Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Daily Bread


I nearly laughed out loud right there in the middle of quiet Evening Prayer worship. As I was praying  ... give us this day our daily bread ... the thought popped into my mind: "God must want me to go on a diet!"  Where this thought came from, I have no idea, but it got me thinking.

Give us this day our daily bread - a request for Enough. A request for just enough of what we need to make it through the day every day, like manna in the wilderness. No more, no less - a blessing of the essential. 

It dawned on me that lately I've been feeling like I don't have enough - not enough money to pay bills, not enough medication to take care of the pain, not enough energy to make it through the day, not enough answers to my health questions, not enough left after taking care of my family to nurture friendships. I feel like I'm lacking so much, and losing more by the minute. Perhaps God wants me to go on a diet - to live with less than what I expect, less than what I think I need. 

Or it could be that God does provide enough in my life: joy despite the pain; a medical team that's doing its best to get me the testing and care I need; a loving and supportive family; food in our pantry ... if only I focus on that instead of the overabundance of potential stress.

Then again, maybe God does want me to go on a diet - to give up worry and stress; to simplify life further; to weed out negativity and doubt; to realize that no matter what happens, I have Enough, I am Enough. 

In 2015 I will focus on living blessed with Enough. I will spend Enough time with each of my children to help them feel loved and valued and appreciated. I will manage my time, money, and other resources more wisely to make sure we rarely feel lacking in any way. I will live abundantly in God's love and care. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Unforced Rhythms of Grace


Am I supposed to be having a nervous breakdown midlife crisis right about now? It is my fortieth birthday, after all. What's supposed to happen in a midlife crisis anyway - are you supposed to try to recapture your youth or something? I don't need to do that. I have a sixteen year old whose mere age takes me back there often enough, and a fourteen year old who is too much like me and reminds me that I do not need to go back to those angst-ridden years. My early twenties were spent planning a wedding, getting married, and figuring out what true commitment and responsibility meant.  I relive my mid-to-late twenties, which were mainly spent mothering very small children, often enough when wrangling friends' little ones. I don't see a need to relive any of that - I'm good, thanks.

I don't know how it's supposed to feel to be forty. I'm guessing it's not my current state of wondering if this Sunday will be the day I surpass the mobility issues of my eighty-year-old comrades in mobility devices, although the thought somehow amuses me. 

For me, it's living in gratitude for the gift of forty years of life. Several years ago, receiving diagnosis upon diagnosis, the prognosis of liver failure looming, I wasn't sure if forty was a year I'd see. This year, discussion of the possibility of brain tumor or multiple sclerosis with doctors put into sharp relief the blessing of every painful step, every breath, every hug. 

Forty, for me, is feeling tired, worn out, and having a body that doesn't match the not-so-worn out spirit that's inside it. It's needing to get my life and my house in order to clear the way for the time and space and energy to spread love and joy to all around me. It's a year of celebrating small victories and enjoying the moments and music of life. It's time to learn the unforced rhythms of grace. 


Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Eve on Hoover Avenue


I sit in a silent house.

This is the first miracle of this Christmas.

It's 7:45AM on Christmas Eve morning. I've made biscuits, sorted laundry, done a load of laundry, prepped some food for later, folded laundry, and done a dozen miscellaneous tasks. A turkey breast is cooking slowly in the corckpot and there's homemade cranberry sauce in the fridge. 

The children are ALL still asleep. All of them. Even the ones who usually get up at 6:30am. 

I put five little gifts next to the tree. Gifts for my children, who will be incredibly surprised when they open them. Perhaps not pleasantly surprised, as they are the gifts that we have been promising since Thanksgiving: a nosewarmer for Alexander, new dart for Zachary (HIMYM reference), holes for Haley (she said she had a (w)hole list of stuff she wanted, so we told her we'd give her holes), coal for Coren (although he may have wanted the Ninjago minifigure, Cole) and a ski mask for Alia. I do have to admit that Alia will most likely fully accept her gift as her one and only Christmas gift and be overjoyed with it. For over a month, when asked what she wants for Christmas, she's said a ski mask. She may not want to use it on our 60 degree Farenheit Christmas Day, though. Their "real" gifts are waiting in the basement, but we don't need to tell them that. 

My husband was off to work at 5am. I'm feeling lonely here without him on what should be a family day. He will get to join us for worship this evening, which will be wonderful. 

