Friday, February 28, 2014

happy birthday to the neverland boy

Today is Boy 2's birthday, which means many wonderful things for him and for me.

Because birthdays are for mamas in a secret way. Like little treasures we squirrel away for the long winters of life, these happy days are our hidden stash of joy.

This birthday boy is a child of my soul. Behind his big blue eyes is a mind as deep as the ocean, and there are a precious, trusted few that he allows to see the depths. I count it a holy privilege to be among his chosen friends.

This boy wants childhood to go on forever. It isn't that he's immature. He just loves being a boy, being full of life and free to live. Boy 2 dwells in Neverland, cultivating all sorts of happiness there.

His best gift to the world is the way his love leads the rest of us there with him.

His favorite letter is an exclamation point, his favorite day is any day spent lounging about, and his favorite food is whichever one will gain him the right to eat dessert. None of this makes much sense unless you know our Neverland Boy.

To celebrate him, I will bake him his favorite cake, we will gather as a family and tell funny stories about him, and then watch him open his presents. 

This birthday memory will be locked away with others that are just as precious. It will glow deep in my own Neverland box with the first time I felt his breath on my cheek, and the sound of his little voice saying "kiss-miss twee" when he was two years old. They are snug and safe in there alongside his hugs that melt the icy places of my soul, and the way he plays the piano, how he makes the notes say things that words can't.

It is a pure and mysterious joy to know a human from their first breath; to see with the passing of years the miracle of simply becoming happen right there in front of you.

Happy Birthday, Boy 2. You are loved. You are a blessing. Enjoy Neverland today.

I have a feeling that you are devising a plan to live there forever, or a loophole that will allow you to wrap up boyhood and take it with you everywhere God leads.  My secret prayer is that you will succeed, because that is who God has called you to be, and because the world needs more boys just. like. you.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

a mom's ode to yoga pants

I stood out in the driveway Monday afternoon, and Mr. Fantastic looked up from the pile of leaves he was raking.

"Are those new sweatpants?" he asked me.

"Yes. I bought them at Academy today."

"You just caaaannnn't resist another pair of sweatpants, can you?' he grinned and teased me.

"You should be nicer to me on your day off," I replied, a little icily, but with a wink. Perfect passive-aggressive delivery is important in fake fights with one's spouse over inconsequential clothing choices.

Obviously, I felt a little spicy on Monday. He likes that, though, so I got away with it. The truth is, he's right. I can't resist another pair of sweatpants.

Because sweatpants won't let you down, man. Neither will yoga pants, which are the more formal version of sweatpants. Maxi dresses will work in a pinch, too, because they're actually just glorified granny nightgowns you're allowed to wear in broad daylight.

With these long, hard days that hinge on the attitudes of children who lack a true grasp of rational thinking, all I can concretely expect out of every day is a comfortable outfit.

It is my SUV-driving, carpool-shuffling, homework-managing, meal-planning, booboo-bandaging, hair-braiding, baseball-cheering, Constitutional, and perhaps even God-given right as an American mom to wear pants that say, "I feel cozy, and today, that's enough for me."

No, they aren't runway-tastic. I don't expect anyone to ask me where I bought them. They don't make me feel glamorous, or fancy, or particularly spectacular in any way.

These pants are my uniform, reminding me that the battle is on. Faithful soldiers can't be bothered with living in fear of constant doom by wearing dry clean only items. I feel invincible in sweatpants. I am conquering new lands of patience, discipline, self-control, and diligence in my own and my children's souls. These are my traveling clothes as I explore bold new worlds and live out the messy adventures called "motherhood". I wear them proudly.

(Plus, if the opportunity for an unexpected nap arises, I'm golden.)

Thank you, sweatpants, for making it all possible. I love you. I can't resist you. You are perfect.

The next time you see a mom in Target, with her hair in a messy bun, wearing sweatpants and flip flops, a baby in the basket and several others running amok through the toy aisle, give her a nod and smile. That woman is a hero in her comfortable clothes. 

And who knows, she might really need the encouragement....

Monday, February 24, 2014

my piece of the pie

Apparently, someone didn't order enough pizza.

Or at least that's how it feels when I look at my calendar.

My time has been sliced up and there isn't nearly enough of it to go around. Failure and self-reproach are a trap for my soul, and I am pressing my need for wisdom diligently at the feet of Christ.

Frustration brews like a storm over me when I think about how I am not enough for those I love most.

My heart cries out in God's presence, "How can one woman possibly meet all these needs?"

Empty plates line up at my door, and I find I have empty hands and a plastic smile for my friends out there. I need an Elijah miracle. I need to pour the oil and have it last until the very last.

I point heavenward and trust that the God we serve, who is always more than enough, won't let us down.

"Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay."
-Hebrews 10:35-36 (NAS)

I am down on my knees, asking God to meet me here in my weakness, in the emptiness, in this echoing cavern of need.

