December 3, 2016

Tidings of comfort and joy

Earlier in the evening, I sat here craving a big warm mug of my Gramma's sweet rice.  I only make it when it's cold much like today has been.  Sweet rice is the perfect creamy mixture of love and comfort.  It sits in your belly and it has this way of reaching all the way out to your fingers and toes making you feel like someone has hugged you from the inside.

I've always found it interesting how food can do that to a person - literally alter how they are feeling about themselves or their day.  A sip of wine, a bite of fresh bread, that perfect crispy apple, ice cold milk, gooey brownies hot out of the oven - isn't there something satisfying to the soul about certain foods?

I've fasted from sweets before.  A few years back, I observed Lent for the first time and gave up sweets for that season.  It was an extremely long 40 days and 40 nights, but after the first two weeks, I noticed my cravings for it subsided.  And as I fasted from sweets, I anticipated Easter Sunday with a new fervor and not just because my fast would come to an end that day.  My time with Jesus was sweet that season.  I still remember what we walked through together and I'm grateful I accepted His invitation there.

Sugar seems to be my nemesis.  Especially if it's found in the form of chocolate.  I've learned over the years that eating sugar begets more eating of the sugar.  Our bodies become dependent on it and call for more even though it's the very last thing we need to put inside of it!  Fasting from sweets this time of year feels absolutely absurd.  It's around me everywhere and the temptations are already astronomical and it's only the third day of the month.  

December usually comes with certain sugary traditions:  Eggnog.  Gramma's sweet rice.  Hot chocolate.  Pumpkin bread. Gingerbread men.  Sugar cookies.  Almond bark pretzels. 

Being someone that has struggled with eating disorders and food addictions for most of my life, I know intimately what it means to go to food for comfort.  The comfort though often would turn violent as I would binge or overeat to the point of actually feeling so full I was in physical pain.  Tonight, my children are in bed, my husband is working and I'm alone in the house with my twinkle lights and snuggly blankets and all I can think about is wanting something comforting to eat.

Maybe I'm just in need of comfort.

I wonder why it doesn't feel natural to go to God for comfort.  The angels came to the shepherds declaring that they had tidings of comfort and joy, or at least that's what we sing at Christmastime isn't it?  The birth of Jesus, this promised Messiah - He had finally arrived and this news was meant to bring comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

That's a lot of comfort wrapped into two verses.

Tonight, I'm curious about comfort.  What parts of me are needing His comfort?  How do sweetness and comfort go together?  I think of our nation, our world - so much hurting, so much sadness and fear and tragedy.  How can I play a role in bringing comfort to someone else?

I'm curious what it would be like to experience Jesus as my comforter.  I wonder if it might feel a little like my Gramma's sweet rice and being hugged from the inside.

December 1, 2016

The Miracle of Christmas

I read tonight that miracles happen whenever we look for shoots of Jesus' love everywhere.  Like a new branch springing forth from an old stump.  And I have to admit, it's hard to not only look for Jesus' love, but it's hard to find it even if you are looking. 

"Jesus comes as your little-yet-big miracle, who whispers to you in a noisy world: Right where you are, look for the small glimpses of my love unfurling around you like a slender leaf, like the branches of a tree, like the seeking limbs of a babe." - Ann Voskamp, excerpt from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

This evening, my boys fought with each other.  Jacob screamed about dinner and my insisting on his eating of green beans.  I tried to jog on my treadmill, though I had to hop off every three minutes to settle a dispute, take someone to the bathroom, and say no to a snack for the seventeenth time.  My living room floor is scattered with dirty socks and Batman toys and throw pillows that always manage to be thrown and never manage to stay on my sofa. 

Yet, I'm surrounded by the glow of our Christmas tree and the scent of vanilla and cranberry candles burning, filling the air with warmth and sweetness.  I am smiling after reading text messages from a new friend.  And I was blessed that my husband washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen after dinner tonight.

I'm somewhere between the beauty of the Christmas season and the reality of my life that is filled with it's own measure of chaos and the load I bear that often wears me out.  And when I stop to notice, there is evidence of His love shooting out. Jesus is faithful to let love grow again.

