Day 25: intentions

I had good intentions of getting a lot done today, including adding something to Lent.  It didn’t happen…any of it.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Romans 7:15 


Day 26: insanity

Today I unintentionally added insanity to Lent:

My little raccoon dumped a bag of chili cheese Fritos on the master bathroom floor mat.  It looked like the Pyramid of Giza piled atop white Egyptian sand.

He stole his sister’s deodorant and hacked it into little pieces all over the upstairs bathroom.  Moisture-blocking deodorant, when ground into a fluffy bath mat, is very hard to clean.

He locked himself in the bathroom while I was making an important business call.  We don’t have a key.

He threw multiple toys over the banister…after I had just taken them upstairs to the toy room.

He removed and hid all the printer ink cartridges…as I was trying to print copies of music for Sunday.

He ninja-swiped open dirty diapers as I tried to change him.  I am so done with poop.

All of this was before 10:00 am.

I didn’t have time to add something inspirational today…(hello, reality…thanks for showing up uninvited.)

“Be gracious to me, O God, for man (boy) tramples on me; all day long an attacker (a toddler) oppresses me”  

Psalm 56:1


Day 27: coffee creamer

So, obviously the last couple of days have been ridiculous, but let’s be honest.  This is life for most people: crazy.  When asked how things are going, we all say it:  “Busy.”  “Crazy”  “insane.”  This is the norm for most of us, especially if we’ve got lots of responsibilities, whether it be tasks at work, or children at home, or a combination of the two.

Again, I got nothing done today.  I seemed to rush and rush, strive and toil, with little to nothing to show for it.  When I left to go pick up the kids from school, the house was still a mess, laundry still needed to be done, and I still hadn’t finished preparing for the bible study I was supposed to lead tonight.  We drove straight from school to church to meet up with Daddy for dinner.  During the bible study, the older kids were going to hang out in his office while he worked and Judah was going to the nursery.

When everything was finished for the night, I texted to see if they had already headed home.  I was surprised to hear that yes, they were already home because Gideon had thrown up.  My first thought was “oh, no! Not more sickness!”  Then, I heard the rest of the story.

Apparently, Gideon has a routine when he hangs out in Daddy’s office.  He goes to the staff coffee station and sneaks the little individual cups of coffee creamer.  Tonight, it seems as thought our 5-year-old with the early signs of addictive behavior, couldn’t stop himself from indulging.  He consumed enough cream to make himself sick…well, that and the starburst flavored slushy he got with dinner.  (It makes my stomach curdle just thinking about it.)

When he ‘fessed up to the deviant looting of coffee condiments, he said it was such creamy goodness that he couldn’t stop himself.  This from the child who at age two snuck a stick of butter from the fridge, pulled a chair up to the TV, and ate the butter like a Snickers.  (We are really going to have to keep an eye on this one.)  He obviously doesn’t know his own limits, or what’s good for him.

In the world of sweet things and buttery goodness, it’s very possible to add too much of a good thing.  Not so with Lent, or with God.  My crazy has needed an abundance of grace and He has more than enough to not only meet my level of need, but to surpass it.  His  mercy will never run out, and of His goodness I will never grow weary.  It’s impossible to have too much of Him.  When I allow myself to actually taste His goodness, even in the midst of crazy, all I want is more.  I can’t stop myself from indulging.

When I find myself growing weary and sick of life, unable to think of something spiritual to write about (as I did the past three days), it’s not because I’ve somehow had enough Jesus, or that He’s gone AWAL.  The reality is that I’ve not been opening my senses to taste the little morsels of goodness that He has individually packaged for me throughout the day.  I haven’t tasted.  I haven’t thanked.

Unfortunately for Gideon, God used the little 5-year old’s intolerance for copious creamer consumption to get my attention.  I thank Jesus for His grace.  He has loved me through the past half-week, despite my weakness and inconsistency.  He has loved me, even when I’m not feeling it.  He has remained faithful.

Over Lent, I’ve been adding and adding, and the days that I thought I wasn’t adding at all, grace was being added unto me.  I just didn’t recognize it.

“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 Corinthians 12:9

 

Day 3: Braids

I can remember when our oldest was an only child.  I spent countless hours braiding her super-fine white hair into two French braids every day.  I had waited so long for her hair to grow in, that as soon as I could make two little pigtails on the top of her head, I did…even though they looked like miniature budding horns. 