Be strong in us, for us, through us, Lord.

It would be easy to walk away. Simplicity is closing the empty pizza box, putting a sign on the door that says to come back never, and admitting defeat.

But we are not of those who shrink back.

It is tempting to point the finger at my own soul and open the window for the darkness to declare that I am a failure.

But I failed and died long ago, and Christ lives here now in triumphant victory.

Open the doors!

Come see my empty boxes. We will pray together for a miracle. We will declare His faithfulness to His faithful. We will not sin and say that His outpouring of love was insufficient for us.

My pizza boxes may be empty, but God's spring of living water is ever flowing to us.

Slice it up, pour it out, and serve it up victoriously, Lord.

We are all just one piece of the pie, and He is the master of multiplication.

Watch what He will do.

Friday, February 21, 2014

these are the good old days

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:
“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts.”
-Hebrews 4:6-7 (NLT)

This week I spent a little time cleaning out my inbox. I cast 13,000 emails to the dry places of the internet, never to be read again. I thought of all those words, conversations, and ideas that had ceased to have any importance in my life. A bit of melancholy washed over me.

Then I found some old photos that Mr. Fantastic had emailed me years ago. Boys eating donuts, babies in restaurant highchairs, and big grins on happy birthday faces shined on my computer screen.

"Those were the good old days," I thought.

Those were the days before our present troubles and concerns weighed our hearts down. The days before we juggled big kids, a growing church, and an old. flawed house.

Later, the Lady and I set out on a walk. She is too big for strollers and tricycles these days. We took the long way through the neighborhood, along the creek path, and home again. I had to jog to keep up with her on her scooter.

"I'm tired, Mama!" my big girl complained along the way. "Can you turn on the music?"

A moment later, Sister Sledge belted out "We Are Family" from my phone. We danced right there on the sidewalk, at the corner of Braeburn Glen and Briar Hollow. If anyone saw us, they probably thought we were crazy. I didn't care. These are the days I don't want to lose by being too dignified to do the running man with a five year old.

She picked a dandelion and offered it to me. A golden love offering. I thought how souls ought to have cameras, so precious joy could be captured and replayed when needed.

These are the good old days. These are the days of baseball games, late nights around card tables, conversations about growing up, learning dance moves, and laughter without end. They are glorious days and I want to live here forever.

Yesterday we taught the kids how to snap a towel while we cleaned the kitchen before community group, and I showed Boy 1 how to make guacamole for a big crowd of friends. We have ignored bedtime rituals this week because the Olympics are too good to miss. In the early hours of this morning, two cozy boys crawled in my bed and patiently waited for me to wake up.

I refuse to harden my heart to these good old days. The days before teenage struggles, life changes that we can't see coming, and goodbyes that I don't want to think about yet.

There is great rest in the happiness of mothering these kids who call me the "Best Mom in the World" because I make sandwiches they like and bake cookies at night. It is wonderful here, today, to be loved by big blue eyes and open, happy little people.

I emailed myself a photo from the walk I took with the Lady. My soul doesn't have a camera, but my inbox will forever hold this memory for me. When I need to remember, I will pull it up and remember that every day Christ offers us is good. 

We can never delete that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

modern parenting

"Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him."
-John 13:1-5 (NLT) (bolded words mine)

Two of my sons were locked into an argument about which book belonged to whom. Neither would budge, both were being completely selfish.

"How can you two remember to get along?" I questioned them calmly.

"We can't," one growled a little through clenched teeth.

"Maybe you should get tattoos," I suggested. "Right on your forearm, we'll write 'I love my brother.' Possibly add a heart or a unicorn in there somewhere."

"Mom! No!"

"I don't know, it's the modern era. People get tattoos all the time. A nicely inked reminder to love one another could do the trick. Of course, it's going to hurt a lot," I explained.

They laughed at me and it broke the spell on their greedy hands. Each boy was content with what he had and the argument dissolved into thin air.

The next morning I found these same two yahoos hugging each other in the midst of good morning greetings. That had never happened before.

I think I'm onto something here.

In my mind, I think I want my children to just do what I say. It would make life much more easy if they could simply get along because it's the right thing to do, eat healthy foods, have good attitudes about hard work, and love what is good and true about living the gospel.

But the truth is, they learn how to love one another from the way I love them. I must get down and wash some feet, no matter how dirty or messy it gets.

It is frustrating to raise these four humans who love to learn lessons the hard way, have a natural inclination to take the hardest road available, and kick back at any command or request that grinds against their flagrant sense of free will.

We can't take ourselves too seriously in the the midst of all the drama, though. We can't be above the mess, too holy to be honest about how hard it is to love others more than ourselves. We have years of this ahead of us, and we don't want to burn out before high school even begins.

