Looking back over the years of birthday posts, I find that I almost always begin with, “I can’t believe…”. Somehow I am always stunned by the progression of days becoming another year passing in the lives of those I love. Every year.
Except this year. I am not surprised, and I find it easy to believe, that my eldest is 16. Today. This one who began the completely life altering moment of making me a mother. This one who has delighted us from the beginning with such a happy countenance, has begun to carry the mantle of manhood already.
Every year there is more character revealed, more maturity. Every year we begin to see more and more the man you are becoming. Your humor, patience, wisdom…they all continue to develop in such a fantastic way. You will forever be the boy with big blue eyes, filled with chuckles and wonder…but now you are also the young man with patience and his own opinions.
I think every year I refer back to the pastor in Vancouver, BC who taught one Sunday on parenthood. He told us not to say, “I am so dreading the teen years”, as we hear so often, but instead to affirm that we look forward to our kids growing and maturing. We look forward to the teen years and seeing the adult beginning to overshadow the child.
He was right, and he was not asking us to lie. The teen years have been great. You have matured into the big brother everyone wishes they had.
Example and friend.
Cohort. I love listening to you and Nate talk now and break into laughter. I love the companionship.
You continue to delight and have curiosity, something I hope continues the rest of your life. Keep screaming at the hockey games, keep laughing uncontrollably at things you find hilarious. Keep reading people like Chesterton. It is good for you.
An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. – G.K. Chesterton
We are so thankful for who you are. Today. Yes, for who you are becoming, but in this moment we are so thankful for today. You make us laugh, you remind us when we act in ways inconsistent with what we say we believe. You play and keep us young. You cheer every one of us on. We are better because you are part of our family, and so thankful another year has rolled around so we can celebrate.
Laugh hard today, eat many tacos. Read something significant. Be kind to your siblings when you can, and tough on them when they need it. Sleep until noon sometime this week. Find something that makes you feel wonder.
Happy 16th birthday, my man-child. So glad you came along.
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” – Buechner
It was on a school bus, sitting in the far back while I giggled nervously, when I realized the force my mother could be. I do not remember the exact circumstances leading up to this moment, but there was a substitute school bus driver and some slight this driver had delivered. We were upset, all of us kids, and the driver was the cause. I had told my mother and the next morning when the bus came to pick us up, she stepped up to the door and spoke her mind.
The bus was from that era before electric doors…it had the huge silver handle the driver had to pull to close the door. Mom stood on the bottom step, just inside the door, and I remember that substitute driver pulling on that handle with all her might trying to close the door on Mom. Didn’t work.
Mom stood with her hands on her hips, clothed in her bathrobe with her hair pulled up, and clearly explained to this driver that things would change.
And they did. I don’t remember how much longer the driver was subbing, but I remember things changed. And we giggled in the back row.
I learned that day that Mom was a force, that her presence could not be ignored…and that she heard me when I was hurt and frustrated and she stepped in and changed things.
I stood at the store the other day looking at all the Mother’s Day cards and thinking about Mom. I read all the sentiments of love and of the impact of the mother in our lives…and I thought that we need a section for those who have their mother and yet don’t. We need cards for those who still want to send cards, but know the card will not be understood. I know that the exercise is mostly selfish at this point…we want to remind her that she is loved and she is not forgotten, even when she cannot remember.
I remember that she loved us well, and she delighted in children. Even when Dementia began to take her memories and her personality, she delighted in the grandkids.
Mom could laugh and make everyone around her laugh. It was contagious.
She dominated a room when she entered, not by trying, but simply because her presence was so strong. She carried herself with grace and dignity, with humor and wit, and sometimes with roaring anger.
Mother’s Day is another opportunity to pause and to remember her in her strength and fullness. She may not understand the cards anymore, she may not recognize those who love her…but I believe she knows in some way that she is cared for and there are those who are present for her when she cannot be fully present.
Her physical presence is a reminder, though, of all we are missing. I am constantly amazed at my Dad and brothers who care for her with such tenderness and perseverance. The distance between us is more acute on days like today.
“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history..” C.S. Lewis
I wish she knew today, all that are around her. All that she cultivated and caused to be. The people we have become, and the mother I am as a result of growing under her care. She was not perfect, but even the challenging aspects of her personality caused me to be who I am today. For that I am thankful. I see glimpses of her in myself and my kids. In my only daughter, who carries her name…and the set of her jaw.
Dementia cannot wipe away a personality so large and so strong.
I still giggle when I think of that bus driver. I think of so many situations when she made me laugh genuinely out loud. I inherited her sense of humor and her love of laughter, and in the midst of this season I am all the more thankful.
