The Best Gifts

Despite my attempt at unbusyness (there’s a new word for you, Webster), my desire to slow…down…time and to somehow stop the ticking of the clock, Christmas came and went all too quickly.

I always look forward to a full house and the life my children bring with them, some more literally than others this year! Casey, with her very obvious baby bump which houses not one, IMG_0463but three wee babes. She and Noah love when family returns and though tired herself, Casey was busy readying beds, cooking and making carrot cake while I was off collecting Cam and Meg. It was a blessing for Noah to have time off to be home over the
holidays too – time is such a gift. He is a caring husband and wears fatherhood well.

It was late when Carleigh and Rylan walked in the door Monday. They had a full day in Toronto followed by a battle to get out of the city and the long, dark drive here. Despite the hour, we awaited them eagerly and greeted them with open arms. I waited until off came her coat and there…there the life in her was evident. I put my hands to the bump that houses her very own “belly dweller”. Life is a gift.

Declan, Rhys and Tess were counting down the days til Christmas; of course for the children, Christmas is exciting for many reasons, not least of all which are the gifts! But they also love to see their older siblings and they soak up as much time as they are willing to give. I so appreciate them for it! It’s a special time for my wee socialite in particular; more people to talk to, or at. IMG_0498More hugs and cuddles, which our Tess never grows weary of. I watched how Carleigh gave of her time, her affection, her love. She will be a beautiful momma to the child that makes his or her home within her, close to her heart. It was exciting to watch as she and Rylan experienced the flutters of the baby. Rylan is so very attentive to her; that he loves her, there is no doubt and that too is such a gift to this momma.  Love is a gift.

I watched when big sister Meg sat Tess down to teach her how to French knit, patiently IMG_0462dispensing encouragement. Meg is a gracious giver of her time, her talent and her treasure. Grace is a gift. As soon as there was enough snow to pack into a ball, Cam was outside with the munchkins making snowballs, a very large Knight to his princess. His job is to protect, which he accomplished handily, ensuring Tess’ victory against her brothers. As I sit here, I can hear their giggles as Cam rallies them to play. No one giggles like our Declan! Laughter is a gift.

Though Ben and Buhle weren’t with us, the gift of modern technology allowed us to skype with them Christmas day and we eagerly anticipate their visit at Easter. We were so proud of both of them when they struck off last January and headed west. They weren’t in Calgary long before they had found a place to call home and a job for each of them. They have both since moved on to different jobs, better jobs, but they wouldn’t be where they are now without taking that first step. Faith is a gift.  Ben will begin Law school in September, more great news we shared this past fall.

Laughter, food, fun and games; conversation, relaxation and naps for those in need.

Noah, Casey and Nathaniel packed up and headed out Boxing Day to spend time with their family in Kemptville. They left a bit of a hole here; Nathaniel at 16.5 months surely makes his presence known. Lovingly referred to as Bam Bam, he is ALL boy, but such a sweet one who definitely knows how to play to a crowd. Casey and Noah shared exciting news this fall that they were expecting their own addition. It wasn’t long afterward that we were learned that she was carrying triplets! The initial feelings of shock soon gave way to our absolute thankfulness; we deeply believe that children are a gift from God and here we found ourselves on the receiving end of four new grandchildren come spring! We are all thrilled, and that quickly enough gave way to reality and the need for a plan. I think we all came to the understanding around the same time that this was going to require a team effort and so we extended an invitation to them to move in with us. We would relish your prayers for Casey and the babies, but also for Noah, Nathaniel and our family. Prayer is a gift.

The following day, Brad and Cam left to return Meg to the Sault and her responsibilities. Brad and Cam stayed for a couple days to hang cupboard doors and lay flooring. Meg purchased her first home in April and has been living in somewhat of a construction zone since. Despite the disruption, she has opened her home to company and overnight guests. Her friend Ange has also made her home there with her, which seems to be a mutually beneficial relationship! Her brand new kitchen space is moving along, and it won’t be long and she’ll be using that new space. In the meantime, I think that her ability to open her home in its current state says something wonderful about the person that she is. Despite what can sometimes feel like chaos and messiness, she is generous and hospitable. Hospitality is a gift from the heart.

10883055_10155145983370556_111790364_oCarleigh and Rylan left shortly after. There were no tears this time from Tess; soon to be 7, she is growing up, and fast. I don’t have to look too far to be reminded of this fact. Carleigh will be half way through her pregnancy tomorrow. This New Year will bring many sweet, new things for she and Rylan to discover together, in addition to the birth of their first born. It doesn’t seem that long ago Brad and I were eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first and now we anticipate a house full of grandchildren. Family is a gift.

