Everything But What’s On The List

I like life to surprise me.  Not in the sudden-tornado-on-the-horizon sort of way, nor the sharp-wail-of-one-of-my-children-followed-by-a-trip-to-Urgent-Care sort of way either.  More like today, when an impossibly soft houndstooth scarf in black and white caught my eye, folded all nice and neatly on the thrift store shelf.  Impossibly.  Soft.  It’s a Chaps scarf, so of course I imagined myself wearing it while riding a horse through the woods with my long tresses artfully arranged just so.  I did not come to buy a scarf, but $2.99 later I did so anyways.

Photo on 9-30-14 at 2.36 PMAnd then there were the wool gloves with the black bow, and all of a sudden I’m ready for winter.  For six dollars I’ve given my winter gear a cozy make-over.  (My Peruvian knit gloves were becoming a bit of a nappy nightmare.)  Trust me, when I’m nine months pregnant in December, I’ll need all the help I can get to feel feminine and elegant.  (Is it even possible to feel elegant while waddling?)

Anyways, I’d gone to the thrift store to find silicone molds, often used in baking, which are terrific for soap molding.  On average I find one per excursion, being few and far between, and today scored one that was for ice cubes and is perfect for molding our trial bars.  But I came home also with a scarf, gloves, a sturdy mustard-yellow shopping tote, three Taste of Home magazines, one mold, eight hand-dipped candles for our Advent wreath this year, an old mason jar with a zinc lid full of dried berries, a hand-embroidered baby quilt wall hanging, and a cookbook for a grand total of $!4.00.  The price of an average scarf or even just a t-shirt these days.  Fun.

I love thrift stores.  It’s a rare article of clothing for me which hasn’t born a little handwritten price tag.  I love the unpredictability of it all.  You go for kids snow pants and come home with a pasta machine.  You go for a stock pot and come home with wool socks.  This would drive a more goal-oriented person absolutely bonkers; the randomness, the disorder, the hit-and-miss of it all.

But as for me, and my budget, I embrace thrifting.  With a wide smile.  Suddenly my seven year-old wool winter coat will be infused with new life from my stunning new accessories.  I’ll feel special in my classy gloves as I push my babies in the stroller, and every time I put them on I’ll remember that they found a second home with me for 3.00, and I’ll smile again.

This is an inherited thing.  My parents are auction hounds and have been known to bid on a whole table of boxes of things at an auction’s end without knowing what’s in them, for a $1.00, for mere curiosity’s sake.  And they find a pair of sugar tongs that’s worth $85.00 and we hoot and laugh at it all.  I once bought six vintage wool and fur-trimmed coats for $1.00 and my parents were delighted.  We find it the greatest fun, like a grown-up treasure hunt.

And this would explain why I’ll exuberantly tell you the price I paid for something if you verbally admire it.  “What a beautiful dining room table you have!”  “We paid fifty dollars for it!”  “I love your shoes!”  “Three dollars at Goodwill!”  I.  Can’t.  Contain.  Myself.  Because for me, half the joy in having beautiful possessions is the dirt cheap price I paid for them.  So much for so little.

Photo on 9-30-14 at 3.22 PMPart of the wall-hanging; I die of the cuteness!

I love thrifting not only for it’s surprising aspect, but also because things find new life, new use, in a new home.  “Used” is just another name for “pre-loved”.  I actually prefer to buy sweaters second-hand because you can see how they hold up after repeated washings.  I remember buying a sweater brand spanking new from a real store once (yes, it happens that rarely), and finding after the first wash that it was pilled and lacking in all it’s original beauty.  I took it back to return it and explained in a shocked voice that the sweater had deteriorated so much after just one washing.  The sales clerk just gave me a “What did you expect?” look and refunded my money.  Apparently I expect good quality, which I can find rather dependably at thrift shops.

So, how about you?  Are you a treasure hunter?  A compulsive price-teller?  A go-to-the-store-and-buy-exactly-what-I-need-right-now type?

In the meantime, I’ll be gazing at my scarf and gloves and hoping that winter hurries up.

