Friday, July 23, 2010

Who are you?

Who's out there?  

I often wonder as I see my counter tick upward, but no comments.  

Just curious.

Sorry to have departed from the "laughing" stories lately.  I'm happy to say we're still a laughing family.  Some days are stressful, but we find joy...a lot of joy in the midst.  

My pregnancy is nearly over.  It's bittersweet.  Some days I feel so huge, and sweaty (thanks to Mid-west/Southern humidity), and sore, that I can hardly wait to give birth.  Other days, the idea of natural childbirth overwhelms my brain, and I think I'd be fine having a 25 pound beach ball in front of me for a while.  Then other days, I am in awe of how quickly time flies, and how I think it was about 2 days ago when I was sitting at my computer feeling the first little flutters.  Now my entire belly moves back and forth, and I often feel a very distinct foot, knee, or bottom protruding out the side.  And I think this is our last baby, so it's a little sad to think those unique feelings that only I can understand and know are almost over.  It's a real kick to watch the girls be amazed by the huge movements they feel under their hands.  

Norah is especially in love with my belly.  She uses my belly like her favorite comfort mechanism...much like a blankie.  Whenever she's upset or tired, she wants me to sit down next to her.  She yanks my shirt up and strokes my belly and talks about my belly, and if she has to get up to get something she says, "stay right there, don't put your belly away."  Or "I'll be right back Baby."  She loves to talk to the baby, kiss my belly, tell the baby about who she is as the big sis, and that she's a really good big sissy.  She's even read books to the baby.  The other day she was reading one with pictures of oranges, and she said, "say 'ball' Baby.  Good.  Now count with me,"  Sometimes she even sings the baby a lullaby.  So sweet.  The funny thing she does occasionally is pinch my belly button like it's a mouth moving and "talk" to the baby that way.  Or look in the belly button and say, "Do you see me Baby?  I'm Noni, and I'm right here."  

In other news, we've started some homeschool again.  Trying to get them used to the idea of doing a few things every day...or most days.  I know it will be hard to squeeze in between nursing sessions in a few weeks, so if they can at least accept doing a few short things, I'll be satisfied with that.  Sophie's in 2nd grade, and Jossie's in Kindergarten this year.  We've added a real focus on memorizing some helpful scriptures.  I love it.  They're learning things that help them, like being kind to others, and not worrying, but praying to God instead...and they're learning that it's all in the Bible.  And they're really good at memorizing at this age, much better than myself, and are so proud when they get it.  I'm discovering that when they know helpful verses in the Bible, then we can turn to those "truths" to help us cope with emotions, or even correct behavior, and it's not just Mommy telling them's a little more concrete, you know?  

Anyway, homeschooling is so frustrating some days just getting them to focus and not whine, and enjoy learning.  But at most moments, it is so incredibly rewarding.  I love realizing how quickly they learn, and inquisitive they are.  Sophie is an amazing reader and speller.  She's reading a smaller version of "Little Women," but it's still a chapter book full of complex words and terms that we don't use daily, and she just breezes through.  She likes taking it with  her on outings and reading.  I like that.  Jossie's starting to read some easy books, and that's fun to watch too.  She's an eager learner, and does it all with a smile (well most of the time).  

Joe's business is taking some interesting turns.  He's been incredibly busy and stressed dealing with that, but we think it's at a really good turning point right now.  More on that later....  Regardless, I'm always so amazed at how intelligently he's created this unique business.  We're hoping the bumps are worked out in the next couple of weeks, so we can focus on being a family of 6 without much stress.  

Eek!  Did I just say "family of 6"???!!!

What else is going on?  

Nesting.  Or trying to at least.  

My goals for today: a little homeschool (done), straighten and do a light cleaning of the house (no where near done), then work on Norah's quilt (getting close, but still several hours of work to go on that), or sort some of their 'baby boxes" and decide what's important, and maybe fill out baby books a bit.  Yeah right!  I can't get all of that done, but it sounds good in theory.  Many days I'm just hurting or worn out, so it just doesn't even come close to being done.  In the mean time, I'm being yelled at about how "IT'S LUNCH TIME AND WE'RE STARVING!!!"  Sheesh!  Don't they know my nesting and sanity is more important than food?  

Oh, and I went to the doctor this week and the baby is suddenly measuring 2 weeks ahead, so I get to test my blood sugars for a couple of weeks.  Always a good reminder, that it's a painful process my little 7-year-old goes through about 10 times a day.  So far, my blood-sugars are perfect, so I don't think it's gestational diabetes.  My sister-in-law says I'm carrying way low, and that in her family they make big boys, and that it's just a "big old hairy boy."  We still don't know if it's a boy or girl, but apparently Joe was a bit hairy when born, like they referred to him as a "monkey boy" for a while.  Poor guy.  We'll love our baby, even if he or she is a bit hairy.  Ha!

