Transitions

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Another summer has FLOWN by, and I find myself again stuffing backpacks, packing lunches, and walking smiling faces to school each day.  How the year drags on and the summer flies by remains a mystery to me.  Yet, here I am, and there they are.

In school.

This school year marked a couple of transitions for our household:  the first year Little Angel made it to “big school”, and the first year Big Boy went to Junior High.  Yes, Junior High.  As if…

Most of those close to me thought Angel Baby’s move would be the hardest on me (myself included), but to my surprise, that has not turned out to be the case.

Junior High.

Let me say it another way:  J-U-N-I-O-R-H-I-G-H!!!!!

Now, why the emphasis, Jess?  Why the drama?  Because I just simply cannot believe it.  I can’t believe my sweet child is old enough to be in junior high.  I can’t believe I am old enough to have a kid in junior high. How the heck did that happen?  How did the time pass so quickly?  Wasn’t I just chasing him around the house in circles? (Oh, I actually was.  Never mind.)  Anyway, wasn’t he just learning how to brush his teeth and say “ball” for the first time?  Wasn’t he pointing out every truck that went by and screaming out the names of them?  “Bulldozer! Excavator! Banana!”

And now he is in junior high.  He walks to school without me.  He won’t hug me goodbye (it’s ok…I gave it up for him.  FOR HIM!).  He texts me on his cell phone (*yikes*) as he walks home…without me.  He changes classes without guidance.  How did this happen?! When did I blink my eyes for that faint moment that he went from diapers to football practice?  It all seems so unfair, yet so very right.

Big Boy is a giant child.  Always has been.  Born at 22 inches, he has been heads and shoulders above the rest from day one.  Literally.  That being the case, he’s likewise always been considered as “older” than he actually is.  A problem this was when he was four and people expected him to act like a six-year old.  But now he fits into his body, both in time and space.  Now that giant body has a purpose; to get itself through junior high.  Watching him walk off to school that first day gave my heart both a tug and a sense of fulfillment as I watched a now young man actually BE old enough to fit into his “young man body”…as off to junior high he went.

And behind I stayed.  Behind to consider what was actually happening right in front of me; all the changes I had to adjust to.  I was still wrestling with the fact that both he and I were old enough for the words “junior high” to even be in our vocabulary when I also had to wrestle with how little he now needs me.  He walks to and from school without me.  Changes classes without me.  Organizes (ha!) his homework without me.  Discusses issues with his teachers on his own.  And gets home SO MUCH LATER!!  I’m used to him getting home at 3:30, but now 4:30? I can barely stand it!

But wait….then this….

Insert bursting through the door after day 1 of junior high:  “Hey Mom!  I ran into the football coach at school today.  He wants me to play!  Can I?”

Well, Dad being…ahem…you know…of COURSE it was ok!

“Great!  It starts today!  We have practice every day after school, except Wednesday, till 6:15!”

WWWHHAATT?!?!?!? I thought I had to get used to you coming home at 4:30, not 6:15!!!  NO, this is NOT ok.  No! NO! NO!”

“Awesome, buddy.  That sounds great!” (Now I’ll go unswallow my tongue.)

“Oh, and there’s more, mom.  We play with the 7th and 8th graders and next to the high schoolers!  We share water jugs with them.”

(I’m sorry.  Could someone please scrape my corpse off the sidewalk right now?)

Weakly…“Great, buddy.  That will be so fun!”

Ok, hold the phone! (Haven’t heard that in a while, have you?)  So now I need to get used to you going to/coming from school without me, getting home at 6:15, being old, AND surrounding yourself with crazy pre-teen AND teen boys?!?!  Oh sure, just go ahead and GROW UP in one single, solitary day!  (Remember, this was the FIRST day of school that the football scenario went down.) Here you go kid: The World.  Have at it.

Except, inside, I’m dying!  Trying with all my might to Let Go and Let God because the Lord Himself knows, He’s got it from here!  All of me wants to control my pre-teen’s surroundings, his environment, to make it as safe, holy, purposeful, and protective as possible.  But I can’t.  And I shouldn’t.  That’s God’s job, not mine.  All I know I can do is supply Big Boy with ample love, support, faith, and as many prayers as possible at home while hoping beyond hope that that is enough to carry him into the big, bad world.  I knew and know that the days are coming when my input into his life is a mere trifle, a breeze really.  He will have to make decisions on his own.

I knew the day was coming.  I just knew.

I just hoped it wouldn’t.

God bless you, Big Boy.  You are the single greatest, solitary YOU in the whole world, and I am honored to be your momma.  Godspeed, my love.

 


Life Gets in the Way

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WOW!  Hello forgotten keys.  Hello abandoned blog.  Hello 368 spam comments!

Life got in the way.

Isn’t it crazy how that happens?  You are moving along, whether slowly or frantically, going through your days one at a time, when all of a sudden, you realize it hasn’t been one day at a time.  It’s been days upon days, weeks upon weeks, months upon months (and sometimes years upon years) SINCE….

Since what?

-Since whatever it is that once was, now isn’t.

-Since you started that home repair project.

