Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 Thankfuls



It's another Thanksgiving week.
As preparation for writing this, I went back and read my last Thankful posts since 2011. What an amazing thing it is to watch the hand of God on your own life over time...in pictures...in words.
I know next year I will be staring back in amazement at legs one year shorter, faces one year rounder.
I love Thanksgiving time, I always have. There is nothing gladder than a thankful heart.
And I'm never exactly sure where I should start in these lists. How do I capture uniquely the gifts a year can bring?
But I will try.
1) Just staring up at these pictures, I am filled with awe and gratitude for power of God displayed in nature, and particularly the beach. I love it. And he has, for today, placed me in a location where I can escape to its refuge pretty much any day of the week. I am thankful that no matter what kind of a day I am having, just a few whiffs of that salt air brings everything back around into order.
I am thankful for a place where I can take my 3 boys, who are so full of life and so boundless, and I can let them run and jump and dig and tumble and act like little boys and I don't have to worry about them bothering anyone.

2) I am thankful for the way the sunlight sometimes streams through the clouds in rows like the fingers of God reaching down with His warmth to us. I am thankful that no matter what is on my mind when this happens it all disappears. I remember staring at those clouds when I was just a little girl and imagining that I could see just the corner of Jesus's face peeking around one of those clouds. It sounds so silly and unscientific when I put it in words, but I knew and I know that it was just one of many ways He bridges the gap between us.

