She was probably 15-20 years my senior, with bright eyes and her long brown hair, half pulled back and half resting gently on her standard navy blue shirt and coordinating vest.
She was still helping the customers in front of us when it happened–my antsy five-year-old, who had earlier decided to don gym shorts and cowboy boots, accidentally stepped backward–right on top of my seven-year-old’s sandal-clad foot.
The scream was ear-piercing.
We had already been in the store too long after spending far too long at our previous errand stop. The boys were tired and so was I. And when the wailing persisted for several minutes, I’m sure everyone else’s ears were tired, too. I tried to calm my big boy down without much luck, and the whole situation was so traumatic that the five-year-old started crying because he was so sorry that he had apparently hurt his brother so badly.
It was a meltdown. I looked up at the cashier and said something about missing nap time…not that my boys take naps anymore, but the downtime would have been good for them.
The boys were fairly well calmed down by the time the cashier started ringing up our order.
“I miss shopping with my boys,” she said with a warm smile. “They’re grown and moved away and both married now.”
I paused a moment to consider her words (trying to decide if she’s crazy) before asking, “How old are they now?”
“They’re 24 and 26.”
Two years apart. Just like mine.
“What I wouldn’t give to have them with me again–even on the rough days. I just miss having them with me. And tucking them in at night. You know, all those special times together that you don’t think about much until they’ve grown up and you don’t have them around all the time anymore.”
I don’t usually handle other people’s sentimentality that well, but hers, in this moment, was a gift from God–a redirection of my heart away from the frenetic and frustrated mode that I was in to see the blessing it is simply to have my children near–with the sobering reminder that that nearness won’t last forever.
But she didn’t just make me see. She made me feel.
I think that’s why other people’s emotional moments make me uncomfortable. It forces me to feel something that I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with (because, to be honest, my own emotional moments make me uncomfortable).
But sometimes that can be a very good thing. I may have been most comfortable feeling embarrassment or frustration in that check out line, but she made me feel affection for my kids, turning what could have been a nosedive in my attitude into a total rebound.
“Thank you for sharing that,” I expressed before pushing the cart way, “especially in the midst of a minor meltdown.”
She may not have realized it, but she changed the tone of the rest of our busy afternoon with her kind words and heart-felt nostalgia. This was a little bit of Titus 2 in action, friends. At Walmart.
“Love those boys, mama,” she had communicated in no uncertain terms. “Love them well–even when it’s tough. You will miss them someday.”
Today seems like an appropriate time to write my first “Friday Five” post. After all, it’s not every year that the first Friday of the fifth month falls on the fifth day of the fifth month. If I were really good, I’d have posted this at five this morning.
Don’t you just love the alliteration?
It’s my hope that “The Friday Five” will be a fun addition to the blog. Some weeks it may be five related things, and other weeks it may be five completely random things. And, just being real, some weeks it may be non-existent because life happens. But when I do get to eek out one of these list posts, I plan to include spiritual encouragement, practical tips, personal anecdotes, and much more.
For now, we can call this a “Special Events” edition. Here goes!
- My boys recently participated in their first musical stage play, “No Strings Attached: The Musical Adventures of Pinocchio.” They had a fantastic time playing 19th-century school boys, donkeys, a marionette, and singing fish. They were the youngest in the production, so the five-hour-long dress rehearsal was pretty exhausting for them (and their parents), but they absolutely had a blast.
When the last performance was over, our five-year-old shed a few tears. I assured him that he would have the opportunity to be in another play sometime, but he was quite upset that it would likely not be Pinocchio again. “I like THIS play!”
He later had a dream that they did the play again, and he reported the following morning with a beaming smile, “It was the most wonderful dream!”
- Pink eye isn’t exactly the kind of visitor that you usually want to celebrate as a “special event,” but it’s been a guest at our house for a couple weeks this spring so it’s at least worth a mention. We’ve had pretty good luck getting rid of it by mixing a 1/2 teaspoon boric acid in one cup boiled water. Once it has completely cooled, you can place a few drops into each eye. We had our kiddos lay down on a table and close their eyes while we dripped a bit of the water onto each eye near the tear duct. Then they could open their eyes so that the water could come in. This is way easier than holding a spoon over open and very frightened eyes.
- I invited my local Scholé Sisters group over for a Nature Study Day at our place. We live on seven mostly-treed acres, have a creek running through our property, and last fall seeded a part of our land for wildflowers. We feel so blessed to have such a lovely slice of creation right outside our door, and it was so much fun to share it with friends! We identified trees and flowers, had a picnic lunch, and the kids spent the rest of the time playing in the creek. Having other curious moms around with their various field guides also meant that we now know a little bit more about what’s growing on our land than we did before.
