Bad Day in London Town

Bad Day in London Town

This post was first published in October 2015. It is making a new appearance in celebration of this blog’s 5-year anniversary. Click here to learn more about me and Like the Dewfall.

I disappointed my daughter today. There was no way I couldn’t have. But this was a very big day, and even when the head understands the facts, the heart sometimes doesn’t.

I had never been on one of her field trips because, as a stay-at-home mom, my full-time job required full-time care of her younger brother. But he just started Kindergarten. So my schedule had freed up. Finally.

Three weeks ago I sent in a form volunteering to be a 4th grade chaperone on today’s day-long class trip to the colonial port of London Town, and I was one of six parents chosen to attend. My daughter was as excited as I’ve ever seen her.

Every single day I heard: “Mom, I can’t wait until” “Mom, it’s going to be so much fun!” “Mom, you’re finally coming!” “Mom, I’m researching colonial hairstyles so I can do my hair.” 

But trouble began to rear its head yesterday when the Kindergartner came home with a stomach ache and a low fever. A fever one day means no school the next. I didn’t panic, but this was not good. Not good at all.

My husband had a huge presentation this morning, so even as I lined up a daytime sitter for my son (no small feat), I prepared my daughter for the possibility that I couldn’t go if her brother’s illness got worse.

She hid her face behind a pillow, giant tears rolling out of her big blue eyes, red blotches of grief creeping up her fair face, and she wailed, “Why?!!! Sick now? Tomorrow??!! Of ALL Days?!!”

Today came and my son woke up with a rash and a higher fever.

I called and told the sitter to come just for the morning – that I would make a cameo appearance at the field trip site for one hour. And then I made a strategic early-morning strike on the doctor’s office and pharmacy to confirm my own motherly diagnosis and then do battle via antibiotics on my son’s attacker: scarlet fever – a form of strep.

Despite the fact that I had told her the plan, my daughter was thrilled when I got to London Town, and crestfallen and angry when I left exactly one hour later. I made the most of it: I took photos of her role-playing a slave in colonial garb, watched her make corn cakes with her hands, and laughed with her when we both saw our first wild groundhog wandering the settlement.

But as I was driving home, I couldn’t get her embittered eyes out of my mind. She was still just so disappointed.

What could I tell her? What could I say to help her through this experience? After all, the day didn’t go the way I’d wanted it to, either.

I stopped at the supermarket and bought her some mums, then left them in her room with a long note in which I made the following points:

  • Today was tough for both of us, and like you, I am angry, sad and disappointed. But we both love your brother, and in an imperfect world, people get sick. It’s not anyone’s fault.
  • Even though I would have liked to stay with you all day, I am grateful for the time I did have with you, and for your inquisitiveness. You asked thoughtful questions about the role you were playing, and the house we were touring. I am grateful for the chance to watch your graceful hands learn to prepare food, and for hearing your laughter with your friends. Your teacher also said I can come on another trip.
  • Even though it didn’t go the way we’d planned, I had a good day, and I hope in time you’ll remember it fondly too.
  • I know there is an ache in your heart and I couldn’t fill it. But by thinking of the things that you are thankful to God for, you will find that the Lord can heal that ache with joy. When we are grateful, it’s hard to hold on to anger and disappointment.
  • I love you.

Like children, we have much to learn. And we grow in spiritual maturity a little bit at a time. Today, I was reminded that gratitude must be cultivated. It is a slow process but can yield rich rewards.

Thank you God for giving me an opportunity to re-learn this lesson today, and for showing me how to share a grateful heart with my daughter.

He Calls Out in the Middle of the Night

He Calls Out in the Middle of the Night

feetMy youngest son calls out in the middle of the night.

He has leg cramps.

He wears orthotics in his shoes to help correct the form of his feet as they grow. Without this assistance, he would be flat footed – and in more pain – later in life.

But the muscle growth now is marked with spots of significant tension, and if we are not diligent about daily stretching, he wakes up hurting.

I hover over him as he wraps his little arms around my neck and cries.

The tears have run down his neck and wet the collar of his pajamas, so I know I didn’t hear him immediately. He’s been suffering alone in the darkness for some time.

Lord, let the ibuprofen I just gave him kick in soon. Please accelerate its effects. Please.

The Master Physician holds my child in His hands. Even this – this bit of physical pain is allowed for a reason, though I cannot fathom why.

See, I have refined you like silver,

tested you in the furnace of affliction. 

-Isaiah 48:10

We are tested and watched by the silvermaker until all residual character imperfections are burned away. He loves us too much to leave impurities behind.

If I know that this long night is a step on my son’s journey toward God, can I be grateful in this moment?

Lord, give me Your eyes for that – the chance to see – in my little boy – the man You envision…somewhere up ahead.

Warrior in the Rain

Warrior in the Rain

Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.
Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.