This is the first time we’ve had Cam home since he left last Christmas. Tomorrow Brad and I will IMG_0494head out to return him to Ypsilanti. He’s completed his education, obtained his undergraduate degree, finished his College football career and found his bride. Cam and Brooke were engaged
in October; it was a fall filled with good news and many reasons to celebrate. Brooke is completing her internship and has a two year contract at Grand Valley University where she will be the athletic trainer for the baseball and volleyball teams. On top of that, she’ll also be completing her Masters! Education and learning are gifts.

There were two themes that were repeated throughout the Christmas season for me: the first

was Joy. That little 3 letter word was showing up everywhere – I speak of the joy that isn’t dependent upon circumstances, but flows from a grateful heart. I’m not a resolution maker, but I have determined to make a point to be more mindful of all I have to be grateful for. 10858452_10155090239840556_8880758503005588833_n (2)Gratefulness and Joy are gifts.

“Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.”

The second echo for me came from a song the church choir sang on Christmas Eve “Do you have room”.  I so enjoy being a part of the choir!  As we practiced during the weeks leading up to Christmas, I often found myself humming the tune; little did I know that the question – do you have room? – would bury itself deep within my soul.  Do you have room?

“Each of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus.” -Neal A. Maxwell

Time,
Life and Learning,
Love and Attention,
Grace,
Laughter and Fun,
Faith,
Prayer,
Hospitality,
Family,
Joy that comes from a grateful heart, and
Jesus, the greatest gift.

The best gifts didn’t come wrapped under the tree.  The best gifts are those that I will treasure and continue to lay hold of throughout the coming year.

From our home to yours, Happy New Year!

A life-long relationship

I was 8 years old when I met Nicki. Oh, I’d seen her around; knew others who knew her, but we hadn’t officially met. As with most relationships, there have been times when we’ve been very close and other times, not at all. They say that great relationships can withstand the test of time; true friends can go a long while without talking or spending any time together…. and when they do get together? Well, it’s as comfortable and easy as it’s always been.

I think the same can be said of bad relationships.

My relationship with Nicki has been like that. Some saw her as just a good time; someone to have a coffee with now and then.  That’s how we got close.  I found that she was always there when I needed her to be. Nonjudgmental…..she made me feel better, calmed me down even.  There were things about her I didn’t care for, but I looked past those and focused on what I got out of the relationship.

My folks didn’t like that I spent time with her; few did.  Not everyone who met her liked her. Many had only terrible, nasty things to say.  There were pictures of her ugly side….some of them would literally scream warnings at me about what spending time with her might do to me.

Though I knew the warnings were true, I chose time and again not to heed them. I didn’t care. My desire for her was, well, addictive and as troublesome as that was, what over time became even more so was the secrecy of our relationship.

I wasn’t addicted to cigarettes at 8, but it was at that young age that my life-long, on-again, off-again, relationship with smoking started. Over a span of 41 years I have “quit” more times than I can count. I’ve bought and thrown packs of them out the window, only to turn around and pick them up again.  I’ve confessed my guilty pleasure to a few people, some of whom I asked to hold me accountable, but accountability only works when I’m honest. Eventually, bound by the shackles of my own shame, I would do what I do really well; I would hide.

It’s been 5 weeks to the day since I decided I’d had enough of the sneaking around and hiding. I’ve been thinking about doing this for quite some time and something I read today provided the motivation:

“There is healing in admitting that we don’t have it all together. There is restoration in hearing that someone else struggles, too. It brings us together to lean into each other’s uncertainty and encourage one another.”  Melissa Wilcox 

So this is me, leaning.  Fighting to be free from the hidden struggles that keep me bound up and unhealthy in more ways than just physical.  I don’t have it all together; none of us do, but as long as I keep quiet, keep to myself and continue hiding, there is no room for healing.

Smoking kills; so do secrets.

Crystal Ball….or Rear View Mirror???

259676_10150640914070556_3037032_oI remember while pregnant with Meagan, friends of ours were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary and I was thinking “wow, 10 years….that’s a long time”.

28 years. That’s a long time….relative to the 10, of course! It’s certainly not been an uneventful 28 years!