Zachary is the first downstairs, muttering unintelligible words to my "Blessed Christmas Eve" greeting. Coren is close behind, mumbling some form of greeting. Alia bounds down the stairs in her usual energetic way and gets to work making eggs for whomever wants them. I don't expect to see Alex for a while. I predict Haley will emerge within a half hour. 

What a peaceful start to what I hope will prove to be a wonderful Christmas.


Christmas Eve. The children are finally in bed after a long but wonderful day. 

While I continued down my OCD Christmas preparation path, the children played and stayed out of my way, lest they be asked to help. They did make an epic Christmas Eve dessert: a tree made out of marshmallows, chocolate, and gummy worm pieces. We waited, and waited, and waited for it to be time to head to church. 


How I loved singing Christmas hymns with the choir before worship and witnessing my children help with worship, two as acolytes, Alia as an usher alongside her Papa. Haley's beautiful voice singing the Chirstmas Rose brought tears to my eyes as I struggled to contain my emotions while singing. Once home, we had a wonderful turkey dinner, followed by the great Opening of the Gifts. 



The children were amused by and happy with their gifts. The "gag" gifts, that is. Well, maybe not Coren, the recipient of a lump of coal...


Genuinely surprised when Daddy went to get the "real" gifts, their excitement grew even bigger. After they opened their gifts: a microscope and anatomy/physiology flash cards for Alia; a Ninjago set and Egyptian digging kit for Coren; a Wii Fit board and Wii Fit Plus game for Haley; and snowball makers/launchers and Magic the Gathering Cards for Zachary and Alex, I marveled that we spent a grand total of $36 on all the gifts combined, thanks to thrift stores and sales. Who says Christmas needs to break the bank? 

Christmas Eve FAITH5 brings highs of spending time with family, singing, helping, and being together. 

Not yet ready to nestle all snug in their beds, the children have retreated upstairs to watch a movie while Jim and I try best not to fall asleep. 

Love pours over me as I reflect on our Christmas Eve. That my kids gave their time and talents to help make worship special for all; that they were content with silly gifts and overjoyed with the "extras," gives testament to their kind hearts and generous spirits.

I can barely wait for tomorrow to begin. But first, sleep. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

But I Get Up Again

Disclaimer: This is the strangest Christmas Eve Eve post I've ever written. The songs are not Christmasy, but I do use the word Christmas several times and have a Christmas wish at the end. Please bear with me...



Sometimes you just need to have a good cry and a small nervous breakdown in order to turn things around. Last night, I did just that. 

This morning, I still felt like I was losing my mind. Not a good feeling to have on the day before the day before Christmas. I put on Christmas music. I made gluten-free/dairy-free Rice Krispie treats with my twelve year old daughter. This, by the way, is something that I shall never ever ever ever do again, as the process is to make glue and then try to mix dry cereal into the glue and then attempt to smear this gluey cereal onto a baking sheet and making it stick there instead of everywhere else. I'm still picking Krispies off of myself nine hours later. Come to think about it, somewhere in that mindboggling complex process I started having fun. Laughing even. I cleaned up around the house a little. Amazed that I was feeling sort of ok, we were off to choir practice. We were on our way with One Day by Matisyahu, the girls singing along. 

The words hit hard: 

Keep on moving though the waters stay raging   In this maze you can lose your way   It might drive you crazy   But don't let it faze you no way
Gotta hold on   Livin life day by day   Gotta hold on   Put your focus on that one day

Sometimes in my tears I drown  But I never let it get me down   So when negativity surrounds   I know some day it'll all turn around...


At choir we sang, and sang, and sang some more. Christmas hymns, mostly. The beauty of the words and music, the touch of the Spirit, the meaning of the season, all perched gently on my heart, waiting for it to open enough to let them in. Calmness washed over me as I raised my voice in praise. 

My spirit very much lifted, we headed home. On the way home, we cranked up the music at the first notes ... 


I get knocked down
But I get up again   You're never gonna keep me down    I get knocked down   But I get up again   You're never gonna keep me down
And I meant it. 

Yes. Tubthumping by Chumbawumba was my song of victory(ish) over darkness today.

As I sat down to a dinner of pancakes and eggs, prepared by my children, I held gratitude in my heart. Gratitude opened my heart to receive all that worry and stress and sadness had locked out. 

Tonight, I intend, to move through the next few days holding gratitude close; to recognize God in all things; to sing songs that remind me of the good times, and to sing songs that remind me of the better times. (Even if I'm still sad some of the time.)

