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…

photo

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

The faint chirping of birds…

If I concentrate, I can dimly dice the conversation.

The tweets cascading down from the oaks in front of me are met with distant song to my left.  What are they saying?

There is a pattern to their song.  Verse, chorus, verse again…a back and forth chant and response.  The pitch of the two are different, one distinctly higher than the other, but the quick staccato rhythm the same.  Are they talking about food, the weather, the nest?

I have been listening to birdsongs of a different flair all week.  It’s been deep meaningful discussion on matters of faith, “outreach”, and Jesus.  I sit here in the woods, on retreat, processing all the hymns and anthems I have just taken in, hoping to digest even half of the wisdom I encountered.

At the very core of my melodic meal, Jesus has been singing a song over me.  He has been feeding His goodness and mercy straight to my hungry belly.  He has been wooing me with His love.  His Spirit has been reminding me of all that He said and all that He has done.  His sweet tunes have been everything from savory, slow, and melodic to salty, fast, and turbulent.  In every lyric is a nutrient for my heart.

The rain comes.

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

Fading are the birds, all but one.  In the sound of the softly falling wet, I hear but one little chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

She is constant, her beat like the ticking of a grandfather clock.  The rain falls gently.

The air fills with the fragrance of peaceful showers.

Chirp.

Chirp.   Piddle.  Piddle.

In this solitude, Jesus has a message for me.  He has been pouring music of His truth and His gifts over me for months now, but here, in this peaceful place, with rain tenderly tapping 16ths on the leaves on the snare drum of His orchestration, and the bird steady on the count…

Piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle.

Chirp.

Chirp.

It is here that I start to piece together the message of His month long score.

The Spirit is at work around me and in me.  I feel Him moving as I sense the bugs squirming under the leaves.  A small section of dry scrap on the ground jumps as a wooded lizard runs for cover.  I see the Spirit wiggling under the surface of our lives.  Some jump at His dance.  Some respond.  Some run for cover.  He is mixing and stirring our pots.  He’s up to something.

Chirp.

Chirp.

An acorn falls in front of me from the heights above.

clack…

and bounces on the wooden deck…

click, click.

More percussion in this song.  I am learning to listen.  To learn I must practice.

Chirp.

Chirp.

That unrelenting chirp that never misses a beat, it is constant and exact.  Such is the message for my heart–a constant and exact word for only my soul, speaking personally to the depths of my spiritual being.  Yet, I see in the songs I have shared with others this week, the songs I have listened others sing, that the message is being broadcast worldwide.  The movement is wild and far-traveling.  While He speaks straight to my soul, He is speaking directly to the souls of others.  He is amazing.  He is big.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Clack.  Click, click.

What is this message?  What is this great orchestral composition leading me to?  I don’t know…yet.  But I am simply enjoying the concert.

Clack.  Click, click.

Chirp.

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

The message is to listen…to learn His voice.  To practice the art of listening to Him.

The rain from the roof has gathered in the gutters and soon a faint trickle of drops turns into a spout of bubbling brook.

Drip.

Drop.

Pour.

He is here, even now, and I know this because I listen.

I fear no evil, for He is with me.  His soft showers of grace turn into rivers of gratitude in my heart.  Somehow this listening transforms me.  My spirit lifts, and I believe it is because I am hearing His Spirit with all my senses.  This is the message He has for me.  This is one of the many gifts He has given me, to have at my disposal His Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter, the One who reminds me of the Father’s love and of Jesus’ words. If I don’t hear, how will I know?

I am learning to be a sheep that listens, that is known, and does not wonder.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).  He is speaking to me in daily current parables.

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13-17).

In His mercy, my dull heart is being illuminated.  My ears are being tuned.  My eyes are being opened.  His mercies are new every morning.

Chirp.

Chirp.

I hear His mercies falling anew:

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

Drip, drop…

pour.

He has healing and I turn to hear it and receive it.

His Spirit is here, with me, with you.  Listen.  Keep your eyes peeled.  Don’t over think it.  Simply sit and listen and start with what you hear.  My friend, I want you to know the joy that comes from knowing.

chirp.

 

Well, today it’s back to the grind.  We just wrapped up a week and a half of vacation…glorious, glorious vacation.

 photo

There were numerous moments during this furlough that renewed my spirit and challenged my heart.  This was more than a break on the beach with a margarita in hand…although I’m not denying that happened.  This trip will forever stand out in my mind as very transformative.  And, so, in true “life after rehab” fashion, I feel as though I need to intentionally ponder and reflect on the meaningful moments, so that I can treasure them in my heart and share them with you.

However, as I open up the computer today after the long hiatus, I struggle to find my words and my rhythm.  I sat on the beach last week and actually read a book from cover to cover.  It was amazing.  Not only was having the freedom, time, and ability to read a whole book without interruption amazing, but the content of the book I chose has also left me somewhat speechless.  Ann Voskamp’s one thousand gifts has been so enlightening and transforming.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  It is worth every minute of your time.  The combination of her poetic prose and down-to-earth writing is a humbling joy to read.  There is no way I could ever write in such a masterful way.  It is truly amazing.  In her book, she writes of her own revelations on thankfulness and recognizing God’s gifts in the every day.  It has made me realize how much I neglect the sacrament of thanksgiving and how often the Bible speaks of its’ importance.  I feel as though there is a whole undiscovered path to joy whose trail head I have been aimlessly walking past.  I am anxious to unearth more of “eucharisteo”, as I have been inspired by Voskamp’s own hunt.

