Balance

Sometimes after a hard week God sees fit to balance it out with good. Small things, usually, but balancing, nonetheless.

The broken door to the van was fixed. Not in a few days, but a few minutes, rather. And not for a few hundred bucks, but zero, actually. Thank you, Mike Shoup. You have no idea what that means to us…

The “dreaded chiropractic appointment” for the girl with the injured knee was attended to by a doctor who not only saw the problem, but is oh-so-good with kids. (She may have complained about the exercises she is now required to do, but I secretly found her working on them by herself. That’s – amazing.) Thank you, Dr. Ryan. You have no idea how grateful I am…

A much needed weekend may have begun a little too early on a Saturday morning for the likings of this woman who will never be a morning person, but once the cup of coffee was consumed and the caffeine began to work its magic, the day turned for the better. I don’t believe in evolution, but watching my second-born cut three seconds off her back stroke in her swim meet today gives me pause. And even though my back was sore from sitting in the bleachers for three hours at a crowded meet, my view of the handsome sixth-lane timer watching his daughter swim the back stroke kept my attitude light.

Laughter from the children at dinner, even when Cobb Salad was on the menu.

Perseverance from my son with his homework, and help from his father who refused to allow me to be burdened with it.

The beautiful, squeaky sounds of a flute and violin coming from the girls’ room without prodding and nagging to practice.

A family board game that is finally not Chutes and Ladders and was actually fun.

They’re small, these things that make my life easier. And it seems silly to even think of them when things are going on in the world that should pull my spirits down like a lead ball chained to an anchor, sinking to the darkest depths of the sea. But these things were given to me as a gift. They have put the slightest weight on the other end of the scale to give me a balance – the reminder that He – my Father in heaven- still loves me. He has not forgotten me. He knows my weakness and frailty, and this week He knew I needed a little boost. Little, yes. But a boost, nonetheless.

Thank you, Abba. I would say you have no idea… but, it’s obvious you do.

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Broken

The van door fell off last night. Yep, the door. To the minivan. Right off its hinge.

The six year old cried that we didn’t have a car, and then he transitioned suddenly into “helper” mode and held the light, got his plastic tool box, and offered the wrench.

I tried to push it back on. Kick it back on. (Mustered up a “thanks” for the wrench.) And then I realized defeat and had to wait for my husband to come home and put it back on. He did. And then I made an appointment at the garage. (Fortunately I have the mechanic’s phone number on speed dial, and he is so gracious about emergency 7:30pm phone calls from his daughter-in-law.)

That door was broken.

My daughter came home from swim practice early last night. An ailment that means doctor appointments, perhaps physical therapy. It means her life is not normal for a little while – I don’t know how long. It means time. It means money. It means patience. And it happened during a time that’s already fragile for her. Friendships. School. Math.

She’s broken.

And I want to fix it. The mama in me wants to go in and fix everything. A little because it makes my life easier when her life is easy, but mostly because I hurt when she hurts.

But that’s not how life works. And that’s an intentional thing, as far as God is concerned. (And well, isn’t He concerned with just about – everything?)

If life was easy, I wouldn’t need Him. Or I wouldn’t think I need Him. But in His grace, He allows things to break so that I will remember. And then He gives me faith to believe that He works all things for good.

Yes, for good.

Good in a broken van door? Yes, even in a broken van door.

Good in a bum knee? Yes, especially in a bum knee.

Do I trust Him? Yes, I trust Him. Does she trust Him? She says she does. Can we trust Him together? Yes, in our conversation about how things break, and how I wish I could fix it all for her, and how He gives us faith to trust Him with all of our hearts so He can make our paths straight, she nods her head yes. And a cloud lifts.

The dreaded chiropractic appointment is on Monday. The orthopaedic appointment sometime next week. (And somewhere in there a few days without a car so the door can be fixed.) But the Proverbs 3:5-6 verses are tucked in her lunchbox on a 3×5 card to remind her (us) that He has good plans for us, if only we will trust Him.

And fortunately for us, even the faith to trust Him, comes – from Him.

We are the broken, You are the Healer. Jesus, Redeemer, Mighty to save!

Fourteen

He can finally fill in his beard, and we’ve discovered it is speckled with just the tiniest amount of wisdom shaded gray. I have found need to loosen my belt yet another notch, and the mirror is constantly adding more long witch-hairs to pluck from my neck. The plaster mold is beginning to dry from crows feet freshly pressed around our eyes. Not just when we smile, but mostly when we smile.