“He is a [sane] man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.” – G.K. Chesterton
This title kept popping up on my FB feed, or on suggested lists on Netflix. Maybe because I watch lots of detective shows? I’m not sure. Maybe because one of my kids watched it before I was aware of the heaviness of the show and the starkness of the subject matter.
I watched this last week, primarily to discuss with the kiddo. We’ve had some good discussions as a result, with two main aspects I keep thinking about. I would not suggest our kids watch the show, to be honest, but I would guess many of our kids have watched or at the very least have discussed the show with their friends. The age of viral topics is deeply upon us.
The show, in case you have not watched or heard about or read about it, follows the story of a high school girl, Hannah, who commits suicide. She leaves behind thirteen tapes, each focused on primarily one person, explaining why she took her life. The tapes are passed from person to person on the tapes, and we follow the character of Clay as he listens to the tapes. He is number nine. The story of why Hannah takes her life is filled with sex, betrayals, false relationships and fear. Loneliness. There are graphic episodes, and the scene of her actual suicide is quite graphic and stark. (Apparently in the book Hannah takes her life with pills, while in the show she slits her wrists in the bathtub).
I am not interested in giving a point by point retelling of the show. Two things, however, have struck me, and these I wanted to share.
First. There is no mention of God, no awareness of God, no exposure to God, no calling out to God, no reference to God in these episodes. Ok…maybe a reference or two. There is no one in these characters who has a relationship with God. There is no one in these characters who tells Hannah that she is loved by the Creator with a deep and tender and true love. There is no one who tells her she is an image bearer of the One who can love her purely.
How utterly different could this story be if someone had spoken Gospel to her. If someone had told her of the redeeming love, the pursuing love of the great God?
We have to tell those around us that they are loved. We have to speak and not simply hope others will. We have to watch for those in our midst who need to hear the reality that they are loved and not forgotten, and there is a God who changes everything. The absolute vacuum of anything spiritual in the lives of the kids on this show was stark to me.
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” – Brennan Manning
Second. Sex. This is at the root of so many of the problems in the show. There is a reason sex is dealt with in Scripture. There is a reason we are given guidelines. Sex is not something to be treated cheaply, or to be toyed with. Especially in the volatile emotional teen years. Sex has such a deep impact on our psyche, on our identity. The bonding of one human to another so intimately….changes things.
When our identity is void of the reality of God, sex holds even more weight. When sex becomes common place in our relationships, when it becomes so casual, the weight of its implications may not be felt until later. The identity of these kids, and they are still kids, is marked by the impact of sex, of rape and of alcohol. They are tailspin. That is too much to carry in the season of life when they are beginning to find their identity as more than children. When that is even more amplified by gossip and rumors…it is no wonder despair results.
Sex should be a beautiful, life giving, wonderous act. Sex should fulfill and deepen a relationship, but when it is shared with so little commitment, or when it is taken forcibly, it shatters the person.
When I was in high school I was an awkward kid. I desperately wanted attention and I was too emotional and dramatic for my own good. I was a mess. I also got plugged in to a church early on and it probably saved me. I had a good home life and a good life overall…but that doesn’t always matter. In the midst of things it can seem like your life is the worst ever. In high school everything is amplified. Every insult, every slight, every hurt…it plays again and again in our minds and we can turn nothing into something life shattering.
I also got involved with an older guy. We never had sex, but he pushed me beyond my comfort level. It changed me. Thankfully, I had others around me who spoke life, and who spoke of God. Others who reminded me of my identity in Christ.
I struggled with thoughts of suicide. I never came to place where I was willing to follow through…never made plans. One night I was the closest as I drove home from church, and I don’t remember what had caused me to be so upset, but as I drove home my thoughts of suicide were interrupted by a car accident. My own.
The point is…suicide has been an option and a thought for a very long time. Thirteen Reasons Why is not new. Teen years are tough, and they have been for a long time. It is the season of figuring things out, the season of finding out friendships are not always what we think, and relationships are exciting and terrifying. The one thing that is new is how quickly rumors can be spread and images or gossip shared. That is part of Hannah’s story in the show, and the impact of rumors and gossip is validly given exposure.
Does the show glorify suicide? I agree with Russell Moore, the show does not glamorize suicide, but it makes it an option:
“In order to provoke tragedy in a hurting teens life, no one needs to make suicide glamorous; one only needs to make suicide plausible.”
The show makes much of what happens in the wake of Hannah’s suicide, and in some ways makes an argument that there is redemption in the characters as a result. Things change. Her death is a catalyst for honesty and even for repair of some relationships, while others end tragically themselves. Apparently, after reading a summary of the novel the show is based on, the show moves far beyond the book. The suicide scene in the show is stark and tragic. Hannah slits her wrists in the bathtub. The book has her take pills.
