The Ripple Effect

The Ripple Effect

In late November of 2016, we bought our first house.  It was, in my eyes, idyllic.  Murals were painted on the walls of each of the children’s rooms, a blue ocean with a tiny boat sailing on the horizon for Elijah, and a willow tree with a picket fence covered with flowering vines for Lily.  Our walk-in closet and spacious bedroom had me pinching myself twice a day.  The sunrise cascaded over our kitchen table through the bay kitchen window.  We could peer out Elijah’s window to say goodnight to the moon each night.  The carpets were lush, the walls were painted rich, welcoming colors, and we even had our own fire place.  The basement, though unfinished, could house the play room where the kids could play freely whenever they felt so inclined.

The most attractive feature of our new haven, however, was its sprawling yard.  The previous owners clearly had green thumbs in addition to their artistic flair, and they took better care of this yard than any other yard in the entire neighborhood.  In Kansas, the land of sparse trees, we have eight trees around our house.  One is a massive willow, whimsical in every sense of the word.  One is a luscious bradford pear, another an apple tree.  The grass is the richest shade of green that I could imagine, with a built-in sprinkler system, to keep it velvety-soft and fresh.

When we moved in late November, as fall was descending into winter, and colors were fading into grey, white, and black, we had no idea what the garden would look like: if any flowers were perennials, returning in the spring, or if we would have to start from scratch.  All we had were dead stalks, skeletons of flowers, and I am no expert on gardening.  Thus,  I couldn’t even guess what the landscape would look like in the spring. I had no idea the beauty that could rise out of this garden, now my own, that I never planted.

Spring is blossoming into summer, and this garden that I inherited has been a highlight of my year.  As the months of April and May have passed,  I have inhaled the glory of tiger lilies, dark red lilies, marigolds, roses, and hostas.  Each plant blooms on its own time table, and each day is like unwrapping a gift from someone I never knew.  When we toured the house initially before we made our offer,  I whispered to my husband, “I could be friends with these people.  I love them already.”  Amazing how you can feel a kindred spirit in a home, even when those who made it the home are not even present.  It is also amazing the impact a person can have on the life of another person whom they may never meet.  I met the husband briefly.  He brought the extra garage door opener over the day that we first moved in.  I greeted him at our door (his door), our eyes locked, and I gave him the biggest, most appreciative smile that I could muster, and he left, to drive about five hours, to his new house.  This one encounter was the extent of the overlap of our lives.

I am too sick to garden.  Even being outside is a strain.  I could never do to our yard what the previous owners of our house did.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of a crop that I did not sow.  They planted a little vegetable garden in the back yard. My in-laws are keeping it bursting with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash.  My life is grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing.  I get to tuck my babies in at night and admire another person’s artwork on their walls.  In God’s special way, He met our needs before we even knew that we had needs through someone that we would never really know.

The lives of those who went before us sing from the walls of this house and burst forth from the soil surrounding it.  Their love, their innovation, their unique giftings and personalities paint shades of color that extend into the life of my little family.  They will never know their impact.  They were just doing what they loved, and it colored the world.

We have a ripple effect that can heal and bring hope.  God has used our home as a picture of His provision and hope.  He knows that I love flowers, murals, and beauty, and He knows that I cannot produce these elements of life that I love at this point in my life.  He used someone else to plant the seeds that would blossom in my life as symbols of providence, hope, and His own Shekinah glory.

Our God is great enough to show up in the little things, like orange crimson carnations and a wistful sail boat painted on a toddler’s wall.   Our Father God gives good, sweet, thoughtful gifts to His children, even, or maybe even especially, in their suffering.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.   James 1:17

Turning Our Eyes Upon Jesus

Turning Our Eyes Upon Jesus

The last few weeks have been difficult.  Last October was a bad-health-month (like a bad-hair-day, only like 1000 times worse), and it seems that this October followed suit.  Maybe my illnesses have least favorite seasons.  Being sick feels manageable some fraction of the time, but over the past month, it has NOT felt do-able.  Yesterday was particularly bad, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I felt poured out, wrung out, and blown-dry with a hair dryer.  I had what felt like nothing left.  My husband was shivering in bed with 102-degree fever, sputtering, “Is this what chills feel like?” My children were acting like the three-year-old and two-year-old that they are, and I was dancing on the impatient side of parenting.  I was not savoring each moment with them, that’s for sure.

