Monday, February 28, 2011

Sixty-Eight Balloons

I wouldn't think they would be so dramatic against our blue sky, but they were.

Dramatic, but subtle too. Maybe you wouldn't even notice them if you didn't look in the right direction. But if you lived nearby, happened to standing outside around dinnertime on Saturday, and glanced heavenward, you would have seen thse floating balls of color.

Sixty-eight of them.

Representing sixty-eight years of life.

Children and grandparents shivered in the cool, heads tipped up in red-nosed delight as sixty-eight years of life spilled into the sky, colorful and impacting.

Mrs. Donna requested these balloons. Much like her, they were colorful but unassuming, surprising but subtle, almost effortless as they floated away.

Hours earlier, I juggled a toddler on one hip and a vacuum in the other, sucking up crushed Cheez-its in the church nursery. Kids played while parents remembered Mrs. Donna. A mom stuck her head in the door, and said hi to me. I asked how the memorial went and she answered, a look of confusion wrinkling her eyebrows. "It was good. I just..."

She hesitated for a moment, blushing slightly and chuckled. "I had no idea Mrs. Donna had so many special people in her life. I thought it was just me!"

As those sixty-eight balloons floated off, small personal letters fluttering from the now-released strings, I thought of this life well-lived - Mrs. Donna's - who made each friend feel as if they were the only person that mattered at that moment.

A husband of forty-plus years sends his balloon off with smiling tears. The kaleidoscope of color floats away and we head inside, family in Christ remembering with gratitude.

Rejoicing in Him,

11. Mama bird on the fence post
12. Weekly disposal service, and a chance to share cookies!
13. An undeserved, unnecessary nap
14. An empty laundry basket
15. The gift of meals together
16. Good books
17. That quirky hour of playing cards with the preschoolers in their requested location - the shower!
18. Voices hoarse from laughing and visiting friends
19. Morning pink sky
20. The Dog-Alarm, wherein Ginger wakes me...early!
21. 68 Balloons lifting off

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wherein We Decompress

"How did God make those mountains?"

The Little Man does not wait for my extra-strong coffee to snap synapses together in the wee morning hours. How can his brain spin like that at this hour? I wonder somewhat bitterly.

"How do you think He did it?" I return the volley, sipping and glancing out the window at pink-topped sunrise mountains.

"Well," he says matter-of-factly. "He just zoomed 'em up there and blammed 'em down!"

I can't help but laugh, a bit groggily. "And those mountains are like your bathroom stool to Him, just little footstools..."

It's his turn to laugh. He climbs onto my lap, the mug of coffee tipping precariously as I juggle toddler and caffeine in two hands.

"Mom, you look bootiful today," he says, always the charmer. I'm sweatpants-and-slippers glory this morning.

"So do you, Son," I reply, deep lungs of thanfulness still sighing audibly after yesterday. "I'm so glad I have you."

For a three-year old, he's pretty attentive and knows what I'm talking about. "Mom," he says. "Thanks for saving me."

He's dramatic and expressive. I chuckle. "God saved you, baby."

"He did?"

"Yeah!" I answer, getting excited and forcing myself to lower my volume in the early morning hours. "The same God that 'zoomed and blammed' those mountains out there. Somehow, He saved you. I don't understand it all, but I'm so glad."

His swinging legs and frantic arms - it's an image I will never forget. Thankfulness roars over me like a gust of wind.

We've talked about details - ropes and rules and top bunk bed regulations. Now is the time to point to mountains and God. Until the Little Man moves on to other interesting topics...which takes all of one minute. There are hows and whys that only a three-year old can fathom at that hour. And I move with him, cozy in this chair.

Resting in the Grace,

A Morning of Riches - Syrup and Grace

One thing about pancakes with little ones - the syrup-to-pancake ratio is unnaturally high. Smart moms pour the syrup; I believe in encouraging childhood independence, and spend the rest of the week finding little puddles of sweetness all over the kitchen table.

It was a mundane morning in which I found myself doing this very thing - wiping syrup off of the table, peeling sticky forks off equally sticky plates. The kids - fresh, morning sibling relationships and fresh, morning imaginations, both spurred on by Log Cabin fructose - these kids had all disappeared, off to the closet that had morphed into a pirate ship.