We met at Peterson & Peterson, the first law firm we both worked for. When Brad’s secretary went on maternity leave, I was her fortunate replacement. It was while chatting one day that I noticed a bible in his office; well, turns out we had more than just work in common. When I was baptized, Brad came. When he left Peterson’s for a partnership with Don Orazietti, I left with him. Apparently, when a young woman leaves paid employment to work for someone without the promise of payment, that’s an indication of something. Who knew?

It wasn’t long after we made the switch that we began spending more time together outside of the office; not long after that we were engaged and a few months later, married.

We spent our first two weeks together on the west coast of this beautiful Country. As a gift to me, Brad planned every detail of our honeymoon and what a fabulous job he did. We flew into Vancouver, picked up our rental car and spent the first week or so venturing North. We stayed in Squamish, drove through the beautiful town of Whistler and then onto Williams Lake where we were to go white water rafting. Our guides never showed up, but not one to be deterred, Brad found another rafting company in Prince George who were taking out a large group, actually they were on a family reunion, and were happy to include the honeymooners on their excursion.

Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?

We put up with a bit of teasing on the bus ride, as the photo albums of past excursions were passed around. I’d never been white water rafting, and was somewhat nervous….especially after those pictures. It was a blast, though; a beautiful evening raft down the Fraser River, followed by laughs and a huge outdoor buffet around a big bonfire. We stayed at Esther’s Inn and have often recalled that hotel over the years and its courtyard filled with palm trees, hot tubs and the like. It was paradise.

Smithers, BC with it’s alpine facade main street and on to Prince Rupert where we boarded a ferry and cruised down to Port Hardy at the top of Vancouver Island. From Port Hardy we drove through Campbell River and then on to Victoria where we stayed a couple nights at the beautiful, brand new Abigail’s Hotel, just a short walk from the inner harbour where we enjoyed all the sites that Victoria had to offer.

We ended our time away with a 3 day tour of the world….the World’s Exposition was in Vancouver that year and we experienced the tastes, sights and sounds Expo 86 had to offer during the day and then ferried back to the quietness of Vancouver Island at night. Our first Canada Day as husband and wife was spent in Victoria; the fireworks have never been as enjoyable.

It was a beautiful time. We lived not knowing what our future held, but enjoying every moment of the present.

Six weeks later my new husband, father and sister were involved in a head on car crash.

9.5 months later, we welcomed, with great joy, our first child; the first of many.

We’ve lived in 9 different villages/towns/cities, on two Islands, in one province and one territory. We’ve called 15 places “home” (home IS where the heart is)….a couple of them twice. This morning as I’ve recalled those precious first two weeks….and many of life’s moments since, I am thankful that instead of a crystal ball by which to see the future, we have the gift of a rear view mirror by which to recall our past.

I believe that’s another of God’s graces to us. ‘Cause if that naive girl of 21 had of known what the future held….well, she just may not have said “I do”.

Happy Anniversary, babe. I’m thankful to have lived these past 28 years alongside you. Here’s to our next book full of memories.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:34

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Cor 12:9

Happy Birthday, Cam

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You were delivered to us on a beautiful June day, 22 years ago.  When you left my body, I shivered and they piled on warm blankets.  I laid there listening to the doctor and nurses guess your weight. 10lbs 12oz.  I thought you looked like a baby sumo wrestler!

 

 

As a young boy in a large body, you were 20120211_150135often thought to be older than you were.  Many a time I had to remind myself!  You were so affectionate; gentle and tender hearted. 31792_10150192936930556_6491803_n     You would have been about 6 When the Principal of the little Christian school you went to in Yellowknife told us how much she loved your hugs…..and then asked us if we would ask you NOT to lift her off the floor!

You have always given the best hugs. 129_11705100555_4458_n It’s virtually impossible to ignore your size, but those you got to know you also knew that your stature was outmatched by the size of your heart, by your compassion and care of others.  As you’ve grown, we’ve watched how you love people, without discrimination.  You don’t see age, race, gender or disability and that is a rare and beautiful quality, my son.  When company came, you greeted them at the door.  If they had suitcases, you carried them to their room.  I remember when poppa brought John down for a few days before he passed away.  You’d never met the man, but you spent real time with him; you took a genuine interest in him and that’s not common in one as young as you were.  I know he appreciated that.

That protective instinct we saw in you became a passion of yours that has been played out in the game you love.  It is impossible to think of you and NOT think of football.  You were 7 when dad first took you for tryouts where he was told you were….seriously?  He’s too BIG for football??35825_10150201797755556_6958895_n

“Bring him back next year” said the men in charge.