Bed time is sacred time at our house.  We read, rock, and sing about Jesus. The kids have special song requests, each one gets his and her own time in the rocking chair with mom, and I get to sniff their sweet little babyish heads before bed (I think that baby head-sniffing works better at calming my adrenaline rushes than any medication that I have found).  In between Jesus songs, my daughter usually comes up with deep questions that I am not prepared for, like, “Mommy, what is death?”, or like, “How is Jesus going to come out of my heart so that I can sit on His lap and rub His beard like I rub daddy’s beard?”. I stutter and stammer for a few minutes, and then God in His wisdom usually helps me communicate some little nugget of truth that hopefully her three-year-old mind can comprehend.  She deems my response acceptable, closes her eyes, and settles her fair curly head into the bend of my arm, safe and comforted, trusting that she knows enough now to rest for the night.

Bedtime last night did not feel sacred. I was an unholy terror, and I hurried and scolded my kids, stretched too thin in all angles.  I just wanted to go to bed and have the day over. I was hurting physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and I was done fighting.  Rocking a child, however, seems to be the antithesis of hurry.  The act of sitting in glider with my son and singing a JJ Heller lullaby was enough to snap me out of my impatient self-centered focus. I pleaded with God to help me to be present with my children, at least for the final few minutes of their day. I sniffed his freshly washed hair for a couple seconds longer, and laid him in his crib with his blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you…”.

My daughter met me at the chair, and asked for the Jesus song. Which Jesus song?  You know, mom, the one where Jesus is REALLY BIG.  Where His face shines.  I sing the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, and she sings the chorus with me word-for-word.  After the song, my big-hearted prophetess child says with the concern and agony of a 25-year-old, “Mom, why does it feel like Jesus isn’t here?  If it is so dark in this world, and Jesus is light, He can’t be here, can He?  And Jesus is too big to be in my heart.  He’s not in my heart.  He’s too big.  He would break my heart.  Is Jesus not here?”

On this night, October 31st, a night of darkness, when barely three-year-old daughter questions the existence of her Savior, my throat swelled, and my eyes filled, and I said, “Baby, I know how you feel. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like Jesus is here, but He is.  I promise. He promises.  And it is dark, but His light is here.”  I said a few more things.  I felt a lot more things. She asked a few more despairing questions, and she finally settled into the tension of not seeing yet believing.  She was okay.  Jesus was with Her.  She could rest.

I laid her down, tucked her princess comforter around her tiny body, blessed her, prayed over her and her brother, closed the door, and sobbed.  OH, I know how she feels, but I never imagined that she would feel this so soon.  But God met me in her questioning.  In this dark night, full of pain in all forms, God met me through the need of my darling daughter. He answered my despairing questions through my own mouth as  I answered her despairing questions.  We will keep trusting.  He is present. He is good. He loves us.  He is sovereign.  My sweet dreamers will learn to trust and hope, as I am learning to trust and hope, in the One who is present, gentle, and faithful. We can’t always see, but we know because we have seen undeniable manifestations of His goodness.  We therefore

Turn our eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.  (Helen H. Limmel, 1922).

When the Kingdom Breaks Through

There are moments in life that create buoyancy for me. They keep me afloat. Tonight held one of those life-saving moments. My two-year-old daughter needed cuddle time. She’s sick at the moment. And I was beyond happy to curl up in her tiny toddler bed with her and her Chaucer Teddy bear and listen to her sweet little voice tell me all about her day. We sang, we prayed, and we shared stories. My heart is swollen with pure bliss of connectedness.

