Monday, August 21, 2017

Starting Points

Recently a young man was going to stop by to drop off some paperwork for me at the church where our homeschool group meets. He called me and said, “I’m here at the church, but I don’t see you here.” I described which doorway I was waiting in and looked around for him.  He still couldn’t see me. I described the red bus in the parking lot and some other features. He didn’t see them. He asked, “Is the church white brick?” I replied, “No, it’s brown brick.” He responded, “I don’t think we are at the same church.” We clarified the address with each other. We both assured each other that we were at that address, but still could not locate each other. I described the nearby roads and directions again. Those landmarks and road names didn’t make any sense to him from where he was. I asked gently, “Are you sure you are in Oostburg?” He paused, “Let me check my GPS again”. After a minute he confessed, “My GPS took me to a different town, I’ll be there in about 15 minutes.” 

Instantly, it all made sense as to why he couldn’t see what I was seeing. Everything that was clear in front of my eyes couldn’t have been any more obvious, but he couldn’t see them because not only was he at a different church, but he was in a different town! (Ironically with a church at the same address!)  We were both at completely different starting points, everything looked different, and perspectives didn’t make sense.

I’ve been thinking about that experience while reading a new book by Ben Sasse entitled, The Vanishing American Adult. Among other things, he expresses how important it is as a nation to have a shared understanding of our past, our starting point. He argues the importance of having a common cannon of literature that is known and understood by American citizens. He says, “It’s essential we have some common ground, some starting points, for remembering –and debating…Only with some common points of departure can we find room for healthy debate about inherited beliefs and possible alternate futures.” (p223) He goes on to say, “Our National abandonment of a shared set of readings has harmed us not just individually –it has also damaged our community and exacerbated polarization.” (p224)

And I thought of my experience at the church. We couldn’t communicate or have a conversation about what we saw, because we saw completely different things. We didn’t have a common starting point with which we could use to build off of in order to find each other. There was an irreconcilable divide. The other person just didn’t make sense.

Good conversation and debate needs to have a common point of agreement before the division or point of disagreement can enter the conversation. “We all agree on X, but some say (your thesis), while others say (counter-thesis).” Otherwise two sides are arguing blind, with no common understanding or workable idea.

As our culture’s palpable division seems to grow more divisive, let’s remember to try to find a shared starting point. What do we agree on? The American idea of freedom and liberty?  What does that mean? Walk the conversation back until we find that shared starting point.  From there, we can share ideas and disagreements and have a robust conversation. But without a common starting point, nothing seems to make sense. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tractors, Treasures, and Tears

Over this past month, we’ve been working on thinning out our possessions. I was feeling the need for some breathing room in our small house. After seventeen years here, we needed to either move to a bigger house, or we needed to get rid of a bunch of stuff.  While filling boxes with unneeded things, I’ve been reading books on minimalism. The titles are all similar: The Joy of Less, The More of Less, Good-bye Things.  The messages are the same: get rid of your extra stuff so you can focus on the meaningful parts of your life.

I am completely on board with the vision and purpose of thinning belongings to focus our homes and lives on the things that really matter and mean the most to us. And while I’m working hard to lighten the load in our home and say good-bye to the unneeded stuff around us, letting go doesn’t come without a struggle.

A few weeks ago we were cleaning out the garage and pulled out the big green tractor that Caleb spent years driving around the yard. The kids have all outgrown it and it takes up costly real-estate in the garage. Reluctantly, I dropped it off at The Salvation Army.  The next day while driving home from the grocery store, I was unexpectedly feeling weighted down with sadness and began crying. I knew that I was grieving the loss of that green tractor.

I loved that tractor. I loved how Caleb spent hours backing it up into small parking spaces he created in the back yard. I loved how the boys rode it up and down the sidewalk with our neighbors: parading, laughing, living fully alive. I loved how nieces and nephews sat on it while we had backyard family picnics.

I knew I was crying about the tractor, but at the same time I knew it wasn’t really about the tractor. It was about the season of life that has faded from our home. My boys are not little kids anymore. Our neighbors have moved. Our family has moved. Our backyard has changed. Our activities have changed. We need room in the garage for our new kayaks. There are good things to look forward to. But while we look ahead, there is a grief in saying goodbye to the past.

