Allergic to Wonder

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Everything is in bloom. There are, it seems, a limitless number of shades of green all around me at the moment. The trees and the grass and leaves on the flowers and the plants…everything is crying, “Life!”

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The temperature has warmed, and the desire is there to be outside. The pull is there to work in the garden, to add a touch to the beauty that is natural.

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The only problem is…I cannot breathe when I go outside. The allergies this year have been brutal. Not only does my chest tighten and I begin to cough and reach for my inhaler, but my eyelids break out in hives. The back of my knees break out as well, and my eyes become red. I last for just a few moments before I have to return to the shelter of the house and reach for something to help stave off the effects of pollen.

 

The beauty around me draws me, and yet because of this flaw, because of this brokenness, I just cannot take it all in.

 

I cannot enjoy the wonder.

 

Some are not bothered in the least by allergies, but thoroughly embrace the changing of the season.

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Today we blew up the inflatable water slide and Sammy, Maddie and a buddy had a ball. They didn’t notice the colors of the leaves and the grass and the flowers. The didn’t notice way the water splashed and caught the sunlight.

 

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They didn’t stop and contemplate.  They just jumped in and enjoyed the wonder. The feel of it all and the delight.

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They played in the water, and they broke apart a “fossil” Sammy had made in Science class.

 

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“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” -G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy

 

I love this quotation from Chesterton, and have used it often, probably because I need to hear it myself. We need to kick around in the water slide a little with an almost three year old and a few boys. We need that prompt of childhood that doesn’t have to analyze the wonder, but steps in and tastes it and feels it and delights.

We have to learn to belly-laugh again!

 

There is something deeper, though. There are times when wonder takes our breath away. There are times when something is so beautiful – whether it is a sunset or an infant – that it brings an ache to our heart. That ache, I think, tells us that we know we cannot fully take it in because we ourselves are not completely whole yet. We cannot give ourselves completely to the wonder around us until we are whole, and we know that somehow.

 

Sometimes, the brokenness we have and the wounds we have gathered hover around us and cling to us. They become a boundary like the allergies in the Spring. We can see the wonder from a distance…maybe even gather the strength to embrace it for a moment, but we start to break out in hives if we get too close something beautiful for too long.  We are more comfortable with pain and with chaos and with suffering…we are more familiar with crisis.

 

There is much around us to weep over. The state of the girls in Nigeria. The situation that continues in Ukraine. The ongoing saga of Pastor Saeed. The abuses of children that continue to make headlines. Brokenness. Sin. Wounds.

 

There is, however, much around us to bring delight. There is wonder, and it is not wrong to delight in wonder….even when there are wounds around us.  This life will always be a balancing act.

This week is leading towards Mother’s Day. Like billboard reminder that my Mother is present and yet…not.

 

Another marker and reminder of brokenness. Hindrance to the wonder, or another opportunity to reflect?

 

And yet…I have four little wonders right around my feet delighting in life, and calling me into wonder and laughter and life. Balance…the awareness of the absolute wonder of love and life and spirit that God has blessed, alongside the awareness of brokenness and need for His grace and salvation.

 

So…we run into the wonder as we can, and we know that sometimes it will overwhelm with the very richness that makes it wonder-filled. The reality of wonder may highlight our pain at times, and may heighten our awareness of the need for healing. We may only be able to delight in wonder for a moment, and then have to run back into our shelter and recoup. Sometimes the wonder itself will bring healing, will bring refreshment.

 

Some day, we will be healed and whole and able to splash and delight and embrace and love whole-heartedly and with abandon. For now, maybe our artists and our singers and our children will be those who help us learn to move in our brokenness and embrace the wonder. They can draw us from our brokenness, and from our habits of hiding, and give us the voice to delight in wonder. Even when we are in pain.

 

 

 

The Color Green

“And the moon is a sliver of silver
Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter’s shop
And every house must have it’s builder
And I awoke in the house of God
Where the windows are mornings and evenings
Stretched from the sun
Across the sky north to south
And on my way to early meeting
I heard the rocks crying out
I heard the rocks crying out

Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise

And the wrens have returned and they’re nesting
In the hollow of that oak where his heart once had been
And he lifts up his arms in a blessing for being born again
And the streams are all swollen with winter
Winter unfrozen and free to run away now
And I’m amazed when I remember
Who it was that built this house
And with the rocks I cry out

Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green

Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise”

Rich Mullins

Advent hits a Wall…

I have to be honest with you. We have hit a bump in our Advent procession.

