Concerns, Clarity, and Clam

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Catie is officially halfway through Third Grade, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Third Grade is the start of being a big kid. A real kid. Third Grade is when coloring is replaced with multiplication facts. Third Grade is when the drama starts. It’s when girls get clique-ish. Third Grade is when moms really begin to picture who their kid will be–for real, like for the next ten years.
Or lifetime.
And every mom has her unique concerns…
Is my son too competitive?  When is my daughter going to grow up? Why is my daughter growing up so fast? Why doesn’t she care about her grades? Why is she obsessed with her grades? Is it her fault she doesn’t finish her homework or mine? Is my son autistic? Does he seem too hard on himself? Does my daughter care too much about her appearance? Does she not care enough?
Spending 24/7 with Catie the last week, I’ve asked myself a lot of these questions…and also had fun with her laughing, cooking, shopping, playing, reading, and praying. One minute I feel M and I are doing everything right, and the next minute I’m worried we’ve got it all wrong.  I’m constantly asking God to provide clarity and calm.
Sound familiar?
Facebook and Twitter are filled with parents’ angst for their kids of all ages.
But this week, many of my friends’ Facebook pages are sharing a different kind of angst.
Friends of ours, from the SevenLakes family, are living a nightmare as their six-year-old son suffered a sudden brain bleed. These dear, faithful friends are stressing over concerns so much serious than if their son is reading on grade level. They’ve watched him fight for his life.
Please pray for Robert (here is the link to his CaringBridge site).
Please pray for Cassie and Richard, Robert’s parents. God hears their concerns. He has already provided clarity for them through His love and strength. The outpouring of love has meant so much to Cassie.
In her journal entry of Robert’s brain bleed, she says, “I will tell you I have never experienced in my such an outpouring of love, support, prayers, concern from not only family and friends but from people we don’t even know.  We ended up with about 25 ppl maybe more come to the hospital to sit with us while he was in surgery, support us, talk with us, make us laugh and most of all pray with us.  I had never cried so much and yes some of the tears were from my concern for Robert but I knew he was in God’s hands and there was nothing I could do… but from feeling that love!!!”
Lord, hear our prayers for our children. Provide the calm only You can give, deep in our souls, which You have created and You know so well. Amen.

Powered by the Holy Spirit

In my little community of friends, there are two types of moms: those whose husbands travel and those whose husbands do not travel. Praise the Lord I’m in the first group because here’s what I learned this week…

when M is out of town, I operate in serious overdrive.

Like ICAN’TSTOPMAKINGSUREEVERYTHINGISFINISHEDANDICAN’TRELAX!EVER!

Normally I’m done with life by about nine each night, but when M is out of town? I can’t slow down, I can’t sit down, and I toss and turn all night long.

Which is such a problem because I love sleep just about more than anything else in this world. Seriously. Sleep wins over the most interesting book, the best meal, and always over TV.

Except when my husband is not sleeping next to me.

Then I turn into this strange person who can’t even fall asleep after taking TWO melatonin. I turn into a person who would rather watch a Rockumentary about Pink than sleep.

In the midst of not sleeping and rechecking the doors six times to make sure they’re all locked and tiptoeing in to check the sleeping kids nine times to check they haven’t all run away from their crazy mom, this and this also happened this week.

So. All this to tell you last week was rough.

And all this to say, HATS OFF to you other moms out there whose husbands travel and you can still function like an entirely normal person. Instead of a woman who tells anyone who will listen about how she’s not sleeping because her husband is out of town.

Completely hypothetical, of course.

Really, I’ve told you all of this to get to the good part about M being out of town.

I found quiet time to rest with God.

Like I mentioned (for the past 300 words), being completely responsible for my little people weighed so heavily on me that I was desperate for rest.

So, I found myself praying constantly. I prayed for Sam and Aunt Katie and Nate and the girls. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to give me faith and energy and enthusiasm. I prayed for friends to help me transport my kids and I prayed for meals that would cook themselves.

I might have even prayed that my daughters would not grow up and name themselves after a color and sing songs like “Family Portrait.”

But let me tell you, last week was a close walk with God and I felt His presence every step of the way.

Because when Melatonin and Advil PM and a sound machine didn’t help me sleep, resting in God did. When I tossed and turned in bed and heard every sound and tried not to think about why our house was suddenly so noisy, God totally covered my heart with peace.