“Do you think he’s going to get smaller??  Look, I’ll pay the full fare; just let him practice with the kids.  You don’t even have to give him a helmet….”

I think you and dad did the trek to the football sign ups 3 times; Tyke football was just not part of the plan. At 12 you told your dad you were going to lose the 40 lbs necessary to play football at the Pee Wee level.   That’s a lotta’ weight for one so young, but you did it.

It was brutal.

And it didn’t get any easier the following year after growing several inches, but you were determined to play your last year with your team at the Pee Wee level.  You had the support and encouragement of your family and coaches….well, most of your coaches.  There was Hobbs.

His name became akin to a four letter word in our house.  Men like Hobbs ought not to be coaching children; they should be drill sergeants or….border guards.  Rather than encourage you, the man-with-a- Napoleonic-complex-if-ever-there-was-one told you to quit, more than once.  You had to learn to drown out the negative noise that fell from that man’s mouth.

It was brutal. 31792_10150192948355556_2624728_n Despite the difficulties, challenges and setbacks you encountered, sometimes at your own hand, you pulled it out and lost the weight.  Don’t think it could have been any closer; wish I had a picture of you with that shirt made of netting that you and your dad bought prior to weigh in!  I don’t expect you’ll ever forget the cheer that arose from your mates, their parents and the other coaches.   31792_10150192963220556_4415880_n

 

 

 

Your dream became to play in the NFL.  There’s no easy path to getting there; no guarantees or golden tickets.  When we moved you to Ogdensburg so you could play American high school football, 5 minutes from a border you couldn`t cross for 10 months, you were 1 of about 1,000,000 athletes to play high school football in the US.  To get to Division 1 football from there, you had to overcome odds of about 1 in 1,000.  AND YET you are currently 1 of about 12,000 athletes who play Division 1 College football.  23600_10150163537375556_4913802_n

Your position as an Offensive Lineman is reserved for the biggest players.  Thanks to stats 297097_10152152553580618_1656310790_nyour dad has kept, WE KNOW that you are 1 of roughly 2,400 Offensive Line athletes currently on the rosters at 128 Division 1 teams across the U.S.  When considering both size AND weight, in comparison to the other 2,400 OL athletes in Division 1 football, you rank in the top 27 guys returning this fall.

Or roughly 1%.

Going to games and watching you pace the sidelines last year; that was tough and at the end of a long and difficult season, you considered leaving Eastern.  You didn’t WANT to, but you found yourself in a place where you were forced to consider your options.

One was to allow your name to stand in the CFL draft held this spring.  Had you done so, you would NOT have returned to EMU for your senior year. IMG_2012However, any thoughts about leaving Eastern for the CFL were shut down last fall when the CFL amended a long-standing draft rule to eliminate as draft prospects all Canadian-born athletes playing Division 1 football in the U.S. and currently in their Junior year.

That one rule change affected only 5 athletes on the face of the planet; you were one of them.

That rule change eliminated your chance to leave Eastern before your senior year, and without that change you very likely would have never played for the new coaching staff at Eastern.  Now you are being guided and assisted by a completely new staff of coaches at Eastern, many of whom are Christians.     Tyler Allen

You’ve lived away from your family since you were 15.  You’ve battled with negativity; that of others as well as your own.  You’ve enjoyed great relationships with coaches and have learned how to be a team player.  You’ve known winning, and you’ve also known loss:  games, seasons, Coaches and, most tragically, a team mate. 050

Every step gets you closer. 

Every lesson makes you wiser. 

Every battle makes you stronger.

 

 

Today you’re 22, and though we aren’t able to gather around a table and eat cake, we will be thinking of you and celebrating the young man that you are.  I’m thankful, Cam, to have been able to walk through this life with you; thankful to be your mom.  I’m thankful to have witnessed the disappointments and celebrated the accomplishments; you have challenged me.  Whatever lay ahead, I am so very proud of you; the compassionate, encouraging, loving man that you are.

Don’t ever stop.

Don’t ever stop believing in yourself.

Don’t ever stop working hard and doing your very best. (Col 3:23)

Don’t ever stop believing in our God who is well able to do abundantly more than you could ever think or ask.549925_10152569213695618_800471341_n (640x449)

A Boy and his Math

The boy is infuriatingly quiet.

“What’s wrong?” queries the mom.

