Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lessons from the South

[The following was written for a mothers-of-preschoolers group newsletter published in the Summer of 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee. I have republished it with permission from myself, thank you very much.]

Hal Ketchum's crooning over the AM/FM radio, the Budget truck's engine governor rattling its complaint against my husband's lead foot, the jolting movement of New Mexico's patched infrastructure under our wheels. Somewhere amidst all of this, I stared out the window with silent tears rolling down my pillow-imprinted cheeks. I cried for many reasons: sorrow for the friends, mostly moms, that I was leaving in Nashville; joy for God's faithfulness in providing for our family and sustaining our marriage while my husband completed his grueling three-year job training; grief, almost physical in its grip, for Lucy, whom we birthed, loved, lost, and now left her memorial in Tennessee; and then, I cried a somewhat restful cry, almost like a sigh, as I tried to relinquish it all to the constant Comforter.

The truth of the matter is that the South didn't welcome us with warm hospitality three years ago. It battered us with a string of broken cars, lost babies, mounting bills, spiritual doubts, and perhaps worst of all, the nagging and pervading lie that I was inadequate as a mom and a wife, even if I was empowered by God Himself.

Now, as I unpack the sagging, tired moving boxes, I realize that the things I treasure the most from your land are the lessons I carry in my heart.

I've learned that domestic tasks are not below me. Jesus did a fish fry for his disciples on the beach, so surely I can toast some Eggos with a right heart. And there was that one Sunday sermon about the little boy whose lunch fed 5,000 under Christ's hand. I'd like to believe there was a woman, much like myself, who planned ahead and packed that lunchbox. And if indeed a woman really packed that little boy's lunch, she did it without knowing the importance of the mundane task she performed.

For us moms, whether what we do is recognized or not, whether society tells us it is relevant or not, we are called to this day because God calls us to it, not because we have some major, indispensable purpose (which, of course, I think we do, but that's besides the point!).

I've learned to ask for help. I'll never forget the day when I called Cheri Varner, my mentor mom, with trembling fingers and a screaming, booger-oozing baby on my hip. Though we were becoming fast friends, I had yet to be truly vulnerable with her. With no family to turn to and no other moms that would want my kids' illness, I admitted to Cheri that I was afraid I was going to shake my baby or scream at my daughter. I've never regretted making that phone call, only savored the safety found in that moment of honesty. Even Jesus asked for prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I believe we are invited to do the same. How refreshing it is to know we don't do it alone, that "[w]e are laborers together with God" (1 Cor. 3:9).

I've learned that my kids are not perfect. If they were, their mother would be nauseatingly proud. And then, where would Mom's need for God be? Nothing brings a mom to her knees quite like those kids. With imperfect children, we also get the added bonus of victories won! What's the fun in winning anything if your kid is perfect? With imperfect children, you are driven to your wit's end and then, this wonderful thing happens when you throw your hands up to Jesus and say, "I can't handle them! They are yours!" (as if they weren't His from the start). In those moments of surrender, He can then animate your life through his Holy Spirit, which lives out amazing fruits through you. Sweet victorious patience and love, instead of the more common "gnashing of teeth" sometimes found in my house.

Undoubtedly, the biggest lesson I've learned from Tennessee is this: not only are my kids not perfect, but I am not perfect. Whereas a year ago, I would have shrugged at that, gritted my teeth, and resolved to try harder, now this announcement makes me want to lift my hands and rejoice. Crazy, I know. It all came together one day when I realized I was screwing my kids up. As hard as I was trying, this particular day ended with me yelling at my daughter and throwing a Tupperware in the sink for emphasis (who's the three-year old?!). That night, I lay in bed feeling that familiar sensation of inadequacy barreling through me. But then, recalling the perfect love of Jesus, I realized the most amazing thing: He will use my imperfections for His good! If we were perfect parents, would our kids need a Savior? There will undoubtedly be large holes in my childrens' hearts, some even caused by me. But the glorious beauty of God is that He fills the gaps with Himself. His grace in my life says that I don't have to be perfect, just willing to grow in Him and allow His excellent power to heal me and my family. What a gift of freedom and rest!

Now, I'm learning new lessons already in my new hometown - how to cook oatmeal at higher elevation, how to maneuver the various family dynamics, how to live without Chick-Fil-A. And I'm learning to rejoice in our Father who unites us as one, even though 2,300 long miles separate us.

To all of my dear blog readers, I pray that the joy of the Lord would be our strength today, and if we opt out of that joy, may the grace of His Son fill the gaps.

Resting In Him,
Karen

I've linked this post here, where Hillary does her best to show grace in 100 different ways. So thankful for grace, that fills in the gaps.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Just Shutting My Mouth

Today, I had the privilege of speaking at our local MOPS meeting. A delightful bunch of young women, good strong coffee, plenty of kid-friendly activities, and candor made the morning quite refreshing.

After the official "talk," I joined a group of women and listened as they shared conversation. Somewhere in the midst of it, we were commiserating the trials of preschoolers and teething babies and...the list went on and on...until the funniest gal in the bunch caught sight of another mother walking by our table. With twin babies, one on each hip.

"We don't have any problems over here," she quipped loudly. "No complaining coming from this table. No sirree."

Which had us all laughing.

It reminded me of my interaction this weekend with a wonderful couple, Andrew and Stephanie, who are headed to Kenya to spend the rest of their lives serving in the slums. Suddenly, those rushed (but hot) showers in the morning don't seem so terrible. Nor does the state of my ten-year old mini-van.

