Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Instead of briers a myrtle will grow…my feeble attempts at understanding biblical gardening

 
I was talking to a friend briefly the other day about some of the biggest struggles I am facing lately. The thing about Alzheimer’s (or rather one of the things about it, or any other terminal disease, I could imagine) is that it takes a person away slowly. It isn’t methodical, but it is persistent in its progression to conquer a person’s brain, bit by little bit. I don’t know about you, but I am not sure how to deal with that, I mean like really deal with it. I know I should be mourning in a sense. I know that each piece of my dad that is lost (or that will be lost) is something to grieve, as it passes. Because the ugly truth is that by the time my dad dies and the “real” mourning starts my dad will have in many ways been long gone.

So I feel as if I must grieve now, in pieces, just as the pieces of him kind of flicker and dim and go out in front of me. When we first found out a remember feeling jipped. Pieces were lost that we didn’t even know about. I didn’t have time to process and grieve them as they went. I felt like someone stole something from me without permission. (I am sure there is a better way to say that. Do people usually ask permission to steal from you? Anyway…) Well now, less than a year later, I still feel like pieces are being taken from me. This time though I know the thief is coming, and I am helpless to stop it. I clench my fists around the pieces but they evaporate out of my fingers, like a mist. I guess life really is like a vapor.

So I grieve. I fumble at it, because I really don’t know how to do it right. I am also pretty sure there isn’t a “right” way, like some sort of formula for how to grieve. I also fumble at it because while I feel so appropriate grieving, I feel just as inappropriate. My dad is still here. Actually, he is 2 minutes up the road. He plays with my kids every Tuesday night while Peter and I go to Community Group. Their laughs and squeals echo in the air, lingering, hours after he has gone home for the night. Sometimes I sit in the quiet, when the air feels dense, and I can sort of hear them yelling and playing together. I can almost hear the kids saying “Oooh Pooooopppp.” Even Royce says it to him, because even Royce knows Pop is full of silly. So I feel wrong in grieving. I don’t want to waste time with it. I want to spend our time, budgeting it carefully for enjoying the life and time we have.

I am always torn back and forth between grieving what has been lost and enjoying what is still here. That is a hard balance, which somehow I will have to live with now. I am not saying that to sound like a martyr. I am just saying it. Because it is.

So I am trying to find a balance. Between the two. And this search for a balance leaves me exhausted and raw. It makes me want to turn inward, when I desperately don’t want- to coil up like a self-protecting potato bug, in my grief balance. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking only about my suffering (or my family’s), my thoughts and feelings, my life. The temptation is there to build a cocoon around myself and my my family and to fold inward on each other, shutting everyone else out. Maybe that temptation exists because I often feel like this new life we have because of Alzheimer’s is magnetic. I can’t help but look at it, be drawn to it. The temptation to shut others out comes because turning away from the magnet seems like a daunting task. But I fight that temptation. Sometimes extremely unsuccessfully. The sin magnet in my heart can also be quite strong.

I have been thinking about these things for months now, trying to sort it all out. I guess I hoped it would get easier, even though I knew it wouldn’t (won’t). And even writing that sounds ridiculous.

But then I was reading in Isaiah the other day.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”
Isaiah 55:1-3a, 8-13

These verses are lovely. I have been coming back to them for weeks now. They are so life-giving. I would read them over, pray them out loud. But when I got to the end I would kind of gloss over verse 13, because it didn’t really speak to me. Then for some reason, last week, verse 13 seemed to “jump off the page” as people say.

Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever
 
I began to picture each plant mentioned in the first part of the verse. I even jotted down words to describe each one. Thorn bush-prickly, unapproachable, painful. Juniper- evergreen. I am such an agriculturalist that I had to look up Brier and Myrtle online to see what they even are. But here is where I felt the scripture came alive, I had an “aha” moment and (insert other cliché here).  It turns out Briers are thorned plants that grow together to form thickets. They become twisted together on themselves and mangled. Myrtles on the other hand  are a flowering plant that is an evergreen. It has a central vein which nourishes the flowers. Myrtles also produce an essential oil that people have used as an antiseptic and tonic. In Jewish liturgy is a sacred plant used to symbolize good deeds apart from the Torah (or the law).
 
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Hello symbolism! My English teachers from High School would have been all over this stuff…ya know if it wasn’t from the Bible. I honestly almost started crying at the beautiful meaning here, the verse I had all but skipped over, now became my favorite one in the passage as it related to my struggles against grief turning me inward, mangling together my heart and emotions and good intentions and desires into a thicket of briers. I can’t make sense of the thicket myself. I can't untangle myself from it, no matter how hard I try. But then I don’t have to, do I?
 
