A Girl

Sweet and expressive. Tender and sensitive. Friendly to a fault, eager to please and anxious to be liked.

Definitive sounds of a baby stirring and then, “Mommy? Hold you?” drift into my room… followed by a small sweetly groggy voice, “Joshie can I hold you?” She stretches, the image reminding me of a kitten uncurling from a nap, and climbs down from her warm nest on the top bunk.  Her silky golden hair falling gently around her shoulders as she pushes it out of her face.  Her small delicate hand gently strokes the baby’s hair as she absently yawns.  She leans in and kisses the top of his head, he leans into her, sucking on his pacifier, his chubby hand pats her tummy.

Nurturing. Gentle. Graceful. Delicate.  She remains by my side, stroking her baby brother’s cheek, as I change his diaper.  “One day I will do this for my own babies, ” she says, sleep still thick in her voice.  She smiles as her baby brother looks up at her, and the two of us share a knowing look between us before her attention is wrapped around her baby brother again.

Perfume.  Giggles.  Shoes.  Dresses.  Horses.  Emotional, empathetic, irrational and undeniable. Eager to grow up, become a woman, become a mama, to be valued, cherished.  Quiet intense energy, fluctuating and circling feelings, ready to talk, driven to share.  Learning her own capacity, always seeking certainty and security. Aspiring to be me.

My Daughter.

I see in her my own reflection, hear my voice in hers, my tones, my emotions, my inflections.  I see my heart in her eyes, desire, responsibility, beauty.  In my daughter, my legacy, the gentle tapestries of all the qualities and character the women before her handed down.

In her all I pour will return to me, as it is with mothers and daughters… already she takes up slack where I yield it to her, already she fills in gaps where I leave her room.  And I cherish these years, while we work side by side, pushing and pulling the lines of womanhood, bonding in that understanding that women carry for one another.  She is my daughter and she is my friend.

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When Faith Is Not Enough

The older I have grown the more I experience pain.  My own and others.

A few years ago we lost my husband’s mother.  It was unexpected, and badly timed.  She was preparing for a trip to walk the Holy Lands, a dream she’d shared with us since I was part of the family.  Her road had been rough, littered with illness and recoveries, and she was finally getting to a good place.

Our neighbor had a baby girl who died only a few weeks before my husband’s mother, just after Christmas. She was a little over 3 weeks old.  Tiny.  Precious.  Beautiful.  In a casket, like a wax figure, a porcelain doll.

I know other mothers related to me and friends of mine who deal with genetic defects their babies have to overcome daily.  Miraculously.

I hear of friends I knew in my old home across an ocean who have passed away – no older than I am.  My last memory of them is their laughing faces.  Car accident and cancer.  One leaving behind a spouse and child.

People I love facing heart break, betrayal and failing relationships.

I think of my marriage.  The years of struggling to understand, forgive, accept, walk beside and listen to another selfish human being.  I didn’t expect to be hurt when I got married.  At least, not in the ways my heart has broken.  One person yields such power when we allow them in deep.  When we trust.  When we open ourselves up to admire.  I think of the disappointments we have faced together.  Gut wrenching, heart breaking.

I carry around with me a veil of residue from each hurt and pain I’ve felt, whether my own or belonging to others I love.  A cloak of bearing up under all that has hurt my heart.  I didn’t used to have this heaviness.  Is this just part of growing older?  Is this just how life feels after so many years?

I argue with myself about Faith.  The conundrum.  My sister-in-law had great faith that our mother-in-law would make it through.  She didn’t.  We were all praying for our neighbor, that tiny baby girl. She left grief stricken parents behind, and two big brothers wondering what made them so big.

Why does faith produce such miraculous results, and still leave such gaping wounds?  What theology understands it and can convey it?  If His ways are known to the angels, who see His face, only when He commands them, then who here can truly understand?  What voice can make sense of if?  Unless God Himself comes face to face with us and explains the mysteries, who can speak for Him?

