Follow by Email

Monday, November 5, 2012

Spinning

I love meeting new people.  My husband and I are both ridiculously social so even in the years before Eddie we loved to be introduced to a group of new faces and start making acquaintances from strangers, friends from acquaintances.  Since Eddie my love of this process has only increased because every new batch, if you will, is a new audience for the amazing testimony God has entrusted to me.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't walk into a room, stand up on a chair and start laying it out to the crowd.  But as any parent who has lost a child will tell you, the subject invariably comes up.  Especially now that I am pregnant again, it is downright unavoidable.  Upon seeing my two little peanuts running around wild, there is an assumption that this is my third child and it is almost always commented upon.  So I can either treat this as a discomfort and a pain or I can see it for the opportunity that it is:  an opportunity to share the tremendous blessing I was given and the affirmation that God IS, He is good, and He was, is, and will always be a God of miracles.

I'm frank and upfront.  I say that this is our fourth child, sixth for our family since I have two stepdaughters.  I explain that our first son died just before his second birthday but that he was not "supposed" to live longer than a couple of weeks.  He was our miracle baby and we are very grateful to God for him.  For some people, this is their cue to back away from the conversation with varying degrees of grace and disappear.  I don't mind; part of the mixed blessing of my theatrical personality has always been a very near disregard for other people's comfort levels.  But for the vast majority of people, this is quite an icebreaker and the more they realize that I am perfectly happy, thrilled in fact, to talk about Eddie all day long, the more they want to know.  They ask more questions and I get to share how amazing God is, how he spoke truths to my heart when men said there was no hope, raised my son up time and time again, gave me peace when he died, and has blessed me with peace, hope and joy every day of my life since calling Eddie home.  These are conversations punctuated with laughter, though sometimes through misty eyes.  They are conversations of redemption and hope and I love it every time God gives me the opportunity to have one.

As much as I hope these talks bless other people, my reason for loving them is more selfish than that.  I love talking about Eddie because it reminds me not to worry.  It brings me back to a time when I knew with a deep, concrete knowledge that God was in control.  That His love was complete, infinite, and I could lean on His everlasting arms and find peace.  Amidst the clutter of everyday life, I lose sight of that truth so often it is embarrassing.  I get stressed about things like my kids' birthday parties (to which I say to myself, "Really?  I mean, Abby... really?").  I forget that God is large and in charge and that He loves me with a love so perfect I can only begin to comprehend it.

When Eddie was in the NICU and we were finally able to hold him, we soon discovered that he really liked to be held in a very interesting way.  One hand on his tiny chest, the other under his even tinier bum, he leaned forward, hands gripping my hand, head propped up on my fingers.  And then we bounced up and down, up and down.  It's great for mommy's biceps and apparently is very soothing on the baby end of things if you suffer from tummy pains.  We would laugh, though, because Eddie took this practice very, very seriously.  He would get a look of concentration on his face that rivaled the fiercest endurance athletes.  Because of the angle and positioning, we called it his "spin class."  He so clearly thought that he was controlling the whole process through some sort of telepathy, not realizing that he had no control whatsoever.  He was safe in my stable, loving hands.  I would bounce him as long as my strength allowed and never, ever would I let him fall.

When I was sharing about Eddie with some new friends yesterday, I realized that lately I've been "spinning."  I've been assuming I have control over this process, this life.  That somehow I am what is making it all go.  The truth is, the whole mess is 100% in God's hands and I am free to relax and enjoy the ride, wherever it may take me.  It's only a scary concept if I don't trust Him.  But I know God and I know He is always trustworthy.  He is tireless, good, and, no matter what, He is never going to drop me.  


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tethered

For the first three months of his life, Eddie was always attached to something.  For what seemed endless weeks at the beginning and then too many times to count after that, it was a respirator, making it impossible to hold him and cradle him the way that I longed to.  Even when he was breathing well on his own, however, he was still hooked up to something.  He always had a tube coming out of somewhere, the ever-present IV nutrition, an antibiotic here, a painkiller there.  He lived in a ward with seven other babies, a dozen or so nurses, and whichever parents came and went.  The nearest thing we had to privacy was a thin screen that could be opened around our crib but we rarely used it.  Once, right before we were transferred from the NICU to Children's Dallas, the nurses gave me the gift of allowing us to go to an adjacent, empty ward together.  They put some physical therapy mats on the floor and for the first time I could put Eddie on the floor next to me, play with him like most mothers were accustomed to playing with their infants.  It was wonderful, but I still had to be very cautious.  Even mobile, he was attached to a pole, monitored, fed through IV.

The transfer to Dallas was a crazy rush.  While we'd signed up for the move, we never knew when a bed would be available, when he would be next in line.  The transfer team loaded him onto an incubator, I grabbed a couple of bags, said hasty goodbyes to the nursing staff I had come to love as family, and we boarded a small plane for Dallas.  The transfer team was funny and friendly, Eddie was comfortable, and as we rose above the clouds of a gloomy January morning into the bright, blue light of day I felt a rising hope, a sense of excitement and adventure I hadn't felt in a long, long time.  A short flight, a short ambulance ride and we were out on the GI floor of a new hospital.  After a quick assessment, the medical team all left and Eddie and I were... alone.

Not only was it an eerie feeling to finally be truly alone in a private room with my baby, but even more shocking was the fact that he was not attached to anything.  Nothing.  No leads to a monitor, no IV tubing... nothing.  There was my tiny little man, laying free and loose in what seemed a ridiculously large bed.  Tentatively, I picked him up.  I crossed the room and sat down with him on the small, plastic covered couch.  It felt so foreign, so strangely frightening, for him to be free.  No wires or tubes to be cautious of, nothing between me and my baby.

It is hard to describe the anxiety I felt in a moment that should have been pure joy.  I felt like at any moment someone would come in and scold me for taking him out of bed.  That any second there would be a mad rush of activity and this moment would be taken from me.  I tried to just breathe and soak it in, sure it would be over sooner than I could imagine.  Minutes ticked by and still no one came.  I realized I wasn't doing anything wrong.  There was no mistake.  Soon there would be a monitor and his nutrition but there was not a great rush.  He was not in crisis and everyone was perfectly happy for me to hold him until it was time to hook him up.  In fact, no one there realized that this was out of the ordinary for me.

When I think back on that moment, on the strange mixture of fear and elation, the almost out-of-body detachment I felt at the mere privilege of being able to freely hold my three month old son, I can't help but get misty-eyed.  I was so traumatized, so fragile.  We both were.  We had survived so long in a state of emergency that peace felt foreign and wrong.  A thing to be feared.  Living the way life was meant to be lived, untethered and free, was downright terrifying.

God wants us to live untethered lives.  His Word is full of calls toward freedom but almost all of us are too frightened, too uncomfortable to free ourselves.  What are we hooked to?  There are, of course, the usual addictions, but what else?  The lure of material possessions, of prestige, of physical comfort.  The need to live the status quo because it is all we've ever known and we can't stand the idea of the disapproval we would face if we changed.  Sometimes we are hooked to anxiety, to worrying about the future, to trying to plan it.  We do our best to monitor every moment of our lives, trying our best to have control over the next moment and the next.  If we take the time to be honest with ourselves, our tethers don't make us happy.  They don't make us healthy.  But to live a life free of the need for money and material possessions?  It's a nice concept but shrugged off as an ideal.  To live a life free of anxiety?  We snort.  That is impossible... isn't it?

Through Christ all things are possible and, I would add, especially those things which are explicitly mentioned in the Bible are possible.  God doesn't give impossible commands and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are free from the tether of sin, the only one that can hold us back.  Christ said, "do not worry" so we don't have to.  He said to scorn material possessions, to trust God to provide for our daily needs, to focus on nothing more and nothing less than following Him.  When this call starts to move from concept to action, however, we get really, really uncomfortable.  Sometimes we are downright terrified.  But it is not a call to a life of hardship and struggle; it is a call to a life of freedom.

So today I am praying to be untethered.  For God to examine my heart and show me where I'm still connected to the ideals of this world and to help me to get unhooked.  Because in the light of eternity, none of that stuff matters.  Because through the birth and death of my son, God showed me a radical example of His love, made perfect by the birth and death of His Son.  I want to remember that and cling to it.  I want to move freely through this big wide world that God has gifted to me, to all of us, in love.  Some of us live paralyzed, stuck to what we believe, falsely, is "life" support.  Others of us have evolved enough to get a little more mobile, but we're still dragging a whole bunch of junk behind us, careful else we take a wrong step and rip out something that we think we need.  I want to be brave enough to invite God to rip it all out.  To let the only source of sustenance be the One that dwells within me.  To hold this life in my hands and allow God to hold me in His, untethered.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Slow Learner

One of my favorite movie moments comes from an unlikely source.  For the most part, "Evan Almighty" is a cute but forgettable comedy and certainly not the stuff of legacy.  But there is a moment in it that lives with me.  God (played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman) tells Evan that, like Noah, He wants him to build an ark in preparation for a flood.  Evan, who is in the midst of running for political office, tells God as nicely as he can, "that's not really in my plans."  God chuckles in a soft, kind way, then says, still laughing, "I'm sorry.  'Your plans.'"

As I said, I don't remember much of anything else from this movie but this moment rang so true to me that it reverberates.  I see God as benevolently looking down on us making our plans, big or small, and lovingly shaking his head.  Fully aware of the incalculable discrepancies between the perfect, solid blueprint He has drawn out for our lives, since before we were even conceived, and the strange, haphazard Tinker-Toy structure that we keep trying to plot out for ourselves.

