A Little Hard Work is Required.

Maddie 3

 

 

This is the face of a little girl in a little pain, and a little frustration. This is the face of a little girl after her first swim lesson.

 

The lesson ended in tears and the exclamation that she never wanted to swim again.

 

“They made me put my face in the water. I had water in my nose and I couldn’t keep it out.”

Despair.

 

And the toes. Do you remember when you were little and swam and scraped your toes on the bottom of the pool? Do you remember those little sores, the little raw circles on the bottom of your toes?

 

Yep. All ten toes now have waterproof bandaids.

 

As we walked away from the lesson, tears still dripping down her cheeks, I told her,

 

“Sometimes we have to do a little hard work and something not too fun so we can have lots of fun in the end.”

 

She’s almost four. She has no idea what I mean…not really.

 

I meant it, though, even in the simplicity of swimming lessons. This life of ours requires discipline, it requires sacrifice and it requires some not too fun things all done with the hope of success and growth.

 

Sometimes we have to set aside the fun activity to complete the necessary activity. In the end the things that are not as fun can give us room for other things: taking care of the household chores leaves us a space where we can relax and rest, taking the time for study enriches our brains and sets the stage for creativity and imagination and curiosity.

 

Sometimes we have to put to death our flesh in order to see the Spirit come alive.

 

Sometimes we have to do the hard work before we see the growth.

 

But, to be honest, there are days (weeks? months? years?) where it feels as though everything is the hard work and nothing is enjoyment or growth. That is when we have to listen well; we have to pay attention.

 

 

“Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks . . . It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.”

Frederick Buechner

Even today. Even in the difficult times and the joyful times…God is speaking.

Even when we give advice to four year olds when we really are talking to ourselves.

The next day? She jumped in the water and came up laughing. She was the first one in line for the slide, even though it meant going deep under the water for her. She came up with joy and had already forgotten the tears. After the second day the exclamation was, “When can we do this again!”

Just A Little Lack, Please!

I said at the very beginning of this year that this was going to be the year of reading, and that is proving to be true. This has been a year of reading more than of writing, and that has been a good thing. A year of listening more than of speaking.

 

I have things stirring within that I want to talk about, and yet I feel the need to let them simmer. The need to keep them close and not to expose them yet. The need to allow them the space for pondering and being stored up rather than for for rapid exposure.

 

This is unlike me.

 

I like to get my thoughts out there quickly. I tend to jump around. A lot. I tend to not follow through on thoughts to their finality.

 

I am not very patient.

 

This is not the best trait in a home school parent.

 

We have begun our third year of homeschool and I find myself with those mornings of agitation; those mornings of not having all my ideas in order and all the plans completely in place. The agitation that the kids are two steps ahead of me and will be asking what is next before I can tell them.

 

The agitation of being unprepared.

 

I hate that.  Kind of the opposite of patience.

 

Part of my lack of preparation is because I am trying to keep up with reading for my own sanity…reading to fulfill my own refreshment and deepening as well as for educating the chi’dren.  I am still finding the balance.

 

This morning, our third Monday into our third year of home school, something truly wonderful happened. There was just that moment of “Ahhh…..yes.”

 

It was not a brilliant moment of insight or of imagination or of grasping a deep truth. It was not a moment of the boys hanging on truths of history. No, it was laughter during prayer and prayer that rambled and was sincere in its humor and transparency.

 

Prayer that ended with “I pray that Mom doesn’t ground me for this prayer.”

 

A morning of lingering breakfast, of reading a novel out loud over cereal and chocolate milks,  leading into prayer and Bible reading without rush. An awareness that patience is growing in myself even when I am not completely prepared, and even more importantly, that friendship is growing among three young men. Awareness that home school is right for this moment, and that history is being learned, along with math and science and English…but that they are in this moment not the most important.

 

See…the thing is, I cannot force these three boys to enjoy each other and to grow in affection toward one another. I cannot force the atmosphere that happened this morning. When I rush the day and have all the plans worked out to the minute, often what I want the most is simply impossible.

 

Sometimes what I need is my lack.

 

This morning was that glimpse I needed.  The awareness that my insufficiency will not overwhelm this endeavor.  The awareness that I do not have to lay everything out all at once. I can hold back and ponder and be patient. I do not have to rush. There are moments which call for some lingering.