And He gently speaks to my heavy spirit.  You are small and knowledge would crush you, understanding would break you. It is enough that I Am.  But my childish pride still wants more.  Is it enough?  When Faith isn’t enough I’m left with questions.

And He gently responds, Then ask and I will answer you. Hope stirs – a flutter.  I discover that the tiny surge of hope yields the first small stich of healing. When faith is not enough, God is still big enough for my doubts, not troubled by my questions.

But, when my patience with waiting for answers is all used up, my heart resorts to anger.  When faith is not enough to get my answers – when it’s not enough to satisfy until God’s timing suites Him, when I am ranting within myself and frustrated, He gently replies, Look behind you, child.  See how much has been mended. Take it in, understand.  Be calmed and know I love you still. 

And if I do look behind me, if I quiet myself to understand what I am seeing, at first I only find questions still lingering.  But gradually, I see it.  The repairs that have been done, the changes that have been woven into the shorn threads.  I see where I have sabotaged His work too, in my anger and ignorant judgment.  And where He has started repairing even that.

When faith is not enough I begin to understand that God extends to me just the amount I need, so perfectly dosed I am not aware I still carry any. I am brought to my knees, broken in a whole new way. So focused on my feelings, my agony, even when the pain is not my own to hold, I have been my own biggest hindrance to faith that is enough.  Wrapped up in pride, determined to know.  Lost in my lacking, faith will never be enough.

God has never asked of me to have perfect faith.  He has never scolded me for not believing more deeply. Never has He chided me for not praying harder, or hanging in there longer.  Each and every moment all He has asked is to be God; for me to look into His presence and acknowledge the truth there. He is my Creator.

When faith is not enough, I am coming to terms with the fact that I cannot make it be enough. I am also coming aware of the healing that happens when I remember my rightful size in perspective to the One who created me, and all on earth.  He who is aware of every tragedy and is wiser and bigger than I.

When faith is not enough I am learning that it usually means I am trying to be bigger than I am, more in control than I can ever hope to be.  Wiser than is rightful for my human heart.  Just maybe I can learn to wait, to grieve and mourn and look at His presence when those feelings loom larger than myself.  Maybe I can learn, not how to have enough faith, but to adjust my perspective of the world I am in – the microscopic corner I claim – in relationship to Him.

And just maybe it’s not faith at all that I need more of… maybe it is humility I lack.  To acknowledge just how small I am, and how the understanding He carries would indeed crush me without His protective presence.

(Isaiah 26:3-4) You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 

(Isaiah 30:15) For thus says the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”

My Love

Have I told you yet today, how much I love you?

How I appreciate the little things you do?

Everyday we move in and out of our tasks and schedule, in tandem, in unison, even in contradiction.  It’s in the little things you do that show me you still care.

When you remember me.  My randomness.  My need for routine.  When you think of me in the odd little ways that no one else would know.

We find ways everyday to show our love.  We’re learning.  We’re growing up, together, into this adult life. Discovering what living as one flesh looks like.  What a messy business it is.

But you love me still.

I know because of all the little things.

I love you.  I am grateful for you.  For all your long hours of work, trips that take you away for a while, hours you spend with the kid and I, the way you jump in and do laundry… even clean a toilet here and there.

I love you.  I am humbled by the humility you display when confronting yourself at your times of lowness. Inspired by your willingness to grow, need for change, hunger for what is real.

I love you.  You put up with my crazes, you have patience with my lack of patience, you laugh at my irrational urges… you rescue me from my silliness.

My Love, do you know how much I love you?  For these last 10 years and 60 more if the Lord allows.

Let me say it again today.

I love you.

 

 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.   ~1 Corinthians 4:7

Strawberry Picking

We had a couple extra hours this weekend and my hubby got it in his head that we needed to go berry picking.  We headed down 99 in Canby, Oregon.  Sunshine and AC, sunscreen slathered thick, sunnies, and flip-flops, we find the place he is looking for.