I know this.  I know the best place to be is in a flexible, loose space with God, waiting to see what He has next for me.  I know it's best to keep my plans penciled in, ready at any moment to replace them with the plan God has for me, for that day, week, life stage, whatever.  I've lived in that space.  But it takes work.  A LOT of work and discipline.  The moment I forget to start each day grateful, prayerful, and open to God's plan for that day, I begin a slippery descent into old habits.  Into pulling out the legal pads and binders to plot and plan the future to a degree of precision that gives me a solid (entirely false) sense of security.  To setting those goals and then doggedly pursuing them with laser-like intensity.  Until God throws a monkey wrench in the whole darn thing.

My plans were not bad in and of themselves.  They involved lots of running, a handful of races including a full marathon in December, and continued increase in my overall physical fitness.  Beyond that, there were thoughts of what life would look like a year or two from now, when my little ones started public school.  There was a change of location thrown in there as well, a move to a more desirable zip code.  They looked like pretty good plans to me.

Then God threw the curve ball.  He shook my snow globe, as He is apt to do, and I discovered that I was, very unexpectedly, pregnant with another child.  The next part of this I am not proud of, but in the interest of transparency, I'm going to be honest about it.  I was less than thrilled with this news.  A bit tearful in fact.  I looked at that plus sign on my home pregnancy test and cried.  Not because I don't think children are gifts from God; I know they are.  Not because it was the end of the world; I knew it wasn't.  But because it was the end of my plans.

It's embarrassing, really, because I know better.  I know God's plans are always the best plans.  I know so many friends who would rejoice at the sight of that plus sign with shouting of hosannas and hallelujahs to a God who had blessed them.  I knew I was being an ingrate.  But even in that knowledge, I didn't stop.  I felt like I was doing "better" than I did with the news of Baby Girl's pregnancy, which took me a week or so and a missing heartbeat to get out of my selfish moping and into gratitude.  I was mostly happy about it, after all.  I was putting on a good face, shifting my plans accordingly.  But I was also grumbling.  Just a little bit and mostly in fun, but grumbling nonetheless.  Zipping up my size 4 skirt with a sigh, mourning the impending loss of my skinny body.  Cursing the fatigue that made my daily tasks in raising my children just that much more difficult.  There were plenty of moments of smiling and daydreaming as well, thinking of names and nursery themes.  But these were all peppered with an underlying complaint:  This was not a part of my plan.

God doesn't ever let me get away with anything for long.  For that I am grateful and I believe it is a direct result of my own desperate, sincere wish to live in harmony with Him and His will no matter what.  He doesn't let me go along on cruise control, getting steadily off track as I do so, for even so much as a month.  First I begin to feel the side effects of separation... the grumpiness, the irritability, the general blah-ness that can ultimately lead to depression if I allow.  Then, finally, He has enough and He hits me with the big guns.

Last Thursday night I began to have abdominal cramping.  On Friday it was worse and other symptoms of miscarriage joined in.  It is amazing how quickly I went from not really wanting this pregnancy to praying that I would not lose it.  From mourning the fact that I could not run to willingly lying down for hours with my feet elevated.  From hoping I didn't get too fat to praying that I could just get this baby to term.  Sometimes your perspective changes so quickly it gives you whiplash.

The scare seems to be over.  I am hopeful that this was an "attention getter" and nothing else.  A way for God to get me to set aside my selfish grumbling and enter into the joy of the blessings He is offering to me.  But beyond that it is an overall reminder that I am not in charge of this vessel.  I'm not charting the course, I'm not in control of the wind, the waves, the setting of the sails, none of it.  I am hopeful that this will be a happy, healthy pregnancy that results in a happy, healthy baby but I need to be surrendered to the fact that I am a passenger on this journey.  I need to place my trust in a perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful Captain, relax and enjoy the ride, whether it takes me into peaceful waters or a tsunami.  I know all of this so I need to start putting it into practice again, grateful for a God who perpetually teaches and is infinitely patient with this slow learner.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Awkward Evangelist

This may come as a surprise to many of you who read this blog regularly...I am a terrible, terrible evangelist. There are those people who can't talk for longer than five minutes without their enthusiasm for Christ and the gospels bursting out of them.  Those who do this well do so in a way that makes you smile and feel their enthusiasm, even if you are not a believer.  Remember, please, that I have not always been a Christian.  I know what I'm talking about here.  Even when I was my angriest and at my most doubtful about the existence of a kind, loving God of any kind, much less the divinity of Jesus Christ, I encountered people whose belief and love for Jesus was loud and infectious.  Those people have a gift.

Unfortunately the kind of "evangelist" I normally come across is a different breed.  We'll call him The Awkward Evangelist.  You've all met him in one form or another.  The one who comes to your door and refuses to leave no matter how politely you try to encourage him to move to the next house.  I had one of these evangelical encounters recently at the train station in downtown Dallas.  My husband and I had struck up a conversation with the gentlemen waiting next to us.  He was carrying an instrument case and we started talking music.  He showed us his tenor saxophone, a beautiful instrument, black inlaid with gold, mother of pearl accents on the keys.  He pointed out the golden cross gracing one of those pearl keys, letting us know by that simple act that he was a Christian.  A few moments later, we were approached by a man holding water bottles out to my children and asking if they would like a drink.  After checking to make sure the tamper-proof lids were still intact, I thanked him.  He then asked if we would accept the religious flyers he was passing out.  We agreed happily and thanked him again.  He walked away.

At this point, I am fine.  The tracts had a simple breakdown of the gospel citing Scripture, an invitation to become a Christian, and information about his church.  My husband and I glanced over it, chatted a bit about the church's location, then put them away in our pockets and purse.  We continued to chat with our musical neighbor.  A few minutes later, our evangelizing friend was back, asking us if we'd had time to look over the information he'd given us and what we thought.  We said it looked great to us (or something to that effect) and told him we were already Christians.  There was an awkward silence.  He then turned to the man with the saxophone and said, terribly, awkwardly, "So!"

Let me pause right there.  If you ever, ever, ever have to preface your conversational direction with a loud and falsely enthusiastic "So!," just shut your mouth, walk away, and try again later.  It comes across strange, awkward, and not genuine.  I would never approach a jury in final arguments and say, "So!  What'd you think about that case?  I was pretty persuasive, don't you think?"  No, no, no, no, no!

Anyway, he asked our neighbor a few questions about the tract then he went in for what, clearly, he had been trained was the kill-shot.  "So,"  (AGAIN WITH THE "SO!") he said, "if you died today, do you think you'd go to heaven or hell?"  The saxophone player answered calmly, "Oh, I think I'd go to heaven."  The next word out of the evangelist's mouth was a dubious, "Really?"  I don't know what he planned to say next because I couldn't take it anymore.  I piped in, "Dude," (yes, I say "dude" a lot; I still say it's better than "so!"),  "that guy has a gold cross on his saxophone!  I'm sure Jesus can't wait to hear what he has to play on that thing."

I have the feeling some people are reading this and saying to the screen, "but, but, but!"  I know.  We, as Christians, are all under Jesus' directive to make disciples of all men.  I think how we go about this, however, is a varied process.  If I were a non-believer, the musician's simple act of showing me the cross on his instrument would have touched me.  Because he was a groovy guy, laid back and peaceful with an easy manner and attractive style.  My conversation with him, coupled with the receiving of a religious tract, might have made me check out a church, probably even the church the evangelist was working for.  But what happened next would have pushed me far, far away.  Back to thinking Christians were judgmental, creepy, and wrong.

Matthew 5:17 teaches that we are supposed to let our lights shine before men so that they would see our good deeds and follow God.  People should see our joy and our peace and wonder what we have that makes us that way.  To put it a different way, we should be about attraction rather than promotion.  Because God is calling everyone to himself; everyone, regardless of their background, their past or their present.  Everyone has a seed of longing for a relationship with the loving God who made them and we, as Christians, can either nurture that seed by our actions or add another layer of distrust, anger or misunderstanding.  And walking around telling people that they are going to hell, either because they aren't Christians at all or they aren't Christian "enough," doesn't really help our cause.

When our train arrived, I told our evangelical friend, "God bless you" and I meant it.  He is trying, God love him, and I am sure God will bless him for it.  I hope that someone he hands a tract to goes to church and finds out that God is real and God is love.  I hope some of his conversion conversations went a little better than the one I witnessed.  But he did not spread the gospel to me that day.  I did not see Christ reflected in him.  I saw Christ reflected in the kind eyes and easy smile of the saxophone player with a cross emblazoned on the instrument he loved.  God can use us, all of us, to reach people.  We need to trust Him to have us at the right place at the right time, using words the Spirit tells us to use in a spirit of genuine concern, interest, and love for our fellow man.  So let your little light shine (please note the proper use of the word "so") and, as much as it lies within you, live at peace with all men.  Let's set aside the awkward side-hug of a judgment-based evangelism.  There is no better way to spread the good news of Christ's love than to be loving, no better way to show His peace than to be peaceful yourself.  I pray God's blessings over every single person who reads this blog post and I hope it reads as it is meant:  to make you smile, to make you laugh, to make you think, and to let you know that you are loved, completely and with a warm embrace.      

Friday, August 3, 2012

Promises, Promises

I make promises to my kids.  Not just the regular kind of promises borne from constraints on time and/or budget ("We can't go to Chuck E Cheese today but I promise we'll go Friday") but big, important promises too.  Like, "I promise that I will always love you no matter what" and "I promise I will always be proud of you."

