A Place to Stake it All in the New Year

I am really happy about a new year coming up, all unsullied, fresh. I used to think, “Wow, I wonder what all will happen this year? I want to make a difference, be all I should be, reach around to the people who need me and make everybody feel happy and celebrated, etc. etc. I want it to be a good year!” Now it is more like, “Wow, I wonder what all will happen this year? One thing is sure, I am not going to do everything right and very likely there will be really yucky stuff mixed in with all the celebrations.”

This is not the inevitable downer of a weary lady who has lost the sparkle of life. It is just my deeply realistic take on seasons… You want fruitfulness and summertime? Well, you may need bleak midwinter first, with yuck and boredom and mud. The thing is, I have more hope now than I did when I wanted everything to be exciting. I have seen the goodness of God, first hand, in the middle of chaos and I am not afraid. That is the marvel of it, because life can be downright terrifying. Like Peter, when I look at the waves, I sink. I am embarrassed sometimes at the things that have made me sink. “Jesus, save me! There is clutter everywhere and I am so weary of keeping house and doing the same old, same old stuff and the children have terrible attitudes about their chores and I just tripped over the doll stroller for the hundredth time and my hormones are all out of whack. I am sinking here!” If I were Jesus, I would probably think that was a pretty silly thing to be going under about, like you are standing in only two feet of water, lady. But He doesn’t, and I feel His hand pulling me up to walk beside Him again. That is why I am not afraid. If He has been redeeming my soul from destruction all these years, He will continue to do it in the coming year.

I am learning that what makes life sweet is not me, because I am flawed and incapable of making cakes out of mud. Jesus is the One who does that. Instead of a list of resolutions, I am asking Him simply to give me grace to hold up the ingredients of life in the coming year and let Him make them, by some miracle of sheer grace, into a celebration.

Last January I resolved to read the Bible in chronological order this year. It was good discipline for me, having used my babies as an excuse for a long time to just skim for encouragement. The plan got a set back when our iPad with the app I was using was stolen, but I found a similar plan online and kept on. I started this week only 13 days behind, and having gotten so close, I determined to finish. My concluding assignment for today is the book of Revelation. I like this method, linking events in the Scriptures in the order they happened. It builds trust to see the theme of faithfulness all throughout the written record. If God says it, it will happen. I am staking everything on that.

Heb. 6:17  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever …

December, as it Happens

This month I have been a pen out of ink. I scratched a few paragraphs now and then, deleted the whole works, or left them to moulder in the drafts folder. Even the annual Christmas letter was a chore. I like pens that glide along smoothly without sputters and skips. Anything else is insufferable! So I can only thank the Lord that blogging is for writing when you enjoy it and that I have never imposed deadlines on myself.

All this time I was out of Earl Grey, folks. Two weeks in a row I forgot to go to the tea aisle in the grocery store. I drank coffee, which is a satisfying experience all its own, but sometimes a girl wants. just. tea! I have a whole shelf of boxes of other teas. My husband likes variety, and so does Gregory, my little tea drinking buddy. On Monday morning I was reading in the quiet when I heard Greg stirring around in the kitchen. To my surprise he brought me the steaming mug he had been concocting according to his Greg Standard of Perfect Tea. It was so liberally adorned with cream and sugar as to hardly be recognizable as tea. Later I saw that he had served me detox tea, which struck me as extremely funny, taking into consideration all the “bad stuff” he dumped into it. I walked over to my grocery list and I wrote it down nice and bold: EARL GREY. This week I bought a ginormous box, inhaled deeply the intoxicating scent of Bergamot oil, and was happy.

It is such a joyful season, yet I found myself praying, yearning with my heart in my throat for days as I followed the story of a family who was keeping vigil around a gunshot victim in the hospital. Yesterday he died. As I was wrapping a few small gifts, I kept thinking about what a sad, sad Christmas this will be for that family and for his friends. It took me back five Decembers when a beloved friend of mine, the wife of my cousin, lay on life support in a hospital. Her transport to glory left me with the anguished question, “Why? There are six little children here, Lord! Couldn’t you see that?” I have never faced a more severe attack on my faith. As the questions poured out, I received the beautiful assurance of the solid fact that Jesus is Emmanuel: God with us. Here in our mess and our hurt and our confusion, He is Prince of Peace. He came to give life, if we can only see that the passing of His friends is the ultimate giving of LIFE. I have seen the triumph of those who embrace this truth, who refuse to let it go in the midst of the most painful times imaginable.

He is with us! “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) That is all we need to know, really. There is a sturdy quality to such faith that confounds even the staunchest unbelievers. I hear my little girl singing her version of a children’s song: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy… down in the guts of my heart!” Her siblings say, “Depths, not guts!” but she is sticking to her version. It reminds me that faith touches us in the visceral regions where logic and reason are no comfort at all. I see the impossible joy and peace blanket the soul and I say,

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  

Occupational Hazards of Parenting

About the time my first born turned two, old enough to trundle things around, we became aware of a facet of parenting that we hadn’t considered before. It became clear to us that we would have to become comfortable with mystery. Up till then, the screws had their own designated spot in the organized utility drawer, the flashlights stayed in the closet, the pens in the tin can designated for pens, not pencils or markers or stray tinker toys. Oh lovely adage: a place for everything and everything in its place. Now five children later, the mysteries have deepened and surround all of life.