My phone rang, and I too felt fresh, visiting with a dear friend. We talked of children and germs, wondering where they got it and if they were still contagious. As only a woman can do, I held the phone and talked while cleaning, folding, and marinating chicken for dinner. As only a mother can do, I listened to both my friend, and kids somewhere in the house.

Then, I heard a small voice, crying, "Mama!"

It was not urgent and it was not a cry of pain, but it pulled me down the hall, my head crooked to the side as I walked with the phone under my chin. The friend on the line heard very little: my short gasp as I rounded the corner, a few unintelligible mumbles, then my breathless shudder.

It was over that fast.

Yet, time seemed so slow. Afterward, my body felt heavy. I sat down hard, right there on the floor, surrounded by Polly Pockets and discarded pajamas. I tried to describe the scene.

"Oh God!" I explained breathlessly. "Summer, he was hanging from the top bunk!"

My mouth goes dry, even now, thinking about it. His little three-year old body, squirming to release itself from a rope wrapped around a top bed rail. It was a blur of mother-flurry as I lifted him and released the dog leash he had hooked around his neck.

"Thanks, Mom." He sauntered out, muttering something about finding his pretend keys.

My dear phone friend had to be a mother, for she knew exactly what to do. "Hang up, Karen, and just go hold him," she ordered.

It was exactly what I needed to do. Although he wasn't so keen on the holding part, Little Man did let me hug him tightly, breathe in his little-boy syrup smell and carefully look at his perfectly fine little neck. The more I held him, the more shaky I became.

"Oh, Son," I murmured into his hair. I needed to lecture and confiscate all ropes of any kind, but for just that moment, I drank in life, pulsing through small veins, and pouring new light on my small world. Suddenly, everything seemed so focused and bright. The snow outside was blinding, the girls' laughter almost deafening. Later, I told Real Gil that my food tasted better, his pancakes sizzled more brilliantly.

Is there a more dramatic feeling than relief?

It's a rush of pleasant and dread mixed together, when the what-is mixes with the what-could-have-been. There's guilt, regret, and weak-kneed nausea, but there is also joy, plain and simple.

Better than relief was the overwhelming sense of God's grace. Would I have felt this way had our morning unfolded differently? All those days when I've asked God, "Why me?" -

Today, I asked, "Why not me?"

Why were we spared? Are we exempt from bad days?

And what about all of the other days, when I awake (perhaps a little earlier than I want to) to another day of home (perhaps a little more chaotic than I would like) and family (perhaps a little different than I had dreamed it)... On the days of mundane and routine, or on the days of sweet surprises and rich blessings, do I ask, "Why me?" What about the thousands of other days when I have had no negative reason to ask that question? When my day stretches out in a blizzard of unknown and unseen graces?

Had my morning unfolded differently, I very well could have spent my afternoon shaking my fist at God. Instead, the only posture I seem strong enough to maintain is on my weak knees. Thankful. It's revealing - the conditions I've placed on God, as if He needs to play by my rules. If He breaks those rules, He's up for a "Why me?" tirade.

There is part of me that is thankful for this Father I love, who can be approached with all of me - the honest, the angry, the downright speechless. There is another part of me that is afraid of this Father - I know He only wants what is best for me, but what if it includes something I can hardly fathom as a mother. Like a different ending to my Syrup Morning.

Does He loves us any less if the answer is "Yes" when we want a "No"? Or if our child is not spared? Does He loves us more if our child is spared? I can't believe so. He is love. All of it, all of us, all of Him.

I still don't have many answers to this deep, raw question. I still don't know why other families with bunk beds and little ones with creative minds have a different story to tell. But the closer I get to Jesus, the less important this question seems to be. Perhaps there will be a time in my life when this question will arise, yet again. Right now, however, I am almost too overwhelmed to utter the words, and in some ways, I don't want to make a theological debate out of my Syrup Morning.

Someday, I'll see it all from the other side, when time and dog leashes do not constrain. Until then, I rest in the bright, pounding heartbeat of a God who hears, sees, and today, intervened.

Resting Here,

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sounds of the Library

Don't noises sound louder in the library?