My promising habit started with Eddie.  It started even before he was born.  I was tremendously overcome with the awesomeness of being the incubator to a brand new life and I started straight away promising him and myself all kinds of things.  I wrote them down.  I promised to remember that he was a privilege and a blessing.  That he was here to teach me just as much as I was here to teach him.  I promised to listen to him, to respect his spirit, to love him enough to allow him to follow his own path and not try to force my ideas of what it should look like onto him.  I promised to remember that God made him just the way he was and not to try to change him.

Those promises ended up being harder to keep than I had anticipated in those giddy days of pregnancy.  Because he was born sick and wanted him healed.  It was hard to remember that God made him just the way that he was, that his body was flawed for a purpose.  Instead I wanted to just to freak out, pray and fight to fix it.  But I reflected on those promises I'd made and I changed my mind and waited for my heart to catch up.  I respected him just as he was, I praised God for him just as he was, and I celebrated him.  I told him I would fight with him as long as he wanted to fight but, if he ever wanted to let go, that this was going to be okay too.  It wouldn't change anything, not how much I loved him, not how indescribably proud I was to be his mother, nothing.  And I kept making promises.

I promised if he would fight through those first crazy weeks and months, those days of hardship, surgeries, chest tubes and IVs, poking, prodding, and heart-wrenching pain, that I would make it worth his while.  I told him about the beautiful world God had made, outside of the NICU walls.  I showed him videos of the sun and the sky, of grass and trees, animals and bicycles and I promised him we would see all of it.  That if he would just stick it out, keep fighting even when it was all too much, when it hurt too badly, when he was just exhausted, that I would do everything in my power to make the rest of his life beautiful.  I whispered this promise to him on the days I was able to hold him and even more fervently on the days that I was not, when he was forced to be motionless, hooked to what seemed a million machines, swollen and sick with infection.  I would rub the tiny stress lines that appeared between his eyes, kiss his knees and toes, and tell him I would do it all for him if I could but that, since I couldn't, I would make up for it later, anyway that I could.  I told him that he was Superman.  And he was.

Eddie made it out of NICU and I did my best to make good on my promise to him.  I showed him God's beautiful world and worked to make sure he saw me laugh much more than he ever saw me cry.  It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I did it.  Not perfectly.  There were bad moments and hard days.  But he had fun.  He saw grass, trees and bicycles.  He went to the zoo and the circus.  He smiled and laughed.  We picked out fruit from the farmer's market together, played on the playground, danced in the kitchen, and celebrated silly everyday moments, everyday.  He ate chicken nuggets, popsicles, and crayons.  He lived his life and he saw that it was beautiful.

I was making plans for his second birthday celebration when he died.  The assumption people make that I was in some way prepared for his death isn't entirely true.  In the few days before the day of death itself, I felt it.  Felt a finality in my spirit, an urging toward seeking God's peace.  I don't know if that makes any sense to those reading this, but I can think of no other way to describe it.  But on this day, five years ago, I did not know that my little superman had only a week left to live.  That he was exhausted after the long, hard fight and ready to go home and rest.  That I would be called upon to fulfill my promise, respect the path that God had laid out for him, and let him go.

I did it, somehow, impossibly, and by the grace of God.  That chapter of my life drew to a close.  Life didn't stop though.  There were still promises to be made and kept, no less important.  I didn't get to bury my son, crawl in a hole and stop living, literally or figuratively.  Because there was another brilliant, beautiful Baby Boy on the way and, soon on his heels, a magical pixie-like Baby Girl.  And they deserve no less than their big brother.  I have promised to show them this beautiful world that God has made and I'm going to do it even when it feels like it is going to kill me.  Sometimes, especially around this time of year, it would be so much easier to turn on the television and parent in cruise control, wallowing in loss and self-pity.  I choose differently, because I promised them better; they deserve better.

So these days are filled with sprinklers and roly-polies, paint and petting zoos.  Trips to the Asian market to buy fish served whole, silver and shiny, watching with wonder as the man slices off heads and opens bellies.  With life:  mushy, messy, smelly, sticky and wonderful.  Because life is no less beautiful without Eddie in it; it is more beautiful for his having been here.  And I am going to experience and enjoy every single moment of it.  I promise.
 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Silence

For those of you who follow the blog regularly, let me begin by apologizing for my lack of posting.  It's not that I don't think about the blog or that I don't have enough time in a day to stop and write (though sometimes this feels as if it is true).  I have pulled it up several times, chosen to start a new post and then stared at the blank page... mentally hearing crickets chirp.  Nothing.  I've had nothing.  Nothing to say, nothing to offer... nothing.

If you know me personally, you know that me having nothing to say is a rare and strange life event.  I ALWAYS have something to say and I am more than happy to shout you down in order to say it.  I'm downright annoying (it's okay, you can agree; I live by the motto "know thyself").  I have literally had friends hold up their hands, classroom style, in order to get a word in.  I live to talk.

That being said, I know that there is much to be gained by silence.  By listening.  I don't have all the answers and the longer I live the more I realize the less I know (wow...that's a sentence to be reckoned with...).  The only way to learn more is to listen more.  I know that in order to "Be still and know that I am God,"  I need to shut up.  I agree with the theory that we should all spend a portion of our day in complete silence, mental and physical, if we are going to draw near to God, if we are going to be spiritually open to all that we have to be taught that day.  I just don't do it.

For one thing, I get bored.  Really bored.  I am envious of those people who can spark up some incense and hum softly to themselves for an hour.  They seem to be so refreshed and, well, deep.  I have tried on more occasions than I could possibly name to meditate in this way.  I've been successful... twice, maybe?  I keep cracking my eyes open to see how much time has passed and usually it is somewhere in the range of 30 seconds to 2 minutes.  I'd make a terrible Buddhist.

Some people get their quiet time in while exercising and, you would think, that as a runner I would fall into this category.  I never, never, never, never, never go on a run longer than ten minutes, however, without my iPod and earbuds.  My running mix is several hours long and filled with up-tempo, pounding beats intended to keep my feet moving and my mind off the pain.  I end long runs feeling proud, exhilarated, even euphoric but not exactly spiritually grounded.

It is not only a poor attention span that accounts for my lack of quality quiet time, however.  To be honest, silence scares me.  Distractions keep it interesting, keep it all moving and keep me from having to think about things I don't want to think about.  Not that those things go away; they are always lurking, ready to pounce on me at the most inopportune time possible.  But I still operate under the mistaken impression that if I can just keep busy, maybe I will never have to go there again.  Never have to walk down the dark corridors, never feel the lurking pain of sorrow, of loss.  It doesn't work, but as an addict I am particularly fond of doing the same things over again and expecting different results.

So it was with great horror that one day, in the middle of a six mile run, my trusty iPod ran out of battery.  One second I had Eminem blaring his encouragement, the next moment... nothing.  Just me, the sound of my feet striking pavement, and my thoughts.  There was no way around it.  I was three miles from my car any which way I looked at it.  I was going to have to face my fear and be quiet.

An amazing thing happened.  Nothing.  No sudden deluge of thought and feeling that I could not control.  No three miles of embarrassing ugly-crying.  I thanked God for the run, for the beauty of His creation that surrounded me, for the health of my body, and prayed for the health of my mind and spirit.  Then I stopped praying and focused my mind on being still.  On being quiet.  Any errant thought that drifted in, I gently excused and cleared it away.  

At the end of my run, I felt different.  Stronger.  Surer of myself.  I still don't know that I would want to extend it to a two hour run or even an hour, but I think I would do well to incorporate at least one quiet run into my training schedule.  It does very little good to have a fit body and a sick soul.  If I'm going to do this life thing right, I need to start with the foundation and build up, not keep ignoring the cracks and hoping they aren't as bad as they look.  I'm going to try to wake up earlier than my kids (this is a very ambitious goal) so that I can spend even ten minutes in the morning practicing silence.  Until I get good at it.  Until it comes naturally.  Because I know I don't need to fear it any longer.  And, strangely enough, I think the more time I spend in silence, the more I'll find that I have something to say.  Something of quality, something pure and true, to share with you. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Good Grief

This is a difficult post to write.  It's one I've started countless times and abandoned.  It involves a truth that I strongly believe in but I know that I'm going to step on some toes.  Quite frankly I've been approaching this whole blog thing with a "first do no harm" attitude, but I need to get this out there so, with all apologies, here goes.

The five stages of grieving is a crock of doo doo.  There I said it.  Whew.  I'm really, really tired of myself and anyone else being given permission to wallow around and misbehave because we have suffered a loss, no matter how great or how small.  Do I think the science/psychology/sociology behind the grieving "stages" is faulty?  Nope.  Do I think it gives a fair representation of how most people deal with death and loss?  Sure.  Do I think it should apply to followers of Jesus Christ?  That would be a firm and emphatic no.

I'm not out on a limb here scripturally.  1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those that fall asleep or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope."  That is pretty straightforward to me.  There are Christians and then the "rest of men."  We are allowed to grieve but not like those without hope.  Those five stages and such are for the other fellers.

Even with that scripture hanging out there for all to see, I've found that this is actually a revolutionary idea, even in Christian circles.  I attended a secular support group for parents who have lost children for a while.  I loved the people there, loved the shared laughter and tears, and loved being able to share with people my message of joy despite, of hope even though.  After a while, I decided to try the Christ-based grief support group at church.  I only went three times.

On the third (and probably final) time I went to this particular group, the topic was whether or not it was okay to be angry at God.  The bottom line of the video and of the discussion was that it is okay, expected, and acceptable to shake your fist heavenward when you suffer a loss.  I listened, praying that I was not supposed to speak up, as person after person talked about how unfair it was that their loved one had died, how it wasn't how it was supposed to be that way, and other variations thereof.  It quickly became obvious that God was not going to let me hold my tongue and, prayerfully, I said what I believe.