Instead of the briers a myrtle will grow…a flowering plant, fragrant, beautiful, evergreen, nourished from a central vein. From the “fruit” comes an oil that cures and cleanses others, not by keeping the law (which I am helpless to keep) but rather apart from the law…by grace.
 
Oh God, untangle this thicket within my heart. I don’t want to close others off in my grief like a thorn bush. I don’t want to ensnare others (or myself) by closing off. I want to be life-giving. I often feel like I don’t have much life to give though, God. Nourish me by the central vein of your truth and love. Allow me to bear fruit-fragrant and beautiful, but also practical and a blessing to others in their areas of need. Make the myrtle grow where the briers once were (and still are). I am helpless Jesus. I have tried so many times to do good, for the wrong reasons. I didn’t realize this was tangling me even more in the briers. The law only shows me where my weaknesses are. I can not attain it. May I grow like a myrtle watered by your grace. May my life burst forth from your life, and may it always, ever, only be for your glory, God, for your renown. You are the redeemer, God. Redeem this grief. Redeem this suffering, please God. Make it into something beautiful and enduring. Make it into something that proclaims the joy that can be found through suffering, the non-sensical joy and peace that comes from you. May I love you and love others, because you loved me first, and because your spirit courses through me enabling me to do the good works you prepared in advance for me to do. Redeem me God. Redeem me in this. Turn this thicket, these thorn bushes, these briars, into your beautiful garden God, for your pleasure and fame.

Monday, October 6, 2014

I haven’t written in a while

I haven’t written in a while. It is not from lack of thinking and planning-more a lack of execution. Lately I feel kind of like I am walking through knee deep wet sand. Every step is calculated and labored. It surprised me too, this walking-through-wet-sand-grief. I am finding grief is sneaky, and it steals from you little bits, lotsa bits if you let it.

 

Last September my dad went to work one day, left in the middle of the day after a meeting and didn’t go back. Last September everything changed, even if we didn’t know how much yet, even if it had been changing all along without us knowing at all. In November we found out the probable diagnosis. The Dr. called my mom and told her the feared and unwelcome news “between you and me…Alzheimer’s”. When she told me on the phone that night I felt the vomit coming up in my throat and the silent tears spilling out of my eyes. Everything seemed blurry, the room rushed and spun around me. There was nothing to grasp onto. When Peter came down from putting the kids to bed, he found me collapsed on the dining room floor, clinging to the leg of a chair.

 

Two Novembers ago Peter came home from a family Doctor’s appointment for his dad. He sat with me on the couch. He bristled. He stared. I rubbed his back. Rubbed my swollen stomach as if trying to pacify the kicking baby in my stomach. We sat. Silence and sobs shook us both. “Stage 4” they said. Suddenly life looked much different.

 

Words can pack such more meaning than their syllables convey. One word can change not just the mood, the circumstance, but your life. In a moment, and with two words, spread across the span of four seasons, our lives came to look so much different. Everything changed. Everything was colored, as if even the things that weren't directly changed were somehow touched by the ripples these words left as they dropped themselves right into the center of our lives. Each time the one word news came upon us all I could muster was a whispered one word prayer. The only word I know stronger that “Cancer”, stronger than “Alzheimer’s”. I whispered “Jesus”. And many times since it has been all I have been able to whisper in between the sobs, in between the questions, in between the gulps and gasps for air, the fear, the deep pain that doubles me over at the waist.

 

I whisper only for my ears and His, the name that brings me peace, the name of the anchor of my Hope, the name that intercedes on my behalf giving words to the groanings of my soul. And nothing changes, but suddenly everything is different.

 

Grief is sneaky, but it can’t hide from my Jesus. It is powerful, but nothing is more powerful than my Hope. I don’t have to understand it. I sure as heck don’t like it. But in the grief that suddenly leaves me without air, I know where my comfort comes from.

 

I have so many more thoughts on this-so much more of the ways God has used this grief, these one word diagnosises to draw me closer to Him, to teach me things I would otherwise never have learned, to comfort me and change me in ways I am thankful for beyond words. I can’t type them now. I will try to share some of it soon. God has been changing me. He has been chiseling at me for a while. Turns out chiseling is painful and sometimes I want to run from it, but bit by bit God is revealing something beautiful. He is chiseling away at my pride, my selfishness, my lack of faith, my foolishness, my insecurities. Basically He has been chiseling hard, and with a purposeful, masterful hand at my heart. And I am in many ways raw. But when I get a glimpse I can see slowly it is becoming something a bit more beautiful, because I see more and more of Jesus there. The beauty is not my own. It is His. His work. His beauty. His glory.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

a letter to my son as he starts preschool

 

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Braxton,

Last week you began preschool. Last week you put on your Ninja Turtles backpack, because your Knight one was on back order and because you have a newfound interest in Ninja Turtles since that is what big boys like. You stood underneath the Hazelnut tree in our front yard, flung your shoulders back and gave me your best “I am not nervous. I am a child-man” smile. And as I watched you through the lens of my camera, everything suddenly became a bit blurry.There comes a moment with each child, I am sure, where you look at them and realize they are not a baby or a toddler but that they actually look like a KID.