The Management of Blessings, or Monday To-do’s

Monday is looking at me.  There is laundry to do and fifteen pounds of apples on my counter wondering whether they’ll ever be made into sauce and canned, and there’s a whole basket of quilt patches that want to be a baby quilt sometime before the baby comes or before my belly is too big to allow me to reach the sewing machine.  Both bathrooms need to be thoroughly cleaned, and more tomatoes need picked and processed before they drop and rot in the garden.

I can’t help but smile.  See, most of my work involves the management of blessings.  How about that.

_MG_5079_MG_4736 IMG_1632 IMG_1915I am blessed, blessed beyond measure.  And here goes my Monday-List-Of-Praise…

God, thanks for….

-the laundry piles; evidence of Your provision of clothing.  How grateful I am that my children have shoes and socks and underwear and pants and all they need.

-the dirty dishes in the sink; clearly we are eating each day and being satisfied with good things.  So many do not have that daily joy.

-the canning and preserving workload; how You have overabundantly blessed us and the work of our hands in the gardens.

-the dirty bathrooms; that we even have two of them to take care of, that we have ready access to sanitation and cleanliness, clean water to wash with, thank You.

-the little children that need my care seven days a week; I don’t have words, but You, Lord, can read radiant, heart-bursting joy in my soul.

I say nothing new here; I repeat what I’ve said before, and what countless others have said, and said better than I, before.  But I remember hearing that we don’t so much need to be always learning new things, but instead bringing back to our minds the things that we’ve forgotten.  Like God’s daily goodness and being thankful.  Like rejoicing in all things at all times.  Like knowing that God gave work as a gift before mankind fell.

These things I remember this Monday morning and I smile and head to the laundry room.

The Gifts In a Diabolically Bad Day

It seemed a day diabolically calculated to deprive me of rest.  You see, I really do look forward to the Sabbath.  Last night I sped through four loads of wash, and the children vacuumed and mopped the floors.  Toys were put away and the house put on a peaceful air.  It’s easier to rest when there aren’t visual to-do’s all over the place.

It was a night of brief sleep; the boys were up early and would not be quiet, waking the baby who woke us far ahead of our bodies’ clocks.  They were all keyed-up to go to a free Nascar race today with their dad, and they peppered their enthusiasm all through the house in noisy chattering, dirty breakfast dishes, shed pajamas, and mindless chaos.

Fine.  They were out the door and I had a mug of coffee in hand and then there she was, my daughter absolutely brimming with expectations about our day together.  She wanted to have adventures, do all sorts of special things, have a friend over, etc.  I sipped my coffee and with pleading eyes and a raspy morning voice said, “Please, honey, I’m not ready to be sociable.  Just let me drink my coffee and ease into the morning.”  Because my soul was crying “rest” and she was shouting “do”, and I just couldn’t.

I tried to explain to her, that I worked hard and long for six days and needed some rest this day, this special day where I wasn’t measured by what I did, but rather measured the kindness of God, His goodness, His holiness by pausing from all that hustle and bustle.  She did not understand, where the expectations had swollen, now there were storm clouds of resentment.  How had I failed so very much by seven in the morning?

The baby has had a chronic diaper rash that makes every diaper change a scream fest.  We’ve tried EVERYTHING and the pediatrician shrugs it off and prescribes yet another cream, and she isn’t there in the middle of the night when he’s crying in pain with open sores oozing.  I can feel her it’s-just-diaper-rash condescension and it galls me.  So today it flared up bright and fiery and made for one miserable baby and one miserable me.  The morning nap didn’t happen, so I counted heavily on the afternoon one for both our sakes. We got through lunch, where the underweight baby threw most of his food onto the floor, the floor that used to be clean.  Time to rest, oh please, God.

I would just close my eyes and start to drift into much-needed sleep when he’d cry again, or my daughter would wake me for something, over and over and over.  So many emotions at once; compassion for my sore-bottomed baby, anger at being constantly awakened when just on the verge of rest, and incredulity that I couldn’t just for one hour be let to sleep in peace.

