Friday, September 27, 2013

Morning

I dreamed about my sister last night, or maybe it was this morning.

It happens sometimes. Not as frequently as it did right after she died, but still, occasionally, I will awaken with remnants of her voice or her smile or her laugh still resonating in my mind. And as the dream fades, and wakefulness seeps in, I am always happy that I got to spend time with her, and then I am always sad that it was only a dream.

The first time I dreamed about her was the night that she died. That was really more of a vision, I guess, because I was half awake, and I was standing in her Malaysian hospital room, telling her I loved her and I wished I was with her. And she wasn't laying in her bed, with tubes going into her body and her head shaved from emergency brain surgery. No, she was standing up, and beside her was an angel, and all around her was the presence of the Lord, and I was hugging her and telling her I loved her. And then...then I woke up, and it was 4 in the morning and I couldn't go back to sleep, and I sat in the living room waiting. And then it was 5:30 and my parents were coming into the house, telling me she was gone. And when they told me what time it had been that she died, I realized she had already been up out of that bed, and walking with the Lord, when I had my dream/vision, and I curled up on my couch and cried until I had no more tears. Except that I had more tears...a lot more, for a long time.

Now, more than three years later, when I dream about my sister, Joy, it's usually something funny, or silly, or trivial. We are trying to decide where to go shopping, or what to have for lunch, or we are just sitting around talking. And when I wake up too early, I don't sit and stare at the wall, waiting and hoping and fearing what the morning light will bring.

If you had told me, at 5:30 a.m. on August 18th, 2010, that one day I would dream about her and wake up smiling, I wouldn't have believed you.

Because I woke up in the dark, and even when the sun came up, it still felt dark. And after that, for a long time, it was dark when I woke up, and I opened my eyes already crying, and it seemed that the morning would never come, the sun wouldn't break through, the well of tears was endless.

But this morning, it was 4:45 when my eyes popped open, and I could still hear her laugh resonating in my mind, and I was still gripped with happiness and sadness all at the same time, but...the sun came up.

And I am left breathless. Seriously, gasping for breath, as I realize something altogether unbelievable and awful and shocking and yet such a blessing; the morning has come, and the mourning is fading.

And a part of me wants to crawl back into the night, because I feel closer to her there.

But, this is the way the Lord set it up. The night is dark, and cold, and wet with tears.

But the morning is warm, and dry, and bright with hope, and it always comes.

We can't imagine the light, and the warmth, and the hope, when we are deep in the night. And sometimes night lasts much longer than we think we can live through. And sometimes we want to cling to the night, because it keeps our hearts connected to someone we lost, or something we think we need to hold close.

But the Lord made the morning. He IS the light. He shines hope.

Are you still in the night, the dark, the deep well of tears and pain and hopelessness?

Please believe me when I say...the morning is coming. Hang onto Jesus in the night, because He's there. And when the light breaks in, and you realize that morning is coming, He's still there. You've never been alone, and there is great hope in that knowledge.

"Sing hallelujah, the sun's breaking through,
to take back the dark sky and make everything new.
We knew joy was coming, we just had to wait.
Now we sing hallelujah, for its a brand new day.

So let's sing hallelujah, the dark night is gone.
Creation is singing, so come join in the song.
The Father is calling to come out and play.
So we'll sing hallelujah, its a brand new, beautiful day."

(song lyrics by Steven Curtis Chapman, "Morning Has Broken" song, written a few years after the death of his daughter. Here is a link. Take a minute and watch it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=CXoUX8Ch7uk )

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Frozen in Time

Time stood still yesterday.

Not literally, of course, because I'm not Joshua asking God to make the sun halt in the sky while I defeat all of Israel's enemies.

But you know what I mean, right? A moment where you can hear your heart beating in your ears, and the rest of the world fades to fuzzy, and your brain slows its firing...time stands still.

It started out like a lot of days around here. The boys woke up too early, and I hadn't had enough coffee yet, so I was moving slow.