I hope this Christmas brings peace to your heart, your home, and your life. 
Blessed Christmas. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bleak Midwinter


In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Some days darkness wins.

Some days, it doesn't matter how hard you try, how much you pray, how much you logically know that somehow, someway, things will work out, depression wins. The weight of life's circumstances becomes too much to bear. Every single task becomes an insurmountable mess.

It's almost Christmas and I'm supposed to be enjoying time with family, anticipating the birth of the Christ Child, and all that happy .... stuff. But I can't. Not at this moment. In this moment, the darkness is closing in and the weight of my illnesses is upon me and the fact that it's ripped my family's finances to shreds for reasons too many to count fills me with guilt. If it weren't for me, for my illnesses, we could pay bills. We could go places, do things, fix our house, and the list goes on. 

It's one big pity party in my brain and I want nothing to do with it. I want to get out of my head and into the moment and concentrate on the little things, the good things, the holy things I can do with my family. I want my mind to rest in assurance that when the end of the month comes and bills are still needing to be paid, there are people who love me who will help out until we get back on our feet.

The darkness doesn't allow for such positive thinking. Depression dwells on the lack, encourages the guilt, changes a loving family home into a desolate wasteland of things needing to be fixed and replaced, full of obstacles for my malfunctioning body. Guilt hinders my ability to ask for the help we need. Again. Every time I try, I burst into tears. 

So I do the only thing I can do - I put on Christmas music and take lots of deep breaths and clean things and make crockpot cranberry sauce. I stick a candle in a can of jellied cranberry sauce for my newly minted sixteen year old, light it, and lead a rousing if off-key round of Happy Birthday for the young man. I say yes to kids staying up late. I say yes when the 14 year old requests staying up just a bit longer to watch Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap (*waves to HIMYM fans*). I cry. I write. I love and love and love because it's the only thing I have left to give.

And I feel deeply sad the entire time. There are good moments, even magical moments here and there, but the underlying gloom is unyielding. Tonight I pray for sleep - for good, restful, nourishing sleep and a better outlook in the morning. 

Whether or not it comes, I know things will get better. The Light is coming. Whether I'm happy or sad or rich or poor. And that's all that matters, especially now. I hold on to the coming of the Light. 

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart. (In the Bleak Midwinter, C. Rosetti/G. Holst)

Sixteen

 It's just plain scary.

No, not that creature ... the fact that the young man inside that costume is sixteen. Sixteen. 16. He can't possibly be, but somehow he is.

Good thing I told him he's not allowed to drive until he's 35. I'm not sure I could handle one of my children driving. Driving. Being old enough to drive. Sixteen.

I've been preparing myself for this number for a year and it hasn't helped. It's still shocking when I think about it.

He's not your typical sixteen. He's himself. He's not embarrassed to watch VeggieTales with his siblings, while at the same time enjoys being treated as an adult member of the household. He's an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to Magic the Gathering and other things that hold his interest. He revels in being taller than his mother. He has an awesome sense of humor and every once in a while allows his mother to sneak in a hug-like show of affection. 

He's sixteen.



That means I get to kick him out of the house in two years. 

He tells me that I can't do that, because if I don't let him drive until he's 35 he'll have to live with me that long. I tell him he can walk. Or ride a bike. Then I remember that that would take actual effort and require going and being outside for extended periods of time and realize that, except for the magical Camp Calumet, the young man is seemingly allergic to being outdoors. Perhaps I'll have to shave a few years off the driver's license thing. 

I'm not sure when I'll get over the shock. Perhaps in eight days when the number forty becomes unusually significant in my life. Maybe not. 


How is it that sixteen years have passed since this quiet, funny, intelligent, kind, remarkable young man came silently into the world? Sixteen years since my heart started to exist outside my body. This child has taught me so much in those years - how to be a Mama, how to be a Mama to children with Aspergers, about the joys of breastfeeding and babywearing and unschooling and knocking on your teenager's door and then whacking him over the head with a cardboard tube. 