3) Another one of those ways is babies. And children. What a gift they are to me. What a perfect gift, and they come from Him. I have been overwhelmed with gratitude this week when I look at the children God has given me. I don't deserve them, and I let them down sometimes (ok, a lot of times), and sometimes I get overwhelmed by the amount of care they require from me. But with each of these gifts, He has also blessed me with unlimited resources with which to care for them. Yes, I am tired much of the time, but I never could have imagined having the energy to keep up with 3 little boys, to care for them often all night long, to not only endure, but enjoy many many evening meals and bedtime rituals with JT gone at work. To go to Publix the Sunday before thanksgiving with my cart and my heart overflowing with children and shrug off the glares of angry shoppers who find it annoying that I bring them along and run with the cart through the rain to our car with laughter that's bigger than the storm around us.
I am thankful for Greystoke, who is so often very very somber. Who brings me an orange to peel for him from the refrigerator, and as soon as he brings it to me, runs to get the trash can and drags it to me too so I don't have to take a step to throw the peel away. Who is starting to say more 2 word phrases now (most often, "where Dada?", "MY man" about a Lego man, he loves taking their helmets on and off, "more water, more puddle, more WALK, more cheese).
He makes the most ridiculous faces whenever he sees my phone because he knows I am going to take his picture.
He holds onto me almost all night long. And occasionally I groan, but mostly I marvel at the sweetness of his body close to mine.
When he wakes up, he points out the door to the bedroom and demands that I turn on Barney...but first he takes me to the kitchen and waits patiently while I make my coffee.
Before he falls asleep at night, he always has to kiss and hug his brothers goodnight, and for whatever reason, though Aquaman is always waiting with gentle arms wide open, though Aquaman is kind and patient with him all day long, he almost always goes straight to The Dude first. The Dude who knocks him down, who snatches his favorite toy right out of his hand, not necessarily because he wants it, but because he wants to take it. But Greystoke marches up to him first and squeezes his arms around him with a look of total adoration.
I am thankful for The Dude, who is so wild and so fresh and who, as an episode of Malcolm in the Middle I watched with JT over the weekend reminded me...decorates my life.
It is never, and will never be dull with The Dude around, and I adore him for it.
He performs all sorts of interesting experiments, that occasionally result in disaster, like the booboo that you see in the picture below, and when he hurts himself, he usually pretends for the first 30 seconds that he is fine, and then suddenly dissolves into tears.
He breaks almost everything that he touches, and the other things, he ties into knots.
He loves school and feels very important when he has "homework", and when he doesn't, he asks for me to make him some.
He is, most of the time, so patient with being condescended by his sometimes insecure bigger brother.
He loves things like umbrellas, and tools, and fishing poles.
Soccer totally wore him out, and afterward he suggested that "for my next sport, I would like to do skateboarding, because all you do is you just put one foot on the board, and you push with the other foot."
Apparently soccer was way too complicated.
He likes snuggling as much as any teddy bear, but even his love often feels violent.
I have moments of worry about his rebellious spirit, but so many other moments of wonder at the depth of his heart. He is a giver. The one who sins much, is forgiven much, and loves much. And that pretty much says it all about The Dude.
I am thankful for Aquaman, my firstborn, the one who likes to remind me, only half-kidding, that he is my experiment....the one that I will make all of my mistakes parenting.
Thankful that he is growing up so big and so independent, but that we still have moments like Monday night when he climbs into my lap in the rocking chair and pours out his heart to me. I am thankful that he entrusts his complicated feelings to me, and thankful that God entrusted this complicated child to me as well. Sometimes, talking to him is so intense, so rich and deep that I almost forget he is my child and not a friend.
And then he goes racing off pushing his little brother in a cozy coupe ahead of him at reckless speeds and I remember.
At school he is a total enigma. He reads and does math well above grade level, but he absolutely despises it, and trying to get him to do his homework, or just sit down to read a book can result in a solid hour of crying. His writing is barely on grade level, and the disparity between his fine motor skills and the rate at which his brain works causes him endless frustration. On his last interim report, his teacher said "he tunes in and out, starts his work too late and then rushes to finish it which results in poor penmanship."
His teacher has perfect bubbly handwriting, and Aquaman makes sure to scream that at the top of his lungs when he is frustrated. And I feel him, I really do, I can remember spending hours crying over my backwards J's too.
He loves to listen to Ramona books as much as I love to read them.
He has complicated dreams, and even more complicated nightmares.
He is the boy who first made me a mother, and I am so so thankful for him.
4) I am so thankful for JT. He has my heart, and he always will. I am thankful for the nights when he slips into bed long after midnight after working a 16 hour day and is as gentle and kind and soft as if he had been doing whatever he wanted all day. I am even more thankful for the time we get together since he has started working 2 jobs. I am thankful that even though he is gone from the house often, when he is there he is fully present. He is a bit of a pushover, and often I have to be the bad cop, but as the years have gone by I have become more and more thankful for that. What an amazing gift for my boys to have a father who if he errs, errs with grace. I remember worrying when I was pregnant with Aquaman that we would have a girl, because I could not picture JT ever saying no to her. But it turned out, he has a hard time saying no to boys too. Greystoke leads him through the darkness at night on adventurous walks to the pool, and The Dude body slams him mercilessly, and Aquaman orders him to build elaborate and creative Lego creations, and JT does all of this with a smile. He says no when he has to, and he always backs me up, but he loves our boys with his whole heart, and he loves me more, and he loves God the most of all.
JT still looks at me like I'm the same 25 year old surfer girl he danced with almost 9 years ago at our wedding reception, even though I never wear makeup anymore, and I don't remember the last time i caught a wave.
He still hugs me and holds my hand, and asks me about my day, and when I show him the first silvery gray hair, he assures me that they are just blond highlights from the sun.
He fears very very little, and mostly he fears God, and I love that about him. Even though we haven't even left the state of Florida in 5 years, life with him always feels like an adventure, just like I knew it would, and I am so thankful for that. So thankful that he lets God lead us, that he works hard where he is and he puts the rest into God's hands.