We looked like babies all those years ago, and we still pinch each other as our three kids continue to do their “firsts”, firsts that we remember ourselves from just yesterday: first concert, first loose tooth, first grade, (fifth grade…sixth grade…).

And these fourteen years later we pinch ourselves as we look back on marriage, our first pet, our first house, three babies, sickness and health, plenty and want, joy and sorrow…

So he arranges to drop off the kids, take a small get-away* (but not too far), do dinner and a movie, get back to our little B&B to pop a cork and toast to another year.

Because fourteen years is a lot to celebrate. Not that we smiled the whole way through it (there is a lot between the lines of “in joy and in sorrow”, and vows are a heavy price to speak) but each year we smile a little deeper. Our crows feet can’t lie.

*If you’re looking for a fun date night, my personal suggestions are to see Star Wars, pick up some tasty quesadillas from La Borimex, then go down the street to 1777 Americana Inn where Bob and Denise provide a romantic setting and also a good brew. And if board games are your thing, Ticket to Ride is fun. Especially when you win. (What can I say? My husband has always made me feel like he’s got my back.)

A Little Help Today, Please?

You know those mornings when you wake up, and perhaps it’s because the sun has not even risen yet, but it’s more that the heart has been dark since even the night before, and it feels a bit anxious and empty? Those mornings when even your cup of coffee is not quite hot enough, and the light is too dim to read anything helpful, but your heart is too dull to absorb anyway.

Sometimes I wonder where God is, and why He left me hanging on a morning like this.

Target is empty. Perhaps a Christmas tune would find its way into my head and slowly melt into my soul. But I left there not even remembering the sound of music at all.

Sometimes I wonder where God is, and if I could just see Him, even quickly catch a glimpse as I push my cart past the home furnishings section…

Walmart is emptier. Not that it wasn’t full of shoppers… I’m just hoping to quickly snatch up a Spider Man action figure for a gift, but I abandon my basket and head back to the car.

God, show yourself, please!

I somewhat aimlessly drive a few miles, in a long gravel drive, put the van in park to idle, then quickly decide to shut it off. I enter the back door, the one reserved for people comfortable enough to enter without knocking.

Through the glass, my brother’s frame is moving to the sound of the guitar molded to his hands. Already I feel lighter. I slide open the door, he finishes a few measures and grins at me with that smile of his. Mom calls from down the hall.

I just came to see how his test went, to inquire of her about a milk delivery, to seek comfort in the rocking chair next to the Christmas tree.

But really I’ve come because I’m lonely, and God didn’t really seem to pull through today, because what I really need is a voice I can hear, someone’s arms about me in a hug, the sound of music, a conversation.

Then, as I’m there, God shows up. He brought me the music. He called comfortingly down the hall. He put his arms around me. He talked to me in the kitchen. And the tears came, yes because I had been lonely, but also because here was God, giving me himself to see in a little (taller than me) brother, the one with a trimmed beard wearing pajama pants and holding a guitar, handing me a tissue. And here was God, listening to me as she washed up mugs in the sink, conversing with me as He spoke his very own words from the book of James with her familiar voice. They didn’t need to say much. They just needed to be there, because He was there.

Of course He was with me all morning, but He was merciful enough to meet me in my humanity through other humans today. He sent me out of Target and Walmart, still searching, so I would end up in that little kitchen with people who were the hands and voice of Himself on a morning when I just felt like I needed to see Him, and my heart was just a bit too dark and dull to notice that He had been with me the whole time.

Real, Not Normal

She couldn’t sleep. Her brain revisited the mental checklist of things to pack. Her swollen abdomen got in the way as she rolled over – again – searching for that non-existent comfortable position. Every once in a while she could forget the discomfort and thought about him. What would he look like? What would he be like? And she dreamed of cradling him in her arms, then she groaned as he kicked her from within, he too trying to find a comfortable position. Her back ached. Her swollen feet throbbed. She got a charley horse in her left calf muscle. What to pack? Roll over – again. She couldn’t sleep.

That is possibly the only similarity she had with Mary.