I made breakfast, set out clothes for the kids to put on, made my bed, brushed my teeth, broke up a fight, cleaned up breakfast dishes, answered a question about something, poured a cup of juice, took a gulp of coffee, muttered a prayer under my breath, found a cartoon for the 3-year-old, and herded the 6, 9, and 11 year old upstairs to start school. All this happened at a normal pace, without a pause in the space-time continuum. (since I don't have a flux capacitor handy)

School was more of the same multi-tasking. Explain the math lesson to the 6th grader, remind the 1st grader how to form the letter 'b,' listen the the 3rd grader reading his book, mark the day on the attendance sheet, break up an argument, sharpen a pencil, take a gulp of coffee, mutter a prayer under my breath, give a spelling quiz, write math problems on the white-board...

After a half hour everyone was started on some seat work, and I decided the cartoon I had started for the 3-year-old had probably ended and I should check on him, so I gave instructions for the other three kids to finish what they were working on and then take a break, and I headed downstairs. In the hall, I picked up three socks laying in the floor (without pausing to wonder where the 4th sock was), then I picked up a shirt (I knew that had come off my 6-year-old's back on his way to the school room, because he is always peeling off his shirt in random places) followed by an apple core (it had certainly been laying there since the day before) and a used and discarded band aid (which could have come off any of my kids, since they all seem to be injured right now.)

I was still holding my random collection of items when I entered my bedroom.

And time stood still.

Because my three-year-old was nowhere to be seen, but the evidence that he had been busy was still present.

Covering my carpet in a random pattern was a lovely shade of bubble-gum pink fingernail polish.

I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I could feel my chest rising and falling. I could smell my brain heating up, I could see the room becoming fuzzy, I could taste the blood from where I was biting my lip.

Moments passed.

(In fairness to Gabe, the carpet really needed some pink. I mean, it already boasts lovely shades of black sharpie, bronze powder, gray eyeshadow, blue juice, and several brown vomit stains from the last round of stomach flue. What it was really missing was some bright pink fingernail polish.)

When time began to move forward again, I realized I had mutilated the apple core, squishing it together with the bloody band aid and squeezing the juice between my fingers. I quickly discarded it in the trash can, added the now empty bottle of nail polish, and tossed the three socks and one shirt in the dirty clothes hamper.

"Kids!" I called. "Get your shoes on, we are going for a walk."

It took a good 5 minutes to get them all ready. Two of them had to stop by the bathroom, one had trouble locating his shoes, and the youngest was hiding from me because he knew better than to show his face.

Sunglasses on, I walked out the front door, (and found the fourth sock on the front steps) and the kids scurried to catch up.

We hadn't even made it to the next mailbox before I started crying. (but at least I had my sunglasses on, so no one knew it, right?)

The weather was beautiful, an absolutely perfect fall day. And as the breeze blew in my face, tousling my kids hair and shaking leaves loose from the trees, time stood still again.

Because, I swear, the Holy Spirit was in that breeze.

And as I cried, and the kids ran, and walked, and jogged, and squealed, and giggled, the Lord stood beside me, and His presence blew through my heart, calming and soothing and just BEING there.

There were no words of revelation. There was no instant disappearing of the stains on my carpet, the sun didn't literally stand still in the sky.

But it was so much better. Because my sweet Lord knew that all I really needed was a reminder that I wasn't alone, and He gave it to me.

He's in the stillness. He's in the craziness.

We aren't alone. We aren't multi-tasking in our own strength.

He's beside us.

He's soothing our souls when we are hurting.

He's calming our hearts when we are overwhelmed.

He's reaching out His hand when we are drowning.

He's pausing the sun in the sky when we need time to win a victory.

And He's reminding me today, like He did yesterday, to take a minute and breath Him in.

And so I'm reminding you. Take a minute.

The apple core won't rot further in the next ten seconds. The stains won't get bigger. The school won't get more or less accomplished. The house won't burn down. The world won't stop spinning.