                   

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Tears began to fill my eyes, as I realized who it was standing under the tree for the milestone first day of school picture, who it was bouncing around the front yard, clinging to the door handle of the van, begging for it to finally be time to go. It was you.

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My B-boy: the one who taught me about fighting for love, the one who burrowed and carved out a place for himself in my heart, the one who I never knew I needed but God knew, the one who since birth has wanted to cuddle me cheek to cheek. You are the hero who valiantly fights for what he strives for, my sensitive spirit, the one who taught me to appreciate little boys. You are the one taught me to let stuff go and not take myself so seriously, the one who laughs with his whole body and smiles most with his eyes, the little brother taking 2 steps and a little hop to keep up with his sister’s stride-the one always trying to prove he is big enough, the big brother doting on his little sister-tickling her, babbling in her face and making up goofy-mush-mouthed nicknames that stick. You are the one who apologizes at least a dozen times without breathing and makes a wincing face when he thinks he has been dishonest and tricked me when I play along with his pretend games. You have been King Peter of Narnia, a Pirate, a rock-star, a digga-man, his sister’s prince and groom, a super-hero, and most often a Knight but truly you are my favorite boy in the world. And that morning you were a kid ready to begin a new adventure of school.

And then it was. Finally time to go.

 

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You have waited through two years of Hayleigh going and you tagging along, never staying. Always hearing stories, but never having ones of your own that are quite as fantastic. You have spent two years coveting juice boxes and birthday snacks and holiday parties and crafts with lots of glue. Well my sweet boy.now it is your turn. I have known for a long time that you were ready. And I thought I was too.

Then the morning of your first day came and so did the tears. More accurately the tears set in the night of the orientation. I saw your name on the attendance stick where your picture would go each morning as you checked yourself in at school. And for some reason that just got me. I thought of my little boy doing big boy things-the things that Hayleigh has always been the one to do, the same things you have been watching and waiting to do for the past two years. (When you are 3 1/2, two years is a long time to wait.) I had spent so much of my energy preparing myself for Hayleigh’s transition to Kindergarten that I had not prepared myself for your’s to preschool. Oh, I knew you were plenty ready. And we made a big deal out of you going. I made sure that this milestone of yours was not glossed over in any way, except maybe in my own emotional preparation. It was strange walking you into preschool for “Meet the Teacher Day”. I was so used to you tailing along behind or trying to drag you out of the play room after dropping Hayleigh off. This time you walked in not as the younger brother, but as the student. Where has the time gone? How is that my baby boy wearing a backpack and grinning a self-conscious smile for the camera? I shed a couple tears after you left for your first day. You chose Daddy to take you. I both loved and was saddened by that.

 

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You were quiet with nerves as you left. Unlike you, but it made sense because in the days since Hayleigh has started school you are a bit of a puppy without an owner. I was excited for you. I was anxious with anticipation for you to have your own experiences, your own stories, your own crafts with lots of glue, your own friends and your own adventures. And you were so sure you would have your own adventures too. Day 2 you dressed in a Spiderman mask, a “sword belt” made out of an old necktie (a staple around here for the past 6 months or so), your “hard sword”, a paper towel roll sheath, your bow and arrow, your arrow belt and a handful of broken arrows and foam swords bent from the endless battles they encountered this summer.

Oh how I love your personality. There is almost too much of it for your body to contain. And now I send you and your personality that fills up a room off to preschool every Tuesday and Thursday morning to fill up new places with your contagious joy and adorably mature beyond your years thoughts.

When you came home from your first day (only an hour long), you literally burst through the door screaming for me. “Mooommmmmmyyy!! It was SOOOO GWEAT! I want to go back EV-AW-WY DAY!” And later while you were on the toilet you called me in to say “Mommy, I made a block road with BOYS today!!!” That was my favorite part of that day-just hearing you say that.

 

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I am so happy for you, my B. You will never have to be the first to do something, the one braving new territory the way your sister does. You have the luxury of having it all tested out for you first. And for all the waiting you did, I know you were a bit nervous to try it out for yourself. I am sure this will be the pattern in some ways for your whole life. What if this doesn’t work out the way it did for Hayleigh? What if I don’t do as well as her? This is what it looked like for her…but what if that doesn’t work for me? What if it looks different? Is that worse? And even if Hayleigh has done it all before and Daddy and I have done it vicariously through her, it doesn’t mean it isn’t new to you. I promise I will try to remember that throughout your life and milestones, my B.