In the words of Jon Acuff, "[E]ven if your missionary friend is quiet and never judgmental, I have to suspect that when you say, 'My hot water heater broke and I had to take a cold shower this morning,' he's secretly thinking, 'Water? I remember water. It's that wet stuff that comes out of pipes sometimes, right? I saw a picture of it in the book we have in the desert schoolhouse I teach in, and it reminded me that I had not yet taken a shower this month. But perhaps I will walk into the city next week and see if one of our host families will empty a plastic bottle of gray-colored water on my head. That would be nice, I think.'"
-
Excerpt from Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff, page 31, copyright 2010 by Zondervan.

Can you really complain about mothering in front of a mother of twins (and a toddler)? Can you really whine about the trials of being a middle-class American in front of missionaries?

Resting in a No-Complaining Zone Tonight,
Karen

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When You're Praying It's Negative

Waiting has never been pleasant.

It's why I hate traffic, and the post office. Why those steel-cut oats tease me with their thirty-minute simmer. And why we skip school for a week and go to Disneyland in the off-season for the shorter lines.

Is it me, or does God seem to sandwich life-changing moments with agonizing periods of waiting? Maybe that's on purpose - after all, if it's a life-changing moment, it would be nice to take a few deep breaths, get your feet under you, take a moment to reflect on where you've been and where you might be going.

In the three minutes it took for two little pink lines to pop up on that stick, Real Gil and I waited, hoped, tried not to hope, prayed for acceptance of the result. Three children later, I wonder if you can ever be prepared, though, when the waiting is finally over? Either positive or negative, the result takes some time to sink.

Waiting. Never my strong suit. Even on fun things like babies and boyfriends. Ask my family or dear college roommate Stephanie about waiting for Gil. It wasn't pretty.

But lately, the agony of waiting has taken on another dimension.

Though it seems a lifetime ago, it's been only three weeks since Real Gil came home from work a bit distracted. After the initial chaos of little ones who love their daddy, they wandered away and we sat together on the couch, my hands busy with laundry as we talked about our day. It didn't take long before I noticed the band-aid on his thumb.

"Did you cut yourself?" I asked.

"It's nothing," he quickly answered. Too quickly.

I kept folding. (Give me credit here, dear readers, for my silence. You know the rarity of this species if you've been reading for long.)

He took a deep breath. "Except that I cut it working on a patient infected with Hepatitis C."

Huh.

Hepatitis C. Isn't that just another name for the chicken pox? Just throw the man in a good oatmeal bath and all will be well.

Only I could see his concern. Apparently, a mustard paste and some Advil couldn't alleviate what ailed my best friend.

"I'm sure it's nothing," he said. "I didn't even see the cut until after I finished the procedure." He stood with force, as if to shake the very thought of exposure, and went to change out of his scrubs.

As most wives can, I heard something else in his voice.

This is when the occupational hazards of the medical field invaded our home and our imaginations.

I never had the nerve to actually Google "Hepatitis C," but Real Gil did enough research to keep himself awake for endless hours at night. When a coincidental symptom cropped up, we were both filled with dread. Was he looking a little jaundiced?, I wondered. Didn't he seem less hungry lately? And if I'm being perfectly honest, there were questions like Dare I kiss him? and Is this razor safe?

Finally, on his day off, I gently asked, "Is there anything we can do to stop this agonizing wait?" The fixer in me was already kicked into high gear. We could get fancy medications, use condoms indefinitely, Gil could even have some of my liver, surely that would help!

So, he went in for blood work.

And we waited. I found it interesting that after 32 years, I had entered the world of "negatives." That's the world of prevention, like colonoscopies and mammograms. There was nothing exciting about it.

Life went on around us, kids in the mud and birthday parties planned. But usually at night, when it was quiet and the distractions were few, I would mentally panic, find his hand in the dark, and pray.

Then, in an anti-climactic unfolding that left me limp in my chair, with children and craft glue all around us, he caught my eye and broke the news: "It's negative. No Hepatitis."

Pshaw. Of course not, you silly man. Now come over here and kiss me.

Later, though, sitting on my new porch swing with him, I felt his relief, almost palpable. The world was suddenly full of wonder and opportunity and LIFE. We watched our kids play in the sandbox and smiled, knowing full well that the story could be so different.

I rejoice in God's protection. And I even rejoice in the wait because of the clarity and gratitude it produced.

Resting Here,
Karen

Friday, September 24, 2010

Grace in the Many Hats


"What do you do, Karen?"

The question almost made me choke on the bite of bread in my mouth. I swallowed carefully.

What to say, what to answer!?? Do I make a joke about changing diapers for a living? Do I go deep and philosophical, replying "It's not what I do, but who I am that really matters..."? Or do I go for the simple "I'm a wife and mom" answer? Do I strategically sneak in comments that mention all the juggling acts I do throughout the course of my day, the second-grade curriculum we are currently wading through and the new recipes I'm testing this week? How amazingly clean my house is? How I have a great soccer-game snack planned for Saturday? (Pride, pride.)

The white linen tablecloth felt soft under my elbows - not proper etiquette for a fancy business dinner with hubby's colleagues, but comfortable and supportive - as I folded my nervous hands in front of me. I smiled and leaned forward, going for candor.

"I do a few things - taxi, counsel, manage, herd..."

My brain could only come up with four appropriate verbs. The inappropriate ones included "clean up puke, wipe fannies, count marbles, set the timer for timeouts, make dinner, land a babysitter and put make-up on in the car so I could come and drink water out of a goblet and try to look calm and collected with all you business suits in one room..." It could easily have become a tirade: "do you know how hard it is to fold laundry without spilling your coffee?"