-Since you called your mom and dad.

-Since you wrote a blog entry (*cough, cough*).

-Since you exercised.

-Since you read your Bible.

-Since you got together with that friend for coffee.,

-Since you said thank-you to the barista who hands you your perfectly-brewed cup in the morning.

-Since you told your spouse how beautiful/handsome he/she looks today.

-Since you had that idea….

Our intentions always start off well (Ok, the intention stays positive, the action…not so much), but then…well, life gets in the way.

There are those interruptions that no one wants, the ones that God has picked out for our paths specifically to encourage us grow (is anyone else cringing at the thought?).  That particular batch of interruptions comes in the unwelcome category of “trial”, and can be addressed in a completely different blog post…or a series of posts.

But then there are the interruptions to our schedules which (thank You, Lord) are not trials in the form of trauma, accident, illness, or injury, but are trial by means of schedule destruction.  The parts of life that are “life” and get in the way of “living”:  soccer practice, playdates, mystery reader, carpool, parent/teacher conferences, grocery shopping (again!), cold-weather laundry (which packs a punch compared to summer wear), birthday parties, homework, recitals, doctors’ appointments, more soccer practice, and on and on we go.

And the next thing you know, life already happened, but you don’t remember living it.

If you are anything like me, you wake up one morning to find that, somehow, a week has passed you by.  Or someone asks you how your weekend was, and you cannot remember having one.

-“What did you do this weekend?”

The answer I dream of giving:  “Oh, I slept in, snuggled with the kids while I sipped my coffee, then we went on a family hike and had a picnic on Stone Mountain.  Movie night after.  Sunday?  Oh, just church, then lots of football to watch.  That’s it!  You?”

Reality:  “Well, I got up before the sun on Saturday to teach a class. Then, I ran to the grocery store because I realized I was snack leader for JT’s basketball game.  I ran home to get him changed, then dragged him and two whiny, complaining lumps of human to “cheer” him on at his game.  (He won, by the way. Yea!)  After that, I took them to get hair cuts, bribing them with promises to treats if they would just sit still.  Then, two of the three had birthday parties to go to, one of which was 40 minutes away.  So, I spent the next three hours driving from spot to spot.  When we got home, I started dinner while they showered, made my first cup of coffee for the day, then joined them at the table to listen to them complain about how horrible the food was I had just made.  As usual, I dumped it down the drain. Sunday, we had church, two more birthday parties, and the season’s first soccer mini-camps.  Tried to fix our plugged tub drain. Didn’t work. You?”

<pause to breathe….>

And then I wonder how time got away from me.

Thought much of what I have described deals with the time-sucking vacuum that is parenthood, the reality is, it doesn’t matter a lick whether you have kids or not.  Life still gets in the way.

Work projects. Social functions. The class you always wanted to take. Helping others. Commuting. Cleaning. Laundry.

No matter your current position in life, the schedule and/or activities we intend to pursue just don’t always happen. (I say as my puppy insists I pick him up RIGHT NOW!)  But then, here is the rub:  we…let me speak for myself…I need to be intentional about my intentions. I need to make time/space/effort for the things I INTEND to do because otherwise, the “intendees” will get bowled over by every day living.  And even the best of intentions doesn’t do anybody a lick of good if they  are left sitting on the shelf somewhere.

Don’t INTEND to meet your friend for coffee.  Actually pick up the phone (ok, text) and schedule something.  Make use of that life-sucking commute to call your parents.  Set your alarm for 30 minutes before your bedtime each night to remind yourself to slow your fanny down and read or pray for 30 minutes (if you can stay awake).  Hire someone to finish that house project you started but never completed.

JUST. DO. IT! (Sorry, Nike.)

I’m speaking to myself here.  I’m the queen of letting life take over and letting the intentions rot.

What about you?  How do you need to fulfill your intentions today?

 

 

 


Mommydom Is…(Part 4, the FINALE)

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Not that this list can end at 100, but….

76. Understanding why a momma bear is a “momma bear” and finding yourself privately cheering her on.

77. Pulling tiny objects out of tiny orifices into which they never should have been shoved.

78. Becoming a master scheduler.

79. Somehow duplicating yourself to be in three places at the same time.

80. Experiencing the greatest joys and hardest trials of your life.

81. Watching your marriage morph into a match of tag-team wrestling, handling, mediating, and “task-ing”.

82. Snuggles.  Lots of snuggles.

83. Realizing that somewhere along the way, you began doing the unthinkable as you mindlessly find yourself licking your finger (oh yes, you do!) and smearing it on Peanut’s face to remove a sticky, red-colored something.

84. Always having baby wipes on hand (even when they are in high school).

85. Seeing your time in the sun transition from casually waltzing onto the beach with towel in hand to a pre-planned, highly-calculated maneuver involving two layers of sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, suit cover-ups, beach blankets, an elephant-sized umbrella, snacks that won’t attract sand, shovels, pails, goggles, body boards, floats, balls, more snacks, water bottles, a camera, and a cart to schlep it all.  (I’m tired just thinking about it.)