It’s easier to just stack new stuff on top of old stuff. It’s easier to shove sweaters further back in the closet. It’s easier to stack boxes higher in the basement.  In contrast, it takes emotional and mental effort to make decisions about letting go, to ask myself what I most value, to be honest about what seasons of life have come to a close. Tightly clenched fingers will eventually get pried painfully off of grasps on treasures, whether it's an old green tractor, or a season of life.   

This month of letting go has been good and hard. A joy and a pain. Exciting and daunting.
Letting go is hard, but it feels freeing, and focused, and full of what's important. 
I'm trying to hold my hands open. We'll see what they find. 

“Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value 
and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.” 
Joshua Becker

“Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.” 
The Minimalists 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Everyday Distraction

It was Saturday and I had a precious morning free. I eagerly gathered my cup of coffee, a cozy blanket, and a book and cuddled into the corner of the couch with a happy sigh. 

I was envisioning a quiet, calm, undistracted time to finish reading my book about *ahem* the value of the ordinary and routine. 

The dog jumped up next to me.  Adjustments made.
My husband sat beside me and began chatting. I looked up from my book.
From the other corner of the room, the boys began to get rowdy and one was tossed to the ground. I couldn’t concentrate.


More noise, distraction, interruptions. I couldn’t make it through a page.
“Mom, can I…?”
“Mom, should we….?”
“Mom, can you tell him to…?”

I put my book down and looked up at the innocent faces surrounding me. I asked this question: “Do you all agree that this is not a time when I can read my book? Should I just put my book away?”
They all deciphered my questions to mean that I would really like some quiet time.
They quieted down.

I turned back to my book and immediately read these timely words:

“I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian [ordinary, commonplace] are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in the serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self.”
The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Woman’s Work”p.70

I read it out loud to Travis.
He laughed; I highlighted it.

Isn't that is the challenging truth of life: Learning to live out holiness must occur in the midst of everyday distractions. 

A spotless kitchen never produces a hearty meal.
A silent home never produces joyful children.
An uninterrupted life never produces sanctification.

That's the value of the everyday distraction. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Well Said

C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”

I’ve often thought that if our house caught on fire, one of the few things I’d want to try to rescue is my notebook of collections of quotes from books that I’ve read. As I weave my way through the endless world of story, many treasured phrases that have struck a deep cord with me have been added to my book. I cherish my collection of quotes. Each one teaches me, encourages me, reminds me. Each one is made of few words, deep insights, and wise lessons.

Over my parenting years, I’ve been reading through the Newbery Award Winners with my boys. Despite settings scattered across the globe and spanning centuries throughout history, the common thread of human experience rings true throughout and between and among these books.  On the canvas of children’s literature, skillful authors artfully paint with words in a way that hearts of any age will recognize and echo.

I love children’s literature. I am passionate about good children’s literature. I believe it to be profoundly important to a child’s developing mind and heart to be inundated with stories full of truth, beauty, and goodness. Not just for children, but for all of us.

Here is a smattering of excerpts from some of our recent family read-alouds. Not all Newbery winners, and not all my favorite books, but when mined, they all revealed hidden nuggets of treasures well said. 

 “But Robin was learning patience. He had found out that the harder it was to do something, the more comfortable he felt after he had done it.” 
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

 “What is hard to understand is how death divides you in two. Something goes and something stays. Perhaps I will understand it better when I grow older, but Uncle Earle says nobody understands it very well.” 
Roller-Skates by Ruth Sawyer

 “Pan Andrew turned away quickly lest they should see that his eyes were moist, for there is such power in kindness well bestowed that it touches the wells of human feeling.” 
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

 “Someday the war will end,” Uncle Henrik said. “All wars do.” 
Number the Stars by Lowis Lowry

 “He saw too plainly in the miller’s broad and honest face the struggle between the pain of sacrifice and the joy of giving.” 