I don't know if I live like I really believe that miracles happen if we look for shoots of Jesus' love everywhere.  And I certainly don't know if I have a daily posture that not only looks for it, but exemplifies it.  But, I know that I want to.

And the miracle that happened still happens in the heart that will believe and receive the miracle of Christmas.....

November 30, 2016

Let every heart prepare Him room

They wait and look up expectantly the first time the tree is decorated, all glowing and shining, it's base barren and waiting for the promise of the good gifts to come.  They are the picture of anticipation and waiting.  Christmas is coming! Christmas is coming!
There will be festive lights, family traditions, special cookies, and colorfully wrapped packages.  Yes, Christmas is coming.  But, what does that mean?  And more importantly, what does it mean to me?

I have long enjoyed this season.  Decorating, baking, gift-giving, party-throwing - it's practically all of my favorite things rolled in to one month.  Yet, almost every season, I feel drained and spent.  The season comes and goes and there is always this nagging feeling in my heart that I've missed something.  I've come to realize that it's Him that I'm missing - Jesus, the very reason for the season I love so much.

This Christmas, my side of the family has some very special things planned: A giant family sleepover.  A White Elephant gift exchange that will be a first for us to do.  And another round of family karaoke that is sure to be epic considering we will have ALL of the family there this time.  There is the promise of so much laughter, joy and beautiful glory-filled tears that  I can feel myself ramping up with emotion, hope and excitement as we plan and prepare for our time together.

Several nights ago, I couldn't sleep.  I woke up in the middle of the night, got out of bed and began to read and journal.  I did some research on advent - some of the history and traditions that surround it and as I did, I began to hear that still, small voice.  The One that has invited me to know Him and go deeper with Him again and again.  The One who always calls me to more.

I started to be curious about how I could observe this advent season differently than I have in years past.  To start, I decided to approach it with some fasting and prayer, and to purpose a quieter and less scheduled holiday season.  One that left room for giving and serving others, for being more present with my family in ways that didn't include big things or expensive family outings and one that included plenty of real rest for my soul.  I have a book to read and I plan to write of course. 

My prayer tonight, this night before the first of December, is for a heart that has prepared room for Jesus.  I want my schedule, my body, my heart and my home to be prepared for what's to come.  And not just for our big family Christmas.  But to really meet Christ this Christmas in a way that I haven't before.

Oh, how I want my heart tonight to mimic that of my boys by the tree.  Waiting expectantly for Jesus, the greatest gift that came, the greatest gift that still comes, and the greatest gift still to come.

Christmas is coming.  What does that mean to you?

November 24, 2016

Thankful

Oh, it was so wretched.  The diverticulitis, the month long stay in the hospital, the blown IV’s, the lonely days and nights without my husband and family, the physical pain, the tears, the loneliness.  The immense hunger and thirst my body experienced for days, and weeks and then months.  The helplessness, the sitting in my recliner in a narcotic drugged haze as days and flew by without me.  It was so terribly awful and when I was alert enough to really feel what was going on, I would cry and ache for normalcy.  To be buzzing away at my job, folding laundry at home, sitting around the table with my family for a meal.   

Every once in a while, I have to stop and cry about it all.  There was so much I didn’t feel this year.  I was pumped so full of drugs to help with the pain, that so much of my experience, especially in the hospital is a blur.  I seem to remember the most traumatic moments the most, while I have vague memories of friends who stopped by to see me.  I wish it could be the other way around.

This journey has marked me.  It was a kind of undoing that I never saw coming.  But in the undoing, I was remade somehow.  There was so much of me that was like hard ground, cracked and grey with death and God came in with these sharp, jagged tools that hurt at first, but has brought up the soft, rich, life-giving soil that has been buried underneath.  Over the last several months, I’ve been humbled with gratitude for what He took me through.  How God loves me enough to take me through hard things, to deepen my understanding of His faithfulness and love.   

Perhaps He is still doing some tilling and breaking ground in me.  But I am hopeful about what is being planted and what will spring forth in a season to come.

