Finding the Courage to Hope

Pulling all the totes down from the attic, the three boxes holding artificial trees, I mindlessly began my task of decorating for the season. Normally music fills the air as I transform my home into a welcoming place for Santa, a reminder of the birth of our Savior, yet on this day, I lugged, I hauled, I assembled and then stopped. The totes sat, the garland left hanging out, ornaments, with hooks ready left neglected. It took me three days to finish what I usually do in a number of hours. Finally I closed the totes with much left inside and hauled them back upstairs. As if I were doing laundry or mopping the floors, my mind was not on my work, my heart was elsewhere. Then yesterday, the first Sunday of advent happened and my attention was snapped back to the point of it all.

I watched the most courageous woman I know lead her granddaughters up to the altar to light the first candle of the season, to tell the story of hope. She shared of another advent season when her heart was shattered, her hope was buried with her murdered son. Yet on this day she was standing before us, lighting the candle of faith of things to come, with the children of her children, reminding us that hope comes not of the events of this world but the life of the babe born thousands of years ago. She believes, she gets up each day and she keeps breathing. How can I wallow with such an example?

My soul has been bruised and battered and dented and banged up these last few years, the pain of estrangement and then the horror of a the election, hearing the voice of an admitted abuser played daily on the news, today he endorsed another of his kind to win the Alabama senate seat. My hope has grown so dim, lost in the shadows of twitter rants and more and more men I once respected being uncovered as harasses of women. As if the loss of my children wasn’t enough, I now find the loss of my country looming, even escapism of television or movies or NPR is no longer a refuge, I can’t find a safe place for retreat. Then comes a lesson in hope.

Hope is not in the now, not right this minute relief, not an Ambien or a bottle of wine or a really good book to forget the pain. Hope is seeing through the trauma and the chaos to what is coming, trusting that what is going will be joy and peace and love. That is a pretty big leap, one for fools, I think. Fools who believe that the Christmas decorations are more than the red suited guy, more than the maxed-out credit cards, more than the elf who visits my Plum. Hope is listening to the story of a pregnant woman and her husband traveling to a far land to be counted, to determine the taxes, to find they had no place to safely give birth to God. I remember being in labor with Stella, telling the nurse to make it stop, the pain was too much, I wanted to go home and forget the whole thing. Then it was time to push and they told me to stop, to wait for the doctor. Yet there was no stopping, she was coming, it was time. Can you stop a freight train as it is rushing towards you? So she came into the world and the doctor barely caught her. God came into our world with this timing as well, as if to show us we cannot stop His presence, we cannot determine His timing. That is where the hope begins, in that moment of His showing up in unexpected places, in all the wrong times for us, those inconvenient and pain filled moments when we are least prepared and cleaned up and wearing our best clothes to meet our Savior. No, I think God brought us hope in the that baby in a smelly stall to two people who were sweaty and hungry and exhausted, terrified and alone.

My Christmas tress are lit, the bulbs reflecting light around the room. I know now that each sparkle is meant to cast out distrust, to illuminate the promise of what is coming. I have been reminded of hope, what began thousands of years ago. As I sit with my coffee and gaze at the trees, I am thanking my friend for her story and my God for showing up in my rubble and my mess. My hopes and dreams won’t be fulfilled anytime I soon, I suspect, but we are playing the long game here. Looking both back and ahead, we can find what was breaking through the shadows all along, Jesus was born in fulfillment of the scriptures and that is enough for today.

 Sparkle

Runaway Legos and Packs of Gum

The tiny yellow Lego kept rolling off the table as we sorted the newest set he received for his birthday into colors, preparing to build. I generally am given the sorting task while he supervises, he checks my work for errors with a running commentary on my inability to see the difference between dark gray and black, the fact that I often choose to make an “all the rest” pile which he corrects for me, and his delight in a particularly interesting piece. He surveys the blocks like all the presents under a Christmas tree, taking in the joy of bright colors and multiple shapes, knowing everything there was waiting just for him. Yet this one piece kept escaping the pile, I was distracted and didn’t lay it flat. As it landed on the floor after many near misses, I remarked that this one piece was trying to get away from us. My Plum asked why, why is it trying to escape? I think it doesn’t want to connect with any other pieces, it just wants to be free, I replied as I moved another red piece into the corresponding pile. “Oh, yeah, I get that,” he told me. “We all feel that way sometimes.”

