In the Tending

I find that caring for my seedling garden is proving to be a refreshing diversion for me. I am checking soil, sun and shade multiple times throughout the day. Sadly, my herbs are wasting away and I have yet to diagnose the cause: not enough water? Too much? Not enough sunlight? Too much? Adequate drainage? As I fuss over and tend to my plants, my knowledge of them is increasing and my care for them is becoming more specialized. If it was merely a buy and bloom process, I would have little attachment to these earthy blessings. The fragile balance between withering and flourishing requires the tending. This past week was one of those three steps forward, two steps back kind of weeks. It was a week when serenity seemed to avoid me while throwing itself into the embrace of others. It was seven days of intense spirit versus flesh battles. I fought hard to retain my joy and maintain a positive outlook on life, even embracing the mountain of laundry that was two weeks in the making and viewing the piles of dirty dishes as an adventure. But there are times when a soul gets tired and one must choose to allot that last bit of energy to either pushing one foot in front of the other or grasping for one more positive thought. In a week like this one, I often cope by pondering the human experience in light of God’s Word. I note my human situation and my human responses to said situation and compare them to those around me. I especially like to do this because I want to have a more informed approach when relating to others, particularly my children as they grow older. This week I reached out to my closest friends and discovered that they too were having trying weeks as well. Their hardships were all different from mine, but our emotions were quite similar. It seems to me that in this journey called life the trials will be as frequent as the triumphs, if not more so. What is a human to do? Just as the desire for my fragile plants to flourish prompts me to nurture and cultivate them, so it is in my relationship with Jesus. A trial-laden week like this one has most certainly not escaped His notice. He wants for me to flourish in everything that He has designed me to be. If life were all roses and no thorns, I most certainly would not be as aware of and dependent on His careful tending of my body, mind and spirit. What is a human to do then? Look to the Gardener and allow Him to bloom you where you are planted.

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A Mom’s View of the Gun and the Cross

As I was cleaning my floors today, I had ample time to reflect on my reactions towards the recent violent crimes making headlines: the one in my neighborhood and the one in Las Vegas. Both crimes received reactions of shock and horror from me. I wondered why. And then I had a thought.

Even on my most diligent days of floor cleaning a visitor to my home would not need a magnifying glass to see areas I missed: the dust clutching the baseboards, the teasing crumbs under the table, the pet fur floating in corners. I simply can’t maintain a spotless floor despite my best efforts to do so. This thought transfers to me as well. Despite my most heartfelt attempts to live a righteous life sleepless nights still render me impatient, a friend’s words still leave me feeling bitter, laziness is still more appealing than diligence and a critical spirit is still an easier default than a loving one. And this is true for all of us, dear Readership, for we all fall short in our attempts to please the One who holds our eternity in His hands.

Society is always seeking alternative means to eternal life, peace with God and peace of mind. They worship nature or themselves; they embrace all belief systems; or they simply reject all thoughts of tomorrow and live only for today. Most people find ways around Jesus: “He was a good teacher.” “He was a prophet.” “He was a divine being.” Few people accept Jesus for who He is: Creator of the Universe, Maker of Time, Lord of Life, Almighty God, Savior from the Curse of Sin. When faced with the details of the Crucifixion, we are confronted with why He died and why it was He who died. The price for sin is death and sin demanded its payment. The only way for humanity (from the beginning of time to its end) to have the opportunity for reconciliation with God was if the ransom was paid. The problem was that everyone was bankrupt by their own sin; no one could pay their own debt, let alone the entire world’s! And so, the Creator of the Universe, the Maker of Time, the Lord of Life, the Almighty God became the Savior of the World by providing an escape from the curse of sin and paying the ransom once and for all.

Now, returning to my floor-cleaning train of thought: I shouldn’t be shocked by these recent crimes because they are simply the result of a sin-drenched world. Thousands of crimes more horrific than these occur every day behind closed doors, in cold clinics, invisible to the headlines. What more can we expect from a society that lauds self-indulgence and instant gratification? I shouldn’t be shocked; I should be humbled. Humbled that I am forgiven; humbled that my eternity is secure in the hands of the Keeper of Time; and humbled that I can point my children to the Cross so that they need never live in fear of a gun.

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The Other Most Important Person

In my last post, I focused on what it is like to be the mom of my cluster of tiny people. Tonight I would like to zoom in on that other most important person to these six little feet.  They truly would not be the outstanding people that they are if it wasn’t for his exceptional involvement in their daily lives.

This week my husband and I are celebrating our fourth wedding anniversary.  When I was praying for the man that God had designed for me, I knew that I wasn’t simply praying for my sake alone; I was also praying for the man who would forever impact the lives of our future children. However, when I was standing in front of a vast crowd of witnesses, looking deep into the soul of my best friend and committing to a lifetime of loving sacrifice, children weren’t really front and center on my brain. Instead, I was thinking about life together, as a couple. I was thinking about what I would do for him and what he was going to do for me. And life together was just as wonderful as we had expected. I lived to serve him, and he lived to serve me.  I thought that my husband was the best guy in the world.

