Friday, January 22, 2016

They're Good when they Sleep

My mother-in-law once told me when she, as a young girl, asked for herself and her brother, "Mama, are we good?" her mother said, "You're good when you sleep." The first time I heard this story, I admit to being appalled. How could a mother say such a thing to her child? Was the implication that the only time they were good was when they were knocked out cold? It seemed pretty harsh, even for German ancestors not known for their effusive affection.

Over the years, Dirk and I have made a bit of a joke of it when our girls catch an unplanned nap in the backseat of the car or on the couch, with a smile we whisper to one another, "They're good when they sleep".  But now, I actually think I get what his grandmother meant and I appreciate that her answer may have been different had she been asked on a different day or even a different time of day. Some days are crammed to the corners with the demands of parenting. Some days the good isn't wildly evident amidst bickering, groans over homework and debates over why Cheetos are not a vegetable. But when the day's work is done and they are nestled in their beds, curls tousled over softly printed pillow cases, that is when we have the full bandwidth to see see that they are good...they are everything good.

Even on the best days of mothering, I am generally quite ready to call it a night as I kiss the little loves to sleep at bedtime. There are times as I'm walking out the door of their room and they ask for yet one more fresh glass of water, it is all I can do not to go bat crazy because I haven't been allowed to clock out at my normal quitting time. The humanity! I usually don't lose my shizzle, and I do really adore these treasured girls, but we all have our limits. In the evening I eagerly anticipate those moments when no one will ask me how to spell something or why owls bob and weave their heads. And yet so many times after they have gone to sleep, I find myself in the quiet all alone and I think only of them.

My mind replays the accounts of the day...sometimes it's the best of moments that come to mind – the times when we loved one another well, laughed heartily, listened intently to one another. Other times I recount missed opportunities or a tone I wish I hadn't taken and I say a prayer of thanks that a new day is coming, a second chance to do better. And soon I find myself climbing to the top of the stairs to have one more look at them. They always look especially tiny in their beds, knees pulled to their tummies, faces softened with nary a crease to be found. It is in this place, where nothing is required of me, that I can see it. All of their goodness rises like cream and I see who they really are...vulnerable, beautiful, tiny, impressionable, treasured little beings entrusted to us for a whisper of time. And I see how good they always are, imperfect, but always good.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Here I will Stand, Here I will Dwell

I love a fresh start, a clean page, and most especially a new year. January always feels so full of promise and hope. Though I don't make resolutions, I do resolve to do things better and set goals for the coming year. I like to focus on a word or two maybe because that's all I can remember. Ha! In pondering and praying about 2016, the words stand and dwell kept coming to me. The idea of being unmoved by circumstance is wonderfully appealing to me. And staking a claim on promises, dreams, new land is what I'd love for this year to be about.  

My friends and family tell me I'm steady and I am glad to agree. You won't have to wonder what sort of mood I'll be in when we meet and I am ever looking for the bright spot in every dark sky. But I know that in my heart of hearts, there are things that make me waver. I want to stand gracefully no matter the circumstance or expectation. I love even more the idea of peacefully dwelling in peace right where I am. I journaled about these words and my hope for the new year on January the 5th. It was just three days later that I got a call from the school nurse to say Emerson had fallen, a broken bone was suspected and I should come right away. The irony wasn't lost on me that my word to focus on for the entire year was stand and just a few days later, a fall happened. Is it bad that my first response was relief when I heard it was anything but head lice? I still have PTSD and it's been three years. Bones have been shattered, NBD, at least there aren't microscopic bugs crawling through the locks of my babe. Seriously, those relentless tiny beasts will survive the apocalypse.

In addition to being thankful that my head wasn't already starting to itch, I was overcome with gratitude for a quick thinking PE coach who saw readily that an x-ray was necessary. We would be okay. We are blessed with ample and fantastic medical facilities all around our city and we have good health insurance. I was so proud of how Emerson handled herself though there is no doubt that it was tremendously painful. Each time she described the way her foot landed on the mat after her handstand to the varied caregivers she saw, my brain scrambled to wash away the image as quickly as it formed in my mind's eye. Just oww!

She didn't waver as she moved her ankle further and further back the way it needed to be for the technician to get the best x-ray images. He told her it would be painful and it was obvious that it was, but she did as he asked without complaint. When the doctor told her that her ankle was fractured and would require a cast, she nodded silently, her eyes brimming with tears. When she was fitted for crutches and had to practice walking on them with her freshly splinted ankle, she listened attentively to his instructions and was walking on the crutches on her first attempt. They asked us to sit in the waiting room while they prepared paperwork for us to take to the pediatric orthopedist straight away where they would assess if surgery was required. As we sat, the EMT came in carrying two small plastic cups-- one full of water, and one holding two Advil tablets. He handed them to Emerson and asked her to take them. She told him she'd never swallowed pills and didn't think she could. He encouraged her to try telling her she could do it by simply putting them on her tongue and taking a big drink of water. She did as he asked but the pills did not go down. He asked her to try again, which she did, but to no avail. He went back to refill the water cup and asked her to empty it and the pills would surely go down and blurted "this isn't hard!" She drank the cup with tears streaming down her cheeks.