My joy bringer hands me snippets of wisdom at least as often as I offer him the opportunity to brush his teeth. Neither of us are particularly grateful for these gifts when we get them but maybe we both know they are in our long term best interests. While I am convinced that he is a genius guru joy bringer, the truth is probably that most children have words of wisdom to share, if only we listen to them. The beauty of a grandparent relationship with a child is we have the time, we can take the time, we can hear the snippets and remember to record them. I know my own children were quite verbal about feelings and were astute in ways of the world, surely they shared their views with me and I should have recorded them. Yet dishes and work and laundry and the other sibling and stress and stress and stress caused me to hurry and rush and miss what they could offer. Certainly I sought to atone for being gone during their early years, I listened attentively and cared deeply. Still, I was mom. When we are blessed, our true adoration comes from our grandparents. I know I am atoning with Plum for all the missed chances with Arrow and Stella. Yet ours isn’t a clear “grand” relationship either. Chef and I have stepped in far too often as parents, our roles with this child are cemented by age 7, he knows we are important caregivers in his life, we are his safe place. He can connect and still wish to roll away from some places in his life. I get it.

Accepting his wisdom does not mean I forget that he is still a child and needs us to help shape his character, to enforce rules and structure and consequences. His heart is so sweet and pure that when he strays into the dark side, my reaction is swift. I respond with immediacy and hopefully most often, natural consequences. During his birthday party, an overwhelming affair for anyone but certainly a boy who really just wanted to get to the present part and then the playing with the present part, sitting through a game of unwrap a ball of saran wrap looked tedious and horrible and mostly like torture. He chose not to play, instead he watched as his friends took turns unwrapping little toys or packages of gum.  Later as friends were leaving, one little girl couldn’t find her treat bag, which contained her circle of gum “tape,” a top prize. We searched but couldn’t find it so hurriedly created a new treat bag and wondered if someone picked hers up accidentally. This little girl is a neighbor to Plum at mama’s, a child who looks out for him, runs to get mama when he falls and gets a scrape, has a problem on the bus, needs his shoes tied. I felt horrible that this child especially had lost her prizes.

The next day, her equivalent in our own neighborhood, A, came to play with Plum. As they ran about the ever less haunted house while Chef and I dismantled it, A said she had something she had to tell, that Plum had done something bad at his party. He watched her share his secret, that he had hidden the other little girls bag, he wanted that gum. Plum and I moved upstairs to talk, after we supported A for telling the truth and following her conscience. My first question to Plum, did you know that was wrong? Everything that came after was merely faulty judgement, impulsive desires, selfishness overruling his heart, take your pick. We wondered if God had any rules about taking what isn’t ours, if we have been given any pathway to correct our mistakes, and finally if once we atone, we are meant to live in shame. He decided he needed to use his piggy bank money and buy new gum for his friend. We emptied out his pennies, took them to the bank inside the grocery store and the good folks there helped him count out what he needed. He selected the gum, rang it up, put his money inside the machine, bagged his gum and walked out with a lighter heart. That my sweet, I told him, is getting right with God. His friend hugged him as he delivered her gum, he ran to tell me how happy she was. He was clearly happier as well.

My Plum turned 7 this week and I know he will have ever more opportunities to bring me joy and share his wisdom. I know more and more though that our chances to cement his character, to have the foundation laid that will carry him into a safe and healthy future, those days are waning. We know that he will choose to be free of his connections someday, that he will test out his boundaries and push the rules. I feel the importance of each and every moment now, the inability to let something slide. This child is absolutely too precious to risk. That is my own atonement. For now, we are building Lego sets, we are giggling at runaway pieces, we are delighting in his friends who support his good choices as well, we are loving on this child who every day, brings us joy.