 

Did you hear that? Our insufficiency will not overwhelm the endeavor called life. In our weaknesses….God’s power is made perfect.

 

Everything moves so incredibly fast, it seems.

 

Lingering and pondering…these seem like old-fashioned ideas. And yet….they are so vital. It is hard to be agitated when you are lingering and pondering.  Sometimes it is good to sit with our insufficiency a little, sometimes it gives us the space to ponder and to linger and to find that God has done something we could not do ourselves.

 

The rest of the day we turned our attention to our tasks with a diligence that was engaged with humor and friendship.

 

So, I tuck my thoughts back in close and let them simmer a little longer. I’m thankful for those of you who keep popping in to read. I’m thankful to have a place to write…and I know there are more things stirring….

 

 

 

 

Inspired by….Monday?!

So today is the first Monday attempting to dig in a little more, to think a little more deeply and to avoid distractions. I had FaceBook off most off last week, but I think I did so in the middle of the week, and Mondays are just different. So today, not logging on and spending my time with my cup of coffee looking at the latest on FB just feels, well, different.

Mondays get our attention. They make us wake up earlier and sit a little straighter and have to be a little more responsible.

Mondays are frustrating.

They mean real life is back upon us…the weekend is over. Ugh.

My boys are not fans of Mondays.  I never really have been either, but actually…don’t tell anyone…I am beginning to like them.

I cannot believe I am saying that.

I am beginning to rely on the rhythm that Monday calls me to. Monday tells me it is okay to sleep in a little sometimes, but now it is time to get back to work. Today, that means it is time to listen. That is what this whole paying attention business is about.

Time to listen to the voices who have listened themselves…time to listen to those who have something to say. Sometimes it is work to listen. Sometimes it is work just to quiet myself long enough to listen, long enough to really hear.

The goal is not just to listen, but to have something to give as well.

I am listening to learn, to be changed and to be filled so that I have something for my boys as I teach them.

Because I know just in myself I don’t have a lot.

There is more though…I want to listen to my kids as well.

Monday reminds me that another week has gone by.

Time to sit up straight and pay attention…time keeps on marching on and these little ones will not be so little for long.

In fact, my oldest grew over an inch since June. He needs to stop that. Maddie is speaking in sentences. She seriously needs to stop that. All of them are changing so quickly, and all of them have so much they want me to see. I need to pay attention.

I need to listen and I need to hear. I need to hear and I need to think about what I’ve heard, and then I need to give that back to the kids.  Reading books feeds my soul. I know that doesn’t happen for everyone. For some people listening to music has the same impact, and for some it is the interaction with others. We have to find what it is that feeds our soul in a way that brings life.

We have to find what it is that feeds our soul and in a way that makes us sit up on Monday with a hint of inspiration and an inclination that we are ready for another week to pay attention to life that week.

Part of it for me is reading, a large part is also fellowship on Sundays and worshiping together with others. There is great encouragement there and inspiration. Usually a healthy dose of thinking and challenge.

So…on this Monday….what inspires us? What feeds our souls in a way that brings life. Not just a chuckle and a diversion, but life. What pours into our souls in a way that gives us the patience and strength to pour back into the lives of those God has placed around us for us to care for, for us to inspire, for us to love?

Me?  Reading. Music. Fellowship. These things are my focus right now…with a little sprinkling of diversion.

Merciful Monday.

Maturity is not a patchwork affair assembled out of bits and pieces of disciplines and devotions, doctrines and causes. It is all the operations of the Trinity in the practice of resurrection.

Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 494-495). Kindle Edition.

Yes, yes, I am still reading Peterson. Yes, I do still intend to write more posts as I work through this book. Nope, I’m not ready this morning.  I am reading and thinking, but not quite ready to write…beyond the above quotation.

The last month has felt like a whirlwind. Sports have been in high gear, school has been on that final push, Maddie has been testing the waters of turning 2. Curriculums for next year needed to be chosen, registration for tutorials had to happen. Add three birthdays within a month of each other and Mother’s Day into the mix…and I’m feeling ready for summer.