What a hard, unrest-full day.  Hours that passed crankily and disjointedly by.  I can see that I had prepared my day of rest, but wasn’t prepared for suffering, wasn’t prepared to be so disappointed in my pursuit of a restorative nap, a quiet, joyful day.  I had my hands full of my expectations, too full to accept what God was giving me in these hours.

And was He giving me something?

Yes, always.

Ann Voskamp, the author of “One Thousand Gifts” and the blog A Holy Experience calls it “hard eucharisteo”, giving thanks for the hard things, being thankful even in suffering.  It’s a spiritual discipline; a hard-won soul reflex of looking for ways to praise even when what most wants voiced is complaint or self-pity.

It’s looking up and over the hard thing; looking past the dark toward the light made brighter.  It’s realizing that deep valleys make the mountain peaks so exhilarating.  It’s the sorrows and harassments of life which make peace and joy and blessings so soul-thrilling when they come.  It’s the contrast.

It’s the hunger right before the Thanksgiving meal, it’s the bone-weary tiredness right before the deep night of sleep, it’s the harsh cries of the baby before he surrenders to rest.  And in the tyranny of those hard hours He gives us His promises like life lines, like flashlights to guide us through the darkness.  He asks us to remember His presence, in both valley and peak, in both abundance and poverty, in both peace and unrest.  He is strengthening the atrophied muscles of perseverance, long-suffering, and praise-at-all-times.  These are gifts He gives when it seems He’s taken the good stuff away.

And the baby is now resting deeply and I can see that he won’t have a diaper rash forever, and I can see too past these hours and forward, laying hold of the life lines of His promises, I hope.

 

 

Terrorism There and Here

I carried my sleeping baby upstairs, his warm cheek resting on my shoulder.  My heart was pierced by very sad news.  I looked at his crib, but instead carried him into our bed, tucking him close and warm against me.  I needed him near.

“A friend just got a text message from her brother asking her to shower him and his parish in prayer. He is part of a mission and ISIS has taken over the town they are in today. He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus. He said so far not one child has. And so far all have consequently been killed. But not the parents. The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own. They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families – even if it means their own deaths. He is very afraid, has no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have seen their children martyred. Yet he says he knows God has called him for some reason to be his voice and hands at this place at this time. Even so, he is begging prayers for his courage to live out his vocation in such dire circumstances. And like the children accept martyrdom if he is called to do so.”

Friends of friends, casting a net wide for prayer support yesterday.  I prayed, but it felt more like a groan, the words seemed so achingly small; all that came was “Lord, have mercy” and snatches of coherent petitions.  What do I pray for you, bereaved parents who’ve seen your children murdered in front of you?

“This came this morning… Just a few minutes ago I received the following text message on my phone from —- ——– who leads —————–. We then spoke briefly on the phone and I assured him that we would share this urgent prayer need with all of our contacts.

‘We lost the city of Queragosh (Qaraqosh). It fell to ISIS and they are beheading children systematically. This is the city we have been smuggling food too. ISIS has pushed back Peshmerga (Kurdish forces) and is within 10 minutes of where our —— team is working. Thousands more fled into the city of Erbil last night. The UN evacuated it’s staff in Erbil. Our team is unmoved and will stay. Prayer cover needed!'”

Dustin and I entwined our arms over sleeping Henrik, praying together for the people being targeted by ISIS, Christians and other faith minorities.  For those working in the regions affected.  Henrik slept on and I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of world he would know in his days.

I prayed too for the terrorists.  It is no small thing to be a murderer of children; how deep the darkness in the soul to be able to do such!  I prayed for eyes opened and hearts of stone turned to flesh.  Though their crimes break my heart, I am also heartbroken for them; they will always be haunted by their violent deeds, and if ever they entertain the idea of disillusionment with their ideology, there will be those small faces before them, there will be that blood, and all of that horror.  There is plenty of motive to keep their hearts hard and their souls darkened.  The light reveals too much.