The point is that suicide does not have to be glamorized…it only has to be an option. The show absolutely makes it an option. For those kids who are struggling, who are feeling lost, it would absolutely not be a good show for them to watch. Those of us who are far from the teen years and all the angst, it might be worth watching at least parts as a reminder of all the emotional stress these kids are facing. Hannah’s story may be amplified and sensationalized, but it was a good reminder to me that the kids walking around with their heads hung down and even the kids who are outwardly over cheerful..they need to be seen. They need to not be invisible. They need to be reminded they are loved. They are special.
And our kids…they need to hear it from the start, and they need it repeated throughout their lives.
You are loved. Life can be terribly hard, and it can be incredibly wonderful. Learn to find that wonder…seek it out and hold on to it because there are times you need to remember the good. They need to hear as they are older the realities about sex…and why it is not something to be treated cheaply because it is so intimate and precious.
Life is precious. Life is tenuous. Let’s be gracious with these kids around us, and with the adults as well. Let’s remember what a story can look like when it is completely void of God…the hopelessness and the thinking that there is only one solution. Let’s remember that in God is eternal life is in His Son. (1 John 5:11) Let’s be quick to listen, and quick to share the hope we have.
The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. – Buechner
Appropriate that another birthday draws me back to this blog. I am thankful for the time to reflect on one of the kiddos. This moment it is Sammy. He is growing before our eyes, and I am already beginning to realize we call him Sam more often than Sammy these days.
Eleven. Seems like such a big change from 10. Each year he seems more and more grown, maturing every day.
His love of music continues, now developing in new ways as he begins the discipline of learning to play piano. He has flourished with this, and I love watching him learn new things…love the joy he derives from playing well and mastering a piece. He also benefits, of course, from growing up in a town where music surrounds us. He has had the chance to see some truly gifted musicians, and beyond that has had the opportunity to meet these musicians.
This birthday boy continues to loves to play soccer…
And we love watching him play!
Sammy, and yes I insist on still calling him that, is in his happy place on a computer hanging out at the coffee shop with us.
Eleven years. He has learned to move from being the little brother of all to being a big brother to one. He made the transition with grace…he has been patient and kind and a teacher to Maddie. Showing his characteristics of compassion and patience with her, and his great humor throughout.
Eleven years, he is sneaking up on being more man than child, but I am thankful he is still filled with the joy of childhood. He still giggles uncontrollably at silly things. He has learned to become absorbed in stories, and I am thrilled that his love of story is growing. His love of God is tender and true. He has spoken nearly the same prayer every night in nightly prayers for probably close to two years. It is not a redundancy…it is a liturgy for him.
So thankful for eleven years of his laughter and smile, his affection and his love of so many things. Thankful for the very key part of our family he is…for the way he lightens our lives and brings joy. I cannot wait to see how he continues to mature and to grow. Cannot wait to see how he develops in his skills in soccer and piano. Cannot wait to see the man beginning to show in the midst of his childhood delights and innocence. I’ll also delight in the fact that he is still child enough to want hugs and cuddles and being read to at night.
So, Happy Birthday, Samuel. Enjoy the sliders tonight and the cake and ice cream. Enjoy the presents and the notes from those who love you. Embrace 11 and continue to bring joy and delight and wonder along with you.
“The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of millstones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them” -G.K. Chesterton
Cheery thought to start Thursday.
The reading I am following for Lent with She Reads Truth comes from Isaiah. The words today made me think of Chesterton’s words.
The Lord of Hosts removing any security from the people of Judah. Ouch. God allowing them to fall to what they truly were in that moment…they had rejected God and were living for themselves. God was going to allow them to follow that through. The result, according to the word of God through Isaiah, was going to be devastating.
People oppressing one another, desperate for a leader. There would be no stability, no security. Fear…that underlies the verses.
Until God says that there will be a day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious. There will be a refuge and a shelter.
The people could not see what they had become. They were fooling themselves, and as long as God allowed them to prosper in that state, they would remain ignorant and rebellious. When they saw the fulfillment of their reality, they would see the deep need for God’s redemption.
When we see ourselves honestly through Lent, we realize the deep need for Jesus.
This morning as I sit, I reached for tea instead of coffee. Something different, something to awaken my senses this morning as I just felt numb to the taste of coffee. And I love coffee. It had become bland to me though…and so I reached for something different. And I drank it from a tea cup my grandmother used with a sugar spoon my great grandmother used.
I read and looked around at my life, which is very good, and realized that it is easy to be complacent in honestly looking at myself. It is easy to doze in the sunlight even when there is so much turmoil all around.
