Humpback Whale

humpback whale

The tips of his long fingers dragged slowly forward, his elbow rising up and forward – painfully slowly – like a humpback whale cresting in the ocean it hovered slowly above the water before crashing down to complete an elegant and un-hurried stroke. Slim and impossibly young hands gripped the concrete lip of the pool and his grey head and hawkish eyes turned to begin another lap. At once plodding and swift.

After his many deliberate laps he turned the pool back over to his squirming granddaughter. While she splashed he did his thoughtful rounds –  checking chemicals, skimming bugs and leaves, removing the hilarious faux ducks, and when she wasn’t looking – he slipped a gigantic inflatable plastic snake into the deep end.

She was trolling the slope into the deep end in large blue goggles. When she popped up to come face to face with the snake she shrieked until over her own screaming she heard him chuckling in his poolside chair.

He could be serene, seperate, reserved, even shy – but his love of laughter and good joke always won out. That was his way into my heart.

That and his red 2-seater Mercedes. A playful and frivolous choice for a tenacious field corporal who had served with distinction in two wars. Friends who knew him in the day described an angry alchoholic, but I only knew a man who never missed Saturday mass or his AA meeting – the man who sang nonsense songs on the way to the hardware store to buy me Hubba Bubba.

He was unapologetically unassuming in a family of big personailites, big voices and bigger vices. He was quiet and unflappable, even when I launched myself out of his big jacuzzi tub and landed naked and sopping wet in this lap. He held me there, in his worn red leather chair, until my teeth started chattering and Grandmother chased me back into the bathroom.

As I grew up, we became pranksters together – tag team story tellers who came in from walks in the woods with wild tales of a tame fox (Sally) who spoke to us. We would leave the backyard through a small gate that led into the forest preserve, walking in a single file until we reached a perfectly straight line of trees and a small pond. Then we’d get just lost enough on the way home to give us time to concoct our whopper stories about Sally and her kits.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer, we sat together on the wooden swing near the pool and didn’t say anything – just back and forth and back and forth. It was so noisy in the house – grandma going on and on about surgeries and hospitals, trying to will the cancer away with the her formable presence and flinty will.

When he was gone, all the joy and heart of the family was too. None of us, except maybe my mom, knew the extent to which he was holding us all together. He was a man who had come back from darkness and despair and held in himself a certain tenacious hopefulness. Without it, some of us sank into the lesser selves that he had been somehow, miraculously, holding at bay.

When they went to dig his grave, they uncovered an enormous boulder. For some reason, we all though that was funny. Even in death, he had one last prank to pull.

Do you hear what you’re saying right now…

I was chatting with one of our young staff the other day. She and I were discussing her new season of life – BABY!!!! and some of the options she has for contribution on campus next fall.

She mentioned a couple of girls who had recently reached out to her asking for some time. As she described their needs, they each seemed pretty tangled up in significant issues with boys and parents and boys and boys.

I could totally understand why these girls wanted time with my friend. She’s older, wiser, she’s obviously made some great choices…and she could spend the entirety of next semester untangling their sticky webs. And they would be greatly benefited. And they would be blessed.

But then something dribbled out of my mouth that literally came from the Holy Spirit. I can promise you it did not pass through my brain for even one second because it’s literally the antithesis of what I did all this past year.

“You have so much to offer these gals in terms of life experience, but if that’s what you major on, what happens when the next bump in the road comes – the next boy, the marriage issue, the financial woes? I believe you will make a greater contribution, a more lasting one, if you ask them to check their bags at the door and you spend time with them in the Word and in prayer. Give them all the goods you have there – which are so many. Let them make application where they see fit. Then you can know when that next obstacle comes, they will know how to plow through with the Lord.”

Who said that?

Me?

Me, the one who spent the ENTIRE year counseling a few girls through tangley webs and yes, praying and studying the Word, but kinda on the side?

I don’t regret the year. I do believe the Lord was at work and it was a unique season.  But, now that the students are gone and my head is clearing, after wondering if I should just get my masters in counseling and leave staff – I’m back.

I love sharing counsel, but I love to see women learning from the Word and hearing from God even more. Sometimes you have to give a dab of advice, but I don’t think I want my legacy to be wisdom as much as I want my legacy to be more wise women in the world.

Emotionally Over Prepared

SAMSUNG

When Haven was 4, I started thinking about her kindergarten experience. Not what kind of school she should go to, although I was certainly researching the options. It was more akin to sifting through every possible grief and loss that I might experience in sending (or not sending) my first to school.

…the loss of her physical presence with me, near me at all times.

…her exposure to unfriendly children or teachers.

…the hustle and bustle of parenting kids in school.

…the pressure to make friends with other parents. (Tell-tale giveaway – I am way introverted.)

