Fireflies and Struggles.

Someone asked the other day why I have not been writing. There have been many mornings when I wanted to write over the last several months, yet the words simply didn’t flow.

Sometimes words just dry up.

Sometimes life is mundane and busy and distracted and I find it difficult to pull thoughts into focus. Thoughts more than what to make for lunch, what the kids need to be studying and did I finish all the things I needed to today.

Then, sometimes, I read an article like Ann Voskamp’s about her journey in Iraq and I wonder what on earth I could say. I sat utterly silent after reading about the journey of the women in Iraq, about the true horrors and suffering. Talking about my inability to complete my laundry sounded just a little petty.

Still, that is mostly the stuff of which my days consist: Laundry. Dishes. Lunches. Dinners.

Or is it?

There is a discipline to our thoughts. When I am lazy the words do not come, mostly because the thinking is vague and random. I tend to mope.

No one wants to read moping.

I have to go back to Ann Voskamp, who has been bringing me a bit out of this funk of undisciplined thought. Her book and challenge to count our blessings. To write them down and remember them…all the way up to 1000 and beyond. One Thousand Gifts. Discipline our thoughts and our vision to see the wonder and blessings around us.

Write them down. Look at them and be amazed by all the wonders around us. All the blessings, even in suffering.

Just after beginning to count these blessings that fill my life, I drove on a quiet Tennessee country road to pick up the eldest from a party. Just at twilight. In the early summer. If you have lived in the South, you know what that can mean: Fireflies. Lightning bugs.

There was an aroma of honeysuckle, everything was green, the air was cool and the windows down. The light caught my eye and I thought it was ribbons farmers use to keep birds from eating their crops. Then another field, filled with this twinkling light. Thousands of fireflies.

This exercise in counting blessings brings an awareness  that this reality of ours is not so simple. It is touched by eternity, touched by a Creator who delights in fireflies and fuzzy chicks, sunsets and landscapes. A Creator who gives gifts, even some gifts that challenge us.

I wonder if the women in Iraq can number their blessings to 1000. Maybe I am greedy in seeing the blessings I have, and sometimes try to hoard.

That is not what they are for. They strengthen us and move us beyond our funk, beyond our mundane days, beyond our limitations. These wonders and blessings remind us that God is, and that He is near. They remind us that we can walk in a faith which expands our feeble actions.

Go and read the update Ann wrote after people responded to her first article. Really…go and read the Update. Now.

Sometimes I come to this blog and think all I have to write about with depth is the journey of my Mother’s Dementia. Heavy things. Hard things.

Or I write about birthdays. Light things. Joyous things.

The reality is, most of life is spent somewhere in between. We cannot constantly focus on the struggle or we exhaust ourselves. We cannot constantly analyze and postulate about the deeper meaning. Sometimes we have to do the laundry, or color a picture with a three year old.

 

And those things don’t sound terribly interesting to write about…yet maybe they are just the things I should think about.

 

I’ll end with this…reading Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book  Letters from the Land of Cancer:

“But the promises of the Lord endure forever. He and his promises – Jesus, between the making and the keeping them – these embrace Time. They give Time its edges and its shape. And it is not wrong, on days like this one, to take one’s stand as well as one’s rest within such Time, the anteroom of eternity. Not in order to blind ourselves to the iniquities and the woundings around us, nor to withdraw from our service on behalf of the wounded, but simply to rejoice.

It is a good day. Gladness is available. Christ is at hand.”

 

Whatever this moment holds: suffering, joy, mundane duties, boredom, excitement. Whatever the moment holds…Christ is present. That really does change everything.

Happy Birthday, Zachary

About thirteen years ago the church Steve and I attended had a special summer series in which the pastor answered questions from the congregation. One Sunday was devoted to questions about parenting. We sat there with our infant, just beginning to embrace this whole parenthood adventure.

One comment has stuck with me all these years. The pastor talked about how we speak about teenagers. How often we hear the phrase, “I just dread those teenage years.” He challenged us to speak with hope and expectation, not dread. Talk to our kids about how we look forward to who they will become, and all the stages of our interaction.