I love you, Alexander. Even if you are taller than me. We'll talk about the driver's license thing, but really, if you can't steer a wheelchair without threatening to jettison your own mother ...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Insistent Darkness


Insistent darkness lingers later each night, its tendrils darkening my mood and shredding my sanity. I'm a mess. Physically, emotionally, and mentally. I struggle with seasonal depression this time of year, and add to that the stress of being off meds and increasingly ill and having no idea what is going on with my body, and all the deep breaths and prayers in the world find it difficult to combat brain chemistry. I am doing ok, really, it just takes work. Hard, tiring work. 
Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart. I am so pleased that you have continued on in this with us, believing and proclaiming God’s Message, from the day you heard it right up to the present. There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.  Philippians 1:3-6 MSG

Sometimes the right words just plop themselves in your lap right when you need them. This reading was right there waiting for me tonight, encouraging me. 

Paul's letter serves as a reminder to me that, right here in the middle of my mess, there is God, there is Grace, and there is something for which to be thankful. 


There are people in my life who make all the difference in the gloom: a friend who makes my day with pumpkin spice coffee; a boy who shows concern for my well-being and then says he'll pray for me; people who sincerely utter the words, "if there's anything I can do to make your life easier," or otherwise offer help; and all those who really want to know how I'm doing and listen when I tell them without trying to fix things. A teenager who looks at and longs for pets with me and laughs with me at the truly odd lot that is out there awaiting adoption or a smallish child who cuddles up with me to share their warmness chase away the gloom. 

These people, although they probably don't realize it, shine God's light into my life and encourage me beyond measure. Every time they cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanksgiving to God, each exclamation a trigger for prayer, each prayer bringing peace and joy and light to my heart. 


As darkness insists on its leisurely path, I need not worry. God's Light shines brighter in my life than any darkness and is reflected in the caring words and actions of those I am blessed to have in my life.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Free Admittance

"My high today is that we got to go see the Christmas lights"   "My low today was that my brother got hurt."
"My high today was spending time together as a family playing games."  "My low today was that people were not treating each other with respect earlier, and people ended up getting hurt."

Each night before bed, my family gathers together to share, to read, to talk, to pray, and to bless. We share the highs and lows of our day. Each one of us puts to words the best and the worst things from our days. Many days, the lows are mere disappointments, but some days they are weighty subjects - the weight lifted from the barer through sharing, talking, and praying. Each of my children don't hesitate to share, which is something I treasure. That my teenagers will freely admit to their darker feelings and experiences in the safety of our family circle is invaluable. That every teen would have such a safe, open place is my dream.

Our nightly circle is a safe space where there is no judgement, only listening. With no immediate intention to fix the lows, we recognize, understand, and pray about them. With no consequences, only helpful support for mistakes made, our children feel comfortable being open and honest. Discussion and support follow naturally afterwards, and our brains naturally work things out as we sleep. Sharing our best and our worst with each other creates compassion and understanding that lasts long after our evening ritual ends and extends beyond our family, into the world around us.



That our discussion is grounded in the Word, read after sharing and before talking, means a great deal to me. Often one of the children will think of a reading that might be helpful to someone's low or the "reading of the day" from whatever source we've chosen to use will shed some Light on things or offer a firm foundation for our discussion. 

We pray in so many ways. Some nights we pray for each other. Other nights we pray for loved ones, or those going through difficult times, or people on both sides of whatever tragedy has made the recent news. Occasionally the "one word prayer" makes an appearance, each family member contributing one word to the prayer until it is done. On those nights, laughter is often the outcome as we pray for zombie squid and homeless ants or somesuch. 


With a cross traced on their foreheads and the blessing, "Child of God, Jesus loves you and so do I!" our children drift off to sleep confident they are loved and valued. 

We share, read, talk, pray, and bless our way to healthy family relationships. Thanks to wonderful book, website, workshop, and conversations with Rich Melheim and others, this family ritual has grounded our family in faith, love, hope, and understanding. 



Friday, December 5, 2014

Hurry


Patience is something completely lacking from my being when I was a child. I had none. Zip. Nada. I loathed waiting. Waiting for Christmas was akin to torture to my young self, but there was something magical about that particular type of anticipation which I carry with me today.

While my ability to practice patience continues to be a work in progress, I am in love with the waiting that is Advent. It's just the beginning of Advent and I'm bursting with anticipation. Our Advent Spiral is set up, our Christmas tree created from lots of lights and things found around the house, Christmas books are wrapped to open and read together each morning and our Advent calendar (online this year!) is awaiting our nightly visits during our FAITH5 family devotions time.

It's all so very exciting. We need to hurry up and wait! 

