I’m Back…I Hope

The last two weeks have been hard and crazy, and as much as I may have wanted it to, writing did not make the cut of priorities during those weeks.  I mentioned in a previous post that I went to Nashville to help a friend and was there for most of the work-week.  I left with a mix of emotions and feeling pretty drained, but immediately upon my return that Friday night, I got to work on preparations for my daughter’s third birthday party the following day.

Having the girly-girl that I do, I set out to make a princess cake and thought I did a pretty good job–that is until a conversation with my children following the party.  They were talking about the princess cake that they loved, the one where Sleeping Beauty was standing on a mountain.

Maybe if certain little children didn’t smudge the intricate design with their stubby fingers, they’d know Sleeping Beauty was wearing a dress and not mountain climbing.

After the weekend was over, I spent Monday beginning the process of catching up on the tasks that were not done while I was gone.  And since that left every task, I knew I had a busy week ahead.  Unfortunately, I woke up Tuesday feeling like a bus ran me over–the worst sore throat I’d ever had, fever, aches, complete fatigue, dizziness–this sickness came out of nowhere.

I went to the doctor the next day feeling even worse and praying that I had strep throat so that I would be given antibiotics.  Of course, the strep test came back negative.  At this point, my throat was literally bleeding (I am not exaggerating), so, even though I typically refuse pain medication and anything that isn’t essential to healing my body, when the doctor offered something to reduce the swelling in my throat and something for pain, I replied, “Yes, please!”

I shouldn’t have.  For the next two nights, I experienced what I decided drug-addicts must feel when they try to sleep.  My mind was racing a thousand miles a minute, my heart was pounding, my skin was itching, and I was not sleeping.  As soon as I would close my eyes, I would see the clearest pictures in my mind, but  I wasn’t dreaming, yet, because I was awake.  I knew something wasn’t right when I tried praying at three in the morning to calm my mind and started spelling out my child’s name for God, you know, in case He thought I was praying for the Caleb whose name started with a ‘K.’

I called the doctor the next day to let him know that I was experiencing those side-effects that were rare and serious, and lo and behold, my throat culture came back from the lab saying that I actually did have strep throat.  Imagine that!  I was never so happy to start an antibiotic and finally get some sleep.

While I have been away from the computer, my mind has been in over-drive.  God has been working on my heart for some time, and during the last two weeks, He has been pounding me with new lessons.  Ideas are swarming through my mind, and every time I sit to write, I am hit with resistance, whether it comes in the form of medicine-induced insanity or a baby waking up an hour earlier than normal, interrupting Mommy’s quiet time (I started writing this post yesterday).  I want to make sense of everything that I am learning, from how I can do a better job of showing His love to those in the community around me to making a difference in places far away from my life of comfort, as well.

My hope is that over the next couple of weeks, I can explore some of the different ideas running through my mind on this blog.  If there was one benefit of my knocked-down state last week, it was that I had plenty of time to think, and I want to take some of those thoughts from ideas to action.

I also had an idea for my first novel during one of my sleepless nights, but I’m afraid it might turn out like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas if I write it.

Four Hours to Clarity

Sometimes a girl has to drive four hours away to gain clarity about the realities under her nose….

As we sat every night sipping hot tea with honey and nibbling delicate cookies, our conversation fell right in step with where it had left off a year or so ago.  I found comfort in my friend’s presence, in her home that I had never seen.  I found comfort when I discovered she had three places in her kitchen reserved for chocolate–a section in the refrigerator, a corner of the pantry, and a space in one of the cabinets–and that the young teenaged girl who always supplied the treats for our weekend spend-the-night parties had not changed when she grew up.

And as we talked and reminisced about high school and friends whose paths we had not crossed in years, amidst the medicine cups and tubes that served as a reminder for my visit, I realized that I had my true friend for whom I was yearning.  She just lived four hours away.

As I played with her little boy, I saw my son and my daughters in his face.  In his laugh that filled his body with delight, and in his moments of defiance, I saw that while each child is a unique gift from God, each is also the same.  I found comfort as a mother in these moments of watching him.  I found comfort when I observed my friend hug her son tenderly and patiently guide him down the path of obedience, this young teenaged girl now grown up with her own child.

And as I watched and observed I realized things that I needed to do differently with my own children and things that could stay the same.  I could see them and their little hearts clearly now that I was four hours away.