- We also had our last day of co-op classes a week ago. In the first hour, my youngest got a cookie in his Hands-on-Science class, and my oldest enjoyed a cupcake complete with his own personally-decorated edible stamp for his Stamping Through History class. As if that weren’t enough of an end-of-year celebration, the much-anticipated Book Club Party awaited them after recess. Each family was to choose a favorite book and bring a snack and an activity to share with the whole elementary group. We settled on Stuart Little the morning of, and I like to think our little table-top presentation turned out alright considering the high level of procrastination. After so much excitement the kids fell fast asleep in the van while I ran errands.
Unfortunately when we got to the library and I actually had to get out of the van and take the kids with me, my little guy didn’t wake up happy and said he didn’t feel that well. I knew we only needed to go inside for five minutes, so I carried him–the five-year-old on my right arm, purse and bag of books on my left. Well, that did it, apparently. Just as we stepped up to the front door of the public library the poor little man puked all over my left side. And my purse. And on the bag of books. And all over the steps.
Again, I wouldn’t normally consider sharing a puke story as part of a “special event,” but how often do I get to be “that mom” with the sick kid who just made a horrid mess for everyone else to walk through? I’m at least hoping this was a “special” occasion–and not a new norm.
And, when I think about it, I am so incredibly thankful that the mess happened outside where a kind man washed it off with a few buckets of water. A few more steps and it would have been inside the library itself: on the carpet, smelling up the whole place for who-knows-how-long. Or it could have happened in the van. God was merciful. And I was thankful. With no fever and the sick feeling lasting only about six hours, I also thanked the Lord that this was apparently just a response to way too much junk food and not a virus.
Our last day of co-op sure was fun–a real blowout!
- This isn’t a last-but-not-least kind of #5. No, this is a save-the-best-for-last #5. Ten years ago today it was Saturday. I was studying for the last finals week of my senior year of college. Later that afternoon, I played paintball with a few friends, including this guy named Nathaniel. After the game we all returned to campus and discussed dinner plans. My dad had told me to go to a local Italian restaurant to try a few dishes so he could plan for an after-graduation lunch for our family and close friends when they would all be up for the ceremony the following weekend, so I lamented that I wouldn’t be joining the group for dinner. Nathaniel said he had a project to work on. We all parted ways.
But an hour later Nathaniel asked if he could borrow my camera for this project of his. I obliged.
After cleaning up for the evening, I grabbed some books to study at a local coffee shop after dinner and headed to the restaurant. I asked for the manager, just as my dad had instructed, and she curiously led me to a table in the back. A table set for two. A table where a cleaned-up Nathaniel sat with his Bible open to the verse that says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing…”
After a few nervous words and a question from him, I said, “Yes.” And he said he loved me for the first time. He pulled out a ring and my camera.A “project”, huh?!?
How about you? Any special happenings or celebrations lately? Any “special” visitors or messes?
I’m one of those crazy types that actually enjoys running. Once upon a time I even looked like a runner.
Over the years, running has filled several important roles for me: it’s been a way of escape, a way to burn off energy, to get or stay in shape, to cope, to get alone and talk to God, to enjoy sunshine and wildlife, to improve my running time, to compete, to show off, to win.
Admittedly, some of those are more virtuous motivations than others.
But this past Saturday I had an opportunity to run for a very different reason.
My local women’s running clinic was invited to participate in the sixth annual Arkansas Run for the Fallen, an apolitical 146-mile weekend-long event honoring service men and women who died in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. Our part was to join the team of running soldiers for one mile through the middle of town.
In the weeks leading up to the event, I thought about it quite a bit. I read the stories of the two Navy SEALs who would be remembered at the Hero Markers at the beginning and end of our course. I thought about my own grandparents and aunt and uncle who served in the Army Air Force and in the Navy.
And I felt quite small and pampered by comparison. Not exactly worthy to be running with people who have taken on so much personal risk for something bigger than themselves–or for people who have quite literally laid down their lives for others.
When Saturday came and our red-shirted local ladies assembled, the anticipation we all felt was a strange mix of excitement and sobriety. Soon the running servicemen arrived, paused to remember one fallen comrade, planted a flag in his name, and then we were off.
The usual “racer’s mindset” tried to assume its place in my thoughts, but there wasn’t any room for it. No room for looking ahead to see who you’re going to try to pass next–that wasn’t the goal. No room for pulling away from the crowd–the purpose this time was to get lost in the crowd, in the small sea of red. No room for going at your own pace–we had to keep pace with those who were leading us on. No room for thinking about how to position yourself for the best finish so you could point to your rank or time in the end–this run was intended to point to someone else.