86. Wiping away tears every time you see her twirl.

87. Beaming with pride every time you see him open the door for her.

88. Constant reminders that “your hair is not a napkin”.

89. Growing skin thick enough to withstand seeing every dinner you make end up in the garbage disposal.

90. Hiding your unintelligence as your elementary-aged kids spout off more Spanish than you will ever know.

91. Secretly googling “new methods of long division” so you can help your pups do their homework with a shred of dignity.

92. Living with the understanding that planning anything for yourself during the day will inevitably fall like the walls of Jericho because you WILL receive a call from the school right as you head to your destination.

93. Hiring a babysitter so you can take a shower.

94. Becoming hyper-vigilant about every possible threat to their well-being (BULLY! GERM! POTHOLE! CAR! OUTLET! BROTHER! BUTTERKNIFE! POLLEN! AUTOMATIC DOOR!).  

95. Seeing snow, flowers, puppies, or even rocks for the millionth time..for the first time.

96. Finding yourself staring at them for no reason.

97. Taking thousands of pictures.

98. Understanding more and more how Christ REALLY LOVES us.

99. Wondering how God could trust you with something as precious as His littlest angels.

100. The greatest, most wonderful, most challenging, most humbling experience of your life.

 

…And so much more.


Talents Hidden

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As I’ve been writing this blog over the last couple of months, I have been amazed at what it has done for me. The changes I have seen and felt in myself have been profound.  It has been a mystery why that could be so.  Why is putting random thoughts on a computer screen cathartic for me?  Why does it make me feel free; alive?

I’ve thought about these questions quite a bit (Are you surprised?  Brain doesn’t stop, remember?). And this is what I’ve come up with…

Let me take you on a journey.

In Matthew 20, Jesus shares the parable of the talents.  Biblically-speaking, a talent was a sum of money equal to a bit more than $1000.  In the parable, a business man leaves for an extended period of time and entrusts his wealth to three of his servants, giving each of them a different amount of money:  five, two, and one talent each.  The servants handle their boss’ funds each in his own way while their employer is abroad.  The servant with five talents “put his money to work” (v. 6), earning five more.  Same with the servant with two talents.  But the servant with one talent, knowing how hard, shrewd, and money-hungry his boss was, buries the one talent entrusted to him to be assured of its safety and to return it in time to its proper owner.

When the boss-man returns, he is overjoyed by the earnings of the first two men and infuriated by the protective actions of servant #3.  He even takes the well-protected and safely-kept talent away from servant #3 and gives it to servant #1.

Now, stop right here.  My brain yells at me, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Now this guy right here, servant #3, was the only SMART one in the group!  The other two took something that did not belong to them and “played poker” with it!  They could have lost EVERY CENT. What then?  What would boss-man say then, huh?  Would he be so very proud of them THEN?!  Servant #3 should be PRAISED for protecting a gift given to him by someone else and ensuring its safe return.  Boss-man totally missed it!  Jerk!”

I feel so badly for servant #3!  “I get it, buddy.  I see what you were doing.  I’d have done the same thing.  Play it safe, that’s right.  Bring it in for a hug; I got your back.”

This is how I live my life.  Safe and sound.  Small.  No sudden movements.  No big changes. Keep it close, keep it near, keep it sanitized.

And yet somehow, I have a feeling God is telling me that maybe my view is not quite right.  Maybe God is Boss-man and the “talents” are the talents you and I know in contemporary language.  Maybe they are the gifts of life given to be lived out.  Maybe burying those gifts is the same as slapping handcuffs on them, putting them in a chokehold, or not letting them fly.  And maybe–just maybe–if we put them out there, He will let them multiply.

I am not very good at naming or claiming the talents I feel God has given me.  To do so feels haughty, prideful, or even delusional, as if I decided the nature of my own talents, when really I was living in a dream.  However, were I to try to name my God-gifts, I feel they would fall into the arena of communications:  speaking and writing.  Both have come naturally to me (whether this means I am a Chatty Kathy is another topic altogether).  But somewhere in time, I watched those talents succumb to the pieces of my life-story, getting buried further and further underground.

Before I met Hubby, I did my fair share of public speaking; on behalf of work, to represent my graduating class, to share my testimony, etc.  Additionally, it had always been a dream of mine to write:  to write a book, devotionals, articles, whatever.  But, as the Lord would direct, He brought me to a man whose talents happen to fall into the same category as mine, and happens to be exceedingly good at them.  I figured that my job, as his wife, was to take the skills I had and just put them to the side.  Plus, who would want me when they could have him?  I fell into the shadows, both by society’s pull and my own self-deprecation.

For 15 years, I have sat in that place, with talents buried.  But in that time, I have turned my inward decision–to bury my talents–into an outward expression of resentment toward Hubby.  I have taken out on him something I did to myself (sounds like an entry for my “Stupid Things” page).  Even writing those words shows me how unfair that was to him.  (Sorry, babe…)  And yet, I felt I was the one wronged all this time.  Like the one using his talent (Exhibit A:  Servant #1) was being rewarded while the one burying hers (Exhibit B:  Servant #3) was being punished, having the talents entrusted to her given to servant #1.