Leaving our church was one of the most gut-wrenching decisions we were faced with all year.  Six years as a part of this church family and it was home to us and our boys.  As things began to unravel two years ago, we tried to cling to what we had and prayed it wouldn’t change or shift.   It took a toll on my husband more than I took the time to see.  I was so focused on trying to glue broken things back together that I couldn’t see how much he was hurting.  When he made the decision for us to leave, I was devastated, yet I trusted his choice for our family and followed his leading.  Since then, I have missed it and cried for it and grieved our leaving, wishing I could somehow go and apologize to those we hurt or tie something up with a bow and maybe that would make it all better.  I’m so thankful for that church – for God putting us in this place for the time He did, for the people who reached in and touched our lives and impacted our hearts.  Most of the friendships made there, I’ve learned, were for a season.  And while I’ve pouted and gotten angry and cried over the loss of the community we once had, I’m grateful for the time that we had it.  This perhaps is the hardest place to bring Him thanks.  Even though we were the ones to leave, it feels like He took something away.  And how do you thank God for isolating you?   

I may not be able to thank Him for the lonely place we’ve ended up as a result of leaving this church, but I can praise Him for the giving and the taking away He does.  He allows things to happen, allows hearts to callous and harden.  He allows people to come in and out of our lives for a purpose and a season.  He allows us to make our own choices too and He is faithful to show up in the aftermath of those consequences.  And if we’ve been paying attention, He will grow and refine us in the process.

That’s what makes walking with Jesus so wondrous.  We go through awful pain, we make bad choices, we wrestle with addictions, we struggle, grieve, rage and pout.  And He is faithful to show up.  He brings His light to every dark place in our life and somehow, He makes it good.  He always, always makes it good because He is good.   

While the year feels plagued with death and loss, I find myself thankful for the places He continues to invite me to stretch and grow because of it.  And if I could some up anything that I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving, it’s for Him, always Him.  For His love, patience, forgiveness and unending, sufficient, amazing grace that I would be so desperately lost without. 

November 19, 2016

Mothering the Wild


He still crawls up into my lap each night after his bath and brushing of his teeth.  He sits there with his soft blue blanket and ragged white puppy and asks me to sing to him.  I sing the familiar lullabies softly in his ear, my chin on his head, cradling his little boy self in my arms.  Sometimes he sings with me, others he lays quiet on my chest reminding me of his infancy when he would finally still in my arms after a long day of what seemed like endless fussing and crying.

Jacob is a wild mess of sweaty blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes full of mischief and a wonder, and he has a smile that could light up a whole room all on its own.  He is adorable and he knows it.  Most days, he is running from one end of our house to the other dressed as Captain America or Batman off to save the day and take down the bad guy.  I’ve lost count of the walls and surfaces he has managed to color on, the remnants of his scribbles still found in my kitchen and our dining room table.  Dark, black permanent marker and bright red crayon, sharp jagged marks and hard lines that reflect his aggression and intensity.
He is my second born and couldn’t be more different than my older son both in looks and spirit.  He pushes back against every rule, feels everything with intense and strong emotion and requires much one-on-one time and attention.  He needs a large amount of activity every day to get out all of the energy he has in his tiny little body.  And he throws fits – big, large nasty ones that involve throwing, hitting, scratching and kicking, though now he has at least directed that aggression into objects instead of people.  Progress!

Many labels have already been put on my Jacob.  Strong-willed.  Passionate.  Spirited.  Energetic.  And more negative labels like defiant and hot-tempered.  Lately, I’ve gotten into the habit of calling him my threenager as I’ve endured some pretty dramatic episodes that I couldn’t make up even if I tried.

It’s funny to laugh about sometimes – the things we as mothers of young children say, experience and witness first hand.  When we dream about these little “bundles of joy” coming into our lives, we don’t imagine ourselves having to say things like “Please, don’t lick the table” or “No, we don’t taste our pee.”  We hope it will never be us that has to escort our screaming child out of Target while everyone looks at us wondering what kind of awful parent we are that our child is behaving that way in public.  
And all mothers have a poopy crib story.  I still shudder remembering my own.