But time can stand still. And He's there with you in that frozen moment.

And for today, it's enough.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Books, and Rocky, and Revelation

I read my favorite book of all time this week.

I have read a LOT of books in my life. I'm one of those people who enjoys sitting, curled up in a chair or under a tree or on a beach or in a bed, lost in the pages of a good book for hours on end. I read somewhere around 200 books as part of my high school curriculum. Between my husband and myself, we own at least 500, probably closer to 1,000 books, if you include all our kids books.

Through the years, there are several books that stand out in my mind as some of the greatest. There was "King of the Wind" when I was a girl, and "Ben Hur," and "The Emancipation of Robert Sadler." I will never forget how much I cried, or how many hours I spent engrossed in the pages, or how moved I was by the story.

But, of all the books I have ever read, there is one that is my favorite. I read it for the first time when I was 13 years old. And this week, 20 years after that first time, I finished my 11th reading of it.

No, that is not a typo. I have read my favorite book 11 times.

How, you ask, can I still enjoy it after so many readings? Why, you wonder, would I read the same story over and over? Doesn't it lose its impact? Don't you get bored?

I find, every time I open my favorite book and begin the story, that I feel like a kid again, reading about, discovering, the story as if for the first time. I am nearly brought to tears, I am certainly brought to the edge of my seat, and I am consumed with devouring all 375 pages as quickly as possible, with as few trips to the bathroom and as few interruptions by life as I can manage.

Maybe this makes me weird. Or maybe it just means that its the best book. Ever.

As I was reading it this week (it took me 48 hours to finish it, because I have four children and life responsibilities) (otherwise I would have read the whole things straight through without stopping till I was done) (don't judge me) my daughter walked in and said, "What are you reading?" I lifted the book out of my lap for her to read the title. She said "What is it about?" And I tore my eyes away from the pages to briefly describe it for her. Her next question was "When can I read it?"

This one gave me pause. Because my favorite thing, besides reading my favorite book, is introducing it to others, and watching their world be rocked the same way mine was the first time, and all the times since. "Well," I finally decided, "I was 13 the first time I read it. So I guess you can read it when you're 13 too." "That's less than two years away," she said with a smile.

I sat staring at the door as she walked out. How the heck did my daughter get so flippin' close to being a teenager? I must have been reading a book for the last decade and didn't notice. Where is the pause button on life? (I'm ending this rabbit trail before it becomes a blog post of its own.)

My nine-year old came in next. "What are you reading, Mom?" So I told him. "What's it about?" I told him that too. "Are there any pictures?" he asked with interest. "No," I told him, "but there are tons of words that describe things, and I have the pictures in my mind." He understood this, and was satisfied.

After finishing my favorite book, I picked up its sequel (a book of equal impact, with an even more intricate plot, that I have read nearly as many times). But, in between the finishing and the starting, I paused.

And the Lord and I had a wonderful time of fellowship, spurred on by truths my favorite book reminded me of, catapulted into action by His Spirit whispering to my heart.

Because I've been in a battle, a battle against the enemy of my soul, and I haven't been winning. In fact, I've been feeling a lot like Rocky Balboa, who gets pummeled in every single movie about him. Seriously, its like the man can't win a fight until his eye is split open and his whole face is swollen into an unrecognizable mess of blood and bruises. (oh dear, rabbit trail number two...)

But that's how I've been feeling. Like I am getting punched over and over and over and my single solitary life goal is to stay upright until the end of the round. And then I plop down on the stool in my corner, sweating and bleeding and gasping for air, and all I get is the tiniest breather before I have to stand back up and get the crap kicked out of me for another round.

Until Wednesday night. Until the round where I realized suddenly that I was going to lose, because I was trying to win on my own. Until the Lord reminded me, through pages and words I have read 11 times, that I didn't have to fight at all. He would step in, and fight for me, if I only let Him.

And so I did. And the fight lasted until almost midnight. And...my enemy was defeated.