If you sense some sarcasm here, you are right. Really, there is actually almost-but-not-quite- guilt these days over how wonderful life is as a stay-at-home mom. I can't play the victim with working moms, or any working person for that matter, because life is pretty blissful around here. I haven't cleaned puke for at least three months and the fanny-wipes are decreasing at an amazingly rapid rate. When Real Gil comes home from a long day of work, I have to almost pretend to be exhausted. Dare I type it here in real letters? - I think we might be moving out of that toddler stage.

Life is good.

And suddenly, those defenses which usually crop up in public conversations are gone. "What do I do?" Great question. I have nothing to prove, which opens me up to humor and rest in Him who truly defines me.

The kind man who was trying to make conversation with me over Real Gil's business dinner must have sensed that in my answer. While the folks next to us we're discussing their similar SUVs and how one model had a built-in GPS system and the other had the ipod dock and perhaps the two owners would like to trade cars for a day...he smiled and asked if I drove a fancy SUV.

I lifted my eyebrows, not sure if he was teasing me or not. I shook my head, leaning forward when I answered. "I push a button and the mini-van doors open. Kids get in. I push the button and the doors close."

His own eyebrows lifted. But I was just getting started. "We bought that sucker on e-bay and if you want to borrow it, I'll trade you cars one day and you can push the button."

He leaned his head back and laughed with me, admiring eyes crinkling in the corners. "Only if you leave the diaper bag in the car."

I smiled wickedly. "I don't use a diaper bag anymore. But don't you dare look in my purse." The miracle of getting to dinner on time meant that my purse still held one TowMater car, a tennis ball, the babysitter's cell phone number, the treasured mini-van keys, a grocery list, endless receipts, and a bottle of Childrens chewable Motrin.

This older man who has never had children, but who mentored my husband many years ago, commented, "You seem happy."

"I am."

We talked about cars, the military, how great Gil is, what to order off the menu... It was a wonderful evening with three-syllable words and steak knives, things I'm not accustomed to at dinner. More importantly, in this fancy room full of suits, ties, and high heels, I felt no need to impress, or lie about how perfect my juggling act is. Carefully avoiding the other extreme, there also wasn't a squirming under my own roles, a need to downplay what I do. Simply put, it was nice.

The struggle for identity and transparency is an ongoing one around here. Daily, as I am tempted to inflate over an accomplished to-do list or a happy child, I am reminded that these things don't define me, don't encapsulate all that I am, but I can still embrace this mothering thing with joy. An easy thing to do these days.

There are many hats we all wear, many roles we play. I rejoice in the perfect equipping for those roles that God gives, and rest in them too.

Rejoicing and Resting in Him,
Karen

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Miscellaney

An assortment of links, a mishmash, a hash, a pastiche, a collection, if you will. (Thank you, Mr. Thesaurus.)
  • If you are feeling crafty, Cathe has a great idea (if I had a nickel for every time I said that...) to enlarge funny household items and use them in your home decor. Too bad I don't have a color printer anymore. If you feel so inclined to make me a few of these, I'll humbly receive them.

  • If you aren't feeling particularly crafty but your children are, I have THE website for you: http://www.thetoymaker.com/. It'll cost you a few calories to press print and hand the kids some scissors and glue sticks, but after that, you're golden. My kids spent hours this week working on paper toy projects. Around our house, you will find these well-loved creations, and you might even find my own attempts scattered about.
  • If you aren't feeling crafty, but you want to use brain cells while also engaging your children, check out this website dedicated to teaching children the fine art of playground clapping. Fun, fun!
  • If I haven't found you a link yet, perhaps you should just go put your feet up and sip a cup of coffee. To do that, first get your little ones going on this site (My two- and three-year olds call it the "clicking game" and love to explore.). Get your older ones going on one of my new favorites, this FREE website that teaches phonics with great games, books, activities, and tons of other resources. It's a new favorite around here, thanks to freelyeducate.com for sharing the link.

  • If you want to shop, I would like a few of these. It's almost enough of a reason to quit home schooling, just so I could leave messages on little talkatoos strapped to kids' backpacks.
  • If you're looking for something a bit more spiritual, I have a quick read here with Heather-Hendricks-from-Texas-but-now-in-Haiti-because-then-her-name-could-be-Heather-Hendricks-of-Haiti and what could be cooler than that? Or if you want another, here's Eric's article, titled "The Myth of the Lukewarm Christian." Fantastic stuff here.
  • If you have been on Facebook, you've already seen this video, I'm sure. If not, it's worth watching. (Please note that the quotation at the end of the video is not a Bible verse, but it is appropriate!) How can we not be moved when armed forces surprise their families with homecomings? Enjoy. And get a box of tissues.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Buoyed and Beckoned

The smells didn't bother me - antiseptic, urine, and cafeteria all intermingled.

Neither did the bald man moaning from his wheelchair next to the wall. My teenage girlfriend seemed a bit squeamish, but I had grown up around convalescent homes. For once in my adolescent life, I knew what I was doing. She, on the other hand, carried a grocery bag of goodies, all intended for her ailing great-grandmother, with a white-knuckled grip that spoke volumes.

Years earlier, I cut my teeth around hospitals. With the harsh realities of Multiple Sclerosis attacking her body, Granny had been loved and tenderly visited at least twice a week for years. Those visits burdened my mother for much of my early life - dressing us, packing up the car, driving across town, hauling us all inside, trying to keep us out of Granny's lotion and soaps and medicine, then washing our hands meticulously on the way out, and starting the trek home. One time, when we arrived, we realized some caretaker had pulled Granny's bed linens up so forcefully they had inadvertently broken her ankle. Another time, our little family stood at the nurse's station and my mother stood stiffly at the counter, carefully writing out the names and numbers of each shift manager.