This morning I was reconsidering a post I started last winter and never finished. Sometimes that happens. I drift along, writing about a moment that captivates me, but then I’m not sure why I had been told to pay attention. The lessons we learn can be months – or years – in the making. Today, as summer dawns, I’m leaning forward to hear His whisper on this memory.

Cold rain pelted the colonial streets when I dropped my kids off at school this morning. 38 degrees and gloomy. I was turning left when a couple started to cross the road right in front of my car, walking a black Lab.

I saw her first.  She was bundled up in a parka, hat, and scarf, and working hard to hold on to the pulling dog, who was giddy over his outing despite the weather, his tail whipping him into a full-body wag.

Then I looked at him. He was oddly serene – a dreamy, almost complacent expression on his face – and he had chosen strange attire. His muscles were lightly concealed by a t-shirt – and shorts! He held an umbrella over the woman, even as the driving rain splashed against his bare limbs. His gait was strong and steady, but ever-so-slightly unnatural. 

Then I saw it – his prosthetic leg.

I assumed he was military, a warrior injured while serving our nation. But it could have been an auto accident or something else, of course.

Nevertheless, in the two seconds I studied his face, I saw resolve. Perhaps the kind that comes from having faced fear and done the next right thing despite it. Or from the hard work necessary to overcome a challenge you never thought you’d encounter.

Why was I directed to remember him?

Maybe because we all face obstacles to a smooth walk.

Despite my best efforts, I still struggle with comparing myself to others, fear of judgment, paralyzing perfectionism, and an inner critic who won’t shut up. When no one is counting on me, I’m also rather poor at time management and start projects I don’t finish. Then I worry that somehow these failings will become my legacy.

I could resign myself to these negative thoughts and let the foes of my spirit finish me. I could assume that I can’t improve my gait.

Yet I believe that God is pulling for me. His Word is replete with promises of His Love. 

And He is sovereign over all – even over the various forms of darkness that plague my mind, creating muddy puddles on the sunniest of days.

He says,

…be transformed by the renewal of your mind…

-Romans 12:2

This is a command. To allow myself to be made better. To be made new. By Him.

Through Him I will find the long-term resolve I’m looking for.

My ability to walk naturally through life without fear or pain is directly related to my willingness to yield to His Love.

Can I yield a bit more today?

Mom!! Hear This!!

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“MOM!! Guess what!??!”

“MOM!! Listen to this song I wrote!”

“MOM!! Can I have Patrick over?”

“MOM!! Can we play on the X-box?”

“MOM!! What is this word?”

“MOM!! He’s annoying me!”

My kids have developed a habit in the last few weeks of beginning all of our conversations with “MOM!!” It’s gotten so bad that last night I had to take a time-out in the middle of the evening’s activities before my husband got home. I went into my room, lay on the bed, and stared at the ceiling.

A few minutes later, I heard the door squeak open, and my daughter came in cautiously. When she saw that I was awake, she lowered her voice to a loud whisper and asked,

“Mom!! What are blackheads?”

Sigh.

So here I am. Font of knowledge. Scheduler. Cook. Mediator. Taxi driver. Captive audience. Etc. And I love it. Most of the time.

But there are days I get a little worn out. And then, well…

My kindergartner can dress himself, of course, but he’s taken to waiting for me to help him on school mornings. I think it’s because it’s  time for just us, and it makes him feel that his day is off to a good start.

Yesterday, when I entered his room, he was half out of his p.j.s, playing with Pokemon cards. His whole face lit up, and I heard the usual, “MOM!!” followed by something which I can’t recall now.

I sank to the floor and said, “C’mon bud, you’ve got to get dressed and downstairs for breakfast.”

But he just stood there in his pajama pants, smiling at me.

Then, he folded himself into my lap and kissed my face saying, “You’re the best mom ever.”

I nearly cried as I hugged his little body and touched his soft skin.

It’s amazing how one small thank you can more than make up for all of the unacknowledged gifts we’ve given. 

And today, as I hear the birds sing, see the flowers bloom and the sun shine, and feel my heart beat again, I know it is a new day. A chance to start again. One big gift, filled with limitless gifts.

And for all the Lord does for me, I can truly touch His heart today. With thanks.

Let us praise him the more, since we cannot fathom him,

for greater is he than all his works,

Awful indeed is the Lord’s majesty,

and wonderful is his power.

-Sirach 43:29-30

Seeds for an Appropriate Time

On a bright spring morning, a walk does my spirit good. And as I circle my block, I come across her garden.

I can almost see her standing there in the shadow of her home, wearing spring pastels and kelly green tennis shoes, pointing out weeds and asking her husband to pull them. Her white hair shines like a crown in the sun. Her eyes dance and her arms wave a happy hello as I walk up her front path.

But she’s been gone to heaven for some time now. And her husband, too – last June. I still miss them – just as much as I did the day I learned that Mr. Schab had at last followed his wife Home. 

So I stand looking at Mrs. Schab’s garden. Her flowers are beginning to bloom.

First, I see a single red tulip.