Well. Maybe a wall.

Things have been busy. The kids have not been into the readings. We have been stressed. Steve began a new level of management, which includes being called in at 4am some mornings…and working on until his usual 6pm. We’ve been grumpy and stressed the last few days.

Add to the mix that I realized I needed to give up the goal of writing our own Bible curriculum this year as I have lost most of my study time with all the other changes. Loss of study time leads to grumpy Sarah.

So yesterday I was uber grumpy and we did no readings, no lighting of candles, no talk of Advent.

I gave up. Kids were bickering and I just let them and let them know I was disappointed in them and, well, this kinda sucked.  Yep. A few of those days.

Here’s the thing though…this morning, I still hid the Elf on the Shelf. He is hiding with a marker in his hands that he used to draw mustaches on all the family members in the pictures on the bookshelf. And I wasn’t grumpy when I did that. I was thinking about Sammy when he will come downstairs looking for that Elf.

Sammy at seven is in that perfect age to wake up every morning and ask how many more days until Christmas. He in in the age of wondering aloud about all the magic of Christmas. He is in the age of embracing all the wonder and all the excitement. He asks me when we are going to load up with our hot chocolate and our popcorn to drive around and look at the Christmas lights. All the kids love Christmas, but my Sammy…he is the one.

He is the one who keeps me in the wonder.

I know that part of my frustration and part of my “grumpiness” is fueled by the ache that comes in from Christmas lost. The ache in knowing I cannot share any of this joy in seeing my kids enjoy Christmas, especially Sammy or Madeleine, with my mom…and that is hard. There is pain there and sometimes instead of just acknowledging that I try to ignore it. Instead it comes out in frustration and seeps into the rest of the season as an overarching grumpiness.

So many have aches and loneliness and pain through this season.

Hurt and sorrow. True, deep pain which this season seems to bring a spotlight upon. We need to have grace for one another and realize that sometimes when we are being grumpy and short, or even just wanting solitude, it may be our way of tending to that ache.  It is hard to see any wonder in those moments.

I came across this in my reading, and it eased the ache, and I hope it does so for you as well. Buechner once again brings me back on track in my Advent pursuit. As a mom, I needed this this morning. If you’ve had a few days of the kids being wild, which tends to happen at Christmas time, if you’ve had a few days of feeling ragged and frazzled…take the time to read this. Maybe in the bathroom. Or another dark corner. With a coffee and Reeses. Not that I did that.

Seriously though…we cannot quiet the truth of Christmas because the truth is so dramatic. Even when we get sidetracked. Even when our aches and our sorrow and our loneliness become loud. Even when we get frazzled. The truth of Christmas is not shadowed by the Elf on the Shelf, or by Rudolph.   It survives because it is not fairytale.

The truth of Christmas…well…read on:

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.

-Frederick Buechner “Whistling in the Dark

So, today, if you have been side-tracked from the deep reality of Christmas, let it strike you once again. If you, like me, have hit a bump in your Advent pursuit it is okay. We still have two weeks to dwell with this reality. Sit and dwell with the reality that it is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her hands. It is not tame. So much in this passage to think on.

Regroup. Take a deep breath. Allow your kids the wonder of the season and remind them again and again and again that God became one of us and that is the truest wonder of it all. As we remind them of that, and think on the deep reality of God made flesh…the wonder begins to infuse everything again.

Enlarge That Imagination!!!!

Okay, I know I am repeating one more article, but again it says what I want to say. Part of the wonder of Christmas, and part of the wonder of the Advent season, is story. I have a multitude of friends who enjoy participating in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. This year Mr. Creative, our middle boy, has been pestering me for an Elf on the Shelf. He is at that precarious age where he knows Santa is not real, and he knows these things are imagination and play…and yet he is not quite ready to give them up. He doesn’t want to say outloud that all of this was fairy tale and play.

So, we’ll pick up an Elf. And we will heartily play with our imagination that this little doll can come to life at night and we’ll try to keep the cats from eating him. And hopefully we will expand our imaginations a bit, and we will mark the season by joy and by laughter mixed with the awe and amazement of the true Story of the season. All of these other stories are truly just play…and they pale as we begin to talk of the God who created the heavens and the earth, and then walked that earth.  Here are some thoughts again from last year:

December 22, 2012    Enlarge that Imagination

I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”

Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.

Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.

Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.

The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.

I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.

So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.

It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.

In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.

I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….

Is true.

We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.

And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.

So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.

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.”