Nothing.  I get nothing but silence….silence and that dreaded, deadpan stare of his through watery eyes.

Sigh

The mom is feeling a little helpless and a certain amount of her own frustration.  “How on God’s green earth can I help you at all if you won’t speak?  SPEAK…..PLEASE!!

More silence and staring and wet eyes…..then, finally, the boy exhales “I’m frustrated”.

“Frustrated?  Well, I’ve got experience with frustrated…..we can deal with that”.  And out it comes; in short, breathy bursts….”it’s the math I did yesterday.  That multiplying double-digits stuff.  I didn’t do well.”  multiplication

That’s taken a lot out of the boy and he leans into the mom’s waiting arms, silently shedding his tears.

Downstairs, the mom parks herself beside the boy and explains,

and coaxes….

and encourages.

The boy continues to give into….to almost feed on…..his emotions.  The pile of crumpled Kleenex grows; eventually he’s using his arm to wipe his snotty nose.

Working at keeping her own feelings of frustration at bay, the mom asks how all that’s working for him.

“Ya feeling good?  I understand you’re frustrated and struggling a bit, but are all the tears helping any?  What are you thinking about?  Are you continuing to tell yourself how much you hate the multiplying double-digits stuff and how hard it is and how you can’t do it….if you keep that up, well, you’ve little hope of believing anything else!  How about you change what you’re thinking?  How about you tell yourself that it’s just multiplying….you know how to multiply!  How about you tell yourself that you CAN do it and see how that goes for you.”

Without any idea of what is going on behind those blue eyes, the mom continues to oversee as the boy does the multiplying double-digits stuff.  She offers encouragement here and there…..she can tell he’s getting it and eventually there’s proof in a page done without any mistakes.  Much is made of it.

Hallelujah.

Later in the day, long after the school work is done, the mom is busily doing mom-stuff when she has a thought.

The frustrating, uncommunicative, deadpan stare and wet eyes thing that the boy does?  She does it, too.  Oh, it might look a little different on her, but like the boy, rather than speak, she most often hides.  She is fearful of rejection; in search of acceptance, she seeks to please.  She stuffs and then she stuffs some more…. and on some days, her eyes seem continually wet and she feels all tight and she can’t find the words.

And all the while, the Father is there, ready, willing and well able to help; loving, coaxing and encouraging.  Patiently waiting for her to speak, in whatever way she chooses.

Most often, He uses the boy, or one of the Others, to speak to the mom.  To show her….with so much to learn, she thinks it’s why she had so many.

Sunday Morning Dust-up

You would think I would understand.

I’d been telling him for WEEKS that his hair must be cut before his sister’s quickly approaching wedding…..and this morning was the time. His last cut, courtesy of his sister-in-law, was a Mohawk that had been trimmed a time or two and was now terribly outgrown and certainly far too long to spike up even if he’d asked; one long hank hung over his eye and he’d taken to tossing his head to one side in order to see.  Another “hunk” of it hung down the middle of his neck and was long enough to braid.  Surprisingly, he was not deterred by the “girly” jokes, and had on a couple occasions proclaimed that he was going to grow a “rat tail”.

Uh, gross!! Not if I have anything to say about it….AND I DO!!!

The uncooperative and uncommunicative 10 year old sat teary-eyed and stone faced while I buzzed and trimmed and made frustratingly exaggerated movements when I asked him to drop his head one way, or “relax and just lay your head in my hand, Dec”. When I was done, I removed the plastic table cloth (classy) I’d used for a cape only to discover he had hair all over him anyway. He hates the itchy hair; always has.

“Ah, there’s my boy”, said I. “That looks MUCH better!”

No response. Oh, those watery, red eyes were saying PLENTY but he’d spoken not a word. And no shy little Mona Larry grin for the compliment, either.

He had predetermined that he would hate this newest version of himself. He ran to the bathroom where I could hear his continued disdain via the slamming shower door. The quick shower off stretched into something much longer than it needed to be and I could feel my frustration and lack of empathy for the boy growing by the minute. At some point, the little blonde one reported that he was out of the shower, but in the bathroom, crying.

Geez.

I went upstairs to report the boy’s ridiculous behaviour to his father, who was immersed in something and not terribly concerned with my discontentment at his son’s actions. It was hair for crying out loud!  It would grow back!!  Who did he think he was…..Sampson??

When next I saw him he was emerging from his room, a hat shoved securely on his head.

(Insert eye roll here)  I was unimpressed.