And then a baby came…and then another baby came…and then another baby came…and another baby is coming.  They rocked our world. It seemed like all we did was blink, and it was no longer us and what we wanted to do; it was them and what they needed us to do.  It was nausea, vomiting, exhaustion to the nth degree, endless grocery bills, piles of laundry, falling into bed barely able to keep our eyes open.  And just as quickly I saw my husband with new eyes. I saw him cleaning up my vomit in the shower. I saw him rising early to do my chores and prepare food for me in bed before heading off to work. I saw him forcing himself to stay awake during midnight feedings so that I wouldn’t have to be awake alone. I saw him eager to change diapers, clean up messes, wrestle with toddlers and take over bedtime routine so I could slip away to be by myself.  Each year that passes and each child that comes reveals a deeper layer to this man that I married nearly four years ago.

The week leading up to our wedding was a busy one. There was all the flurry and activity that comes with guests arriving and final touches being put on the upcoming celebrations. It was was weighing heavily on my heart that we weren’t getting much time together so he initiated arriving at my house at 5:30am so that we could have devotions together. Ahhh! Such precious quiet time together. Now, here we are. That same man who led me in a pre-sunrise Bible study the week before we married helps with the potty-training of his son, brushes his toddler daughter’s hair every night and carefully spoon feeds his infant daughter at dinnertime. He brings out the man in his son and the ladies in his daughters.  What chokes me up every time they say his name is the fact that they KNOW he loves them.  There first waking thought is, “Where’s Poppa?” Their play often involves “going to base.” They recognize his ringtone on my phone and rush to bring my phone to me when he calls. He gets squeals out of them that elude my playful abilities, and the stampede to the door when he gets home from work is second to none.

Yes, my children received a heaven-sent father and I KNOW, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I married the best guy in the world.

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Six Feet and Growing

Many stares come my way these days. Today I went to the post office, a couple of thrift stores and then out to lunch; just an ordinary day of errands, right? Not exactly. At least three people said, “Wow! You have your hands full!” And they weren’t referring to my armload of packages. I got more than twice as many stares as comments and I’m pretty sure my clothes matched. Two older men started sharing their life stories with me – and I don’t think it was because I look like a good listener. Nope. It was because I was accompanied by 6 additional feet.

An array of thoughts rushes through my mind as I block the gawking looks, ignore the crass comments (“You do know how this happens, right?”), the nosiness (“So how many more are you going to have?”  “When’s the next one coming?”), and the subtle hints that I’m just plain crazy.  Instead, I savor those precious word gifts of encouragement: “You are so blessed!” “What beautiful children and they are so well-behaved!” “Your children are blessed to have you and your husband as their parents.” Some people really do understand what a gift children are, but many do not. The latter also do not understand how discouraging it can be when they voice their ignorance. In a time when daily life has to fit neatly into a Facebook status update or an Instagram photo post, larger families are an anomaly. There’s a certain level of chaos that accompanies my daily life, a trail of spills and mishaps that leads to creative mischief-makers and a slowed pace of accomplished tasks that has extended the lifespan of my to-do list to kingdom come.

These 3 mini people have turned my life topsy-turvy, upside down and inside out. There is no aspect of my life that has remained untouched by them.  This entire week I have been pondering how my life is different because of them.  In less than 4 years I have gone from singleness to family life. I know belly laugh-inducing inside jokes that were created by a toddler and preschooler. I have experienced the head-to-toe warmth that comes when I hear my 3-year old singing a medley of hymns that our family has been memorizing or see my almost 2-year old browsing through clothes at a thrift store in the same way that I do.  I understand the rich exhaustion that comes from being needed around the clock. I can now cross off my bucket list: mopping floors with a baby on my back.  Once more I am seeing the simplicity in life; that sweet simplicity that is lost somewhere between being a child and becoming an adult. Suddenly bubbles are enchanting, the wild ducks have names, sprinklers are as good as a water park, peanut butter roll-ups are the answer for every meal, and stories are better the hundredth time they are read. And after all these years of just being me, I am now the most important person in the world to a handful of little people of whom the world is not worthy.

It’s true that these six little growing feet come at a high price; but so do fancy houses, gorgeous clothing, memorable cruises, expensive entertainment systems and fine dining. Those are all things that my husband and I have had to bid farewell. However, as we waved adieu to those incredible experiences and possessions we knew that the choice we made instead is an investment into eternity. So the next time you see a mom trailed by many little feet, don’t stare or deliver a sentiment that she already knows. Offer a helping hand; give a compliment; inquire about a prayer request she may have; or simply smile and nod your head in respect. It’ll make her day even better!