I think it may be time to unearth what the Good Lord entrusted to me, which is why I have devised this blog.  As it was with servants #1 and #2, putting the talents “to work” involves a great deal of risk, even to the point of loss.  I am left to wonder:  Am I brave enough to risk it?  To risk losing something I’ve kept buried, hidden, protected for so long?  What if the talent is no longer any good?  What if I put it “to work” and come back empty-handed?

That leaves me with a choice.  I can either keep my talent hidden away, possibly stifling something God meant to live free and hoarding along with it a cavalcade of resentment and bitterness, or I can unearth a hidden treasure and see if God lets it soar.  Am I strong enough to risk it?

Heck yeah.

Thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to breathe free.  Now let’s see if I can fly!

 

Thought to ponder:  What talents have you kept buried or hidden that you are willing to set free?  Let me know.

 

 


Afternoon Showers

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I’m a Florida girl.

“But, you’re from Ohio, Jess!”

Yeah, well, my parents never got the memo.  (Sorry, guys.)  I spent my Ohio days huddled on top of the heater with a blanket wrapped around me, complaining an endless rant about not being able to feel my body parts.  “Mom, my fingers are white with red splotches!  Is that bad?”  Even as a toddler, I tried to relay the message to my parents’ Ohio-planted ears by taking my first steps on a Great Lakes beach.  Even then I knew.  I knew the sand was my earth, the waves my soul, the water my body, and the salty air my breath.  I feel alive with the shore; as if being with  the water gives me my only chance to really breathe.  To take it in.  To breathe its life.  And to be one with the One who created it all.

To me, God is no more real, no more present, than He is on the shoreline.  He tickles my feet with every wave that washes ashore.  He laughs with me as I hear His voice in the call of the seagulls.  He plays in the water as a dolphin puts on a majestic performance.  He touches my cheek as the breeze blows past.  God is everywhere on the beach to me.

And sometimes He shows Himself in power.  As comforting and soothing as the gentle lapping of green-flagged waves can be, double-red flagged crashers show a terrifying (yet captivating) display of ferocity.  Another sign of God’s presence to me.  What a tangible reminder that God Himself has many faces, many moods, and myriad ways of expressing Himself.  It’s often easy to welcome the sun-filled days of playful waves, and yet so very difficult to welcome the gray-clouded, lightning-infused days of thunderous turmoil.  And yet, both are open signs of God expressing Himself to us.  I know I certainly have both kinds of days in my relationships with family members. If I hope to be accepted and welcomed in both sun and stormy weather, then I must be willing to accept both sun and stormy weather.  (True; easier said than done.)

One of Florida’s fancy little secrets is its almost ritualistic afternoon showers.  Though they can be a pain in the patooty, those little rain drops can be a very welcome visitor.  You see, it rains a lot in Florida.  But never for long.  That’s the secret (Darn!  I spilled the beans).  Once the sky gets all gloomy and scary-looking, opportunity awaits!  Why?  Because those who don’t know the secret, leave!  They pack up all their beach toys, sunscreen, floaties, and umbrellas and say, “Well, it was a nice day at the beach/park/Magic Kingdom today, but we should probably wrap it up now.”

Then, TA-DA!!!  Those of us who know “the secret” suddenly have the beach/park/Magic Kingdom to ourselves!  Hot diggidy dog!  Oh, yeah, and since it rained, it’s a lot cooler now. (Ok, and the humidity has reached rainforest levels, but you win some and you lose some.)  You see, if you just wait out the storm, it passes much quicker than you expected, and the end result is much, much sweeter.

Case in point:  Saturday, I had the blessed opportunity to take my kids to Disney World for the day.  You see, it wasn’t just any day, it was my birthday, which is the next national holiday…be on the lookout.  My most selfish day of the year.  Anyway, March 29 being the last weekend of Orlando’s spring break, they were expecting record-breaking crowds.  Multiple hour waits for every ride.  Parking lots closed because they reached peak capacity.  But they were also expecting rain.  An opportunity!!

So off we went, ponchos in tow, to enjoy a very uncertain day at the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  Three hours in, the rain began.  Then the lightning came.  Then the tornado watches.  And finally, the tornado warnings.  Undaunted (because we knew the secret), we found our way to a cement-walled bathroom and waited.  Other joyful wait-ers entertained me with a boisterous round of “Happy Birthday”.  We ran from one solid spot to another in between lightning strikes.  And then, as expected, it ended.

Out came the sun, and away went the crowds.  Oh, happy day!!

We never waited more than 40 minutes after that.  Bless You, Jesus, for the rain!!

Bless You, Jesus, for the rain.

Huh.  How many times in life do I actually say that?

How often do I actually THANK God for the storms?  For the rain?  For the trials?  For the gray clouds of life?  Not very often.  I mean, why would I ever THANK God for the tough times?  What good would there be in stopping my day, changing my plans, and dealing with soggy, wet shoes?  

Perhaps maybe, just maybe, the crowds dissipate after the storm passes.  Maybe the thoughts stop swirling.  Maybe the fears take a trip to Alaska.  Maybe the hurts and sorrows call it a day.