Kids snow boots stomping on the industrial-strength carpet, fingers typing a keyboard, water dripping on the skylight above. The loudest sound, of course, is the front-door alarm that fires off when a book has not been correctly checked out. TSA doesn't have anything on our public library security.

There's something else that can be observed. After our most recent trip to our local library, I have deduced that you can always distinguish between library volunteers and the actual librarians (with a statistical accuracy of 2-0).

The volunteers seem to always be attached to squeaky carts and plastic gloves. (What are those gloves for anyways? Do plastic gloves keep the books cleaner? Because if so, they should raise my library fines, for I'm pretty sure the books we return are nothing but clean...On second thought, perhaps we are the reason they wear the gloves...)

And the volunteers groan. I'm still pondering why they do this. Either the volunteers are given the hardest jobs (thus the emission of various moans), or they are not used to the hard work, or they have really old muscles and bones, or they hate their tasks. One time, when I forgot my library card and admitted it to a nearby volunteer, I'm pretty sure his moan broke the library Quiet Voices Rule. He had to peel off his plastic gloves (Shhlewp! Shhlewp! So loud!) and actually touch my driver's license, poor man.

But I so appreciate the volunteers, even the ones whom I suspect are there for community service hours.

Just yesterday, as we were digging through the pictures books in section P, I heard the squeak of a rolling cart coming closer, then it stopped. Before I could gather my children, books, car keys, library card, purse, and library book list, the library volunteer asked if she could squeeze by. Then, before I could be proven wrong, she rolled past, parked the cart, and groaned.

It was loud enough that my son gave her a look, one that seemed to be a mix of "I want to ride on that cart down the wheelchair ramp" and "If I need to be quiet in the library, so do you!"

I smiled at her, still gathering various loose books and children.

"These lower shelves are just about impossible," she admitted. I'm not sure if it was a complaint, or a badge of voluntary honor.

"I'll bet they are," I commiserated.

Before I could add a simple "have a good day" to the woman, one of my not-so-shy children piped up in their oh-so-inside voice: "But that's where the best treasures are!"

She might have groaned, or grunted, it's hard to distinguish the difference, but I'm pretty sure I heard doubt somewhere in there.

Our secret was out, the trick to finding great books at the library. I nodded my agreement, and hurried to explain: "We think the best books are down low, near the ground."

Her face looked bored. That hurt, because we were in the library, after all. If someone would rather wear plastic gloves and shelve the R's than talk to you, it's pretty much a given that your conversation could be more riveting.

Then, she surprised me, and spoke again, even while she shoved Curious George books into that inconveniently placed shelf.

"Well, that's because folks know how it hurts to bend that low, all for a book!" she added. I'm pretty sure she didn't get our point.

My smile was getting a bit fake and the three-year old's disapproving face was not improving. So, we gathered up our stories, wished the lady "Happy shelving!" and checked out.

Driving home, though, I thought about this distinction, between books on higher shelves and lower shelves; between volunteers and professionals. And I remembered a recent quote I had read by F. B. Meyer:

"I used to think that God's gifts were on shelves one above the other, and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we should reach them. I find now that God's gifts are on shelves one beneath the other, and that it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower, and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts."

I can't help but nod in agreement, underline the quote in Ann Voskamp's book.

The best books are down low.

And the best gifts are down low.

So, I bend and stoop, trying not to groan with the sometimes uncomfortable positions. I wipe noses, feed mouths,clean messes, pick up laundry, gather library books, clean toilets - these blessings, all mine. Every one of them, an opportunity to bend lower, serve another, serve Him.

Down further, I go.

Because my children are right: that's where the best treasures are! I don't want to whisper it in an inside voice anymore; I want to shout it in a loud, clear, outside voice!

The best treasures are down low! (Mark 9:34-36)

Resting Here,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My father is famous for keeping things, using them until some loving daughter tells him he's embarrassing her. Even then, he sometimes keeps stuff. Trophies from elementary years, calculus textbooks from the seventies, the first calculator he ever owned - one that has the red numbers and cost him $200 back in 1974.

I am my father's daughter.