I know there is so much to pray for and about all around us. There are so many dealing with enormous challenges. Sometimes, though, we need the season to look inward. It’s not healthy to naval gaze without end…but sometimes we need the season to quiet down and look honestly at ourselves.
There is something about tangibly changing things. Lent provides the opportunity to change things, tangibly. And sometimes just a simple change…like giving up being judgemental, even for one of the 40 days, helps us think differently. Helps us look differently at ourselves and at our God.
Give up something, something noticeable. 40 Days of changing the routine.
Before God has to remove the security to get our attention. Sometimes God getting our attention is uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like millstones rolling upon us. Because, the point is…we are fallen and marked by sin. We are in desperate need of salvation.
Sometimes that is not so easy see. Sometimes, though, we see true evil around us and are reminded there is a deeper reality. Ann Voskamp talked about that today:
And if I’m only dust — just my love alone in the world will not be enough.
If love is all we need in this world — I’ve got a problem.
Because, honest? Our love isn’t enough to absorb the evil that decapitates men’s heads, evil that rapes little girls, evil that steals and sells children as sex slaves.
There’s real active evil that’s not simply people acting — there’s real evil that’s more than a social construct, that’s more than someone’s bad choices, that’s not from any heart in this world, that’s not from any place in this world, that’s not from any mind in this world — there’s a supernatural evil that slithers into the corners of this world and pythons around hearts and minds until it strangles out the light and we scream against the dark.
At some point — in a broken world, your Love runs out, and You need a Love larger than your own to Love Larger than evil.
Looking honestly. Honestly like this takes some time to sink in. Some time to settle in our brains and then make its way to our hearts. That is one of the blessings of Lent…it takes its time. Time to understand the reality of sin, and of evil and of a love that is able to turn that all upside down.
A God who comes not overwhelming and not conquering, but instead comes unexpectedly and then dies unexpectedly. A God willing to suffer. A God willing to be in the desert and know what it is to be tempted and to suffer.
The reality of the Cross, the honesty of our need for that reality, Lent provides us the time and the space to remember.
Lent is not just about giving up chocolate or FaceBook.
Lent is about changing our focus and about discipline, discipline in our thoughts.
Discipline in our spirits. We’ve just begun…find a book that helps you focus and helps you look honestly at the world and at yourself, and ultimately draws you back to Scripture to look honestly at the God who changes everything.
Ash Wednesday, today, the beginning of Lent. Another rhythm of the Church Calendar, drawing my attention away from news flashes and FaceBook notifications. This year it seems to come so early. That might owe simply to the intensity of the first two months of this year. I feel as though I have hardly taken a breath since toasting sparkling grape juice at midnight with the kids and Steve…
I have been looking forward to Lent this year, mostly because it provides an opportunity to lay aside some things and take up a focus my soul needs. I have ‘fasted’ from FaceBook before, and am doing so this year at least for the most part. I’ll post updates as I have a blog post, but the notifications are off and the apps are deleted. The season to settle down a little is settling upon me.
That does not mean, however, utter sadness or mortification. Lent has never meant that for me…it is more a narrowing of focus. A concentration for a season. It is difficult for me to concentrate on anything indefinitely…so this structure of 40 days brings borders I need. Lent brings this strange paradox of joy and hope with repentance and deep awareness of my sinfulness.
I am reading a study from She Reads Truth this year, along with a couple other books.
This morning I woke early anticipating some time to read and pray and think about Lent…only to find myself instead tracking storms and Steve’s progress to work. 80 mph winds. Tornado warnings. Garbage bins flying across the driveway. Little girls waking hours early…thankfully only to fall asleep again on the couch.
Somehow that seemed appropriate this morning: Lent calls us to look honestly at ourselves, to “Circumcise thy life” as Herrick says above. We cannot do that in isolation from the reality of our lives, though. The storms will still blow through, even as we turn our attention toward the salvation of our souls. Even as we discipline ourselves to look honestly at who we are, and then…thankfully…at who God is and what Easter is all about. We cannot think on these things without being touched by the storms all around us. This year probably more than most.
The storms are done here now. The cats are looking wet and irritated after being outside.
The youngest boy is playing piano.
Underneath all of that, at least for today, though, is the refrain from G.K. Chesterton:
“I have found only one religion that dares to go down with me into the depth of myself.”
I need the discipline of looking honestly at myself, of holding that awareness of my sin, and then of walking in the mercy and grace of God. In the midst of storms, and life…we need this season of pause, of directing our thoughts to the reality of God Incarnate crucified. Then, we can walk in the reality of Lent…meaning “spring”…and the joy and hope which comes.