On the way to the orthodontist the other day we stopped by the library, I picked up a new book and barely made it past the first few pages. A Measure of My Days is about a young country doctor practicing in Maine. What caught me immediately was his description of his morning routine: waking up at 4:30, turning on music, making coffee and taking two hours to read and write. I breathed that in and realized how desperately I miss that sectioned off and protected time to feed my soul.

I have not done well with carving that time into my schedule in the last month, and my soul is weary and frazzled. I cannot survive just on the blessings of Sunday morning.  I need those moments of reading truth from others and finding their root in the Bible. I need that silence…or that music couched solitude…to grow my soul.

The quotation above from Peterson has held my attention, though, because just carving out that time is not enough. We cannot throw together a recipe of the right disciplines and devotions that will guarantee that we mature in the faith. We cannot expect to just mark the things off our list and feel that we have accomplished our pursuit of God sufficiently.

The working of the Trinity in our lives…the reality of the Resurrection in our souls…the breath of the Spirit in our bones…the imagination of the Creator in our minds.  This is what we need.

What I need.

I am frazzled with momentary things, with things that have their place and their importance, but which need to take their rightful place in the momentary and the mundane. My soul does not need to feed on the gossip of FaceBook and the trivia of television.

My soul needs the reality of the Resurrection. My soul needs the disciplines and the pursuit of God…but my soul needs that couched in the working of the Spirit.

I’m not sure that I can do 4:30. I’m not a morning person. School is done, though, and this morning 6am brought silence and peace and the calling to seek God.

I’m not seeking a patchwork of “right” things…I’m seeking God.

I am thankful that I can start afresh this morning and focus on Peterson’s book, focus on some things I want to think through. I am thankful for the refreshing of habits that have been neglected.

So…Merciful Monday this morning.  I have time to tidy the house and to sit at my table with headphones on and read. Think. Pray. Write. Repeat.

Care to join me?

A morning walk of thoughts and … squirrel!

I love mornings that start well. Sets the tone for the whole day…and maybe it is also that extra spring in the step of a Friday.

I was up early, the sun is shining (again…after a day of storms). Yes, the birds are chirping. I was able to get my mile walk in this morning before the kids were up (I walk around our cul-de-sac so they can find me if they need me. Don’t call social services).

As I was walking I was struck by something, as usually happens. This is my time to pray, and I realized that in the space of one lap, 1/3 of a mile, I went through the following topics:

Thanking God for the gorgeous morning.

My health…good.

My kids…which led to thoughts and prayers and out their spiritual life and about homeschool. Which led to thoughts and prayers about curriculum and tutorial choices for next year.
Those thoughts were interrupted by thoughts about the one boy yesterday who just.could.not.finish.his.work.

Refocus, and prayers for my dad and mom as they continue in the journey and tedium of dementia.

Which led to thoughts about family. Trip this summer.

That led to thoughts about finances. Which was interrupted by thoughts about things I’d like to do.

That was interrupted by the fact that I was out of breath for the moment…financial thoughts always make me walk faster.

Then I thought about friends I would like to connect with soon…and prayers for them.

All…in the span of 1/3 of a mile.

My thoughts jump. They interrupt themselves and distract my focus.
Squirrel!

We’ve all been there. It was still a good morning and time of prayer…but I had to fight for that focus. Back to the boy who couldn’t finish his work yesterday. He was distracted, he was fidgety and he just couldn’t get it done. Mostly his reading.  We are such a fragmented people, and so inundated with competing demands for our attention.

We have just one more month of school and we will have completed our first year. There have been some great things and some areas where I know we need work, but there is one area that keeps coming back to me….

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still.

Focus.

Taking every thought captive to obedience in Christ

This is not something that simply happens to us. Without discipline, my thoughts are all over the place. Without discipline the school work does not get done. Without discipline…it is difficult (impossible?) to contemplate and meditate and focus on God. To be still and know that He is.

That is the area that underlies everything for me in the homeschool venture. To provide the space and the atmosphere and the encouragement…and the requirement…that my kids learn to be still, to silence the distractions, to take their thoughts captive. Maybe only for five minutes, maybe for an hour…but to learn this discipline. They need it to progress in their studies, but they need it vitally in their spiritual life.