And in the morning, I felt like I had lost 10 pounds. (too bad I hadn't lost 10 ACTUAL pounds...oops, rabbit trail number three)

And undoubtedly my enemy has gone to his corner, to lick his wounds and regroup, and prepare to fight another day, and undoubtedly I will need to be reminded again that I will lose if I try to fight alone, and certainly I will have occasion to get my eye split open, and my face beaten into a mass of swollen bruises and blood...

And, because He is just that faithful and merciful and gracious, I will be saved again, if I will but fall back on Him who has paid it all, and stepped into the ring in my place, and allowed Himself to be beaten, and bruised, and who didn't stay standing, but went down, and through His loss, He was victorious.

His words echo in my mind today. They shouted in my spirit in the middle of the night, and they continue to whisper through me now.

They are enough on their own. They are revelation. They are truth. They are the corner you can run into to be saved from the giant, steroid-shooting Russian you are battling. (we are still on the Rocky metaphor here, in case you are wondering)

Are you ready?

Are you tired enough to give up trying to fight on your own?

Are you really?

Because if not, then the words that can rescue you aren't going to get through.

You have to stop.

You have to listen.

You have to give up, drop your tired, battle weary hands, and admit that you can't take another hit.

And He is there.

"For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)

Do you see? Do you really SEE your enemy? Take a good look at him. And then, when you're ready, really ready, tell him this:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness HAS NOT overcome it." (John 1:5)

We win. Our enemy loses.

There is darkness. There IS a battle. It rages on and on all around us, and often in front of us, and at times INSIDE of us. And the darkness seems too dark sometimes. And the rounds seem to never end. And the break between them doesn't give us nearly enough time to catch our breath. And our enemy is much taller, and stronger, and meaner than we thought he could be.

And we will lose.

BUT FOR THE LIGHT.

He shines in. He pierces the darkness. He fights for us.

He wins.

I'm letting Him fight for me today. I'm sitting safe in my corner, reading a good book.

And in my head, I'm yelling "We did it, Adrian! ADRIAN!!!!!! I love you!"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Healing Scars

I have a lot of scars.

I grew up in the country, after all. In the deep south, a land of blackberry bushes needing to be picked, dirt roads waiting to be explored, and trees begging to be climbed, its hard to grow up without a good assortment of injuries that leave permanent reminders on the skin.

I have a scar on my knee from falling down several pebble-stone steps when I was six. I have a scar on my arm from a dermatologist procedure. I have several chicken pox scars. I have a few scars on my face, from bug bites or pimples I couldn't stop messing with. (come on, don't be shocked, we all have those) I also boast multiple scars on my hands from one kitchen accident or another.

My favorite scar is on my collar bone. It used to be a small mole. When my son Clay, who is now 9, was 18 months old, he was running toward me and tripped, falling into my arms with his mouth open. His sharp little teeth connected with the mole on my collarbone...and after a trip to the doctor, complete with a numbing shot, scalpel, and cauterizing tool...that mole transformed into a scar.

True story.

My kids really like to hear the stories associated with the imperfections marring my skin, and they can't wait to point out their own scars to me, telling me how they acquired them, as if I wasn't there for each and every occasion. They have plenty of their own testaments to southern childhood living, and each little scar earns its own story at one bedtime or another.

Imperfections, reminders of pain, unsightliness.

War wounds. Battle scars. Ugliness.

Sometimes I wonder if people see the scar on my arm and ponder how I got it, or if they zero in on the nasty puckered skin on my knee and imagine what fall led to that unfortunate flesh imperfection.

But most of the time, I wonder if they can see, in my eyes, the evidence of the scars on my heart.

We all have those too, and they are easier to hide and harder to heal. And maybe they are harder to heal BECAUSE they are easier to hide...I don't know.

All I know is, when I am sitting in a group of brand new acquaintances, and introducing myself for the first time, I don't lead with "My name is Charity, and I got this scar on my collarbone when my son bit off a mole accidentally."

I don't want to draw attention to my imperfections, on my skin or in my heart.