I have a distinct memory of sitting in a bank lobby as my husband waited for the next available teller.  She sat in my lap, her toe-head shimmering in the sunlight shining through the huge glass panels.  I braided–her tresses so baby fine they could only be bundled in tediously small amounts in order to stay tight in the weaving.  With each cord of hair, I marveled at how iridescent each strand was as it was twisted with the others.  I even found one lone jet black hair among the millions of bright white.  I assumed this kind of attention to detail, along with the ability to marvel at hair, was simply a facet of motherhood.

Now, I am a mother of four.

I’m lucky to spend time brushing through my own messy hair, let alone groom four other heads (and stare at them in wonder?!?!?).  My eldest’s hair has now grown thick and even curly, underneath a top layer of board-straight strands.   Her translucent white hair is now mixed with gold.  She washes it.  She brushes it.  Occasionally, she will stick it in a low ponytail.  My second daughter has followed suit, generally managing her personal hair routine, as well.  I haven’t marveled at hair in a long time.

On this third day of Lent, I added braids.  I started by spraying fancy moroccan aegean oil.  I gently brushed all the tangles and waves until the hair laid against itself in complete harmony.  I began to notice the myriad of color on each girl’s crown, shades of blonde and every glistening hue of copper and gold.

I realized how much I’ve missed marveling at the hair of my children.  (Maybe it is a facet of motherhood–a blessing that I’ve just overlooked.) Even after combing it through, I continued to stroke and examine it, testing it’s colors in varying angles of light.

I added braids…

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And through it, God added peace, thankfulness, and joy.

Oh, how He loves me.

If even I, mother of four, can take the time to marvel at hair, how much more often does He look at me?  He pays attention to detail like none other.  And even in His fine-tooth combing, He declares me valuable.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Matthew 10:29-31

“I’m learning a lot about God from my kids.”  I think every Jesus-following parent says it at least once.  It is true.  Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18: 3-4).

This morning when darkness still loomed over the house, I rose to my oldest daughter already awake.  She had set her alarm for 5 AM so as to not miss the much anticipated lunar eclipse.  It was supposed to be first visible at 5:25 AM, but in an effort to not miss any of it, she was awake nearly a half hour early.  The rest of the family wasn’t that interested in the phenomenon, so she planned her rising all on her own.  She could hardly sleep last night, so it was not a surprise to me that she was already awake when my alarm went off at 6.  The time she chose to wake up did not startle me. What did shock me was the place she chose to watch.

I assumed that she would venture out on the front driveway or walkway and peer into the moon-lit sky.  I figured she’d take it in for a minute, get tired, and head back to bed.  But, no, my child knew better than me…

She pulled a chair and pillow from the living room over to the front door.  She made herself comfortable and sat, marveling at the moon through the glass insets.  Any reasonable adult would say that chair was an annoyance and was placed in a dangerous spot, in the line of doorway traffic.  But it was the perfect venue to focus on something almost magical, something that my mature brain can’t wrap my mind around.  The sun, which we can’t see at night-time is yet right behind us–behind her in that chair.  Its strong rays of sunlight reflecting over our heads on the surface of the moon millions of miles away.  The earth, on which we stand, on which she sat in that chair, mysteriously floating in the space in between.  The orbits of the moon and the earth in such synchronization and alinement that before her very eyes, the shadow of earth, orb on which she sat in that chair, appeared before her over the face of the moon–it’s light slowly burning red.  What an amazing event that is so much grander and substantial than a walkway ridden with chair.

As we went on with our day and I returned home from morning errands, I saw the chair unmoved from the wee hours of dawn.  The sunlight, now cascading through the windows bore such sweet light on that seat, on that place of tiny miracle.

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My daughter has taught me something today.  I have learned, and have been told over and over again, that I need to sit and marvel at God.  Others may be annoyed with me.  Others may think I am in the way.  My resolve to sit and take in Jesus as I see Him throughout the day may irritate those who think it odd and silly.  Some might deep down feel the sting of resentment that I have gone to such measures to encounter God.  But I long to be like the carefree and uninhibited children.  I no longer want to be an adult with to-do lists, logical answers, and cynicism.  Jesus, teach me, like you taught the disciples, to humble myself, turn, and become like the child.

I have for far too long walked with the shadow of reason and logic hiding my heart from the everyday glory of Jesus.  How can I follow His Spirit, if I shield my eyes from seeing Him?  How can I soak in His words and ponder His parables if I block my ears from hearing Him?  How can I sense His presence and act on His urgings if I cover-up my feelings with puffed up arrogance and pride?  I, and most “Christians”, have been walking around in a “total eclipse of the heart” religion.  We have covered ourselves with our performance and success, rather than being “hidden in Christ”  (Col. 3:3), reflecting His glory, not our own.

Last night, my eleven-year-old delighted in asking questions of astronomy and selenology, of the heavens and their movement, just in anticipation for what she hoped to see.  She didn’t presume to have all the answers.  Her eyes doubled in fascination with the size and wonder of it all, even before witnessing.  Are we adults even asking questions anymore?  Do we think we have it all figured out?  The mysteries of Jesus are beyond any human mind.  His wisdom and knowledge deep.  We will never exhaust all that He has for us.  How boring and mundane to be the one who has forgotten this simple truth!  What a dull and joyless, responsibility-driven, task-filled adult life!  We need not live this way.  He wants us to have life to the fullest, to marvel at His love and His Spirit, to wait in eager anticipation for just a glimpse of Him.

The chair will remain in it’s new home today.  I want to be reminded to seek out all of the wonder and joy Jesus has for me.  Even amidst my daily work, I will pass by and catch a glimpse of the Spirit’s reminder to me.  He loves me so well to know that I need reminders and nudges.  He understands my failing heart and fleeting zeal because undoubtedly, I will trip over it at some point.    Thank you, Jesus, for telling me again.

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Last night I sat with a cup of spiced tea in my hands next to my son reading a book.  The pages were lit by only the fading sunlight of dusk and a warm-scented candle.  The soft soundtrack of Pride and Prejudice played over the stereo as we read his library book about…StarWars droids.  Even still it was a lovely setting.  It sounds picture perfect…

Until I tell the rest of the story.

Upstairs a storm was brewing.  Emotions were high and were being unleashed all over the floor.  Literally.  The pads of the feet were not being used to travel the carpet.  An all out rolling and kicking temper-tantrum was underway.

Creating a calm setting amidst the chaos is our new approach.  Giving more credence and attention to the peaceful and quiet rather than turning over the entire state of the house to fits is our current training in Life After Rehab.   We are trying to practically retain sober-mindedness when everything around us seems out of control.  It’s not an effort to just ignore, but to speak calm truth in short increments.  I think it might be working.  The issue is a strong-willed child who will stop just short of every extreme measure imaginable to be in control.  (I don’t know who passed that gene down!)  It’s hard to remain light-hearted and tranquil when your name is repeatedly yelled across the house.  It’s difficult to stay upbeat and truth-filled when someone is telling you over and over that you are wrong and unfair.

All this practice and training in my parenting is forming something else in me as well.  I am learning more about the Holy Spirit in this process.  I am learning that while candle-lit space travel on the pages of a borrowed book takes extreme focus during a spinning child-tornado, it is still possible.  It’s exactly the kind of challenging work the Holy Spirit does.  It’s the precise task the Holy Spirit has been doing since the beginning of time…order in the midst of chaos.

If we truly believe that God is triune–three persons in One–then the Holy Spirit was there at the beginning of creation with God, the Father and Jesus, the Word.  He was the Holy Spirit that traveled across the expanse of the waters, stirring motion into the wind, creating a pattern of currents in otherwise haphazard air.  He was the very breath of God that was blown into the lifeless clay lungs of Adam, triggering inhalation and exhalation, contraction and constriction–a whole organized system of life.  The Spirit is a powerful force.  His movement has not once ceased since that first day of the world’s birth.  If I say I have relationship with Jesus, and acknowledge God as my Father, then what of this Holy Spirit?  If He is an equal part of the Triune, then should not my relationship be equally yoked with Him?  Should I not be conversing with the Spirit just as I commune with Jesus or the Father?

In my weary and parched land of parenting, the Holy Spirit hovers the dusty sand, ready to spill itself over my desert.  He has power to turn my weak, my tired, my poor into churning oceans of bounty and blessing.  There is an oasis to be had, even in the midst of the hot dry sand storm.