I hugged my friend tightly with bitter-sweet emotion the night before I left, not wanting to leave behind our chats over tea, but anxious to embrace three little people and their daddy.  I loaded the car the next morning and began my drive down the interstate–four hours down a stretch of highway that looked a little clearer on the journey home.

In Sickness and In Health

As I walked up to the kitchen sink this morning, I was taken aback by the number of little plastic cups and fat medicine tubes covering the bottom.  I had cleaned everything in the sink before I called it a night, hadn’t I?  And almost as soon as I had had the thought, I remembered that Wendy gave Emmett two more rounds of medicine since I had gone to bed, one at two and the other at six a.m.  Now, a little after eight, I was adding my contribution to the pile.

I immediately felt a weariness for her, as I realized that ‘catching up’ on housework during Emmett’s chemotherapy weeks wasn’t a realistic possibility.  With a bouncing boy demanding her undivided attention when she was home, lesson plans and grading that would start to accumulate as the new semester began, and the typical chores that keep any wife and mother from feeling like she has any free time, Wendy already had a full plate.  Add to her schedule doctor’s appointments and middle-of-the-night meds and feedings, and I could only imagine her level of physical fatigue, not to mention emotional and spiritual, as well.

Before I arrived in Nashville for these few days with Wendy and Emmett, my mind began to ponder something Emmett had written earlier.

It was a blessing to get ringside seats at my brothers wedding, but I listened to the exchange of vows with a new perspective on things. “through sickness and through health” took on a new meaning. I was touched by how we pledge through sickness first, which is the hardest time to love, especially when sickness can be so long reaching, and can disrupt things for an incredibly long time. (Emmett 8/3/2010)

I, too, had to taken the vow to love someone in sickness and in health, yet I know now that I had no idea to what I was committing eight years ago.

When I got married, I was under the misconception that if I loved someone with all my heart, promising to nurse him through sickness would come naturally, with a willingness because of that love.  As a young woman at just twenty-two, I couldn’t imagine what that kind of sacrifice would entail, but I was sure that my love for Matt would make me better than I am if that time should arise.  I realize now that I was wrong.  Loving someone doesn’t make me a better person; instead, his love for me gently points out all my imperfections, showing me exactly how far I have to go.

Since I’ve been married and have had children, I have become more acutely aware of the naturally selfish tendencies within me.  Yes, I willingly make many sacrifices for my family, but more often than I’d like to admit, I know my mind focuses on the word ‘sacrifice’ instead of seeing my action as an offering of love.  And the more Matt  and my children love me unconditionally, the more I am aware of my shortcomings.

When I look at Wendy and Emmett and contemplate the words that they share through their own journey, I am inspired.  They share so openly and honestly about their own struggles with faith and love, and, at times, I feel ashamed for my own feelings.  They are experiencing a hell on earth, yet their focus is to show others a glimpse of heaven.  Their trust in Jesus with their lives is amazing, and I want that faith.  I want my focus to shift from inward to heavenward so that my life emulates Christ, no matter the circumstance.

I don’t want to be selfish.  I want to pray as Wendy prays: Lord, make me more like you, but do it gently, for I am weak (Wendy 8/16/2010).  As much as I’d like to think that my love for Matt would enable me to care for him in a time of sickness, I know it is not enough.  I know I am weak and that I easily weary.  Instead, I need the love of a Savior who illuminates my imperfections and gently carves away at them, filling the void with Him.  I need to be filled with more of Him and less of me.

I came here for a few days to offer a hand to Wendy, but instead, she has helped me.  She is a beautiful picture of the love of Christ poured out for those He loves.  And I pray that as I drive away tomorrow from this family covered in devotion to one another, their example would serve as a reminder for all that I need to allow God to change in me.

Please join me in praying for Wendy and Emmett and their young son Quinn.  You can follow their amazing journey of faith through Emmett’s battle with cancer at teamemmett.com.

The M.O.B Society (Mothers of Boys) was also gracious enough to allow me to contribute to their site today.  I would love if you would stop by and say ‘hello.’

Mothers of Boys

Don’t Blink

I watch as the little boy who, days before, wouldn’t go in the deep end unless every buckle on his red Lightning McQueen life-jacket was secured and tight now swam freely. I watch as the little girl who, days before, was afraid to go in this same deep end, secured with life-jacket and Daddy’s arms, now pushed us away, swimming only with a purple noodle to support her.  And I watch as a baby who only days before spent just as much time getting out of the pool as in it made her way through the water, unafraid to fall.