 Even though my arms are black and blue from blown veins and I’ve battled the fainting all day and my fever is constantly over 100 by three pm, I can say with conviction that my life is truly wonderful. Oh, it could certainly be easier. Couldn’t every life be easier? But ease isn’t what makes it valuable. Convenience, comfort, luxury, even health….those amenities don’t by any stretch of the imagination equal joy.  I have been wealthier in the past and been utterly miserable, haunted, and desperate for death. I have been healthier in the past and have sought to find ways to express my unspeakable soul-sickness. I have been better rested yet harbored such a deep weariness that I felt the weight of a thousand mountains upon my chest. 

I am tired, sick, and suffering, but my life is so beautifully wrought with meaning. This is a hard dichotomy to grasp, and I suppose that it is not ideal,  but God is so palpable during this season of my life. He is so gracious in providing these moments that bouy me up to the surface again when I begin to sink under the suffering. It never fails that when the suffering is at its worst, if I tarry, the joy is on its heels. Sometimes, the agony carries the joy right on its back, and they somehow present themselves intermingled together. 

I spent so much of my life desperately running from suffering, unwittingly diving into deeper pits than I was running from. I am learning that suffering is not the monster that I once imagined it to be, and I am much more resilient than I knew was possible. The fear of suffering was the real enemy.

God is there in the trenches, in the tender touch of a two year old when she places her tiny fingers on the purple skin over my blown veins and says, “Mommy, I so sorry that you are hurt. Let me kiss your arm.” We are so blessed. So beyond blessed. The kingdom is carried in the cuddle of a two-year-old at bedtime.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Matthew 5:3-4

The “Break-Up”

Can there be a “call” to break up with your parents?  Yes, I am an adult woman living many hundreds of miles away from my parents, but they run my life.  I have a sense of indebtedness towards them.  They are my parents, for crying out loud, and what if I am totally wrong and off base about my entire childhood?  Do I just cut them off?  

But relationship with them is killing me.  It is draining me of my lifeblood, just as they did when I was little.  Somehow, they still are in control.  That phone call.  The name that pops up on my phone and sends my world spinning.  That first birthday of our baby that they just have to fly out for, and I have to feign excitement.  Why would I let them ruin a time of joyous celebration?  MY child. Not theirs.  They already ruined their own child. 

But how?  How do you cut it off?  How in this great big world can I possibly say to my parents that my relationship with them is harming me and my family and that I need more space?  Not just a little breathing room, but I don’t want to ever hear from you again. 

My entire life has revolved around caring for my parents.  My sole purpose was to make sure that they were always emotionally stable.  I protected them from everything, especially from myself.  Now, once again,  I am the greatest threat to them.  I hold this time bomb, and one day soon, I am going to have to bite the bullet and call it quits.  I will hurl the bomb at them and watch them explode into a million pieces.  And my world will shatter.  As they crumble, so will I.  Because, we all know, that they hold the key to my demise. 

What is the “godly” thing to do?  I am either all about my present family or all about my parents.  I either protect my husband and children or protect my parents. Can I do both?  Can I protect everyone?  Can I guard everyone’s feelings and make a decision that will not hurt anyone?  My primary role is to protect and care for my children.  Their safety and well-being is paramount in the hierarchy of important things in my life.  Honoring and loving my husband is my other primary role.  I am a “daughter” of sorts, but that is not my primary role anymore.  I am no longer a secret-guarder.  I am no longer the one who has to keep my mother from committing suicide or my father from attacking my mother.  I am no longer the one who has to endure the consequences of my parents’ choices.  Thus, it seems to me that the “godly” thing is to cut my parents off. 

But here is the other rub: Can I emotionally handle the consequences of this break up?  Will I unravel?  Will I splinter into the thousand pieces that I constantly labor to hold together? Will the stress of all of this release crazy amounts of cortisol into my unborn child?  Or is it the opposite?  Will the trauma that comes up with every conversation with my parents drive me to complete madness?  Will the long term stress of trying to live a double life wreak havoc on the well-being of my family?  What is more damaging? 

So here I stand, in limbo, in the in-between, in this half-in, half-out, undecided, cowardly place.  I will probably remain here for a while.