But I did not inherit this gene. If I haven't worn it or used it in six months, it's tossed in the perpetual and permanent thrift store box in the garage. Sentimental value is relative around here, and oft times, I'm guilty of tossing things I shouldn't. That's my gift to the thrift-store world. You're welcome.

One thing I haven't completely tossed, and perhaps I should, is a hat I used to wear - one that I thought I might dust off today, one I might have inherited from my father. It's the "Math Teacher" hat. I'm not going to be designing any bridges in the near future, but I can calculate a tip faster than I can type it all into my cell phone. (Admittedly, this is not evidence of math genius, just an admission of my own cell-phone illiteracy.) And for the record, the hat is metaphorical, I never had a hat. Or a nameplate, or a locker, or a Teacher of the Year award. But I loved teaching high school math. Although I don't venture there much any more, I still love math, maybe even more now that I'm doing it at the kitchen table with a seven-year old.

So, this is where I get all crazy-practical on you. I am officially blowing off the dust and planting the "Math Geek" hat firmly on my head. If that isn't bad enough, I'm putting on a prairie bonnet over the top that says "Homeschooling Mother." Scary, I know. But with both firmly in place, I would like to humbly offer my once-a-year educational diatribe:

  • Perhaps the biggest mistake that I see educators make in their approach to math is this: introducing math concepts prematurely. For instance, it is my own personal belief that children are not even mentally prepared to analyze fractions until fifth or sixth grade, perhaps even later. When we introduce ideas like adding fractions to eight-year olds, they get the deer-in-the-headlights look and completely deflate. By the time they hear the word "fraction" in high school, they break out in hives! Why do we do that to them?! Is it kind, gentle, or in all practicality, effective? Of course not! If you have a math genius on your hands, this probably doesn't apply to you. If you have an average math student on your hands, I would encourage you here: you do your child no favors by pressing them to higher math concepts until 1) they are mentally ready; and 2) the concepts are necessary for other learning to take place.
  • If demanding mastery of math concepts prematurely is the biggest mistake I see early educators make in teaching mathematics, the biggest area of neglected mastery are the basic math facts. I know that this is not unique nor is it popular; in fact, telling math students to learn their math facts is like the doctor telling us to eat better, exercise more. But take it from a high school math teacher who watched students - AP students no less! - panic when asked basic math facts, it is essential to success in math. A rigorous few weeks or months in the elementary years will produce years of natural success in other areas of math. I promise to tell you about my own way of teaching the math facts down below, (see nuts and bolts).
  • For the preschool years, I think there are two math essentials for kids: basic counting and practical number sense. The first is self-explanatory. Our kids love dot-to-dots, and a few age-appropriate ones had them counting to twenty before we knew it. The second math essential is a natural approach to numbers as they come up in life - in conversation, in the grocery store, in unloading the piggy bank, in measuring inches on the wall. Preschool Express is full of great math ideas to check out.
  • For all ages, games can be a great way to make math fun. Around here, we play the old card game of War with our children, wherein two people flip cards over and whomever has the larger number wins both cards. Another great game is Pass the Pig. Have you played this with your preschooler??? It's addicting! And it teaches tallying and skip-counting by fives (not necessary for preschoolers, but an added bonus, nonetheless). One other game our family loves is Maask, a wonderful wooden game that teachers matching and sorting. Our four-year old loves this game, and so does her mother.
The nuts and bolts: we have used workbooks, flashcards, and even a textbook to teach math. I have a math video and we have made rhymes. While there are many peripheral math concepts at the elementary age, the basic addition and multiplication math facts are the most important learning element. Here are my all-time favorite tricks for teaching them:
  1. Students need to learn multiplication families, not just the facts. What I mean by this is that somehow, we need to teach kids that not only does 3 x 9 = 27 and 9 x 3 = 27, but if you are given a 9 and a 27, the missing family member is a 3; or if you are given a 3 and a 27, the missing family member is 9. If our students can get this, they have really grasped multiplication AND division. No need to learn the facts twice. What we use in our house is a flash card like this:
Then, you make a little paper "pocket" to hide one of the three numbers and your kids will have to learn the three numbers, asking themselves which number is missing.