She didn’t have to fit everything into a saddle bag. She sat on fluffed up pillows on her five minute drive (in a minivan, not on a donkey) to the hospital. (Unlike the surprise of no room at the inn, there was plenty of room there.) She didn’t wince as a donkey lumbered over the dirt roads. Her drive was paved and smooth. (Save the large bump when you cross over Lancaster Avenue with ample ditches on either side for water runoff. A man surely designed that stretch of road with no regard for women in labor.) And being her third time, she had a bit of an idea of what she wanted to pack, although her playlist changed from day to day and she forgot her slippers from home and the tennis ball used for back pain.

And oh yeah, she knew what the father looked like. And even though he was a bit terrified, this wasn’t his first time either, and he wasn’t being asked to raise a child that wasn’t his fault. Nope. This was definitely of his own doing.

She had a bed which conveniently dropped off at the end and people who cleaned up the mess. She had medication available at her disposal. She had a toilet to flush. She had a help button to push. She had nurses who were willing to take the baby for a few hours so she could sleep.

For me, the birthday of my son was wonderful, breathtaking, allbeit exhausting, and entirely…normal (to a mother from the 21st century).

For Mary the mother of Jesus? Her experience was not so normal.

I have a picture from a few Christmases ago. My brother sits on the sofa near a woman, the wife of another brother, with my daughter wedged in the middle. A caption reads “(Not a real family)”.

If someone had taken a snapshot of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, perhaps it could have been captioned “(Not a real family)”. Or maybe that’s just what everyone was thinking as they walked down the street. After all, Mary had never actually slept with her husband Joseph. She had never actually seen the face of the baby’s Father. Joseph pretty much adopted this baby that his wife was bearing even though she was apparently a virgin. (I don’t exactly envision Joseph sitting on the front stoop, smoking a cigar with his buddies who are smacking him on the back with congratulatory remarks, like, “Atta boy, Joe!” Or “Way to go, Buddy!” Come to think of it, the baby himself had actually been sent away from heaven by his Father.

Not exactly the warm fuzzy picture you want to wish for anyone on his birthday, or wish for the parents as they experience the birth of their first son.

But that is exactly what makes this birthday so absolutely wonderful and breathtaking. We wouldn’t want this to be a “normal” birth story, or a “normal” family.

Immanuel – “God with us” – was not a “normal” man. Who else was born with the purpose to save His people from their sin? To shine a Light into the dark world? To help those of us who are single moms, lonely dads, adopted children, children who are waiting to be adopted, hurting spouses, couples who yearn for a child, people who yearn for a spouse, widows, widowers, people who have had lots of lovers but have never known love? To redeem those of us with unmanageable mortgages, addictions, angry children, no jobs, no joy? (Maybe God had some insight as to what a “normal” would look like in 2015. After all, He sympathizes with us in our weakness, yes? I think there is good reason He was not born to a well established middle class family.)

God was born. And because of it, a “Real Family” was created. A family in which He is the brother of all who believe that “the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.” And if you know Him as your Brother, you know His Father as your Father.

A “Real Family” these days is not necessarily a “normal” family. I am grateful Mary couldn’t sleep that night. And I am grateful there was nothing normal about the birth of her son.

Silence

Silence is
Writer’s block
No time
Emptiness
Dryness
But really it is
Fear
Anger
Restraint
Sadness
Confusion
Wisdom
Internal wrestling
Hurt
Good
Retreat
Flight
Hiding
Safe

I have been silent for a time. The fear I expressed in the beginning of this writing  challenge has exposed its ugly face and has chased me into the dark shadows to wrestle with my thoughts.

But a season of Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the season of Advent – of hope, love, joy, and peace – is upon us. And if I keep quiet, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:40).

How can I keep silent? Has my heart been emptied of thankfulness?

No. I could blame it on being an introvert. I just needed some “alone time”. But I think the wrestling match against myself has reached an intermission, and I need more practice in being joyful always and giving thanks in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:16).

Being thankful is a feeling. Giving thanks and rejoicing are actions.

So I refill my ink pen, put pen to paper (or fingers to keypad), and practice rejoicing and giving thanks.

I’ve lost my voice. But despite my weakness and fragility, it’s time to take action. Slowly, patiently, but persistently, I will try to keep those stones silent.

Fall

Swirling, whirling, gently twirling,
Skies have darkened, tauntingly.
Mild, not cold.
Brown, not white.
Commotion, not silent.
A breeze beckons trees, unfurling,
To unload their burdens, hauntingly.
I stand among this dancing fall
Surrounded by an autumn squall.