Granny suffered the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years. Sometimes, she'd see us twin girls and reach out for us to climb carefully into her bed for a snuggle. Other times, she would see us and start to cry, knowing she should know who we were but not being able to place us exactly. Sometimes, she thought she was young, or that my mother was her sister, not her daughter. Her dimpled chin always seemed to quiver, always on the verge of a smile or a cry, as she was corrected. What joy to know she was a mother! Oh! She had twin grandbabies! But then the tears would follow. We would play hopscotch on the big, linoleum squares that made up the floor pattern, and try not to stare at her roommate who scared us with her spontaneous, unprompted screams.

Years later, walking into the convalescent home wasn't scary at all. If any little girl had been prepared for it, it was me. As my girlfriend visited with her grandma, I meandered down the hallway into the lounge area and visited with a World War II veteran who had lots of stories to tell. I'm pretty sure his elaborate details were a ploy to keep me firmly planted in the lounge chair next to him.

With Bonanza reruns playing loudly in the background, I asked him if he had any children or grandchildren. He showed me baseball pictures of his grandsons and told me of their amazing hitting prowess. "But they never come to see me. No one does."

Ahhh, here it was. The most sobering part about convalescent homes - worse than the smells or the dementia or the restlessness of many residents. It's why churches organize mid-week visits and choirs sing at Christmastime. Because deep down, we all feel like no one should age alone, forgotten except when guilt finally pushes a family member to visit or mail a package.

Then, before I could judge all of his friends and family or resolve to do it differently than they had, he interrupted my thinking.

"I've got no use for them all. A bunch of no-good money-grubbin' folk." His voice was gravelly and hard.

Loneliness goes two ways, I saw that day.

Now, years later, I see the temptation to tighten my circle of friends and family, to "write off" those on the fringe, those who see life differently than I, those who struggle with sins I cannot relate to or mental illness I cannot understand, those who question things I'd never thought to question and want to judge for the nerve of them. Surely, they want to run away from me for similar reasons. But then, there is love that buoys and beckons.

Family. Isn't this where you dig in with heels and tenaciously love, with a heart that is no longer your own, a heart that cannot write off another? I'm observing love this way, these days. There are disappointments and boundaries and requirements for basic daily living, but there is eyes-wide-open love that covers all, infuses seemingly hopeless situations.

That love covers sins, casts out fears. And coaxes me to join.

Is there any secret to avoiding life alone at the end? Is there any way to prevent loneliness, even the heart-wrenching loneliness of ammonia, bleach, and cafeteria food? I am not sure there are any guarantees. But I'm banking on love, His kind.

Resting in His Family,
Karen

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Twenties Alumni

There's no euphemism for thirty-two.

"Barely thirty" doesn't quite cut it anymore. Both feet are in. I'm officially a Twenties Alumni.

But I had a great birthday.

I finished laundry (the gift to myself - empty laundry baskets!), treasured memories from our Idaho trip (more to come later this week), and unwrapped one of these necklaces from Real Gil.


And I watched my daughter score her first goal ever at soccer. I'm pretty sure my victory dance was inappropriate and completely contradictory to everything I usually stand for. But it was my birthday so I did it anyways.

Best of all, Real Gil gave me a porch swing, the playground for old people. In every home we've ever owned, we had a porch swing. It's perfect. I'm pretty sure I even suffered a little motion sickness while trying to read a book on it today.

My kids love it too...

video

Resting in the Ageless One,
Karen

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tupperware and Freeze-Pray



There is that one Bible verse about not letting your right hand know about the good that you are doing with your left hand. That verse has me stuck today. I certainly don't want to sound like I'm tooting my own horn, but after a few years of cooking in this house, I finally figured out what to do with leftovers.

Give them away.

Although I am not a gourmet cook by any stretch of the imagination, I have this one job called "food cooker" by the resident three-year old. It requires that I plug in something, or turn something on, or chop something and call it a meal three times a day. They are not fancy meals, but they are somewhat homemade.

Unfortunately, not everyone in this house likes to eat the same meal more than once a week, myself included. Whereas I used to hear the voice of some old woman with her pointer finger waving at me, "There are children starving in Africa! Eat it!," now I shake off any false guilt and pack a few tupperwares.

In our extended family is an older bachelor with failing health, a rugged stretch of country road between him and any grocery store, and perhaps most sobering, no Life-giving faith in Jesus Christ. My parents invite him to every birthday party, holiday celebration, dog training graduation, you name it, he's invited. He fits in great, and we all love him. And we are burdened for him, for his health both physically and spiritually.

One year for Christmas, I froze a whole bunch of single-serving meals and put them in a big ice chest. The gift looked a little weird - a random ice chest with a red bow on it, sitting out in the snow until we opened gifts. In fact, the gift seemed so weird that I was actually embarrassed to give it to him. I should have known that such a sweet old guy would show only gratitude. It ended up being my favorite gift of the Season - practical, thoughtful, and homemade. Then I got to thinking, why don't I do this all year long?

So, now we do.

Knowing what freezes well and what doesn't, I plan my meals ahead of time. If there is a meal I'm pretty sure our dear friend will like, and will freeze well, I usually one-and-a-half that recipe (Yes, I just made that a verb. That's because I was a math teacher, not an English teacher. So go on, you grammar tyrants, and put your little red pens down. 'Cuz I is edyukated.). After we eat, I save enough for us to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, and then, I dish up single-serving Tupperwares with the remaining leftovers. I slap a piece of scotch tape on top of the lid and label it clearly. For example, tomorrow night, it will say "Cashew Chicken - serve with rice of your choice and sprinkle with the cashews" (and I include a Ziploc bag of cashews - they freeze well too!).

