Still Learning

One hundred and eighty plus school days behind us, another year takes a wrap and we’ve pulled out the beach towels and flip flops. Summer’s sweat refreshes, a new tube of anti-frizz has already been utilized, and whoopie pies are on the menu as a celebration welcoming this season of farm markets, backyard barbecues, and tiki torches.

I learned to share this year. First year down in public school and we became accustomed to saying goodbye each morning, me catching their shadows waving through the bus windows as it drove past the house, and me blowing kisses with one hand from the front porch in my pajama pants and holding a coffee mug in the other hand.

I learned to trust The Sovereign Lord with the lives of my daughters as He commanded His angels concerning them. (I pictured those Angels’ feet shuffling along while they fought to keep their wings hovered around those children as a hedge of protection while the girls obliviously went about their days.)

I learned to pray. Not one day went by that as the bus drove by and beeped I didn’t breathlessly whisper help for them, dumping extra interceding on the Holy Spirit’s agenda as He turned my groans into whatever my words could not express.

They learned this year, too. Language Arts, the eukalale, Everyday Math…and they learned how to make new friends, brush off hurts, realize real friends, know compassion, love their neighbor, lean not on their own understanding.

And yet the learning does not take a break for these hearts of ours. We’re still as fragile as a delicate China teacup that has been chipped and carefully glued back together.

But we better know the hands that hold the delicate teacup(s) – the same hands that carefully glue it together when it chips. Those are the hands that gave us faith to learn this year past. And they will with certainty give us faith (and glue) for the year ahead.

I write these things to remember, as David did, the wonders He has done, and to proclaim His marvelous deeds. He parted the Red Sea and He paved our way through our first public school year. His love endures forever.

A Good Friday

I’m digging through my recipe box for Great Aunt Edith’s pineapple stuffing. The morning light was a soft sunshine yellow that somehow suddenly morphed into a dark, sobering gray. Wind now forces the rain sideways in gusts. The content sounds of a child flying his paper-made Star Wars ships waft up the stairs.

Last night we had a family discussion about how we might feel on this day, this “Good Friday.” It’s a loaded topic.

More than two thousand years ago, on the eve of this same day, the outlook for followers of believers was bleak. Jesus had been arrested, taken before Pontius Pilate, beaten, mocked, spat upon, disowned by his own friend, even. A murderer was chosen over him to be released, and in his weakness he was forced to carry his own cross but couldn’t do it, so someone else was forced to carry it for him.

And this day, this Good Friday, forces us to remember why it all happened. Thousands of years before that, someone in the Garden of Eden gave in to the lies set up before him by the serpent, and every day since then every single human, created by God and for God, has been driving nails into the hands and feet of Christ. It’s a wonder we’re not jolted by the sound. Yes, that includes me. I am guilty.

But that same day, as Jesus’ mother wailed and lamented in the crowd of onlookers, a thief was forgiven and welcomed into paradise. As the curtain of the temple tore in two, many holy people who had died were raised to life. Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” And He also cried out, “It is finished!” And the Father, who turned His face away from His Son, made His face shine upon believers.

Sorrow? Yes. Grief? Yes. Joy? Yes, joy, too.

I’ve found the pineapple stuffing recipe. The 3×5 card has an oily butter mark in the corner. (Lots of butter, a pinch of cinnamon…) It is placed aside for Easter feast preparations which will take place tomorrow. I dig in the closet for my umbrella – black with little bright red cherries on it. I can’t help but smile. Black, for mourning over sin. Red, for the blood Jesus spilled out for me. I open it and step off the porch and rain cascades down all around me, washing away filth and giving life.

This Good Friday is full of emotions, but mostly I am thankful. So, so, so deeply thankful.

(I later got to celebrate The Lord’s Supper at a 2:00 worship service. I knelt next to my eighty-four year old mommom, and my dad served us the bread and the wine. On Sunday, the third day, we’ll eat another feast together, celebrating our Lord’s resurrection. But the best part is knowing we will one day feast with The Lamb. I don’t think Mommom’s hands will be wrinkled, nor Dad’s hair gray, but I just might still bawl like a baby – in thankfulness, of course.)

Crockpots, Candy Hearts, and Mercy

A husband and wife had a vision to look after widows in their distress on lonely Valentine’s days and went running with it. They decked out their home in pink and red and roses and pasta. Year after year the group of widows expanded, and that’s how we found ourselves recruited as part of the team that powered up an army of crockpots this last frigid Valentine’s Day.

Amazing how crockpots have enabled us to serve a hot meal, and how men dressed in trench coats can brave the cold to valet and usher in women and serve them hot tea, and how children can respect their elders and take their orders and refill drinks, and how my husband can sit himself at a table of older women and have a conversation around centerpieces of conversation candy hearts. (Don’t worry, ladies. He belongs to me.)

And how each one thanks you generously as they head to their cars already started up for them and waiting by the front door, and they ask what’s my secret to keeping the lemon bars from falling apart. (And I’m a little embarrassed to tell them that the secret is in the box of Krusteaz, and that anyone can dump a bag of frozen meatballs into a crockpot and it was almost too easy to be called “sacrifice.”)

