Accustomed to Him

“Some of the greatest beauties [of this world], are its briefest.”—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

shelter-from-the-storm-

I’m in those hazy days of night-waking to feed a 3 month old. On the night stand, I’ve got size 2 diapers, baby wipes, a water bottle, tissues, and a well-marked book of poetry, Rainier Marie Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I know: one of these things is not like the other. But as mother of four boys under the age of six in the midst of diapers, dishes, fights, and fits, I find myself hungry for beauty. And while I can’t feast on beauty like I’d like to, I snack on it when I can.

There’s not enough solitude in my life right now. Not enough quiet. Not enough alone time for this introvert. My soul longs for quiet walks in the woods, for a morning to sip tea, to read or write and stare out the window at a blanket of snow-covered ground. But these days, there is rowdy bustle, clamoring for mommy, there is a broken dishwasher, and a pile of unfolded laundry.

So I’m learning and leaning and listening in for beauty like I haven’t before. I’m parched. One of the little snippets, I stretched for in the middle of the night, with the lights dim, to keep baby in that sleepy state as I nursed him, was this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours, it reads:

“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly.”

The “you” here is God. We become so accustomed to Him, that we no longer look up. We become so accustomed to His beauty, to His goodness, to His faithfulness that we no longer look up. When the ordinary things around me glow with His shadow, how rarely I see them. How rarely I acknowledge them. For all things, sing His praises, at times we just hear the melody more clearly.

I close the book and let the words sink in. I realize His shadow has just fallen across the page I’ve been reading, my page on this night and I look up. I acknowledge Him. I acknowledge this moment of beauty and then I turn my gaze to my sweet baby. He’s dimly lit. His cheeks are filling out. His hair is coming in finally, perhaps a quarter of an inch. And his face, his sweet perfect face. When the feeding is done, I gaze at him asleep for several moments longer than any sleep-deprived person in her right mind should. I drink Him in. He’s a masterpiece in the middle of my mundane. He’s a stunning work of art from God to me that I alone get to gaze upon and enjoy in this way, for this moment. Sure, I trust and pray that he will grow and bless others in manifold ways, but on this night I am the only one awake to witness this shooting star glimpse of the glory of God displayed in a baby, my baby.

Beau sleep

I must remember this. I must acknowledge the glow of God on this page, on this day, on this life.

A few days later, the dinner was done and the dishes finished. We were enjoying some of those alternatingly sweet and cringe-inducing moments with our boys before bedtime. There was the clamoring for firsts, and turns and mine, and there were the “play with me, mommy” and the child who crawls on the lap eager for just your presence. In other words, there was the simultaneous sweetness and senseless stuff of parenthood.

My husband had built a roaring fire and the big boys were for a moment enthralled in its warmth and glow. I had put on my favorite cd of George Winston’s Winter and had checked out for a moment to lay beside our sweet littlest one on his playmat. As I lay there watching his face, the song Joy came on. It is an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and I love it so much, I chose it for our wedding march. Somehow the arrangement seems to accentuate the joy in that beautiful piece of music, the joy in the heart of one who desires Jesus. So as I was laying there, listening and watching, my sweet baby smiled with one of his brand-new grins and then began to coo at me.

Beau fire Beau Grin Beau Smile

The moment was so brief, so brief, but it was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. The music reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me on my wedding day; the smile reminded me of God’s faithfulness in giving us children. A moment later there was fighting and fussing. Ten minutes later there was the blur of bedtime routines and teeth-brushing and one-more-story-please-mommy.

Later, I scribbled down in my journal, “sometimes life’s greatest beauties are its briefest. We dismiss these because they are here one moment and gone the next, interrupted. Why don’t we instead treasure them for what they are? Why don’t we string them together in our minds like the beautiful pearls they are? Each glimpse deserves reverence for what it is: a glimpse of ultimate joy and beauty, a glimpse of the One who created and authored beauty, the One who is all-beautiful and all-good. The fleeting nature of these moments shouldn’t rob from them, but instead remind us that that which we long for is not of this world, it is eternal. We are thirsty for more because there is indeed more and because we are made for more. We are not satiated with interrupted grace because there is a source of unending grace.”

So I’m learning to not begrudge these little glimpses of grace and sips of beauty because they are fleeting. I’m learning to take them, accept them as the shadow that falls across the page I’m reading, as the feeling of a presence which makes me look up. They come in so many moments: in the sunrise of a smile, in the nestling head upon my shoulder as I read just one more story, in the whispered “Amen” of my two-year old, in the roar of a fire, and the first-fall of snow. Let me treasure these, string them together, lay them at His feet in praise. Let me not become so accustomed to grace that I no longer look up.