But there are some things I want you to remember too. You don’t have to do things the way Hayleigh did or does. God made you different. He made you to be just the right person to fulfill His plan for you, just as he made Hayleigh just right to fulfill His plan for her. I fully expect you to have different victories and struggles throughout school and life. I am proud of the person you are and I love you unconditionally. More importantly, God does too. Just because you may do something second, does not make it any less significant to us or to God. You and your life are a big deal to us. I am confident that you will excel wherever you go. You are such a light. Literally wherever we go Daddy and I notice people look at you and smile. People who know you will laugh as they recount stories of you to us. You have a God-given ability to make people smile, and not just on their faces, but from deep within their hearts. You touch people and bless people in very meaningful ways, without even trying to. It comes so naturally to you. I am just so excited for you to spread some of your joy in school.

 

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We talk a lot around here about being strong and courageous. I think we talk about those traits as much for me as for you guys. You see being strong and brave and courageous is not natural to me. But motherhood has a way of forcing you to be and do things you never thought you would or could be or do. I am learning to be strong and courageous. I am hoping it is something I can impart to you-although from what I have seen in your 3 1/2 years here, you possess a God-given strength and courage which I both envy and am proud of. I guess more than being strong and brave, I want to teach you why. One of our memory verses this month, one that hangs on your wall, one that I have prayed over you since before you were born is Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you may go”.

It is my prayer that you can see the heart behind this verse. It is not a harsh command, but a bit of a pep-talk. It seems to be to be kind of like a coach giving his team final directions before breaking from the huddle. The chide to be courageous and strong is not an empty one made from the sidelines though. It isn’t from the words of a chubby, grey haired coach panting as he paces up and down the sidelines- the same coach who reminisces about the good old days, but who you have never seen take a jump shot. You may even wonder if he can get his arms much above his shoulders. God is not that coach. He isn’t the fuddy-duddy trying to tout the importance of using the “bang board”.  God is not on the sidelines. He is “with you wherever you may go”. He commands you to act with strength and courage because you have every reason to. He is by your side. His strength is yours. “The battle belongs to the Lord” (1 Samuel 17:47). God loves you enough to fight with and for you. He loves you enough to give you a reason to be strong and courageous. He loves you enough to carry you when you feel weak (which sometimes takes the most courage to admit). God told Joshua, and he tells you, to be strong and courageous. But he doesn’t leave it at that. He tells you why. Because He is with you. He is with you at preschool. He is with your weepy mommy at home. He is with you when you go to “big school” and then even bigger school. He is with you in the classroom, in the locker room, when you get your first job, when you someday have a family of your own. Take it not as a sweaty coach spitting clichés in your ear at a timeout or shouting instruction from his seat on the sidelines. Take it not as a warning or condemnation. Take it for what it is-comfort, encouragement, a source of  the same strength and courage it demands, a promise that requires and prompts action.

After Joshua heard this command and promise from God he immediately obeyed. He went straight away to begin the task that God had for him-leading the Israelite people. In the very next verse he is bolding telling his army leaders to prepare for battle. He isn’t obeying in his own strength or for his own renown-but Joshua obeys with the strength that God provides and for the glory of God. I don’t know exactly what battles God has for you to fight in you life, my B (hopefully there arent a ton in preschool…hehe). But I pray, oh how I pray, that you are dilligent in obediance to God, and not empty obediance, but heart obediance that is spurred on by you love for God because of God’s “first love” for you.  I pray that you will fight with the courage and strength that God commands, the courage and strength that God gives. Because as we know, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:30). And we “can do all things through Christ who gives (us) strength” (Philippians 4:13). That is why I don’t ever just tell you to “be strong” or tough or brave or whatever. I never want to leave out the how and the why. I never want to deceive you into thinking you can accomplish that on your own, or to leave you feeling helpless when you inevitably find yourself to be weak. God is your strength, my B. He is your strength now as you begin your school experience, even if it is “just” preschool. I pray that you will walk with obedience to valiantly pursue the things that God has for you. I pray that you would not spend your time flexing your muscles in the mirror but putting them to use as you obey God and lead where he puts you, for His glory, not your own. And I pray that you would start now.

 

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I love you; I love you; I do, my Buddy-boo.

Mommy

Monday, August 18, 2014

A letter to my daughter as she begins Kindergarten


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Hayleigh Grace,

At the end of May we went to the store and bought popsicles and a pool and something else summery that begins with a “p”, for alliteration’s sake. We were full of big plans and a bucket- list. The calendar was covered in dry-erase marker- scribbles of good intentions. I knew what September would bring but it seemed far enough away that nothing could cloud over the sun of summer.