Praise the Lord.

Last week I learned I could be another type of mom: the type who finds total rest in God. The kind of mom who asks Him about everything. The kind of Mom who has time to listen to God.

The kind of mom who is powered by the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Peace?

On Thursday, Nate and I ran some errands at a hectic outdoor mall by our house. Even though it was ninety degrees outside, there were Christmas decorations everywhere. Right in the middle of the mall, this gorgeous Christmas tree towered above the wreaths and stoic reindeer and shiny red garland glittering in the slight breeze.

Christmas may not have been in the actual hot, sticky air, but it was in the atmosphere. I could feel it. Maybe it was Starbucks’ red cups or the rushing shoppers or that gorgeous tree, but suddenly, I was on the Christmas Timeline.

As Nate ran around the tree, I made Evernote lists about all the stuff I needed to do in the next month and a half.

1. Make complete shopping list with gift ideas.

2. Decorate the house.

3. Find a tree.

4. Do Christmas pictures and cards.

5. Ballet Recital/ Church Christmas pageant/ School Christmas Pageant

6. Make/bake gifts for neighbors/teachers/friends.

7. Pack for (and take) two trips.

And, of course, the list goes on and on.

On and on with everything else we’ll probably cram into this next month and a half. Nutcracker? Gorgeous Downtown Christmas Pageants? Another trip? Baking extravaganzas? More gifts for the kids?

I found myself sitting in front of the beautiful Christmas tree, wondering, “What else am I missing? What else do we need to make this Christmas special?”

It’s a question I’ve asked for the past eight years—ever since I became a mom and felt the tremendous pressure to give our kids Christmases they wouldn’t forget. Festive Christmases steeped in tradition. Sweet Christmases teaching them generosity. Relaxing Christmases saturated with family time and memories.

No, it’s deeper than that.

Since I’ve become a mom, I desperately want to celebrate Christmas with our kids in such a way they realize how phenomenal it is Christ was born as a tiny baby to save our sins.

Did that sound sanctimonious?

Really, I didn’t intend for it to. Truly, this post is a confession about how far I always stray from that goal. I’m talking about complicated crafts I spend a bajillion hours perfecting. Late-night shopping trips to Wal-Mart for Zhu-Zhu pets the kids lose by December 28th.  Hours I spend pouring over Christmas pictures and card design instead of snuggled by the fire reading to the kids.

Last week our Moms in Prayer group talked about peace that surpasses understanding.

An interesting Bible verse we used was Isaiah 9:6…

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Wouldn’t peace be an outstanding Christmas gift to give my family? God’s original gift to us, true, deep peace through His Son, is exactly what I would love to reflect this Christmas.

How does a peaceful Christmas look? Less gifts? Fewer activities? More naps? More Bible study? More prayer?

Prayer seems like an excellent place to start…

Lord, cover our Christmas with a peace surpassing our understanding. Amen.

How do you live peace at Christmas?

Witches, Bad Guys, and Wolves

Catie, our oldest daughter, is absolutely certain that predatory wolves lurk in the shadows of our house. Convinced. At night she turns on all the lights, stays up late, and stares at the ceiling.

“Mommy,” she says, when I tell her to go to sleep. “You don’t see the wolves because you don’t believe in them.”

“Maybe you should not believe in them too,” I suggest.

“I try. I tell myself ‘when you close your eyes, don’t think about wolves. But you know what? THAT makes me see the wolves.’”

When I was eight years old, it was the green-faced witch from Wizard of Oz. In my dark bedroom, I was terrified to put my legs over the side of the bed because I just knew she would grab my ankles. It wasn’t until the morning came that  I could swing my legs over the bed and hop right out, completely secure in the morning light.

Elisabeth is terrified of the bad guys who want to grab her when she comes around a dark corner by herself. She is so convinced that it’s the dark the bad guys like. “I’m fine,” she says, “as long as I stay in the light.”

Which might explain our recent electricity bill. With half the kids afraid of the dark, our household is single-handedly keeping the energy company in business.

Before we left the house this morning, I turned off twelve lights.

What does this mean, except the females in our family have excellent imaginations and we’re wasting a lot of money on electricity?

I think all this self-inflicted obsessing is all a wonderful reminder for me.

Maybe for you, too.

Lately I’ve been scared about what it means to be thirty-eight.