And then maybe…just maybe…the sun will come out. 

Florida’s storms rarely last long.  In hurricane season, such is not the case, and certainly life bears multiple hurricanes.  But how many more of our stormy moments come and go in a seeming flash?  When the wind is howling and the rain is pummeling us, it is easy to give in to the darkness.  In those moments, the hope of sunny skies seems a distant and unattainable dream.  We are being beaten down, leaving very little energy for optimism.  Goodness knows, I have resorted to optimism only in emergency situations.  

But what if I didn’t?  What if I grabbed hold of optimism at the first sign of cloudy skies?  Storms a-comin’ means glory ahead.  The chance to grow, learn, reach, and hold on with each thundercloud.  The chance to rely on God until the skies clear.  And then to face the rainbow.  What better promise is there?

I just have to hold on.

Because sooner or later, and usually sooner, that Florida shower will pass away.  Then it’s clear skies ahead; calm and serene…until the next shower, and the next chance to “hang on”.

I have to admit; even though I am writing about the joys of hanging on during those thunderous moments, I’m only now beginning to learn how to do so.  Would you like to try this out with me?  Let me know of your most recent personal thundercloud and what God shared with you during your storm.


I Know What the Problem Is!…Right?

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A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned having a “neck injury”.  At the time, the doctors and massage therapists told me that something was causing the muscles in my neck to spasm, thereby causing a 15-day headache.  I was told that the condition was bad enough that should I move the wrong way, I could snap something I really didn’t want to snap.  

There was no denying it from my end.  I was in pain!!  I felt like someone inserted concrete into my neck and upper back during the night.  (If I ever find that guy….)  My head hurt so badly that I kept trying to quiet my children by simply placing my hand directly over their noise portal and just letting it sit there till they got the point. (Bless them; they got the point quickly.) Light hurt.  Noise hurt.  Air hurt.  And before long, my teeth hurt.  That’s when I knew I wasn’t dealing with a regular headache.

I spent the next week in and out of massage therapy, leaving the masseuse shocked every time the tension didn’t subside.  I took muscle relaxers to try to get the spasm to let up; I may as well have been taking Tic-Tacs.  They did absolutely no good.  I kept smearing Orajel all over my mouth to try to get the tooth pain to stop.

Nothing helped.

And then a strange thing happened.  During the night, I woke up to find the entire left side of my mouth in extreme pain.  I attributed it to a new mouthguard I was using, and in my oh-so-delicate manner, chucked the dumb thing across the room, finding it two days later.  I downed some Advil and was able to make it until morning without breaking every dish in the house out of “pain frustration”.  (That’s a real thing…look it up…Ok, no it isn’t.) But by the next day, it was apparent that something was definitely amiss in my mouth.

An after-hours trip to the dentist would confirm it:  I had shattered a wisdom tooth.  Great!  So on top of the neck injury, now I’ve shattered a tooth?!

“Not ‘on top of’, Jess.  This could be your problem.”

“What?!  My neck pain could be related to this tooth?”

“Yes indeed.”

“TAKE IT OUT NOW!!!!!!”

So my sweet dentist (Lord, bless the man) yanked that tooth out of my head right then and there.  No dental assistants.  No oral surgeon.  Just me, him, and a big-ole vice grip.

Instantly.  I mean, INSTANTLY, the pain in my head and neck oozed down and out of my body.  As if that tooth were the capstone holding an entire building of pressure and pain in the structure of my humanity.  Gone.

And because of a tooth.  

All this time, we thought it was my neck.  I thought it.  My doctor thought it.  My massage therapist thought it.  We had no reason not to believe so.  You could FEEL the tension in my muscles.  It just had to be my neck.

But it wasn’t.

The source of my pain wasn’t was I thought it was.

Huh.

I wonder how many other times that has happened in my life.  How many other times, and in what other ways, have I tried to fix, mend, care for, improve, or repair part of my life because it was the “source” of my pain, but it actually wasn’t?  How many times have I tried to fix, mend, care for, improve, or repair OTHER PEOPLE because they were the “source” of my pain?  How often do I assume I know that I know that I know the “source” of my pain, only to find out that I didn’t know anything at all?

Should I start to list all these mistakes, I would shock you.  I would shock me.  Then I would crawl in a hole….

Maybe it is time to start questioning my certainties about my pain.  Time to stop assuming I know what (or who) the problem is, and to lay it before God and leave it to Him to show me the source.  Even though I’m right all the time (cough, cough), I have been known to make a mistake or two.  I would hate for those mistakes to lead me, or anyone else, to even more pain.

In the old movie, “IQ”, Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins were challenged by Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau) to “question everything”.  Clearly, in this area of my life, I need to question everything.  And then to be open to the response… which sadly usually lands right in my lap.

After all, you may never know when your headache may be coming from your heart.

 

 


The Big Race

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I had the privilege of running a couple of road races today with my little buddies:  a one-miler for Little Man and a 5K for Big Boy.  Racing has long been special to me, and I have enjoyed watching that trend carry on to my mini-humans.  Something fun that we can do together.  I just love that.