I think it is natural to feel anger at God when a loved one dies.  But what comes naturally to us as human beings is not necessarily, or even usually, right or the truth.  We are not to be ruled by our feelings.  And by giving into them and raging at our Lord, at our Creator, at the One who gave us the loved one who has gone on in the first place, we are separating ourselves from the very Source of peace, comfort, and joy.  In other words, of course you can be mad at God.  It won't affect His love for you or your salvation.  But you will finally only be hurting yourself.  You will be separating yourself from His side when He most wants to draw you near.  You might be interfering with the plan He has laid out before you, denying yourself the blessings that He so freely wants to give.

I used to be quite the existentialist.  I read a lot of Sartre and was nauseatingly self-important and struggled with Prufrock's "overwhelming question."  What was my purpose or anyone else's?  Why were we here?  What was the meaning of life?  The Bible actually answers these questions very succinctly.  The purpose of our lives on earth is sanctification.  To try and be as much like Christ, who was fully man and fully God and therefore the perfect example to mankind, as we possibly can be.  To do this we have to do two things:  Love the Lord Our God with all our hearts, souls and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves.  If you are raging at God, you are epically failing at #1.

I don't like to glorify suffering.  I'm not a Christian who lets out heavy sighs and says things like "this is just a cross I have to bear."  But there is great value in suffering if we allow God to work through it.  It is a short-cut to sanctification.  It strips us down and teaches us, if we are willing to be taught.  Just like strenuous, painful exercise tones and strengthens our bodies, suffering strengthens our souls, if we will let it.  That is why we are supposed to rejoice in our sufferings, whether we feel like it or not.  Because if we will, we will have peace that passes understanding and unshakeable joy no matter what.

So, I said most of that in shorter form to the grief group.  One woman was cheering me on the whole way with "Hallelujahs!"  and "Amens."  Some were looking at me and nodding, others were unreadable.  I ended by quoting the scripture from Thessalonians cited above and saying that the world tells me that I have to be sad for the rest of my life because my baby died, but God says differently.  He says I get to have peace, joy, and hope.  The moderator jumped in immediately and said, "Or not!"  She then proceeded to assure everyone that it was perfectly fine to be angry with God, citing Job as an example, and saying in what really was a pretty snarky tone that everyone couldn't be an "enlightened" as me.  I held my tongue, as I felt was appropriate.  At the end of the session, I spoke up again only to say that I was not enlightened or special in any way.  I was just a Christian and did my best to live surrendered to God.

Several people came up to me before I dashed out the door, including a woman who was newly widowed, to tell me that they had appreciated what I said and found encouragement in it.  I was glad.  Because I don't want to be judgmental or preachy and that is why it has taken me this long to share this story.  I don't want to say people are doing something wrong.  But I do want people to stop believing that just because something bad happens to you, be it the death of a child, a divorce, infertility, whatever, that it's really never going to be okay.  I'm tired of watching people feel sorry for themselves, act poorly toward God and their neighbor, fail to rise to the calling God has placed on their lives, and use grief as an excuse.

You cannot love someone more than I loved Eddie.  You cannot miss someone more.  He was and is my heart, just like his little brother and sister.  It's never going to be the same.  That's true.  But that is no excuse for me to be disobedient to God.  To have the audacity to rail against the One who made me and who gifted me a beautiful, wonderful child to be mine for twenty two months on this earth and an eternity in the next.  To fail to love my neighbor because I'm too busy focusing on my self.  Life will never be the same, but it is still going to be awesome if I will continue to let God take charge by surrendering it all to Him and giving thanksgiving.

As I mentioned, Jesus came to earth in part to be our example.  He experienced grief and suffering in gigantic measures.  His cousin, John the Baptist, was cruelly imprisoned, beheaded, and his head served to a dancing girl on a platter.  When Jesus is told this news, He withdraws to grieve.  The crowd follows Him, not allowing Him the dignity of solitude to mourn the loss of one He loved.  It would be natural to send them away.  I tell them He needed some time, that He would get back to them later.  Remember, He was fully man.  But instead he "looked upon them with compassion and healed their sick."  Then he fed them, all five thousand of them, with two loaves of bread and three fish.  That evening He sent His disciples ahead of Him and dismissed the crowd before He again withdrew... and prayed.  Then He walked on water.  It was a busy day.

Okay, granted.  He's God.  But at the same time, we are assured that we can be like Him, through Him, if we devote our hearts and lives to it.  So here it is.  We need to grieve.  We need to withdraw, weep, and pray.  We can even ask "why?"  We just have to accept that He may not answer or that we may not like it.  At the end of the day, we have jobs to do.  Miracles to perform in God's name, even if it is just showing a kindness to someone in need.  And we've got to be close to God to do it.  We've got to have the heart to say "thy will be done," even if His will involves pain, suffering and death, if we want to live free.  If we want to have hope. 

I'm not suggesting you stuff your feelings and pretend they aren't there.  I'm suggesting you take them to God in love.  Force your lips to say "thank you" and then pour your heart out to Him and ask Him to get your head in line.  Ask Him to help you to be grateful for what you had and what you have, not angry at what you lost.  You can't be grateful and angry at the same time and gratitude, thanksgiving, is the key to peace.  It is the key to a life lived in joy and contentment.  It is the key to hope.  

  

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Reluctant Gardener

I'm not a gardener.  This is one of the many things that make me something of a black sheep in my family.  My mother is blessed with a green thumb.  One of my sisters is a pro with tomatoes and any number of vegetable and herb gardens.  The other sister... I swear, as she walks along, little green shoots spring up from the earth from the path upon which she has passed.  And they aren't weeds.  Those ladies can grow a garden.

I, on the other hand, can kill a cactus.  Or a chia pet.  These two things are proven facts.  Honestly, I think I could kill Astroturf.  When I moved into our house, I was gifted a thriving, beautiful garden in our backyard and an impeccable lawn out front.  It terrified me.  For the past two years, I have watered but done precious little else.  No planting, no weeding, no pruning.  I gave the plants a drink, dollar weed and trumpet vine alike, and hoped for the best.

Bad things have happened.  The front lawn has strange dead patches.  I have no idea how that happened.  The back yard has thriving vines and a beautiful rose bush, but a fair crop of Johnson grass and various other weeds as well.  This fall I decided enough was enough.  I was going to conquer my fear and become a gardener.

Because it was fear, more than laziness, that kept me from donning a pair of nubbly gloves and attacking Mother Nature.  I have always been terrified of making mistakes.  And when you are new to something, it is virtually guaranteed that you are going to screw up.  I was afraid I would pull up the crape myrtles mistaking them for a weed or a "trash tree."  Afraid that in my ignorance I would kill all the good and nurture all the bad.

This fall, however, I decided to be brave.  I looked at my front lawn, wished it was pretty, and realized it wasn't going to get there without me.  Collaborating with my husband, we planted some winter rye and I dug up some weeds.  It improved.  I was inspired.  We went to a nursery where I purchased several flats of winter-friendly bedding plants.  Some shriveled up and died.  But others made it.  And looked pretty.  Nothing like the arboretum-esque gardens I drool over in magazines and that my family can replicate, but nice.  Intentional.  Like somebody loved that little flower bed.

So now that spring is waning and summer quickly approaching, I turned my attention to the wild, overgrown garden that surrounds our pool.  Most of it is the vines that were planted there intentionally and look gorgeous.  But they are intermingled with undesirables: baby trees far too close to the fence line, unsightly knee-high weeds, fantastically healthy dandelions.  With a deep breath, I grabbed the clippers and went for it.  With my limited horticultural knowledge I was fairly sure I would destroy something nice.

And I did.  While my children splashed happily in the pool, I stared with no small amount of dismay at an area of Virgina Creeper that was drooping dangerously.  By this evening, I have had to admit... that part's dead.  In my zeal to clear the debris, I over-pruned and destroyed.

But I'm not going to despair.  I'm going to take the advice I give my own children:  you have to fail sometimes if you are ever going to learn.  It's a tough pill to swallow and, no, my kids do not believe me on this one yet.  It doesn't make it any less right.  My garden still looks intentional, like somebody loves it.  It's just somebody who got a little clipper happy.

The Virginia Creeper is going to be fine, I think.  It is still thick and healthy further down the fence and it should do its job and creep along, covering up my mistake by summer's end.  In the meantime, I moved my husband's gas grill in front of the bald spot so it looks like maybe I meant to do that for fire safety reasons or something.  Maybe I'll hang a bird feeder.  It'll be alright.  And the important thing is, I'm trying.  I'm not letting it fall to the slow decay of neglect out of fear that I might be less than perfect.  I'm failing and I'm learning and remembering that, really, that's what life is all about.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Don't Feel Like Dancing

Wednesday was one of those errand running kind of days.  Before one of these days it is always best if I can take several deep breaths, imbibe a half gallon or so of coffee, practice Zen meditation, and spend an hour in prayer.  Because my errand days involve a rambunctious three year old and four year old.  Getting in and out of the car, negotiating parking lots, and practicing our "store manners" is an exhausting and patience-trying practice.  I have done it often enough now that I know it is best not to panic, not to be in a hurry, and to at least drink a cup of coffee and read a quick devotional before we head out the door.