I remember reading Thomas Merton responding to a letter where someone said it must be easier to be quiet and spend time in contemplation when you are a hermit. They were desiring that space for solitude and contemplation, and Merton responded that if we cannot find silence and solitude in the room with the television and the distractions we will go crazy in the cabin in the woods. Our thoughts will weigh down on us and distract us and frustrate us. We have to learn the discipline of being still right here…in the midst of all the noise.

I have to admit it took a lap or two before I settled in to prayers that were focused and not jumbled. Thoughts that were held longer than a fleeting moment. Now as we sit down to start school…the reminder is there. Learn to focus. Hold this thought in your mind…don’t be distracted.

Discipline.

Capture your thoughts and do not let them capture you.

Enough!!! Well…..not really.

Dinner the other night did not end well.  The boys were rowdy and would not tone it down. Not after the first request. Not after the second. Or the third.  Not after Dad left the table and Mom gave them the silent treatment. They were reprimanded and scolded and told to knock it off.

Life with three boys can be rowdy. Most of the time. They test each other constantly and if they are not physically wrestling, they are wrestling verbally. Constantly. Sometimes there is giggling involved and sometimes there are tears.

They test Steve and I often. Not out-of-control rebellion, but they question us and they push us to see if we push back. They are not surprised that we do.

Then there is the addition of the little Miss. She has enough personality to keep them all in check. Granted, she comes by it honestly…there are stories that my folks had to tie a piece of plywood to the top of my crib to keep me from crawling out in the middle of the night. Since I am now almost 43 I think it is safe to say that without fear they will be called by Social Services. Apparently, however, I was slightly a handful and Maddie is following in my steps. She can scowl with the best and she has got a mean pointer finger that seems to be attached to her eyebrows…they go up when she points at you and says, “No!”.

Something struck me tonight as I was rocking Maddie. I’m glad the boys push and I’m glad Maddie is full of personality and challenge.

Sometimes I have a headache and I wish they would veg. Sometimes Steve has had a long day at work and wishes they would just be quiet at dinner and talk like…well, not like little boys.

We are weary from the responsibilities of life and they are filled with the enthusiasm of childhood. The enthusiasm that embraces fart jokes and mocking your brother, or imitating all the facial expressions of the family. We want to say, “Enough!”, but actually I’m thankful that they will constantly be pushing us.

That means when they venture beyond our dinner table they will continue to push. Not that I want disobedient children, and it would be nice if they know which fork to use when they go out to dinner and can hold a conversation without, well, farting. I do, however, want them to be full of life.

I’m realizing as we make our way through this journey some things about what is required of me as a parent.

I’m required to guide them in their knowledge of wrong and right, and to show that there are consequences to choices. I’m required to be committed with Steve to be consistent in our expectations of them, and to create a structure that gives them space to be themselves while learning how to behave with integrity and some level of decorum.

There is more though…

I’m required to delight in their giggles and to know all the tickle spots that bring the best laughter.

I’m required to pay attention to what is important to them at the moment, because it is important to them.
I’m required to remind them that they have amazing imaginations, and then to listen as those imaginations take flight and spin amazing stories. Even at the dinner table. Even when I’m tired and have a headache and wish there was a little more quiet.

I’m required to put them to bed with some routine that brings them comfort and structure and love and stories and imagination and wonder. Sometimes, though, I’m required to rock them (especially the littlest) until their eyelids flutter and they give themselves over to sleep in my arms. Then I am required to be amazed at this litte Image Bearer who trusts me implicitly to know what is required to care for them.

I’m required to delight in them. Because as I delight in them they blossom and they grow and they experiment. They watch to see if I am watching and if I am bored with them….well, they just might be bored with me and with life and they may not be interested in what I have to say.

Sometimes it is simply twinkling lights hung up in an empty cabinet to create a secret play space. Sometimes it is the hour…or two…of reading before bed that spins stories of adventure and courage and faith and wonder. Sometimes it is talking of God with hushed voices because…well…because He is amazing and wondrous and Creator and they bear His Image.

Enough….sometimes I want to shout that, but really, I don’t. I want to shout instead: “Keep at it!! Keep pushing!!! Keep living…loudly, with vigor and enthusiasm. Ignore that I am weary and have a headache and am boring. Remind me that life is amazing and worth delight.”