“He had played the part of the oyster. He had taken a piece of grit that was scratching him and made something of it that was comfortable to him and pleasing to someone outside.”
 Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray Vining 

“They were standing a little straighter, and working a little more smartly. It did things to a man, Nat thought, to find out he had a brain.”
Carry on, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham

“Peter did not feel very brave; indeed he felt he was going to be sick. But that made no difference to what he needed to do.”
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

“’Oh!’ Gasped the Baron, in a strangled voice, “my little child!” And therewith he broke down, and his whole body shook with fierce, dry sobs; for men in those days did not seek to hide their grief as they do now, but were fierce and strong in the expression of that as of all else.”
Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle

“She had failed. Strange sensations tickled her throat, but she did not cry, for she did not know how, and a heavy weight sat in her chest, but she did not moan or wail, for she had never learned to give voice to what was inside her. She knew only to run away.”

“I need an apprentice who can do what I tell her, take what I give her, who can try and risk and fail and try again and not give up. Babies don’t stop their borning because the midwife gives up.”
 The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman

“What the heart hungers for, the tongue talks of.”
Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger

“The young boy could not understand the message, not yet. But he could hold it in his heart to make him brave.”
Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

“And because the rain came so patient and slow at first, and built up strength as the earth remembered how to yield, instead of washing off, the water slid in, into the dying ground and softened its stubborn pride, and eased it back toward life.”

“And I know now that all the time I was trying to get out of the dust the fact is, what I am, I am because of the dust. And what I am is good enough. Even for me.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse 

“The dark ain’t so bad if you know what’s in it.” 
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleichman 

“But work on the farm had to go on although armies faltered and leaders fell in disgrace.”
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Friday, February 24, 2017

Happiness Is...

Written by my sons
Ethan (13), Caleb (12), and Justin (8)

Happiness Is...
Feeling a cool breeze on a hot day
Soda flavored jelly beans
Getting a card in the mail
Drawing inventions
Watching a good move
Having surprises
Being outside on a cool summer’s eve
Telling a joke
Swimming in water
Having a pet dog
Drinking soda
Loving family
Having a fire
Doing your first flip on the trampoline
Talking with friends and cousins
Building a new Lego set
Finishing a project
A good climbing tree
Climbing a tree or climbing wall
Playing soldiers
Going to the cabin
Seeing new places
Reading a good book
Going to the park
Holding a sword with dress-up on
Eating a chocolate shake
Having a cold pillow
Ice cream on a hot day
Swimming at the beach
Going to church
Fun cousins
Snow and sun (at the same time)
Petting Samwise
Having lights
Dressing up
Painting a picture
Writing a book
A warm fire
Playing with friends
Chineese food
Walking in the mud
Falling asleep fast
Free time
Staying up late
Laying on the floor
Going out to eat
Christmas decorations
Going to the movie theater
Petting the dog
Seeing friends after a long time
Air conditioning in the summer
Looking at pictures
Getting a new belt in Tae Kwon Do
Staying up late sword-fighting
Digging a hole
Playing Axis and Allies with brothers
Having friends
Having a birthday
Playing in the mud
Jumping on the trampoline
Walking barefoot outside
Having cousins come over
Smelling a garden

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Use Your Words"

I have a son who likes to use his elbow to communicate to his brothers that they have trespassed into his personal space. Instead of expressing a humble or polite “excuse me,” his deftly angled elbow communicates for him that a perpetrator is in his way. I’ve repeatedly reminded him, “Use your words.”

Recently, I was helping another son with his math. When I asked him to explain why he worked a problem in a particular way, he couldn’t articulate it to me. He gave explanations like, “I dunno.” or “It’s what I did before.” or “It just seems like I should.”  I kept prodding him to try to describe his thought process to show comprehension. I urged, “Use your words!”

As for myself, I’ve taken on a new challenge: to never say someone, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me!” or “Words can’t express how grateful I am!” I feel like that is as much of a cop-out as the two previous examples of my sons not using their words. In this case, I need to remind myself: “Use your words!”

Why, when we want to express gratitude to someone, do we so often respond with a dull, “I can’t even tell you how much that means to me”? Sometimes we tweak it by saying, “Words can’t express how grateful I am.” Really? We are accusing words of being ineffective communicators? What would Shakespeare say to that? Could his cup of words work adequately for him in expressing his thoughts?