I don't want people to know that every time my husband is late getting home from work, I have to actively remind myself not to have an emotional breakdown. There is a scar on my heart, you see, from a time in our marriage when he was fighting to save his company, and I rarely saw him, and I barely stayed afloat emotionally, and our relationship took some hits that we've had to battle back from.

I don't want anyone to see how hard it is for me not to imagine there has been a horrific car accident when someone is more than half an hour late. My grandpa died in a car crash, you see, and a close friend nearly did, and I have the scars those pains left inside of me as reminders.

And I really hate it that my debilitating scars show themselves when I hug a family member goodbye. The people in the airport cannot understand why I cling to my sister so ferociously, why I kiss her so many times, why I tell her I love her over and over and over, and stand watching her for as long as I possibly can as she walks away toward her gate. The reminder of the last time I hugged a sister, and kissed her cheek, and told her I loved her, and recalling that I only did each thing once, and the knowing that I won't ever get to kiss, hug, or say I love you to her again until I reach heaven...those are scars in my heart that I wish didn't come rushing to the surface in airports for dozens of people to witness.

But the other night, I was laying in bed with my little boys, snuggling and tickling and talking, and Nate, my 6-year-old, put his hand on my arm, and my eyes were drawn to the very large, very noticeable scar on his wrist. When he was 7 months old, he pulled my hair straightener down on himself, and the device left sever second degree burns on his arm. I reached out and kissed those scars, and said, out loud, "Thank you, Lord, for your mercy to my baby. Thank you that it was his arm, not his face. Thank you for sending your angels to protect him from something much worse." Nate tried to pull his arm away, to cover the scar from my sight...but I love that scar. I cherish the reminder that the Lord was gracious to me and to him that day, and I need to be prodded into recalling His faithfulness in the every day, and often unexpected, and sometimes painful moments of our lives.

Just like my dining room table is well-worn, marked, scarred over time and use, so my life is marked, worn, shaped and scarred by the living of it. And if an antique has more value because of its scars, then so do I, if I choose to embrace them and their lessons.

They are the evidence of something. Not that I am a tomboy (though I certainly am). Not that I am terribly clumsy (although thats true too). Not that the weirdest things happen to me (and who can deny that is the case?). Not that I have been through painful things (we all have, haven't we?).

My scars are evidence that there is a HEALER.

They are a witness to His power at work, His merciful presence, His strong right arm, His grace.

When the pain comes screaming back, reminding me of the once open wound that is now a dull red scar, when I ache inside from remembering how much pain, how many wounds, are inside me...I will remember Nate's arm, and how I thanked the Lord for that scar and its reminder of His mercy.

And I will thank Him for my scars too, because they are the evidence that the Healer still heals.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Strangers and Self-control

You know the saying "When it rains it pours."

And "The hits just keep on coming."

And my own personal favorite (courtesy of Ross from 'Friends') that you may or may not know, "Jump into my nightmare, the water is just getting warm."

Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables, duh) calls them "Jonah Days."

I am having a Jonah Day.

My baby sister left today for her long, meandering journey cross-country to California, with stops at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and others, before finally heading back to Hawaii, where she now makes her home.

My mom and my kids and I took her to the airport this morning. It was not a dry-eyed goodbye. In fact,  the kids were crying so loudly and so hard that every other person in line for the security check was looking at us. More than few had tear-filled eyes at the sight we made, clinging together and crying openly, and at one point Nate whispered loudly "Guys, everyone is staring at us. We have to stop crying."

SO, in an attempt to cheer us all up, we met some friends for lunch at Chic-Fil-A after we left the airport.

After they inhaled their food, the kids skipped happily to play in the sound-proof, glassed in play place, and I breathed a sigh of relief at the silence, and the company of my sweet Jesus sisters.

And then, because on a Jonah Day it is impossible to get 5 seconds of peace, my daughter burst from the play place and informed me that there were other moms in there YELLING at my boys.