“What happened to the first half of your life?” the wolves and witches and bad guys whisper to me. “Look at everything you didn’t accomplish then. Meeting your goals will get exponentially harder every single day now. You’re over, a has-been. You. Are. Done.”

In the dark, these whispers can motivate me to do all these the wrong things: Overbook my schedule with STUFF to distract me. Sulk. Bristle. Obsess. And, of course, just like imaginary wolves of bad guys, the more energy I breathe into them, the taller they grow in my imgaination. Suddenly the fear of being old isn’t imaginary, it’s my reality.

But this morning, as I strolled home from walking Catie to school, I prayed about the green-faced witch that lives in my head.

And you know what God told me? Those aren’t fears about getting older—that’s Me. I’m urging you, putting pressure on you, tugging on your soul to get your attention.

I’m calling you, God told me this morning in my prayer. Calling you to share my Word with my people. Calling you to get on it, Tina.

In the dark, that urgency looks a lot like a predatory wolf. But in the light of prayer, I know it’s not. It’s God whispering that sulking and bristling and obsessing really aren’t getting me any closer to the book I need to be writing.

So, with the bad guys firmly kicked out, I’m off and writing again.

And to have a chat with the girls about our electricity bill….

Sunday Lament

For my children to read when they’re adults (in case they ever wonder if churches have always met in gyms…)

Where is the old, white church? Where is the steeple that holds the clanging bell calling the town to worship? Where are the pews, saturated with that eclectic aroma of wax and incense and coffee and furniture polish?

Where’s the stained glass? The pyramid-shaped hymn-number holder? The ornate lights, throwing an amber glow onto the faithful congregation?
Where is that simple sign, the one that beckons with only the church’s name and service times?

Gone? Really, forever?

After visiting dozens of congregations over the past few months, our family has a good handle on where The Church is headed.

We’re out! Out to the community. Out to be missional. Out to do life with each other.

So, our churches look like any other building. A nice office. A fitness center. A Wal-Mart.

I’m glad we’re out and about in the community. I really am.

But, man, sometimes I miss the smell of an old church.

Good-night.

 

What We Believe…

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Today was supposed to be the day that I wrote a book proposal. It was actually the day I was supposed to knock the book propose out of the park. It was all set-up: I had help with the kids, and it was rainy and cold. No distractions. Just me, my laptop, and a secluded corner at Barnes and Noble. Watch out editors, super-fantastic proposal in your inbox tomorrow morning! Pow! Sha-ZAM!

Only, it didn’t happen. In spite of the ugly weather, the perfect table, and the solitude, writer’s block set in. Bad. So, I went for a little walk around the bookstore, right to the Christian section, for inspiration. Instead of inspiration, I found a book called The Last Testament by some satire writer from The Daily Show.  It’s a mock memoir by God and was, well, really dumb.

I’m not really the intended audience of a sacrilegious book about what ridiculous idiots Christians are, but I was procrastinating, so I read a little of it. And, even though I love satire, it wasn’t funny. One-liner after one-liner about how Christians get everything so wrong and are so stupid. The tone was a bit like that kid that sits in the back of the room and mimics the teacher for a cheap laugh.

I went back to my computer, but the damage was done. That book. Really? It was so sardonic, so sophomoric. So full of f-bombs and shallow jokes about easy targets like Tim Tebow. How could anyone like a book like this? Did they? I googled the book. Turns out people love it. Every single review proclaimed, “Hilarious! The religious right gets what they deserve!” or something similar.

Huh? Why all the angst about Christianity? My book proposal ideas got mashed up with feeling misunderstood and generally frustrated with smug pop culture. Right then, I believed there was nothing I could write that anyone would “get.” My Bible study ideas suddenly seemed so misunderstood by a world who loved such rude humor. I believed I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write another book for a world that was satisfied with so little.  Instead of knocking anything out of the park, I stewed until it was time to pick up the kids.

I was still brooding at home, when my husband suggested a family bike ride. We loaded up our seven-year-old, two five-year-olds, and two-year-old and rode out into the threatening clouds. For the first four miles, the bike ride felt wonderful. Maybe this is what I needed.

When we arrived at an old park, the kids hopped of their bikes, (or out of their bike trailer), and ran to play on the playground. The playground with the 70 or so wasps that were pouring out of their nests.