It’s easy to get comfortable in our lives here in the West and forget that the blessings we enjoy have been paid for by others. So too as Christians, we can lose sight of the fact that our greatest, eternal blessings have been paid for by the Lord Jesus Himself. Sometimes our normal routines need to be shaken up a bit to give us new perspective.
That’s exactly what happened for me on Saturday. This whole experience has refreshed my view of the race set before us as Christians.
We “run with endurance” remembering those who have gone on before us and with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-4).
We encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and cheer each other on rather than treating the gospel of God’s grace as a program for self-advancement and our fellow runners as competitors.
We “keep in step with [His] Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26)–He sets the pace for us to follow, not the other way around.
Our run on Saturday morning lasted less than ten minutes, but the impact of running to honor someone else has been felt all week. And while my legs have been resting, the words of John the baptist have continued to run through my head: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Let Him be seen as I run this race called life. Not me.
In a world that preaches so often that we are the most useful or influential when we place ourselves on a pedestal to be seen by others, we need to be reminded that it’s ok, right even, to live outside of the spotlight, to blend in with the crowd of those who live–who run–not for themselves, but for the glory and honor of Another.
Soli Deo gloria.
Last night as I was making dinner I put on a Fernando Ortega CD.
My seven-year-old began moving to the music, something reminiscent of interpretive dance and ballet, though he has had no instruction and has seriously no chance at all of picking up such graceful moves from his parents.
At the end of “All Creatures of our God and King” my son announced that he wanted to dance to that song for next year’s talent show.
My initial reaction was less than enthusiastic. I’m a rather reserved person. I’d be somewhat embarrassed for him if he did something like that, something so…so…contrary to our culture’s gender stereotypes. I wouldn’t want him to be labeled or made fun of.
And then it hit me: I was responding in my mind like Michal did to David.
Are you familiar with the story?
And David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouting and the sound of the trumpet.
Then it happened as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.
My precious boy was dancing before the Lord, in jeans and no shirt, joyfully moving his feet and lifting his hands to heaven, rejoicing in a song of praise that he has long loved. Not unlike David danced before the Lord to celebrate the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
And I was thinking about what other people would think of it if they saw it. Not unlike Michal, who despised David for his exuberant worship and criticized him with biting sarcasm.
My son wasn’t the one missing something–I was.
“I will celebrate before the Lord,” David responded. “I will be more lightly esteemed than this!”
Oh for the freedom to express our love for the Lord, giving Him the worship that He is due without allowing the fear of man to hinder us.
Am I willing to be undignified in the views of the world? Am I willing to come to God as a joyful child? Without reserve? Without concern?
Am I willing to give my children the freedom to do so?
My boy may not remember this idea by the time the talent show comes around next year, but I at least am taking his example to heart.
Has the Lord ever taught you a lesson through the simple, unreserved faith of your children? Please share in the comments below!
Bow Hunting, Changing Seasons, Country Living, Creation, Gone Country, Honeysuckle in May, Hunting, meditations, Moving to the Country, Naturalist, Nature, Nature Studies, Nature Study, Outdoors, Reflections, seasons, Therapy
I grew up in the booming, bustling suburbs of North Texas. While it wasn’t exactly a concrete jungle, it was a far cry from “small town America”. While most of my time was spent in school or organized sports, I loved to venture off on a trail near our neighborhood—a trail that wound its way through town, along a creek and what little pasture land that was left. This was always my escape, my therapy, if you will. Getting away from everything else and catching glimpses of what God has made—birds in the trees, ducks in the creek, the rare treat of a rabbit popping out of the bushes, an orange sunset beyond an empty field and the line of trees that scaled the horizon—whether I ventured out in a pair of running shoes or on my bike, this was my retreat. My place to think, to pray, to cope.
I know that I more or less grew up as a “city girl”, but I like to think I was a country girl at heart.
Fast forward a decade or two—through my college years and beyond early married life in the sizable city of Tulsa. My husband Nathaniel and I had now moved back to our small college town in Arkansas, eager to find a quiet place in the country; a place we could let our energetic young sons roam free. After two years in an apartment, we found it. A nice little cabin of a house on seven acres. And in our price range thanks to its being on the market for over a year and the owners’ eagerness to get out from under their mortgage.
And probably also because of the three-foot-deep 1980’s Jacuzzi tub that took up an entire small bedroom upstairs—surrounded by pink carpet for good measure.
The Lord answered our prayers for a “good house for cheap”. The day after we closed, a bunch of our friends helped us begin the moving process.
And they helped us rip out the defunct tub, taking it out the six-foot-wide window and lowering it carefully down from the roof with a friend’s tractor, happily opening up another bedroom for us.
We spent the next two months sleeping sometimes at our apartment and sometimes at the house while we worked late into the night to remodel the upstairs (all of it having been covered in said pink carpet). It was a tremendous relief to finally move in for good.