So here's my nesting list still to accomplish (trying to keep in mind that if I'm measuring big, it could definitely be an earlier baby):  

Finish filing papers, and cleaning my office.  
Make a board to help us keep up with Classical Conversations material weekly.
Finish Norah's quilt, and some curtains for the girls' room.
Organize baby boxes and put them away.
Find my baby things hidden deep in the recesses of my shed and get my bedside nursery ready.
Clean out and organize my kitchen cabinets.
Cook some meals for my freezer.
CLEAN my fridge.
CLEAN my house.  

Oh, all while taking care of 3 busy bodies, going to a gazillion doctor's appointments, and going to gymnastics 3 times a week, and allergy shots once a week.


There's a good reason why my children will look like they haven't seen the sun all summer.  (Besides the fact that it's so stinkin' hot and I can't take it).  

Happy Summertime to you...whomever you are.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dining in the Valley

Recently my darling husband posted this essay on the Internet Monk site.  I thought it would make an interesting read on here.  It's funny that we both felt like approaching this subject a bit recently, though separately.  He's such a great writer, so enjoy his thoughts and insights.

“Son of Adam,” said Aslan.  “Are you ready to undo the wrong that you have done to my sweet country of Narnia on the very first day of its birth?”
“Well, I don’t see what I can do,” said Digory.  “You see, the Queen ran away and—”
“I asked, are you ready?” said the Lion.
“Yes,” said Digory.  He had had for a second some wild idea of saying “I’ll try to help you if you’ll promise to help my Mother,” but he realized in time that the Lion was not at all the sort of person one could try to make bargains with.  But when he had said “Yes,” he thought of his Mother and he thought of the great hopes he had had, and how they were all dying away, and a lump came in his throat and tears in his eyes, and he blurted out:
“But please, please—won’t you—can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?”  Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face.  What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life.  For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes.  They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.
“My son, my son,” said Aslan.  “I know.  Grief is great.  Only you and I in this land know that yet.  Let us be good to one another.”  (From The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis)
When I read this passage to my two oldest daughters about two years ago I had a hard time not breaking down right in the middle of my reading.  It had only been a few short days since my oldest daughter, who was five at the time, had been diagnosed with type I Diabetes.  That is the genetic type where you are immediately insulin dependent, immediately faced with a complete change in life.  At the ripe old age of five she was faced with being “chronically ill.”  The idea of her own mortality and the mortality of everyone she loved came crashing in on her, at five.  I also own a business.  My business was entering a dry period.  Making payrolls became difficult and paying myself became even harder.  At a time when my family needed me more than ever, my business needed me too.  And both needed more money than they had ever needed before.  This season was the beginning of what has proven to be the hardest two years of my life, and the most magnificent.
Before I continue, let me acknowledge the fact that there are plenty of people out there who have suffered much more than I have.  You may have lost a loved one, a spouse, a job, or be fighting a losing battle with a terminal illness.  Let me say something incredibly insensitive: It doesn’t matter.  Whatever you are suffering, someone has suffered worse than you.  And if you are suffering you know that the thought of someone else suffering more than you is of no use whatsoever.  It only complicates your own pain by adding guilt.  So let’s all agree to leave the whole “people are starving on the other side of the world” argument out of this discussion for now.
Let me also say that I am venturing on to well-trodden ground here. There are books-a-plenty about the theology of suffering.  In fact, many of you may notice that I leave out some of the most oft used quotes regarding megaphones and whatnot (inside joke for C.S. Lewis junkies).  I am not attempting to write a complete theology of suffering here.  This is just my journey, a piece of my testimony.  I tell it here now because, well, what good is a testimony without the telling?
I believe in the power of Christ to heal disease, to raise the dead, and even that he bestowed that authority on his followers as well.  Jesus has done all that is necessary for the redemption of sin and the setting all of creation right again.  Yet, pain abounds.  Suffering is everywhere, even in the lives of believers.  There is obviously a part of the story that isn’t complete yet, our part.
Suffering is bad.  It sucks.  It isn’t to be sought out.  Satan wants us to suffer; God does not.  However, God gave us free will.  Free will is more dangerous than every weapon of mass destruction combined because with it comes the necessary possibility of suffering.  Buddha taught that suffering is the essence of existence.  In one sense this is an astute observation.  The world we know cannot exist without suffering.  If Christ removed all suffering for those classified as believers, it would unravel our free will and we would find ourselves slaves by compulsion.  End of story.
Buddha also teaches that the path of enlightenment is ultimately an avoidance of all suffering.  Yes, suffering is bad, but should we really mark our path by its presence or avoidance?  How many of us as Christians are taught a gospel of pain avoidance?
When suffering comes, we haul out our token scriptures to “build our faith.”  We shout at the devil and “believe for” miracles.  There is this sense that if we only our faith muscle were big enough, we could flex and pronounce this suffering bit to be over.  I am not even going to get into arguments against asking for healing, or the fervent belief that miraculous healing can and does occur.  When the Infinite One splits time and interrupts our lives, the supernatural happens.  I plan to ask fervently and continually for my daughter’s healing from diabetes.