Expect that they will be teenagers we will enjoy and love and admire.

I don’t know if we have always done that perfectly, but I have to tell you: I love my teenager. He turns 14 today and constantly impresses us. He is intelligent and quick witted, talented and kind. He has a great imagination and an excitement about things that are bigger than himself.

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He has delighted us from birth. Coming into the world calmly and instantly aware.

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As he has grown, he has impressed us at every stage with his ability to adapt and take on challenges.

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He has led the way as the big brother, encouraging his brothers and harassing them in just the right proportion.

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He is Maddie’s “Best Buddy” and such a great big brother to her.

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He has introduced us to a whole world of sports we never could have guessed we would love so much.

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And has grown in this beyond just physical ability. He has learned the balance of being competitive and being kind. And not throwing sticks and yelling when he loses anymore.

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My pastor’s advice was sound, not just wishful thinking. I thoroughly am enjoying these teenage years, mostly because of this remarkable teen. Our expectations and hopes grow as he constantly exceeds them.

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Happy Birthday, Zachary. You are loved, admired and we are thoroughly blessed you are our boy.

The Joy and Suffering of Motherhood.

Well, how is Mother’s Day in your house today?  Here it has been focused on a sick boy who keeps spiking in his temperature and just doesn’t feel well. We’ve had a household fighting off strep and various gunk. Yuck. Motherhood, though, yes?

 

It has also been a day thinking about my Mom.  These markers that come and go and seem to force us to pause and assess.

weddingday

I’m not exactly sure how many years we are into this journey in Dementia, but it is somewhere around six or seven. This long progression of losing someone before your eyes. Watching the memory fade, and then the personality and the abilities. It is a wicked disease and leaves us in a limbo of both mourning and thankfulness for the moments when she is present.

GrandmaWatch

There is no easy aspect. No quirky quote that sums up the journey. It is difficult, and it seems to be long. The presence and the voice and the moments when she says something that is “her” make the awareness of how much is missing all the more painful.

GrandmaMaddie

Still…she is present and there are moments. Like the other day when I called and spoke with her on the phone. I mentioned that I need to come visit soon and bring the kids and Steve. She responded, “Yes, yes. I will need to make a list.”

 

That is her. She always had her lists. Every morning I can picture her in her chair, looking out the large windows in the house where I grew up, clipboard or notebook in hand and making lists. Lists of people to call, lists of things to do, lists of lists.

 

These things bubble up sometimes. A moment of wit or a moment of personality that are stark against her inability to find words that make sense.

 

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So, Mother’s Day is another marker. Another year of progression, hand-in-hand with the delightful growth of my own children. The mixture of joy and sorrow…that is life.

Easter kids

 

Rejoicing while holding the awareness of our broken state. Sometimes we simply have to set aside sorrow and rejoice and embrace the goodness around. Sometimes we have to weep for the brokenness even while surrounded by blessings. We have to give ourselves the room and the permission to do both, because there is healing in both tears and laughter.

 

Even as Moms. And Daughters. We have to embrace the blessings and the sorrows, because life is forever a mix of the two. We grow through the sorrow, and I think we appreciate the blessings more in light of the sorrow. easter

 

So, Happy Mother’s Day to those who are rejoicing in their children. Those who are surrounded by blessing and are strengthened and joyful. Relish that joy and praise with gusto! Happy Mother’s Day as well to those who mourn, to those who see more brokenness than joy at the moment. It is a moment. There will be a shift when joy will be stronger. Let the suffering strengthen us as well…and give us a deeper joy when the wonders reappear.

Happy Birthday, Sammy!

Oh my word, does it ever feel foreign to be back at the keyboard. Amazingly, six months have passed since I last wrote anything in this little cyber journal.

Life has been busy, life has been stressful, life has been joyful…and yet my mind has simply not been in a place to think out loud.

Until…a little man’s birthday. His ‘day’ actually happened a couple weeks ago, however we are having our last family dinner together this weekend, so I am sneaking this post in before that happens.

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The little one…the big one’s day is coming in a couple weeks.