The news this morning revealed images of bombed sites in Syria.  There are always little children on the periphery, isn’t there?  Surveying these piles of cinderblock rubble?  It is always jarring for me to see them on the edges of aftermath.  I see you, little ones, and I pray for you; this isn’t the world as it should be.

Why is it that children are so often sacrificed on the altars of men?  From ancient times, when babies were burnt to death in sacrifice to Baal, to the Egyptians commanding that all the Hebrew boy babies be killed upon birth, we have seen the most vulnerable among us brutally killed by the most powerful.  WHY?

WHY???

WHY???

But isn’t the worst of it that it happens today, right here, in our modern, first world, United States of America?  In clean, sterile clinics with smiling “nurses” and assuring “doctors”?  (I put them in quotes because they violate their hippocratic oath to “do no harm”).  Children are decapitated, dismembered, here, on our proud and self-righteous soil, thousands, EVERY DAY.  Maybe not for a religious ideology, but often for a far weaker and more anemic one; convenience.  And so our indignation resounds hollow, doesn’t it?  Are we for life, or aren’t we?

People call the ISIS fighters monsters and call the abortionists compassionate.  When will we open our eyes and let the light reveal the horrors on our own soil?  The deliberate and cruel extermination of life most tender?  When will we see?

I pray for the ISIS fighters and the abortionists, and the mothers laying back and spreading their legs for their children to be killed, that eyes would fly open, that hearts would be illumined, and that the tide of blood, the blood of the innocents, would be halted.  Because one man’s, or woman’s, agenda should NEVER mean the death of a child.

 

Why It’s Hard to Rest

Henrik does laps around his playpen, swinging his dimpled arms like pendulums, as taking a nap is unthinkable with all this excess energy that compels his little legs to run, his little body to move, move, move.  It’s hard to rest.  There’s so much running to do.  As he winds down a bit, he rolls across the mattress with his blankie, in a wrestling match of sorts with the idea of sleep:  I embrace it (sucks thumb and strokes blankie’s silky edge), no I do not (tucks and rolls and kicks the sides of the playpen).  I think I do the same with the Sabbath.

For six days of the week I start my day by getting the laundry going.  There’s something soothing to me about hearing my trusty appliance sidekicks humming in the background, doing some major work at the touch of a button or two.  It’s probably as close as I’ll come to having some domestic help, and it makes the day seem like it’s acquired some momentum.  Some getting-it-done-ness.

So when the Sabbath comes around, a day to cease from my day-to-day workload and enjoy rest and my Lord, I miss the assuring hum of progress in the laundry room.  I even have “temptations” and rationalizations about why I could/should in fact do laundry anyways.  The quickly piling basket in the laundry room woos me.  I’m serious.  The loudest voice of temptation is Miss Responsible.  She reasons matter-of-factly that it’s as necessary as brushing my teeth and cooking on Sundays; the children do need clothing ready for school the next day.  What would become of Monday if Sunday didn’t do any work?

But, it’s just not true.  Because I do laundry nearly every day, there is no true shortage of clothing for anybody.  And Monday is meant for working, so let it have it’s work.

It’s hard to rest, hard to cease from wreaking productivity all over our weekend-blasted home.  Hard to swallow the crumbed floors, the scattered shoes, and the Sunday paper laid strewn in several reading spots.  Part of me wants it all ordered and shining and fresh and ready for Monday.  But when, then, am I ready for Sunday?

Ready for rest?

This takes some foresight.  I’m slowly learning that.  If I have laundry going Saturday night, I make sure not to put a load in the washer before bed, because it will shout at me to be switched over to the dryer and folded on Sunday morning.  I try to vacuum the floors and tidy things up Saturday night so that my restless I-want-order spirit can find less irritation in my surroundings.  And if all else fails and I awake to a disordered home on Sunday morning, I do as we did last night.  We gathered the children and headed out for a nice walk to the park.  We abandoned ship and sought fresh air, different landscapes, and no visible work to attend to other than pushing a giggling baby on the swings.

Sometimes you have to physically flee from temptations, even seemingly silly ones.