In the middle of February we drove to the hospital. As we drove up the highway, the headlights twisted and blurred together into a surreal kaleidoscope. This was happening. Was this happening? I was going to be a Mom. I clutched my stomach and Daddy’s hand. The blur followed me into triage and into the delivery room. There you were. I laughed and cried simultaneously, spontaneously, the first time I saw you. Motherhood was handed to me, wrapped in a hospital blanket. In the hospital blanket, in that knit cap, all wrapped up in those cheeks and those pursed lips and raised, clenched fist, was Motherhood and all that came with it. Nothing could have prepared me for how much I would be changed by it. There amidst the blur, I felt the empty space in my heart fill up. I didn’t know what exactly was happening, and certainly not exactly what would come next, or how much I would grow to passionately, heart-achingly love you. I only knew a fraction of what it felt like, but I knew I felt different. I knew this was what I was meant for. I also knew that off on the horizon, way off in the distance, some 5 years or so later, that this September was coming. But it seemed far enough away that nothing could cloud over the warmth I felt growing in my heart, nestled in my arms.

The blur still follows me and swallows me up at times. The September that for so long has seemed so far off, is fast approaching. In just over 2 weeks you begin Kindergarten. Although I am truly excited for you, I ache with the knowledge of the change that is coming. It is not just that you are growing up. It is mostly because I am just going to plain old miss you, so much. Because the truth is, the older you get, the more I see of the amazing person God has given me to raise, the more I just plain old  like you. I enjoy being with you. You are sweet, and funny, and creative, and sensitive, and caring, and smart, and so fun to be with. I know that while you are off sharing those qualities with your new teacher and classmates that we are going to feel a void here at home during the day. And that makes me sad.

I know there will be times, while you are just up the road laughing and learning and painting and playing, that I will want so desperately to wrap my arms around you and feel you dive into me for an arms-around-the-neck-Hayleigh-hug. I will be a little bit jealous of the people at your round table who get to hear you giggle, with your face all scrunched, your shoulders all hunched and your hand just slightly in front of your mouth. Part of me wants to scream at them to appreciate you. The other part of me knows that is not really what matters.

But as much as my heart aches at the thought of dropping you off at Kindergarten and turning around to walk out the door, my heart is full of joy at the person you are and the light you will bring to that school. I know that it will be a better place because you are there. I know the teacher God picked for you is the right one to help mold you into the person he desires you to be. I know there will be tough times, for both of us. But I also know that you are ready. You are ready to be generous with the people around you: sharing love, sharing fun, sharing your big ideas, sharing kindness and “honey words”. Really, I could take a cue from you. I want to hoard you here at home with me, but in reality you were never mine to keep. You are mine to love, to raise, and to let go in little pieces so that just as God shared this bit of light with me back in the middle of February 2009, I will share you with the world.

There is verse painted in purple with love by a dear friend before you were even born. It flutters across the bottom of a mirror that bears your name and the butterflies that covered your nursery then. It says “Children are a gift from God. They are a reward from Him”. As my belly stretched with you, and my mind stretched at the idea of raising a child, this verse was a source of comfort and purpose for me. It is from Psalm 127, which also contains some more of my favorite verses about parenting.


“Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
 Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
 How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.”
Psalm 127:3-6 (NLT)
 
You were the first arrow in our quiver. You will always be my first baby, the one who made me a Mommy. The thing about arrows though, just ask your arrow-shooting, sword-wielding brother, is that they are meant to be shot. They aren’t meant to be hoarded in a quiver. In the quiver they aren’t serving their purpose, reaching their full potential. What good is an arrow to a warrior unless he shoots it?
 
I think of the art of shooting an arrow. The warrior takes aim. He sets his sights on where he wants the arrow to land. He points the arrow precisely in that direction. He pulls his arm back. The weight of the bow is heavy. It takes strength and skill to launch the arrow. But when he does, the arrow soars. It flies with purpose, guided by the aim of the warrior’s bow. The arrow is the joy and pride of the warrior. It keeps him from shame and defeat.
 
I think it is interesting, Hayleigh-Girl, that God doesn’t refer to you (my child) as a precious vase or a beautiful tapestry to be kept on a shelf or hung on a wall- on display for all to see. You aren’t a jewel to be kept under lock and key. In this passage, God calls you an arrow. And as anyone knows, arrows are meant to be shot-with precision and skill, but shot none-the-less. It is funny really, that verse which has been hanging on your wall from before your arrival, is bringing me comfort as I approach that day which I have known from the beginning was looming there on the horizon. Just as I carried the knowledge of this day with me since I first held you in my arms, so too that passage has been carried along with me this entire time. Arrows are meant to be shot. So, that is just what I will do. Reluctantly, but with great joy, I will take aim. I will pull back the bow and let it go. I will send you soaring, my little arrow, with grace and purpose, out into the world of school.
 