This conviction has been solidifying in my mind for a while, so now when I hear these comments made, I want to plead with the other person, “Try!” “Please just try to use your words to express what’s inside of you!” I want to know you! I want to know what’s in your heart and how you feel about things.

It’s a bit risky and vulnerable to choose and verbalize words that describe what we are feeling. It also takes some time because we have to actually stop to ponder what the gift or action does mean to us. But words and languages are gifts! Let’s unwrap them, use them, and share them with others.  Friendships are so blessed when we use words to express how we feel. (I think of Anne Shirley as the queen of expressing her gratitude!)  A couple well thought-out sentences are often enough to clearly and deeply tell a friend how she has blessed me. I want to continue to challenge myself:  “Use your words!”

So whether we are communicating to brothers, explaining math computations, or thanking a friend, the exhortation will continue to ring in our home: “Use your words!”  

“All words are pegs to hang ideas on.”
~Henry Ward Beecher
“The limits of my language are the limits of my mind.”
~Ludwig Wittgenstein


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Of Soldiers, Midshipmen, and Padawans

Lately I keep thinking of this scene from Master and Commander:

I am drawn to little Blakeney, a thirteen year old midshipman sitting around the table with older men, and I see his eager eyes looking around and learning how to become a man in his circle.  

How do we teach our boys to become men?

In this scene, this young boy is being invited into manhood by being drawn into the adult circle, allowing his young voice be filled and surrounded with the deep voices of age and experience. Echoing, harmonizing, resonating. Together. In relationship and comradery with older men.

Ethan turned 13 this past March. On his birthday we had a casual ceremony of calling him into manhood. Travis and I each spoke to him about becoming a man and recognized the ways that God has gifted him to be a blessing to this world. Then we gave him a chain with Joshua 1:9 written on it.  Finally, we gathered around him along with other family members and prayed for him. Ethan took those moments seriously and I can tell he wants to wear the role of manhood responsibly.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about manhood… When does a boy become a man? How does that process evolve? When does the “becoming” transition into “became”? How does society at large look at boys and men? What are their expectations, duties, roles?

I don’t yet see Ethan now, as a 13 year old, as a man. But at the same time, I don’t see him as a child, either. And labeling someone as a "tween" or "teen" seems to be a paltry attempt to define that age range, carrying more negative baggage of irresponsibility and rebellion than a phase of growing into a responsible, godly man.

I’ve been thinking of these "becoming" years like boot camp:  A soldier has taken on a new identity by entering the military, but isn’t yet ready to be given the full duties and responsibilities of that role. There is still training that is needed.

Or, as in this video clip, it’s like being a midshipman. Young Blakeney was on the ship, dedicated to his role and crew, with a vision towards leadership, but still learning and under the command of his superior officers.

 Or (As a mom of boys, I have to go to Star Wars), we could call him a Padawan: a Jedi in training -being apprenticed to becoming a Jedi Knight.

In all three cases, the focus and purpose of that time period is training, preparation, apprenticeship. There is an expectation that this time frame is for the specific purpose of becoming, maturing, and learning.

Contrary to what way too many t-shirts in the boys’ section of any clothing store imply, these years are not years for screwing around, shirking responsibility, avoiding work, and squeaking out an education with the least amount of effort possible.

It's the role of parents and other adults to call this age into adulthood. Fathers and men need to invite our boys around the table and let their voices mingle and join together -so they hear, and feel, and see what it looks like. We need to call manhood out of them. Give them a vision for it.  
My oldest son will be a man in the eyes of the law in five short years.
I want him to embrace manhood at or before that point, knowing what a real man is. Not by our society’s questionable standards, but by God’s standards:

Reject passivity.   
Expect God’s greater reward.
Accept responsibility
Lead courageously.

How is manhood being represented in our circles?
Eager, inquisitive eyes are watching.


Monday, July 11, 2016

"And I'm Coming with You!"