But I think that a single-minded focus on our own deliverance blinds us to the richness of fellowship that is available to us in the midst of trouble.  We use our Jedi faith tricks to fend off bouts of brokenness when sometimes the brokenness is our deliverance from a much more heinous enemy than suffering.  It is in the brokenness that death truly loses its sting and our victory is truly complete (Philippians 3:10-11).
In God’s miraculous deliverance from bad circumstances we sense his goodness, but in the pain that precedes we sense his nearness.  The nearness of God IS my good (Psalm 73:28).  If we are still following Christ for the simple promise of utopia, then we are not disciples.  Our redemption is not in pain anymore than it is in the avoidance of pain; it lies in Christ and Christ alone.  But if there is fellowship with Christ to be had in suffering, then let’s not just endure, but rejoice at its coming.
The 23rd Psalm has the green pastures and still waters, but it also has the valley of the shadow of death.  It is here in the presence of David’s enemies that God prepares a table for him.  A couple of years ago, when I had finally stopped quoting scripture long enough to break down and look for comfort from Christ, I turned here to the 23rd Psalm.  The Holy Spirit gave me a somewhat humorous vision of the imagery in the Psalm.  In my meditation, I was in the valley of the shadow of death, and Christ was with me.  I was filled with urgency and the need to be gone from the place.  This was the leg of the journey that I was ready to be done with.  What do you say we move on to some higher ground Lord? The Lord looked around us and saw where we were.  He saw the enemies surrounding our position.  He saw death looming and he saw my fear.  It was as if he had the audacity to smile and say, “Let’s eat!”  Surely you don’t mean here God?  Let’s move on and we can enjoy a nice celebration meal on the other side of the valley.  But Christ said to me, “I want to be with you NOW and HERE.”  That was all I needed.  His nearness was good enough.  Actually his nearness was better than healing, better than riches, better than life itself.  He wanted me to do more than endure the hardship, he wanted me to partake in the brokenness, like tasting a wine.  It is intentional and to be sure it is an acquired taste.  But finding the brokenness in the pain is how we train our spirit to thrive only on the nearness of Christ, then riches or poverty no longer matter.  It isn’t that suffering is preferable to ease but that the nearness of Christ makes short shrift of both.
Christ came to give our suffering a point.  He joined and still joins in our suffering so that he might lead the way in undoing the curse.  According to Revelation 12:11 there are two parts to overcoming the evil one at the end of time: (1) the blood of the Lamb and (2) the word of OUR testimony.  Christ did his part.  Now we do ours.  You cannot believe yourself out of suffering.  You can surrender into the faith that he is working in you.  You can humble yourself so that he may exalt you in the proper time (1 Peter 5:6).  Your job is being broken; his job is to deliver you.  It is this fellowship of suffering and his redemption of our pain that becomes our testimony.  In this way, our pain goes the way of the cross, which does indeed lead to the grave, but does not end there.
When we sense our journey leading us into the valley of the shadow of death many of us pine for Eden and wonder when Christ will finally take us home.  What we should realize is that the way home leads through Jerusalem (read Luke 9:51-62), through the valley of the shadow, through the cross.  Some part of us should smile because we know inevitably whom we will meet there.  While the enemy hopes to sow doubt and despair we can laugh at the foolishness of the devil’s plan.  Jesus’ nearness is evident at the worst moments and his nearness is my good.  So literally EVERYTHING works together for the good of me because I believe.
When we come out the other side of the grave, much deeper is our journey with Christ if we have been willing participants.  Then instead of simply thanking Christ for his deliverance and carrying on without him so long as we are in the green pastures, we journey with him.  We hear his footsteps beside us in every single detail of our charmed lives.  It is no longer where the journey takes us that matters, but that it continues to be with Christ.
That is faith to me.  Not some hyped up thought process that yields miracles for the strongest “believer.”  It is looking up at the Lion’s face and seeing his tears.  It is tasting and seeing that he is good right in the midst of the darkness.  It is laughing at the table with my savior while we are still in the worst part of the journey.
Could this be what Christ means when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit?”  I have seen poor people and rich people alike who are obsessed with the state of their relative wealth.  The poor man is embittered by his need, and the rich man is scared to death of ever feeling the need in the first place.  But those that allow themselves to simply be broken by need, those are the poor in spirit.
My daughter’s diagnosis brought a crisis for her that has produced faith and intimacy with Christ the likes of which I had never seen before.  I remember one night I was in the kitchen making drinks for dinner, my wife was in the back of the house doing something, and the girls were all waiting at the dinner table.  My oldest tested her own blood sugar, adjusted her insulin pump accordingly, and then proceeded to lead her two younger sisters in the most sincere prayer of thanksgiving for dinner.  I overheard them in the kitchen and the Holy Spirit instantly said to me, “You hear that?  That’s the sound of giants falling.”  Victory had come, not in the miraculous healing I had been hoping for, but in the simple prayer of thanksgiving from a five year old little girl.  In the deep and sincere gratitude for the meal set before her in the presence of her enemies.
In that moment, diabetes had no sting.  In that moment, she was participating in the redemption of mankind.  In that moment, the enemy was overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of her testimony.  His nearness, his coming is our redemption.  If you are in pain or lacking anything, rejoice in his nearness!  Journey well, friends.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sweetly Broken