 

 

We Forgot To Limp

Plum stubbed his toe this weekend, not the terrible first stubbing of spring that draws blood on tender flesh cushioned for months under socks and slippers and boots, but really more of a bumping of his little foot against the cement porch, a foot that has spent the entire summer roughening on the gravel road alongside our home. A closer inspection showed not a single drop of blood, not a tear in his skin, no mark of the injury that he felt. Hours of barefoot play in the summer sun and the steadfast refusal to keep shoes on brought about a tough exterior, one that belied the pain he was experiencing. We have extra bandaids for just such an injury, one that is more inside than out. He asked me how one limps, such was his determination in milking this event as well as the disappointment that nothing outward pointed to the level of pain he was knew. I showed him and he managed a limp for all of two steps before he was distracted and the pain receded. I understood his concern, though, I had worn my own bandaids all weekend.

Our church moved 10 years ago to a brand new building, one that fit the dreams we all shared for more ministry options. This weekend was the celebration of that move and our 3 services would be combined into one but our church couldn’t hold us all at one time, thus the high school just down the road was chosen to be our worship site. The auditorium and cafeteria were large enough for us all, a perfect choice. Except that building held memories of my children, of Stella’s art exhibits, of decorating their lockers every year for their birthdays, of graduation ceremonies as I watched them cross the stage and look to their future. I walked those hallways as I registered them for classes each year and bought new sweatshirts and yearbooks, I met with teachers their for conferences. This was their high school, the place I drove Stella to early each morning when she missed the bus and picked them both up to drive to orthodontist appointments.  This building held memories that I had ignored. Yet walking though with Plum, I began to mentally limp, I felt the injury and knew no one could see me bleeding. Then it happened, I was distracted. Plum wanted to explore the stage, a friend tripped and fell, the food was plentiful and the friends were all around, I forgot that I had stubbed some memories. As we left the event, I realized I had survived without real damage to my psyche. Now in thinking about the school, I would also remember singing praise songs and would always consider that the students who sit in those chairs for assemblies will be covered in the prayers of our congregation.

Later Chef and I attended a wedding of a young woman from church, a woman who oozes grace and light. She sings with our praise team and sends me notes that lift me at exactly the moments I think I am sinking, she lives out faith actively. Chef and I had not been to a wedding since the civil ceremony of our daughter, the estrangement occurred one month after that and we were not invited to her actual wedding, the one with the dress and cake and music. I knew this would be a stubbing crashing smashing of memories, a bashing of hopes and dreams but I so respect this young woman we couldn’t not go. Bandaiding my heart, we entered the event hall and found that many other friends from church were there as well, we sat with some who kept us occupied and laughing and covered with joy such that we forgot to limp, we forgot to check for bleeding. This wedding was the perfect one to ease us back into life, to invite us to participate in joy and distract us from our pain.

I know it would be safer to avoid the gravel, to always wear shoes, to stay away from places that trigger memories that will break through to my bruised soul. Yet I am not called to be safe and protected, to hide and to be cushioned. I am asked to rely on the strength of God, who will guide me and keep me from harm. Running away rom those events that might possibly touch on my sore spots means I would miss the chance to heal ever so slightly, to replace some memories of what hasn’t been with an evening of laughter and new jokes to share and delight with friends instead of nursing wounds on my couch. Paul says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, he doesn’t say we should stop doing the things that might rough us up. Today I trusted in God to protect my soul, and found his grace was indeed sufficient. Step by step, that is how I move ever closer to the light.

 

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

 

(photo credit to http://www.sweetsugarbelle.com/2013/01/that-funky-bandaid-color/ )

 

 

Deeper Breaths as I Inhale Hope

I began smoking again after close to two decades of not on the day of my daughter’s wedding, when my Chef and I along with my brother and sister-in-law were doing a pub crawl to drown our broken hearts at not being invited. I didn’t intend to add that horrible habit back into my list of vices, it just happened as most tumbles off the wagon do, with an offer for one, just to be crazy for the day, to be utterly rebellious, to illustrate just how deeply we devastated we were and maybe to scream at the God we were striving to find, even in our drunkenness. That first cigarette led to another as the day wore on and my sobriety returned. Serenity in the routine, lighting one up, slow deep breaths, as I sat alone, exiled, who wants to sit with a smoker? The habit returned and for a long time, for many many packs of those Kool Blue shorts, I welcomed it as an indicator of my brokenness. Could God find me if I lit this torch in the wilderness, would God seek me out again and bridge the divide between my daughter and I if I was covered in this ash of repentance? I sat alone on my porch day after day, waiting.