I blinked.

"Did they do something bad?" I asked after taking a moment to swallow my french fry.

"No," she responded. "They are just playing, being boys. And those women started yelling at them to stop running around so much."

Oh. My.

I took a very large swig of my Coke Zero, wishing it was regular Coke, or possibly spiked Coke, and then I took a deep breath.

"Okay, Faith, go and remind your brothers to watch out for other kids, just in case, and then stay in there and supervise. And if anyone else yells at them, you come tell me."

Deep breath. Blink back the red haze clouding vision. Deep breath again. Additional swig of non-sugared, non-spiked Coke. Swallow. And repeat.

Several moments after I became aware of the situation, one of the above mentioned moms came out of the play place and walked, smiling, to our table.

"Just wanted to let you know, in case any of your kids says anything, that they were running and jumping around, you know, being boys, and they got fussed at. Okay?" And she walked away. At least, I assume she did. I refused to make eye contact with her, or even turn in her direction.

Not because I was being a jerk, but because I was actively biting my tongue, and I didn't want her to see the blood dripping from between my lips.

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

Who on the face of the earth EVER thinks its okay to yell at someone elses' kids? And if they do, what moron then relays what they have done to the parents of the STRANGERS they were attempting to discipline?

Now, in fairness to every mother on earth who has ever seen a bigger kid playing rowdy games near their much smaller child, I have been in that situation and I have said things like "Hey, buddy, would you mind paying closer attention? You are a lot bigger and stronger than these little ones, and I don't want anyone to get hurt." I have even said "Please watch what you are doing, okay?"

But never, ever, ever, would I yell at a stranger's child. EVER. I wouldn't even yell at the children of my friends or family members. EVER.

Oh, the things running through my mind as she turned her perfectly toned self around and walked proudly away.

"If its bothering you so much, get your uptight butt in your pretentious car and leave."

"Lady, you are gonna raise a bunch of pansy, whining brats if you stand inside the play place yelling at anyone who gets close to them for the rest of their lives."

"Regardless of what they may or may not have done, if you speak to my children again ABOUT ANYTHING, my fist is gonna connect with your snobby, snarly, holier than thou nose."

"Ma'am,  I've had a really stupid-y day, and my self-control is hanging on by a thread. Its in your best interest to go back to your table while you still have all your teeth."

Sigh...alas, as previously established, I said nothing, and she left.

Shortly thereafter we retrieved our wild monsters from the pits of hell where they were apparently residing, and left the play place where only two year old girls with giant bows and zero people skills, or three year old boys who have never had to share or hear loud noises in their life, are permitted to play.

Come on now. Really?

Granted, my boys can be rowdy. Admittedly, they could accidentally knock down a smaller kid during a light-saber battle. Absolutely, they are loud. Definitely, they have the capacity for causing stress to others. Yes, they might need to be reminded to pay attention the others around them.

BUT...

Just so we are totally clear going forward: The fact that I didn't cause a giant scene today in Chic-Fil-A had nothing to do with whether or not my sons deserved to be yelled at by a stranger. NO CHILD should ever be yelled at by a stranger.

The reason I held my tongue also had nothing to do with my desire to be a good, southern, Christian lady who doesn't cause drama, or because I was trying to be a good example to my kids of how to respond to conflict.

The truth, the real reason I said nothing to the hateful woman who yelled at my children for being children and then had the audacity to explain and justify herself to me, is much simpler, and much more likely to cause my mother to gasp and my husband to shake his head and tell me I shouldn't admit all my internal sins to the entire blogging community.

At the time, in that moment, the only words I could think of had four letters.

Now, as I sit here blogging out my frustration to cyberspace, my boys are having a very intense battle with pistols, and no one is yelling except them, and I can think of many, many, many things I wish I could have thought to say to that woman.

But, I had to bite my stinking tongue.

The upside is, at least I'm not a hypocrite who rants and rails to strangers about how totally unacceptable it is to yell at strangers...

Oh. Oops.