 

I couldn’t give you pictures of the exact nights that these happened–I try to be in my moments rather than behind a camera– and I’m not a great photographer, but I still wanted to give you a few of my beautiful Beau. I’m learning to treasure the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and offer these moments back to God in praise. If you are new here and interested in reading more, sign up to the left to have these posts delivered straight to your inbox and check out my devotional journal for expectant mothers, Waiting in Wonder.

The Winter of Our Discontent: Finding Joy in the Season

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I can close my eyes and see it: the perfect blue of an autumn sky framed by the flaring colors of maples and birches ablaze as my boys and I poked along the river road one late September day looking for wonders. If I try, I can feel the warmth of the summer sun on my bare arms as we picked buckets of blueberries in the fullness of June. And I can remember rolling down the windows one May-day as we crept up the steep mountain road to breathe in just a bit more of the sweetness of blackberry blossoms that crowned spring days in hope. But winter—ah you are much more difficult to love.

Sure there is the peace of a world blanketed in snow, there is the wonder of Christmas and the magnetism of New Year’s promises, but then there are days upon days of the darkness settling in too early, of the cold and wind being intolerable for outdoor walks and play, and the hassle of bundling everyone in layer upon layer to go anywhere at all, only to catch colds if we dare to venture out. It is easy to begrudge winter after her first charms are enjoyed.

But not this winter, and not me. I’m borrowing a notion or two from Norway, I’m mixing in an idea or two of my own, and I’m going to give it a try. This winter I refuse, yes, I refuse to let this be the “winter of our discontent.” Here’s what I’m thinking:

When I set my clock back earlier this fall, I read an article about The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter and I made up my mind to give it a try. While Norway has winters with some of the shortest stretches of daylight found in any habitable place, they also rank unexpectedly high in the usual surveys on gross domestic happiness. How do they beat the winter doldrums? Well, it seems that rather than resent the long winter months and dark skies, they celebrate them.

Apparently, there is a saying in Norway, “There’s no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing.” Norwegians continue to get out and enjoy winter’s charms even in those months of the year when the sun barely bothers to rise each day. Skiing, sledding, brisk walking, Norwegians keep going out despite what winter brings. So I’ve been trying it more and more. It’s hard to get a two month old out in the cold, but I’ve rallied my 2, 4, and 5 year olds for soccer scrimmages in the backyard while I let baby snooze just inside. I’ve bundled up my boys and cuddled the baby in his carrier close to my heart and said, “Let’s head for the park.” While our times outside aren’t quite as long as in other months, we come in refreshed and ready to enjoy the comforts of indoors with a new attitude.

The other idea I’m borrowing from Norway is wrapped in a word not easily translatable. The word is koselig and to Norwegians it is an idea of coziness, of warmth, not just physical but interpersonal. “It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress,” writes Laura Vanderkam. “People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets. There’s a community aspect to it too; it’s not just an excuse to sit on the couch watching Netflix.”

Lorelou Desjardins, a French woman living in Norway, further elucidates the concept of koselig over at her blog, Frog in the Fjord. She explains, “basically anything can (and should) be koselig: a house, a conversation, a dinner, a person. It defines something/someone /an atmosphere that makes you feel a sense of warmth very deep inside in a way that all things should be: simple and comforting.”

As I’ve thought about this more, I’ve come up with my own takeaway. What could be a better way to spend winter than by creating warmth in my own home? Candles, and fire and good music, yes, these things are nice and go a long way toward making people feel welcome. But the most important take-away for me is that winter is a time of welcoming and making others feel warmed in the light of an attentive presence. There are many other months of the year for getting out and enjoying the great green world. But the winter months lend themselves to hospitality in a special way: these are the months where others are likewise cooped up and inside more than they’d like to be, and where a friendly invitation, a good meal and a lively game or conversation can help us all weather our storms.

And of course, it doesn’t all need to be outward. Let me celebrate the quiet joys of those winter days when we are cooped up, and there is no one around but us. Can the idea of making others feel warm in my presence extend quite simply to my own? Can I make my children feel the warmth of my love in special ways on these winter days? Can I lavish extra time on them: playing that too-long game they love, going to extra lengths to make an epic fort from blankets and chairs and imagination, or setting a special candle-lit meal replete with the fine china just for them? As Susan Schaeffer writes in For the Family’s Sake, “Today, we talk a lot about how elusive self-esteem can be… but if as a child you know you are a person that matters so much that great care is put into making your meal, then you to matter to yourself properly too!” Whatever the table or food may look like, simply put, home is the place where a child first knows what it means to be welcomed, wanted and warmed.