It is a little exasperating that, despite having very keen hearing and the use of a proverbial set of eyes in the back of my head, I simply do not always catch on. It is humbling to acknowledge that they probably are smarter and faster than I am.

When I was a child, our family would kneel at the couch to pray every evening at bedtime. The little ones would kneel beside our parents and my brother Nate and I got the outside edges. We hit upon a conspiracy to back slowly into the middle of the living room while my dad was praying, then creep forward again, suppressing giggles. I don’t know how many times we did this before we got found out but I do remember how daring it felt to do something so utterly unapproved of and be undiscovered. Boy, did we ever think we pulled it over our parents.

Now our children do it to us, and sometimes it is funny and sometimes it is really irritating. Just the time we think we have things figured out, they change it up on us. I give you Conundrums in the Kitchen:

Just yesterday you hated tomatoes, and today you are picking them off the salad before I get any. What is up with that?

Why is there a can of worms in the fridge?

Who drank my coffee?

How come it isn’t possible to eat a cookie without 299 crumbs on the floor?

Who let the cat(s) into the house?

How did that box of Cheezits get empty so fast?

Then there are the Black Hole Mysteries:

Does anybody know what happened to Rita’s fuzzy brown boots?

If you had five pairs of undies last week, they must still be somewhere. ???

Where in the world did that Popular Mechanics library book go?

What can possibly have happened with my sister’s prized Cricut cartridge?

Where is all the toilet paper going?

Has anyone seen my driving gloves?

I also have a category of Generally Inscrutable Events:

Who splattered the bathroom mirror with toothpaste?

How did the new colored pencils get so short?

Why are there rocks in your bed?

How can you possibly be hungry when we just ate supper an hour ago?

How did we bring home “Baby Easter Bunny” from the library without my knowledge?

Where did you learn that word?

How do you know how to type and print a document?

What happened to the chocolate chips that were on the pantry shelf?

When did you get so tall?

And last, but not least, there are the Lovely Surprises:

What did I do to deserve a child who loves to sort all those screws and thumbtacks and assorted beads and marbles in the utility drawer?

Who passed on the cleaning gene to the little girl who runs for the vacuum cleaner when the house is a wreck?

How is it that the child who ate all the chocolate is so adorable in his contrition?

Who can resist the mischief-maker who cuts hair, snips sheets, shears stuffed animals, and doles out hugs that nearly crack the ribs?

How can the baby of the crew be so grown up and articulate, yet such a total mush pot who wants to be rocked with her blanket?

How could this life get any more interesting?

EDIT… One final whodunit:

Who published this post before I was done?

Unthankful, adj.: not feeling gratitude

Well, it has been a while! I sat down at least three times to write a Thanksgiving post. It is my favorite holiday, the one with absolutely no controversial pagan underpinnings. 🙂 I love the traditions of turkey and cranberries and family. This year we had our traditional meal almost a week early to include two of my siblings as well as two of my aunts and their husbands.

The actual Thanksgiving Day found me cooking a birthday breakfast and playing Catan with my husband and little boys until I had to stop and cook up some delectables for an early afternoon supper with the aunts. No turkey at all, but such a fun day. Camaraderie with loved ones, good food (possibly the best date pudding ever constructed in Osterburg, if I do say so myself) and good cheer. Do you ever feel like you are so blessed, it isn’t fair? It is easy to list all the cozy things, the smiley things, the kindnesses.

I set myself a challenge, every year, to find the things I am most tempted to grouse about and be thankful for them. The list is both revealing and embarrassing. Also private. But I will give you one example.

A few weeks ago a bunch of us ladies from church were polishing fruit for baskets to distribute to our neighbors. My nurse friend who works nightshift and I were talking about how nightshift just stinks, me from my perspective and her from hers: how the rhythms of normal life get so mixed up, the social life withers and all but dies, etc, etc. Someone else observed, kindly and truthfully, “There are probably worse things.” I suppressed the sudden urge to lob an apple across the room and we dropped the subject.

But it kept coming back to me, “This is your unlikely thing to become thankful for.” Okaaay. I started thinking about it. I write in the evenings when I am alone, after the bedtime drama is over and I don’t have my husband to converse with. Without so much night shift this past year, the blog would probably only have half the posts, or fewer.

Nightshift means much less cooking for me, since “the rhythms get all messed up” and my kids think Ramen noodles are a party. It means long evenings to read stories to the children and play games and having all the pillows and the bed to myself. 🙄  Nightshift is mostly calmer for the nurses and pays a teeny bit more.

It is easier for me to be thankful for nightshift, since my man now has enough time at his job to state his preferences for next year, and he stated his preference to be day light hours. Oh glory! I think I can stay thankful for the month of December, yet.

 “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is

To have a thankless child!”- Shakespeare