Before my husband or I could get to our five-year-old son, a wasp stung his lip.He screamed and screamed while I held him, and my husband whisked the other three kids away from the swarms.

We stood there, looked at each other, looked at the bikes, and looked at our son’s swelling lip. Then we wondered why we had ever chosen to ride so far from home.

It took my husband and I about fifteen seconds to realize that the only option was for the five-year-old to ride his bike back home. Deep down, I didn’t believe there was any way he would make it. It was so windy, he was so upset, and his lip had tripled in size.

After a prayer and a pep-talk, he hopped on his bike and began to ride into the strong (like really strong) wind. We cheered for him, and he pedaled like no five-year-old I’ve ever seen. Every time I glanced back, his lip seemed to grow four times. It was HUGE.

Oh, and then it started to rain. But, still, he pedaled.

Watching my little boy believe he could make it all four miles home was an inspiration. Instead of focusing on his painful lip, the raindrops pelting him in the face, or his tired legs, he focused on the goal of being home. And eating the M&Ms we promised him.

Why had I forgotten this lesson today? My goal–my calling-is to share God’s love with a world who desperately needs it. And, really? I would let a silly satire book distract me from that?

So, Lord, thanks for Sam’s inspiration . Thanks for teaching me to ride through the storm, and the wasp stings, and the fatigue. Thanks for the chance to share Your deep love with this shallow world. Because, yes, we all desperately need it. Amen.

 

Perfect Meringue in an Imperfect World

So, this weekend I made meringue cookies.

Why meringue cookies?

1. I have a new mixer. 2. I had extra eggs. 3. I was craving sweet treats, most of which aren’t healthy enough for my new no-gluten eating.

I also had two five-year-olds who wanted everything to do with cookies and cracking eggs and loved the idea of making meringue.

To tackle this project, I started by reading all about meringue. Here’s what I learned: the good news is that this fun little dessert is pretty much egg whites (healthy!) and air (even healthier!). The bad news was that making meringue is hard. Probably not hard for real cooks, but most of my “real” cooking has been enchilada recipes on the back of Campbell soup cans. Recipes that call for a little Cream of Whatever soup, some meat, and lots and lots of cheese. In other words, recipes with lots of room for error.

Meringue? No room for error. None. Zip.

Cooking website after cooking website freaks out about the “meringue rules.” Not even one drop of yolk in your egg whites! Sanitize your hands so no oil ever comes in contact with the utensils that will touch the meringue. Absolutely no humidity around the meringue (in Houston? What?). Always use room temperature eggs. Add the sugar a teaspoon at a time. Bake for hours.

Rules like this are exactly why I avoid French cooking and stick to recipes that celebrate extra cheese, flexibility, and creativity. But my cooking assistants were aproned up and ready for action. We had to conquer the meringue.

We did. Sort of. After three dozen eggs, several spoiled batches, and more gloopy egg white mess than a kitchen should see in a day, we had one batch of successful meringue. Hours and hours and diligent egg-seperating and beating and baking attempts and we had one batch that survived.

What happened? We didn’t follow the rules. Specks (teeny , tiny specks) of yolk floated in our whites, the eggs were a smidge above room temperature, we touched the beaters with our oily hands. But my assistants and I would like you to know that the one batch that turned out was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Coincidentally, this weekend I also worked on a book project about law and gospel. I’m writing about our decreasing sense of sin–how our society is becoming less aware of our sin. When we’re less aware of our sin, we’re less aware of why we need Jesus. In the book, I’m looking closely at the Ten Commandments.

So, the weekend of making fussy meringue and studying the Ten Commandments was an interesting break from my usual attitude of “close enough” and “just put extra cheese on it.” I learned that ten degrees makes or breaks meringue. A spot of yolk blemishes an otherwise flawless egg white mixture. Adding sugar too fast turns a delicious dessert into one in the trash can. I learned that there’s no close enough in meringue. It’s not chicken enchiladas.

Which is so much like us trying to follow the Ten Commandments. Close enough is never enough. This sounds so politically incorrect and downright mean in our  “No one can tell you you’re not good enough!” world. But, just like the meringue, there’s no fudging. Imperfections don’t work for our holy God.

The beauty is that once you really realize that all this is true, you also realize through Christ, you can still taste the delicious taste of a redeemed life. You can take  your chicken-enchilada-self to our meringue-perfect Father, and He welcomes you with open arms.

And that’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious.