Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Girl and Her Dog

Our house has turned into a bit of a menagerie. There are two semi-sane adults, three adorable and energetic girls and two dogs all living under one slightly leaky roof. About a month ago, my in-laws gave us a miniature daschsund as a gift. She was an adorable, six-week old, red puppy we promptly named "Penny." We all fell in love with her instantly. She was tiny and sweet and oh-so-small. She was the perfect-sized dog for our little girls. Emma, especially, took a real shine to Penny, pushing her around in doll strollers, wrapping her up in blankets and doting on her like the dog was her own baby. Penny had found a surrogate mother in Emma and relished every moment of pampering.

If you aren't familiar with the daschsund breed, they are known for their independence. What they lack in stature they make up for in persistence and stubbornness. They can be a difficult breed to house train as well as train in basic obedience. Penny is no different. She thinks of herself as the leader of the pack most times. She often ignores us when we call and thinks nothing of spending 30-40 minutes outside only to come in and promptly do her "business" under the dining room table. What Penny doesn't know is that she is part of a family of persistent, stubborn people. We don't give up on things we find important and are rarely deterred from a path we find challenging and redeeming. In the end, we all know that Penny will eventually fall in line, even if it takes a little longer than we like.

Today was a beautiful day. (Thank You, Lord, for that!) After church, Charlie and the girls spent most of the day building the new playground set and playing in the yard with the two dogs. Around 3:00 PM, I went outside to check and see how things were progressing. I glanced around the yard and asked, "Where's Penny?" We all looked around and called her name. No sign of the puppy. Charlie put down his tools and we both took off in different directions, walking the perimeter of the yard, calling her name. No answer. Charlie and I looked at each other and both thought the same thing: she had escaped the yard. We had seen her slip in between the gates a few times but she always went right to our door, never wandering off. We quickly circled the house, calling her name and looking for her. Again, nothing.

By this time, our neighbors noticed us looking and that we were beginning to become a little frantic. After all, she only weighs 4 pounds and it would be easy for her to fall into a ravine or hole or become entangled in underbrush with no way of getting out. Several of our neighbors joined in the search. At one point, we had about 12 additional neighbors and friends out combing the neighborhood and surrounding areas. We even had a neighbor offer to send out a campus-wide e-mail to Wabash students. Still no sign of Penny. Not even a whimper.

Emma began to carry a worried expression on her face. I could tell that she was holding something back. Finally, she said, "Mommy, it's my fault. I wasn't watching her. She might be hurt. What if we don't find her before dark?" I hugged her and reassured her that everything would be okay. In my heart, though, I knew it wasn't good that we had not found her yet. She was too small for identification tags so anyone could have found her and decided to keep her. We prayed together several times, asking God to help us find her. Nothing.

After about 90 minutes of searching, we had to take a break. The neighbors all went home and Emma began to cry. She was inconsolable in her grief and kept referring to Penny as her best friend. She sobbed herself to sleep on the couch and I started to pray harder. Lord, I know you see what is going on here. Please help us find Penny. This is Emma's whole heart and world right now. She is grieving as if it were her own child. Father, I know You love each creature You have made. Please keep this creature safe and bring her home. In Jesus' name, Amen.

I started to make dinner and continued praying. Each time I heard a noise, I ran to the door hoping it was Penny or someone returning her to us. Emma awoke just before dinner, eyes red and puffy, still crying. "Did Penny come home yet?" was her only question. My heart broke for her. What would we do if Penny never came home? We prayed together again. Through dinner, I could see Emma just picking at her food, still sad and tired. After we finished eating, I said, "How about you and me go around the block one more time and look before bed." Her eyes lit up and she jumped up to put on her shoes. We circled around calling her name and praying more. As we walked through the alley behind the house, we both felt discouraged and disappointed. I tried to remain hopeful but my hope was fading fast.

Suddenly, we heard a high-pitched yelp. It was faint and muffled and at first I thought I was imagining things, but when I looked at Emma, I knew she had heard it, too. We called her name again. A few agonizing seconds went by and then the same muffled cry. Penny! It was her! We both knew and started racing towards where we thought the cry was coming from. First, we checked the neighbors' yard, thinking she had wandered in there but the sound seemed to be coming from our own garage. We tore through the garage, knocking over boxes and searching behind bicycles and garden tools. The sound was farther away now. Where could she be?!

We raced into the yard and yelled through the open back door, "We hear her! We hear Penny!" Charlie and Ruthie came running into the yard as well as a couple of neighbor boys who had been searching earlier. We combed through the bushes and peered over the fence. I could hear her cry but couldn't imagine where she could be. Charlie checked inside the neighbors' garage and Emma and I kept calling her name. It sounded like she was inside the playground but there were no openings for her to crawl into.

Finally, I started slowly circling the playground. Yes, the noises were definitely coming from here but where was she? Was she trapped on the top somehow? Buried underneath? Then, I spied something. Charlie had brought the girls' plastic play kitchen outside and placed it on the lower deck of the playground. One door was broken off the kitchen but the other door was still attached and closed. I yanked the door open and there she was! Our Penny! Safe and sound and whole. Thinking Emma would be beside herself with joy, I turned to her beaming and said, "We found her!" But, Emma's face was covered in guilt. I knew immediately that Emma had been the one to put Penny inside the play oven and had simply forgotten where she was. She looked like she was about to cry again. I hugged her and handed Penny to her and Penny's shower of puppy kisses went a long way in cheering her up.

After taking Emma (and Penny) door to door to thank our neighbors and friends for their help in searching for Penny and telling and re-telling the story of finding her, Emma and I had a long talk about the events of the day. She promised to take better care of her best friend and I promised to help her know what it means to be a friend. We ended the day by thanking God over and over for helping us find Penny and keeping her safe.

Thank You, again, Lord for the blessing of Penny. I know I complain about her sometimes. Just seeing how You used this experience today makes me realize that she is a part of Your plan for our family. Thank You for giving Emma faith today. Thank You for hearing our prayers. I know You care for each creature of Your creation. Thanks for showing me again. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Juggler

I've had this string of "good mom" days. You know, the kind of days when you do things "right." You get dinner on the table on time, complete with vegetables and whole grains. You remember your vitamins. The laundry gets washed, dried, folded, and put away. The dishes get washed. The trash is taken out. Books are read and stories are told. Disputes are reconciled and tickle sessions are spontaneous. Laughter reigns through the house. There are fresh sheets on the beds, fresh fruit in the fridge and fresh faces at the start of each day. These are the kind of days when I feel like a successful juggler, with all the balls whirling and twirling in sync above my head.

Then, I play the message on the answering machine and am reminded that tomorrow is picture day at preschool. Okay, so I forgot one little ball. No problem. It's 10:00 PM but I still have time to iron the girls' dresses for pictures. Now, where is that order form they sent home for the pictures? And, they are supposed to stay for lunch tomorrow, too, so I need to pack their lunches as well. Let's see, Emma likes turkey, cheese and tomato, Ruthie likes turkey and lettuce and her cheese on the side. As I'm gathering things for pre-school tomorrow, I spy the library book bag and realize the books are due in a couple of days. We haven't finished our chapter book and they will be upset if we don't do that. Only 3 more chapters; I think I can squeeze one in tomorrow morning. I flip on the TV to check the weather only to find out that it's going to rain like crazy tomorrow and the next day. Didn't I see toys scattered in the yard when I came home tonight? Better pick those up. I head out to the yard to attempt cleaning it up in the dark. When I come inside, I remember that I'm supposed to check my e-mail for an important prayer request. While I'm online, I see that I have several e-mails that need returned. Which ones can wait and which ones need attention tonight? Wow, I've really let some of these slide. Now, it's almost midnight and I've got a whole pile of balls at my feet. So much for my juggling skills...

At least that's what the enemy wants me to think. He wants me to think that I have it in my own power to be a good mom. Well, I don't. Let me say that again: I don't. The fact is, it is God alone who allows me to accomplish His will. It is God alone who equips me well to love and care for these little girls and this wonderful man. On my own, I contribute nothing of any value except a willing heart. To be sure, I often get in the way of God's will. There are "bad mom" days when we eat hot dogs for dinner and scrounge through the dirty clothes basket for something that doesn't smell "as bad." When the kids fight and I fight and there are lots of tears. When we're lucky to have sheets on beds at all. When I juggle my emotions instead of my responsibilities.

It's nights like tonight when the Lord reminds me that He is in control:

O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places. The God of Israel is He who gives strength and power to His people. Psalm 68:35

God doesn't have to juggle to keep things in control. He is control. He gives me strength and power to accomplish His will. It isn't my job to keep all the balls up in the air. It's my job to abide in Him and in His Word and let those balls line up with God's will.

So, I'll get a good night's rest and trust that God is working all things for good. He knows the details of my future and has a plan in place that will take care of those details. Thank You, Lord, for giving me the freedom to rest in You and allow You to take care of the details of my life. I trust in You alone and ask You to give me Your strength and Your power to accomplish Your will. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, April 23, 2007

On the day you were born...Emma

December 5, 2001...I was still a girl, even at almost 28. Your dad and I thought we had a full, complete life. Our lives were about to be made even fuller and more beautiful.

I woke up around 4:00 AM to a strong, "wake-you-up" kind of contraction. Not like the others I'd been having the last few days. Grammie was already staying with us as we thought the doctor was going to have to induce me that day. I went to the bathroom and flipped on the light. Another strong contraction. So, this is what a "real contraction" feels like. Okay. We'll take them one at a time. I looked at myself in the mirror for a long minute. Girl, you're going to be a mommy today. I almost started to cry; half out of fear and half out of joy.

I woke your dad up and told him I was contracting. We both took showers and got dressed. He and Grammie ate a bite of breakfast while I finished collecting my things for my hospital stay. We took off for the hospital around 7:00 AM, still contracting but still in control. Your dad was calm but excited. I was starting to get nervous.

When we arrived at the hospital, we went straight to the maternity ward. Our nurse, Linda, checked us in and showed us to our labor room. It was quiet and dark...very soothing. She gave me a gown so I could change and showed me wear to put my things. After changing, she hooked me up to a fetal monitor so we could hear your heartbeat. Grammie arrived a little while after that. My contractions started to get stronger. It was harder to talk while they were happening. Okay, I can still do this. I just need to breathe. I tried to relax and make conversation but the contractions seemed to be coming closer and closer together. It was hard to relax in between them. Lord! Please help me! This hurts and I don't know what to do!

Around 9:45 AM, I asked for something to help with the pain. After my epidural, I was able to rest and relax. Your dad held my hand and we talked. (For the life of me, I cannot remember anything we talked about!) Grammie kept fetching cool washcloths for my forehead. The nurses kept checking you and me and telling us it wouldn't be long.

Finally, at 11:30, Dr. Jain arrived and started explaining how he wanted me to push. Everyone seemed to have assigned positions--holding a leg or wiping my brow or fluffing my pillows. I started pushing and kept pushing for the next 90 minutes. I know it was an hour and a half filled with frustration and tears on my part. I can't do this. I'm tired. Why is this taking so long? My back is hurting. Help me! I was tired and frightened at how terribly hard the delivery seemed to be. Your dad and grandmother were incredibly encouraging. My doctor kept assuring me that I was an amazing pusher and that I was, indeed, making progress. Still, it was the hardest physical work I had ever done.

At 1:55 PM, all the tears and frustration and exhaustion gave way as a final, gentle push brought you into the world. You seemed to come flying out and into my arms. Then, there were more tears but these were of joy and inexpressible love. You were here. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. My daughter.

I think it will always be seared into my memory the way you looked and felt and smelled at that moment. You were so beautiful. Your nearly bald head and big eyes. Your soft, supple skin and fresh, newborn smell. The way your tiny fingers instinctively curved around mine. The sound of your cry--lusty and strong for all the world to hear. The way you fit so perfectly into my arms. I thought I knew what it meant to love a child but this was a whole new level of love. This was love unspeakable.

Your dad cried--only the second time I had ever seen him cry (the other being the day we were married). Grammie cried, too, and Dr. Jain admitted to me later that he and the nurses had to wipe tears out of their own eyes as well. You were born out of and into absolute love and I believe the Lord used your birth to witness to others.

Later that day, when I had you all to myself, I laid you out on the bed and looked over every inch of your beautiful body. I kissed your little toes and fingers. I stared deep into your eyes and tried to memorize the folds of your ears. I smelled your hair and nuzzled your neck. I remember holding you close and asking God to bless you every day of your life. I also remember asking God to help me be the mother He wanted me to be for you. And, I thanked God for you over and over again. You were and still are one of the best gifts He has ever given me.

Emma Rose, I love you. I have loved you from the moment I found out about you. I have loved you through every sleepless night and ear infection and scraped knee and hurt feeling. I have loved you as you learned to walk and talk and run and jump and ride your bike and tie your shoe. I have loved watching you change and grow into a little girl. I know I will love the woman God is already laying the foundation for. I love your relationship with God and the way you see Him in all things. I will always love you no matter what.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Day Without The Kids!