And I don’t want to blink because before my very eyes they are changing, growing.  I’m afraid that if I look away for just a moment, I will miss a moment that is gone forever. If  I look away for a moment, when I turn my eyes back to them they will be older, one step closer to independence.

I want to freeze-frame, burn these images into my memory, bottle them up and take them with me wherever I go.  I want to keep my babies babies, safe in their parents’ arms.  Yet while I try to keep them within our grasp…

…I know that someday they will be ready to soar.  I will watch and hope and pray that they look before they leap, that they choose wisely, because ultimately, I know, the day will come when these choices will be their own.   And as they walk away on their path to independence, no longer clinging to my grasp, I will grab the hand of Him that promises that if I train them in the way they should go, even when they are turning away from me, they will not turn away from what I’ve taught them.

So I watch wide-eyed as they jump, amazed at how high they can soar.

The Gift

When I hear people belt out the most beautiful melodies from their voices, filling a room with the sounds of angels, I want to be able to sing.  When I watch as two individuals extend their limbs into perfect lines, telling a story through their fingertips, I, too, wish I could dance.

Sometimes I see how God has gifted others and forget that He has given me a gift, as well:  I can write.  Now when I say that I can write, I offer this idea humbly, as I realize that I may never have a best-selling novel and am well-aware of my limitations.  However, I have always been blessed that, if an idea enters my head, I can turn that idea into a piece of writing.

When I was in school, I could turn out an essay in a relatively short amount of time.  I would jot down the supporting details and page numbers I wanted to use from the book or poem on which I was writing, write a first draft, proofread it once, and then print.  I rarely did multiple drafts, but more often than not, I made an ‘A’.

I never realized how lucky I was to have the ability to express my thoughts on paper until I started teaching.  I would watch as some students struggled to get the ideas from their head and turn them into sentences, and no matter the suggestions I gave, for some students writing would always be a challenge.

This past year has contained many challenges, yet writing has given me a joy.  When my mind feels clouded with angst due to struggles I am having parenting or when obstacles in my path cause me to trip, I find a great release after I type out a few words on my laptop.  When a current event is bothering me and I can’t wait to talk about it until Matt gets home, I write a blog and enjoy the adult conversation that follows.  And when I struggle with praying and can’t get my mind to focus, the sentiments swirling around in my soul find focus and meaning when I write them to God instead.

There are many talents in this world of which I could be envious, but God did not leave me empty-handed.  He gave me a talent that I can use to enjoy and to improve as a person and to offer as a gift to others who may benefit from the words that I write.

And He did not leave you empty-handed, either.  Our gifts may be different, and you may like mine while I envy yours, but God made each of us the way we are for a reason.  Whether you can strike up a conversation with a stranger and make him feel like he’s known you for years, or you can whip together the most scrumptious meal to offer the new family next door, you have a talent that you can use for good.

For this Focus on it Friday, what gift can you thank God for giving you? Take a moment and think about the talent God gave you, and share your thanks for it (or for anything this week for which you are thankful) with Him and in the comment section if you’re willing.  What a blessing to be able to say, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139: 14)!

Why I’ll Still Call Myself a Christian

Last week Anne Rice, the best-selling author of Interview with the Vampire and the subsequent sequels part of The Vampire Chronicles, stirred up some controversy among the Christian community when she posted to her Facebook status that she was quitting Christianity.  Rice had previously been an atheist and later became a Christian, joining the Catholic church.  In her recent decision, Rice states that she is still a follower of Jesus but refuses to be part of a community that is “anti-gay” and “anti-feminist,” among other reasons.

Many came out in support of Rice’s decision asserting that following Jesus and being a part of the Church are not the same thing.  Some wrote blogs stating they made the same decision years ago.  The comments sections of articles and blogs relating to Anne Rice were filled with discussions over the Church and Christianity.

I can understand Rice’s sentiment.  Many times, I have felt embarrassed by the actions of those claiming the religion of which I am a part.  I’ve watched different groups spewing out hate in the name of Christ, or others watering down His teachings until they were meaningless, and I’ve wondered how it was possible for us to be following the same Teacher.  Yet, I will not leave this group.