“You’re NOT wearing that to church” and I pulled on the brim of the hat and “invited” him into my bedroom where I proceeded to probe him with questions while admonishing him to “speak”. I got nothing, just a stare from those red, watery, hurt eyes.  Exasperated, I asked him if he was ticked due to the lack of his choice in the matter or if he just really liked the long hair. My heart broke a wee bit when he answered me by holding up two fingers.

He really just liked the hair.

Frustration and anger melted. I told him that each of his older brothers had at one time or another decided to grow out their hair and he could certainly do it again.  Still silent, he came in close and I opened up to him and we hugged. Eventually, he quietly spoke into my shoulder and told me he didn’t hate me for cutting his hair (a relief).  I apologized for my lack of understanding; I am, after all, the adult.

There are few ways in which a 10 year old boy can express himself in terms of his appearance, and I was reminded that my boy-child was growing up. I have often thought and at times said out loud that this particular son of mine is “his father’s boy”, which anyone with kids knows actually means he’s not at all like me.  This morning, however, it was myself I saw.  The emotion, the thoughts, the feelings; there was a lot going on behind those eyes of his. The struggle to speak, the fear of putting it all into words “just right”, well, he is his momma’s boy too.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time today thinking about and being thankful for our dust up.  I can be thankful that it was as simple as hair while giving pause to the importance of listening, be it with my ears or my eyes, understanding and communicating well with my boy.  Perhaps next time I’ll use sign language; it worked for him.

Lord, help us.

 

Rejoice….always?

Rejoice
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; AGAIN I WILL SAY, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”  Philippians 4:2-9 ESV (emphasis mine)
Our older 5 children will remember the summer we memorized the book of Philippians. Though I’ve memorized other scripture before and since, it comes as no great surprise that THAT book is the one that comes to mind more often than any other.  It is one of Paul’s most personal letters and in it we are shown and told how to have joy, even while suffering.
I’ve a confession to make.  I’ve not been regular in any sense of that word in my devotions and yesterday morning was the first in a long while…..and where did I find myself?
I recall times in church, a smiling, microphone-wielding pastor would walk among the congregants in search of someone who had a “word of praise”.  What was shared was great stuff…..all of it.  A new job, a raise, healing of an illness, a restored relationship.  I know we are admonished to think on the good things, however I recall my own often troubled thoughts as I watched and listened…..what if we are not in a good place?  What if there didn’t seem to be anything “worthy” of praise?  Though I know it wasn’t the intent, I sometimes felt as though this sharing of good stuff fed into a misconception that God is good…..when good things are happening.  What I wanted to hear was someone who would rise up and say “there is nothing going well for me; I have life, but honestly?  It’s flippin’ hard right now…..I lost my job….my spouse has received a terrible diagnosis….my kids are out of control….the days drag on and my mind is filled with doubt and worry…..I sometimes wish it would just all end!  BUT despite all of that; despite the pain and the hurt and the doubt and the really crappy circumstances, I just can’t sit here.  My circumstances have nothing to do with the goodness or greatness of God; they don’t change who he is or who what he has done for me and though I seem to have more questions than answers right now, I trust him and I know that he has a reason for all of this and, eventually, it will be for his glory.  So though I’m sick and I’m tired, I have to stand and declare that God IS good.”

I’ve since thought that perhaps I’m the one who should have shared that; it has, at times, been my testimony.

Rejoice in the Lord……always; again I will say, Rejoice.  
I have a vivid recollection of a few times in my own life when we were dealing with some really crappy stuff.  That verse entered my thoughts and through gut-wrenching sobs, I intentionally rejoiced….I’m sure that this is the “sacrifice of praise” that means oh so much more to the heart of God than the bland “thanks” I offer, or don’t, for God’s daily blessings. It is easy to rejoice and be thankful in the good times, but am I, really??  Smooth travels don’t tend to turn my mind to God or to rejoicing or being thankfulness.  My faith has been built, usually while I’m kicking and screaming, in the midst of the fire; in the trials and storms of life.    
I like the last half of the last sentence:  practice these things. It’s reassuring.  We’re not expected to get this right….whew.
Rejoice.  Pray with thanksgiving.  Think on the good things.  Practice.

Monday floods and Friday gifts.

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It’s Friday.  My mind has been abuzz all week and when I sat down this evening to write, this is not what I had in mind.