Winter can be a time of setting another log on the marriage home-fires as well. Why not turn off the tv and snuggle up together with your spouse and a warm drink and a blanket. Welcome him back into your heart. Laugh together. Share your heart and your hopes. Many a marriage would blaze again if a little more time were put into stirring the coals with the same simple kindness, courtesy, and attention we might give a guest. Make him your guest and give him your attention. Chances are he will return the kindness by seeking your heart.

Finally, may I set the table, light the candle, and wait with expectation for the One who made the winter as well as the fall, spring and summer. May I welcome my Savior in in special ways on these long cold days, reminding Him that I lack nothing in His presence. And as we welcome Him, may we remember that we can do so because He first welcomed us. The long winter of our discontent was first broken by the light and the warmth of His love—a love that made us feel, safe, and celebrated and home when we were cold and alone, a warmth that felt like a thousand splendid summers thawing the coldness of a desolate heart.

 

Note to my dear readers: I know it’s been awhile since you’ve last heard from me. I hope you can forgive me. I promised myself when I began this blog that I wouldn’t write unless I felt I had something truly worth saying. We all get enough dribble clogging up our inboxes. And what can I say? There have been some months of writer’s drought. But I hope when you receive this you’ll feel like you’re opening a letter from an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while. I hope you’ll feel glad to hear from me again and that we can pick up where we left off. While we’re catching up, check out my about page for an updated picture of our family. One of the things that has had me busy is our beautiful Beau: baby boy number 4. Time flies… And if you are new here, I hope you’ll take a look around, check out my devotional, Waiting in Wonder and sign up to receive these posts straight to your inbox.

For Those Who’ve Lost Themselves

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There you are, mama, pacing the floor with a fussy baby. There you are on your knees sweeping up the stray rice and peas from beneath the high chair. There you are making silly voices for stories at bedtime, hushing a midnight terror, putting the pencil in a little hand the right way again, and tucking a tender note in a lunch box.

There’s no one watching, no paycheck coming, no accolades. You feel invisible and sometimes you feel lost. You feel like you’ve lost yourself, your identity, but you haven’t. You just have no one there to witness it in its flourishing: the compassion, the service, the creativity, the patience, the insight—all those things that make you you. They are there—they are just out of the public eye. You who are teacher, counselor, advocate, servant, strategic-thinker, and artist. You’ve lost yourself in a place where you are seldom thanked or acknowledged. But if you look more closely, you may see that there in that which seems menial and mundane, you have found yourself.

~*~

There you are, dear one, who is longing for motherhood. There you are serving in the nursery, tutoring a troubled child, opening up your home in hospitality, lovingly packing a shoebox for a faraway child at Christmas. There you are painting toenails with your nieces, lavishing hugs and kisses on a friend’s child, volunteering to be the middle school camp counselor.

There’s no one watching, no one who sees the ache for more. You feel invisible and overlooked. You wonder who you are because you are not where you always thought you would be. You wonder if you will ever be who you thought you were. You feel lost and afloat wondering who you are in the waiting without realizing you are already the woman you long to be. You too are a life-giver, a nurturer, an advocate and ally for the voiceless. Every child who comes into your path feels the joy of your delight in them. You may not be where you want to be, but there is no question about who you are. You are beautiful.

~*~

There you are, father working late into the night at a job that saps you. There you are on the floor wrestling with your boys when the weight of the world lies heavy on your shoulders. There you are in bumper to bumper traffic, working through your lunch hour to make it in time for little league. There you are roused out of bed on a Saturday to play matchbox cars. There you are having a tea party in a tiara with your baby-girl instead of watching the big game. There you are getting up too early, going to bed too late.

No one understands the constant pressure of the responsibilities you carry. You feel alone in the midst of constant motion. Whoever it is that you are feels submerged, lost under the heaviness of constantly caring for those under your charge. You wonder who you are anymore never realizing that you are leader, provider, and sustainer. You are light of your children’s world, comfort of your wife’s heart, and the braveheart who battles chaos to create a small haven of peace in a world of conflict.

~*~

There you are empty-nester pouring your wisdom into a new mom. There you are veteran visiting the wards of the wounded. There you are single-mom slugging through two jobs. There you are husband fighting to win back the heart of your wife. There you are mother of a prodigal praying her home. There you are teen sharing the lunch table with the outcast.