Who knew such a small gesture would go so far? Every few months or so, we pack up the ice chest for our dear bachelor and head to a family get-together. It's almost awkward how thankful he is. So much so that last time, I had to interrupt him and come clean.

"Well, I didn't actually make these meals for you," I admitted. Gulp. Deep breath. Confession: "I just made extra of our dinners and froze the leftovers for you."

I was almost embarrassed to look him in the eye, after confessing his Christmas gift was just a bunch of passed-off food scraps.

His face wrinkled up into a big smile and he said, wheezing breathlessly between words, "You mean they come from your very own kitchen table?! That makes them even better!"

I pray for him often, especially as I dish up his meals. Might he know you, Jesus. Might he taste and see that You are good, so good!

Until then, I continue to cook for my family, and freeze-pray for him. (That's like a Christian equivalent to flash-dance. Freeze-pray.)

Is there anyone that comes to your mind as you read, who might need a few home-cooked meals in a pinch? It might even be a fun Christmas gift to start on now. If you live in this house, that's a lot of meals by December! But no longer in the trash, thank you very much.

Resting in Him who Is Good, So Good,
Karen

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

More Toilet Transparency

A dear friend of mine suggested that I show you the childrens' bathroom.

So, here it is:


Just kidding.

I flushed things, cleaned it up, and decided that it's up for showing. I don't have anything to hide (unless you open any cabinet or drawer), so here goes:

The official Sock Monkey Bathroom:







I'm pretty sure that Lauren wouldn't go for it, but it was inexpensive and fairly child-proof.

Resting in Him,
Karen

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Treasures," she whispers.

When I discovered the entire roll of scotch tape slapped onto her wall, the first stirrings of unease started to flutter in me.


Someone has been watching too many HGTV reruns at Grandma's house. I'm a little nervous about the interior design scheme.

"Treasures," she whispered.

In a rare but magnanimous gesture, she reveals the otherwise secret stash. Bottle caps, seashells, one plastic bread bag tie, and a pink rubber frog.


If the generous glimpse into the dark recesses of her chipped heart box were not enough, Sugs looked at me with serious eyes and announced, "Mama, you can even take a picture of it...[noble sigh] and put it on your blog..."

For the first time in my life, I feel a bit of the apprehension Real Gil feels every time we see a garage sale sign. Just last Saturday, with her Cinderella purse dangling over her forearm, Sugs purposefully marched up a dirt driveway and spotted this:

"Mama, it's a miracle no one has scooped it up!"

Indeed.

Today, she asked if I wanted to borrow it for my nightstand. I convinced her it looked best on her windowsill.

Her artistic flair might be a hard pill to swallow, but I'm biting my tongue and letting her express herself. "Let the little children come to Me," said my Father so I let her come, twirls and sequins and garage-sale treasures and all.

Resting in Him who Designs It All,
Karen

Monday, September 13, 2010

Church Hats



Thank you, Sacred Sandwich, for my daily laugh.

We are away visiting Idaho and some lovely friends. If you happen to see our swagger wagon on Interstate 80 with a woman's blue-jean-clad fanny sticking up against the window, that's just me retrieving the dropped crayon...no, the sippy cup...the bottle of Nyquil...just kidding on that last one.

Anyways, we'll be back in a few days. I've got posts planned while I'm gone so you can check back if you want. In the meantime, here's that Swagger Wagon video. I know we've had it here before, but it deserves a repeat, I'm thinking.

I'll eat a potato for you all!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

When Punkins Grow

When you take your seven-year old out on a date...



And she wants to "go to Starbucks and chat..."


Should you be worried?

I'm not...or maybe just a little...

Happy birthday, Punkin! Seven years ago, I got home from work, bent down to pick up my shoes, and my water broke. Two hours later, I was a mom. You're a go-getter, for sure. I love you so much it almost hurts. Can't wait to see what adventures you drag me through in the next year. I'd scrapbook about them along the way, but I can't seem to do glue sticks as well as you. I'll blog about it all and when you're twenty, I'll press print and give it to you. I look forward to all of our "chats."

Resting in Him,
Karen

Friday, September 10, 2010

When the Bride's Mascara Runs

Today, in the heat of the day, I felt some of the Bride's humanness, her "messy grace" as coined by Luke Timothy Johnson, the wounds inflicted on a sister in Christ. Okay, two sisters in Christ. (Who am I kidding to say I've not felt it?)

Sitting in the shade like mothers do, we watched kids play and overheat. When friends had caught up enough to breathe again (both of the young and old version), we passed out water bottles and sandwiches.



In the midst of red cheeks and watermelon juice, I sat and remembered when we ourselves became friends, some twenty years ago. It was boys and laughter and finding Jesus at summer camp, none of which are unimportant today. We witnessed vows, held bouquets...then watched babies grow in bellies, compared birth stories, shared Scripture in a small group.

And I am sad once again, at the place we are now - idle talk of children and education and camping trips...All because the Church - at least the organized one - has severed. She's on "one side" and I'm on "the other." And the chasm seems so wide with words like "doctrine" and "sanctification" and "the whole counsel of God" separating us.

So we meet at a neutral playground and I nag children to be careful on the ladder, re-lace shoes, all in awkwardness. And all because of that Bride. The one that shows her humanity with differing "fundamentals" and severed, limping leadership.