I am learning…slowly…but nevertheless, learning how practically to live in the presence of the Spirit even when circumstances seem far from Him.  When I find myself overcome with Him, I am content.  I am peaceful.  I am tranquil.  I am trusting.  And I am entirely without control.  It’s not by my own power or will that I find myself with my cup of tea smiling.  It’s not a vision board or positive thinking ritual that seduces me to happiness.  It truly is the joy of the Lord.  It is His kindness, mercy, and goodness that compels me.  It can seem so trivial…”okay, yeah, yeah, the ‘Holy Spirit’ makes you happy even when kids are throwing fits.”  But until you experience the true satisfaction that comes with calling on the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you with peace, and then you actually sense it, it won’t ever sound legit.

How do I learn this?  What’s my homework?  I take risks.  I am learning to take risks on the Holy Spirit.  I ask and wait…then just hope that He shows up.  I listen and wait…and do whatever I think I might be hearing.  It could merely be a voice in my head…it could.  And I am sure that sometimes it is my own consciousness self-talking myself to do little good deeds.  But there are times I hear a faint urging to do something that would normally be uncomfortable and outside my comfort zone.  So instead of ignoring it, my spiritual science experiment is to take the risk of actually doing it, without hypothesizing.  I do it, then wait and watch for any sign of change.  Little by little the Spirit is revealing to me genuine fruit.  There is a field of little outcroppings springing up as I take these risks.  I am looking into this land and seeing a future harvest rising.  My risks are fruitful, even if I don’t see everyone of them flowering into something.  The more I venture into trusting, the more I am learning to discern His voice from my own.   I am learning what seeds to plant and where.  And I am learning how to sit and quietly watch the grass grow.

His voice tells me, “have some spiced-tea”, even though it’s still a hot and humid September in Houston.  His voice tells me, “light the fall scented candle…in fact, light two of them so that you can’t escape their fragrance, and mine.”  He urges me to sit and breathe deep and marvel at the face of the sweet child by my side, to fluff his hair and tell him he’s dashingly handsome.  His voice tells me to pray for my upstairs child who has gone wild.  He whispers in the quiet of my heart reminders of His truth and His love and His sovereignty.  He hums a sweet melody in my ear that paints a picture of a future adult with a strong-willed passion for Him.  He breathes power into my being…restrained power to be calm, peaceful, and orderly.

He gives me just the right thing to say as I walk up the stairs into the danger zone.

His might overwhelms me.  Emotions dissipate.  I envision Jesus on the rocky sea boat telling the waves and the thunder to stop, and all stood still.  That same other-worldly presence stands on the bow of my stairs, hushing the fury.  The air softens, the dust settles, and I pray over my troubled child.  And then, my sweet confused one asks for forgiveness.

Had I tried to control the situation, the Spirit would have been snuffed out or, at the least, pushed over to the corner.  I am learning.   I am learning Life After Rehab lessons that I thought I knew, but that are gaining depth and circumference.  And these new understandings involve risk and patience.

How do you take risks on the Holy Spirit?  Teach me.  I am eager to learn and am all ears.  I believe the Spirit is at work in all of us.  I believe that in community we gain a richer and more realistic view of the trust seeds the Spirit is sowing.  In taking the risk to share, I believe we encourage each other to invest future risks on the Holy Spirit.  Let’s learn from each other these spiritual fundamentals.

And it truly is risky business.   There is spiritual opposition to the Holy Spirit.  None can overcome the Spirit, but darkness sure tries.  It’s scary to think that stepping out in faith might make us spiritual targets, but isn’t it worth it?  Shouldn’t it be worth it?  I’m in…at least right at this moment I’m in.  I’m learning the value of this risk also.  The fear is not as great when walking with a powerful Spirit.  And He’s there for the taking.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13

I will ask for more of Him, the “Him” who is the neglected person of the Trinity…the Him who dares me to trust…I will dare Him to come…and take a risk on what happens.

 

Yesterday was the first day of school.  The official introductory step over the threshold into Life After Rehab.  We’ve been building up anticipation for this event, buying school uniforms, backpacks, and those coveted new box of crayons.  The night before was full of anxiety and fierce emotion for the kids.  (Some children more contained than others.)  We recognized old patterns return.  We caught sober-mindedness fleeing the building.  We saw lots of kicking…

But somehow, through the insanity, as parents, we remained calm and level-headed.  That’s not to imply that we have mastered anything at all, but it did show some return from our rehab year.  More pointedly, it was the fruit of the Spirit that we witnessed.  Our stretch of Rehab has trained us, if even a little, in allowing the Spirit to assert His temperament over our own.  