For all who’ve felt lost and un-noticed, for all who’ve wondered who they are, I whisper:

You find yourself in losing yourself. You find yourself in the midst of the mundane, in the simple service unobserved. It is in the quiet flourishing of gifts that go unheralded. Who are you? You are more than others see. You are the sum of your moments lived not for worldly accolades, but lived for the pure pleasure of God.

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Counting Down to Christmas: Joy & Jesus Entwined

snow trees effect

My three year-old sits in the tub sporting a Santa beard made of bubbles. He’s alternately slurping hottish cocoa from a sippy cup and slathering his almost 2 year old brother with foam from their peppermint-scented bubble bath. They are a slippery, giggly mess as I get them out of the tub, the toddler darting naked, trailing frothy bubbles in his wake. Once pajama-clad and snuggling in next to me, we read the old, old story of a humble birth in a stable and I breathe in the sweet smell of their pepperminty hair. I hope the smell of candy-canes will remind me of these moments when I’m old and gray. And I hope it will remind them of joy, and Jesus, and laughter when their faces are no longer boyishly smooth.

We’ve been making memories at our house this Christmas season, ones which I hope will entwine the joy of Jesus with the joys of the season, of home, and of laughter. A few years ago, when all I had was one in diapers, I bought a huge advent calendar with pockets to hang on the wall at Christmastime. At that time I had no idea what I’d do with those pockets. Candy, perhaps? I’d figure it out when I got there.

When I got there—er here, two more kids in diapers later—daily sugar for my already energetic boys didn’t seem like such a bright idea. I’d fill the pockets with something else. But what? Finally, I landed on the idea of counting down the days with a Christmas bucket list of sorts. Meanwhile, I stumbled on a Bible-reading plan that would take us through their Jesus Storybook Bible each night as we count the days to Christmas. One of the themes of this children’s Bible is that every story whispers His name. And so we point to Jesus each night as we read these stories and hang our hand-made ornaments, representing each Bible story, on the tree. After our Bible reading is over, the oldest picks a note from the pocket of our calendar that reveals what’s on our Christmas countdown list for that night.

advent collage 2The whole routine is met with daily expectation and glee. From the time they get up, my oldest is asking when it will be time to “do Advent.” I love it and so do they. And here’s the thing: Jesus and joy go hand in hand each day as we count the days to Christmas. And this is how it should be. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. The season’s songs remind us of this truth. Jesus’ birth is the birth of true Joy. It is the Hallelujah moment the world had been waiting to sing. And as I cultivate traditions of Christmas celebration in our house, I want these two words—Jesus and joy—to always be entwined. I want Jesus and Joy to be the centerpiece of our celebration.

The world will always whisper lies-that joy is found elsewhere. It whispers it to you and to me. One day it will whisper this lie to my boys. When and if they taste of the world’s pleasures and find them empty, I want them to remember a time and a place where fun was found in personal relationships that had meaning, where you didn’t have to numb yourself to feel good, where a few simple laughs were enough to fill you. I want them to remember a place where they felt like themselves and that that place was filled with Jesus. I want them to remember those stories that whispered the name of Jesus, that name that Joseph named his baby boy when joy invaded the earth.

 

~*~

Here’s a link to the Jesus Storybook Bible and the reading plan and ornaments we’ve been using. And here’s a little peak at our personal Christmas bucket list. Enjoy the season and no matter the Christmas traditions you cultivate, make the joy of Jesus the centerpiece of your home.

1. Make an advent wreath for the table.
2. Make Christmas cards to send to the cousins.
3. Make Snowflakes to hang on the window.
4. Have French toast and hot chocolate for dinner.
5. Turn Christmas music up loud and have a dance party.
6. Read about the real St. Nicholas and have St. Nick’s b-day celebration. Practice secret acts of service.
7. Go see a live Nativity.
8. Make a Bethlehem star to hang in the kids’ room.
9. Have a game night.
10. Take a peppermint bubble-bath.
11. Make a snow globe.
12. Pick out a gift together from World Vision catalog for a needy family in the Third World.
13. Pop popcorn and watch a Christmas movie.
14. Go with parent to pick out a gift for other parent and siblings.
15. Drink eggnog.
16. Call relatives and sing Christmas carols.
17. Spend the day doing Random Acts of Kindness.
18. Act out the nativity story.
19. Read Christmas stories under the Christmas tree.
20. Make Christmas cookies.
21. Have dinner by candlelight on the shortest night of the year.
22. Make popcorn strands for the tree.
23. Drive around to see Christmas lights.
24. Attend the Christmas Eve candle-light service at church.
25. Sing Happy Birthday Jesus and read the Christmas story.

 

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