We are too close to avoid the subject for long, too many years in this family of Christ. I can't even remember how we finally get there, but we do. Like children dipping their toes in cold water, tentatively, we share some of our hearts and hurts, keeping one another before ourselves, never venturing far. We ignore doctrine, both of us knowing that smarter folk than us haven't figured it all out, so we don't risk it. It wouldn't be profitable anyways (Hebrews 13:9). Speaking only for myself, I let go of any need to change her mind, point out areas where things could have been done differently. She seems to do the same for me.

Smiling shyly, I thank her for giving me the time I needed, before we could try out life for the first time in two different churches. And I quickly point to the Source, the very Groom Himself! - who has brought us together. Then, before I can wimp out, I awkwardly confess my sisterly love for her, no matter what.

"Jesus unites us. Isn't that miraculous?!!" I say with excitement.

Immediately I stop, wondering if I have offended her. Is the careful walk on eggshells ruined? But she only smiles and agrees. My eyes fill and I touch her arm.

"It's truly amazing, this love He gives us...I sound like a hippie!" I quip.

She laughs and adds, "No, you sound like a Christian."

And so I do! So does she. Supernaturally. There is no acting, no room to boast in one's amazing talent to love and forgive another. It's not from her or me, only Him - the Groom that makes the Bride beautiful. And brings two lifelong friends to awkward, then refreshing, reunion.

There is no "them and us" mentality when the Groom intercedes, indwells. The Groom is the very core of His Bride's goodness and although she has certainly done her share of damage in this world, these are not of Him - the holy Crusades, American slavery, any harsh words of religion and dogma that are void of His Life.

But just as Jesus breathes mercy and grace into my very own life, He also breathes mercy and grace into His Bride. Love, the supernatural kind that flows from Him working through us, covers a multitude of sins, my own and those of some I'd otherwise judge.

When it's over, I pull the Red Rider wagon back to our house, loaded with empty Tupperwares and sleepy kids. But my heart is light.

Because the Groom has supernaturally given healing and love to a Bride that I would have discarded long ago.

If you have been hurt by the Church, might I gently encourage you not to give up on it completely? Jesus Himself hasn't given up on his Bride, the church, and still encourages us to gather together as family. And if there are folks that have planted themselves (or you have planted them) on "the other side," might you consider a refocus from them to Him?

He is Real! I've watched Him work on His Bride, the one that He considers beautiful and worth dying for even when she seems to hurt and hinder His work. Come to think of it, I've watched Him do the same for me.

Resting in This,
Karen

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Golden Arch Guilt

I don't know about yours, but my mother-guilt is a bit cyclical.

It rears its ugly head at least once a day, usually when I give my children too many sweets or when I climb into bed and realize I didn't read one book to one child. (And I'm supposed to be a homeschool teacher.)

But there is one particular place that almost always invokes a high intensity of mother-guilt.

McDonald's.

For one thing, just pulling into the parking lot in the old mini-van gets me pegged. Tired mother, not cooking dinner.

Then, the first big dilemma: the playground.

I have three options.
  1. Follow the rules and take off the kids' shoes, leaving socks in place as requested on that big posted sign. The mother-guilt erupts right when the first kid slips on the tile floor in their socks, or cries halfway up the too-slippery slide (not that my children ever climb up the slide.).
  2. Ignore the rules and make the children go barefoot on the playground. EWWW. One child with hand-and-foot disease and we're quarantined for a week. At the very least, my children go home with disgusting feet.
  3. Cook dinner at home.
Well, that last one isn't an option. And none of these leave me guilt-free.

My other dilemma: do you really force your kids to eat all of their dinner before they get ice cream? From a health perspective, can the ice cream really be worse than the chicken nuggets? If the mother-guilt for allowing my children to climb the slide hadn't paralyzed me by now, the idea of just ordering ice cream and french fries should.

But today, I broke free. Oh yes, I did. While Real Gil took the girls on a date to see a movie, I pulled into McDonald's, shrugged off that ridiculous and deceptive guilt, and didn't even lose eye contact with the guy behind the cash register when I gave our order: one small fry and an m&m McFlurry.

The Little Man was happy, I enjoyed my favorite magazine for a half hour, and we went home with clean feet because we broke the rules - and went on the playground wearing shoes.

I'm feeling liberated tonight!

Resting in Him,
Karen

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Last Christmas Gift


These pictures were taken by my dad on one of his trips to
his "second family" in Kenya. His first family would be jealous
except that we have caught the vision and can't eat an
American meal without thinking of them...



If you are a mom who reads much around these parts, you've heard me mention Kristen. (She has yet to mention ME but I'm sure it's coming soon.)

Anyways, not too long ago, Kristen went with Compassion International to the Methare slum in Nairobi, Kenya. She refers to it as "hell."



This just happens to be the exact same place where our church has been serving for the last few years. You can read more about that here. Every year, at Christmas, our local body of believers is given a challenge that directly relates to our Methare brothers and sisters. One year, we paid for new shoes for all of the children being served by the Methare Community Outreach. Another year, we paid for food for families. There's also a medical fund now in place for teachers should they need medical care, and an entrepreneur program set up to get small businesses started in the community.

This last Christmas, our church collected funds to send many of the children to summer camp. We have waited until now to finally watch this Christmas present be unwrapped.

For the first time, most of these children saw life outside of their slum city. They ate well-rounded meals, heard great teaching, rode on a bus, saw God's creation up close, and for many, were introduced to showers (so much so that the camp administration had to limit the shower access!).

How exciting to watch Christmas gifts being opened this summer!

The following is a video put together by Pastor Joel Weaver who runs Camp Lukenya. How can these faces not move us?!



Rejoicing in Him who pours out His love like a first-time shower,
Karen

And just for kicks, I'm linking this to Kristen's Works for Me Wednesday because what could work better for me than the transforming love of Christ in the Methare Valley?