A pleasant looking woman approaches us, her long skirt billowing in the breeze, her grey specked hair tucked under a black scarf neatly pinned on her head, a few wisps floating free. She holds out a sun leathered hand and welcomes my husband and they get busy chatting and pointing to the rows of berry plants.  My daughter and I tie back our hair, and we strapped on the baby’s sandals. My son got busy finding a good stick to make into a sword.

Carefully instructed my son and my daughter set off with bags in hand, determined to find the biggest and sweetest.  My husband gleefully trails behind them, reliving a childhood memory.  My toddler and I follow, carefully stopping to examine a few rocks, some thistles, a bug… finally the first little berry bush.  He squeals with delight at inspecting the small bright red thing hiding below the dark green leaf he plucked.  Eat it? He wants to know.

How do kids instinctively know something is meant to be eaten?

My older two are chatting back and forth in the distance, my husband comes back to us.  Have you tried one? He offers a perfectly shaped strawberry to our baby boy.  The toddler ins’t so sure now. His little tong timidly tastes. Finding that satisfying the top of the berry disappears into his puckered lips, his eyes questioning mine. We laugh as he makes a face as if he were trying a lemon.  Good, he pronounces with a grimace.  No, no more. Bag. He plunks his half eaten berry into our bag.

With that we are busy learning which berries get to plunk into the bag and which ones we taste and which ones we surreptitiously squish when Mommy isn’t looking.  My daughter is careful, delicately moving leaves aside and ceremoniously selecting each berry for her bag.  My son is darting in and out of rows, grabbing at berries as he spots them, determined to be the fastest and collect the most, occasionally swiping bad guys with his sword.  My husband picks with total engrossment, chatting to no one in particular about berry picking as a kid, which berries make the best… whatever desert is currently tipping his memory, and how to find the best bushes – the ones where all the bees are.

It’s not long before we’re done, proudly carrying our loot back to be weighed and valiantly displayed to the grandparents and cousins.  New stories emerge as we pile into the van, sweaty and stained.  A killer bee that was thwarted of its mission to keep the berry patch free from giants… a perfect berry that imploded into red juice when little finger reached for it… the best berry to eat hidden deep within so-and-so’s bag…

The best part is glancing over at my husband, now quiet and beaming.  Satisfied.  A piece of his past successfully relived.  _

A Finer Point of Manhood

I watch my son’s eyes lock onto the activities of bikini clad teen girls as we enter the pool.  His face a mask, but his eyes telling a full story.  Large, curious, drawn to skin and curves and giggling, absorbing the activity of the young men engaging the girls.

Short of walking ahead of my son and covering pictures or yelling for modesty from all who may be present as we arrive, I wonder how to deal with the sexually explicit world he is encountering.  How do I instill in him the importance of purity, or even what that means, and discourage lust – or even define that for him?  How do I convey the motives behind girls’ desire for attention, that the needs they crave fulfillment for are not for his entertainment?  That his curiosity and attraction is God-given, but requires the art of self-discipline, honor and respect in order to fulfill what will one day be desire in the manor God intended?

“Son,” I gently pull him aside, “they are pretty, aren’t they?”

He doesn’t even need to ask me what I am referring to.  He nods with a sheepish, questioning grin.

“It’s good that you can appreciate them, but I need you to do something for me.  Will you practice not staring at them?” I wait.  He looks up at me, searching my face to see if I am displeased.  He nods, satisfied that I am not upset, smiles and jumps into the pool.

Throughout our swim I watch him.  He plays with boy-ish zeal. Then the group of teens comes closer and his eyes are drawn, as if magnetically, to the girls.   Innocently he stares.  Hardly blinking when he is splashed he wipes away water from his face, glued, watching every move.  Like a transe being broken, he turns away and continues to play.  I can almost feel the effort it took on his part, and my heart soars with pride.  He glanses back several times, but faithfully, if such a deep sentiment can be applied to a six-year-old, goes back to playing.