I found all the printables for these flash cards here:
We only do a few of these each day, and we go over them for about ten minutes or so, until Punkin really knows those numbers. Then, periodically throughout the day, I'll tease her with a question. Today's math fact was 6 x 7 = 42. I asked her this question probably ten times today, sometimes reversing the order by asking, "What's seven times six?"
The great news - this system really seems to be working!

2. Math-It and Pre-Math-It: this is an older not-quite-a-curriculum that my husband did as a kid. He's a math whiz (who beats me at calculating the tip), so it must have worked for him. The students start by playing with dominoes to learn adding numbers from 1 to 20. Once this is done, they start playing some games. The first game is called Addit, and it teaches, well, addition. Once the child can lay all of the math fact cards down on the laminated board within an appropriate time limit, you move on to the second game, Dubblit, which I think is a mathematician's spelling of the words "Double It." This one is my favorite! By the time the student has mastered the game, they know most important doubles up through 100 (e.g., double 8 is 16, double 36 is 72...). AND they flip the board over and reverse the facts so that they know most of the important halves up through 100 (e.g. half of 64 is 32, half of 24 is 12.). Lastly, they move to TimzIt - which we must forgive the author for not knowing how to spell. To be honest, this is my least favorite of the games - children memorize the location of the answers (because they are color-coded) and can get away with not really knowing the answers. All in all, though, this has been a great system, mostly student-directed, funner than worksheets, and I believe, less time-consuming too. The learning is intense and rigorous, but given in small chunks. Things I don't like about this system are twofold: first, it is not a curriculum; just a learning tool. And secondly, the manual is tricky with odd (but good!) ways to carry and borrow numbers. This can be tricky, even for some one who is fairly comfortable with math.

Whew! What a mouthful of me trying to be smart! I hope that it helps some of you who are educators, either at a school or at home.

What math tricks do you love? Games? Websites? Tutorials?

My practical side says, "Knock it off and go to bed." So, I will.

Wishing you all many battle-free math moments this week.

Resting in His Beyond-Mathematics Grip,

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Challenge

In my mind, gratitude has always been a feeling, not an act. If I'm being perfectly honest, it's one of those nauseating cliche-filled artificial stunts. It brings to mind diamond-studded celebrities in front of podiums, thanking all the little people who got them up to that microphone.

But a heart of thankfulness is not dependent on my feelings (thank goodness!). After all, it comes from the heart, an outpouring of what is already there.

I've read the gratitude lists here and there, and resolved to do that "some day," when the kids can entertain themselves, wipe their own noses. But it seems, procrastination can take many forms. As I plan ahead, prepare meals and laundry, this has never moved farther up my priority list, mostly because it's not screaming at me like other demands around these parts.

You see, the urgent is not the same as the important. I read this a while back and realized I was about twenty years late in distinguishing these two. It wasn't until I had children that I realized the urgent could be vastly different than the important. When my son screams for a yellow crayon, I realize that this is urgent, but not important. And when a friend calls in tears, I realize that this is not urgent, but very important.

So, I'm taking a plunge in an area that I had considered to be important, but not urgent. Now, I find that it is both, mostly due to my voracious reading of this book: Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.

I'm taking the challenge to find gratitude - not the fake, platitude-filled kind, but the genuine heart-laid-bare kind - in everyday life, even the painful moments, because after all, "pain and joy are arteries of the same heart - and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty." (Voskamp, 100)

I figure the beginning - it's a very good place to start. You'll find me here on Mondays, with my slew of post-it notes and scribbled gratitudes crumpled around me on the desk. Already, it feels like coming home. If you'd like to join me, start your own list and let me know about it so I can rejoice with you.

My gifts include...
  1. Security in Him
  2. Belly laughs
  3. The two of them, limping and hard of hearing, who came to visit and drink my coffee today
  4. The smell of fresh-cut wood
  5. The unity of the saints
  6. Mrs. Donna, who dances a new dance, sings a new song, & lives in true reality, that we can only imagine
  7. Chewing gum chomped in my ear while I type!
  8. The whispered "I'm sorry" Punkin gifts my ear
  9. Slipper days
  10. Sweet chocolate bars, and the chocolate faces of indulgence around my table
Resting Here,

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Underappreciated Couple

There are just two of us,
a simple little pair.
We sit together on the floor,
right by the kitchen chair.