5) I am thankful for our families. Thankful to both sets of parents for the love they pour into us and into our children. For seeing us as blessings and not as burdens. Thankful for siblings and cousins that we will be able to share our Thanksgiving with this year, and for the many that we will not who are spread out all over the country. Even when we can't be together, they are such a big part of our story.
6) The boys have been going to bed later for a while now, and Greystoke often goes to bed early then wakes up again and has to be soothed back to sleep, so I spend a lot of my evenings in a rocking chair in the boys' room reading library books lately and drinking peppermint tea.
I still remember the way my dad would sit on the floor of my bedroom with a stack of books  in the evenings when I was afraid to go to sleep by myself.
I am thankful for books and words and the ability to express ourselves, and the ability to lose ourselves in someone else's story, and in that to be able to rise up and be inspired to be something greater than what we are today. Books are such a big part of who I am, and who I will become.
Most of all I am thankful for the Bible, the book that always reels me back in to what really matters. That restores my so often and so easily distorted vision back to reality.
Reality is not something we can see looking out at the world, or looking within ourselves. Reality is only found in Him and His Truth.
6) I am really thankful for our church. Greystoke has finally been going to the nursery with only about 30 seconds of crying, and I have been able to sit and worship without distraction. I am thankful for a church where everyone sings loudly, even the people who can't carry a tune, maybe even especially the people who can't carry a tune, because I think their faithfulness, their being unashamed, their offering is the purest. When I am in a crowd of people worshiping like that, I feel like for just a moment I am experiencing heaven. A sea of imperfect voices lifted up to God. I love the theme of imperfection at our church. The come just as you are. I love that almost every time I am there I meet someone new, someone who seems genuinely happy to meet me.
I love that Greystoke comes home with a sticker on his diaper that says "I was checked and prayed for today". I guess that probably seems silly, and I am sure some of the workers don't actually pray, but I bet some of them do, and that means something to me.
I love that one of the pastors is always quoting JT's trinity fitness devotionals, and that all of the sermons present the gospel, and that every week there people are being saved.
Saved from hell. That is not nothing. That is something amazing.

7) I am thankful for our home, which, when we bought it 5 years ago seemed like we would grow out of it quickly, but what's crazy is, I can see us spending another 5 years in it. I am thankful that "love grows best in little houses". Thankful for the piles and piles of laundry that are always waiting to be washed and put away, for the dust bunnies that are collecting under the beds, for the door handles that are always sticky. They are a celebration of our lives, of the life that is lived colorfully inside of these walls, and I am thankful for all of it.

8) I am thankful that His thoughts are not my thoughts, and that His ways are higher than my ways. The things I so often focus on and think are important are not, and I am thankful that when I wander, or when my eyes wander, He always guides me back to the right paths.

I am thankful that even though sometimes my days feel insignificant and small, they are all in His hands.
Thankful that even though I can't know what tomorrow will bring, I can know without a doubt who will hold me tomorrow.

The school thanksgiving feasts are over, the crafts are complete, our thankful tree is made.

We  even made some rice krispie treat turkeys this year. Vegetarian Asher now says that "turkey" is his favorite food.
Happy Thanksgiving.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” Thornton Wilder



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Meaning

"The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You."
Isaiah 26:3

So much has happened this week in the world. Sometimes I look down at my little crew and I
can barely breathe out a thank you for the abundance in my heart, and in the tiny little bubble world in which I love to envelope myself and snuggle down.

"You hem me in behind and before,
                                                        and you lay your hand upon me.
                                                                            Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
                                                      too lofty for me to attain."
Psalm 139:5
Life is sweet for us right now. True, nothing is ever done. And it literally took me all day to work up the energy to clean the broken egg out of the back of the refrigerator the other day. It taunted me between breaking up fights between the older 2, and the younger 2, and the oldest and the youngest, and comforting a toddler who has been uncharacteristically unreasonable this week.

I was reading a devotional this morning that mentioned that we should make our homes inviting and pretty, and especially our dining room tables, and at that very moment I looked over at our stained and beat up Ikea table with the leg that is bent and sagging, and the broken chairs around it and I laughed out loud. But I didn't feel sad.

Not even a little bit sad.