Anyway, I cried and fretted and looked at her longingly for many hours, and prayed for approx. 2 years. Then the day came. She went off to school and I shed NOT ONE TEAR. I was “emotionally over prepared.”

That little story may help put into context what I am currently over preparing for. There are many things currently on my plate –

The kids going to high school, driving, becoming prodigals or missionaries and/or both, the kids moving away from me, the kids choosing spouses…and on and on and on. I think of these things while I drive, watch TV, listen to music. Think is the wrong word. I test myself with every possibility.

What would it feel like if….

And what if “it” went the entire other direction…

And what about if “this” got in the mix…

The other day I posted a little blurb about our middle son Tim on Facebook – about his love of toast. That was only part of what I was thinking about. Under that toast story was my realization that Tim expresses so much of his thoughts, feelings, and emotions non verbally.

He shows anger and frustration in his face and body language and uses very few words. He expresses love and care through service and consideration not “love yas” like the girls do. I know what he is interested in by how and what he plays with. I know who and what he’s thinking about when we pray.

How will I know how he feels and what he is thinking when he isn’t living with me?

This hit me like a ton of bricks.

Will he send me cards? Will he text me? Will we Skype? Will I lose this bond I have with him completely, partially, seasonally, permanently, healthfully, horribly?

It’s a good thing I have some time. I think 7 years should give me nearly enough time to ready myself for moving him to college. I will need every single minute.

Good Girl Syndrome

I hate to burst bubbles. Bursting the “But I’m a good girl” bubble is one I pop fairly often. It happens when a girl shows up to campus bright eyed and bushy tailed. She has sailed through the hoops life has presented so far with nary a scraped knee. She may have stumbled over a few obstacles, but either via some personal fortitude or harrowing parenting she has hidden away any failures or less than stellar performances and come to campus with a spotless personal and professional resume.

Then she does something terrible. Something so awful she can’t tell anyone for a while. Something that stands in such stark contrast to the image she has projected and begun to believe is really her – it’s unutterable. The “something” is so many things – and anyone who has walked on a college campus can fill in the blank pretty quickly.

And then she finally confesses. And she feels better. And she just knows she won’t do it again, because she is good and doesn’t fail and doesn’t do “things like that.”

But she does. And I do. And we do. Because we aren’t good, and we do fail, and we DO do all the things.

Knowing that about ourselves is the first step to actually living the way we hope to.

I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Romans 7:21-24 (I’ll give you the cliff notes in case you don’t know who rescues Paul and us – Jesus!)

When we admit we have the capacity to do all that we hate, we begin to recognize what Jesus has paid for in his death for us, we recognize our need for daily grace, and our real dependence on Him and on others.

I don’t want to send my own kids to college with this syndrome, but it’s surprisingly easy to build our kids up too far, where failure and struggle are what they dread rather than what they learn from.

If I don’t want them to come to campus with good girl/boy syndrome – I can’t spend all my energy protecting them, and/or their (MY) reputation.

But I want to.

That means I can’t go out in front of them all the time and make darn sure they don’t go down some wrong path. It means I can’t walk behind them and quietly sweep under the rug the evidence of poor choices.

But I want to. 

One of my mentors told me rather than praying for my kids NOT to do things that are wrong, to pray that I would always find out.

God has honored that prayer – as hard as that’s been sometimes.

It makes me look like a slacker mom occasionally. I know that. Of course we have standards and expectations and they get support and love and affirmation and I don’t do this thing perfectly. Obviously. So obviously.

It’s just I am forcing myself to live with a little “messy” right now and I’m holding on to the hope that they might know grace and the power of forgiveness before they leave me. I say “I hope” literally – uncertain and unsure, but with eyes resting on my own Savior who has seen me fall innumerable times – and I’m not talking skinned knees here.

I’m grateful for my village who are withholding judgement on my kids and on me. I really, really appreciate it!

Scantron

scantron

This is not a post about the evils of standardized testing. I realize there are complex issues surrounding them these days, but as a kid I can honestly say I enjoyed standardized test days. No lectures, hours of quiet, and extra snacks. An introverted, average student’s dream school day.

No, no, no – this post is about the forms we used to complete the tests. Scantron. Go back with me…

#2 pencil required

fill in the box completely not partially

only fill in one box per question

zip through machine ***remember the noise?

Grade – even your grade as it relates to everyone else’s grade – in the whole STATE!! Talk about knowing where you stand!

Alas, there is nearly nothing in my life that resembles those beloved Scantron forms anymore. All my answers are only ever partially filled in or worse, every question definitely has several possible boxes I might color in.