I love you more than words can say. I pray that my actions can convey to you the depth of my love for you. And when they do not, may the grace of God cover over it. May you turn to your perfect Heavenly Father who will never fail you, and may you find your identity, your sustenance and your Truth in Him. And I pray that God, the Father we share, would guide us both. May His hands steady mine as I hold the bow and take aim. May it be with His strength that I pull it back and let it go. And may it be to His great glory and joy that he watches us both-his arrows, soar for Him.
 
Love Always,
Mommy
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Seasons, weakness and anthems

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There I was, 8 1/2 months pregnant, with a 3 1/2 year old and 20 month old in tow, waddle limping through the grocery store. Why waddling? Because 8 1/2 months pregnant. Why limping? Because broken foot and giant walking boot. I had joked that as I looked down at the black monstrosity, that at least now I could see part of ONE of my feet. But as I waddle limped away from the toilet paper display my toddler had knocked over, after realizing there was no way I was going to be able to bend down to pick up the mess, as I tried to wrangle two hangry kids (three if you counted the one in utero), as the grocery bag broke in our drive way spilling a jar of spaghetti sauce all over the driveway and cans of beans rolled down the driveway into a slush puddle at the end of it, as I lugged in bags of groceries and crying kids and shoved them into the pantry and fridge and feeding seats, with only slightly less gusto than I shoved a cookie in my own mouth (my pacifier)-I realized what a metaphor this was for my life at this time. It was pitiful. I stood hunched over the kitchen counter, contracting, crying. The tears and cookie crumbs mixed together on the counter to make a perfectly gross goo. And that is what I felt like, a puddle of goo.

Just a week or so before we had found out Peter’s dad had stage 4 Prostate Cancer. We didn’t know yet the time line he would be given since we didn’t know how well his body would respond to the hormone treatment. I touched my swollen belly and wondered, and cried, and gritted my teeth at God. Peter’s company had messed up his commissions AGAIN, meaning we had to basically rub sticks together for heat and we didn’t have the money to replace the jar of pasta sauce that had broken in the driveway. Looked like it was dry pasta for dinner. I hastily tucked the kids into their beds for naps. I didn’t want them to see me really lose it. The tears were coming. The ugly tears, the gulps and sobs that shake a person. I turned up their fans to the highest setting so all they could hear was the steady, peaceful wirring of the breeze-constant, soothing.  The tears came before I could even make it downstairs. I sat on the steps, gripping the banister and sobbed. I was broken.

Then a few weeks later my Roycie was born with the same force that brought the tears. I couldn’t hold her in either, when she decided it was time. She broke my tailbone when she came. Soon after my foot healed, but the pain in my tailbone lingers. For some reason I thought to myself that this was the end of the season of tough stuff. With each milestone I thought the same thing. Royce turned “One”. It had been over a year now of constantly being broken. Surely this season was ending. I had to stop calling it the “hardest year” of our lives because it stretched into 15 months, 18 months… During that time I was horribly sick from a Gluten Allergy, my Depression and Anxiety were threatening to take control of me, Peter’s company STILL couldn’t get his pay right, a family member lost a loved one in tragically heartbreaking circumstances, my dad went on disability and was later diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 56, and a slew of other things. Life went on. And I kept waiting for the calm-you know, the calm after the storm. But the waves kept crashing. I begged and gasped for air. They say when someone is drowning their entire body takes on the mission of just trying to breathe. They cannot shout for help, when their head bobs above the surface. All they can do is try to catch a breath-a life saving gulp of air. In many ways that was my existence for well over a year. Instead of waddle limping, I found myself flinching and cowering through my days, bracing myself for what was coming next-for the next wave. And it always seemed to come, just as hard as the one before, knocking the wind out of me, leaving me gasping for life and breath.

In these days of feminism and the “you-go-girl-superwoman-busier-is better” culture being weak is far from noble. We are peer pressured into doing more, being more, being able to squeeze chubby toddler thigh in one hand and push over a giant tire with the other. We should rise early to sip coffee, answer emails, journal with colorful hand lettering and perfect the top-knot. And then stay up until the wee hours of the night building our business, washing our dishes, editing our perfectly staged photos with some trendy matte filter, and decorating our homes like something out of House Beautiful.  “Do more. Be more. Hustle.” There isn’t a place for weakness in our culture.  In our culture strength is admirable and weakness is deplorable. And that is how I was feeling on top of the weakness and weariness :deplorable, hideous, guilty, hopeless.