Another great relief came when someone paid us $200 for the tub. Seeing as how it sat for a month on our front porch, making us feel a little too hillbilly for my liking, I would have paid someone to haul it away! But this is Arkansas, after all, so it thankfully didn’t take too long to find some real hillbillies to take it off our hands.
That was two years ago.
I’m now sitting on our front porch just after sunset, enjoying the mild spring temperature and the sound of the water rushing in our creek after last night’s heavy rain. Our creek. This has to be one of the best features of this slice of creation we call home.
It provides the pleasant sound of rushing water and supports the lush vegetation and wildlife we get to see on a regular basis. Not to mention it’s fun to play in when the water is low.
One of my favorite sensations since moving out here is the smell. The flowing water and cooler temperatures of evening bring wafts of sweet, clean smelling air—and especially this time of year, when the honeysuckle is in bloom.
I’ve found that I am far more aware of the changing seasons now that we live in a home surrounded by grasses and trees. At the very least, I have to notice the first dandelions of spring since my boys love to pick these yellow flowers and surprise me with them on a daily basis as soon as they pop up out of the dead grass. And I don’t think I ever had any idea what time of year honeysuckles began to bloom and share their sweetness with the world—but now I know it very well and look forward to the end of April and all of May, when they are at their peak.
Soon, too, it will be berry picking time. There are wild blackberry bushes by our creek that have already worn their white blooms so beautifully—and I know that the berry farm two miles away must also be showing signs that the rich, juicy fruit will be ready for the picking in just another month. The boys and I read Blueberries for Sal each year before we go and gather several gallons of them, popping them warm from the sun into our mouths, the boys with purple juice running down their chins. It’s not a bad way to mark the beginning of summer.
I can’t say that I wasn’t aware of the seasons when we lived in town—I was, to be sure, and especially the coming of fall when I have always found sweet relief from the relentless heat of summer in the south. But I don’t think of seasons like I did as a kid (mostly by the arbitrary signposts of school starting or winter and spring breaks) or even as I did a few years ago (seeing summer as something to merely endure and winter as a time for Christmas and trying to avoid the flu). Being out here means I simply can’t help but notice the changes in the grass and trees, the flowers and the wildlife when I step outside our door. I now don’t just lament that we didn’t get any snow to play in this year. I’m wishing we’d had a good solid freeze to kill off more of the ticks and mosquitoes. Despite the fact that I’ve mostly learned to shrug off all kinds of insects and spiders, simply ducking away from wasps and bees and brushing other assailants away when they happen to land on me rather than freaking out about it, I’m still not looking forward to increased numbers of the two aforementioned blood-suckers and the itchy welts they inevitably leave. This year’s bug situation aside, however, I now understand so much more the beauty and unique bounty each season brings—and how much we depend upon them for our food.
The colors, smells, sounds, and other sensations that mark the seasons have been great fun to share with our children. It’s a huge part of their early education, just to notice the world around them, the things that God has made: collecting leaves and bark, flowers and insects, poking with a stick at an ant pile in order to observe the little red soldiers at work, sitting outside at night to watch the moon and the stars, playing “Pooh Sticks” on the bridge over the creek and noticing how sometimes the sticks move quickly and sometimes they don’t move at all depending upon how much rain we’ve had recently.
Of course, there are some unintended consequences of raising boys in the country—like when my youngest, who was only two when we moved out here and thus is more thoroughly countrified than his older brother, saw a swimming pool at a hotel and exclaimed gleefully, “Look Mama! They built us a pond!”
It was one of those Beverly Hillbilly moments.
And there’s the unavoidable skill that little boys pick up from their father when there aren’t neighbors within view—peeing off the porch. This easily translates, in a three-year-old’s mind, into peeing off of the top of the slide at the playground or out of the side of the van in a parking lot.
Theoretically speaking, of course.
Perhaps this has created some extra work for me in training the boys on how to behave in public, but along with that there have been many good opportunities for us to work together as a family—clearing trails in the woods, piling up tree branches and sticks to make a bonfire, digging up rocks and dirt in our crawl space so that we can encapsulate it, lining the smaller creek that runs by our house and empties into the big creek with stones, watering freshly planted peach trees, and this year preparing the ground and growing seedlings to start our first garden.
I’d like to say we are eagerly anticipating a bountiful harvest, but at this point we will be doing well if any of our crops survive.