The practice of repentance smoking grew with my loneliness and ache. While I didn’t really want to smoke, I didn’t really not want to either. Lost in limbo, unable to garner enough concern to quit, I allowed my routines to become enmeshed with the craving, first thing in the morning with my coffee, after every meal, before bed. Many nights I would rise out of a deep sleep and go outside again, just to smoke and wonder what I could possibly do to change my relationship with Stella as I gazed at the stars she used to identify for me. As I continued to smoke and she didn’t reach out, I accepted the horrid breath and the smoky clothes and the coughing and the harm to my body as penance. I witnessed the disgust in my Chef’s eyes, I listened as he walked away from me, further and further. I accepted my punishment. I imagined scenarios of her returning home and me throwing away the coveted pack of Kool’s, tossing out my lighter. I experienced plenty of alone time to think and imagine as no one wanted to be around me during my puffing sessions, I didn’t want them there either. Fifteen minute retreats into despair spread throughout the day, moments for me to indulge in smoking and sulking.

After two and a half years though, I knew the punishment phase of my grieving had to stop. Just as laying in bed and letting the world continue without me hadn’t brought her back, no amount of nicotine would either. Finally, embracing my health for me, I chose to stop. I am edgy and twitchy and wishing for my vice and yet I am freer. I see the sad woman sitting alone, and I don’t want to be that sad anymore. I see how smoking was a slow suicide, a jumper on the edge of the bridge, begging someone to stop them, give them a reason to live. I recognize I have reasons other than my children, yet being their mom was my core identity. That portion sliced away left me too empty, the space filled up only with deep inhalations of smoke and then each slowed release of my devastation into the air, polluting my body and my surroundings, creating synchronicity.

Still I quit, the latest act of acceptance that I have no impact on this child ever walking across the bridge I have built. Filling my days with all those 15 minute retreats left me shamed and isolated, filling that spare time now is daunting. Attempting to break the habit of missing her, of wondering what I haven’t done that might work, imagining scenarios of her car in front of the house every time I turn the corner, dreaming of running into her at the store, always always  seeking her face, I now have to take deep breaths and recognize that I cannot break that addiction. My craving for relationships to be rebuilt, to be rejoined with those who have walked away, I cannot kick this one. No big cosmic reward for avoiding the gas station, not picking up the spare pack this time, not searching the trash for a butt and feeling that momentary aliveness, even as it escaped my lungs, no now I am left with truth as any addict finds, that my problems are still my problems, just without the high to carry me through.

My Plum was ecstatic, the few friends that I have told grew tearful and celebrated with me. Still, I seek something to fill the void, to remind me to take those deep breaths and release my toxins. If smoking was the symbol of the cancer within my relationship, how will anyone know I am in pieces still, that I have not closed this chapter even as I crumpled the last box of cigarettes and tossed them away, that the tumor still resides within my heart? Each burnt offering I lit and consumed, the incense of filth I blew around my altar to a God who is not taking my calls, has blocked me on social media, is too busy with hurricanes to check His voicemail, the ashtray and lighter, my addiction paraphernalia evidence of past sins and secret desperate wishes for a Savior.  I no longer attend the church of self punishment, I don’t tithe my pack a day as the offering plate of an overflowing ashtray sits waiting on the table, but what should I worship now? I gave  up smoking and still no Stella.

I know that my friends and pastors would tell me that God is near, that Jesus is walking this horrible time with me and mostly I know it is true. Maybe I all the way know but I think most days now I don’t want to search for God, I want a miracle. I am out of offerings and apologies, I grow cold and old and wasted as I wait to be rediscovered as worthy by those who have snubbed me out of their worlds like each cigarettes I smoked down to the filter, looking at it with a mix of surprise and disgust that I had allowed that habit to form. My patience has diminished with my lung capacity, I no longer wait in faith, I don’t walk with the assurance of one who is supported by a loving God. I gave God an ultimatum I think, bring her back or I slowly commit suicide. I blinked, I gave in, God doesn’t pay up on debts I create. So God and my daughter stay silent and I have extra time now to not be smoking and alone and still I wait for a sign that I made the right choice.

