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

winter-dawn-2

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.

Are You Who You Want to Be?

Conquering flower

About a month ago, I was driving home late one night by myself. Now if you are at a place in life where alone time is a common occurrence you might have just skipped blithely by that little prepositional phrase like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. So let me repeat it. I was in the car BY MYSELF. As a mom of 3 children under 5 this alone time thing is very rare. And so as any responsible adult who suddenly finds herself shed of her responsibilities, I was blaring the radio entirely too loud, the way the teenager that still lives trapped inside me likes her music. So on this night, this alone night, a song by the band Switchfoot from a few years ago happened to be playing on the radio and for some reason, though I’d heard the song before, the lyrics hit me in a fresh way. I haven’t stopped mulling them since. The song’s chorus is simple. It repeats this statement and question:

“This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; is it everything you dreamed,
when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?”

Of course, a question like this coming as you drive your mini-van, strewn with Cheerios and sippy cups, your shirt stained with baby’s sweet potato mash, on a drive out that is the first little bit of truly alone time you’ve had in a month because everyone in the family has been sick, sick, sick, is bound to make you stop and think. “Hmm… this mom-life I’m in the thick of, is it everything I dreamed?”

But it was the pronoun in the song that caught me off guard. The question isn’t are you “what” you want to be or are you “where” you want to be. The question isn’t: “Do you have all you wanted?” or “Are things going like you expected?” The question is: “Are you who you want to be?” It’s a question that gets to the heart of identity and character.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager and young adult, I spent a fair amount of time agonizing over the question of what I would do when I grew up. And yet, I don’t remember asking myself about “who” I wanted to be when I grew up—not in a way that would have elicited thoughts about what kind of character I wanted to possess. I had grandiose dreams of being on stage or being a writer. And I had more ordinary dreams of being a wife and a mother. But I don’t recall dreaming about becoming a woman of kindness, a woman whose first impulse is selflessness. I don’t remember dreaming about being a peacemaker or having that kind of deep joy in your heart that lets you smile even on the really rough days. I don’t remember dreaming about that, but I probably should have.

So I’ve been mulling this. And then this week and last, I’ve been making my way through a book called, “Expectant Parents” by Suzanne Gosselin. After reading my book, Waiting In Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, Gosselin, who formerly worked for Focus on the Family, wrote me last year to ask if she could interview me for her book. I was honored to share a little bit of my motherhood journey with her and her readers. And I’ve been delighted to see the final product in my hands. Gosselin has created a wonderful resource–a book that truly will help both moms and dads prepare not just their homes, but their hearts to welcome a precious little one.

So anyhow, I’m reading along in the book and I come across this chapter called “Roots” which is all about being the best parent you can be whether or not you’ve come from a strong family or a very broken one. And here, I stumble over these sentences where Gosselin is quoting Chrystal Evans Hurst: “Regardless of your situation—the pregnancy is earlier than planned, it’s unplanned, you’re by yourself, maybe you’re not with the guy—from this point forward you get to choose. You get to choose what kind of parent you’re going to be. You get to choose what kind of childhood you’re going to give your baby.”

And all I can think about as I put the book down is this: “This is your home, are you who you want to be?” My children will only get one childhood. They will only have one natural mother and father who shape their views of the world, of God, of love, and of who they are. This is their life; am I the mother I want to be?

Now of course, none of us will parent perfectly or even anywhere near it. But the fact that I will not be a perfect mother, doesn’t excuse me from striving to be the best mother I can possibly be for my children. As Hurst goes on to say in Gosselin’s book, “We create healthy kids by giving the best we can out of what we have to give.”

But this is what I think is so key: we spend way too much time thinking and worrying about the “what”, when the thing that is going to matter most of all for our kids is the “who”. Whether they learn to swim or ever hit a homerun, whether they read early or late, whether you move them cross country or stay close to home, whether illness strikes a blow at your family in a way you never imagined or a job-loss cripples your dreams—no matter the “what”, the “who” of you is what will be shaping them. And hopefully, as you shape them, loving them, however imperfectly, yet with all you have to give, you will also be pointing them to the much greater “Who”—the One whose nature never changes, the One who is perfect, and who will parent them perfectly even when you fail. This God we know as our loving Father.

Along with the haunting question posed in the Switchfoot song, “Are you who you want to be?” there’s also this warning and injunction, “Today is all you’ve got now. Today is all you’ll ever have. Don’t close your eyes.”

Everyone says it—you’ll blink and their childhood will be gone. So remember this: Today is your gift. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t miss it. Instead lean in. Worry less about the “what”; care more about the “who”. Be who God made you to be because God made you for them. They need you. They need God shining through you.