Living in the country has certainly brought a heavier work load for me (and a heavier dirt load for our floors—one day, I keep telling myself, we will have a mudroom), but I welcome the opportunity to be outside in a place I love. About four of our acres are covered in trees, but the rest is a mixture of various grasses and ground-covers that needs to be mowed six months out of the year. After mowing just the half-acre right around our house with a used-to-be-self-propelled push mower, I was elated to get a zero-turn riding lawnmower. Cruising across our yard, feeling the warm sun and breeze on my skin and the speed and power of the machinery beneath me, I have almost come to appreciate the annoying few lyrics that I can remember from “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” that used to play over the loud speaker at high school softball games.
Speeding around on the mower has perhaps translated too easily into speeding along down the curvy asphalt roller coaster on our route into town. I used to be so much more careful when we lived in town. I guess there’s something about the fresh air, the usually unpopulated roads, and the general feelings of independence that bring out my inner libertarian. That and it makes driving a minivan much more fun if I can imagine it’s a race car. Oops.
On a much more law-abiding note, living in the country (perhaps, if I’m honest, along with my fascination with The Hunger Games) has led to a growing interest in hunting, what with my recent acquisition of a compound bow and the plentiful supply of deer that grace our land. Of course, to make this paragraph accurate, I’ll have to get a hunting license first. Cue screams from my inner libertarian.
It’s clear to me that living in the country is beginning to leave its mark on us. As a matter of fact, my husband insisted on playing “Sweet Home Alabama” on his guitar while I read him this article to get his feedback.
Silly interludes aside, I have to say that since I didn’t grow up in the country, and despite having lived in this place for two years now, all of our activities out here are still so new to me—bird watching, star gazing, gardening, lining a creek with stones, attempting to identify flowers and plants and bugs, cutting trails, pitching tents and hammocks, talking about raising chickens next year—it’s helped me to realize that while I received a good education, and even a degree, I still have so very much to learn about the world God has made. I’m like a child trying to soak up every experience of the natural world around me, just beginning to learn that each object I encounter has a name and a purpose.
Purpose. I’ve wondered at times if we’re not just hiding ourselves away on our land without one. Having never lived on more than a quarter acre before in my life, the thought of “Are we actually making good use of this land?” has crossed my mind.
Of course we want our children to have room to run around and explore. And we enjoy the quiet and privacy, as well as the potential for food production. But it wasn’t until last fall that I had a moment of confirmation that, yes, this is why we have this place.
We held a shindig with somewhere near forty friends, old and new. Our small living room was easily crowded with only a fraction of the people who had come over. Cars lined the long driveway from the big creek up past the house. I had been so busy with serving food that I missed a good portion of the activities. But right around dusk, when I finally stepped out on the front porch to see how things were going outside, I had to stop and smile. I could see shadows of our friends circled around a bonfire a stone’s throw away on the other side of the yard creek. Someone was playing a guitar. Most were singing praises.
Yes. This. This is why we’re out here. Not just for our family to enjoy, but to be able to share this place with others.
I can only hope that our guests (and the members of my family) will find this place half as beautiful and comforting as I do. I’ve always needed to get outside to get away. Getting out of the four walls of our house is a metaphor for getting out of the four walls of my own mind. I need to be able to see beyond myself—beyond the duties and messes and failures that can so frustrate me, the thoughts that seek to entrap me—to see the expanse of the sky, the bigness of the world outside of my concerns, and to know that my God has made it all and holds it all together. His faithfulness to His creation and His transcendence keep me grounded when I am tempted to give into the waves of turmoil spilling over within my soul.
Living in the country doesn’t make anyone more godly or more spiritual, but I have found it a balm to my soul to be able to walk outside and see what God has made—to catch a glimpse of His nature revealed in creation.
So I’m thankful to be right here where we are.
The Lord knows I need it.
As I type I am anxiously awaiting a phone call. A sweet friend of mine is expecting her firstborn son. Her due date has passed, and her usually intermittent contractions have been intensifying today. I have the incredible privilege of being on the “first-call” list, even (hopefully) getting to play a support role in the birthing process.
You’d think I was in the earliest stages of labor. My anticipation and excitement is through the roof, I’ve been busy today trying to focus on the ordinary things that need to be done (like laundry, the dishes, schooling, and food prep) while also scrambling to make sure my bag is packed for the hospital—with personal items I may need, lotions and massage therapy tools that may be useful during labor, snacks, a Bible, my journal, a notebook for keeping track of labor’s progress and hopefully soon baby’s stats.
Bags packed, I finally got a text saying they were in town walking to encourage things to move along a bit more quickly (apparently the going has been slow). Sigh. Ok. Not needed yet. Hang in there, Lauren. Don’t get too excited. This could still go on for a couple of days. Just move on with your day and be ready whenever the call comes.
It’s a beautiful day, so I decided to walk down our long drive way to check the mail. The boys were in bed for nap time, and I usually like to step outside at this time of day for some fresh air. The grass and ivy, ferns and flowers, trees and bushes are all so lush and bright with color. Spring is a beautiful time of year, reminding us of God’s promise of new life. What a wonderful time of year to have a baby!