So much anticipation…

This past weekend, I made monkey bread in preparation for Sunday morning.  The kids usually request doughnuts, because they know I’m a softy for fried sweetened gluten and special Sunday morning outings, especially when we are running late.  But in an effort to break the habit, I thought that I’d let sugared monkey bread dough rise over night in the oven so that I could quickly bake it in the morning.  I have a poor habit of never reading a recipe more than once.  If I’ve gotten the general idea of the dish from the first go around, I figure I will remember enough for the next time.  This usually works out well for me, except when baking.  You have to be precise and accurate with measurements of flour and yeast.  There’s a good deal of behind-the-scenes science and chemical reactions going on in that kitchen kiln, that I seriously should have learned by now not to leave any of that finite math to estimations. 

I’m a slow learner…

Sunday sunup, Ava had generously volunteered to surface early and turn on the oven to bake the monkey bread.  But when she opened the door to take the swelling dough out and let the oven pre-heat, this is what she discovered…

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Thank you, Daddy for thinking to take a picture. 🙂

The softened butter and crystalized brown sugar slid off off the rounded clouds of dough and sat on the floor of my embarrassingly dirty oven.  All that salty sweet bliss…sigh

Ava and I pulled the mess out and sat it on the counter.  We gently tugged at the gooey-ness and discarded the extra dough into another pan…no way we were wasting all that goodness!  As we nipped and tucked, no matter how gentle our efforts, air escaped from the bottled dough bulges.  

So much anticipation…

for that monkey bread.  Those 8 nighttime hours it sat in wait–rising, multiplying, gaining grandeur and fluff.  We all were looking forward to its butter-soaked delight at dawn.  What we found was not at all what we expected.  It was shocking.  It was profound.  It was super-sized.

Yesterday morning when we woke for school, I fully imagined the worst.  I don’t know if that designates me a horrible mom, or a prepared mom.  But what I observed was not at all what I anticipated.  The kids were all fed, dressed (including socks and shoes, which usually equates minor surgery), and smiling…early.  Yes, early.  We appeared at school and had to actually wait in the hallway because we were too early.  (“Early” happens even less than wearing socks and tennis shoes.)

 

Yeast is a peculiar thing.  This cooking agent that is so small, when given exactly the right ingredients (in the right proportions) develops into the amazing goodness that gives sustenance and satisfies the rawest of needs…hunger.  We had been craving for something in our family.  We had been hankering to taste that which satisfies, that surpasses the expectations of mere bread, that which bounds over the limits of American success.  Rehab taught us that only Jesus satisfies the appetite to live life to the fullest.  And like yeast, He comes in ways that we don’t expect and ways that we can’t prepare for.  He comes in forms that do not simply fill us, but overwhelm our tins with exciting and fantastic satisfaction.  Though we don’t set the menu, we still anticipate the meal He is preparing.  As we wait to encounter what He does for our children and for our family this next year, and the years beyond, we have no idea what He will do, or how He will do it.  But, we get to wait in suspense.  We get to watch the dough rise and fluff.  We get to smell the artisan bread waft through the house.  We don’t know yet what’s to come from this season, but it brings joy to watch the yeast double and swell.  It builds our enthusiasm and anticipation.

It’s difficult to see life’s dough topple over out of our plans and not tug and pull at it’s unexpected bobbles.  We like to control.  We prefer to help out with the plan God has already put into motion.  We love to amend the dimensions of the pan/plan and how long things should have to bake in the uncomfortable fire.  When we get pushy with the strategy of God we can puncture the thin skin on those delicate bubbles of dough.  He desires for us to marvel at the size and magnitude of our anticipation.  He wants us to experience the full goodness of those light and flaky layers once they are perfected in the baking.  When we implement our own program into His sovereign unknown providence, we steal our own glorious anticipation…the anticipation He desires us to marvel in.  We deny ourselves the fine and intricate pastry he’s prepared, and end up with chewy and dense life moments that ferment bitterness at where we’ve been and how we’ve lived…what hardships have been dealt our way.

Oh, I pray that we don’t get anxious for His blessings–that we don’t preemptively pop His bubble–that we don’t steal His thunder–that we don’t scheme to discover the plans for our own surprise party.  Until He serves up the monkey bread on his precise time table, I pray that we hold no expectations, but only hold our breath in joyous anticipation.  

Let the yeast rise…