I quit smoking. I shed a bit more shame and stopped polluting me. Yet even as I discard all evidence of these toxic 2 and a half years, I know that healing will take longer. Damaged bodies and broken spirits must be handled with care, to minimize suffering and reduce further devastation. My soul is seeking a response from my Creator. Maybe once the smoke clears, I will see Him again, will notice that He cries along with me and aches at my brokenness, that He sits in anger at a child who refuses to forgive, who accepts grace but offers none.  I want to see that God but more, I just want Him to save us both from this hell. I believe He can do it, just as I finally trusted that I could get through the day without smoking. I did it, I quit smoking, a stumble of faith. Now I want to hear Him say I chose wisely, to embrace life over death.  I want my daughter to call, text, email, walk over the bridge and give up her addiction to righteousness.  My offer of grace remains, without limits or scorecards. Alone still on the porch, I wait.

And notice the leaves begin to tumble to the earth. And crickets singing as the night disappears. And remember that hope as tiny as the hummingbird that flits around the last blooms of summer still resides within me.

Loosening the Grip on My Wagon of Woes

During the past couple of months while my mind has healed, I will admit to you now that I have engaged in a battle, one made all the more preposterous with my sluggish wits and dwindling energy, like a slow motion wrestling match only on my side.  Still, I have chosen this time either because I have so few other distractions or this time has chosen me because of an unstoppable God who is pursuing me in spite of me, to wrangle with my faith, to note the distance between God and I and to lament my emptiness to the cosmos, with fervor and fever.

My disconnect with God travels back over 50 years if I tell more truth, deep within where a little girl resides, a child who experienced evil at the hands of many and didn’t see the hands of God saving her from any of it. This child like many others who live with early trauma grew up  wondering about the character of the God she hears of each Sunday,. Why doesn’t He love her, what must she do to become worthy? It was and somewhat still is contradictory to believe in God’s love and power and experience childhood sexual abuse. Soul snatchers, these predators who violated not only my body but also forever my ability to feel safe and free, unguarded and natural, welcoming of attention and affection, able to express love outside of tasks performed in a kitchen.

Resting on a borrowed faith that has carried me for most of my adult life, I see and know God as an incredible Creator who loves the ones I love, who has brought forth miracles and intervention for those very people my soul aches for in prayer. Yet, my list of personal needs, such a short little request, surely with a snap of the Holy fingers, I too could be shown the direct love of this God I have followed. Alas, not yet, wait more, “Be still and know even longer that you are not God and come to know who I am really.” I whisper, “Hogwash.” I rant no, not this time, now, right now, I have waited my whole life for you to protect me and my body and now my very heart. But I am not God, I cannot snap my fingers and have it be so. Worn out from another wrestling match, I retire to the couch, head aching and cheeks wet from angry fearful tears. Doesn’t God know this is a test, an opportunity for Him to show that I am loved as well? Doesn’t God know that He owes me, I already sacrificed my body on the cross as a child as the men took turns and He was away, while He left me to cry out alone? Bitter tears travel familiar paths, drip drip drip on my blanket, my space on the couch molding to my body, eyes averted from the window where I might catch sight of birds and butterflies and joy.

I have witnessed others at church proclaim their “God is with me” moments in the midst of great darkness, I gaze upon my void after each hurt and disappointment. Layer upon layer create the pile I drag behind in my memory wagon, never entrusting another fully with the wounds, unable to leave them unattended, my evidence that I am God’s step-child, not fully in the family.  My pastor spoke of leaving the wilderness, transitioning into freedom, what it costs us to do so. This cart I drag? That is my refusal to be set free, my choice to return to bondage where vegetables I slaved for are preferred to the manna that appears daily. What sweet memories I once carried along in my battered wagon, recollections that are now rot like fresh strawberries left on the counter uneaten, mold spreading across the fruit to destroy what was once delicious delightful. No, hurts and disappointments and aches and pains are not meant to be trotted about with such dedication, I have forgotten that others see not my sweet stories and happiness but the oozing dripping ugliness of what was meant to be left behind when I was freed. But I haven’t accepted freedom, I merely lost the chains. A bag lady who dies on the streets covered in filth clutching her worthless treasures while a bank filled with her wealth awaits, I see my reality is distorted by the aches of my soul. In order for her to enter the bank, she would have to leave her cart outside, to trust someone enough with her treasures of old cans and dirty clothes and a torn sleeping bag. We know she has so much more waiting for her, if only she can let go of the junk, we know it is junk, her treasures, and she can buy all new, if she would just let go. Can any of us let go of our junk filled wagons that we drag along where ever we travel, out hurts from childhood,  expectations deeply embedded from a parent, bullying we suffered or participated in, shame and vulnerability, pain-tinged memories that require a hand always reaching back as we hold onto our cart.