Today was a special day. Our friends, the Taylor's, celebrated their daughter, Harmony's, 3rd birthday (Happy Birthday, Harmony!) and invited all three of our girls over for a birthday party and pajama party. So, basically from 1:00 PM-8:30 PM we were KID FREE! I am certain this is the first time since Olivia was born that we have been sans kids for more than a couple of hours. It was...wonderful.

I think it is so easy to get so wrapped up in being a mommy that I forget about being a wiffee! Not that I purposely neglect dear Charlie. It's just so hard to really focus on what he is saying when I'm up to my elbows in a poopy diaper or I'm trying to hear him over the constant murmurings of our pre-schoolers. Some days, I wonder if we actually had a real conversation or not. I know we talk to each other, but many days those conversations have centered around potty training or finding a prized princess costume or who gets which medicine at what time or which girl is drinking out of which colored sippy cup. Not real, honest "where-are-you-with-the-Lord" conversations. It's so important to do that!

So, thank you, Taylors, for braving the day with our three plus your two! Thank you for giving us the opportunity to talk and laugh together. Thank you for being such good, God-loving friends. Thanks for loving on our girls today! The Lord bless you all!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Things I Want You To Know: We are not home, yet.

(Dear Emma, Ruthie and Olivia: Sometimes, I wonder if I will remember to tell you all the things I think are wonderful about our Lord. Sometimes, I worry that I will forget to impart to you some Truth that the Lord has shown me. Sometimes, I wish I could tell you now the little bit I understand of God's glory. So, now and then, I'll try to write those things down here, and maybe someday, you'll read this or I'll read this and we can talk about it together. I love you each, but Jesus loves you more. Love, Mommy)

I've been thinking about your futures, girls, wondering what kind of choices you will make, what sort of work you will find for your hands to do, what kind of man you will choose to marry, what sort of wife and mother you will each be. The future is full of so many rich promises from the Lord. One promise I want each of you to hold tightly to is this: "...for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." John 14:2-3 This world where we live is only a temporary home. We don't belong to the world but to God. His plan is for us to live here, growing and learning in our knowledge of His love for us so that, someday, we will be with Him, worshipping Him in Spirit and Truth.

The world can seem exciting and enticing, with its' pleasures and indulgences. But, compared to the splendor and majesty of God's eternal glory, the world becomes dark and ugly. I want you each to know that we are not home yet. Don't get too comfortable! Don't put down roots in this world but root yourselves in the Word and in the life-saving grace of Jesus Christ. God wants us to live in this world but He wants our hearts and minds to be fixed on our eternal home--the one He has prepared for us. It is the only place where we will truly belong. I want you to be there with me and Daddy, worshipping Jesus forever. I want you to each live your lives for the glory of God, knowing that your time here on earth is but a moment compared with an eternity with God.

I must confess that I sometimes get caught up in the things of this world. To be sure, they don't seem like worldly things but God always reminds me that they are. Whenever I take my eyes off Jesus, I lose sight of my eternal purpose: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. It also makes life on earth unbearably difficult to navigate when my gaze is averted to this temporal world. But, God is faithful in reminding me to return my gaze to the face of Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

I love you, girls. We are not home, yet, but I love walking through this world with you!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Bedtime Questions

Every night, we have the same routine. I change Olivia's diaper and clothes, brush her teeth, pray with her, ask her where Jesus lives (her answer: my heart!), and say our little Bible verse: I will praise You, Lord, with all my heart. Psalm 9:1. She picks out a blankie and a few stuffed, furry friends for company. I give her a kiss and a hug and lay her down in her crib. I turn out the lights and close the door as I say, "I love you, but Jesus loves you more." Pretty easy routine.

Our older two are a different story altogether. They pick out their pajamas, which sometimes turns into a teary-eyed event if their very favorites are not clean. They brush their teeth and their daddy and I sometimes re-brush them. We read them a story or two and head up to their bedroom. After arranging their menagerie of stuffed animals just so around their beds, covering them with the requested blankets, sheets and/or comforters, praying with or for them, and giving them each a kiss and hug goodnight, we turn out the lights and begin to close their door. Every night, without fail, they stop me just as I'm about to head down the hallway, "Mommy..."

