been.  At the advice of the nurses who said he was not breathing well, he spent the very first full day of his life outside the womb pressed to my chest, his skin against mine, listening to my heart. I often wonder if these precious hours set a precedent for our relationship, because our physical closeness is just…different somehow.  As with all my children, I loved him from the beginning, and I will love him forever.

It is amazing to think that for a period of time, not more than five years ago, he was as physically close to me as two souls can get, but I was not aware of his existence.  He had been conceived, but not yet discovered.  His life was known only to his Creator – the genesis of the spark that created my son. My son simply wasn’t. And then he was.  All the later steps of the biological process are just the dynamic unfolding of how a unique soul became encased in a body suited to this world. Scientists are starting to unravel the nuts and bolts of this code. But the true mystery of the entire world comes down to that one divine spark. A person isn’t. Then he is. And the only One there with him, is God.

Not long ago (relatively speaking), St. Paul stood up in a meeting in Athens and spoke to the people concerning the idols he saw in their city.  One bore the inscription “To An Unknown God.”  He explained to the crowd why their worship was incorrect – and far too limited.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’  — Acts 17: 24-28 (NIV)

God gave us life so we would seek Him and reach out for Him. We are the Lord’s offspring. Once we were closer than breath to only Him. And if I desire closeness to my dear sweet son, who was once closer than breath to me, I can only imagine how God must feel about those to whom he gave the gift of life.

My son’s love means so much to me because he gives it freely. It is his choice. Our love for God is important to Him because we choose to give it – freely. 

We are at Mass and the priest is preparing to consecrate the Host. I am kneeling, hands folded in prayer, when I feel little arms encircle my neck. In my peripheral vision I see my son’s lips coming and ‘SMACK’ – he plants a loud kiss on my left cheek. Oh – we’re supposed to be quiet here, right? Hmm. Awkward as it is at first, I actually feel more reverent, more joyful, more present to the Almighty now, because of this child’s selfless gift of love. In this uniquely holy moment, I smile, unfold my hands, wrap them around my son’s head, smell his hair, and quietly kiss him back.

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