The boys have spent the last couple of months “training” for this race.  Their rigorous work includes one 45 minute “track club” once a week, many of which were rained out.  That being said, preparation was not at a maximum for this rip-roaring event.

 I tried several times to get them to practice outside of track club, offering to run and lunge hither and yon with them, but each attempt was met with such contempt that I must admit, I gave up.  Each time, I lost the battle to their whines and complaints with the self-argument of, “Why would I want to waste my time dragging them through the streets?  Let them learn the hard way!”.  Yes, I lost my battle each time…save one.  On my winning day, I did indeed do some dragging, but to my delight, Little Man met my match and ran his little heart out, earning himself a pair of new tennis shoes (don’t tell him he actually needed them…).  Big Boy, however.  Well, let’s just say he heard many a parental discourse on the importance of trying your best over the next day or two.

So today was the big day!  In times past, preparation has equaled that of this year, but Big Boy was still able to pull of a magnificent performance, probably fueled by his desire to show off in front of his classmates, many of whom were running alongside him.  This was Little Man’s first event, and his tenacity was palpable.  Maybe it was the number of times he said, “I wish this day had never been born!” that clued me in.

In order to be a good mommy, I promised each boy that I would run alongside him in his successive race.  To my utter delight, Little Man, in all his nervousness, didn’t stop one time!  He ran the entire mile like he had jets on his feet!  The pride and self-confidence he gained today was a much needed gift to this anxiety-ridden peanut.  I was so proud of him.  I’m still beaming.

Then came the 5K.  An important piece of information to share is that this particular race is a qualifier for a much larger race.  That being said, I value my personal race time for this event, and in times past, have let Daddy run with Big Boy so I could clock in properly.  This time, however, I decided to forfeit.  That’s right.  I left my own desires in the dirt to race with my boy at his pace(aren’t I amazing?!).  I knew that he wouldn’t go down without a fight on those roadways, and I wanted to cheer him on.

Only in my dreams.

That child flat out quit running by the first 1/4 mile.

I watched as all my competitors blazed by me, happily leaving me in their dust.  (Ok, truth…they all gave me that “knowing look”.)  My legs tried to LEAP off my body and run the race themselves because CLEARLY this was not what I had planned.  This is not what my LEGS had planned!  And this walking?  Well, walking was NOT on my radar (I don’t rest, remember?).

“It’s ok, Jessica.  Enjoy your time with your son.  Encourage him.  Spur him on.  Feel his pains.”

“Mom, my ankles hurt.  My knees hurt.  My chest hurts.  My stomach hurts.  I need WATER!”

REALLY, kid?  You’re WALKING!

“That’s ok, honey.  Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth.  Let the downhills take your body with them.  Work on the uphills.  Rest on the downhills.”  (Just MOVE, kid!!)

Yeah, he wasn’t having it.  He saw through my attempts at sympathy and felt my frustration.  I wanted to be there with him, to sympathize with him, to run with him, to encourage him.  Yet my body wanted to RUN.  I was having an internal collision!

The very last stretch of the race, and the finish line, were on a steep decline.  I let him know it was coming and worked to encourage him:  “Ok, buddy, here we go!  Downhill the rest of the way! Go, go, go!!”

And “go” he did.  He totally left me!  Flew across the finish line, leaving me 50 yards behind, and, if I’m honest, leaving me to look like a total doofus crossing the finish line at a–oh, I can’t even type it–45 minute run time, 20 minutes past my average (I need to pause to cry.)  I was so humiliated that I didn’t even cross the finish.  I just couldn’t do it.

What a fool I am!  Here I was sacrificing my run to spend time with my buddy, and yet I realize; I didn’t really sacrifice anything.  My heart was still in the run, not in the boy.  How often do I do things like this?  How often do I “give something up” for someone else only to find out it was really for me after all?  Far more than I would like to admit, I’m afraid.

And now I’m even more humiliated.


A Knock At the Door

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An interesting thing happened during the night last night.  Normally, I attune my mid-night wakings to the likes of temperatures, not feeling “quite so right, mommy”, or lots of “I’m scared, can I sleep with you”‘s.  Randomly, our dog does a happy dance during the midnight hours that I can only contribute to his personal affection for the light of the moon.  A tribute by means of wagging, growling, and running (after all, isn’t that how we ALL express our enthusiasm?).

Last night took a much different tune, however, as deep into my slumber, I was awakened by a loud rasping on the door.  Waking quickly, I had NO idea what time it was, but assumed it must have been close to morning, and a neighbor had lost a dog or something of the like.  I looked at the clock:  1:00am.  What in the world?

Big boy woke with a start.  “Mommy! What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure, buddy.  There is someone at the door.”

“Who is it?  Don’t answer!  I’m SCARED!”

“That’s ok, buddy.  I’ll take care of it.”

And as I looked down the stairs through our glass-paned door, I saw the figure of a man who somewhat resembled my husband.  Him being out of town, I thought maybe he came back early to surprise us.  But why was he banging on the door?

Then a flashlight shone through the panes.

I looked again and saw a badge.