Because each of these women, despite being left alone, finds a way to not stay alone, but serves her church and her sisters wholeheartedly, and the blessings drip off of them onto me. Two are my children’s Sunday school teachers. Some are mothers of my childhood friends who at times fed me and loaned a sleeping bag and pillow for sleepovers. I sat next to some in Bible Studies past and shared prayer requests. My own Mommom was amongst them, a woman who helped raise me in many ways and now slowly shuffled to her seat hanging on to my arm and whispering to give her little bag of favors to my son who was hovering in the corner trying to find his purpose in life. And others who grace the church with the presence of their stunning gray crowns of wisdom as they visit each other, make meals for new moms, and pray faithfully from their rocking chairs when it’s just too cold to get out for prayer meeting.

Amazing how you can sometimes try to be merciful, but then you realize you are the one who was shown mercy.

Thank you, ladies, for being an example of what it means to love the Lord as your Husband, whether your earthly husband has been gone three months or twenty-two years. You will surely enter those pearly gates hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Until then, thank you for your long-suffering and perseverance that allows time for others to come to know this Husband to widows, Father to the fatherless, Savior of sinners, who loves to shower us all with His great mercy.

Goodnight, Spring.

Hush, Spring, hush,
Just a little while longer.
Mother Winter has fluffed her downy quilt
And kissed and tucked you under.

Hush, Spring, hush,
Stay beneath that blanket, white,
Soft, warm, clean and fresh,
Magic spell of sleep, delight.

Your eyes are drowsy, still,
Blanket’s folds around your chin.
Morning’s promise will come soon enough;
No need to rush it in.

Hush, Spring, hush.
Hear the soft sung lullabye
Of Winter’s pale voice whispering,
“Sweet dreams, Spring. Goodnight.”

I Can’t.

Jeering. Ridiculing. Hissing, even. I could see the glaring of the eyes and tongues sticking out in disgust even though I was upstairs.

Sibling love and sibling rivalry. There’s nothing like it.

Sometimes I let them “work it out,” and sometimes I yell. And sometimes, less often than I care to admit, I see it as a teaching moment. After all, I do love them too much to (sometimes) let them act that way. That’s the way that leads to hatred, and danger, and destruction.

The boy is brought upstairs in his fury. Self-control is not his strength. His chest heaves and his voice has reached decibels of rarity.

In patience, my voice is calm. Eventually his fury turns to tears. “It’s not fair! She’s so mean!”

“I know. It wasn’t fair. And it was mean… What if every time we did something unfair and mean to God, He just screamed and ran away?”

More tears. “You’re making me feel bad!” (Is a conscience beginning to melt?)

“But what if He did? Where would that leave us?”

He’s thinking (and crying).

“What does He do instead of screaming and running away? Isn’t His grace always bigger? Doesn’t He always forgive?”

“But I can’t!”

Some of the best words a parent can hear in a moment like this.

“You’re right. You can’t. I can’t. Which is why He’s done it for us. And then you know what? After He forgives us because we can’t, He gives us His strength so that we can.”

Teaching moment seized and utilized, the boy lumbers to his room in thought. A few minutes later he bounds down the steps with a few books in hand, sidles up between me and the mean one, and shares his blanket across our laps. His heavy heart has been lightened.

This morning, I find myself sharing an extra tiny kitchen. We’re both running late, both needing the counter space, breakfast, and the coffee. Early mornings don’t make us the prettiest people, and his words cut a little too sharp.

It wasn’t on my face, but you could see my glaring eyes and tongue sticking out in disgust anyway.

Sin. There’s nothing like it.

We kept dancing our fragile dance around our egg shells in the kitchen. Humility is not my strength.

He left for work. I finished packing kids’ lunches.

But sometimes, in moments of obvious mercy, it’s blaringly blatant that I’m loved too much to be allowed down that path of danger and destruction. By way of ritual, the Psalms are read before sending the kids off to the bus, and by way of mercy, calm and patient words melted my conscience.

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.”

I can’t. But because of His “relentless, transforming, little-moment grace,” He has.

Teaching moment seized and utilized, heart lighter, sins forgiven, I am empowered to go and do likewise.

~ I’m thankful for the words from Paul Tripp and Psalm 65 this morning.

 

Brotherhood

The children marched through the door as they do each month, this time with remnants of glazed doughnuts still on their chins – a result of a field trip to a local Amish bakery on the way. As the elderly were assisted from their craft table into armchairs encircling the common area, the children were instructed to file around and shake hands. Some did so confidently. Others bravely fought bashfulness. Both the children and elderly alike.

I saw small hands, smooth with youth (and perhaps dirty under the fingernails), cupped in larger hands, wrinkled with years. Their fingernails were dirty once, too, perhaps.

The children sang loud “O beautiful, for spacious skies,” ignorant in youth, while several elderly mouthed along familiar lyrics with maybe a deeper understanding of the “liberating strife” in verse three.