Monday was a terrible, icky kinda of a day, one that I hope is not too soon repeated.  Among other things, the hose on the dishwasher gave out and I was summoned downstairs by my son to a couple inches of warm water all over the kitchen floor…..the pine floor.  What a sight…..my son and I mopping the water down the stairs off of the floor while my 8.5 month pregnant daughter-in-law sopped up what was left with virtually every bathroom towel we own.  I suppose the good news was that my feet were lovely and pink and clean… Tuesday and Wednesday are a bit of a blur, honestly, and Thursday brought with it a breath of fresh air when a friend and I trekked to the big City for lunch, a movie and, of course, a trip to Costco.  The best part of our time, though, was the 2 hour drive over when we did what we women do when we get together – we talked.  We shared our struggles, our secrets, our sins, our unanswered prayers and, of course, some tears.  We didn’t fix anything, but it was just what this woman needed.

In the midst of kids, meals, laundry, groceries and the office, I spent a large part of this week silent and in my head.  I found myself rather emotional; tears were often close and prior to my Thursday away, any effort to try to convey what was going on was just too much. Much easier, at least for the moment, to stuff.  Keep myself busy, do what needs to be done without complaining, be strong yet not too strong…….definitely don’t want to be a burden to anybody.  I wanna be…….Superwoman!

Ya, but I’m most definitely not.

I was not a teenage girl who spent every Sunday morning in the nursery for the love of children.   I babysat to make some money.  I wasn’t and still am not the fun aunt who played stupid but fun games with silly string and whipping cream with my nieces and nephews.  I’m not the mom who does arts and crafts or spends afternoons in the kitchen baking cookies.  I don’t home school my kids ’cause I have a passion to spend every waking hour with them and at times I’ve wondered if I’m doing more damage than good……until I hear what goes on in the schools.  My days of being creative in the kitchen have come…..and gone, for the most part; cooking is a line on my “to do” list and just because I have a passel of children, it doesn’t mean I have “a gift”.  Being a mom is neither a ministry nor a profession.

At times I’ve had this weird, almost dream-like experience where I’m sitting around the dining room table, surrounded by all of these people, and I look around and realize that they’re my kids.

God’s gifts to me.  gift boxes

Despite my inadequacies, my fears, my frailties; despite myself, God, who knows me best, has seen fit to bless me.

With the arrival of each, he has stretched my capacity to love and the greatest gift my children – these people whose lives are so intricately woven with mine – have given me has been learning to love them unconditionally.

It’s an ongoing post-non graduate course that I’m enrolled in for the foreseeable future.

 

Don’t be afraid to get a little wet

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I took Rhys and Tess to swimming lessons on Monday. Tess is 1 of 2 little girls in her class.  Sophie apparently has mermaid blood. Not only is she part fish, but she’s a cute little thing that has all of the answers to all of the questions her teachers ask.  Never a complaint or any sign of fear.

She’s the kind of girl many of us grew up not liking……but that’s a whole other blog post.

So Monday.  The instructors took the girls out to the dock so they could jump off. Sophie is not only jumping off and swimming back (why is she in this class??), but while Tess stood silently, hesitantly on the dock, seemingly frozen in fear, Sophie is asking if she can jump in more. Talk about humiliation…or maybe that’s just what Tess’ mom was feeling.   I found that I was, well, disappointed.

I tried to encourage from the sidelines. I clapped and said all the right things; I had my phone at the ready so I could catch Tess’ figure as it arced gracefully into the water, a look of glee on her angelic face.  After several minutes…..several very long minutes…..I put my phone down and walked a few meters away to the main dock wondering what her issue is.  My normally fearless girl never needs this much cajoling to do anything, except maybe apologize.  I wondered if I was pressuring too much.  Maybe she’d do better if I weren’t out there, phone in hand…..maybe she’s just a kid who hasn’t spent much time in the water and has some stage fright.

At this point, Tess is half way through her 4 weeks of lessons. At home, Tess is the child who knows it all, a finely honed craft she’s used on everybody in the house.  Her response to most anything anybody tells her is “I know”.  Of course you do…..  She is the child who is never wrong…..at least never admits to being wrong.  She is, in many ways, me.  I doubt my mother would agree, and I’m sure being the oldest of 3 girls is a heck of a lot different than being the youngest of 8, but I do not like to admit to being wrong.  Oh, I can apologize for all sorts of things…..but that’s entirely different.