Travis and the boys had been longing for a dog. I, however, have had the firm “no” foot planted solidly in the midst of their yearning, thwarting all hope for them.  This past year I felt a quiet gnawing in my heart: How can I keep my husband and my sons from having a pet that they all long for? I’ve read too many books to the kids about the precious relationship between a boy and his dog. It almost seems like a rite of passage, a completion of the childhood experience for a child to have a dog.
I couldn’t shake it. All December I was at war with myself. I had my list of why I didn’t want a dog… a good, logical, practical list of why we shouldn’t get a dog. Still my heart tugged. My husband is a grown man; shouldn’t he be able to have a dog if he desired one? Was that such an unreasonable request? He didn’t pester me about it, but I knew his heart.
Finally, I surrendered my internal war. I laid down that mental list of practicality and turned to focus on the joy a dog would bring to my family. For Christmas I gave Travis a stuffed animal dog with a tag that read: “Make me real!”
Then over the New Year, as has been our tradition for the last few years, Travis and I watched the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s our New Year’s inspiration to embrace courage, press on with endurance, and battle bravely. During our annual viewing, there was a particular scene that grabbed me.
Samwise Gamgee. The faithful friend. The constant companion. Loyal. Unwilling to give up and turn back.
I thought to myself: If we get a dog, we should name him Samwise.
The next day I shared the idea with Ethan. He hasn’t seen the movie, but he’s an avid fan of the books. He liked the idea, too. Later, we shared the idea with Travis. He also approved of the name choice.
There. We had a name, but no dog. Yet.
Much sooner than I ever expected, within a few weeks after Christmas, we welcomed home a dog. A friend called and asked if we would be willing to give him a home. We did.
Meet Samwise:
All the things I had on my list of why we shouldn't get a dog are still real challenges that come with owning a dog.  We have hollered at him and chased him. We’ve cleaned up many messes. He’s chewed on most of my pens.  He eats Kleenex. He tracks mud into the house and barks at visitors. He sucks on my nephew’s pacifiers.
But he has won our hearts.  Even (especially) mine. It feels cliché to say it, but for me it’s a new realization: All the joy and love he gives us is worth far more than the trouble and inconveniences he causes.
We are glad you are journeying with us, Samwise. Come on along.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Grace Period

Summer was hardly out of the gates before I heard it: “MOM!” The shriek came running through the house to find me on the front sidewalk, chatting with a neighbor.  Through the sobs of pain and fear, Justin explained that he had hurt his arm by jumping off the trampoline and landing on the ground with his outstretched arm. I guided him to the living room couch and quickly realized that there was probably a fracture hiding in his arm, screaming to be noticed.

A trip to the pediatrician, x-rays, a broken elbow, a longer trip to a pediatric orthopedic specialist, conscious sedation, elbow reduction, more x-rays, a red popsicle... He was a trooper. In my self-conscious attempt to not look like a negligent mom, I explained to the numerous staff that asked that Justin reported he had unzipped the safety net and launched himself out onto the ground as a dismount (I had been the hesitant one about buying the trampoline in the first place!)

Justin needed only three weeks in his cast. When the cast was removed, we were told that if he didn’t have full range of motion back in three weeks, to return and they would assess if he required physical therapy.

Week one: stiffness in elbow. Little movement. He wouldn’t even use that arm (dominant right). He held his arm limply, unused at his side as if it were still in a cast. I began to remind him to try to use that arm.

I began to see imagery in how he wasn’t using his arm. His arm was healed and set free, but he left it hanging unused at his side as if it were still bound in a cast.  What a symbolic picture for of lives, I mused. I asked the Lord to teach me more through this experience. In what ways in my life have I been healed and set free, yet I still live like I’m in bondage?

Week two: Still not using that arm. He began insisting, “I never ate with my right hand.” I worked with him on some gentle stretches, massaging the muscles and tendons, trying to urge and coax them out of hiding and back to comfortable use and movement again. I began to get nervous. He isn’t using his arm! He can hardly straighten and bend it! I was growing suspicious that something was wrong. The doctor sounded so confident that he would get full movement back. Why wasn’t he using it? “Justin, you have to use that arm!” I sounded anxious and edgy.

Week three: Suddenly, on Monday his arm straightened. He could bend his elbow and touch his shoulder. He was doing great. Movement was back. No problems. No worries. The doctor was right. Justin did get full range of motion back. It just took three weeks. The doctor knew how long of a grace period to give for the motion to be restored.  I was feeling anxious by week one and two that something wasn’t right. He just needed time. He needed a grace period.