As I walked down the driveway I saw that the large trashcan was at the curb. Yes, the trash truck had been by and now the can was empty. I’ll get to pull that back up to the house, I thought. It wasn’t a hard job, but something about the slight physical exertion required sounded perfect to me right now. It would give me an opportunity to exert some of my pent-up energy. As I drew closer to the mailbox and the dumpster, I took a look down the road to our next door neighbors’ house. We had collected their trash in our can so that we could help them out during the difficult time of trial they’re facing.
It suddenly struck me that I could be celebrating the birth of a precious newborn and comforting a grieving widow this week. I do not know what the future holds exactly, of course, but it is a possibility. Our next-door neighbor, George, was recently diagnosed with both lung and brain cancer. About a week and a half ago, his wife Carolyn had to drive him to the ER as he suffered a heart attack. Just this past Saturday, when we stopped by to check on them, we found out they had just returned home from an overnight visit to the hospital—the cancer in George’s lungs had metastasized and began causing internal bleeding that had to be dealt with immediately. Carolyn is weary but hopeful that the Lord will deliver them from this trial. Our prayer is that we can be a blessing to them, that the Lord would intervene on George’s behalf, and that most of all they would hope in the Lord no matter what happens.
And so I walked back up to the house, mail in one hand and the handle of the trashcan in the other, remembering how, about six years ago, and about this same time of year, Nathaniel and I felt many of these same emotions. We lived next-door to a woman named Evelyn. At about the same time I gained a husband, she had lost hers. And with her husband, she had lost the will to go on. I visited her from time to time. We’d sit and have a snack and talk, or I’d sit with her while she watched TV. It was a very hard decision for both her and her daughter when they finally sold the house she had shared for decades with her husband and moved her into a nursing home, but one bad fall when Evelyn was home by herself sealed that fate. I continued to visit her in her new home—and Nathaniel and I were glad to share the news with her—we were expecting our firstborn son. I had hoped Evelyn would get to meet him, but we told her goodbye in the nursing home a couple of months before he was born. Life and death. Rejoicing and grieving. I remember how stunned I was to experience them so close in time.
Once the trashcan was back in its proper place, I gazed at the irises that had already bloomed and withered next our front porch, and I considered how fleeting life is. How beautiful, but how fleeting. Like the flowers that spring up as the days grow warmer, but fade ever so quickly away. We enjoy their radiant beauty—a reminder of the creative splendor of our God—but soon they whither as the cycle of the seasons moves on.
So, too, does the cycle of life move on. It can be a bleak meditation to consider that just as life seems to really get going, we begin to realize that our parents are aging, our friends are aging—we are aging. And not only this, but we see that when one person dies, the rest of the world just keeps on going without them, the majority of people unaware that someone has died at all. Our own insignificance and mortality begins to stare us in the face, and we wonder, what’s the point? We’re here for such a short amount of time. Much like the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, we ask, Why do we go about our work or pleasure just to leave it to another? Our lives are so fleeting, a vapor. Where is the significance that I long for?
But oh, when I consider the creative beauty of God, and His purpose in ordaining the seasons—both the natural seasons of each year and the changing seasons of our lives. There is much beauty to behold. And its purpose is not merely to grant us some bit of pleasure here and now, as precious a gift as that is, but to point us to the true and lasting beauty that is the Lord Himself in all of His glory and perfections. As we ache for the changing of winter into spring, so too our hearts long for the eternal spring to one day relieve us of every dark and dreary winter. He has set eternity in our hearts. He is not far from each of us.
And so this mixed up time of anticipation—in which I both delight in the thought of a friend’s new baby and fear the impending death of a dear neighbor’s husband—I remember the wisdom God has given concerning such things:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves.
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.
I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.
There is indeed a time for everything. Including that phone call. I suppose now I can take a deep breath and continue on with my day.
Sometimes I find my mind won’t let go of a particular conversation. It keeps replaying in my head ad nauseum.
It was nearly six months ago. We had just met some folks and I so badly wanted to make a good first impression. I kept thinking ahead of time what I might say that would be kind, courteous, friendly, etc…the perfect words that would not be weird or awkward or otherwise scare off our potential new friends. But when the time came, I said something that didn’t come out the way I intended. And while I don’t think it really was a make-or-break kind of comment, it did make the situation a bit awkward, and in the aftermath I have thought numerous times how stupid of a comment it was and how I really goofed up the whole evening.
Being a perfectionist is hard sometimes, especially when you’re a perfectionist who loves language and precision but who fumbles so badly in real-life conversation (or at least I think I’ve bumbled badly…then again, that could just be the perfectionist in me talking).