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Then the blue vinca minor (periwinkle).

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Then the viburnum.

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And her bright pink azaleas.

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Colorful, vibrant life springs from the brown, hard earth.

I seldom see their family visiting the house anymore. I suppose it’s been mostly cleaned out.

But you can’t remove everything that’s been planted, deep in fertile soil. You can’t strip it all – even from ground that appears, on the surface, to be nothing but weeds.

The garden renews my hope in the Promise. That with God’s help, our tiny seeds of peace and love – in our families, communities, nation, the world – will surely blossom into something beautiful, when the appropriate time comes.

As the earth brings forth its plants,

and a garden makes its growth spring up,

So will the Lord God make justice and praise

spring up before all nations. 

-Isaiah 61:62

 

The Lift

The Lift

A Lift? Here?

You recognize this. A Starbucks. We’ve all been to one. Or 50.

And yet there’s more going on in this photo than you might think. In the far right corner of the coffeehouse is a young woman interviewing for a job, and I was there when she walked in.

I was at the counter going through my wallet to find the free drink card that I’d been working on over the holidays, when I realized I hadn’t even acknowledged the cashier. ‘Aw, man!’ I thought. ‘How often am I in such a rush that I fail to look people in the eye? He deserves at least that.’ 

I found the card, faced the young man straight on and made sure to finish the transaction – with eye contact – and a sincere, “Thank you. Have a good day!”

Then, I smiled at the barista and thanked her when my white chocolate mocha came up. She smiled back because I actually looked at her. Whoa. I was on a roll!

I was fishing for my car keys when I saw the woman in her late 20s come in. Gray and black wool skirt, black tights, sharp shoes, a moss green jacket, coordinating scarf, and her auburn hair trimmed neatly and tucked behind one ear. Fairly large portfolio under her left arm.

A man in his 60s sitting at the far table by the door looked up from the stack of papers he was reading.

“Hello!” She smiled. Made eye contact. “Are you Mr. Patterson?”

He smiled back.

To me, she seemed just the right combination of bubbly, warm, eager, and professional. I liked her immediately. I will probably never see her again, but in that moment, I could do one thing for her. I could lift her up.

“Lord,” I prayed silently, “I don’t know her story but You do. You know if this is the job she needs. Give her courage today. Give her confidence in her abilities. Please help her succeed with the gifts and talents You have given her. Give her wisdom to make good decisions. Please whisper to her that no matter what happens, You love her.”

That day, I heard a whisper just before I knew I was supposed to pray. And it was this: Who are you lifting up today? 

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about all week. I’ve heard it said, “Never ignore a generous impulse,” so this week I haven’t, and over the last 7 days, as the Lord has prompted me, it has been my privilege to encourage, and listen, and pray for, and be present to more people than I believe I usually am. It has undoubtedly been a great week.

Yes – there have been sacrifices made in terms of time. Today I have a mountain of laundry to do and the house is a bit of a wreck. But, as my mom once told me, “It’s not like someone’s going to knock on your door and give you the Good Housekeeping Award.” And what’s a house compared to the greater glory of a full life?

I’ve been called to other work this week. The quiet, often hidden, sometimes secret work – of lifting others up. The life in me has been bolstered and enlarged because of it and I am deeply satisfied. But then, why am I surprised? That’s what He promised all along. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

The life of the Lord, living in me, if only I believe in Him with my whole heart. What a promise. What a pool of hope. What a source of eternal joy!

When people are brought low and you say, ‘Lift them up!’ then he will save the downcast.

-Job 22:29 (NIV)

The Bucket

“I have an invisible bucket.”

This got my attention. And what he’d said was so much more interesting than The Washington Post article I was reading about the latest hate-filled thing Donald Trump had said.

I looked up from the paper, over the lunch dishes, and across the table at my 5-year old son.

“You do?”

“Yes,” he continued, “with me all the time.”

“Oh! That’s right,” I replied in a sing-song mommy voice, now remembering the special book he’d been taught at the beginning of the school year.

Fill a Bucket by Carol McCloud explains that we all carry a bucket with us each day. It can be filled with good things or bad things, and its contents are mostly determined by us. Yet we can help others fill their buckets by speaking to them kindly and showing love through our actions. Others can do the same for us. Negative words and the like have the opposite effect – they empty peoples’ buckets. But the secret jewel in living life knowing about these invisible buckets, is that you can enrich your own – that is, you can fill your own bucket – by filling others’ with love.

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For whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling especially loving that day, and the article I was reading was probably draining my bucket a bit. But the good news is that the work we do as parents day in and out can pay off when we least expect it.

“So,” I said, “What’s in your bucket today?”

He climbed down from his chair, took a couple steps over and put his face very close to mine.

“So much goodness.”

I wrapped my arms around him, buried my face in his neck, and kissed his little ears and cheeks until he wriggled free, giggling, “Mommy, Stop! Stop! Stop!”

My bucket was filled for days.

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