There was a policeman at my door.

Now, nothing good happens when a policeman bangs on your door in the middle of the night.  A flurry of thoughts and ideas blazed through my mind with utmost rapidity:  “Oh my goodness!  My husband’s dead!  No, he can’t be; I know he is fine in Jacksonville.  Oh my goodness!  We’ve been robbed!  No that can’t be; I’m in my house now, I would know that.  Oh my goodness! Someone ELSE has been robbed, and the perp is hiding in my crawlspace!  Oh my goodness!  My dog got out!  Naw, everything must be just fine.”

All of this brainwork happened in a span of, um, maybe .7 seconds, but that may be a little bit of a high estimate.  And in just that amount of time, I opened the door to this flashlighted stranger on my porch.

“Can I help you?”

“Yeah, your car door is open.”

What?  Seriously?  My CAR door?! That’s why you’re here?!

Brain interjection:  “Oh my goodness! We were car-robbed! Oh my goodness!  The robber planted a bomb in there!  Oh, who am I kidding?  Little buddy just left the door open.”

Self to community serviceman: “Were we robbed?”

Him to me: “It doesn’t look like it, but I just wanted to be sure.”

So off I went, policeman following me, to inspect the interior of my open-doored Sienna. And as expected, everything was just fine.  No robbing.  No bomb implant.  Just a seven-year old’s determination to get in a warm house in haste.

I thanked the kind police officer, after smacking him for scaring me like that, then went back inside to comfort my frightened 10-year old and to let him know what a good job our local law enforcement was doing.

And just that quickly, it all dawned on me:  life went from sleeping soundly, to being suddenly and frighteningly awakened, to being excited that I thought my husband was home, to being frightened when I realized it was a stranger, to being comforted when I realized it was a police officer, to being frightened again when I realized it was a police officer, to being…to being…to being…

And just as quickly, I realized that the things I take for granted (sleeping soundly during the night, the safety of traveling family members, the security of my home and vehicle) are fleeting.  It is up to God to let us know when and how they will be removed from our care.  Though concerned at the flex and flow of all that lack of control, there is some comfort and peace in the knowing that Someone bigger than I will ever be knows how and when it will all go.

I can either freak out every moment of every day about the not knowing, or I can rest assured in what I DO have and in when I have it.

I think I’ll choose the latter.  After all, ignorance is bliss.

 


Wants v Needs

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In August of 2005, the National Weather Service noticed a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico. We were living in New Orleans at the time, so any rumblings in the belly of the Gulf caused us personal indigestion.

The year prior, in September of 2004, a similar disturbance was noted.  The rumblings of 2004 became the gulf shore destruction of Hurricane Ivan. A category three hurricane, the storm wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast, tearing apart lives from Gulf Shores, AL to Destin, FL (my geographical heartbeat). As residents of the Big Easy at the time, we were warned that Ivan could destroy our city.  “Destruction! Devastation! Heartbreak! Death!” The authorities flooded our eyes and ears with pleas for protection (of property and person), prevention (of massive damage), and evacuation.

And the people listened.  Terrified of what seemed to be the end of our city as we knew it, houses were boarded, documents and photos entrusted, safety supplies stockpiled, and homes evacuated. As many citizens as could leave, did. Away from our homes, we awaited our impending doom.

But then an interesting thing happened:  the storm turned east.  What was intended to leave our city lifeless instead took its toll on the white sand beaches of Alabama and Florida.  New Orleans had been spared.

So come August of 2005, the people barely listened to the familiar warnings of the NWS.  “There’s a disturbance in the Gulf.  Destruction! Devastation! Heartbreak! Death!” The authorities did their jobs well: we were informed.  We were warned.  We were told,” this is the REAL DEAL!” But the people had wearied of such warnings.  They had heard it before; more times than once.  And accepting the drama of the forecasters was no longer on the residents’ radars.  “You say that every year! It has never actually happened.  They’re overreacting.  We were fine last time; we’re always fine!”

Nothing is going to happen!

I, however, was not so convinced.  There was something different about this storm.  Whether it was God-designed or statistically pertinent, I just had that feeling.  So, much to my husband’s chagrin, we boarded the house, grabbed the documents and a couple of boxes of pictures, and hit the road.  The first night away, we planted ourselves at a friend’s house only about 40 minutes north of New Orleans.  It seemed a fairly safe distance away.  In the morning, however, we turned on the news, and that’s when I saw IT.  The biggest, most life-like monster I had ever seen, with an eye so big I could stretch a ruler across it.  I knew at that moment; this really was the real deal.  

During that day, the gnawing feeling in my stomach grew, and I really felt we had to go farther north.  Where we currently were was still too close.  My husband, convinced we were fine where we were, spoke to the owner of the house about it.  “Hey, Jess is getting nervous being this close to the storm.  What do you think about it?”

“Well,” he said, “this house is solid.  We’ve got 6×6 beams holding up our roof (he then proceeded to show them to my husband).  We’re a brick construction with no other buildings around.  I think we’ll be ok.”

“But between you and me,” he continued, “if this wasn’t MY house, I’d leave with you.  Go.”