Ah! That was the lesson the Lord wanted to show me. Grace periods. We all need them. God gives us beautiful grace periods. Isn’t our whole life one giant grace period?  He doesn’t freak out and get fretful if I’m not getting “normal range of motion” back in my life after an emotional, spiritual, relational wound or upheaval. There is proper time to recover and heal, and rushing the process only causes anxiety and worry. The Lord gives gentle beckoning, urging, but never fretful barking. I need to understand grace periods for myself, but also for my children. Full growth isn't achieved overnight. Maturity isn’t simply reached after one “eloquent sermon” from mom! Grace. Grace. Grace.

Justin’s arm took under three weeks, other things will take years. Some things will take 18 years, and beyond. I’m pushing 40, aren’t I still in God’s grace period for some of those stubborn things?

I’m thankful for grace periods.

Grace. Period.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Worn-Out Jeans' Knees

“Ethan, are those the jeans you wore while mowing the grass yesterday?”  We were standing in the hallway at church after the service. I had just noticed the cuffs of his jeans carried a green hue. He looked down, and then sheepishly acknowledged, “Yeah, I forgot about that.” 

We are not the picture-perfect church family that sports sharp-looking matching outfits on Sunday morning –or even close to it. We’re doing pretty well if everyone is wearing clean clothes. We are more of a worn-out-jeans’-knees kind of family.

With three boys, I feel like their new clothes instantly turn into dirty, worn-out clothes. How do I keep our clothes, our home, and our life fresh and clean? The freshly washed floor is covered in muddy foot and paw prints. The living room windows are constantly adorned with finger and nose smudges.  Dirty faces, dirty dishes, dirty clothes… Life’s messiness never stops.

I was so crabby with my kids yesterday. I’m not the mom I wish I was.  I get impatient. I have unattractive worn-out places. I can get ugly. I’m a worn-out-jeans’-knees kind of mom. 

My kids argue. They whine. Their behavior can get obnoxious. And all too often, I see myself in them. I have raised some worn-out-jeans'-knees kinds of kids.

Jeans. I love wearing jeans. When I find a pair that fit well, I buy a couple and squeeze as many years out of them as I can. Eventually the knees wear out and begin to rip, and sadly I have to part with them. Ironically, worn-out jeans’ knees are a sign of a good fit. A comfortable fit. A favorite choice.

Those worn-out places come from use, from wear, from friction… those things that indicate action, working, living, stretching, becoming.  

Can I be thankful for a family that has worn-out places, thin places, ripping-apart-at-the-knees kind of places?

Can I realize that those places are meant for Jesus to shine through?

“We are not meant to be God’s perfect, bright-shining examples,
but to be seen as the everyday essence of ordinary life
exhibiting the miracle of His grace.”
~Oswald Chambers

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Shaken Loose

Years ago I listened to John Piper speak about hearts being prepared for missions. He described how, like a plant in soil, a person’s heart begins to shake loose from his or her surroundings, life, relationships -the things in our lives that keep us planted and rooted in the life we’ve been engaged with and attached to. I’ve always remembered that image of a plant being shaken loose from the surrounding soil as the Lord prepares that heart for a transplant.

I’ve walked with my sister and a dear friend who, both in the last couple of years, have been shaken loose and transplanted in overseas missions. I heard them process and describe those feelings of loosening that came before the move.

Now recently I feel a strange feeling. It’s not that I’m being shaken loose for a transplant, but I feel like a lone plant left hanging in midair as all the surrounding soil and plants have been shaken and removed from around me.

Over the past three years, many of my dearest and closest friendships have been uprooted and transplanted.  While thinking about it, I’ve realized that there isn’t a realm of my life that hasn’t been shaken loose from the loss of relationship: family, neighbors, church community, friends, and my homeschool community. In adding to the difficulty, most of those families included my sons’ closest friendships as well. The losses have been adding up and I’m beginning to wonder what is going on around me, wondering what the Lord is doing.

I like being rooted. I like stability. I like predictability. I’m perfectly happy to have the same house, with the same friends and neighbors for years on end. I didn’t go looking for change. But change came looking for me.