So for some reason all of this resurfaced this morning, forcing me to eat my words yet again and relive the perceived shame and embarrassment of that moment. I sat on the couch wondering what hope there was for such a mess like me. One scripture came to mind: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” (Psalm 42:11) Yes, that was helpful. Hope in God. It’s the refrain I’ve been studying and which the Lord has been using to renew my heart in so many ways lately.
Yes. My words miss the mark. But God’s don’t. Hope in God.
Still, the weight was heavy.
After a few more moments of replayed conversation and renewed guilt, I remembered the words of the apostle James in the third chapter of his epistle: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” (James 3:2) What a comfort that even amidst all of James’ rather strong exhortation to use our tongues wisely, comes this statement of reality: we all stumble when we speak.
If I sin I know I have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus the Son of God who died for me and now intercedes on my behalf. But sometimes I’m weighted down not with a particular sin but with yet another haunting failure to live up to my own expectations, and my own expectations can be a harsh taskmaster. Even so, God’s word has hope for me. Even putting sin aside, I am not perfect, not so suave and eloquent as I’d like to be, not so in control…but my Heavenly Father is.
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? …Hope in God!”
“We all stumble in many ways.”
It seems that at times God is much more understanding of my less-than-perfect condition than I am: “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14)
My perfectionistic pride and imperfect performance may fling me down into despair, but God’s mercies are new every morning, and His grace lifts me up to new heights of love in His arms. And so my heart, troubled as it may sometimes be, can find rest and reassurance in the presence of my Savior. My words fall flat all the time. Only He has the perfect words—the words of life that speak truth, hope, and peace.
I haven’t been writing much lately. The New Year has come and come hard and I’ve found myself spending copious amounts of time in the kitchen preparing nearly everything I eat from scratch in order to comply with the elimination/gut healing diet I’m on, I’ve jumped right back into schooling the boys with an added preschool curriculum on top of what we were already doing in the fall semester, and I’m trying to get caught up on finances so that I can crank out our taxes next month.
And when I say I’m trying to get caught up on finances, I mean I’m entering receipts that date back a full year. Yes, we track every purchase, and yes, I am that bad of a procrastinator in this area. I’m highly motivated to catch up now and stay on top of it from here on out, but for now I’m swimming up to my ears in receipts, statements, bills, and other miscellaneous papers.
As I was rolling along today through more receipts than I usually have the time to enter in one sitting, so much of 2014 flashed before my eyes. The big birthday parties we hosted this year–for Nathaniel’s 30th, the boys’ double birthday party, and my 30th birthday. All we really bought for these was food…but still, it adds up! Good thing we don’t have any “big” birthdays coming up in 2015. That’ll give our budget a rest.
Then there were the receipts for frivolous things like frappuccinos, clothes, impulse snacks on the go. You know, the kind of things that seem like a great idea at the time but later you wonder if they were necessary.
And there were about a hundred other such instances of entering receipts for groceries, gas, gifts, and all things necessary for fixing up our house which we bought in the Spring (I don’t so much have a receipt for that as I have a piece of paper that says it’s ours).
Those were much what you would expect. And then there was a series of receipts that made my heart skip a beat…and a knot form in the pit of my stomach. At first I couldn’t figure out why we’d spent a night in Little Rock back in February. Why did we both eat at the airport? Was Nathaniel traveling for business? Was I just there to pick him up or did we fly somewhere together? I didn’t think I had been on a plane since before our eldest son was born. At least not until…Oh. My Grandpa. Mi Abuelito. I had been in an airplane since then. When we flew to San Antonio for his funeral.
I had been thinking about him recently, thinking I need to double check the date he died and be sure to give my mom a call on that day and maybe send her a card ahead of time. Silly me, I might get the date mixed up, but I knew she wouldn’t.
Anyway, while my Grandpa and my Mom have been on my mind lately as the anniversary of his Home-going is getting close, I still wasn’t prepared for a pile of old receipts to walk me through the emotions of that trip. I didn’t expect receipts to tell such a moving story, to remind me of the sweet little old man who prayed for me, whose prayers were a part of God’s nudge for me to trust in Jesus, who wrote to me in Spanish, loved all things Mexican (especialmente la comida y cervezas), who loved adventure, and who loved Jesus and others.
I didn’t expect receipts to remind me of my mom’s labor of love: overseeing my Grandpa’s finances, paying his bills (I have a hunch she didn’t get so behind on his finances as I am on mine), making sure he was well taken care of, and making the five-hour drive to visit him as often as she possibly could. Her faith in the Lord through the grieving process, and the way her face beamed with joy as she read a passage of Scripture at his funeral–looking forward to the return of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead in Christ to life eternal–her light shined so bright, even while his was dimming.