On Wednesday, my two darlings were in particularly high spirits.  I bribed them with frozen yogurt to get through the first half of our day and they managed to keep it together enough to earn their reward.  While at the yogurt shop, I got a phone call from my husband (who has been working all kinds of overtime) with what I'm sure seemed to be a reasonable request:  would I stop by the bank and get a cashier's check so he could drop off his truck payment the next day?  I took a deep breath, trying  not to envision the possible disasters of standing in line at the bank lobby along with the two giggling balls of energy currently slurping up their sugary treats across the table from me, and did the right thing.  I put on my most cheerful tone and said, "Ok!"

Outside of the bank, I gave a pep talk.  "Okay guys," I said, "this is the bank.  So we need to have our best manners.  That means no running, no climbing, no jumping around and no screaming."  There was a moment of silence.  Then Baby Boy asked me in his most outraged tone of voice, "No dancing?"  I laughed and, oddly enough, relaxed.  "You can dance," I said.  "Just dance slowly."  So while I talked to the teller (by an act of God there was no line) and took care of my business, my lovely, crazy children stood behind me and did a slow, quiet boogie to a soundtrack only they could hear.

I love how God uses my children to get my attention and realign my priorities.  And sometimes re-realign them.  I'm glad He keeps me laughing and grateful.  I hope I'm never so stressed out or irritable that I would actually tell one of my babies that they couldn't dance.  They can always dance and I hope that they always want to.  I hope that they are downright infected by that kind of joy for their entire lifetimes.  And I'm so grateful that they pass it along to me.

One of my favorite songs is "I Don't Feel Like Dancing" by the Scissor Sisters (it's written by Elton John which is one of the reasons it is so fabulous; sorry, music geek moment).  It's peppy and fun.  It is very nearly impossible to be in a bad mood when you listen to this retro-disco gem and, ironically, equally difficult not to dance.  Even the most stoic of individuals would be hard pressed not to get a little bootie shake going while listening.

So to tie my kids cuteness and Elton John's fabulousness to scripture (not an easy trick), I was thinking about all of this in the context of Philippians 4:4.  One of my favorite verses (written by the apostle Paul which is one of the reasons it is so fabulous), it says simply, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!"  It seems like too much to ask.  Too much when there are errands to run, bills to pay, children to raise, others to grieve for.  But I think if we let Christ set the soundtrack to our lives, we can't help but move to the beat.  If we let Him be the conductor, we will find ourselves dancing even when we don't feel like it.  We won't be able to help ourselves.  The idea of not dancing, of not rejoicing, will seem ridiculous and oppressive.  Sometimes we will leap and shout and laugh out loud.  Sometimes our dance will be slow, quiet, and set to music that no one else seems to hear.  But we should be, we can be, always dancing, always rejoicing.  Even in line at the bank.           

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

Mother's Day was never really a big deal in our house.  While my mom appreciated any cards and gifts we came home with from school, she made it clear as we got older that a simple "Happy Mother's Day" or a phone call home were really sufficient.  I grew up considering it a Hallmark holiday, nothing to make a big to-do about, and I carried that feeling along as I became a mother myself.  A nice word or card from my husband, step-daughters, and other family and friends was nice but I didn't need anything dramatic.

So it is odd to me that Mother's Day has turned out to be tricky in the years since Eddie made me an "official" mother.  Don't get me wrong; step-mothers are definitely mothers.  I love my "wicked" step-daughters very, very much and would throw myself in front of a bus for them.  But I'm not their mommy; someone else has that privilege and that fact is and will always be totally fine with me.  In fact, it shouldn't be any other way.  And there is something indescribably wonderful about the moment when YOU are the mommy.  The great and powerful Wizard of Mom.

Eddie's labor was crazy and in retrospect a little funny.  Scary, painful and topsy-turvy in almost every way, when the time came for me to push him into this world I was way more focused on getting the whole ordeal over with than on the reality that I was about to meet, face-to-face, the little man responsible for all the wiggles, thumps and heartburn I'd been experiencing in the previous months.  Immediately after he was born, I experienced a rush of endorphins unlike any other, and had to be reminded by my doula, between my giggles, to sit up enough to catch a glimpse of him before he was whisked away to be surrounded by a crowd of doctors and nurses preparing him for his surgery and trip to NICU.  I remember smiling at him, those bird-like, dark brown eyes that shone with righteous anger and indignation at being so rudely brought from his warm, womb-world into the bright florescent glare of "reality."  A few moments later, as he was being rolled away in his little incubator to surgery, the ob/gyn called out, "Don't forget to show him to mom."

They paused beside my bed and I got a really good look at him.  He was swaddled up to his nose and wearing a tiny hat, but looking at that fussy inch and a half of exposed face, something happened in my heart.  It opened up, gained a dimension, broke in two and doubled in size all in one instant.  I wasn't able to hold him or even kiss him, but I reached through the circle "window" and touched his forehead.  I made the sign of the cross there and said the only words that came to my mind.  Nothing profound.  With more emotion than I knew how to deal with pouring through me, I whispered, "Hi, baby!"

I would get two Mother's Days with Eddie but I don't remember anything about either of them.  They came and went like any other day back then I would guess, with desperate hope and gratitude that my baby boy was alive.  I didn't prepare for the coming of my first Mother's Day without him because it had never been a significant celebration so I was surprised when I cried inconsolably the day before.  I found on the day itself that I was pregnant with Baby Girl, so I blamed hormones for the tears.

I've got no excuse this Mother's Day.  No pregnancy hormones to blame.  And, still, unexpectedly, it was a rough one.  One where my longing for the one I had lost threatened to overtake the gratitude I have for his life and the life of the two who are still with me.  I put on a good face, went to church, worshipped and cried, but dried my tears in time to talk to friends and go to lunch afterward.  I enjoyed a warm, sunny afternoon watching Baby Boy run crazy through a local splash-park while Baby Girl clung to my skirts and avoided the water at all costs.  But when we came home, I needed to lay down, exhausted by a day of simply carrying on.

I dreamed of Eddie, lying in a hospital bed, the size he was at around eighteen months.  He was sleeping, his central line and sterile dressing visible on his bare chest, the thin flannel of a hospital blanket covering him to the waist.  I was explaining to a nurse that he was going to need TPN (his intravenous nutrition) and she was going to make sure they got the orders for it soon.  He looked good, as he had on his best days when his skin was plump and healthy, his color a nice bronze but not yellow.  The nurse was pleased at his liver numbers.  It was a good "day in the life."  I kissed his hairline, those beautiful, soft little curls, while he slept and waited for... something.  I don't know what it was.

When I woke up I felt peaceful.  Blessed to have been able to visit him, if only in a dream.  To have been able to kiss him and remember with startling clarity what life was like back then.  Hope triumphing over anxiety; peace in the midst of turmoil.  Beyond my bedroom door I could hear my children laughing, big loud raucous giggles and I smiled.  But I didn't want to go out there yet.  I wasn't ready to leave the warm, womb-world of my bed and face the harsh florescent light of reality without my Eddie.  The one who changed my heart.  Who made me "mommy."  So I lay there for a little while and thanked God for him.  For holding me in the palm of His hand and giving me comfort.  I closed my eyes, feeling close to God and close to Eddie, and breathed for a little while.  Then I got up.  Because life was waiting for me beyond that door.  Hope was waiting.  Joy was waiting.  And two beautiful, smiling faces whose first words upon seeing me walking down the hall toward them was an excited and exuberant, "Mommy!"

Monday, May 7, 2012

13.1

I finished my first half marathon yesterday.  If you follow the blog, you know this is something I was training for, something I really wanted to do.  On February 29th in my post "Seasons," I jokingly prayed at the end of it that God help me run the White Rock half marathon in under three hours.  It was my goal and at the time seemed extremely ambitious to me.

I didn't run the White Rock half marathon yesterday.  That one is in December.  No, I ran the Heels and Hills half marathon and I finished in two hours, fifty three minutes, and fifty seconds.  In other words, I accomplished my goal of running a half marathon in under three hours...seven months ahead of schedule.

I am not posting this to brag or to show everybody what a super athletic person I am.  Um, actually, I'm not.  I never participated in athletics in high school.  My phys ed credits in college included bowling and ballroom dance.  I ran a bit here and there during those years but never further than a 5k (3.1 miles).  I started running in earnest during law school but was more interested in preserving my ability to lift a twelve ounce longneck and stay thin than in any kind of physical conditioning or competition.  The triathlon I finished in 2004 was the only medal-worthy race I had ever competed in and it was immediately followed by a long, long, long break from any kind of physical fitness at all.

I'm posting this accomplishment because I want to tell everyone, including anyone who might just be stopping by from cyberspace, to look at what GOD can do.  (Subtitle:  Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it.)  I prayed to be physically fit and God gave me a burning desire to get off my rotunda and get moving.  He put people in my life with the same desires, similar goals, and they inspired me to set bigger, better, crazier goals for myself.  He gave me focus and He gave me ability.  And He saved me from myself.

Because I have issues.  Really big, nasty ones.  And one of these is an ability to get an oversized ego in lightning  quick time.  If I do anything praise-worthy, my first reaction tends to be, "Look what I can do."  It's a character defect that I hope one day will be removed from me entirely by the grace of God, but in the meantime maturity and sobriety have at least bought me awareness.  I am aware that I have this tendency and that it is a problem.  So, anytime I feel the "me" in all of this rearing her ugly head I respond by praying one of the most difficult but also one of the most frequent prayers I pray.  "God, please keep me humble."

A word to the wise:  Don't pray this prayer unless you really, really mean it.  Humility is a quality of Christ-like living and the gateway to gratitude and all other good things, but it is a lesson learned through ego-shattering humiliation and the appearance of defeat.  Every time I pray for humility, I cringe a little inwardly and hope He's gentle with me.  And normally He is, but He also answers the prayer and does what needs to be done to keep me humble.