In this past year, I’ve spent the majority of my friendship time typing on my laptop. While grateful for the ability to communicate across the miles, I also ache for the face-to-face conversations, the hugs, the tears that turn to laughter through the blessing of empathy. A deeply meaningful part of relationships is lost when reduced to typeface.  

So now my roots are dangling and grasping in the air, reaching for the soil of friendship that is out of reach. Recently I was listening to “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables, and I found myself tearfully relating to it, while not through loss by death, but through the loss of togetherness, camaraderie, and belonging.

So what does it mean when I’m still firmly rooted in my one place, but those around me have been shaken loose? I’m still in my same spot, but it’s not the same spot. The landscape around me has changed. I imagine a home on beautiful hill which has been swept away by a landslide. The house remains on its foundation, but it is now surrounded by mud and barrenness.

I’ve pondered the realities of seasons, of temporariness, of the ephemeral nature of this life. I long for the promise of heaven where good-byes will be done away with, where our relationships will not involve tearing apart and losses.  

At the same time, I echo the words of Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying good-bye so hard”.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Our Tale of Three Trees

In the last two years, we have hauled three Christmas trees into our living room. The math on that seems odd, eh?

As with all unusual situations, there is a story involved. While Travis and I were laughing about it recently, Travis recognized how those trees represent so much more in our lives.

Last year, we bought a tree (in the dark) which appeared to be well shaped. As is often the case, when we brought it home Travis had to cut off a branch at the bottom in order to fit it into the tree stand. But much to our dismay, the seeming innocuous branch was actually malignantly twisted up and around the side of the tree in such a way that when it was removed, there was an enormously gaping wide hole in the middle of our tree! It was hideous and there was no way to salvage what was left. The boys commandeered it and it became a winter fort in the backyard.

In came tree number two.  A hurriedly purchased tree from a picked-over lot left us with a festive tree that was entirely too big for the space we had available. It was obnoxiously rotund, with wild branches sticking out all over. Although it seemed like bigger should mean better and more celebratory, it actually became an overpowering hindrance.
This year’s tree has been absolutely perfect. The size feels just right and the shape is beautiful. It’s been such a joy to admire the way it graces our family’s home.

Travis and I were talking about some family traditions that we’ve been building into our Christmas season over the years, and we both agreed that having a few meaningful traditions to expect and enjoy together feels calming, secure, and unifying. While looking at our tree, Travis said, “You know, our different trees represent Christmas traditions and expectations.” We were suddenly flooded with ideas of how the three trees were a perfect metaphor for so much holiday pain, stress, and joy.

Our first tree, ugly and deformed, was completely incapable of being a part of our family’s celebration. Unfortunately, Christmastime can be a catalyst for drawing out the worst in families.  Painful memories can be triggered and emotions can run high. Accommodating two families’ traditions or expectations can be brutally difficult. Some years the pain, emotions, and frustrations can reign and the ugliness becomes overpowering.  A "bah-humbug" heart or emotional woundedness can leave gaping holes in our holiday landscapes. We have a year or two in our history where that was the case. It felt like Christmas was just something we had to survive. 

On to the next tree: huge, unwieldly, over powering. The comparison is so obviously our over-commercialized culture, all the exciting party opportunities, so many charitable ways to show love and good-will, high expectations, guilt… The huge tree is calling from the corner of the room: “Do more, buy more, expect more, give more…” It’s exhausting, overwhelming, and completely misses the point of celebrating our Savior’s birth. I’m sorry to say that I think we’ve had some years like this, as well.

Finally, our current Mary Poppins tree: “Practically perfect in every way”. It is appropriate in size and gives a feeling of joy, beauty, and peace. It is enhancing rather than distracting.  We feel like this year we have settled into a few traditions that our family knows, expects, and is comforted by. Other events can come or go, but as we hit our family’s special moments and grow together, we feel bonded, enriched, peaceful, and able to focus on the joy of celebrating that a Rescuer has come. Being far from perfect, we feel all the more blessed in our time of Advent.

Our Tale of Three Trees reminds us of some of our worst of times, and some of our best of times.

How aptly Charles Dickens’ words seem to encompass the many approaches taken with the Christmas season:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”