This was the wall. We had tapped out the "let's try hard things" quota for the day. She was done. She didn't need to clear another hurdle of bravery today and it was time for me to stand.

I told the EMT tending to us that we would use our own chewable version and to please leave it. Visably frustrated, he took the empty cup and asked her to spit the now bitter pills into it. He returned a few seconds later with a liquid dose of the medication he had in his stock all along. This version is for children ages 2-11 and Emerson is 10. This was the appropriate course for her all along. After passing her the cup he said, "You just broke your ankle without complaint and you can't swallow two little pills. You're stubborn!" Though he had been perfectly kind up to this point, I had a visceral urge to throat punch the guy. Behold the power of words to bring either life or death. I know he was only frustrated because he didn't see this as a big deal, a big ask. And on most days it probably isn't. But some days are filled to the brim with plenty of challenge and there just isn't room for one more "you can do it!" song.

My aim isn't to berate well-meaning care givers suggesting alternative forms of safe medication. Instead I realize that all of this serves as a great reminder that bravery, strength, and standing tall, are so very misunderstood. The truth is, when someone realizes their own limitations and understands when they have hit the wall, that's what strength looks like. It's not stubbornness or weakness or anything else.  My girl is so brave and she doesn't have to swallow anything to prove it. Bravery is in her DNA and mine too. 

My heart was so heavy after seeing her in pain, watching her sit through four hours of appointments and the failed pep talk. I looked at her and said, "You're so brave." She shook her head and said, "No, I'm scared," and I replied, "Oh, girl, you can be both. You can feel more than one thing at a time. Listen, bravery isn't the absence of fear, it's carrying on in spite of it." This is just one of many very proud moments I have had with this little warrior. 

I wish I could say that our time has gone swimmingly since this incident, but it really has not. We both fell the other day when I was "helping" her down a few steps off the bus. This little trick landed me flat to my back on our brick walkway. Ainsley got a stomach virus which displayed itself in a most un-tidy fashion, Dirk's still traveling way more than either of us want him to for work, and yet I am still standing. 

I'm delighted to know that clean pages and fresh starts can happen every day, not just on the first of January. His mercies are new each morning. I praise the God of heaven and earth that good health is our norm and smooth waters are what we know. But I will tell you this, though we wouldn't readily choose it ourselves, we can take a rough sea. We do not venture alone since our good guide is at the helm and we shall persevere. So in the midst of disinfectant scrubbing and assisting the temporarily casted, I stand on the promise that my God is good, so very good and I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

Here I will stand, here I will dwell.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2015, Oh the Places we Went!

Oh 2015!
I love that one of my last glimpses of you was over Ainsley's shoulder through an airplane window. The year was about venturing into new terrain. You took my family to Disney and Epcot, South Padre Island, Homecoming at U of I, cabins and pontoon rides, snow covered forests in Minnesota and the gorgeous Blu hotel at MOA. But you also took me places all by myself. I journeyed to Kansas to celebrate the life of my beloved Aunt Judy and enjoyed time with my incredible cousins. You took me to my 30th high school reunion to rekindle friendships and realize that being comfortable in my own skin today is far preferred to hiding behind it the way I used to when it was youthful and crease-free. But some of my most memorable journeys with you weren't as much about travel as they were about me placing my feet on new territory right where I am. 

You walked me onto a book launch team that changed me for good. You taught me that the internet, though sometimes ridiculous, can be a beautiful bedrock for profoundly deep relationships. You reminded me that true friendships needn’t to be chased, but rather come willingly to my path. You introduced me to names and faces before unknown to me but now forever etched in my heart . You laid out opportunity for me to share my words and be inspired by the words of others in wonderful writing venues.

You revealed a quote, though first spoken in the second century, was new to me this year: “The glory of God is a woman fully alive.” You inspired me to drink deeply the waters of life and savor the moments that are mine. The year before I was abruptly reminded of the brevity of life, but this year you showed me that acknowledging this does not diminish hope for the future however brief it might be. 