The “sleuthing” that she refers to–this treasure hunt for the things to be thankful for–urged me to seek God and His blessings during our vacation.  I found myself swooning over tiny sand-dwelling creatures and huge panoramic views of slate blue sky meeting shimmering crystal waves.  I stumbled upon restfulness, with my eyes closed and ears focused on the hush of the waves, the rhythm of their meter, rocking my soul to peacefulness.  I can’t really explain it, but as I sat still and took in some of the amazing sights and sounds around me, I felt as though I was being wooed my the Creator, reminded of His serenading love.  

images images

Voskamp is on to something here…and it’s more than “positive thinking.”  In counting my blessings, I am forced to not merely count, but to consider them, and the Giver who gives them to me.  I am forced to be still and know that He is God.  I see how big He is and how infinitely small I am.  That doesn’t really fit the criteria of American dream setting and the “do what makes you happy” kind of joy in which we are encouraged to partake. Being small–knowing my mortality–these are not “positive” thoughts.  All things will come to an end…including me.  Reminding myself that I don’t have control over anything in my life sounds like depressing pessimistic water-cooler talk.   But in actually seeing the God I believe in, feeling His endless pursuit of me in the form of beauty, and knowing that He is bigger and grander than me, I am fueled by a humble peace, a sure contentment, and a deeper, more satisfying joy than simply seeing the glass half-full.

photo 

This kind of detective work requires sitting at the private investigator desk searching through files of evidence.  It takes time and intentionality, which eerily sounds like the slow process of Family Rehab.  My journey to restore family and home isn’t done.  Jesus is restoring my heart–my joy.  Life After Rehab looks less like returning to normalcy with all the appropriate sobriety tools gained from being secluded in a rehab facility and more like continued study and rehabilitation with the distractions of everyday life now being added into the mix.  I still have so much to learn.  And as Voskamp also mentions, learning takes practice, practice, practice.

In addition to reading books, Paul and I had the opportunity to watch a documentary entitled,  Holy Ghost.  (You can watch the trailer here: http://www.holyghost.wpfilm.com).  The whole movie was guided by the Holy Spirit.  “What the what!?!?!,” you say?  No plans were made, except ones that were the result of ‘inner voice’ urgings or visions.  As a “conservative” Lutheran, some of the conversations recorded in the street scenes, in which the Holy Spirit was called upon to send a physical sensation through a person’s body, were a little wild.  But, honestly, it was no more untamed than what we read about in the book of Acts.  The movie features such celebrities as Lennie Kravitz, Brian Welch, and Fieldy from Korn.  As I watched people step out in faith, taking risks, and even entering into places that are dangerous for Christians, I again was struck by how intentionality and stillness were key in seeing all that God had in store for them.  How can one discern the voice of the Holy Spirit if they are not still enough to focus their hearts and minds to intentionally hear Him?

I think about all the practicing I do.  I consider all the rehearsing that goes on in my mind.  I add up all the time spent mulling over the lies of the world that tell me I’m not enough or of any value without the perfect body, successful children, or tons of money.  I compute all the energy and time I’ve spent repeating the same failures or hurtful behaviors.  What am I learning?  What am I teaching myself?  How much of the life-giving lawn of truth am I repeatedly treading worn down paths of lies over its’ surface?  What opportunities have I lost in the meantime?  What holy risks have I avoided or squashed because I was busy in the practice of listening to another’s voice?  What routines, patterns, and new trails have disabled my senses from hearing God’s audible voice?  What amount of blind ignorance has limited my vision for His kingdom, His glory, and my ultimate joy?

Jesus says in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

“Life After Rehab” might as well be called “practice”.  I haven’t yet learned.  I need training.  I need the Holy Spirit to teach me.  Sometimes it will be hard.  Sometimes it will bear fruit that I could never have imagined.  My prayer is that I am teachable, moldable, and pliable.  My prayer is that my senses are so overwhelmed with the Spirit that I can’t help but walk in unabashed gratitude and risk.  Life is about to get busy and hectic with school and work.  I pray that I find the words of the Spirit in the midst of the mayhem (that they fill me with truth and with holy pomptings) and the rythym of His grace, blessing, and spontaneity in the mundane (that it moves me into new depths of sobering joy).

I have found a theme song for “family rehab.”  The words of To Those Who Wait by Bethany Dillon seem to sum up the plea of our sanctioned Family Rehab.  Everything from the laid-back and slow tempo, to the crazy time signature of the verses, to the resolution of meter felt in the chorus seems to resonate with my heart.  If I was technologically savvy, I would attach a link to the song so you could hear it…but well, the lyrics will have to do for now:

I am waiting on You,
I’m waiting on You.
You say You’re good to those who wait.My heart’s discouraged,
So I come to You expectant.
You say You’re good to those who wait.Lord, today You know what I need to do,
But You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.
So I won’t run anymore.
I’m waiting on You.