Wrestling, wrangling and ranting during my slowwitted season, my inability to respond quickly with arguments, with corresponding evidence, with proof of His lack of care for me, God has stepped in to seize the advantage. This unstoppable God? I saw only the places He was not fulfilling my wishes, I missed how He was speaking in whispers I couldn’t hear like the ringtones the under 30 crowd use because the rest of us can no longer catch that sound, or sending subliminal messages that flash before me and then are masked again so quickly I couldn’t help but miss, yet still I ranted at God “Where are You?” I forgot about the sunflowers and the sun and the flowers and the seeds and the ways in which I see my Creator surrounding me, lifting me, chasing me, awaiting me.

I am a study in God’s patience, evidence of a tender loving Creator who perseveres. This wrestling while my mind is slowed forces me to not quip my way out, emotions find more release, I am stuck seeking a God who surely wishes for me to finally accept freedom and just come home. As a mother who’s heart is broken over the same desire, I think I know that pain. As our praise team sang the words the “Ocean” by Joel Houston / Matt Crocker / Salomon Ligthelm, I felt pulled in by the Holy Spirit, a faith space that was mine, not borrowed from anyone else. A space of tenderness filled with light and grace, with my name inscribed right along with all the others, a message that I am good enough and I am worthy, that I am being drawn away from my wagon into the Promised land of freedom. Just let go and come home.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior (Oceans)

Friends, what are you pulling along with you that no longer looks like a treasure but has become a burden? I’m working on loosening my grip, will you consider doing the same? We are not meant to be slaves begging for our bondage again. What is ahead of us that we could be reaching for if our hands hearts minds were not occupied with our wagons of woes? Let us together call upon His name, for He does know ours.

 

Why We don’t Pee in the Dog Pool

I saw a picture the other day of a vacuum cleaner that was still going strong after 40 years. Hundreds of comments were posted, admiring the beauty of this old machine that  with general maintenance and some loving acceptance of the noise it generates has lasted even with daily use. Many comments noted that memories of visits to grandma’s house include that equipment, nostalgia trips that felt cozy and stable during current unsure times. I was left wondering what future generations will recall of visits to grandma, what will be the lasting impression when our society has accepted the concept of disposability. Our mantra:  broken? buy a new one. New model has arrived? Get in line for the first release. I can see that this is where we lost the ability to offer grace, to be humble people,  to seek forgiveness. We have internalized the disposable ideology to include relationships with spouses, children, employers, most importantly with our Creator.

Babies learn object permanence between 4-7 months old. We are designed to spend, shy of a few months, the entirety of our lives understanding that just because we cannot see something, it still exists. We are created to look for what we know is missing, to seek out what was just in front of us, to search for what we know to be true.  To learn object permanence, stability must exist, same items around the house, the table in the same room every day, constancy of environment. When something breaks and we change up, we are teaching our children that broken means bad and new is better and then wonder why they whine at the store for a toy every time. No we did that, with our new phones and better watches and nicer shoes and fancier cars, with a new toaster and blender and vacuum. What could we teach them and remind ourselves if we leaned into the space of brokenness, if we struggled to fix what has stopped working?