The youngest of the three brothers, he is breaking me out of my slump in writing. Bringing the blog back to life.

He has a way of doing that.

9 years old, filled with imagination and laughter. He has always delighted us.

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Talented in everything he tries, he has rocked it on the soccer field and in class. He has a laugh that is infectious, and yet…there is a timidity and a watchfulness about him as well.

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He has grown so much!! Matured in his thinking and his talents.

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Always read to have a cup of coffee with me first thing in the morning. Ready to hear George MacDonald before bed. He watches his big brothers and learns, while he is tender toward his little sister. Caught in the middle…and yet flourishing there.

His personality is becoming more and more his own.

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I love watching him grow. Love watching his tenderness toward animals, and his enthusiasm around his friends. Love watching his questions about God develop, and his quick reminders each night that it is time to pray together.

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Sam. I love watching who you are becoming. You are such a key to this family, such a wonderful dynamic in our little home. So thankful for you!!!

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Advent failure? Meet the Relentless God.

The theme for my Advent Season 2014?

 

Um. Mostly failure.

 

We have not read the Advent books, we have not faithfully made our way through our Advent Calendar. We have not opened the book of creative ideas for inspiring the children through this Advent season.

 

The kids have played too much X-Box and computer. I have lingered on FaceBook longer than I should.

 

The laundry basket just seems to stay full of clothes that need to be put away. Presents are just beginning to appear under the tree.  Not sure everyone is even in what they are receiving.

 

Tamales made that turned out so-so rather than really great. Frustrating.

 

These are the things that run through my mind…little failures where I can see what could be. I can see more wonder and hope and joy and peace and love. I can see more order and more patience, rather than haphazardly bumping my way through the season.

 

More than that though: frustration, anger, impatience, arrogance. Sin. Throughout the season. The reality of my fallenness. The reality of my lack. The reality of the brokenness we sit with as we try to take in the wonder.

 

The reality of a Mom who slips farther from reality.

 

The reality of friends truly struggling simply to have the basics, let alone the luxury of Christmas gifts overflowing.

 

The reality of others struggling with life-consuming illness. Fear. Uncertainty.

 

The realities that sometimes cloud our hope and faith and love and peace and joy.

 

I can slip into a deep awareness of my lack, and be overcome by it. My fears and failures demand attention….and then I realize that God is more relentless than my fear or my laziness, or my uncertainty.

 

God simply will not be overshadowed.

 

Every year, every where we go, God is proclaimed. Maybe it is covered over with too much fluff, and He is made too safe. Maybe the Gospel is a bit softened by the Ho, Ho, Ho’s. Maybe it is a little confusing…and yet, it is still relentless.

 

Beginning in November the stores start proclaiming: Christmas is coming.

 

The songs start playing the decorations go up, all around us. The parties start being planned, the gifts being wished for and listed, the food starts being prepared. The performances being. The familiar choruses begin being sung on Sunday mornings.

 

Relentless reminders:  Emmanuel. God has come.

 

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  Luke 2:6-7

 

Every year, no matter the failures or the frustrations, no matter the fears or the angers, no matter the weaknesses on my part…God reminds me He came. I may not make it through the whole Advent season with focused intent and awareness, I may not even make it through with a clean house and presents bought on time. Doesn’t matter.

 

God came.

 

Grace.

 

Wonder.

Hope.

 

Peace.

 

Joy.

 

Love.

 

No matter how your Advent season has progressed,  the reminders are all around us. We can soften them with our trivialities, or be overwhelmed by the demands of the season…but the reminders still stand. Relentless. God keeps reminding us He is near.  Underlying all the decorations and Ho, Ho, Ho’s…the reality that the God of the Universe came. That is staggering, and even though we may be so familiar we shrug off the reality…He keeps tapping us on the shoulder each Christmas season. There is a deep truth that underlies all the decorations, and it is amazing.

 

I am so thankful He is relentless.

 

Buechner sums it up this way, from Whistling in the Dark:

 

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.