On all sides of my family, I have watched as family members have made poor choices.  Some of their choices have embarrassed me, and they served as a poor reflection of the family name.  Despite their choices, however, they are still part of my family.  I can legally change my name, but the fact still remains–we share the same blood.  There is no denying that we share a common bond.  And because of that family bond, I cannot help but care for and pray for the redemption of those family members, no matter how much I despise their actions.

As a Christian, I belong to another family, and whether or not I agree with the actions of every member, I cannot divorce myself from it:  “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12: 4-5).  And when I became a Christian, I didn’t join because of the actions of the Church; I joined because of the actions of Christ. He is the only one blameless, and because of His grace I can be forgiven.  Likewise, because of His grace, I can also forgive, even those within this same body.

While the debates rolled on over Rice’s decision, I couldn’t help but think that perhaps her eyes were on the wrong people.  Yes, there are definitely those who have embarrassed the name of Christ, and here’s the kicker–I am one of those who has brought embarrassment to His name on a daily basis.  Any time I lose my patience with my children and utter an unkind word, when I don’t love my husband unconditionally but rather base my actions on my feelings for the day, when I choose comfort over conviction, I have tarnished the name of Christ.  And because I know the depravity of my own soul, I cannot cast blame on others for the poor standing of Christianity in the world.

Instead, I choose to look to better examples, and I don’t have to look far.  I see members of my own church heading to Mozambique to build wells and bring clean water to communities who have only known filth.  I see those among the Christian community fighting to bring awareness and an end to sex trafficking within our own country.  And across the globe, I see those dying to be part of the name that Anne Rice has cast off.  When I look to these examples, I can only feel gratitude to a God who lets me be part of such a community, of which I am the least.

The Christian community is full of problems, but thanks to Jesus, it’s also full of grace.  And amidst of all the problems, the Church is full of members whose eyes are locked on Christ’s, whose hearts are tuned in to His purpose and are doing good around the world.  Rather than form my own island, I choose to look to the Teacher and the examples of those living right and hope that my actions will bring glory to His name.  I choose to accept His grace and extend it to others because it is united as one body that we can do the most good for this world.

Yes, I will still call myself a Christian.  I see the good and the potential for good that we are doing, and I want to be a part of this group.  I see that while I can certainly believe and pray to Jesus by myself, Jesus never intended for me to walk this journey alone but with other believers. Yes, I will still call myself a Christian–I’m proud to.

The Tea Party

As a mother, I’ve managed to heap a lot of guilt onto my shoulders.  I don’t take the kids to the pool by myself, and I don’t venture out to many activities with the three of them unless I have help.  While I have gotten braver this summer and attempted more, sometimes I wonder if we should’ve put more space between the kids so that they could do some of the things that others get to do with their mommies.

But sometimes I just can’t be blamed for everything….

As I listened to my two littles one finalize preparations for their tea party, my heart swelled with pride.  For one of the few moments in their short time as brother and sister, they were playing together and nicely. I watched as they used their imaginations and my daughter’s Disney tea set to create the perfect event for their friends.

“Ella’s coming, and so is Gel,” Hannah Grace told her brother excitedly.

“I’ve invited Jeff,” Caleb added.

I had never heard of these kids before and was impressed at the names they were giving their guests.  They allowed me to sample some tea and a cookie (which was delicious), and then they continued playing as I moved into the kitchen to clean up our real mess from that morning.

The nice sounds from the foyer continued on for a few more minutes, when all of a sudden, angry conversation ensued.  I rolled my eyes thinking, “What now?”  Why was it impossible for my children to complete one activity together without fighting?

Caleb and Hannah Grace both stormed into the kitchen yelling.

“What?! What?!” I asked, confused by the sudden change of events.

Caleb’s face shone with anger, and Hannah Grace’s brow was furrowed.

With arms flailing in exasperation, Caleb yelled, “Nobody showed up for our tea party!!!”

Hannah Grace folded her arms across her chest and let out a big pout.

I stared at them for a moment, shocked that one of them hadn’t hit the other or stolen a cup of tea, and then I had to look away and smile.

I knew that as a parent I would mend many broken hearts.  I knew that kids can be cruel, and there would be times when they would hurt my own children’s feelings.  I just hadn’t known that those kids would be imaginary.

And if my kids’ imaginary friends won’t play with them, well, there’s not a whole lot this mommy can do.