After I left my perfect picture spot, the teachers finally coaxed my daughter into the water.  I don’t think she got all of her head wet, but some of her face went in. When she got out, she came to me…..”did I do good mommy?”  “You’re getting better, Tess” was my response. Best I could come up with in the midst of my disappointment.  Oh come on!  Don’t tell me you’ve never felt disappointment with something your child did, or didn’t do!!

I’ve spent zero time in the water with my youngest.  Well, there was that one time at the hotel…..ya, zero time.  I found myself thinking that perhaps she would do better, feel more comfortable if I had actually gotten in the water WITH her.  Better late than never, so, that afternoon this mama donned a bathing suit and headed to the beach and actually got IN the water.  I cajoled and encouraged; I pulled Tess around; I tried to get her to relax as she lay on her back like a star fish.  I found myself slightly frustrated when I didn’t see what I hoped would happen….my sparkly-eyed, angelic faced, know-it-all child swim, but it was a start.

The following day I asked hubby to take the kids to their lessons.  I don’t understand what happened, but half way through the lesson Tess decided she could stick not just her face in the water, but her head.  She could float on her back and and she could doggy paddle with mermaid-Sophie.  Everyone came home full of great reports of Tess’ improvement and that afternoon, when I took the blonde and her brother swimming, we had great fun!  She showed me all of her tricks and looked at me with that precocious smile of hers.  When I hugged her, we laughed….and I was thrilled.

I don’t know if Tess learned anything from all of this; well, aside from swimming, but Tess’ mom did.  I was reminded that I can’t be an encouragement to Tess….or anyone for that matter…..if I’m not willing to “get a little wet”.  How can I teach my daughter by example if I am not willing to be one?

This morning it was my turn to take them to swimming lessons, so I put my bathing suit on.

Fear

I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but my youngest three began swimming lessons last week….they’re 9, 7 and 5.  And yes, it’s their first time taking swimming lessons….  Every summer for the past several I’d think “really need to get those kids some swimming lessons” and every summer it wouldn’t happen.

When I told them that I’d signed ’em up, Declan, the 9 year old, was not happy.  Probably an understatement   He was unhappy; SO completely unimpressed….and anybody that knows the boy will understand.  I didn’t get the same reaction from Rhys and Tess, but Dec?  It was constantly on his mind; he would not say that he didn’t want to learn, he was just afraid.

I explained to him that it was normal to feel nervous before starting something new and I used a couple of his siblings as examples to encourage him.  I asked him if he thought Meagan was nervous that first time she got into a glider, or the first time she flew a Cessna on her own.  Do you think Cam was a little jittery when at 12 he donned a set of pads for the first time and stepped out onto the football field, Dec?   Certainly didn’t know what he was doing…. or that first College game he actually got to play in?  Yikes, talk about pressure.

Declan admitted to me a couple days after starting that he felt nauseous before each lesson…but despite the queezy tummy, despite the fact that he had to get his face wet and be in a group with strangers and take instruction from someone he doesn’t know, he didn’t ask if he could quit and I wouldn’t have let him anyway.  He continued to go and to listen and to do what what asked of him and now he’s jumping off the dock and “swimming” out to the raft.  He faced his fear and won and his mama is proud of him.  Rhys is also doing very well and Tess?  Well, she is another story.  A strong-willed little girl with the appearance of an angel who doesn’t like to take instruction and certainly isn’t going to get her face wet.

Fear.

Such a head game!  Despite the fact that fears are, for the most part, irrational, our fears have such a capacity to hold us captive, keep us from learning, growing, changing.  Though having a gang of children gives me a great vantage point for such observations, I don’t have to look beyond myself to see the signs of fear….though I’d like to say that I’ve put those puppies to bed, I have not.  There have been times when the fear of what tomorrow may hold has met up with anxiety about today (particularly when the bank account drains precariously close to the edge) and I’ve found myself in the grip of complete and absolute irrational fear.  What helps me the most in those times are

  • family.  They are God’s gift to me and an example of his faithfulness, despite my own brokeness
  • good friends.  Not acquaintances…..the ones who despite knowing me….all of it…..love me anyway.  Those who have my back.
  • a past.  We all have them, but sometimes they have us.  Looking backward is a fairly pointless exercise UNLESS it`s to look and see all that God has done; to recall his mercy and faithfulness.  All the times he’s shown up in the nth hour and I realize…again…that all my fear and anxiety were for naught.  Other than make me just a little bit crazier.

One of my “go to” scriptures in those times?  Matthew 6:  25-34 (ESV)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.