But the Sabbath commandment isn’t silly.  I guess it’s pretty important to God, so it must be awfully important for us as well; for our spiritual wellbeing and connection to Him and others.  We have to hit the pause button on our work, we need to step away from it, we need to remember God and dwell on Him with unscattered minds.  _MG_4776

Why do I put dear Henrik down for a nap?  Not because he wants one.  Oh, no.  He doesn’t even feel sleepy, quite the opposite really.  I put him down because I know what he needs better than he does.  I know he’d run himself ragged and get cranky and destructive and all out of sorts without his rest.  He’d make himself, and all of us, miserable.  It is an act of kindness and love, though to him it can feel so confining and restrictive.  When he finally succumbs to the nap, his cheeks flushed pink and his blankie clasped in his pudgy fingers, his breathing sweet and soft, I am captivated by the sight.  Love sweeps on over me as I see my son relaxing into the gift of rest.IMG_2100

It is humbling that we need the same, eh?  We are all grown up and yet we are still assigned a rest time.  We try to squirrel our way out of it, don’t we?  Because we like to be unrestricted; we like to chart our days as we please.  But God, in His wisdom, knows what we need better than we do.

Let us not, then, resist Him.  Let us accept the gift He kindly offers to us as dearly loved children.

 

The Beautiful and Hard Kindness of God

It was as I picked twenty-five pounds of tomatoes in my garden that I noticed, my breath catching in my throat, the huge celosia flower.  It’s also known as cockscomb, and though you can often find a small, plume-like version of it, getting it to grow as big as a brain is another matter.  I’d tried many times without success to grow it from seed.

But right there, in the side flower boxes along the raised bed garden, my seed-grown celosia had put forth a mega bloom.Photo on 9-18-14 at 2.01 PM Dry, feathery, and deepest magenta it was, a color it will keep as it dries out.  “Oh God, You are so kind”, my heart said, while my dress sagged heavy from a load of tomatoes in the skirting.  Kind to make such a beauty out of my bumbling efforts, right there in my weedy, riotous garden.  I like that God’s gifts are not anonymous…they are fully intended to make us turn our smiling faces to Him in gratitude.

Later that day as the ten quarts of pasta sauce were cooling on the counter top, after all those tomatoes had been peeled and chopped and simmered long, after the day had run right over me on it’s rush toward bedtime, I heard the jars pinging, sealing themselves tight and it came again, “God, You are so kind”.  Because He reminded me to put the citric acid in the jars, without which all my hard work would have been spoiled.  And there were no exploded jars in the canner (which is an awful, awful mess), and the musical pings kept ringing in all His mercies that day.

Of course He loves us; don’t we hear that always?  Sometimes we wear out the sentiment, the sense of it.  We can become immune to how amazing it really is.  Like seeing a whole field of celosias in gigantic bloom every day and no longer being held captive by a single flower.  Immunity to the good stuff is just as soul-numbing as immunity to the bad.

“I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Mark 10:15

 

The other day I filled the kitchen chalkboard with “Ten Things I Love About My Sophia”.  She read the words with a joyful-painful smile, the smile young ladies have on their faces when they’re a little embarrassed by their worth being recognized and praised. She bounded from the kitchen and clambered onto my lap, tucking in long limbs which had outgrown lap-dwelling years ago.  She just wanted to tuck into me in all her joy and bashfulness, and I quite wish I could do the same with my Father in Heaven, though I don’t think I’ve ever quite outgrow His lap.

But that’s the right response, see?

What if she had mocked the words?  What if she had shook her head and said that it wasn’t true, that she was a nobody and a good-for-nothing and didn’t deserve it?  What if she was too occupied and busy to notice the words at all?  What if she had called everyone over to the chalkboard and boasted about her obvious worth?  There are so many wrong responses.  And one very right one, running, bounding to the blessing-giver, in thanks and pleasure.

