Monday, July 21, 2014

Just keep swimming

The other day I held Hayleigh’s hand, counted to three (although she wanted to count to thirty-one) and we jumped together into my parent’s pool. It was her first time being brave enough to jump into the deep end. It was my first time being brave enough this season since the heater broke and the water was a “refreshing” (aka bone-chilling) temperature. I am a super spoiled swimmer. As a pre-teen I wouldn’t even go in the water until it was almost 80 degrees. When I came up trying to find my breath, and sunglasses, I looked over at her bobbing there in her swim vest, hair stuck to her face. I expected to see her smiling and cheering. But instead she was gasping, blinded by water and her untrimmed bangs. I tried to convince her to paddle on over to me, but she bobbed there, frozen in place, gasping and squinting. She was terrified and overwhelmed by the vastness of the water. She later told me even when her head was above the water it looked like the water was all around her in big walls by her shoulders, blocking her so she couldn’t see. Even though I was calling to her, from just a few feet away, she couldn’t see me. She was paralyzed to even follow the sound of my voice. Instead she bobbed there in fear and discomfort, certain she was helpless.

 

I looked at my sweet, terrified, water-logged daughter and I saw myself-as I so often do when I look at Hayleigh. How often in my life I am barely able to keep my head above water. I am bogged down by the things of life, my the stress, by the business, by anxiety, by Depression, by the suffering, by expectations, by my own sin. I try to paste a smile on my face. I can barely make out the shadows of people around me-the blinders keep me only looking in one cloudy direction. I wonder if anyone can tell. How many times I have just sat there bobbing, in water up to my chin, trying desperately to come up with an escape plan, but at the same time powerless to move. I could relate to her position, but now I could see it from the other perspective:the person trying to help.

 

I reached out to her. It all seemed so easy. “Just open your eyes. All you have to do if just kick over to me. I’m right here. Take my hand.”

 

It made me think that so many times in my life when I have felt like it was all closing in, that I was alone and being swallowed up by life, that I really wasn’t as alone as I had felt. Maybe if I had just opened my eyes a little, reached out my hand in the direction of the voice, mustered a few weak kicks. I have felt like God was no where to be found. Or why didn’t He just jump in a save me, bring me sputtering and gasping over the the side and give me CPR? I have blamed Him for my drowning, blamed others for not seeing that I was going under. But as treaded water there next to poor Hayleigh, I saw the other perspective. She wasn’t drowning. She didn’t need CPR. I wasn’t far off. I wasn’t on the side of the pool cheering her on and she struggled. I wasn’t dangling a life preserver just out of reach. I had already given her a swim vest. She was fine, if she would just trust in it. And I was right there in the pool, treading water along with her.

 

I wonder if God has ever looked at me that way. I wonder if He has ever seen me struggling there in what I am convinced is thousand foot water, with my head barely above water, not trusting in my life vest, certain I am all alone and perishing. Maybe he has looked at me with compassion and thought, “I am right here. You are not in any real danger. Use what I have given you. One little stroke at a time.”

 

So that is what I am trying to do these days-one stroke at a time. One little thing, followed by another little thing. Doing all I can, giving all I can muster. It might seem like the water is in walls around me, but I know a little perspective would change everything. I also know my Father would never let me drown. He has given me the swim vest. I have His Word, prayer, Hope and Truth. I just have to trust in it. So I am. I am making feeble attempts. At times I still feel like there is water filling my lungs and I can only paste a smile to my face and look like a deer in the headlights. There are times when all I feel like all I can do is just take the next breath. All my body can focus on is staying alive. It is those moments where I reach for my life-preserver. I breathe in grace. I breathe in truth. I breathe out praise. And I make a feeble stroke in the right direction. It might not feel like I am getting anywhere, but I am doing all I can. I am inching my way closer to my Father. I am giving what I have. Instead of hoarding and conserving my energy, just to stay in the same place, I am using what I have inside me, emptying myself out in order to move. And with each bit I use I feel Him filling me with new strength. The more that goes out, the more I have.

 

I might never be a confident swimmer. I will certainly never been the Olympic medalist of life. I am no Michael Phelps. I am okay with that. But I don’t want to be someone who is barely surviving. I am sick of exhausting myself to go nowhere. So, even if I can only see an inch in front of me, I will go forward. I will move towards the sound of the Voice. I know there is a hand reaching out for me. I trust the swim vest I have been given. Swimming can be hard, but that’s what the vest was designed for. It will hold me up, but it isn’t a motor boat. It isn’t self-propelled. Swimming can be exhausting. Life can be exhausting at times, but this is what I was made for. I trust the One who made me, who is calling me to step out in faith. He is closer than I have realized.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Peach Tree grows in Irondequoit

I am pretty sure the peaches on the tree will always taste bittersweet to me, much as life tastes these days. There is hardly a moment where the thought of my dad, his illness and the far-reaching, deeply heart aching effects of it are not on my mind. Some times I feel as if the sweetness of life is being overtaken by the shadow of the bitterness of it all. But other times I battle-like really battle, to let the sweetness overtake the bitterness. But either way, we are left with a bittersweet taste in our mouth and tears of both joy and sadness in our eyes.