“Son,” I call him to me long after we are home and dressed, “I saw you watching the girls at the pool,” I pause, seeing his attention snap to my face with intensity, “And I want you to know that I am very proud of how grown up you handled your eyes.”

He beams.

“It’s hard to look away when they are so pretty and not very dressed isn’t it,” I ask.  I see a flash of embarrassment cross his face as he nods. “My son, that is how God created you. And I am pleased that you are exactly the way you were created to be.”  I pause again, seeing that I have his attention back.

I lower my voice, he is interested, “But He also wants you to learn self-discipline, and to save your looks for one girl, when you are ready to marry her,” he nods. I continue, “The way you feel around those girls is a gift God has given you, and right now, as you are a boy growing up, He wants you to learn how to use His gift the way He intended it for you.”

He is intent on my face now, curious, waiting for me to go on.

“To begin with that means that you practice not staring even when you feel really really curious.  A man makes wise choices about what he sees and how he feels.  Can you do that?”  I wach as his chest puffs up, and his chin juts out. “Yes,” is his resolute answer, enveloped in all of his 6-year-old might.

And I wonder.  Did I handle that right?  Does he really understand?  Do I really understand?  Did I go too deep?  Did I go deep enough?  And I pray.  I pray for his heart, his mind, his eyes.  I pray for understanding.  I pray for wisdom.  I pray for strength, for us both.  After all, I am only his mother and he is learning the ropes of becoming a young man…

A Day Off

We stay in pj’s and wake up slowly.  The calendar square is empty on this day.  We eat in the living room and watch Martha Speaks and Dinosaur Train, maybe even an episode or two of Barney, for the baby’s sake. We don’t do chores or worry about cleaning up right away.  We may build a fort or read a pile of books.  We’ve been known to play Sorry! and color pictures too.  We munch our way through left-overs and treat ourselves to hot coco or berry lemonade, depending on the weather.  We laugh, and sometimes we have to take a few moments to sort out stored up feelings from a busy week.  We take naps, we go for walks, we sit and stare at the fish tank bubbles.  We each do our own thing for a while.  We refresh, clean the slate, take a break, refuel our tanks, remind ourselves how much we enjoy each other and remember all the things we are thankful for. We pause.  We breath.  We reconnect. Its a day off.

                                                 

 

A boy

Warm yellow sunlight filtering in the window.  A stretch.  A yawn.  A pause.  Then the memory of yesterday’s game left unfinished on the back porch, and energy from a mysterious well propels his little body up and out of bed.

Hair tussled and fingers still warm with sleep he bounces onto my bed.  Definitive sounds of a baby stirring and then, “Mommy?  Hold you?” trail in after his wake of early morning momentum, while he pushes his way into my arms, a smile from ear to ear.

Skinned knees, dirty cheeks, sparkling blue eyes.  Sweaty neck and scuffed shoes.  One hundred thoughts pouring out of his childish lips as fast as he can part them.  Piles of rocks, shells, broken parts and forgotten gadgets line his corner of space.  Creations and presents for Mom.

Exuberance.  Fearlessness.  Strength.  Tenderness that breaks forth effortlessly.  Brave.  Every inch a full grown man tucked awkwardly into a six year old body.  Lazer intense focus on things right in front of him, a challenge to hear the world around him, even his beloved mother’s voice.  Passionate.  Unabashed.  One volume.  Tenacious with an inner drive to conquer that overwhelms us both at times.

My son.

One day all the childish, awkward, inconvenient, loud boisterousness that mark his youth will be the very qualities, refined, disciplined, focused, that will bring about courageous accomplishments.  Will touch lives, possibly save lives, possibly give life.

Every ounce of energy I spend in his whirlwind childhood is like concentrated power, motivating him forward, enabling him to accomplish all that God intended his little life to be.  By the end I may be drained, but in the end it will be my life overflowing.

And, by God’s grace, his life will overflow greater and stronger than mine, when I am finally Home.

Down Memory Lane

My husband gets to travel frequently with his job.  At times it means we all get to tag along, especially if he is driving somewhere.  This past week we had the privilege of visiting one of my childhood stomping grounds, Port Townsend, Washington.  We left early in the morning, packed cereal in baggies and stopped for snacks.  It takes 4 hours of driving. Turning off of I5 just past Tumwater we enjoyed the windy scenic 101 up the Hoods Canal and onto 20 along Discovery Bay, until we are across from the north end of Whidbey Island.

Our hotel room overlooked Puget Sound, and the kids were glued to the balcony railing watching sail and fishing boast float into and out of the jetty and marina.  My husband headed off to his meetings and with a diaper changed and necessities taken care of, my three little companions and I set out for a walk into town.  My son leaping and charging, my daughter carefully hanging onto the end of my sweater, my toddler swinging his feet and waving to passing cars from his stroller.

After lunch we walked through the little waterfront town. We went to a couple of old stores that still smell the same as I remembered from 18 years ago, my children enthralled with the toys and window displays, just as my sisters and I had been.  The streets and building were exactly as I remembered, with a few new stores replacing one of my family’s favorite cafes.  We walked out onto the pier where grizzled old men sat shirtless in the sun, delighted to engage my kids and good-naturedly tell me a thing or two about parenting. Only a few swear words slipped out, and they looked enough embarrassed to let it pass.  My kids giggled and covered their mouths with their hands, looking up at me for my reaction.  We watched ferries land and take off with their loads of people and cars, and we yelled hello to various boaters that came within earshot.

My wonderful husband met us as we were heading down to the beach to throw pebbles into the water.  Not an activity my sisters and I engaged in as children, but one that delighted my boys.  With Daddy present more than pebble throwing took place, and my children, dripping and sandy, kept the questions about sharks, crabs, “sea enemies” and dolphins flying as they traipsed over piling rocks behind their Hero.  As tummies began to rumble, my older kids gleefully charged up the path when asked if they’d like to ride the ferry the way Mommy used to.  My toddler joined in with just as much exuberance as he scrambled after his sister and brother.

On the Ferry we treated the kids to hot dogs and chocolate milk. They could hardly hold still to eat.  Their eyes were huge and their words were tumbling and high pitched.  My sons clapping, stomping and jumping.  My daughter quivering and giggling.  As soon as dinner was consumed we were off to explore every inch of the boat, something I remember doing with my sisters so well.  “Mom, did you see this with Aunt Candy and Aunt Ali?”  “Mom, did you go all the way to the top when you were little?”  “Mom, did you get as close to the water as I am when you were with Nonie and Grandpa?”  “Mom, did you have this much fun?”  Yes.

With the kids asleep in their beds, my husband and I sat on the balcony bundled in sweats, hoodies and a blanket, eating our supper.  Our fingers brushed and our eyes met and we smiled.  The sun set brilliantly and boats floated by us quietly.  Light clouds came in and the moon illuminated the sky and the distant spots of snow on the mountains behind the water.  We sat there holding hands shivering and remembering and laughing… just reconnecting, until 1 am.

When my toddler woke up at 5am my husband gently pushed me back into the pillows and swept him up in his arms.  They left the room and walked the shore below our hotel together in the hazy morning light.  My older two quietly crawled into bed with me and we snuggled into consciousness lazily.

“This is the bestest of your kid life you have shared with us, Mom,” my six year old whispered.

“Can this place be part of our kid life for always,” my eight year old asked, brushing my arm with the back of her tiny hand.  The only response I could offer in that moment was to snuggle them closer and quietly thank the Lord for this amazing adventure He is walking us through, sometime on repeat.

Downsizing

We just moved across town.  This is our 3rd home in 2 years.  We went from a 4 bedroom 2000sq ft home sitting on nearly an acre in Grand Rapids, Michigan to a 1500 sq ft, 3 bedroom home on a tiny lot in Vancouver, Washington.  And now, to a townhouse in an apartment complex that allows us just over 1300sq ft of living space, gratefully with an attached single car garage, in Beaverton, Oregon.