What does make me sad? Toddler size flip-flops on the floor by the door. Catching a glimpse of them out of the corner of my eye at the same moment that I was telling JT about the ISIS attacks on Paris. Wondering if the little feet that fit into them will turn into big feet that fit into boots and march into the terror of war someday.
Wondering what little feet of wandering refugee children would fit into them.

This world is so big, and my life is so small, and I struggle with that. How can I help change the world when I can barely get my 3 little boys clean and fed and loved and read to and challenged and prayed with every day?
I don't know.
"Holy Spirit, You are welcome here. Come flood this place, and fill the atmosphere."

We sang this part of this song over and over again on Sunday. I sang with my eyes closed. All of my children stayed in childcare the whole time. JT wasn't able to come to church this week, I sat beside people I didn't know, but who were not strangers.
I sang those words over and over again, and I meant them, and I felt His smile upon me.
Some people get annoyed at the way praise songs repeat themselves over and over again, but whenever I repeat things to God over and over, I think of that verse in Revelation that talks about the creatures who spend eternity saying: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty: Who was, and is, and is to come."
And maybe that sounds boring, but only if you don't know what it is to feel God's presence. To bask in it. It is all consuming.

It is not boring.
There is so much uncertainty in this world, and so much pain. But I can't really explain it....uncertainty used to scare me. Even just last week it used to scare me, and I'm sure it will scare me again.
 I wanted a 10 year plan. Heck, I wanted the 5 minute plan. I have known from a very young age that we are guaranteed nothing more than the breath we have today. We are guaranteed nothing more than the moment we have today to kiss the top of sparse blond heads, to endure a kick in the gut from the 4 year old whose love is so painful, to listen one last time to the 7 year old regale you with details of his Lego Ninjago book.
But this week, what a gift, every single time I have felt uncertain, every single time I have wondered about tomorrow, worried about the future, fretted over the propaganda that surrounds me, I have heard God speak His word to me. Little whispers. Giant Truths. The only source of Truth in a world that wants everyone to believe its lies.
Even my own heart is a struggle. What are my intentions? Sometimes I think I am seeking God when really I am only seeking myself. Daily, more and more, I shudder at the darkness of my own sin.
It's why the evil in the world around me really doesn't surprise me, and can't surprise me. We are all desperate sinners. But for the grace of God where would I be? The stains of sin still on my hands. I am weak, I am fallible.
And I am free because God made it so. Because He couldn't just leave us there. Couldn't just leave me there.
What an incredible feeling that is. Like suddenly sprouting wings and soaring up over this great big mess that our world has become. The way your heart drops into your throat, but it's not fear exactly. It's...thrill.
And that's how I've been feeling this week. And what I have been wishing I was better at sharing with the world. It's not fair to keep it to myself. It's not right. It is more blood on my hands.
This world is so, so messed up, but we don't have to be afraid of it. We have to be bold. We have to step out into it, we have to let ourselves be used up entirely.
It is such a temptation sometimes to be concerned about preserving the body. I know the temptation as I have been getting older. I see the first few strands of gray and it makes me nervous. My joints ache and I wonder if it's the beginning of the end. It is a reminder of our human frailty. Because of sin, these bodies will not last forever.

But what we do with them will.
And I've decided that that is how I will change the world today.
I will pray for a bigger vision, a bigger impact, but mostly I will live fully in connection with God in the now.
The poet Emily Dickinson said "forever is composed of nows."
My only opportunity to impact the future is today....is right now where God has placed me.
"You should not spend your days trying to preserve your body in its eighteen-year-old form. Let it be used. By the time you die, you want to have a very dinged and dented body... Scars and stretch marks and muffin tops are all part of your kingdom work. One of the greatest testimonies Christian women can have in our world today is the testimony of giving your body to another." -Rachel Jankovic
I love this. I want to be the mustard seed that dies today, that breaks open to form a great tree that maybe I will not even get to see in this world.
I want to be a caterpillar that braves the gooey nothingness stage in order to become something beautiful.