The verse from this song really stood out to me for a number of reasons today:

At the Cross You beckon me,
You draw me gently to my knees,
And I am lost for words, 
So lost in love,
I am sweetly broken
Wholly surrendered.

I hope to stay sweetly broken throughout life.  I really don't like struggles and trials.  Who does?   But, I am convinced that in pain and struggles if we're willing, we'll notice that "gently" we are drawn to our knees, and "sweetly" we are broken of our ugliness inside.  And then how easy and pleasing it is to be "wholly surrendered."  


Where have I been lately?  

In some struggles, I guess.  It's hard to be open and not totally pessimistic in the throws of struggle.  It doesn't really matter what those struggles are, because if we're honest, we all have them.  And sometimes I want to throw my hands up at God and yell, "it isn't fair!"  Or, "Why me?  Why us?"  "Why not the goof I know who's still bragging about his wild parties and how 'priceless' his experience was at dropping $5000 on partying with 'friends'?"  

Oh, and then I get a bit into the struggle, and I remember that those sorts of questions are unnecessary.  God isn't picking on me.  He's God and He has a plan.  

And then I realize that when I am drawn gently to my knees, and all I can do is cling to the promises that His deep love fulfill on the cross, I am so thankful He doesn't let me go.  It is so easy to have an easy ride in life, and when that happens, it is so easy to be caught up in what our culture thinks is important...and not be satisfied with simplicity.  And not even feel a need to be relying on God.  When life is easy, we simply drift. 

I don't want to be a drifter.  I want to stay ever-mindful of my utter dependence on Him. I don't like struggles, but I do like the closeness to my loving Father that I get when I realize I can't handle the struggle on my own, and getting angry and bitter isn't working, so surrender is my only peace.

And sometimes in those moments, if I'm careful to notice His handiwork, I can see beauty in the simple things of life...and I lose the focus on my own self-pity.

I find I really like things like:

Fresh from my garden tomatoes and basil....mmmmm....

My girls giggling uncontrollably.

Jossie grabbing my face and saying, "Mommy, the best gift I can give you that is so special to your heart is my kisses and come here!"  (And then laying them on me of course).

My hubby putting the kids to bed and singing them songs, and not complaining about how tired he is...

Homemade bread (And OK,  I'm pregnant here, so a lot of these are definitely food related.)

Sophie saying the sweetest and most heart-felt prayers.

Norah saying, "I'm big now, I can say "band-aid" instead of "bain-bain."  (OK, that makes me sad when she corrects her own baby talk).  

Friends showing up to help me clean, or organize...just because they love me.  

And then sometimes I get reality checks by looking at the rest of the world, and putting my "suffering" and "struggles" in perspective.  Because even in my most uncomfortable moments, they tend to pale in comparison to the real pain in much of the impoverished world.  It doesn't change that I may be in pain, but it does help me to get some perspective.

As I look at those around me, even people like the guy I mentioned earlier, I realize that as we understand each other's stories, we have so much more compassion and love for people.  And their weird behavior is often explained by their pain.  I don't know what his pain is.  But, I know you can't find true happiness in pretend friends and dropping wads of money on a lake weekend, and so I know that there has to be some pain he is trying to medicate with "fun."  And I don't want to envy his "easy life."

So often I find that when people have quirks or even bad choices I want to judge, that when I understand their deeper pain, I am a lot less likely to judge.

We all have stories.  We all have pain.

Oh, but for the grace of God.  Without it we have nothing.  No hope.  

But with the grace, comes hope, faith, and love.   

And so in struggles, I think it is so important to cling to God and to not isolate, but to spend time with others. When we understand their struggles, it helps us in ours, and being vulnerable about our struggles with healthy people, is a necessary thing.  I believe God intends for it really.  

Thank you God for the peace and fulfillment that comes from being sweetly broken.