But thank you sweet Jesus that God’s economy is different. Thank you Lord that your economy turns the world’s economy on its head. Thank you that in your world view resting in you isn’t laziness, a woman’s worth is measured more by the state of her heart than her kitchen sink, and thank you God that when you look at me you don’t see the (un) hot mess than I am; you see Jesus. Thank you that I don’t have to do it all. I don’t have to do more, be more, hustle. Thank you for making space for my weakness, understanding that I am but dust. (Psalm 103). And thank you for not leaving me there to blow every which way. Thank you Lord, for turning my life upside down, literally. Thank you. Because in God’s economy weakness = strength.

I have learned a lot over the past almost 2 years now(!) since the difficulty meter got turned way up. Struggle is a very good teacher. But one of the things I have learned, and re-learned, the most is this powerful and life-giving truth. Weakness = Strength. Not my strength, but God’s. And because of that, Weakness = Grace. My weakness causes me to rely on God in ways I never would if I felt strong. It has taught me things I never would have learned otherwise and allowed me to experience God in ways we just don’t when life is easy and we are busy in our strength. If Peter’s paycheck always came in on time I would be tempted to boast in my husband, not in the Lord. Or to find my sustenance in material things, rather than in My Daily Bread. If life was always easy, I would be tempted to keep comfort the idol that I have often made it to be. I would never understand the depth of His grace, the comfort of his compassion, the magnitude of His great love, or learn to trust in His sovereignty. I would tend to think that I had accomplished much on my own. But instead I see that at times all I can do is gasp for air. He is the One who fills my lungs with air, my mind with peace and my heart with joy. He gives me life and strength. So, this weakness, these struggles-they are not my adversary. They are not my greatest curse. They are my greatest blessing, because they lead me to my greatest Hope.

There are still plenty of times where I catch myself limping along, trying to do it all myself. Or I find myself sulking in the corner, throwing myself a pity party with a pile of sugar. But His grace reaches there too. Just the other day a wise and wonderful mentor of mine spoke truth that resonated with me. A group of sweet younger ladies and I were talking to her about difficult seasons of life. (We are all young moms, with kids in the “little years” and husbands who work many hours, God bless them). We were trying to encourage one another by giving perspective from “the other side” of a similar season. But for me the greatest encouragement came from our mentor. She said “Every season is hard.” She said a couple other things to along the line of:  “Oh my dear friends, every season of life is hard. I am sorry this is the part that is hard right now, and it really is hard. But learn what to do when its hard, because the honest truth is every season is hard. Life is hard. It is supposed to be. What are you going to do with it?”

What she said echoed inside my head. I have been waiting and waiting for things to ease up. I have been waiting for a break, for things to be, (gasp!), easy. I have times where I really think I am trusting God and one more thing goes “wrong” again and I lose my marbles. I guess I am not waiting on the Lord so much as waiting for my season to change. Instead of feeling deflated by her statement that every season is hard, I felt such freedom. I can stop waiting. I can stop feeling discouraged or full of self-pity when another wave crashes down on us. Maybe this season is never going to end, or at least the pain of it is something we will carry with us through all the rest of life’s seasons. I am pretty sure that is the case when it comes to our dads. Her words gave me such freedom and such purpose. I can stop waiting with expectations for circumstances to one day change, or for us to transition to an easier season of life. I can instead wait on the Lord with eager anticipation for what He is going to do through these circumstances, through me even, to bring Him glory!

I need to focus less on my storms, less on bracing myself for the next wave. I have spent so much time trying to preserve my life through this “season”. Jesus never did that. He didn’t try to preserve His life. He came to lose it. He came to willingly give it away. I am called to do the same.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
-Jesus
Matthew 16:25
 
My purpose is not to weather a storm. My purpose is to glorify God, in a storm or not. And I think the best way for me to do that is to be weak, because it is then that His strength shines though me. I have often considered myself to be a weak person. I have a weak constitution. I am weak emotionally. I used to try to hide my weakness. Then I accepted it as just being who I am: less than. But because of God’s economy, I can actually see it as an amazing privilege to be weak, to need Him. So, if my goal is to bring God glory, and the way that God gets the most glory is His strength shining through me when I am weak, then I consider weakness a gift, a blessing, an honor. |Even so, I have to admit, there are many times where I am just so tired of being weak. But I usually find that those are the times where I am struggling and fighting to be strong. Those are the times I have lost my focus, where I am focusing on the storm, rather than the one who can calm it.