Oh, wretched man that I am!
Free me from my distractions.
You say You’re good to those who wait.

Then confession and repentance
Find me in the quiet.
You say You’re good to those who wait.
Now I know You’re good to those who wait.

Lord, today You know what I need to do,
But You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.
So I won’t run anymore.
I’m waiting on You.

Oh, my soul,
Wait on the Lord.
Keep your lamp filled with oil.
Oh, my soul,
Be not deceived!
Wait for Him.
Don’t be quick to leave.

Lord, today You know what I need to do,
But You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.
So I won’t run anymore.
I’m waiting on You.

I’ve had to remember that we are taking this time to slow d-o-w-n.  This past weekend we were super busy with ministry related things: a wedding rehearsal, a conference, the wedding, Sunday service, and a funeral.  It was non-stop.  Come Monday morning we were all tired and emotionally and physically done.  So I had to remind myself that taking Monday off from school was okay, and one of the reasons we are taking a different approach to school this year is that sometimes weekends just don’t exist for us.

Today, getting back to work went so smoothly.  I thought that if we had tried to do this yesterday, the results would have been catastrophic.  Today we had another breakthrough in math for Helen.  She has been just storming through concept after concept, really mastering each new step.  She has been so proud of her progress, and I, too, am have been proud of her.  Today we worked on subtracting two-digit numbers from other two-digit numbers.  Trying to understand that you can steal a ‘ten’ from the ‘tens’ column when you don’t have a large enough number in the ‘ones’ column tested her abstract mathematical mind.  But she got it!  Pretty soon she was ‘renaming’ all those numbers in the ‘ones’ column and subtracting with no problem whatsoever.  (It may have helped that we sang a little math genius diddy after every problem and downed a few M&Ms.)

Ava is also doing well in math, though the time she spends on it is still frustrating to her.  She is used to getting done with assignments in record time, but with more complex problems that require multiple steps, having to slow down makes her anxious.  She doesn’t like that each of her growing multiplication problems has more and more steps.  I tell her that with each one she gets closer to the answer.  I also tell her that each step is like a part of a secret code that unlocks the answer.  Following the code is a lot quicker than making tally marks for 376 X 45.  I mean, really, can you imagine all the paper and all the time used to count those little lines to figure out that answer?!  And then, you’d probably have to recount several times just to keep track of all those little chicken scratch markings.  That would be far more frustrating.  Despite my reasoning, it is still frustrating to her that her math isn’t just quick and easy anymore.  I think it’s a matter of growing up, right?  I wish life were still quick and easy. 🙂

Oh, Ava…we are so much alike.  The times when I am forced to slow down and wait, I can feel unproductive and anxious to get back to work on the next easy thing.  There are just some things in life that need to be pondered and drawn out.  There are just some life lessons that have multiple steps and each step has to be carefully and purposefully executed.  If only every life “assignment” could be simple one-digit addition.

What a good reminder to sit and wait on the Lord.  As the song says, God can do so much more in our waiting, than in our doing we can do–to trust that takes courage and surrender.  Surrendering all control, all anxiety, and all earthly wisdom and reason over to Jesus is a scary thing.  But in doing so, we are able to reach new understandings of abstract concepts, and in the process some of our desires and needs are renamed. My ‘lack of financial freedom’ is renamed to ‘freedom of time that would otherwise be taken by material things and their upkeep.’  My ‘pile of laundry’ is renamed to ‘mindlessly folding clothes, yet finding myself in the quietness of confession and repentance.’  My prayers for ‘a break and rest’ are renamed to prayers for ‘more oil in my lamp as I wait patiently on the Lord.’  Taking a slower pace and realizing that I’ve got lessons to learn, and that those lessons might take some time, puts me in a posture of receptivity and not in anxious doing.  I am thankful that God indeed does do more in my waiting than in my doing.  I don’t have to run anymore.  I don’t have to go, go, go.  I don’t have to keep up with the worldly standards of success and the schedule that will get me there.  I can slow down and trust that God is doing the work: all of it–the work on my heart, the work on my children, the work the kids are supposed to learn, and the work of renaming us daily as His treasured children of God.

Our bible verse for this week is Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  I think this verse describes some of the many things that God can do when I am waiting.  He can strengthen me, help me, uphold me.  When I am busy fearing or dismaying, I forget that I have a God who is with me, and who has promised to do so much for me.  I have to sit still long enough to let him do.  His quiet is more powerful than my noise.  His stillness more productive than my marathon.  His peace more satisfying than my attempts to rest or sleep.  There is such a good and gracious Father ready and willing to do so much for and to those who wait.  I pray that he renames my desire to be productive–that he transforms my inner wheel that spins uncontrollably.  I pray that He gives me oil in my lamp to wait on Him, and to not be quick to leave–that I may stay and sink into deeper understanding of his abstract and wonderful nature.  I pray for patience and stillness, especially for those times when my “breakthrough” seems to never come.   I pray that during this time of rehab, we learn to wait, not do…and that He truly is good to those who wait.