Walt Wangerin said this in my reading this morning:
We have to see ourselves honestly in order to see the offer of forgiveness and redemption Christ offers as honestly.
I most likely will not post daily through this season, but will be posting some poems and thoughts from the readings. Take some time today…even if you do not feel the call to fast through the whole season…but take some time to look honestly at yourself in light of Christ. Oh, and if we could fast from “Strife and old debate and hate…” that would be lovely.
This whole week, it has been there, just under the surface. Creativing a tension and a weariness. Adding to the unpredictable nature of my late – 40’s womanly prerogative. This awareness of a deep mourning just under the surface.
I was able to go home last week, back to New Mexico, with the youngest two kiddos. We ate an enormous amount of Mexican food and almost satiated my need for red and green chile.
We rode Clydesdales, or thought about riding them.
We played late night solitaire with Grandpa.
Mostly, though, in the midst of all of this, I went home to see my Mom. I’m not sure if she knew that I was there, and those of you who have walked this road of Dementia understand that. This is the most despicable disease. I have written often in the past about the sense of a long endurance mourning which accompanies this, a mourning which does not offer any release or any healing. A mourning at the loss of the person who remains physically present.
Each activity is marked by an awareness of our loss of Mom’s lively personality in our midst, even though she is present. She would enjoy so much her grandchildren, and they would so enjoy her.
So, this week I have been aware of this mourning, this desire to weep, more closely present with me than at other times.
Her Dementia continues to change her, and those changes bring a new sense of loss. A new step in the mourning. But it is this mourning that is held in check because it is not complete, and it cannot be given completion. There is such frustration in that. A word can set off a stream of tears and then it is hard to hold back the floodgates, because they have been restricted for so long.
I don’t like to cry. I don’t like to mourn. I don’t like to think of the what ifs and the should be…and yet I am realizing that we need to make the space for that. We need, in the midst of the difficult seasons, to give ourselves the space to mourn, to weep, to shout in anger at God (he can handle it), to give our emotions the needed expression.
So many around us are carrying such deep, deep burdens. Within my acquaintances and friends I can think of those facing divorces, bankruptcies, children dying, houses falling apart, jobs in peril….deep, aching fear and mourning and uncertainty. Most all of these people have children and have the need to keep life ticking along, as we all do, so we tuck those emotions away and try to continue on.
Until that guy cuts us off on the freeway and we lose it.
Or the lady at the grocery store looks at us funny and we fall apart.
Or we yell at our kids.
Or we just pull in to ourselves and begin to detach to try to keep the emotions in check. And we miss…we miss the moments we could rejoice, and we miss even the moments we could mourn and find healing.
I have quoted this from Buechner before:
“some moment happens in your life that you say yes right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. waking up to the first snow. being in bed with somebody you love… whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, it may lose you the ball game. if you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul.”
I wonder if the opposite is true a bit as well…if we find the moments that bear down upon our soul and break us, we need to cry out to God and weep. We need to not resist that mourning and allow ourselves the sorrow. Before it turns to anger because we have tried so valiantly to keep it in check.
“I cry aloud to God,
Aloud to GOd and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
In the night my hand is stretched out
My soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.” Ps. 77
He knew how to weep and cry out to God.
I need to read more Psalms.
My Mom was a beautiful woman.
She still is.
She has taught us much even through this season. She will sometimes catch us with her laughter, and it makes us pause to hear it. She is completely dependent on my Dad and brothers and I have learned that they are men of faithfulness and kindness and care in a way I never would have seen otherwise.
I still would rather be able to talk to her. But this is what it is.
Right now she is teaching me it is ok to mourn along the way…and she is reminding me that others carry deep burdens as well. We need to give each other grace in these days. Maybe the snarky waitress is holding back tears. Maybe the irritating driver is distracted by life changing and difficult decisions.
I write much about finding wonder and beauty…maybe, just maybe, today we need to hear that it is ok to recognize the pain and sorrow and give it the space needed. I wrote the other day about books being able to help with that Ugly Cry. We were made to praise and sin and shout, but we were made just as much with the sensitivities to love and mourn and weep and have deep sorrow. Sometimes we don’t need much help, we just need to give ourselves permission. I usually give myself permission in the shower.
Wherever it is, if you have been holding it all together for too long…allow yourself some time and grace to mourn. Then come back with a little healing under you and grace for those you encounter.
Hear my cry, O God,
Listen to my prayer;
From the end of the earth I call to you
When my heart is faint
Lead me to the rock
That is higher than I,
For you have been my refuge,
A strong tower against my the enemy.
Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! – Ps 61:1-4