And here are some of their bedtime questions:

"How many days until summer?"
"How did God create the world?"
"How does our house stay together?
"Why did God make boys and girls different?"
"How do you make curtains?"
"When is it going to rain again?"
"When is it going to stop raining?"
"Why do you love Daddy?"
"Why does Daddy love you?"
"Will our dog get to go to heaven?"
"Is it daytime on the other side of the world?"
"Can I wear my swim suit tomorrow?"
"If I wear a turtle neck underneath, can I wear my swim suit tomorrow?"
"If I wear a turtle neck and long pants and socks and my coat underneath, can I wear my swim suit tomorrow?"
"Can I wear my other swim suit tomorrow?"
"Where does the wind come from?"
"Why don't some little girls and boys have a mommy and a daddy?"
"Can you be those little girls' and boys' mommy?"
"Can we have a brother?"
"If Santa isn't real, why do some people tell their children to believe in him? Isn't that a lie?"
"How do babies get out of mommies' tummies?"
"How do babies get in mommies' tummies?"
"Can I live with you forever?"
"Did Jesus ever get boo boos when he was a boy?"
"Can we have another puppy?"
"Can we have a cat?"
"Can we have a bird?"
"Can we have a moose?"
"How about a really small cow or octopus?"
And my personal favorite:
"Can I have one more hug and kiss?"

Thank You, God for their questions. Thank You for choosing me to be the one they trust to ask for answers. Give me wisdom as the questions get harder to answer. Help me to know when to point them directly to You. Thank You for making me a mommy. Thank You for my girls. Amen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Way He Shows Me His Love

Lately, I've had more than a few trying days. It seems like my days and nights and meals and laundry and runny noses and teary eyes and overflowing toilets and empty milk jugs and bruised knees and bruised feelings are all running together into one big, blurry, chaotic whirlwind. In fact, yesterday, I likened it to trying to clean in the middle of a tornado! As I was fixing lunch today, I had a little meltdown at my kitchen sink. The new puppy was yipping to be fed, the baby was happily unfolding two full baskets of fresh laundry, the older two were chasing each other around the dining room table and distracted, I accidentally threw my own lunch down the disposal instead of setting it aside to eat later. I was tired. Tired of cleaning and cajoling and diapering and disciplining and washing and waiting and sweeping and sighing. I was hungry. Hungry for my lunch but also hungry for these lean times to be over. Hungry for God's Word which had been pushed to the side too early, too many days in a row. Hungry for the Holy Spirit to fill me and overflow into our very home and family.

Charlie walked in for his lunch break and caught me kneeling in front of the sink, crying. I quickly stood up and began to wash dishes, trying not to let him notice that I was upset. He asked me if everything was okay and I tried to keep the reservoir of emotions contained, but a crack in my walls had formed and it only took a few moments for the torrent of feelings to spill over. He hugged me gently and just let me cry a bit (he's good at that) and then invited me to go upstairs and take a nap. I argued that I still had laundry to do and supper to prepare and the dog to feed and...and... He let me make my list and then waited for me to go take a break. I went to my favorite chair in the living room and collapsed. I cried a few more tears and closed my eyes.

"Daddy, I don't know what to do. I'm so tired and overwhelmed. I don't think I can go on today. I know they are all counting on me to be there for them, to take care of things. All I want to do is escape. I want to rest. I want to sleep through the night. I want to eat a hot meal. I want to take a long, hot shower. I want to soak up Your Word without interruption or delay. There are so many things I want and can't seem to have today. I need You. Please help me..."

After Charlie returned to work and I put the girls (and dog) down for naps, I decided to make this list:

The Way He Shows Me His Love
With every sunrise and every sunset--He promises both a new day and an end to the one I'm living.
In my daughters' eyes--their unconditional love for me.
Through the faithfulness of my husband, in his reassuring embrace and his gentle touch.
In every breath I take--a promise to sustain me and keep me, hold me and carry me.
In the love of friends and family.
In the opportunities He has blessed me with the opportunity to serve others.
Through His Word which consistently shows me His faithful reaching out to me and His promise of a future with Him.
By the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, helping me discern right from wrong (and up from down!).
With every step I take--He is right there with me, cheering me on, encouraging me, strengthening me, guiding me, comforting me.
In His character which is perfect and strong and right and true and, most of all, LOVE.

Thank You, Holy Father, for reminding me that You are right here with me in the middle of my day, in the middle of my fire, in the very center of the hurricane going on. Thank You for loving me the way I need to be loved today. Thank You for Jesus, who is my example of the suffering--but not complaining--servant. Thank You for my husband and my home and my children and my dog and my laundry and dishes and clutter and chaos. Without them, I would be doing far less than You have made me to do. I know that You made this very day and You already know the details of it. I thank You for each of those details, knowing that they come from You. I am thankful for each and every one and ask You to continue to polish my rough areas. Give me Your strength and help me to love the way You love--completely. I praise You, Lord. Amen.