Today I met with a girl working through some painful issues. I listened a lot. I prayed a lot. I said a lot. And I walked away in the wonder and fear of doing this for a living. There will be no grade. There may not even be any affirmation of anything I said or did having helped her. I will most likely not get to see what God ultimately does or see any fruitfulness that comes from our season together.

One of my kids and I were in the ring a few days ago, each of us in our corners, fists up. I listened a lot. I prayed a lot. I said a lot. And I walked away in the wonder and fear of this phenomenon too.

God, it would be helpful if every now and again, like in school days, I could sit down with my #2 pencil and you and just get some kind of sense.

80%?

30%?

.7%?

This parsing through your Word, listening to the Holy Spirit, and trying to decipher my ugly prejudiced thoughts from your Shepherd voice is taxing, and feels very unreliable.

I mean, I don’t really want a Spiritual Standardized Test- but actually I do. I really do.

Jesus

A few weeks ago I was eavesdropping in a crowded auditorium. (Come on, we ALL do it, right?) A mother and daughter were chatting it up with a stranger, discussing faith. We were all there to hear a Christian speaker, but it became clear the daughter was not a Christian and was there to appease her mom.

After a few minutes the conversation took a weird turn, so I accidentally turned around to add my own two cents. Accidentally on purpose. This butting in with my own two cents is becoming more common in my 40’s.

The stranger began to tell the daughter that all that was required to be considered a Christian was belief in goodness, love, and a supreme power. When the daughter expressed that she had converted to Buddhism, the stranger shrugged that off as if it didn’t matter. It sounded to me like, “Yah, you are kind of flunking Christianity because you don’t believe in Jesus, but you’ve got over 50% so you can be included.”

I was strangely offended. As far as I know, Buddhists don’t want to be called “D+ Christians.” They want to be called Buddhists.

And so I jumped in. “Buddhists do not believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world, right (quick nod to my new Buddhist friend) so this woman is not a Christian. She is a Buddhist. Her world view is completely different and she would apply her faith in ways that look vastly different from mine. She has different beliefs about how the world was created, why we are here, and what will happen to her after death.”

And here’s were we usually think everything is going to explode. But it didn’t. The Buddhist woman thanked me profusely and looked relieved. Then the Buddhist lady and I explained together to the stranger that Jesus is the central figure to the Christian faith and without Him, you don’t have Christianity.

Then the Buddhist lady and I explained to the stranger that we do have many things in common, but they belong to the shared humanity category, not the shared religion category. We both love, desire peace, hurt when we are wounded, are offended by injustice, saddened by death. Our religions explain these phenomenons differently, but we feel them similarly.

And so that’s when my new Buddhist friend helped me share Christ with a Christian stranger.

Before we parted, she thanked me for knowing that she doesn’t believe in Jesus and for helping her clarify that – to the stranger, and within herself. I felt grateful to have helped her know that she doesn’t know Him…not yet anyway.

He’s too good to leave out of the story, don’t you think?

Bracing

photo (12)

I have been bracing myself for this week for months. I cancelled almost all my normal responsibilities because the “once in a crazy while” stuff had all piled itself onto 7 little days like a freak blizzard.

And just to add to the already crazy week –  like in a movie, the scary music started up over the weekend.

the geo thermal unit died and hubby had to go on a business trip…

the geo thermal tubes aren’t long enough and there isn’t a gas line to the house to switch to a regular furnace…

the daughter with the lead in the musical got a sore throat…

Yesterday the little one let the dog out while the geo man was walking through the poop filled yard looking for the missing gas line and the dog and the geo man stepped in poop and then came inside – only one said sorry, the other one just ran around the entire house…

chief

the dog wouldn’t sleep at the foot of my bed because he was pouting about the yelling that happened after the poop…

and some other things like burning food, cutting fingers, and broken cell phone screens happened too.

You might be surprised to find out that when I stumbled to the mirror this morning to shove in my 2 week disposable contacts that are currently 2 years old, I smiled.

The day after the geo thermal died, the weather broke and it’s 60 degrees today but just in case friends brought over 3 space heaters to add to the 2 we had.

Each day since Ben has been gone I’ve gotten a card in the mail – a gift card, some money for a date night, a note of encouragement.

The sore throat is gone and the daughter sounds beautiful. Cry my eyes out proud kind of beautiful.

have

That old saying “the devil is in the details” keeps coming to mind. I keep seeing the Lord in the details this week.

I hesitate to ask God to be present in what feels like unimportant details. I forget He doesn’t have my limited resources. I pray for Him to heal Ebola and Syria and think surely He doesn’t have time to heal furnaces and throats. And I’m wrong.

He has been mindful of little me here in nowhere Illinois. He has brought grace even as I braced myself to bare the absence of it.

Psalm 8: 3-4

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—  

the moon and the stars you set in place—

what are mere mortals that you should think about them, 

human beings that you should care for them?