I came across this verse today that perfectly sums up how I feel with my face in the wind of a new year:

“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” 
Romans 5:1b-2 (The Message)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Words from the heart of Marianne Jones

Friends, you are in for a beautiful treat. One of my dearest friends is a dragon slayer and full of grace and beauty. She wrote this wrenchingly touching piece that captured my heart. I asked if I could share it with all of you and she generously agreed. My hope is to feature more of her writing here in the coming weeks. The world needs this voice. Let me introduce you to the incomparable Marianne Jones. She is as gifted as she is tender and dear. She has my whole heart and you're going to love her too. Enjoy~

Honesty check: This week I’ve been wrestling. Wrestling with this word “favored” as in when the angel said to Mary “Greetings, one who is highly favored. Mary, Did You Know? Is a fan favorite this time of year. Love it – esp by anyone singing acapella - But Mary, DID you know? How COULD you know?” What were you expecting when the angel said your son would “be great and will be called the son of the Most High…..and his reign will never end. (Luke !:32-33)” Whoa! That sounds like favor. As in I was picked. As in I’m privileged to do something and see something and be a part of something very very very special. I can get behind that kind of favor. Her response was “be it to me as you have said” Not sure mine would have been – but I surely understand she was a very special girl. I’m in her corner. Go Mary. I get “favored” in that context. But this week I’m struggling to juxtapose “favored” with the hard things we’re asked to go through. (Not that we’re really asked) Mary….DID you know? How could you know that your privilege of raising the Son of God would come at such a heart wrenching cost? If you did, would you have said the same thing? (probably so – or you may not have made God’s short list) I know there were joys, but did you know you would have to watch your baby boy turn into a man who was rejected and spit upon and listen as pound by pound they hammered nails into his near naked skeleton? How did you manage the sorrow? Where is the favor in that context? That’s just really really hard. And so I wrestle.

And it’s about Mary, but not really. It’s about me and where I find myself these days. There is a part of my heart that feels extreme privilege somewhere within this cancer diagnosis. Really and truly. It has allowed me a light-hearted perspective about much in this life and a satisfying sobriety and confident assurance about the perfection of the next. Things that I used to think glitter have shown their illusive properties. I value and strive toward substantive things like never before. My life is rich. People around me love deeply. It feels so good to be cared for. There is a part of my heart that feels chosen to walk a road of privilege with God – going to places in my soul where He meets me in the most ridiculously satisfying ways. Favor. In that regard, weird as it sounds, I feel highly favored – as if I’ve been given a trust. But the day in and day out can be really really really hard. And not favor-ful at all. I wrestle like the Psalmist who says “how long O Lord?”

My body is weary. My body hurts. I find myself resentful of God’s interruption….especially during the holidays. Sometimes I see a soul my story touches or encourages and that feels good…but often my days pass by and there are no great lessons learned…no tidy ribbons to tie around blessings gained….just mundane naps and meds and needles and nausea and fears about the future. Just being honest. At least that is what it looks like from here. So I wrestle. And in the quiet of my heart I hear God whisper his name. He is God. He has a plan in motion to point the world to the love He has for them and expensively displayed on the cross. I know very little of the workings out of the plan except one day He asked (well not really asked) Mary to be a part of it. He called her favored though much of what she went through was far from my “I won the lottery” definition of favor. And somehow He is asking me to be a part of it my little corner of the my little way…and I struggle with frustration…because I don’t want to have this c-word. But He is God and this is ultimately His story and so the deeper part of me (though lately reluctantly) cries out “be unto me as you have said.”

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Joy is Always Possible

I posted this on Facebook last week but wanted to leave it here as well.  

Emerson’s school choir performed a selection of songs from their Christmas program at a retirement facility yesterday afternoon. When we walked inside the director asked us if the choir was performing in the Memory Care community or in the Assisted Living. I was unsure and was silently praying that we were not headed to Memory Care. I didn't think my heart could take being in a place like the one my mom lived. A place, though beautifully appointed, is where one’s memories are... entrusted to people who never knew them. And while I was lost in thought I heard her tell us that indeed we were headed to Memory Care and to please come with her. I straightened up and followed obediently with Emerson and the other eager children. And then I got the most surprising and delightful gift I never knew I wanted.
With a wide grin and outstretched hands she came toward me as though we were dear friends. Her black sweater was on inside out and runaway white hairs fanned across her shoulders and sleeves. Her hair, though slicked back in a wide headband, was neither washed or styled. Yet she exuded an undeniable beauty. She clasped my hands in hers and said excitedly, “The children, they’re all so precious. Every single one!” I agreed that indeed they are. I kept my eye on her throughout the program and saw that she beamed with jubilation and kept her hands clasped before her as though she could not contain her delight. After it was over I went up to her and she grabbed my hand again and said, “Every one of them –a gift.” I told her that she was a light and was so full of joy. She looked directly at me and said, “Well, of course.” This woman may have no idea who she once was or what her life was once about, but today she knows this: she is a person of joy. To her it appeared to be the obvious and only choice.
 And just like that, I received my first Christmas gift of the season, one that I feel sure my mom was a part of. This beautiful soul with Christmas in her heart lit the kindling within me and set ablaze my gratitude for this moment, this season, this life in which joy is always possible when I choose to embrace it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Proud Mary

I wrote this post two years ago about Ainsley's role in her preschool Christmas pageant. It remains one of my favorite narratives about trusting the playwright and walking bravely in the role we've been assigned.

Our Ainsley was selected to play the part of Mary in her little school's Christmas pageant this season. I wish I could say that as they searched the class over they could find none more blessed among women than her. Instead, I'm pretty sure she was cast for the role because the costume fit her the best. In any case, a proud Mary she was.

In truth she didn't really feel especially blessed to have been given this role. On the way out of school the day she'd been given the big casting news (albeit not as big as the first Mary's announcement) she was decidedly unenthused. With a sigh she said, "Well, I'd rather be the donkey because he gets to sit down during the pageant." Of course. Why pick the blessing of all generations when you can be a jackass? Is there really a contest? Mock though I do, I've felt the same way more times than I care to recall.

There have been times when the role I've been assigned in the story of my life was one I wouldn't have chosen first. And I'm sure that's because I knew it would require me to stand. To truly stand firm on the foundation of my faith in a sovereign God even when the road ahead looked terribly treacherous and scary. Botched plans and real heartache looked imminent and had I been given the choice, I would have much rather taken the role where I got to sit down. To sit it out. To leave hope on the floor and not risk the pain or embarrassment if things didn't go according to the plan or role I'd dreamed up for myself. But somewhere along the way I realized that it's not up to me to stand upright all the while---that there's Someone who will steady my shoulders and get me up and over the steepest hills and through deepest caverns and I'll be the better for it.

And when the scene changes, God raises my hand above my head for me, still gloved and wet from the fight, declaring me victorious. Fight well fought! Struggle overcome. And we both know that I fell more than once. That had I not leaned on Him I'd have sunk to a place I couldn't have escaped without His help. But together we got through. Moved ahead. Overcame. That's the good stuff. The stuff worth standing up for (no matter how tiring) and taking the role chin up. If I'm sitting the whole time (with the other donkeys), besides being decidedly smelly, there's just nothing happening down there. Nothing to be learned or gained. Nothing to make me better.

I'm not sure that Ainsley got such a life changing lesson out of her part in the play, but she did come out the wiser for it. Just last night she pulled out these little finger puppets and proceeded to enact this simple play:

Mary:(As the angel hops up next to her) Ahhh! Shrieks in horror.
Angel: Don't be afraid. I bring you special news!
Mary: What?
Angel: You will have a baby and will name him Jesus.
Mary: Can I name him Bob?
Angel: No, Jesus.
Mary: Bob! (in a shout)
Angel: Jesus! (also a shout)
Mary: Bob!
Enter the alligator puppet,
Mary: Ahhh! Shrieks in horror.
Angel: Mary, I told you not to be afraid.
Mary: I know, I know but don't you see there's an alligator right there?!

I realize that most modern translations of the Bible don't carry the account of the foreboding alligator entering the scene in Nazareth. Or of Mary and Gabriel arguing that the coming Messiah's name should be Bob, but it's a version I can appreciate all the same.

I really love this story. Mary believed. Sure, there was that moment that she did begin to freak out when an angel appeared to her teen-aged virgin self and told her she'd give birth to God, as one might expect, but she still trusted him very quickly. She bravely said she would do as the Lord desired no matter the great personal cost she would pay.

Then the alligators came. She found herself riding a donkey while nine months pregnant for weeks on end only to wind up in a stinky barn to give birth with nary a doula or epidural in sight. For the love. But it got worse. People wanted to hurt her son. To kill him, even. And she might have felt compelled to remind God that trust is a wee more challenging when a horrendous death was prepared for her beloved child. Of course I trust you but don't you see the alligator that's right there?!

How many times am I just like this? I say that I trust God. I mean that I trust God. Yet when the big alligator challenges come on the scene, I feel it's urgent that I check to see if God's aware that new characters have emerged and they look pretty awful. That things do look ominous and is He aware of that tail slapping the water like crazy and has He seen those fang teeth?

The thing is, of course, He already knows the alligator is there. And where He sits on heaven's throne the alligator is 1/100th the size of a grain of sand. (Probably smaller but math's never been my strong suit.) And He knows when it's going to leave me alone and how much stronger I'm going to be for having braved my time in the cold water with the predator swimming all around me. How much less afraid I'll be of smaller prey and schemes the next time around. How I'll be reminded of His protection, His care, His ability to swat my fears away like so much rippling water. How that alligator couldn't have even yawned its mouth open unless God allowed it. He's the dearest and most compassionate playwright and the role He has for each of us is so good. Maybe not always easy but always good.

Oh, how He loves us and cares for our every need without any reminders from us.

Ainsley, blessed among women then and now.