 

Hey, thanks for stopping by this little outpost of grace in a world that’s too weary. I hope you’ll stay awhile and be refreshed for the journey ahead. I write a lot about motherhood and have even written a book or two, which I hope may lead you or someone you know to walk just a bit closer with Jesus in this humbling journey they call life.  And if you’d like to hear more from me, I’d love to be one of those little voices of encouragement you look forward to finding in your inbox.

Life with Kids: Lessons from the Open Road

Open Road text

This summer we put the miles on Homer. Homer is, of course, the only thing a Lit Major can think to name the Honda Odyssey. (Coincidentally, the more contemporary associations with the name, “Homer” also work well, of course, when there are break-downs: “Doh! I think we just got a flat.” Or “Doh! Not another dent in a parking lot! ) And so with more than a month on the road, Homer the Honda earned his “epic” road trip merit badge this summer and so did we. Perhaps it takes a special kind of brain derangement to willfully spend that kind of time stuffed into a car traveling with a 4 year-old, a 2 year-old and an infant. Or perhaps, it is the mere act of having that many children who have not yet entered formal school that causes someone to lose that kind of brain cells.

Either way you learn a lot about yourself when strapped into tiny spaces with your family. You learn that your arms can stretch way further than you thought humanly possible to fetch a dropped French fry, crayon, juice box, matchbox car or stuffed animal. You learn your own personal threshold for the timeless question, “Are we there yet?” And you learn that you’d do just about anything to avoid stopping the car if any child has happened to fall asleep for some small stretch of miles.

But this summer, we also learned a more tender lesson, kindly taught to us by our 2 year old. To know our sweet Isaiah is to love him. When he smiles, there’s an explosion of dimples and a flash of mischief in his eyes that puts a deep-down grin in your heart. His hugs (or are they love tackles?) have literally knocked me over. He’s a rough-and-tumble boy who will pummel you with love and pin you with kisses. And there’s no doubt in my mind that God built this boy with a deep-down need for all things physical: from running and jumping to wrestling to hugs and holds and kisses. So when you take a boy like that and buckle him in a car-seat for an eight hour trip, what happens? Well, something that melted my heart every time.

Though our car was well-stocked with games, and crayons, DVD’s and snacks, each time we took to the road for more than about 30 minutes, Isaiah would call from the back, “Mommy?”

“Yes, Isaiah?”

“Mommy, I miss you.” The word, “miss” held for emphasis while the bottom lip rolled down and pouty eyes let you know this was a serious request.

“I miss you too, baby, but I’m right here. I haven’t gone anywhere.”

“Mommy, I miss you,” he would reiterate holding the words “miss” and “you” out for a few seconds longer than the first time and the pouty lip almost quivering now.

What I came to learn about that oft-repeated phrase during our summer of travel was that even a two-year old knows that nearness is not the same as closeness. Being near mama is not the same as being held by mama. Seat belts don’t exactly lend themselves to hug-tackles and games on the floor, for holding a child in your lap while reading a story, or walking hand in hand.

As Isaiah’s words have hung in my head and heart, I’ve thought about other relationships in our lives where nearness does not equal closeness. You know what I mean: the shared couch and television does not equal closeness with your spouse. The shared shuttles back-and-forth to practice and school do not necessarily equal closeness with your kids. The shared shopping excursions or tailgate parties don’t necessarily equal closeness with your friends or neighbors. And just because you make attending church or going to a bible study a priority, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are close to God.

Someone misses you. Material possessions can’t substitute for you. Entertainment may distract, but it’s no substitute for what you have to offer. Someone wants you: your heart, your embrace, your attention and interaction. Someone wants to be in real relationship with the unique soul that is you.

Can you hear it? That plaintive voice saying, “I miss you.” Where in your relationships is it time to put the brakes on, pull the car over, and get out?

Can you remember a time when closeness was more than nearness? When closeness was a depth of relationship that is not there now? Or maybe your closeness has always been a counterfeit. What can you do now to change it? Will you make the first move? It’s not too late to pull over. Someone needs you. The road can wait.

 

Have you missed me? Sorry for the little blog hiatus. Travel and life with littles got the best of me this summer, but hope you enjoyed this post. If you like what you’re reading and don’t already have me coming to your inbox, why not subscribe? And if you want to read more, check out some previous posts here or mosey on over to Amazon and check out my books. And yes, I do think moseying to Amazon is a legitimate way of surfing the wide wide world of web.

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