God is kind.  On purpose.  I think of all His mercies to me, personal ways that He’s demonstrated over and over that He cares for me and delights in delighting.  I think of the honey harvest, and Henrik’s healing diaper rash, and the soap-making adventure which is filling me with wonder that fats and lye can come together and make a wonderfully beautiful and useful thing.

IMG_2598 Photo on 9-18-14 at 2.02 PMGod is kind, and I speak that as one who has walked valleys in my faith that were dark indeed.  When prayers fell back down on my bent head and the Heavens resounded with silence.  I’ve felt the withdrawal of comfort and peace as tangibly as if someone had taken a warming blanket right up and off of me.  I have shaken my fist at Him more times than I care to remember.

What do we say to a child who wants to keep on snacking, keep on filling up before dinner?  We say not to spoil their appetite.  And God in His kindness does care about our appetite growing strong enough to relish a hearty meal, a hearty faith, a hearty love.  The valleys make us ache for the mountains, the darkness makes us ache for the light, and the small plumes of celosia make us gasp at the mega blooms.  He wants us hungry because He wants to satisfy; more than satisfy, delight.

“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’ ”  I Corinthians 2:9

Lost Books and Potatoes in the Trash Can, or How Details Can Overwhelm

I fished through Henrik’s toy bin, my eyes finally catching the round wooden disk that had no business amongst the sock monkey and blocks.  I slipped the coaster under my coffee and smiled.  Life with an eighteen month-old.

He’s sort of predictable.  He loves playing with the coasters and the potatoes and his shoes, and he rotates those things among several cache points around the house.  One of those cache points is the kitchen garbage.  If we can’t find something we sort of dread that it’s in the city dump.

IMG_2443This morning, pre-coffee mind you, I tried to help Reuben locate his school library books.  Instead I found an overdue one from our public library (sigh) but no sign of the others.  I dreaded two things; one, that I had returned books to the wrong library and two, that Henrik had thrown them away.

Life has a lot of details.  An aching amount of them.

Reuben’s school agenda has color-coded checkmarks each day, the colors representing his behavior.  The color key was clearly explained in one of the five hundred papers the kids brought home.  For now I’m just sort of hoping green means good, because I had quite a truckload of details hit me that first week of school.  Seriously.  Important papers about their passwords for different math sites they were were supposed to use, picture day packets, letters from their teachers explaining what days they had spelling tests and how much they were to be reading each night and on and on.  I understand it, I do, I don’t even question it, but I do know that I cannot do this all well.  Not at once, anyways.

I will be that mom who the front desk receptionist sees breathlessly sprinting a violin into the school with a baby bouncing on my hurrying hip.  I’ll be the one calling my local library to see if some school books were accidentally dropped there.  I’ll be the one fishing through a toy box for a coaster.  Because that’s what life looks like right now, and no color-coded dry-erase master calendar organizational pinterest-inspired command station could even save me from this madness.  Why?  Because Henrik would throw potatoes into the files and Edison would draw pictures on the board and I’d probably end up using the space as a soap-curing table ;).

It might surprise you to learn that I’m actually a highly organized person.  My kitchen is so well-ordered that if you look close, you’ll see my spices are lined up alphabetically (only because Henrik can’t reach them yet, mind you).  I do not like, nor welcome, chaos for chaos’s sake.  But staying on top of all the details in my life feels like trying to bail water out of a canoe in the midst of a full gale.  Or like someone dumping truckloads of marbles in through my window, which I try to sort into like colors and keep out of the baby’s mouth while more trucks wait their turns.

I can’t keep up.  I forget things, the kids forget things.  We borrow grace like it’s going out of style, and pay late fees with an apologetic smile.  But whenever we consider the ways we are failing, it’s a good practice to think equally about what we’re getting right.IMG_1825IMG_1836 IMG_1850 IMG_1926 The thousand and one ways that we’re living well in the midst of gale-force winds and unruly amounts of marbles tripping our steps.  The holy moments which pepper our days as fiercely as the details do, if we can stop a minute and see them, removing our shoes in awe.  Life is happening beautifully and fully in spite of our imperfections, our mistakes, our inadequacies.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  II Corinthians 12:9