Then he handed us $200 cash, prayed for us, and sent us on our way.  I couldn’t believe we were leaving him behind.  By that point, there were about 20 people seeking shelter in that brick construction, so he had to stay.  A good captain stays with his ship, but my heart hurt for him.

Alas, further north we trekked, lodging ourselves with another set of friends in Natchez, MS.  In Natchez, I felt we had gotten far enough away from the storm.  From there, we just had to wait.

I don’t think I will ever forget that night.  August 28, 2005, we watched the news grippingly, waiting to see what would happen; what DID happen.  By midnight, we just couldn’t watch anymore, and decided to give it to God and go to bed.  During that night, and early morning-August 29, 2005-Hurricane Katrina devoured the city of New Orleans.  We went to bed with a storm menacing the Crescent City and awoke to something I cannot believe even now, nine years later.

New Orleans was gone.

An entire city underwater.  Homes, businesses, land, animals, and countless people sunken in the result of faulty levees, swirling winds, and torrential rain.  Lives destroyed.  Livelihoods destroyed.  Hopes destroyed.  The images flooding the screen and permanently imprinting our minds were unrecognizable landscapes of places that had been our pedestrian familiarity.  The familiar faces of locale had become complete strangers to us.

The shock of what we were seeing left us frozen in time.  What had happened?!  What about the people who hadn’t left?  What about our ministry?  What about our HOME?

The last question was answered-by the grace of God-very quickly.  There had been two main levee breaks during the storm (we would find out later that there were many others as well): the first was on the Industrial Canal in the 9th ward-the site of our ministry. The second was on the 17th Street Canal-the site of our home.  We knew instantly that we had lost everything we owned.  Within an hour and a half, photo evidence would confirm it:  a picture taken on our street corner with water to the rooftops.

When the fear that you have lost your home becomes your reality, there are myriad ways to handle it.  I, being one of a dramatic nature, would have expected to perform an Oscar-winning display of lament.  However, what God met me with instead a was an incredible peace.  “Peace that passes understanding” (Phil. 4:7)  There was simply nothing we could do to bring our house back, to undo the storm.  It was all just SO big that all I (that WE) could do was to just BE.  We had to ride this wave of uncertainty and see where God took us.  One day at a time.  One step at a time.  One breath at a time.

We quickly realized that we would not be heading back to New Orleans anytime soon, seeing as how the whole city ceased to exist.  Our next step was to pack our few remaining things back in the car and trek from Natchez, MS to Destin to move in with my husband’s parents.

As we got in the car to leave, we both just kind of sat there for a minute.  In that moment, we realized that sitting in that vehicle, we were surrounded by all of our belongings.  Everything we owned fit into that one automobile:  the two of us, our 19-month old son, our dog and his cage, about four changes of clothes each, documents, a few pictures, a little food, and a tennis racquet (you just never know when you’ll need one…).

And in that same moment, one of the biggest lessons I have ever learned smacked me in the face:  right there in that car, not only did I have everything I owned, I also had everything I needed.  Food, water, shelter, a few clothes, and a lot of love.  Instantly, nothing else mattered.  I understood all other things in life to be wants.  Needs vs wants etched themselves into my brain like a cattle brand.  All at once, all of my former “needs’ seemed trivial and, if I’m honest, embarrassing.  How had I gotten to a point in my life where I could so easily mistake “want” for “need”?  “I ‘need’ to get a new outfit for the banquet.” “I ‘need’ a new toaster oven.”

Seriously?

The only “need” I had in that moment was for soap! God had “richly supplied all of my needs according to His riches in glory” (Phil 4:19).  I don’t mean that in an uber-spiritual, transcend-the-situation way.  I knew, in that car, that I really did have everything I needed.  My house was gone.  Most of my photographs were gone.  Belongings held since childhood were gone.  The ministry building was gone (parenthetical note: by God’s grace, though displaced, every child we served in that building survived).  And yet, we had never been so fully alive.

Since that time, we have been able to attain the material belongings that fill a house.  However, I must admit, it was a struggle for  me.  There was such freedom in being reduced to scant material goods that all new items felt highly burdensome.  Additionally, I suffered from such terrible guilt about all the things I had “needed” in the past that I had a hard time justifying the purchase of anything that only took up space.  Forget about buying a knick-knack! (Ok, I still can’t do that.)

I have oft been tagged a “minimalist”, which I guess in some ways I am.  Clutter and “stuff” brings me to a place of high anxiety.  They say that once missionaries to third world countries return to the U.S., they have a very difficult time adjusting to the American way of consumerism.  Though I dare not compare myself to someone who has done such noble work as to serve those in a far-off land, this part of the missionary mindset I understand well.

My children have been taught the great difference between wants and needs since the moment they each reached for their first Duplo block.  I will hear one saying, “Mommy, I need a….”, to which another cherub barks back, “You don’t NEED it.  You WANT it!” 

I’m sure I take this too far from time to time, but regardless, I am so grateful to have learned this lesson at all.

God really does supply our needs.  Sometimes, the wrapping just looks a little different than we expected.