My dad’s Father’s Day gift this year was supposed to be an apple tree. We finally found a time when all of us (my parents, sisters and us) were free and we went to the tree farm to pick one up. Turns out apple trees need a buddy tree for cross-pollination and peach trees do not. (I am sure there is some life metaphor there for another day). Since my parents were hard-pressed to find a spot in their yard for just one tree, we knew two trees were not an option. The man helping us suggested a peach tree instead. It also turns out my dad would rather have a peach tree than an apple tree, so there we go. My dad now has a peach tree. He named it Duane-after the lead singer in his favorite band who apparently sang a song about peaches or peach trees or something like that. It is SO my dad to name a tree Duane… before said tree even gets taken out of the minivan. I love it. I think Duane will make a nice addition to the family. Although part of me doesn’t want him here at all.

The truth is we probably would never have bought my dad a tree if he wasn’t sick. My dad is not an agriculturalist. Like I said, my parents hardly have room for a tree in their yard anyway, because most of it is taken up with deck and pool and dog yard and a newfound interest in vegetable gardening. So, the thought of buying a tree would not have come to our minds if we weren’t faced with the bitter reality of  my dad’s illness. The very existence of Duane in my parents’ yard, means things aren’t the way we had hoped they would be. Every inch and foot that Duane grows marks some increment of time with my dad gone. The irony of Duane growing and other things fading away is not lost on me. That’s the bitter part.

In many ways looking at Duane makes it seem all too real for me. Sometimes I still feel like I am telling, and re-telling and even living someone else’s life. But when I look at Duane I know this is real. It’s tangible. The bitterness of it all. And it has made its home with us.

I imagine sitting under Duane in the years to come. I imagine the sweet smell of peaches lingering in the air, wafting through my parents’ open bedroom window and greeting them in the morning. I imagine eating peaches on Father’s Day and peach cobbler on my dad’s birthday. I imagine the kids laughing as they call the tree Duane, but in the years to come Duane becoming just another part of the family. And although I don’t like that, at the same time, I do.

I like the idea of life growing amidst the natural decaying of life. I like the idea of sweetness amidst the pain, and abundance amidst the emptiness. I like that Duane will bring the sweetness and abundance of life to my parents’ home, now and in the years to come. Where there could be only bitterness, there is sweetness too.

The sweetness reminds me of my dad. It reminds me of his legacy. And in the years to come I will taste the sweetness of the fruit knowing I am only tasting a teeny, tiny fraction of the sweetness my dad is tasting in heaven. The same sweetness I will drink in, in abundance when I get to meet my Heavenly Father face to face. Oh, what a day that will be! Until then though, there is bitterness in every sweetness, and the opportunity to choose sweetness in every bitterness.

One thing about having someone you love be sick and being able to in some ways see the future, is you start to notice things that you are going to miss once that person isn’t with you anymore. I will say something my dad always says, or hear a song that has always made me think of my dad, or see a stick that he and Braxton would gather, break on their knees and for firewood (or smores), or trip over his gigantic shoes left right where people walk and think to myself “man, these things have always been there, but now I know I am going to miss them after he is gone.” Every time I see or hear something that reminds me of him now I think that in years to come those will be the moments when I miss him the most. It brings the bitterness here prematurely I think. But it also gives me a chance to see the sweetness of memories and a life done together. When it feels like grief has suddenly risen out of nowhere and taken the wind out of me, I am thankful for the opportunity to have something sweet enough to be bitter when it threatens to be taken away. Bittersweet.

Yes, life is bittersweet. For a while now I have been trying to separate the two elements of that. But now I am learning to take them together, without struggling against it. They are fused together-the bitterness and the sweetness. There is no separating them. I see that in the situation with my dad. As sweet as an moment is, any laugh, any adventure-there is a bitterness there on the horizon. It might be hiding in the corner or looming in the shadows of our minds, but its there. There is no denying it and no use fighting against it. I don’t have much wisdom to offer myself when it comes to dealing with the bittersweet, but I have learned one thing. The bitterness makes the sweetness sweeter. It sounds silly, but it does. The bitterness on the horizon, the bitterness peeking at us from the shadows-it makes me savor the sweet tasting moments even more. It causes me to make more room for the sweet, to let them sit with me a little while, soak up the sweetness until I am almost saturated with it. Yes, the bitterness of life makes the sweetness of life that much sweeter. And one more thing I know, one more thing I cling to tighter than anything else-the bitterness on the horizon is not the end. Sweetness wins in the end. Alzheimer’s doesn’t win. Sickness and death do not win. Sadness and sin do not win. Satan does not win. Their fate is sure and our fate is secure. God wins. We win in the end. No bitterness there. Just the sweet, sweet victory we share with our Savior. And that hope leaves the sweetest taste of all.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
-Jesus (John 10:10)