In the process we have said good-bye to many possessions.  As we have sorted and agonized it has been wonderfully clarifying to see what we truly value, and to watch our home become less about things and more about people.  It is also clear to us that we are well blessed beyond our net worth, as seen in the amount of things we’ve possessed, most of which was gifted to us. Taking moments to let this revelation sink in and to enjoy the love that has been shown us through these gifts has been a gift in itself.

We still have plenty of stuff, and could probably stand to say good-bye to another 3rd of what we currently house without a problem or inconvenience.  And there have been some surprising challenges pop up in this process. Guilt over letting go of Grandma’s tea cup, sadness in saying goodbye to baby blankets we haven’t used for nearly a year, and fear of what So-and-so might think of us giving up such-and-such.  Then, there is the challenge of well intentioned family and friends offering new treasures as they hear tale of our children’s woes over the loss of broken Mc Donald’s toys… And, of course, what to do about birthdays and holidays that traditionally celebrate with the exchange of gifts.

Realizing that we don’t need things to remember that we are loved, that the gifts we are given are not the true present, but that the love we are shown by the expression of these gifts is what we need to hold on to and remind each other of; this is a new family goal we have set for ourselves.  Remembering that things have a place and are ment to be enjoyed, but can also be let go of or passed on for others’ enjoyment is a new mindset we are wriggling into.  Weighing the emotion of the moment against the overall longer-term outcome is something we are practicing.  Letting go of guilt over how others feel about our choices is something we are learning to free ourselves with.  We are gradually working toward attaching the sentiments to people instead of items.

There are benefits in ways we didn’t expect as well.  As we have downsized to a point where everything has a place we are seeing our budget loosening a bit.  We haven’t lost things or needed to replace things.  As we enjoy everything in its place we are experiencing a new kind of contentment.  The pain of sorting and making decisions is a deterrent to bringing new things into the house to replace something that has already carefully been assigned a spot.  Even my children’s insistence that they “need” something they saw in a store or on TV has decreased.  Playtime has become more enjoyable because we know where all the pieces are.  And I overhear my son saying, “No, we can’t do that until we put this away,” music to my ears!

As challenging and even painful as this process has been I am grateful for this season of downsizing.  It has been as refreshing and uplifting as it has been humbling and hard.  There is so much freedom in living more simply and maintaining only what we need and what we take joy in.

A New Beginning: Day 2

So, yesterday did not go as planned… my house seems even messier than when I started, and nothing is packed yet.  Mostly, my good intentioned directives ended up in frustrated conversations with my 6 and 8 year olds.  My 20-month old clung to me like static, and somewhere along the way someone decorated my entry floor with muddy foot prints, and matching handprints on the garage and laundry room doors.

Sigh.

Today is different tho.  Given that all 3 of my kiddos did not stir until 8:30 this morning and were not even out of their beds until 9am, I figure we are all pretty tired.  The norm around here is between 6:30 and 7am.  After breakfast we lounged among the chaotic piles of laundry, and giggled together over the baby’s antics.  When the baby toddled off to entertain himself I decided a game was in order for the rest of us… if my older kiddos completed tasks before the timer went off they earned ** amount of points – if they were not done, they lost ** amount of points.  We have a postar with a star at either end of a sidewalk like path.  When they reach the top star (10 points) they earn a reward.  We laughed a lot.

Dishes are done, Laundry is folded and put away (tho probably not the way I would have done it…) The kitchen is relatively clean, and a gigantic fruit salad is waiting for dinner.  My entry is still decorated, and the kitchen floor just may be toxic by now… But, my 8-year-old is one point away from earning her reward, and my 6-year-old is 4 points away from earning his. No one is frustrated.

All three of my children are taking a “preventative” nap now.  This afternoon we will play more games, with mops and brooms and cleaning rags.  So not how I envisioned things going… but I have to admit, I really do prefer to enjoy my kids than be super organized wonder woman.  (even tho the tights are amazing…)