It only seems fitting that on our first Advent night we read a book about Jesus as a boy, about Mary telling Him the stories of Love surrounding His birth. About her excitement following an angelic visit, Joseph's immediate reaction upon hearing that his betrothed was pregnant, about shepherds and angels and magi ... and elephunks that looked more like camels. The waiting Mary had to do: waiting for Elizabeth to give birth; waiting for Joseph to come to terms with God's plan or divorce her; waiting to give birth to Jesus; waiting through her fears for His adult life as He grew from baby to child to adult. 



Thankfully, my family didn't have too much time to wait from the first Sunday in Advent until we celebrated St. Nicholas Day at Tuesday Night Sunday School. December 6th will swiftly arrive, bringing with it a visit from St. Nicholas and the first of three gifts for our children this season. St. Nicholas usually gives an experience - tickets to a performance, museum, science center, movie, or other exciting adventure - instead of a thing. And then the waiting to go to that place or have that experience begins!



Each morning we open and read together a Christ-centered book in anticipation of His arrival. Every Advent night we open another "door" on our Advent calendar, this year online with alternating devotions and fun. Each day we add a stone to our Advent spiral path, moving closer to the Birth, and adding a word, idea, or concept to concentrate on as we move through our day: Love, Family, Holy, Whimsy, Compassion, Giving, Fun, and Spiritual Gifts among them. And we read the Sacred Story of Jesus' birth one tiny book at a time.

As we wait, our hearts open to Love come down and Grace gifted. From Mary's first angelic visit to the visit from the Magi, we wait and celebrate. 
Hurry the Lord is Near! 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

People Keep Asking


People keep asking me what I want for Christmas. And for my birthday - the big 40 - which is five days later. "Something you want, but would never buy for yourself," one friend asked. I honestly have no idea what that is.

So much of what I want is out of reach ... making my home handicapped friendly and adequately organized, a second bathroom, a freezer full of meat so I don't have to worry about feeding my family, a way for me to make money to contribute to my family despite my ever-growing health issues. A diagnosis for my new symptoms and plan for treatment for all my medical issues. The energy to get things done and keep my house clean.

I suppose what I really want is peace of mind. Knowing my house is functional, that I can put food on the table, and that we can pay our bills without struggling.  Being able to purchase health/medical items not covered by insurance without feeling guilty for taking money away from my family's needs. Knowing the possibilities of what my physical future holds instead of being off meds and left wondering and getting worse.



I've thought, and thought, and thought. Wool socks? An electric blanket? I don't know. My mind is consumed with the huge life issues and I can't think on a smaller scale.

Enough. I want enough. Enough of a change to my house where it is livable for me with decreased mobility. Enough money to pay all the bills every month. Enough food to get us through without mounting panic as the month wanes. Enough knowledge of my health issues to have a plan of action.

And I want to feel like enough. Like I'm contributing enough financially and around the house. Like I have enough energy and brain power to be a good enough mother, wife, and friend. 

I know all of this will come with time, hard work, medical treatment, and with persistence. At least that's my hope. 

I still don't have an answer to the question that people keep asking, but I appreciate more than words can say that there are people in my life who care enough to ask. So I guess it comes down to this: your love and caring is enough. 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Ways to Torture Your Kids, Christmas Edition



1. Ask them what they want for Christmas. Every time they say something, shake your head about their choice and ask, "What else?"

2. Every few days, say, "You wanted a __insert item child does NOT want here ____, right?" Act upset with yourself when they tell you they want something different.

3. Wrap their Christmas gift early - or better yet,  a random household object - and leave under the tree or anywhere else in the house. Every once in a while, comment about how excited you are for them to open their gift.

4. Wrap their gifts in layers of wrapping paper, yarn, bags, and tape. Make sure the final product is much bigger and a totally different shape than the gift itself.

5. Watch the same holiday movie from your childhood over and over and over and over.

6. Replace all Netflix queues with only Christmas movies.


7. Have Christmas music playing at all times. Well, except when you're watching Christmas movies.

8. Start baking Christmas cookies right after Thanksgiving. Let the kids help roll, cut, and decorate sugar cookies or another family favorite. Announce as you take the first batch out of the oven how thankful you are to get the baking done early, and how every single cookie is going into the freezer for all the Christmas festivities coming up.

9.  Arrange for care for your kids for a day and tell them you're going Christmas shopping for them. Post pictures of yourself on facebook throughout the day - at the movies, out to dinner, etc. and tag your kids in the photos. Then post a picture at the dollar store with the description "Christmas shopping for the kids."

10. Ask your children at least two dozen times a day if it's Christmas yet.