Nothing Wasted

Last night as my birthday date came to a close, I lay in bed thinking about the last 31 years.  I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God.  I compiled a mental list of all my blessings, a list I have chosen to keep between God and me, and I realized what a full 31 years I have had.  God has given me so much, so many good things, and in His kindness, He has used the ‘bad’ parts of my life to grow me and teach me, as well.  He doesn’t waste any moments.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to compare.  Sometimes I like to peek at your list and question why God hasn’t blessed me with item #53 as well.  God then has to walk down the aisle, tap on my desk with His hand, and firmly instruct me to keep my eyes on my own paper.  He knows best.  You see, we’re not taking the same test; your list won’t help me.  And it is then that I have to rely on faith, faith to remind me that the items God hasn’t put on my list don’t need to be there, and those items that I don’t want to write on my list do.  He doesn’t waste.

I have no idea what the future holds for me.  God could grant me another 31 years, or God could call me home today.  But no matter the length of time on earth, I want to always say, “There were no wasted moments.”  And truthfully, having that attitude can be challenging for me.  But it’s important to try because it’s true.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”‘ (Jeremiah 29:11).

For this ‘Focus on it Friday,’ I am so thankful for all of the wonderful blessings God has given me over the last 31 years, and I am thankful for those trials that I normally wouldn’t see as a blessing.  Thank you, Lord, for using those difficult moments to bless me, as well!

My challenge to you for this Friday is to compile your own list while keeping your eyes on your own paper.  What blessings has the Lord given you?  And just an important, what trials has He allowed to come your way?  How has He shown you that He will not waste those moments?

More Beautiful With Age

It’s all downhill from here.  At least that’s what a new study from QVC initially had me think.  The study finds that women are most attractive at age 31, and since that big day is here for me, I best enjoy the year.

I can agree with part of the survey–at 31 I’m happiest with how I look than ever before. I’ve come a long way since last year when, instead of approaching 30 with assurance, I admitted how unattractive I felt, and in all honesty, unhappy.  It’s amazing how hormones can warp a mind!  But this year, I view myself differently, with more confidence and contentment.  I am pleased with the progress I’ve made physically, but there is more to beauty than mere physical appearance.  As I read over my post from last year after just having a new baby,  I thought to myself, “How could I not find myself beautiful then?”  There is nothing more beautiful than a mother holding a new baby.

And while I feel at my most beautiful now, I have no plans to peak at 31.  I can’t put my stock in QVC’s survey; I know for a fact that a woman’s attractiveness only grows as she ages.

I look at my mother, a woman who gives of herself over and over, who takes to heart the example of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and I am overwhelmed by such beauty.  When I look at the face of a woman who spent the whole evening helping her daughter care for three children while her husband was gone, a woman who found the energy in spite of sheer exhaustion to laugh at a little two-year-old who scurried downstairs at 10:30 p.m. wearing two shirts, three dresses, and a pair of pants, I know that women get more beautiful with age.

I look at my mother-in-law, a woman who insists on gathering her family to her whenever she can, who strives to keep us all close to her heart, and through her love I see true beauty.  When I look at the face of a woman who laughs and takes delight in the chaos of trying to snap one good picture with the grandchildren, a woman who knows that family is the greatest blessing God gives us, even while the rest of us (or just me) grow impatient inside, I know that women get more beautiful with age.

I look at Dot, a woman who exemplifies humility and grace through the unassuming way she serves her whole community, a woman who never draws attention to herself, and I doubt if I could ever attain such beauty.  When I look at the face of a woman who has supported me throughout the years with her presence or words of affirmation, a woman who has shown me how to treat others kindly and sincerely, I know that women get more beautiful with age.

And when my husband looks back at a picture of me from our wedding day, I hope he can think, “I thought this day was when Jennifer was her most beautiful…

…but I was wrong. She only got more beautiful with age.”

The Date

She woke up and piddled around until she remembered the significance of today–it was her turn.

She quickly moved to her room and pulled down a favorite dress.  Swiftly she fit her head through the opening and watched as the fabric dropped to her shins.  A sense of pride filled her spirit as she slipped on the new shoes that made her feel beautiful, and  she emerged from her room with excitement.

Flower barrettes adorned her silky strawberry-blonde hair, a necklace the top of her chest.  She awaited anxiously for her date.

He knocked on the door, and she ran to answer, a giggle in her voice.  Her smile spread wider as she held out her hands to take hold of her first flower, a flower whose brightness matched those of her eyes.

And I watched with joy as she set out for her date with Papa, knowing that this date would be the first of many in her lifetime, one of the few that I could so easily let her go.