“That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’”
Mark 4:35-41
 
When I have faith in the One who can calm the storm with a single word, my weakness does not matter. I need to let God quiet the storm within me. I need to let Him speak Truth to me to quiet the storm of other voices pulling me in other directions. I don’t need to do more, be more. I need to do less, rest in Him, and strengthen my faith through my weakness. It is when I accept my place of weakness, rely on His grace to carry me, and seek to bring Him glory that I find I have the most strength-despite my circumstances. That certainly is not because of me. It certainly is not for my glory. I am the one who waddle limps, and cowers, and ugly cries, remember? I am learning to surrender daily to Him who carries me. I am learning He will quiet my storms and bring me safely to the other side (even if the journey is long and tumultuous). I am learning to actually be so, so happy and content in my weakness. Weak people just can’t be strong on their own. It causes me to feel more exhausted and more weary to try to pretend I am strong. So I am giving up the pretenses. I am not strong. I am not even close to strong. I am much closer to that slush puddle my cans rolled into. And I am okay with that. Because it is not about me. It is not about me. It is about Him. So I am going to waddle limp when life calls for it, if it brings Him glory. I am going to cry out in pain, putting my faith in Him. I am going to breath in His grace and breathe out, shout out His praise.  I am going to let Him raise me up on eagles wings, because it brings Him glory.
 
“Those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:31
 
 
And this, this will be my tearful anthem:
 
“Therefore, in order to keep from being conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
 
Yes, Lord. This.






Photo by Rachel Ann Photography
 

Monday, August 11, 2014

July faves part 2

I haven’t emptied my camera onto the blog in a while, so I figured I would take a couple posts to do that. If for no one else than for me so I can come back and see what we did, see how cute my kids are and cry a little because when I come back to look they won’t be quite so little.
In July we went ate a ridiculous amount of fresh berries, Hayleigh went to Frozen dance camp, we had playdates and playground meet-ups a plenty, went on lots of family walks to find treasures and practice our different runs (Braxton has quite the variety), had lots of “cook-outs” which makes the kids’ dreams come true for some reason, and spent oodles of time soaking in the warmth of summer and family. It went by much too fast for my liking. I think every summer should have two Julys. But since we are only given one, we decided to enjoy it. And since we are only given one August as well, we are trying to make the most of that as well!
My family had a special tradition growing up which we have continued now that my sisters and I are adults (still weird to think that sometimes). At Christmas we would give each other “gifts that don’t cost anything”. Really what it means is the gifts are not allowed to cost any money. But they DO cost in energy, emotions, time and thought. It has become one of the most challenging and sweet part of our holidays. I just love it. This year my mom’s gift to us all was that we would each be given 2 months of the year, Peter included, and for that month a family get-together. It could be as simple or as elaborate as we wanted, and whatever we wanted it to be or become, it was up to us. This way each month, at least once, we would all be together (all being my parents, sisters, Peter, the kids and I). Well, we are halfway through the year and we have been pretty successful at getting together and making memories! We have gone to see a 4-story balloon sculpture of Jack and the Bean Stalk, had a family board game night, had an “Orange Party” to cheer Syracuse on in March Madness, had a birthday party for my grandma, gone to the Lilac Festival, dined at the Food Truck Rodeo, and gone to Mendon Ponds (one of my dad’s favorite parks) to fish, have a picnic and eat ice-cream. Tomorrow we are headed up to Alex Bay in the 1000 Islands for a day trip.

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In addition to those monthly activities we have, in the words of my mom: “planned to be spontaneous”. Last weekend we made pizzas and smores at my parents’ with Peter’s parents. The next day we went to Pultnyville and out to more ice-cream with both sets of parents as well. We love how much our families get along. It is a blessing we could not be more thankful for. What sweet memories we are making together. Yes, July was sweet. Well, I guess last weekend was August. (How?!) So, I guess August is off to a sweet start as well!
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Saturday, August 9, 2014

July faves part 1

July has been cri-zazy around here. I am still adjusting to the fact that July was here and now I find myself 1/4 way through August! What the…?? Because this is a place where I chronicle my family’s life and happenings I feel the need to occasionally inundate this space with pictures that my mom and I may “oooh” and “aaahhh” at, but everyone else may scroll through so quickly there pointer finger starts to look like it has been working out. So, “ooooh” and “aaaahhh” if you want. Or if your pointer finger has been taking July off from the gym go ahead and give it a work out by scrolling past all the pictures. I won’t judge. Because I won’t know.

July 4th weekend: Matt, Christina and “the boys” came to visit from Indiana. This provided for lots of sugar, lots of cousin time, lots of berry picking, fireworks, a family reunion and lots of photo opps.
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(Seriously, guys? I am not sure why Hayleigh and Braxton were in a mood. I actually think that is Hayleigh’s attempt at a “picture smile”. And for Braxton? Well, he probably hadn’t eaten in like 3 minutes or something. But in a strange twist of events Royce was actually more than cooperative for a picture. I think it was because we let her be in the “forbidden area” of the yard, right before it drops off into danger land.)
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(I just HAD to document Royce looking at a camera and smiling…on purpose.)
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Some more July favorites from around our house:
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