Every morning at half past six,
The little pet kisses us g'day.
She slops and splatters, crunches and clatters
Through breakfast served before play.

Then, off she waddles, all-satisfied
To wrestle slipper and conquer cord,
While we stand here faithfully,
Two sentries by the backdoor.

Occasionally, the little feet stop by
To drop surprises in our basins
Because every meal is much improved
By Hot Wheels retired from racing.

Or perhaps the ever-popular Polly Pocket
Laced with pliable plastic?
Small hands willingly share
And our buffet moves from mediocre to fantastic.

Odd, though, how they share
And we offer it with flair,
But they never nibble on our kibble,
Except for the one with tail and dog hair.

Something to do with that kitchen table,
And eating proper with forks and knife.
As if our toy-infused Purina
Was inferior, (or so says the wife!).

Our tired bowls sag with rejection,
And we begin to mope,
But then, a funny thing occurs
Which gives us fresh, new hope.

Coming with sideways tongue
The wagging, shaking ball of fluff
Drinks her full, eats her portion,
As if she can't get enough.

She's thorough and satisfied,
When she licks our sides to a sheen,
And what delight at her delight!
We're tickled and we're clean.

So, whether the snobs in these parts
Accept our gifts or not,
We know our rightful place,
As dutiful minion of dog slop.

We endure the long hours of service
(Before we secretly deflate at night)
All for the joy of watching
That hungry dog chew and bite.

Every once in a while, kids flip us over
And use us as a climbing stool,
Sometimes, the pup teethes on our rim,
A surprisingly useful backscratching tool.

We are not offended in the least,
Only pleased by our many applications.
Who knew two food bowls could supervise
Such interesting ministrations?

So, we extend our bountiful wares -
Both edible and practical sorts.
Like Victorian butlers holding their trays,
Sundries we offer our cohorts.

If only we could convince that mother
To allow us a place of honor.
It's not the centerpiece we desire,
Just a humble spot by the dish of butter.

Off to the side, but certainly on the table,
We know it's not too much to ask.
After all, she aimlessly chases dust bunnies
While we do the most important task.

We continue feeding and serving
Despite that mother's snub,
And dream of life as the centerpiece,
On a table where we are the hub.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Older Boys and Shotguns

I was burrowed down deep, under pink monkey sheets with Sugs. It was late and dark, her lips moving against my cheek.

"Mama, I like boys," she said.

"You do?" I asked, stalling for time. I was simultaneously praying that I wouldn't overreact, and wishing Real Gil were here to handle this before my inevitable overreaction. Then, I remembered he's the father; there'd be little help from Mr. Protective Himself.

Images of my own parents flitted across my memory, Dad in a bathrobe with a shotgun (no joke) and Mom with her finger pointed at the boy's chest while she made her seat-belt-and-slow-driving demands. Suddenly, their actions seemed so reasonable, nothing drastic about it all.

But I digress... Sugs brought me back to present-day with her forthright words.

"Yes, I like boys, especially older boys," she clarified.

I can envision the nunnery in my mind's eye, a beautiful stone lodge with long capes and virtuous women. Sugs is among them, with the word CLOISTERED stamped on her forehead...

I just listen for a while as she lists boys she likes - the boy from Nanny McPhee, the neighbor boy, some boys from church, her papa.

It's something we've observed in our four-year old long before this late-night conversation - a need to be noticed and seen by boys. Can this really start at the age of four? My heart quakes for her inevitable heartbreaks, if this is the ultimate goal.

"Those boys are nice, Sugs," I finally say. "I understand what you like about boys. But can I tell you a secret? One that might help you a lot in your life?"

The lure of a secret whispered in the dark brings her nose to nose with me. We giggle in the glow of her pink nightlight and then, I whisper: "No boy, not even the fairytale prince, can satisfy you completely, make you live happily ever after."

This does not fit into her nighttime daydreams. She looks at me like I'm the party pooper, this out-of-touch mama invading her space.

"I married the prince," I insist. "And I love him more every day, but even still, Papa can't meet my every need; he isn't supposed to. Then, there wouldn't be a need for Jesus."

I leave it there, my flat unromantic truth, as cozy in this setting as a thorn in the flannel sheets.