I see broken people all around these days, marchers who are filled with hate and friends who post about hurting with depression, parents who are struggling to pay for school supplies and marriages that are on their last breathes. What if we stuck with each other in that broken place, what would that look like? I know I have worked hard to teach Plum personal responsibility, the old “you break it, you buy it” mentality. Just yesterday he went outside with me in the early morning, straight out of bed, no stopping for a potty break. He loves to pee outside among the bushes. I know, another post, different responsibility. Still, he got some wild idea to pretend he was one of the dogs and go about  the yard marking his territory, leaving his scent. Early morning, secluded yard, cover of darkness, all good until he chose to pee in the dog pool. Yes, that is where I drew the line. The dog wading pool where our beasts go to cool off after many romps across the grass catching the ball, chasing each other or just relax during the heat of the day. HE peed in their pool. When I told him he had to empty and refill the pool, he claimed it was an accident, he said it would be too hard to empty it, he looked for any way to slip out of his responsibility for the wrong doing. No matter, even if it had been unintentional which being half an acre away from the indoor plumbing we have graciously supplied for his bodily needs, several feet away from his normal hiding places in the bushes, the guilt was his. He aimed, he peed, he must fix. “But gran, it is too hard!”  Indeed.

As I watched him pull bucket after bucket from the urine infused water, I knew he wouldn’t do that again. He would not only chose more carefully what to destroy but also appreciate that we show respect for the belongings of others, that we fix what we destroy. Much like when he was attempting to throw tantrums early on, I allowed him to do so in his own room with his toys, encouraging him to break his things which would not be replaced but setting the boundary that tantrums and destruction would not be allowed in common areas. Incredulously, he told me he didn’t want to break HIS things! Of course not, and neither did I want to sacrifice mine. Thus, no tantrums. Patience, persistence comes in that very fixing, the moments or hours devoted to nothing else but concentrating on righting a wrong. Grace meets us in those places, when we are repentant, straining muscles of our own ego, dedicating ourselves to the task of restoration of another, to the parts we broke. Rushing the task like buying a new pool or for me to clean it out for him, speeds us on through our encounter with the Holy Spirit, our opportunity to ask for forgiveness and receive it.

We have broken the backs of our brothers and sisters of color, we have broken boundaries within our marriages, we have allowed children to be hungry and parents to struggle to provide even as they work 40 hours, we have hurt each other. Until we accept responsible and stop shifting blame, looking for wiggle room that eases our conscience and lets us zoom into new relationships without fixing what has been broken within the old ones, we are continuing to miss our own encounters with God. We cannot fast forward to the good parts, we cannot have memories of grandma’s long lasting sweeper if we don’t repair the hose along the way.  Those encounters with grace, those times we have restored what is broken, when we have admitted our own broken selves to another, fessed up to our sins, well, just like anything it gets easier the more you do it. A skill practiced, a habit built. Given my own history, I cannot hide behind false pretenses, say I didn’t do it, it wasn’t me. My sin is out there, yet it makes it even easier to confess more and more when I am wrong, to admit when my own impulses led me to pee in the pool. Further, the gift of grace that I receive so lovingly pushes me to share, I want everyone to feel those sweet moments that come from a cleansed soul, the relief of restoration, coming closer again to God rather than hiding in darkness and shame. Grace is an investment God has made in me, one He urges me to make in others. But first must come confession.

Friends, have you hurt someone? Like a crystal heirloom vase you knocked over as you raced through the day, it cannot be swept under the rug and ignored without cutting someone’s feet. Go get that sweeper, fix the mess, own up to what you have done, make restitution.  It won’t be easy, it may take time away from other fun exciting events, you may have to listen to the vase owner’s hurt and disappointment for longer than you wish. Still, stick with it. Grace will find you right there. The alternative is just more brokenness, more pools filled with pee, more cut feet, more hurting people. Shall we work on restoring, shall we remember to value what we have, can we commit to just a bit less disposing of what really matters? Lets take some tender time with each other and listen as the Holy Spirit guides toward grace. All the best memories reside right in that place.

 

What I Have Learned from the Tooth Fairy

It has been a week since I was forcibly pulled from my routine, slowed from commitments and chores and larger responsibilities to rest my brain from another concussion in only two months, this time after being rear-ended by a bus. I am not healed fully yet, I am still supposed to avoid screens and allow my eyes to look at apparently nothing beyond flowers and butterflies. I hate not being able to read constantly, I hate not being able to write daily. I want my life back, I want my schedule returned, with maybe a few adjustments. Yet the events of the past week have made clear that taking time to see those flowers and smell them as well, to be completely present as my Plum heads into first grade with time to notice all the changes this summer has brought, this time is a gift. Much like the wand that the tooth fairy left him last night, sometimes the best gifts are tiny, filled with magic that I miss. I am often too busy to notice them. More often than not, I need a major shift in my universe to clear my thinking and sharpen my vision.