Blogs to Browse

It's been a while since I posted some of the links that have inspired, infuriated, or intrigued me lately. Read those that interest you. And congratulations to Brandi On Bedrest who is now Brandi-with-Baby! I'm not sure she'll get the chance to read these links for a while, but I rejoice in the birth of a tiny, but healthy baby boy.

  • Eric has a way of understanding our freedom in Christ like none other. He did a guest post at "The Cult Next Door" (which is a website offering help for those enmeshed in cults). Definitely worth a few minutes to read.
  • I'm pretty sure you already to know about this Khana Academy which offers free online lessons on just about everything. I'm a little behind on the current, virtual trends. Looks like fun to me...if it didn't sound so exhausting...
  • One story about a couple who gave away everything. I'm not sure I could do it with such grace...
  • A miracle for the man who jumped, a bummer for the car that got a surprise landing.
  • I need some of these old wooden spools. Pronto. Check out what she did with them!
  • I'm not sure if this would work for small-town bumpkins like myself, but it might be worth checking out if you are looking for organized meal ideas.
  • The six top over-priced items in America. I'm guilty of buying more of these than I care to admit.
  • And my favorite post of the week has got to be this one - the Christian struggle with matters of conscience can get tricky. This guy has it figured out! If you only read one of these links, this is the one I would read.
Happy reading to you all.

Resting in Him Who Gives the Best Read,
Karen

Monday, September 6, 2010

Toilet Transparency

Now, I know we've been discussing grace and parenting and regrets. It's something I don't want to stop writing about. Grace is the reason I rise in the morning, so I hope you'll let me revisit the topic.

But I have to take a moment and just release some pent-up emotion.

Fear mostly.



Just seeing one of these causes me such angst...

Everything about them makes me cringe. The smells, the lack of running water, the instability of the entire structure.

My parents travel to Africa often enough to report that an American port-a-potty is completely safe compared to what they use in the slums of Nairobi. [Gulp] That makes me an ungrateful, American pansy. I do not deny the label.

Pair that with my very real teenage fears of being tipped over while in one of these suckers - particularly the one that was planted out by the softball fields - and I'm pretty sure that makes me a candidate for anti-anxiety medication.

If that wasn't enough to make me do the potty dance until I could find a real bathroom, there was that one story. If you know the story, I don't need to say anymore. If you don't know the story, you missed a few slumber parties in the nineties that would have enlightened you to port-a-potty reality. I was at Alli Dirksen's house in my sleeping bag eating Skittles when someone eerily told me the story - the one about a perverted man wrapping himself in saran wrap and camping out in the bottom of a womens' Johnny-on-the-Spot. He was discovered, announced an adolescent girl in a somber voice, when a woman happened to look down into the depths of nastiness and saw two eyes staring at her. [Insert teenage girl squeals here.]

Now, you know I like to keep it real. Obviously, I do. That's why I'm writing this forbidden post. But I tried to check out this urban legend. It was impossible. If any of you want to tell me what to type into that little Search box to figure out if this is a true story or not without getting really bad stuff online, I'm happy to take suggestions. Although I got some rather humorous articles - like Thomas Crapper did not invent the toilet and a few drops of Visine taken internally will not cause diarrhea in unsuspecting victims - Snopes.com had nothing on the story. But I'm doubtful for only one reason. Call me Sherlock Holmes if you want. The saran-wrap man can't be real because I'm pretty sure a grown woman never, ever would take the time to look down into the darkest mire in one of those bathrooms after relieving herself. If anything, women bolt out of those swinging doors with pants barely up, their bottles of Purell already in hand. Would she really look down?

So, you see my self-inflicted torture anytime we go to the hot air balloon races, or the local rib cook-off.

The stench, the thought of it tipping, and the very idea of two little eyes down there is enough to make me head for the nearest bush.

Then, things got worse.

I had children.

Did I say I wanted children potty-trained? Forget that. I want diapers for all of them. And maybe myself if it means I can avoid that cubicle of calamity.

But I forget about this very real anxiety until we go do something fun, outdoors, where there are a lot of people who will eventually need to relieve themselves.

[Deep Breath.] Like last night, at the small-town football game we attended with my parents.

It was so cute and "small-townish." There were old people wearing "Elect Settelmeyer" t-shirts, and teenagers wearing clothes I'm pretty sure they didn't leave home wearing. There were snack-bar smells, the high school band in their sharp new uniforms, bouncing cheerleaders with orange and black pom-poms, one really loud presumed father yelling at the refs, and in the midst of it all were my three children, riveted by the spectacle of grown young men "bamming into each other."


Then, the Little Man says those horrible words: "I have to go poop."

Dear Lord in Heaven, do you remember that lovely post I did on grace? Might you throw some my way? Can't we just lick our Tootsie Pops and pretend those four words didn't happen?

Again, with emphasis and louder now: I have to go po-ooop!"

Folks around us pretended they didn't hear him. Just like I had been pretending not to hear their conversations, one in particular about an aimless high school daughter who was found with paraphernalia. (I'm pretty sure they weren't talking about sunscreen-and-map kind of paraphernalia.)

My terror was real, but I tried to remain calm. Real Gil scooped up the child with chivalry written all over his face and smiled, "We'll be right back."

The mother-guilt invaded soon after they left. A good mom would take her child to the bathroom. A good mom would never abandon her child and husband to the unknown terrors of the Johnny-on-the-Spot. A good mom would never sit here trying to figure out which cheerleaders have falsies in their bra while her family members may or may not be the saran-wrap man's next victims.