"But, boys are great," she adds. "And Jesus likes 'em too."

I laugh with her and I agree.

Boys are great. Romance is not to be dismissed.

But the best kind of romance I have found in my life is the kind that gives with no thought to receiving, the kind that is inspired by Christ. When He meets my needs for encouragement, comfort, love, fellowship, tenderness and compassion (Phil. 2:1), then I am free to love others selflessly, "being one in spirit and purpose."

So, I pray for my marriage, and I pray for this daughter of mine. Might she find more than Leah did...

Leah, the uglier, older bride with "weak eyes," the one who went along with her father's deception and tricked her way into marriage. I know she thought she could sway Jacob, persuade him to love her over time. Even if her sister was younger and prettier, Leah still hoped for a Valentine's Day kind of love. After giving birth to first one, then two, and finally six boys, Leah would hopefully proclaim, "Surely my husband will love me now," and "Now at last my husband will become attached to me..." After one childbirth episode, perhaps in a moment of postpartum depression when she realizes there is no hope, she admits "because the Lord knows I am not loved, he gave me this one too."

Not exactly the words I'd put on my Valentine's cards. Or in the baby book.

Leah was a real Fertile Myrtle, birthing babies and swinging her hopes from children to husband with each swing of her postpartum emotions. By her sixth child, Leah seems a bit more realistic, knowing that Jacob might never love her, but still, she insists that "this time, my husband will treat me with honor."

I'm not sure she ever predicted correctly. When the family walked into a dangerous confrontation, Jacob planted Leah and her children in harm's way first, while Rachel - the wife who was "lovely in form and beautiful" - walked at the very end of the parade, farthest from potential violence.

Tragic story, I know, but I relate to Leah in many more ways than I can relate to Rachel. Pinning all of my hopes, dreams, and heart on a man (even my beloved Real Gil) - it's always fraught with disappointment. Not because of the man, but because they were never intended to satisfy all of my hopes and dreams!

Then, if I can't find soul-satisfying completion in Real Gil, I know there have been times where I swing my attention, hopes, and dreams onto my children. What a tragic set-up for failure I give my children in these moments! If Real Gil can't meet my heart-needs, do I really think a three-year old can?

The idols I've been tempted to worship are not evil - they are treasures from God above. They are to be loved, cherished, and honored, but they are always to point me back to Him. Like the idols from the long-ago Elijah story, these idols cannot fulfill my deepest longing. No matter the frantic demands we make nor the volume with which we demand them, the answer will always be disappointing, like it was back then: "there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention." (1 Kings 18:29)

God has my heart, which liberates me to love this family of mine. They do not complete me, but they are delightful indeed. It is so much more liberating and rewarding to love from this perspective.

I pray this for Sugs too. That she will find true love in the Only Person who can give it perfectly.

And as a true Anne of Green Gables fan, if she is still inclined, I am praying that she finds a delightful boy someday - even an older one! - that walks the journey with her. A man that does not have to complete her, just a man that makes the makes the walk more delightful.

Resting in His Perfect Love, & the Gift of Loving Others that He Gives,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"May I Have Some More Gruel, Sir? Or A Hill?"

There were four days in a row on the calendar that did not have the words "work night shift" or "work day shift" on it. So, Real Gil and I hit up the grandmothers for babysitting and hopped on a plane to Chicago. If you have read other posts around here, you know we are not from the city, and it's pretty obvious. There was this nagging little weather report, but we dismissed it as overkill. Heck, we're from the mountains where it really snows, thought the proud tourists. Here's what we've learned, in numerical bullets for no apparent reason:

1. They may not have mountains or hills here, but they do have ice. And wind.

2. We are part of history in the making - perhaps the largest snowstorm to hit Chicago in forty years. We'll mark that in our scrapbook, keep that little useless fact in our back pocket to whine about whenever we feel like pitying ourselves. When someone says they got stranded in a city somewhere, we'll one-up them by pulling out this memory - the time we were stranded in a big city in a record-breaking snowstorm when we spent more time on the phone with airlines than we did our children. (Secretly, we'll remember how guilty we felt when we enjoyed these extra days. At least until the electricity went out, and we slept in our jackets.)