I saw smiles from white haired women directed at the “precious children,” and the occasional nod of the head from glassy eyed men tired from life.

Poems recited by the children encouraged clapping from the older generation whose minds used to be sharp, and they knew it but couldn’t quite remember what it was they knew.

The children were instructed to “pick a friend” for the ring toss game. “Introduce yourself. Ask them about their family.” Some spoke louder than others. (Both children and elderly.) Some rambled on about something entirely unrelated to the question. Some conversations lasted a few seconds.

I saw small hands grasped by larger hands once more, lingering in their greetings. I saw awkward silence eased by a kind smile between a boy and a woman with nothing left to discuss. But in each pair of “friends” I saw the desire to communicate, whether by words or by touch. “I used to be like you,” the elderly thought.

Ring toss promoted comradery as teams cheered for each other. The children out-threw most of their team mates, who graciously accepted the limitations placed on their aged bodies. In the end, Old Ken and his young partner edged out Old Carl and his young partner in a tie breaker. Old Dean chuckled as he whacked Ken’s knee, “I thought you wouldn’t be able to do it!”

I heard laughter from the young and the old. And I realized the brotherhood spanning these generations, this creation made in the image of their Maker awaiting perfection and the frailty of life in young and old alike. I saw the mutual benefit of friendship – the children practicing respect of elders and valuing a gray head of wisdom, and the elderly remembering the joy of youth, anticipating the future gift of renewed bodies, and delighting in the innocence of children.

This brotherhood has nothing to do with America. It has to do with humanity, the need for grace, and the gleaming alabaster city of eternity, where each brother or sister of Christ (including this observer) will, in some way, get to be like children again.

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

 

Snowed In With Jonas

The roads were striped with brine, and pick-up trucks roamed the streets, already flexing their plow muscles, all too eager to take on the first few flakes that dare fall in their path.

A large handful of people – the wise ones – find themselves sharing comfort and comradery at the library, stocking up on books and DVDs should the power go out and we are forced to resort to something other than streaming.

Everyone else has flocked to Redner’s in the American first world fear of running out of bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

Not wanting to be one of the five foolish virgins who forgot to bring oil for her lamp while waiting out the night for the bridegroom (otherwise known as “Jonas”), I’ve joined the crowd at the library and choose to rejoice at the coming storm. (I’ll admit I also felt a tinge of trepidation and followed like a mad sheep into Redner’s for just a few items I didn’t want to be caught without.)

Even the hater came home from work on Friday with a flutter in his stomach. Sure, he gets stuck with the shoveling, but – two feet? This could be fun. Swim meet cancelled on Saturday, church services cancelled on Sunday. We’re not going anywhere.

And we didn’t. Saturday morning shed light on the fury of the night, revealing way more snow than anticipated, and no, it’s not done. You would have thought it was Christmas the way the boy grinned and giggled and couldn’t wait to suit up.

Okay, kids. Waffles it is. (Good thing I got maple syrup at Redner’s.)

Some mornings are meant for reading. The kids found their cozy nooks and dove into the library stockpile and their favorite authors (currently reading some Cynthia Lord, Wendy Mass, and Stan and Jan Berenstain).

Lunchtime presented yogurt parfaits with homemade granola at the request of one girl. (BB’s had kiwi and blueberries. We are a rich country indeed.) Soup simmered on the stove for dinner, and in between there were a few games, more reading, and more banter in the snow.

Lest you think it was all fun and games, human tendencies proved true, and our snow day in this household was not all daffodils and roses. A loud and cheerful greeting in the morning will be taken as a curse. The pioneer boy’s early excursion in the 10″ of snow ended in tears and disappointment as he realized there might actually be something as too much snow for a short kid. The middle child, the one who loves comfort and warmth and predictability, took her first step outside and got snow in her boot. She promptly gave up. The other two began throwing snow in each other’s faces. Funny – at first. Then, not so much. Someone didn’t replace the toilet paper roll. The words of the reckless can pierce like swords. Someone carelessly brought in snow to saturate my formerly dry and cozy socks. Tightened online security locks you out of your own account. My book is not quite what I was looking for. Oh wow, we actually do have to shovel this snow…

But a new morning brings new mercies. Sunday morning’s sunlight sparkles on our thirty plus inches. We can’t see our cars, but God bless the neighbor who gave us a head start by blowing off our sidewalk. I watched him from the window, coffee mug in hand, while the sky was still pale pink on the horizon and solitude gave me a few minutes of peaceful silence before dawn broke like a bull through the hall. (The bull actually being the boy.) A few finches frolic in the bushes, thankful for the sun. Sister Bear made oatmeal for Brother Bear as she gave ear and he rambled on about his dream. There are more kiwi and blueberries, chicken broth, maple syrup, and coffee. And in a few minutes our family will gather together in an act of worship, laying down our human tendencies at His feet, thankful for forgiveness and daily bread, and the strength to shovel snow.

Lord knows we’re going to need it today.

References have been made to the Parable of The Ten Virgins in Matthew 25; Proverbs 27:14, 12:18; and The Shins’ brilliant line in the song New Slang.