 

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Storm Updates

Hurricane Irma is making landfall today. My family and I are snugly situated in a friend’s home in a different state. It wasn’t an easy decision to evacuate. Our house and belongings had to be left behind; many people had chosen to stay. But my husband decided that since such young ones lived in our care we needed to exercise caution, so we packed up our van with necessities, loaded up the kids and critters and headed west northwest ahead of the storm. Evacuating proved quite interesting to me. We took back roads and saw countryside that was new to us. We saw license plates from other counties, and vehicles loaded down with everything from boats to motorcycles to pets and suitcases. When we stopped for dinner in Homerville, I chatted with a helpful boy who told me, “It’s gonna be a big’un…but why now of all times? My friends and I were planning a big party and then we had to evacuate.” Ah, the priorities of a kid. It’s true, though, that storms have a way of reordering one’s priorities. Whether they are storms of wind and rain or storms that lash our emotional, physical or spiritual state, we are confronted by what matters the most to us. Storms require a simplification of life and routine in order for them to be weathered with minimal damage. They draw us closer to family and friends and even strangers. Most of all, they remind us that there really is only One who can speak into the storm and order it to be still. Come to think of it, He is the only One who can do that to my heart as well.

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Still Waters

My husband and I have adopted the tradition of christening each new home with a name that reflects our vision for the life to be lived there.  With a shimmering lake just outside of our backyard, it seemed fitting to include something related to water in the title.  If I remember correctly, at the time we were discussing various ideas we were at the breakfast table with a great deal of volume filling the room.  Peace and quiet suddenly sounded VERY appealing. And then it occurred to us: Still Waters! For He leads us beside them.

Psalm 23 doesn’t say that our Shepherd blocks us from all noise or removes us from all stress or eliminates our enemies or gives us perfect health or promises us immortality. It does say that He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters and restores our soul. What does this mean to me? An oftentimes frantic mom and absentminded wife? It reminds me that even in the driest of deserts I will find sustenance and in the most exhausting of days I will find quiet.  But there is one important factor that cannot be overlooked. “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

To experience the nourishment and peace that come from being led by the Shepherd, we must follow the Shepherd. Our lives must be lived in the righteousness that brings glory to His name.  The entire chapter of Psalm 23 is about peace in the midst of the storm, comfort in the face of calamity, understanding within the discipline. Why? Because the contrast illuminates the Cross. As long as we are living on this planet, obedience to Jesus and His Word will never be second nature; it will always require intentional commitment on a daily basis for every individual.  For me, it requires setting aside time each day to be still long enough to read in the Bible and pray. I can write out verses that address particular areas of growth that are needed in me and my family and display them throughout our home. I can eliminate habits of mine that trigger dissatisfaction and complaining, just to name a few examples. How about you?

Whoever enters this home will quickly see the raw reality of life with little people rapidly learning, growing and testing. They will see spaces of my life that are barren of the fruit of the Spirit. They will probably cringe at the less than ideal tones emanating from my voice. My prayer is that in the midst of all of this chaos they will experience peace as they witness Jesus faithfully leading His sheep beside STILL WATERS.

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Two Roads

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood…”
I started thinking about Frost’s famous poem after reading a news article about 15 recognized restaurant chains that are facing major declines in their sales. One reason given for these declines is people’s gravitation towards grabbing take-out or ordering delivery.  Restaurants are not the only businesses suffering from people’s withdrawal from the outside world: bookstores, movie theaters and retail stores are all having to face the issue of online shopping, watching, reading.  What does this trend say about us as a society and as human beings?
The interesting thing to note is that while as a whole we are secluding ourselves within our homes, we are not completely withdrawing from all social interaction. We have created entire communities of like-minded people through social media. Entire conversations can be had on Facebook and Instagram; text messages fly back and forth;  Skype and video messaging create a sense of connection that used to be had on walks through the neighborhood or on people’s front porches. We are social creatures and seek community like a duck seeks water; the longing is unquenchable. The question we must ask ourselves is this: are virtual communities the equivalent to physical ones?
I asked myself if the source of our community truly matters in the long run. Sure, it’s easy to look wistfully back upon Mayberry and wish for once was; but life is continuously evolving, right? There was a time when outhouses were all the rage. Do we really want to return to that? Moving forward means moving upward, doesn’t it? Maybe not. Speaking from personal experience, it is much easier to create a pleasant community on social media since I can hide the notifications I dislike; delete the comments that rub me wrong; block people who offend me. I can see what’s’ going on in other people’s lives without them even knowing I had stopped by and without having to exert the effort of saying a single word. Best of all, I decide what parts of my life people see and, of course, it’s only the picture-perfect portions. Text messaging is great too because I don’t have to write more than a few words at a time; I can stop responding at any time; I can resume the conversation at my convenience.  Are you noticing what I’m noticing?
Convenience is not a bad thing, but it comes with a price. Virtual living may seem ideal: we can shop for everything from toilet paper to milk, send birthday presents, connect with friends, and entertain ourselves without having to leave our homes! But it’s purchased at the price of reality.  We are losing touch with the rough, the raw, the real side of relationships. Sometimes the path of least resistance only leads to loneliness, emptiness, and weakness; the road less traveled is the one that takes us deeper, fulfills our longings and makes us stronger than ever before.
“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
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