3. City folks do interesting things - they talk about transit and Metra and going downstairs to the laundry room. When they do laundry, they lock their front door and they take their laundry credit card with them. Also, they don't necessarily talk to you in the stairwell, or even acknowledge you. But sometimes they do. Sorta like how our neighbors in the country sometimes wave, or don't, as they drive by; it must depend on their mood. On the inside, they have homes just like us country bumpkins, except they park their cars in the basement and they even have a parking spot with a hose where you can wash your car when it gets really dirty. But you can't park your car there permanently or you'll get towed. I still have no idea how they barbecue. Or load a carseat into a taxi.

4. But who cares about the barbecue or carseats? Not me. I was on vacation. One museum, two days of shopping, and many wonderful restaurants. [burp. gasp. Excuse me!]

5. There are elements of this city life that leave me perplexed. Like why do they even get dressed, if all they ever wear around here are big, poofy jackets? Everyone looks like the Michelin Man and they don't take the jackets off when they go inside! Restaurants, stores, bathrooms, everything is done in your coat. I was left vacillating between sweating-but-cool and tourist-who-carries-her-coat, while everyone else browses the clearance racks with jackets in place. Other perplexing elements of city life? There are no mountains, which means that for the life of me, I cannot find North.

6. I'm a tourist. Evidences of this abound. Within minutes of arriving in this foreign place, a woman stopped us and asked if we needed help, explaining that she "really wants to help the tourists." I guess we were pretty obvious. I'm not sure if it was my practical walking shoes, or the ridiculous finger-less gloves I bought in preparation for our trip to Chicago. Real Gil has been teasing me for days about actually paying money for gloves that have the fingertips cut off. (To which I retort, my fingers are still feeling the residual warmth of those gloves, so much so that I can hardly type this.) Other evidences of my tourist status: my jacket isn't poofy enough, I still wear bootcut jeans with boots, I don't have animal fur (fake or real) on my hood, and my belt is hidden under my shirt, not over the top.

7. By Day Four, Real Gil and I found ourselves calling home more often than we needed to (we know because the kids did not want to talk to us!). We wandered museum exhibits and found ourselves saying, "Oh, the kids would love this!" So, we checked in online and tried to print boarding passes. Unfortunately, Southwest Airlines had been watching the Weather Channel, and canceled our flight. Since I couldn't find the mountains, this snow took me by surprise - there were no dark clouds crawling over the peaks, giving me hours to shop for milk and bread. It came with internet updates and windy gusts. Did you know that there can be lightning and thunder during a blizzard? Unbelievable. It can also come with a power outage, backgammon lessons by flashlight, and riveting window observations of traffic and snow falling upwards.

8. These poor deprived city children. My neck is actually sore from so much sympathetic head-shaking and "tsk, tsk-ing" at the horror I've observed from our window. While their parents are shoveling snow like overachieving freshman, as if the sun won't melt the snow without their help - oh wait, it won't. Anyways, while their parents shovel, these children just walk aimlessly around the street pulling little plastic sleds, some with the sticker labels still on them. "Gruel," requested Oliver Twist. Similarly, these little, city children look at me with their pitiful little sleds, as if to request, "A hill, please?" So, they climb snowplow berms and call it a hill. But I suppose there are less broken bones this way.

9. Even on vacation, eventually you have to cook. Today, we realized that every restaurant was closed, and one grocery store let us in at lunchtime, fifteen minutes before they closed. I grabbed essentials and tonight, I will cook. After I write this. Because when you're on vacation, you still get to choose the order of activities.

Perhaps we're not as essential to the world as we'd like to believe we are. Not that I'm depressed or anything, but it seems that our children, our home, and our jobs are still intact, no matter if our flights continue to be canceled. Sooner or later, we will be home, gladly home. Until then, I am thankful for flexible grandmothers, electricity, and the genius who invented the wheeled suitcases that will roll over these salted, icy sidewalks, onto the "Orange Line" (to use the local jargon!), and into the airport. Eventually.

Where ever you are, I hope your surprises are sweet tonight, your views are entertaining, and your weather is brimming with evidences of Him. No matter what, I hope you feel the welcome of His home.

Resting in this Flat Place,