This trip was the first time I’d been that far away from my precious children for any length of time. It’d have been over ten hours had we driven. So we flew. And thus the receipts from the airport restaurant and parking service that began this cascade of emotion for me just half an hour ago.
Even receipts can tell a story. I’m thankful that today mine have told a particularly good one.
I was on my period. I hadn’t had enough to eat. It was about 11am, and I was at the grocery store with two little boys. We grabbed some bananas and carrots, and then I saw them: organic grape tomatoes. With the exception of one picky eater, my family enjoys snacking on these little red gems. So I picked up a package to examine it. Some of the tomatoes looked a bit wilted, so I placed it back on the temperature-controlled shelf and began to reach for another box.
And that’s when it happened. The box didn’t exactly like the way I had set it down, apparently, so in protest it decided to slowly lean forward until it fell to the ground, bouncing from cauliflower to lettuce to floor, where the box finally burst open, allowing over half of the precious fruit to scatter on the icky grocery store tile. Since there was no store clerk around to tell me, “Oh, it’s ok, I’ll take care of that,” I bent over and picked up every last tomato, closed up the box, and put it dutifully in my cart, with the words, “You break it you buy it,” spinning around in my head.
I thought at this point God was trying to teach me something: despite my being a bit of a grump about the whole thing, at least I did the right thing by picking them up and paying for the potentially damaged goods. But God wasn’t done with me yet, nor was He done with the grape tomatoes.
We meandered through the store, grabbing the things on my list (or was this the day that I went in for nothing more than peanut butter and made a list in my head as I shopped and ended up with half a basket full of groceries?), until we finally made it to the checkout line and then headed home.
My blood sugar levels were dropping by now and my muscles felt a bit weak. But we had to unload and put away the groceries before sitting down to eat lunch, so I got to it. I rearranged a few things in the fridge, managing to make room for the abundance of groceries I hadn’t planned on bringing home today (but when you’re out on Monday you might as well make the most of it and try to get what you need for the week so that by the time Thursday rolls around you can be at home doing something productive instead of having to go out to the store again, right?).
Then there they were, the last item to put away, those floor-germ-infested tomatoes. I figured I’d give them a preliminary rinsing off before putting them in the fridge using just water, until I thought better of it and pulled the vegetable cleaning spray out from under the sink. Spray, spray, spray. Toss, toss, toss. Rinse, rinse, rinse. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I’ll just do this again before serving them so I feel confident that they’re clean.
And then it happened again. As I was turning toward the fridge, my limbs defied me and, after bumping into the refrigerator door, I dropped the box of tomatoes onto the floor…the kitchen floor that didn’t get cleaned last Friday like it was supposed to. And, sure enough, the box opened on impact and all those clean tomatoes went rolling on the floor, under the lip of the fridge, the oven, and the dishwasher.
I started to get angry. One of those less-than-justified “Why, God?!?” moments. But then I felt the tension in my clenched fists subside as I realized this was from His hand—not a curse, but an opportunity. An opportunity to see that I don’t have it all together. Not only am I not as physically in control as I’d like to be (hello, dropping the same box of tomatoes on the floor TWICE in the span of about 90 minutes), but neither do I really have things together emotionally or spiritually. I was ready to raise my fist at heaven, figuratively speaking, to whine and complain and throw a grown-up tantrum…over some tomatoes. Forget that I “did the right thing” in purchasing them at the store. I grumbled against the God of heaven. These tomatoes were simply a small chisel in the hand of a master craftsman, working to chip away at the hardened, bitter stone of my heart, in fact rebuking my self-righteousness by revealing to me that there was work to be done there at all.
On many occasions this kind of scrutiny, though private, would cause me to despair because I wasn’t living up to the perfect standard that I so desperately desire to meet. But in this instance, those tomatoes became a means of grace for me. As I washed them off again, with tears beginning to form in my eyes, I realized that Jesus came to save sinners. He came to die for sinners, to make them clean. And I am one. There is hope for me. There is grace for me, a sinner.
Like those tomatoes that needed washed yet again, so did I. What a joy that His gift of forgiveness, love, and cleansing is not given begrudgingly, as I grumbled at first to clean the tomatoes, but freely. In the very moment that I knew my sin and unworthiness, I also knew that “It is finished,” and I am redeemed, restored, and loved.
There are a lot more elaborate ways the Lord could choose to show me my sin and His love. But this simple little demonstration was sufficient to show that my attitude in such a small thing revealed big things about my heart. But “where sin abounded grace abounded all the more.” His mercy and grace are infinitely bigger than my sin. And so I thank God for the grace I found in an ornery package of grape tomatoes.