My Plum has held on to his first loose tooth for many months, avoiding letting go of the inevitable. He was afraid of the pain, freaked out about losing what was clearly part of his body. Even as a new tooth sprouted up behind this wobbly baby tooth, he refused to follow the wise words of all around him, he wouldn’t wiggle it. He chose to eat around it, then began to choose soft foods to ensure he didn’t bump it. Finally nature prevailed and last night his tooth was hanging on by a literal thread. Reaching for a bit of gauze, I asked once more to feel how loose it was. One tiny tug and out it came. His relief filled the room, he rushed to look in the mirror, a spontaneous hug came my way and the decision was made that I am in charge of extracting all future teeth. As he slept the tooth fairy visited, bringing delightful gifts I had purchased over a year ago from an Etsy shop in preparation. Today he is twirling the wand she left behind and reading his note again and again, glorying in his elevation to “big boy.” I realize as I often do, I can learn from him.

I know I hang on to my own “loose teeth,” those things and people and roles in my life that need to be released, even as new growth is trying to emerge. I am fearful, anxious about the pain, I want to keep it all. My own “row of shark teeth that will ensure braces” and corrective measures later, even greater pain and discomfort, yet tightly I grip. I don’t wiggle and bite hard onto life, I avoid risks. I will never find my own little wand under my pillow, no notes congratulating me on moving forward in life if I stay stuck in what is so evidently not meant to be. My Plum believes I am strong and sure enough to always remove his loose teeth, he doesn’t know how scared I really am to remove what has already separated, what is trying to move away, in my life. What if I gave one good tug and accept that freedom, that relief? Like my best boy,  I recoil at the thought and stick to soft foods and easy choices and wallow in the misery of limbo. Not quite attached, not quite gone.

I fell asleep thinking of all the firsts I have experienced with this child. I bottle broke him, taught him to sleep through the night, potty-trained him. I took him to his first day of preschool (I sat outside the room the entire time, what understanding teachers he had!). So many more, I have lost track, some terrible and some amazing, but still he trusts me when on any precipice, when he is ready to take a big jump, he knows I will catch him if he falls. My love for him is limitless, truly accepting of even his worst days and we have those. What would it feel like to be loved like that? Actually, what would it feel like to trust that love, because I do have it, I merely need to accept it. I have a parent who loves me this deeply, who wishes to help me be free of old ways and long held beliefs that no longer serve me, to be cut loose from bonds that restrict growth and offer the relief of painful grasping onto relationships that no longer fit my life. I have that love, if only I would trust as surely as my Plum trusts me. How does he do it?

Step by step, time and again he has given me opportunities to prove that I will catch him, that I will not fail him. I don’t make promises I cannot keep. I say no when his safety requires, when he needs to rest and when vegetables are a better snack than candy. I stay up late to worry and pray while he sleeps. I don’t tug on loose teeth before they are ready, really really ready to come away. I bring new ideas and experiences into his world, allowing him to choose which he wants to grab as his. I hug him when he wants and needs and scoot further off when he wants some space. I don’t take offense when he vents his anger at me, I know his sweet words of apology will soon follow and that I am his safe place for all his feelings, even the not so pretty ones. Does my God do any less?

I know intellectually this is EXACTLY how my God loves me. All that is missing is my trust. How frustrating it must be, to have proven time and again His faithfulness and still, I resist allowing Him to catch me when I fall. During some rocky months of Plum’s past, when my relationship with him was being undermined, he didn’t trust me. It was awful. It broke my heart. I try not to remember those days, the pain of tiny acts of teaching him again that I am who I am. Yet I stayed true, little by little he let me back in to his own broken heart. God has never wavered, with big promises kept and little whispers of assurance that I can go on when I doubt. He always catches me when I fall which I do often. Rather than wishing for my own magic wand, accepting the love, trusting fully the One who is teaching me to love this child, that seems a better use of my quiet time. Step-by-step, wiggling ever closer, I am truly coming into relationship with God. Just as my patience with Plum knows no limits, fortunately God has given up on me yet.