 

 

From Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, Jill Phillips singing Labor of Love:

 

Blaze again…

Monday morning comes early, it seems. Technically, it is all the same, but there is something about Monday that brings a solemnity making it a bit more difficult to begin the day. There are those who face a greater stress when Monday finds us; stress from work or school or other obligations. Sometimes it is difficult, for me, to awaken on Monday and think of Advent.

 

Sometimes Monday morning clouds the patient imaginations of Advent. I need help on Monday morning especially.

 

I love the poetry of Malcolm Guite. He helps me, even on Monday morning, to bring my thoughts around. There is a link on the title that will take you to him reading the poem and you can enjoy hearing it with the rich English accent. I needed to hear this morning the cry to blaze again like fire…

 

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

 

 

The patient waiting of Advent continues. Maybe all the more so we need the discipline of turning our attention toward the incredible reality of the Incarnation. We need to know that the stress of the mundane, the toil that we engage, and all the the responsibilities we carry matter. We need to know on grey Monday mornings that there is a reality which deepens the surface of what we see.

 

We need to know that the Story is true.  We need the breath of that reality on Monday morning to infuse and ignite us.

 

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

No Forced Merrymaking….

I missed a day, didn’t I? I missed posting a poem or two. Missed the moments of pause to take in Advent and to breathe the joy in. Missed a few of the steps in the walk toward Christmas morning.

I am always amazed at the busyness of life. I’m not sure why, because life has been busy for ages for us, and yet it still confounds me. Still frustrates me that I cannot slow things down and still embrace all the activities that are necessary and enjoyable.

Sometimes I stumble upon something, however, which infuses life again into the busyness. Something which makes the heart beat with anticipation and joy.

Joy.

 

Advent.

They go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Joy is slippery, though…we always struggle to define that elusive quality. We know it when it wells up within us, though. We know when our hearts are caught in trying to expand to contain the touch of heaven…

“I do think that while we are in this “valley of tears,” cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. . . . It is only in our “hours-off,” only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy [to the joys of heaven]. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for “down here” is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends.  Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” – C.S. Lewis 

Necessary frivolity. Those moments of rest. And for those who help to usher in that ‘frivolity’ it is far more than game and festivity. Hours of discipline and study and inspiration come together to provide what may be rest or escape for the rest of us.

Like last night. In a home, the North Wind Manor, which also offers itself as the headquarters for the Rabbit Room activities, we were treated to a simplicity and frivolity that ushered in the joy of the season.

Make no mistake: it was not unimportant. It was necessary, and yet it was gift.

Chesterton on joy:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the Pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume [Orthodoxy], I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation.

“This tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.

“His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud, proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something . . 

“Solemn Supermen and Imperial Diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down from the steps of the Temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something . . .

“I say it with reverence — there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.

“There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.

“There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.

“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

If God did restrain the joy of heaven…He did at least give us glimpses. Last night we caught another:

and this…

Oh, this post is getting long, isn’t it? Difficult for me to be concise with words when joy is still so present. Eager for worship this morning as another step toward Christmas morning is taken. Hope. Peace. Love. Joy.

Let’s not let our hearts grow colder…let’s make room for the presence of joy this season.  I didn’t forget, I still have a poem for today:

The Birth of Wonder
by Madeleine L’Engle

As I grow older
I get surer
Man’s heart is colder,
His life no purer.
As I grow steadily
More austere
I come less readily
To Christmas each year.
I can’t keep taking
Without a thought
Forced merrymaking
And presents bought
In crowds and jostling.
Alas, there’s naught
In empty wassailing
Where oblivion’s sought.
Oh, I’d be waiting
With quiet fasting
Anticipating
A joy more lasting.
And so I rhyme
With no apology
During this time
Of eschatology:
Judgment and warning
Come like thunder.
But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.

No forced merrymaking here…thankful to Michael Card, Jeff Taylor and Buddy Greene for helping usher in a joy more lasting:

(By the way…these three are doing this concert in a few places. Kansas City on Dec 14, Dallas on Dec 18,  Prosper, Tx on Dec 19.  If you are anywhere near these places make sure you go!)