I am really loving our church. I am really loving that when I asked Aquaman the other day what he learned in his class he said "well, mostly, we talk about how God can use us to change the world." I can tell he really likes that. I love that he is thinking about more than common core math and Junie B Jones books and Lego creations. I wish that more people could get a glimpse into the extraordinary heart that he has today, but I also truly believe that someday, when he has had some years and training to handle the complexities of his extraordinary heart, they will.
He told me the other day that the verse they were learning at church was Proverbs 31:8-9

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."

I told him that this was one of my favorite verses, the verse that I have always considered my life verse as a nurse.
I loved the way he suddenly became shy, looking at his shoes before his eyes met mine again and he said quietly: "it's my favorite verse in the Bible too."

Aquaman doesn't just say stuff like that. He doesn't just agree with you to be agreeable. In fact, I would say it is hard for him to admit that he likes something when someone else says they like it too....yes, he is that ornery.

But that makes it mean more when he does.

And so we will continue to walk our roads of uncertainty this week.

We will do it with mixed up hearts that know where to go when we are thirsty for Truth.
We will do it with bodies that sometimes feel used up from being poured into others, and hearts that long to change the world.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mudpies

It's Awana time again. The big boys are gone, JT is working until late. Greystoke is swinging his feet in a toddler chair while he eats a cracker and watches Barney. We just tried to take a walk but it is still too hot out, and he was too tired to enjoy it...demanding to get out and walk then not being satisfied with that either. 

There are little Legos everywhere.
All week I take the boys on adventures here and there because my boys have so much energy and need so much exercise. This morning it was a bike ride to Gleason park where we fed the fish in the pond and played in the freshly rained-in sand. 




Yesterday it was soccer in the morning and the beach for body boarding in the afternoon. 



As a result of all those adventures, when we are home I am usually running around doing things and don't have time to play with the kids, but once a week on Sundays I set a timer for 20 minutes for each kid and do whatever they want me to do. This week it was Legos for both of them.
I reserved a book from the library called "Amazing Machines" which gives a step by step for building multiple vehicles with ordinary Lego pieces. I thought for sure that this would be a fun thing to do with Aquaman today, but after 5 minutes of searching through pieces he was totally over it. 

And after I got over myself, I just played the way he wanted to play.
He is so sweet. Every time I make something (and for the record, I am not a good Lego builder) he loves it so much that he asks if he can play with it after our play time is over. 

We have all the Legos on a train table from Grandma's house now, but they still make an enormous mess, especially when Greystoke pulls up one of those toddler chairs and starts swinging his hands around flinging Legos around the room with glee.
So we pick them up 100 times a day but they're always there. 


And with JT working 70-80 hours a week lately...there is a lot....undone around here. And as difficult as that has been to accept, I am learning to accept it. 
I say learning because I was learning last week and I am still learning this week and I highly doubt that I will ever have actually learned it, but every day I make a conscious decision to just breathe and step forward and do what I can do in each moment, and leave what I can't, and know that is ok.

I wish I could say in this learning to accept the undone housework that I was also being some sort of amazing mother, but I am wearing thin on this job too. 

This morning I got so upset at Aquaman for smiling in my face when I told him to go to time out for picking on The Dude, I ended up having to distance myself for a little while where once I calmed down, I realized that he was just doing it because he was embarrassed and didn't know what else to do. So I went and talked to him and told him that he really shouldn't smile when I correct him because he should be sad about doing something that is wrong. And then I added....but I think you did feel sad and just didn't know how to show it? And his eyes filled with tears and he said "yes. I just smiled because I used to throw a great big fit and that really doesn't do any good, does it?"

My whole goal as a parent is not to raise a well behaved child. I want to sometimes because when your kids sin all big in front of everyone it is embarrassing. But it's what kids do. It's what people do. It's the reason God gave kids parents...to teach them....and the whole reason that Jesus died and rose again....to save them.
My goal is to raise boys who will be "men after God's own heart". And that means taking the long view and persevering today when some days it doesn't feel like I am making any progress at all. 