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Signs of Life

Can I just be real for a moment? I am quite possibly the worst housekeeper this side of the Mississippi. It doesn’t help that I have three little people who are experts at making messes but suddenly become paralyzed and lose all their mental faculties when it comes time to clean up those messes. It is amazing how quickly that can happen too. It is almost like they have narcolepsy. “Okay, guys time to clean up your toys….oh! Silly me. I could have sworn I heard an epic story unfolding of a knight rescuing a princess from a toddler dragon. Must have been my imagination because all I see are two kids asleep on the couch and the dragon trying to figure out where the other characters went. Darn Narcolepsy, strikes again.” And, when is Royce going to learn to wash her own dishes and do her own laundry?! I mean, c’mon. Tick-tock.

I have been trying to come up with better “systems” for cleaning and maintaining some-what of a semblance of order around here. I am She-man after-all. I need to conquer and subdue my domain…or something like that. While I want to be be all Proverbs 31 about my house, (although that last sentence sounded more like Zena: Warrior Princess) I am finding that as important as that is, there are some things that are just more important than clean floors (which is awesome because if clean floors were the most important thing, we clearly missed the boat around here. We weren’t even at the dock.) I know I need to “fill the earth and subdue it” when it comes to my house. I seem to have the filling it part down. Still working on subduing… And while I want my house to be clean enough not to cause people to call Hoarders for an intervention or the police to put up hazard tape around my bathroom, I want to allow it to be messy enough to show signs of life.

Sometimes though I lose those signs in the clutter. Or rather, all I see is the mess. I don’t see the mess as the sign of life it is. I see piles of laundry that never go away. I see dishes in the sink that have been “soaking” for two days because I haven’t made time to wash them. I could see a Lego battle field full of Barbie shoe land mines covering my living room floor, shoes not on the shoe mat, a shoe mat completely hidden under the Mt. Everest of shoes, construction paper “decorations” covering the walls  and floor ( scotch tape doesn’t work well with dirty fingerprints on it), beds with covers falling off the side and dirty foot prints on the bathroom floor and bedroom walls (yes, walls.). Or, or I could see the life these represent. I could see the messes as signs of life.

It is all a matter of perspective. Sometimes I need to pull my “lens” back or I need to take the focus off the mess and see the life behind the mess.

Instead of seeing a giant blur of primary colors, I could see little hands hard at work building masterpieces. Those same pudgy little hands that wrapped their fists around my finger for a sense of security on their first day in this world. I could see minds engaged in deep imagination of other worlds. Those are the minds I have been entrusted with to mold and  to guide.

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(I love that the block he is playing with says “B”.)
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The mess is missing its meaning without those hands and minds in the picture.
 
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Instead of feeling frustrated by the dishes in the sink, I can look at what each one represents. Each bowl, each cup, each spoon represents a breakfast eaten to start another day, a healthy child looking to me to give them nourishment without ever a thought that I wouldn’t provide, and another opportunity to be thankful. Each dish represents God’s faithfulness is giving us a full pantry and full bellies. There were certainly less dishes when it was just the two of us, but less joy too.
 
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I could look at each haphazardly made bed and instead of groaning at a job half done, see God’s grace in accepting my best efforts even when they come up short. I could see little people learning the ways of the world with me, ME as their guide. I could see the sweetness of the pride they take in “merely” spreading a blanket over their bed. Instead of messy covers I could see the full beds and the sweet souls who occupy them each night. 
 
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And the footprints everywhere? I could see little feet, dirty from exploring and playing. Those foot prints represent 6 little feet, 30 little toes-all mine to tickle. Little feet that follow my footprints through life. Little feet that I pray tread in the way of the Gospel with confidence.

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Those shoes left all over the house would be so annoying if it weren’t for the little feet that went in them.
 
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I could look at the dirt on the rug…
 
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But then I would miss the reason for it. If I shift my focus I don’t see JUST the dirt. I see the dirt is just a sign of life.
 
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When I just look at the baskets and piles of laundry and the bins of diapers I can lose sight of the joy they represent. Each dirty outfit is another day lived with the ones I love, lived well and with purpose. Some day I won’t be changing diapers. I won’t be folding tiny outfits that  fit well in my hands. So, for now I will change the diapers and fold the laundry and let it pile up with joy, because it means people are living here. My people.
 
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The clothes that don’t fit in the girls’ closet so they hang on a portable closet in our bedroom- I could look at those, or I could shift my focus to see the big girl resting in our bed, singing songs to her doll. I could thank God for a full house and full hearts, for cups over flowing and a home literally bursting at the seems with life.
 
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And there are so, so many signs of life here. Reminders of people living and thriving and loving, doing life together. Because life is messy.
 
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Life is messy. But life is beautiful. Today I will not just see the messes, but the signs of life they are. Today, the messes are beautiful too.

What about you? I would love to know I am not alone in my craziness! What are some of the things that could drive you to the looney bin but if you shift your focus you see them as signs of life?

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