I'm not going to list all the ways that He has done me this difficult favor during my months of training because many of them are embarrassing and I frankly don't want to share them.  On the lesser side of things, there have been times I set out to do eight miles that I could hardly manage one.  Times when I remembered the wheezy, injury prone, weak hipped, non-athlete that I have always been with sudden and alarming clarity.  In the week leading up to this race, I faced more physical difficulties than I had in any week since I have begun running again.  On the Saturday before the race I was a wreck.  I felt like I had a cold, was nauseated, my hip and knee were killing me and I could not get any rest.  I knew I couldn't run 13.1 miles the next day, but I wasn't panicked about that.  Because I knew through Christ, I could.

I knew God wanted me to run this race.  I don't know all the reasons why.  I know I've been blessed by it and I hope others will be somehow.  But, as with all God things, I don't need to know why.  I just knew He did.  And if He wants you to do something, you can do it, no matter what.  So I got ready Saturday night with all the excitement and anticipation of a race day ahead, ignoring the pain in my leg and my throat.  I went to bed Saturday night, prayed that everything would stop hurting by morning, and got some rest, aside from the "Christmas morning" moments of waking up to look at the clock in anticipation.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling fine.  Energized.  Ready to go.  My friends surprised me with a running shirt commemorating my first half and a 13.1 charm for my laces, as well as Team Abby shirts for themselves.  We ran, we laughed, I dry-heaved and kept moving.  It was hot, humid, hard, humbling and fantastic.  At the thirteen mile mark, we sprinted for the finish.  Within yards of the finish line, it felt like my legs were going to give way and I was going to do a face plant.  I heard my husband's voice yell, "Go, Abby!" and looked over to see my beautiful family and friends watching and cheering for me.  Face planting was no longer an option and I pushed and prayed and thanked God that I was really, truly doing this thing.  I finished strong... and humble.

Because I didn't run a half marathon by myself.  God gave me the strength and desire to train for it.  He spared me from injury.  But He went above and beyond that.  I didn't earn those friends who ran with me and carried me through; God gave them to me.  I didn't create an amazing family in my own power; God sent me my husband and He blessed us with these children.  He used all of them and this race to show to me less about what I can do than what He can.  He wants me to dream big so that He can do even bigger.  So that He can push me through 13.1 miles two months after I began training for 3.1 miles.  Because His plans for me are so much greater than any plan I might have for myself and His means to accomplish anything are infinite.   And that is a wonderful, painless lesson in humility.      

Monday, April 16, 2012

Overflow

I'm having a gushing kind of gratitude kind of day.  One of those days where I find myself with a goofy grin on my face for really no apparent reason.  I love these days, especially when nothing in particular "caused" them.  It's easy to feel happy when awesome stuff happens -- your team wins the championship, you have a sudden financial windfall, you fit into your skinny jeans or someone gives you that gift that you didn't even realize you'd been waiting for your whole life.  I'm not knocking those happy moments.  They're great.  I actually jumped up and down with glee the other day when my first issue of Runner's World was delivered.  (Obviously, it doesn't even really take that much for me.)  But after those ecstatic highs there is inevitably a little bit of a let-down at some point.  The crash after the sugar-high.

But no magazines were delivered today.  No gifts received, no championships won.  Today has been an everyday kind of day.  I switched the kids' room around this weekend and have begun the chore of sorting through the clutter that accumulates, thinning out the toys, reorganizing what remains.  It's been a day of folding laundry and cleaning the litter box.  Of games of Candyland and puddle splashing, wild tricycle rides and a skinned knee.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and a play date in the park in the near future.  As I approach midday, I haven't finished even close to all of my tasks and I don't know exactly what we're having for dinner.  There have been days very nearly exactly like today in which I have felt harried, stressed, overwrought and in desperate need of a babysitter.  So why the goofy grin today?  I take a break in the middle of it all to ask myself this question and the answer makes my grin broaden.

Because today I am absolutely certain of God's complete and all encompassing love for me.  I have been able to lay all my burdens at His feet and just bask in the light of an eternal Love.  Today doesn't have to be spectacular in its circumstances; this is the day that the Lord has made and I get to just rejoice in that.  He is going to take care of me.  He loves me the same whether I'm "good" or not.  Whether my kids eat their vegetables at dinner or if they just pig out on pizza.  Whether I come up with a great master organizational plan or just dump everything back into the toy box.  It doesn't matter.  He is smiling at me regardless, feeling toward me the warmth of affection that I feel watching Baby Girl splashing away in her rain boots or Baby Boy riding hell-bent for leather down the sidewalk on his trike.  The eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the Universe loves me.  That is something to smile about.

That is what enlightenment means to me.  This is awareness.  Knowing that the One who created every single thing and is aware and in charge of all of it loves you with a love that you can't even begin to contain.  And when you have this knowledge, you will begin to feel it, filling you up and flowing out of you.  Then you don't have to work at being "good."  You just are because you are full of good.  You don't have to try and love others; you would have to try not to.  Perhaps best of all, you don't have to try and love yourself, because you have finally seen yourself as you are seen.  Believer or non-believer -- if you are a human being you are known, loved, and accepted, completely, by a God who is nothing but pure unadulterated goodness.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to show how much He loves you and to draw you closer to Him so that you might really, truly know His peace, hope and joy.  I hope you know my Jesus and, if you don't, I hope you meet Him soon.  Not because I want you to leave behind your wicked ways or because hellfire and brimstone await you beyond the gates.  I want you to know Him because He's wonderful and He makes me smile.  And everyone should feel this kind of crazy happiness, the kind that is lasting, crash-free, and overflowing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Gift of Gab

My boys weren't talkers.  While Eddie had plenty of words, he was very particular about when he used them (never around a stranger, not often if a simple point and grunt would suffice).  Baby Boy was content to make car noises and animal sounds until well past his second birthday.  If the birth order of my children had been different, I probably would have been very concerned and signing up for speech therapy. Because once Baby Girl came around I discovered something amazing:  toddlers can talk!  And talk... and talk... and talk.

I've always been a talker.  I was, since around nine months of age, "vaccinated with a phonograph needle" as my grandfather would put it.  (A phonograph is a record player.  For those of you who don't know what a record player is, google it.  And you make me feel old.)  I can't help it.  There are words inside of me just bursting to get out.  When I'm in a situation in which talking is frowned upon (church, standardized testing rooms, etc), I literally feel a physical pain in my chest from all the word build-up.  Teachers find this habit irritating.  As a senior in high school my government/economics teacher switched me from desk to desk, trying to find a group of people I wouldn't talk to.  Such a group does not exist.  So she moved me to a desk in the back, surrounded by empty desks.  I talked louder.

I fear the same future for Baby Girl, though I am told she is rather quiet in her Mother's Day Out class.  I'm virtually certain she will grow out of that.  Because at home she talks, non-stop.  Her vocabulary has always been impressive.  While I was telling my mother about Baby Boy's recent trip to the dentist, she leaned over and told her emphatically, "It was a very positive experience."  She talks to all of us, of course, but also to the television during her favorite shows, to her books as she reads them, to her toys as she plays with them, and to herself if no one or nothing else is available.  She even talks in her sleep.

Because of the continuous chatter, sometimes I have to remind myself to LISTEN.  Because the things she says are magical and funny and often really insightful.  She tells stories full of imagination and drama.  Her first story, when she was barely past two, was about a bunny that hid in tall grass and then ran so fast that she could not see him.  Since then we have moved on to fantastic tales of princesses, dragons and even the odd zombie.  Her flair for the dramatic leads to some interesting moments.  Once when we were driving down the road, she started crying.  I could tell the crying was fake, but still glanced back and asked, "What's wrong, baby?"  With her eyes screwed tightly shut she wailed with sincerity, "I CAN'T SEE!"  Aside from the hearty laugh this gave me, I couldn't help but feel a swell of pride at her excellent Method acting skills and envision a career in theatre ahead.

This fanciful streak makes it a little hard sometimes to distinguish between fact and fiction, but that is part of her magic.  There is a fine line between telling a lie and creating a story and I try not to be too strict on this point.  Her mind is filled with rainbows and faeries, exciting adventures and tragic tales and she tells me about them.  I never want that to change.  I want to listen and let her know her words are wonderful things.  I am going to miss her pipsqueak little voice when it matures, will miss the mispronunciations and funny word substitutions of my three year old princess.  But when her voice is all grown up and her stories have changed, I want to change with her.  Instead of just listening, I want to encourage her to use that voice for all its worth.  I want to tell her never to let anyone shame her into silence, to never be so afraid of embarrassment that she shuts up.  (Except, you know, during church or standardized testing.)  I know she already has words inside of her that are bursting to come out and I want to hear every single one of them.  To do that I'm going to have to shut my own mouth (always a challenge), ask more questions, listen more and know less.

It will be a good discipline for me to learn.  As I mentioned, our children are our teachers.  Already she with her gift of gab is teaching me, a perpetual talker, to listen.  Often she presses a tiny finger against my lips and says, "Mommy, be quiet."  It should probably call for disciplinary action, but it never fails to make me laugh, and it is very nearly always because she has something she wants to say and can't get a word in edgewise, so I let it slide.  We'll find our balance and for now I think I'll let her have a 60/40 split.  I'm so grateful to have my little girl to chat with me and look forward to every conversation, every story, even every rant that we have to come.    

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Life Coach

We are a nicknaming family.  My family of origin is one too; we each had a half dozen or so nicknames apiece.  I married a nicknamer so the tradition is being proudly carried on.  Our nicknames range from the practical (Abby for Abigail, for example), to the descriptive (Baby Girl earned the moniker "Princess Pooter Pants" by the time she was six months old for what should be obvious reasons), to the downright silly (Eddie was, is and will always be my Sugar Snap Pea).

One of Baby Boy's nicknames is The Life Coach.  He earned it when he was no more than two years old and it fits into the "descriptive" category.  He is one of the most encouraging pint-sized people you will ever meet.  I try not to project too much of an image of what I think my children will grow up to be.  I avoid it primarily because I don't want to decide that they are going to be investment bankers only to be blown away and gasping for breath when they reach their young adult years and decide to be tattoo artists instead.  I want to be able to smile and say, "That's awesome, honey.  You just follow your path.  I'm proud of you."  And mean it.

Anyway, that being said, I can't help but think Baby Boy is destined for some motivating future career.  Perhaps sales but I'm thinking personal trainer, motivational speaker or, as the nickname would suggest, life coach.  He is full of boundless energy and eager to share it with others.  Although he has a natural caution when in comes to trying new things and is refreshingly wary of adult strangers, get him around a group of peers (and he thinks the "peers" age range is from 2-12) or a group of people he is comfortable with and he is going to jump right in, trying to make everyone comfortable and even push their limits a little.  When he was two years old and I was reticent to engage in any form of exercise apart from toddler wrangling, he would come up with elaborate fitness routines.  Like, run around the ottoman until you're dizzy, then crawl like a baby, then jump around and wiggle your hips.  If you didn't get up promptly to join him, he would say, "C'mon, get up.  Get up!"  If you were slacking on your baby-crawling form, he would urge you with a calm but insistent, "No, like this."  Once you got your act together, he would shout an encouraging "Great job!  Great job!"  Did I mention he was two?

While physical fitness was and is his focal point, he is the Life Coach rather than the Personal Trainer because he extends his knack for encouragement into other areas.  He is very supportive of all creative and culinary adventures.  Once, while we were gardening as a family, he busted out with a heart felt, "We make a great team!"  I seriously don't know where this kid came from but I enjoy the hell out of him.

Since I have begun working out with a passion, he continues to be my greatest fan and motivator.  As I push my double jogger, he often shouts, "FASTER!  Great job, great job," spurring me on to longer, faster and better stroller runs.  When I pick him up from the gym daycare (one of his favorite places), he usually has an encouraging word.  Some recent favorites are "That was a great workout, Mom.  You so stronger" and a request to not only run and swim with me but also "do stairs."  I'm telling you, he is a four year old Bob Harper.

I've been blogging long enough now that I can't really remember what I've mentioned and what I haven't so forgive any repetition.  If I'm repeating a concept, though, it is because it is one I find to be true in a mind-blowing kind of way.  One of these concepts is that we are not our children's teachers nearly to the extent that they are ours.  If we will set aside our manic adult need to be right all the time and remember that the kingdom of God belongs to these little balls of light that we are lucky enough to raise, we will not only do them a world of good, they will change our lives.  Radically, completely and all for the better.  My Life Coach makes me smile.  He makes me work, he makes me want to be better, and he amazes me.  When my oldest baby and perhaps my greatest teacher died, at that time in my life when I could have so easily been ready to give up hope, this little encourager was growing in my womb, already giving me something to hope for, something to thrive for, something to look forward to and someone to live for.  So today's post is just a little note of gratitude for Baby Boy, for that bright light of atomic energy with his "full speed ahead" attitude and smile that you can't help but return.  He is just awesome and I can't wait to learn everything he came to teach me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Just Breathe

You know how I told you God was going to heal my asthma?  (If you have no idea what I'm talking about you can go back and read the blog post entitled "No Matter What."  Or you can just jump in right here.  Totally up to you.)  Well, I realized recently that although I had told everybody out here in internet world that He was going to, I failed to mention that He had.  Rather than feel guilty about that and ruminate on the story in the Bible where only one in ten lepers goes back to praise Jesus for healing his leprosy, I'm going to send a quick "sorry" heavenward and remedy the situation.

So, yeah... I don't have asthma!  And, no, it is not that just at the present moment I'm not feeling any bronchial discomfort.  I mean I'm breathing better than I ever have in my entire life.  It was like there was a whole level of breathing I had never been exposed to, except in the brief moments immediately after using my emergency inhaler.  My "normal" was so not normal.  Consequently, I'm feeling like some kind of superhero with special breathing powers.  I take so much pleasure in just the simple act of drawing breath.

I don't know the moment I was healed.  I know that after God had promised me He was going to heal my lungs, things go worse.  Downright scary in fact.  I could hardly breathe sometimes and had a perpetual cough.  I just did my best to ignore it and I didn't panic.  Then things went back somewhat to normal.  Sometime after that, however, "normal" became extraordinary.

I noticed it while I was running.  You see, I had what is called "exercise-induced asthma."  (It was also stress-induced, pollen-induced, food-induced... you get the idea.)  Anyway, I would have to take a couple hits off of the puffer before I started even light exercise or in no time at all I would be reduced to a panting, wheezing, red-faced blob.  On the occasions when I would go out for a run prior to God's word on healing, Phillip would always call after me, "Do you have your inhaler?" for fear I would collapse on the street somewhere.  It was fairly serious.

But, as you know if you have been reading, I've been on quite the running kick for the past two months or so and haven't used an inhaler.  Not once.  And it hasn't been because of grim determination; I haven't needed to.  My lungs don't just feel fine while I'm running, they feel better.  Like everything is open and wide in there.  It makes me giddy just thinking about it.

So after my running realization, I decided to try something else out.  Yes, it is true; you should not put God to the test.  You are not going to see me pick up any rattlesnakes or anything unless I get a very clear directive from God to do so.  It's not the same thing, though, to realize you are healed, in accordance to a personal promise from God, and try to do something you couldn't do with your affliction.  It would be silly if God healed a paralytic but they continued not to walk.  So I took my own version of those first steps... in the kitchen.

You see, there were certain foods that triggered my asthma.  Delicious, wonderful, healthy foods that if I ate them even in reasonable quantities could possibly kill me.  I once scared Phillip to death on a dinner date because I ate all of the grape tomatoes in my salad (because they are DELICIOUS) and then a few moments later was unable to speak and turning a bit blue as I rummaged madly in my purse for the puffer.

So it was with a keen sense of excitement that I returned from my run and made myself a feta and tomato salad (with a little balsamic vinegar...delish).  It was a monster-sized one too and I ate the whole freaking thing and then spent a few minutes gloating and breathing with not so much as a wheeze.  Since then I have eaten other priorly forbidden foods with the same result.  Avocado, watermelon, how I love thee.  I even guzzled a big glass of milk and then went for a run, which in the past would have needed to be preceded by the writing of a suicide note.  I have the bronchial tubes of a champion.

Before this all happened, when God had told me it would but hadn't healed my body yet, I was talking to a woman about all this healing stuff.  She knew my present struggle but the conversation had turned, as it always tends to, to Eddie and all that I'd been through with that.  She asked me how I do it.  How I live without him, day in and day out.  I told her some days are easier than others.  Some days joy is right there waiting for me when I wake up, but on other days all I can do is just sit with God and breathe.  I don't pray really; I just breathe.  She made the observation that this was interesting to say when now my breath seemed to be being taken away from me. I smiled, realizing that this test of my faith was no different than any other.  I needed to ignore what "seemed to be" true and just breathe.

I'm grateful that I can now breathe with abandon.  That I can breathe with a greater depth and a greater awareness of what a privilege it is just to draw air into a pair of healthy lungs.  I'm so grateful that I had asthma so that I know what it is like not to have that privilege, to live restricted.  I pray that I never forget or begin to take this all for granted.  That every time I bite into a tomato that it taste all the sweeter for the fact that I can have it and continue to breathe.  Just breathe.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Endurance Training

I just joined a gym a week or so ago and got a complimentary training assessment.  There was a place on the assessment form that asked if you were actively participating in any sport:  soccer, baseball, etc.  I kind of skimmed over it and, not seeing an option for "running," I thought the answer was a definite no.  I have never been one for team sports.  I have a lot of heart but a complete lack of hand-eye coordination.  So, while I was talking with the trainer, I was surprised that when he got to that portion of my assessment he put a check mark.  It was in front of "endurance training."  

I admit that I felt a little puffed up for a moment.  That sounds tough, doesn't it?  "Endurance training."  It makes me think of marathons and Ironman competitions.  It is not what I think of when I'm huffing and puffing along, struggling just to complete a two mile run.  But what is the saying?  "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  I took a moment to let myself feel proud, to feel like an athlete.  

Endurance is not just for athletes, though.  It's for all of us.  I remember one doctor's words when Eddie was just a few days old and I had spent all but a couple of hours sitting on a stool next to his crib in the NICU.  He told me to go back to the Ronald McDonald house and try to get some rest.  "This is a marathon, not a sprint," he said.  Those words stuck with me.  It think back on them often.  He was right.  It was a marathon and it required a crazy kind of endurance.

Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also set aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."  That great cloud he is referring to is a long list of faith-filled people that were listed in Hebrews 11.  We're talking Moses, Abraham, etc.  To me it seems that he is saying that those people are watching over us, cheering us on if you will, waiting to see what we do with the path that has been given us.

Some of us are lucky enough to have stumbled upon the truth of God, how great it is to live our lives for Him, how rewarding it is to run His race.  We do well to remember this verse, to set aside the weights of our anxieties, our plans and our egos.  To disentangle ourselves from our sins and get running!  But as with everything else, it is finally our choice.  There are far too many people who might start out strong but when it gets hard, they quit.  They sit on the curb (or in front of their TVs) and let the rest of the runners pass them by, never knowing what blessings were ahead of them on the course.  Others never even get past the start line.  

We all know the excuses.  Most of us have rehearsed them ourselves a few time.  "God, this isn't fair."  "God, it's too hard."  "God, anything but this!"  They all boil down to a version of "I can't."  But the Bible says we can do all things through Christ.  So that means, if God has set a course for you, "I can't" is really "I won't."

I don't mean to get preachy.  I just feel passionately about this subject because if I can get off my tush, trash  my excuses, and run my life with endurance ANYBODY can.  I am a least likely candidate.  I had a challenging childhood, a raging addiction, poor health, and then I lost a child.  No one would blame me if I curled up in a ball and refused to get out of bed for the next decade or so.  I have the perfect excuse to quit:  my baby died.  But I didn't and I don't.  I make a conscious decision every day to get up, get moving, throw of the weight of grief and self-pity, refuse the sin of disobedience, and run, run, run.  Sometimes with joy, sometimes with pain, but always moving forward, seeking what's next, looking up at the One who keeps me moving against all odds.

No one said this life thing was going to be easy.  Just like literal running, there are times when it hurts like hell. I don't approach the finish line of races feeling like a million bucks.  More often than not my lungs are on fire, my legs feel like lead, and I'm trying not to puke.  But the moment I'm across that line, I know that I accomplished something.  That I pushed my limits, got out of my comfort zone, and DID something.  That's what I want my life to look like too.  When my baby left this world, it felt like the bottom dropped out of everything, but I didn't give up.  I knew I had run a good race with Eddie, that I had done everything I could do, that I never gave up or let him down, that I left it all on the track.  It makes it easier to live my day to day now, free of regrets.  I could have quit the moment they told me his prognosis.  I could have killed myself, checked into a mental hospital, or hit the nearest bar.  In many ways, that would have been the easier route, but when I think of all the blessings, all the joy, I would have missed, I can't imagine taking that course.

Eddie's death wasn't the finish line for me; it was just another starting gate.  I've got lots more years to run and I want to run them strong, delighting in the capability God has given me to do anything He wants me to do and just praying and powering through the times when it all seems too much.  I want to tune in to the great cloud of witnesses watching me and cheering me on.  I never want to stop my endurance training because I want to be ready for the next challenge.  I want to answer every call that God places on my life, every obstacle he asks me conquer with a confident, "I will."  I want to cross that final finish line knowing that I did something, that I accomplished what God put me on this earth to do.  Free from regrets, ready for glory.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Seasons

Sorry for the lapse in postings.  I was shocked to log on and see my last blog publication was February 2, very nearly a full month ago.  I would like to say that there is a very good, noble reason for this, that I have been in Africa feeding orphans or something, but that isn't true.  The truth is:  I've been obsessed.  With what, you might ask?  With running, I would reply.

Have I mentioned I'm an addict?  I believe it has come up a time or two.  Well, as any good alcoholic or drug addict will tell you, you are never really healed from addiction.  You are just in recovery.  As such, you are liable to latch on to anything at any time and become completely absorbed by it.  It will be what you go to bed thinking about and the first thought on your mind in the morning.  It could be a substance, a person, religion (yes, religion, not to be confused with God Himself), a computer game, whatever.  We are like pit bulls when it comes to this stuff... we latch on and may never let go.

So lately for me it has been fitness.  I have become obsessed with the idea of being fit again.  It is not my first go round with this particular obsession.  Before my babies were born, I was on a fitness kick too.  In those days all that you were likely to find in my refrigerator were super-foods, protein shakes and vodka.  Yes, I am well aware that vodka is not healthy and I was aware then too.  Alcoholics are not rational beings.  I would awaken while it was still dark outside, hung over from the night before but bound and determine to lace up my running shoes and knock out three miles or so.  I drank flax oil, straight, by day and scotch, neat, by night.  I was thin as a rail, strong as a horse, and sick, sick, sick.

In the past I have used the memory of how selfish and sick I was in my running days to avoid exercise.  I would tell myself that it was better if I carried the baby weight forever rather than going back to that mindset.  But I was avoiding the fact that it's not an "either/or" proposition.  That perhaps I could be healthy, inside and out.  God began awakening me to this idea a few months ago and sometime around about February 2nd, I latched onto it.

God has been talking to me a lot about seasons.  That just like that famous portion of Ecclesiastes there really is a time for every purpose under heaven.  (And, yes, I have a The Byrds song in my head now.)  My first season of motherhood was a marathon of faith, taking care of my wonderful sick little Eddie.  In so many ways, that was a mountaintop time for me.  I knew who I was, who my God was, and what my purpose was with crystal clarity.  After Eddie was gone, I mostly just felt like I was going through the motions, all of my energy focused on being a good mommy to my two little ones, hardly even taking the time to pray.  God assures me this is okay... He was healing me emotionally.  After that I went through a season where I spent every precious moment I could with Him but also ate copious amounts of chocolate and ran only when chased.  This too is okay... I was building up spiritually.  So now He has placed the desire on my heart to get my body in the same shape as my spirit, to look as strong on the outside as I feel on the inside, and I'm a little excited about that.  Okay, I'm a lot excited.

Because I'm not running alone anymore.  Not only are my kids usually along for a ride in the double jogger, but I'm talking to my Savior with every step that I take.  I'm praising Him for every milestone and even for the days when I hit a wall, because I know He is keeping me humble.  He's blessed me with wonderful enablers... old friends and new who share my current addiction and who are happy to talk about IT bands and fartleks and such without a single eye roll.  I'm having so much fun and feel happy, healthy and whole.  God is so stinking good I can't stand it.

So I know this season may not last.  I know there will be harder days ahead, but I know I'm going to go into them strong, in body, mind, soul and spirit, and that God will see me right on through.  So I'm going to enjoy this crazy, obsessive season and pray that God keeps me balanced, that it be more about Him and less about me no matter what.  And that He help me run the White Rock half marathon this year.  Just half, Lord.  And in less than three hours... Amen.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

FAIL

Let me give you a brief sketch of who I would like to be.  I would awaken every morning, before dawn and before my kids, to spend an hour in complete silence, prayer and meditation.  I would then do an hour of yoga until I was as flexible as a bendy straw or one of those weird foam curlers that was popular in the 80s.  My children would awaken to the smell of a healthy, all-organic breakfast baking in the kitchen.  After breakfast and morning routines, we would have at least a few minutes of enriching Montessori-like play in my extremely organized playroom before we began the day's scheduled activities.  Their lunches (and mine) would be packed in bento boxes with extremely cute themes.  Our afternoon would be divided into blocks of sensory play, Bible study, imaginative play, etc until it was time for me to cook our healthy, organic, preferably vegetable-protein heavy dinner, which would be hot and steaming on the table at the exact moment my husband gets home from work.  After bedtime, my husband and I would spend at least a quiet hour of quality time together, rich in conversation.  I would also sew, knit, bake my own bread, visit local farms for produce and practice intentional random acts of kindness.  Oh, and I need to fit in those three mile runs every other day.

Now, maybe there is someone out there who just read that paragraph and thought, "That's me!"  I'm trying not to hate you right now.  Because my life looks nothing like that.  I wake up when one of the kids smacks me enough times in the face to actually rouse me.  I then shuffle into the kitchen to make coffee so my brain will work.  I usually do feed the kids healthy meals but I'm woman enough to admit that there is a box of Fruit Loops in my home and it might or might not have been what my kids had for breakfast today (but with coconut milk so that makes it healthy, right?)  I'm in a god-awful rush on preschool mornings and hardly have time to smear PB & J on some bread before we are out the door.  My playroom is kind of the whole house and there are stuffed animals and toy boxes full of junk just sort of scattered willy-nilly about the place.  While my kids enjoy lots of undirected free play in this way, it has been several months since I actually busted out a sensory box.  Dinner is most likely something out of Betty Crocker's 1-2-3 cookbook and involves a can of non-organic something or other and non-Angus god-knows-what-fed beef from a regular old grocery store.  I don't sew unless you count buttons.  Can't use a pair of knitting needles.  I do bake my own bread but not nearly as often as I would like and I have yet to visit a local farm... ever.  I ran for the first time in three weeks yesterday...one mile and it just about killed me.  And as for quality time with the husband, I'm usually in bed about ten minutes after the kids go down.  I'm a mess.

I'm beginning recognize, though, that being a mess isn't necessarily a bad thing.  If I were exactly like that wonder woman I described in the first paragraph, I would be so pleased with myself no one in their right mind would want to hang out with me.  I would be intolerably smug (though with a heart for those poor, lesser mortals out there feeding their kids Spaghetti-Os and calling it a night).  I would have no friends.  And worse, I would have a severely stunted awareness for my need for God.

Because I fail, massively and regularly, at the things I try to do.  At becoming the person I envision myself being in my wildest daydreams.  It reminds me that the flip side of "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" is that I can do precious little without Him.  I can accomplish what He wants me to, even if it's running a marathon, but if the basis of even my least ambitious endeavor is selfish pride He's going to make it hard on me and I'm so, so grateful for that.  Pride is bad and easy to fall into.  I want to be humble because I want to be close to Him.  So, maybe it's okay that I'm not Jillian Michaels, Mahatma Gandhi and Martha Stewart rolled into one big (freakish) ball.  I'm beloved and that is better.