The Dude is totally wearing me out. He has learned to tie knots in things and so he ties knots in everything he can find. He ties most things to door handles. He even tied his own foot to one. He is not, however, good at untying knots.

The Halloween candy has been the bane of his existence. Aquaman has always been able to handle it. He eats like one a day and doesn't really even ask about it. The Dude is obsessed. He has been sneaking it every time I turn around. He does not seem to have any self control whatsoever.

He threw Greystoke's antibiotic at a little girl at Publix who was trying to make friends with him.
He threw a block at Aquaman's head because Aquaman wanted a turn with something.
He colored the toilet seat with a dry erase marker...and didn't tell me until it dried.
He spent his entire last soccer game twirling around the field with a little girl, completely oblivious to the game going on around him.

And flooded the bathroom trying to fill an empty Listerine bottle with water.

He has completely worn me out this week. This has been a week in which it would have been really nice for him to have some time with JT. But we muddled through somehow.
And in the middle of the night, just after JT had come to bed from a late night at work, he climbed into bed with us and JT pulled him next to him to cuddle him and The Dude broke free and said "you know why I like mommy better? Because on her skin, it is softer." and he fell asleep against my skin and in my heart which suddenly felt softer than it did when I was scrubbing the toilet seat and sopping up the water and groaning on the sidelines of the soccer game.

Greystoke is on the floor making car noises now and pushing a matchbox car around. I could watch him all day, he is absolutely adorable. He is still so agreeable that I had no idea he had an ear infection until the doctor told me at his well visit. 

The other day he wanted me to give him something and when I didn't, he wound his hand back like he was going to hit me, but he never hits because he simply doesn't care as much as my passionate older boys. And the sight of his hand all wound back and the totally unconvinced look on his face was too much for me and I burst out laughing and said "you aren't going to HIT me are you?" and he collapsed into giggles too. He never did hit me. Thank you, Jesus, for this boy. I love my 2 little fighters, but a 3rd might have been too much for me!



I've been trying to wake up early and read my Bible but as usual I can't seem to drag myself out of bed before the boys' 6:30 am wake up call...especially since many nights I am sleeping fitfully until JT joins me back in our bed. 
It is the best feeling when he climbs in. Like everything is right again.
I am grateful for his return, and even grateful for his absence, because it has reminded me that while God has gifted me with JT who has this totally calming and uplifting influence on my heart, in the end, that calming and uplifting influence comes from God Himself.
So nights when I am falling to sleep by myself, I try to think of all the verses I can remember, and feel God's comforting arms slipping around me. 

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the future of our family. What direction will we take? So many things are already behind us but there are even more ahead. The early years have been tiring, but the unknowns of the future are perhaps even more tiring sometimes. We have so many dreams, but we've placed them all in a basket of what ifs. I don't like to dwell on any direction because I don't know if it's the one that will open up, This was making me feel unsettled until earlier this week when I read this quote by Oswald Chambers:

"As long as you maintain your own personal interests and ambitions, you cannot be completely aligned or identified with God’s interests. This can only be accomplished by giving up all of your personal plans once and for all, and by allowing God to take you directly into His purpose for the world."

In the middle of the night, one night when Greystoke was restlessly rolling in our bed and JT was still running around a banquet room floor getting blisters on his feet, I got up to go to the bathroom, and I said to God: "you can have it all."

I don't want it anyway. I spend so much time wanting God to lay out my 10 year plan but most of the time He doesn't work like that. He works in the day to day...plugging along with the time outs and the cornbread crumbs and the holding hands under the covers. 

And that's ok with me.


“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” -C.S. Lewis


I am praying today that I would only be pleased with God's best. We have been given so much, it is staggering. But I don't want to be easily pleased with the things of this world...I want to want only the best. God's best.


For now I am going to go eat a quiet dinner with the youngest member of our family, who by my estimation says about 50 words now, but, like me, is still comfortable with long silences.
I am going to pick up the Legos....again...and get everything ready for another busy week to start.