So I make jokes about tattoos. I ask about girls (ew!). We talk about love and friendship. I tell them about the time I was a bully in second grade and made a little girl cry, and the day I got bullied in fourth and cried in the school bathroom. We share battle wounds, laugh at our mistakes, learn to treat one another with respect and honor, and boast about how God is becoming strong and mighty in our weaknesses.

I walk alongside them in this life. Together we are learning to embrace humility, sacrifice, and the beauty of being last in this world alongside the Lord we long to serve.

This is our version of modern parenting, full of quick-witted transparency and a deep love for Jesus.

I think I may get my own tattoo. Right there on my forearm, I would have it inked out,

"He has loved us to the very end."

Then, every time this motherhood gig hurts a lot, I will remember that the mess and the work is how I learn to be more like Him. The spell on my greedy heart will be broken, and I will be content with what He has placed in my hands.

I think I'm onto something here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

a rewritten soul/ how to be confident

A new friend gathered up her things, put on her jacket, and we all headed out of the restaurant.

"You're just such a confident person," she commented. "I can't imagine you being any other way."

Really? I can.

We are often unaware of how other people perceive us. The truth of who we are seeps out of our cracks and holes, though, and eventually who we are is an open book to the world around us. A decade ago, she would have seen a different story on the pages of my soul.

Christ followers, people of Jesus, we must worship Him in truth. In the still, quiet darkness of our minds our internal discussion with God's word writes the tale of who we will become.

The truth of God can rewrite you.

We all bear black holes in our souls. Devoid of matter, those spaces lack truth and definition. They are weak spaces in our identity. Left unprotected, every flaming arrow can securely pass through them. Like a soul-sieve, they leak out all the goodness God means to sustain us.

People can only stand up so long when they are cracked and broken, riddled with black holes. Eventually, we fall.

I am one of the fallen failures, whose dark soul lost sight of all light until I learned to let His truth light my way.

Where I was weak, He has become strong. That is the way of the gospel; the way worshiping God in truth rewrites our souls. 

The truth is that we live for and because of His glory; the truth is that our insecurity is well-earned by our inadequacy in His presence; all our lack and loss is forever trumped by His love for us.

Confidence has been born out of utter desperation for Him. God has never failed me, and He never will. Even when there is a great deal of sorrow and difficulty to endure, I have nothing left to fear.

Many of my black holes are full now. God has filled them with His light, and they are the places the best of Him shines out of my life. 

I am not a confident person. I am not a beautiful person. I am not a wise person. I am not a good wife, mother, friend, or daughter. I am neither a patient, nor a diligent soul. But God is all of those things in me, just as He is all of those things in all of His daughters. He has written Himself into my darkness and His words have made me something new.

I am a rewritten soul, and the center of my story contains one beautiful string of words: glory to God in the highest. And when I live my life the way I am meant to, that is the story it confidently tells the world.

Friday, February 14, 2014

the last train

"Mom, can we build a train track tonight?" my seven year-old's mouth smiled at me all cocky and enthusiastic.

"Yes. I would love that!" I echoed back, grinning despite the lump in my throat.

It has probably been about a year since we built trains together. I haven't seen him play with Thomas or any of Thomas's plucky British friends in months. I sort of thought the boys had all outgrown that bucket of wooden happiness.

But tonight I had flashbacks to epic train sets that filled the entire ground floor of our house in Nashville. I remembered the way they always fought over Thomas and Percy. I recalled the days when trains were our whole life, all day, every day.

The lump in my throat got a little bigger because I wondered if this would be our last time building a train together. Today may have been the day of the last train through their childhood.

Eventually there is a last one of everything. A last bottle. A last new tooth. A last diaper, A last loose tooth. A last night needing a flashlight and plastic sword to fight the bad guys. A last endless game of Candyland. A last epic train day. A last day of elementary school. A last night in their room before college. A last day with our last name.

I think I will gather up all the last things and put them in an old mason jar. Inside that turquoise glass the light last things, full of beautiful melancholy joy, will glow and warm our home. I will put the jar in the front window and it will call my children back home.

That's what home really means; it's the place everything meaningful happened last.

All the memories will shine out the window, over the grassy yard, through the live oaks, and into the night. Like a beacon in the dark world calling to my children, singing of grace from imperfect parents who love them just as they come. Out into the starry night the jar of all the last things will woo them home with the happiness of a family made the most of the final ride through their childhood.

Because even though it is painful to watch the train with my babies on it pull slowly out of the station day by day, it is also miraculously beautiful. That train is heading to a future I can't imagine and may never fully see.

My children aren't leaving me behind. I am sending them on ahead.

The little jar of last things will help them to remember the past and to light their path ahead. Someday when I miss their cheeky jokes, winking eyes, rolling laughter, and soft hands in mine, I will have the light of all the last things to keep me company.