Giddy relief left me with a sigh-laugh - Ha, ha! - when I spotted my two favorite men weaving their way back up the bleachers to our perch. They weren't covered in blue dye so it was a good initial sign.

"Thank you," I said with feeling. Real Gil shrugged his shoulders and said, "He couldn't go." Not that I could blame him on that one.

All was well for a few minutes until the Little Man found the one silent moment in between band numbers and cheers to announce, "I have to go poop again!"

Could we please bring out some sackcloth and ashes?

Real Gil looked at me with questioning eyes, because it was my turn to skip hand-in-hand to the toilet of torment.

I shook my head. "He's fine, he doesn't need to go," I asserted.

Because I've seen the size of those toilet seats. My children could use that toilet seat as a hoola-hoop if given the chance. Which will never happen. One sneeze and I've lost a child to the single place on Earth I won't go to rescue them. Where's that saran-wrap man when he could actually be helpful?

I told the Little Man to squeeze his butt cheeks together and wait until we got home. Okay, that's totally a lie but I wanted to. Instead, my husband elevated himself to saint status by gathering up the sticky, cowboy-booted toddler and marching back to the bathroom. That man couldn't have been braver if he had gone to battle in a kilt with William Wallace.

The scoreboard clock ticked by ever-so-slowly as I waited...one of the girls had me unwrap a piece of candy, open a bottle of water...the lady behind me muttered that the Tigers weren't doing so well tonight...all seemed to be in slow motion.

Then, there was a shining beam of angelic light and our testosteroned-part of the family returned. Angelic voices sang in my head and I shook my mental fist at the silly slumber party story.

Port-a-Potty, shmort-a-potty! We balk at your murky depths, says I. The Tigers might have lost the game last night, but I was victorious. Well, Real Gil was. I was so jubilant we even stopped for a photo op with the team mascot.



So, there. My transparency knows no bounds. You know it now - my fear of the outhouse. I'm not going to spiritualize this post. It's not possible.

But I just might make it into a Halloween costume...or not.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Pleated Skirt

The old skirt is frayed at the hem, unraveling in places.

But it's treasured.

I'm pretty sure my in-laws can't look at it without smiling.

It conjures up images of a little girl, curls framing her face as she dances, spins with delight. Or plays "waitress" with a tray propped on her arm and even chewing gum smacking in her mouth. Such an innocent picture.

Then, years later, the skirt was rediscovered by another generation. Wedged deep inside Grandma's costume box, eyes lit up, both the young and the old. After Grandma added new elastic, another little girl twirls.

Is there a generation of little girls that does not spend hours holding hems with dainty fingers and practicing curtsies, dancing with abandon to music only heard in the mind?

Thinking of my mother-in-law, I wonder if I will do the same some day - repair the well-loved skirt for a granddaughter of mine and try to remind myself that it's not my own daughter twirling around the room. Will I regret the loss of what was? I think every mother does. Will my own daughters discard the skirt, and imagination and dreams, for a life of struggle for meaning? Or will they realize the pure security of Christ, the perfect lifelong dance that He wants for them? Not a dance of ease, but one of peace and faith?

At what point do these daughters of ours forget to spin and twirl? More importantly, is there anything we can do to prepare them for that inevitable moment when they realize that life is not just a curtsy and a dance? That it is all that, but it's also library fines and chore charts and choices and bed-making and college applications and wandering...and grace.

Grace never forgets worn-out wanderers. Like a mother fondly recalling the circle of skirt spinning before the real world invaded on her daughter, grace dusts off, and repairs...and invites us to twirl yet again. Not in the arms of rules or meetings or "what should be" or "what could have been." Like the Prodigal Son, grace comes with arms opened wide, belly laughs, and twirls of delight in Him.

I'm praying for my children - that their own twirls won't take them too far away, that grace woos them into Christ's arms. I'm praying the same for their parents.

And I'm praying for others who have wandered...that they might find the true peace we've been designed to savor - His peace.

And I'm praying for you, if you feel frayed and unraveled and maybe even discarded. Grace says you may be perfectly worn and wearied, but that you are treasured, close to your Father's heart. He invites you close and somehow, brings perspective to both the imaginative and the practical, the twirls and the book fines.

Resting Here,
Karen

P.S. I have linked to Beautiful No-Longer-Quivering Hilary's Friday's Journey to Grace. You can check it out here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What Was in the Box

Confession time: I love Amazon.

I know that this is a sin. Or so I'm told. I should really be ordering my books through some Christian website, but let's face it - some of those are just downright weird. And the normal ones don't have free shipping. So, I order from Amazon.

My kids scream with delight when Shelley the Postlady knocks on our door. It's always a good sign - either there's something in the box for my kids, or there's something in the box that makes Mama happy enough to dole out Oreos BEFORE lunch so she can peruse in peace. Here's what was in the box:


3 of these...if your birthday is coming up,
you're probably getting one of these suckers from me.
I love this book. I have already read the thing
in a bookstore, my shoulders shaking with tears coming down my face.
The lady next to me thought the book was deep and religious and convicting.
That made me look deep and religious and spiritual so
I didn't correct her assumption.
But I wasn't upset, I was just laughing.
Get yourself one.


Last year's Christmas season was my favorite ever,
partly because we read Jotham's Journey as a family.
Here is the newest in the series...
makes me want to put up the Christmas tree
and light a fire in the fireplace.


This one sounds controversial and you know, I'm always good for that.
And it's written by a gal who lives in a small town in Tennessee where half of my husband's family lives, smack dab in the buckle of the Bible belt.
With a book title like that, this girl is buh-rave.

Okay, this wasn't actually in the box.
But they have designer duct tape at Amazon
and I'm going to get me some in the next box.