But moms, we imagined things didn’t we?  We had dreams and sweet visions of what it would be like to care for and nurture our children.  Like reading stories before bedtime and making precious memories on summer vacations and Christmas holidays.  And even the basic everyday things like feeding and bathing and clothing our children – of course without any incident, because what incident could there possibly be?  

But, my world right now?  If you give my child a piece of toast and the butter hasn’t melted all the way into it, he will scream at you until the toast is fixed or you break down and let him have a popsicle instead.  And if a drop of water gets on his eye in the bathtub, we reach DEF CON 5 freakout level.  And long pants are a terrible, terrible idea and mine throws himself on the floor because I had the nerve to pick out jeans for him to wear.  Or the socks are wrong.  Or he doesn’t like how that t-shirt feels on his tummy.

Seriously?

Recently, we went to a restaurant with my family and Jacob was laying on the floor as we waited in line by the counter to order.  Everyone was looking at me and giving me these judgmental stares that said, “Um, your kid is laying on the floor and that’s gross and why aren’t you making him behave more civilized?”  And all I was thinking was that my kid isn’t screaming at me in public and he can lay on the damn floor all he wants.

This is not the motherhood I imagined.  I am not the mother I imagined I would be either.  I lose it.  I scream back at him.  I slam doors.  Sometimes I let my anger match his and later when I’ve calmed down, I regret it and feel horribly guilty. 

Motherhood is rough ya’ll.  I mean, it’s gnarly.  Between the shit (literal and figurative), pee, puke, sweat, tears, and blood, the verbal assaults add insult to injury.  Jacob has already screamed that he hates me on several occasions and I suppose I assumed that these words wouldn’t come until at least teenagerdom, but here we are.

I have actually and for seriously cried every single day for the last several weeks.  Earlier this week, what was supposed to be a fun family cookout around our fire pit turned into another dramatic screaming session because the marshmallow inside his s’more was too gooey and he couldn’t eat it. Todd took him inside and put him to bed, while I sat there and sobbed as I threw his blasted s’more into the fire watching my motherhood dreams melt and burn in front of my eyes.  

“This isn’t how it was supposed to be!  It shouldn’t be this f*cking hard!” I shook my fist to the sky and threw my hands in the air.  I’m not sure if I was yelling that at God or myself or my own mother.  I know for certain that my imagined mother self didn’t say f*ck as many times as I have in recent days either.

*sigh*

I’m scared that I’m failing at this.  I’m scared that I’m screwing him up and I’m not doing something right and that I’m failing his precious little heart because I can’t handle all of the screaming about all of the things all of the times!  I want to be the patient, loving, gentle mother he deserves but those words don’t describe my mothering most days.

The truth is, I want him to always be a little wild.  I want him to push back sometimes and question the rules.  I want him to discover things on his own, form his own beliefs and vocalize his thoughts and feelings because they matter.  I want him to be the kind of person that feels deeply and engages this world with the passion he clearly possesses.  But for the love of all that is pure and holy, I want him to stop screaming about everything.  Every day.  All the time.  
I know this season will end.  I am anticipating the shift that comes with him turning four.  And please God, let there be a shift when he turns four.  

But I guess what I really need, is for my own mother to look me in the eyes, cup my face and tell me I’m doing well.  That yes, this is hard and no, it's not possible to enjoy every moment.  That God picked me to be Jacob’s mama and no one could do it better than me.  And that I’m doing a good job.  Because a mother needs to hear from her own mother about mothering and it’s another place I don’t have her that feels like a loss.

So I’ll say this to you, mama’s.  The weary ones with the strong-willed children.  The ones whose children scream at you or lay on floors in public.  The ones who have to escort your fit-throwing threenager out of the store while keeping your game face on.  The one who exhales deeply after they are finally in bed or a trip to the grocery store alone is your happy place:  

I see you.  I’m with you.  You’re doing a good job.  It’s going to be okay. You’re not failing.  It’s hard and it’s not what you imagined.  Let's grieve that together.  To you, I raise the box of tissue for the bad days, the sweet ones, and the gloriously easy days that take you by surprise.  

Let’s mother on.