On a day far off beyond what I can see now, I will sit there by my jar full of life's joy and sing Amazing Grace one last time. All the last things in the world will sound out together like a mighty trumpet. The earth will resonate and shake until all that remains is the first day that ushers us on into eternity. 

On that day it won't be sad anymore to have the last things roll away over the horizon. There will be only gratitude for all that faithful love that carried us through the years together.

All aboard, children. This train is bound for glory....

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the ordinary holy

Mr. Fantastic and I hopped onto a metro and grabbed a seat.

Alone in the city, giddy with the freedom that comes with a little time off, we sat in contented silence.

The train stopped. Doors opened and shut. Then behind us the music began.

It was so beautiful I thought my heart would burst.

Right there on a dirty train, full of odd odors and with floors covered in grime, violin music called out to us with an eerie siren song of ordinary holiness.

The player was a older man, well-worn by daily life. He closed his eyes as if he was hiding inside the notes he created, and then he smiled like he had finally found his home again when they melted into the air around us all.

One thing was clear, this man was happy.

This is the ordinary holy. It is beauty rising from the ashes of daily life, women giving their last coin away, smiles from strangers as you pass, children laughing on street corners, and melodic love ringing out on a filthy train. What more can a soul hope to find in the city on an ordinary Wednesday morning?

There are moments in life that take your breath away. They are full of burning bushes and booming voices proclaiming good news. We write them down, celebrate them each year, and hold them as precious. There is the first moment you hold your new baby. The decisions to do or not do important things that change life's path. The day you marry for the sake of true love.

But they are not the ordinary holy.

The ordinary holy things hide in plain sight. We only see them if we look carefully, and listen with our hearts open. Faith and trust will help us find the invisible string that links us to these tethers to the heart of God.

Once we do, one thing is clear, we will be happy.

Because the way a man rests his hand on his wife's cheek, clouds that part to reveal perfect constellations, quick footsteps across a bridge before an embrace at its center, the look in a child's eyes when he needs his mother, and the sight of ocean waves that never stop retuning to us, they sing of the gospel.

Nothing is more ordinary and more holy than God placing Himself in the body of a man. Innocent sacrifice, love in action, holy blood covering ordinary sin.

The man with the violin held out a wrinkled, old paper cup after his song was done. I pulled coins out o my purse and dropped them inside. Such an ordinary gift to give. I prayed that God would meet him in the music. It was the most holy offering I could think of to make on his behalf.

We are ordinary and yet God makes us holy. We live in ordinary cities with a holy calling to love one another as He has loved us.

Long live the ordinary holy. May we find its invisible string today, and may it make us happy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

love it or list it

Every Saturday, I spin my feet on the elliptical machine at the YMCA. HGTV's "Love it or List it" plays out with all its scripted reality on the tv in front of me.

These people, who live in old houses, and love it a little and also hate it a lot, are my comrades in life.

Our old house has flooded, been struck by lightning, had pipes leak, bathtubs break, HVACs malfunction, and a host of other problems.

Some days the quaint bookcases, large treed lot, and cozy floor plan woo me into staying forever. Other days, I long for bigger, more open spaces without forty year old problems that flatten our lives like a steamroller.

Should we stay or should we move, Lord?

Truth often sits silently in front of us, awaiting the simple settling of our gaze, the embrace of our thoughts, the hope of our hearts.

Better put down the phone, close the laptop, and pay attention. God has things to say.

I knelt in worship at church a few weeks ago, opened Isaiah 58, and the very beat of blood in my veins was scrawled out there next to the number 12.

I searched every version, and found none of them failed to serve as a beacon in the haze, calling me out of the day to day blasé and into the grander story of God's kingdom.

"Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes." -New Living Translation

This is who I long to be.

I never tire of this gritty love story called the gospel. The way it supernaturally turns the dirty slums of my heart into palaces of hope is addictive.

Give me the tired and ripped vinyl of the backseat. Take me through the service entrance and tell me to make myself uncomfortable. Festoon my life with tattered pages of discarded dreams. Slap me with ugly labels. Tell everyone I'm a has-been, a ne'er do well, and that you've forgotten if I ever had any potential at all.

Point me to the ruins of the world. That's where my Lord leads the blessed.

After the darkness settles over my bent, prayerful head, the moment will come when the trash heap turns into treasure. The backseat will become a coveted throne of blessing. Tears make way for laughter. Dark, lonely streets of the soul are filled with dancing.

Every. Single. Time.

This difficult life of ours, these scarred souls in need of grace, that clunky relationship, these flawed children, this old house beset by problems, will we love it or list it?
We will love them all, and cultivate faithfulness and the disciplined hope for God's glory to shine forth.

If God wants us to move, He will have to push us out into a new season. We will stay until we see His power made perfect in our weakness, and dream of a restored world as we await the day His glory reigns.

Because in the end, that's who He has made us to be.