Endings, Or What You Learn That Can’t Be Measured. 

It’s the end of school year. That anticipation builds, the excitement hardly contained, the noise levels rise, and then, suddenly it is over. Everyone is gone and the ghosts of laughter and happy shrieks and frustrations are silent. There’s an odd sensation after school ends when everyone scatters. The emptiness and the noise that recently existed float against the walls, and trail out the doorways. The surging energy calms to an abrupt cessation. 
The sudden ending always seem strange to me. I’ve been a student, a teacher, and now a parent of a student and the endings still have that same feeling, mixed with excitement so strong its hard to stand, relief and long breaths, and then the odd empty feel when the action halts. This is my first year as a kindergarten parent. The end of kindergarten was different than I expected, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by it. 


We are prepared for the beginning of kindergarten, when our babies materialize into academic scholars, proficient in letter sounds and telling time; expert in the subjects of chick hatching and butterfly transformation. We work ahead to send them off to kindergarten. We’ve officially started them on this career that ends in thousands of dollars of debt and ownership of a black cap and gown in 16 or so years. We read all the articles to make sure they are ready for school. We’ve collected the tips on how to be the best kindergarten mom and how to stay strong when you wave goodbye on day one. We buy supplies, we get them excited, we make their lunch and write them the little note to put with the lunch. The first day comes, the tear gets brushed away, the pictures are proudly posted. Then we settle into our school year routines of drop offs and pick ups and lunches with notes. 
Then kindergarten ends. And I had failed to fully prepare for the end and the sadness, for the sudden anticlimacticness that seemed oddly similar to the day after I graduated from college. I distinctly remember thinking “now what do I do with my life?” Of course the answers (um, find a job) were there for me, lurking, and obviously she will go to first grade, not find a job. But the similar feeling lingers -everything we’ve been pouring our life into and looking forward to has ended.   

Kindergarten is pivotal. This is the time when small childhood ends. They walk into school alone. They have friends. They form bonds with people other than their parents – they have a teacher they will probably remember, at least vaguely. 

The night she graduated from kindergarten, in a mixture of emotion and exhaustion, she cried herself to sleep. She was heartbroken that she wouldn’t see her friends and teacher anymore. I realized in the days leading up to the end of school that small children have it harder than older children or adults when endings come. In kindergarten it’s harder to control your sense of loss. Kindergarten graduates, unlike high school and college graduates lack the ability to pick up a phone or send a text any time they wish. They (hopefully) do not have social media to connect with their friends. They are left dependent on their parents’ level of intro or extroversion. 
As she cried, I wanted to assure her that kindergarten is a drop in the bucket. I wanted to help her know that this is an easily surmountable sadness cured by a few good days at the beach. But instead, I told her about my own deep ache for the friends I’ve made and had to leave behind in various stages of my life. I told her about my wedding rehearsal dinner when I walked into a room with most of my dearest friends collected together and how I realized I would not see them after the following evening at my wedding. I realized I had chosen a new life that didn’t keep them in a ten minute radius. My heart crumpled as I entered the room. I fled the scene and sobbed in a bathroom for what seemed an eternity to my confused fiance. I told my sweet baby girl that we make amazing friends through our lives and then we say good bye to them too frequently,  but that they become a part of who we are forever. 


The part of kindergarten we can’t test and measure and quantify and see and understand is the truest and deepest part of us. Sure, we grow in academic and developmental understanding,  but we grow as people. We separate from our families and build relationships and learn independence. We have the joy of innocently blissful friendships, quick and easy forgiveness, and happy goodwill to our neighbors. We suffer thru good byes and changes. We live a microcosm of life in one fast year and suddenly we are ready for the rest of our lives. 
I haven’t seen many articles for parents about handling a sensitive child at the end of kindergarten. Most mothers I talk to tell me about their own tears at the end of kindergarten. But what about the child’s tears? What do we do to help them grapple with the quieted laughter and lack of “life purpose”?


We move into one day after another day as best we know how. We do well to remember our own pains and heartbreaks as well as our own joys and friendships. And we celebrate the tiny humans our children have become, knowing that there are many parts of growth that are unmeasurable. Learning to deal with the pendulum that swings between joy and pain is one of those unmeasurable growths. We won’t find a true grade of that sort on a report card, because that is a life long lesson that continues on year after year, making us deeper and stronger. 

The Happily Ever After Covenant

“Congratulations on making it this far without a murder suicide” read an awesome anniversary card we received. This month was my tenth wedding anniversary. Its not really a long time, but it sounds like a big number to me. I guess it sounds longer than it really feels. And at the same time, life before marriage is blurrier than ever.

I remember before my wedding thinking that I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew I loved my husband. But I also knew that there was no way I could fully understand what this love would require, having never been married. Within a short time, both of us commented that we were suddenly so much more aware, in a good way, of what love meant, than at our wedding.
I also remember being terrified. Terrified that I would be unable to keep a promise whose implications I knowingly didn’t understand. Terrified of giving up what I knew for what I didn’t know.

A friend and I were talking recently about being attached and unattached. For some, attachment is the perceived as the highest attainable goal, an ultimate goal in earthly existence. For others, staying carefree and unrestrained is the dream that brings happy, idealistic thoughts. For some, a change in partners or circumstances equals the fulfillment that seems missing. Some people are tolerably content with their circumstances, but wonder what might improve if they had made different choices in the past.
What I have learned about love and marriage and life, so far, is that all of our relationships, or lack thereof, are simply mirrors that reflect our innate need and desire for God. Married or single, we want relationships that make us whole. We want completion and happiness, companionship and understanding, safety and confidence. Singleness seems to drive these wants into glaring focus and so we generally know that these are things that single people desire. But marriage does not fulfill these needs either. Of course, marriage offers some of these things, in varying degrees. But there is no relationship on Earth that can complete every need we possess. And our position in life, married, single, formerly attached, and so on serves as a vehicle to show us where our needs for God are most gaping.
In other words, the point of a relationship or the lack of the relationship is to draw us to God. To drive us closer to Him. To make us depend on Him more. To show us our need for Him and point us to the only One who can truly fulfill our deepest needs.

Sometimes we revel in the joy of our relationships. Sometimes we find our relationships breaking down. Sometimes we long for a person to come alongside us and share our lives. In every circumstance, God is pulling us to Him. He is working all things for good. Even in the hard, the broken, the empty, the boring everyday, He is reminding us that we cannot be everything we need to be. We are needy.

When I think about marriage and my neediness, the image in the mirror I see is the failed wife. I don’t love as I should. I want certain things, demand certain things even. I worry about my own self respect that I gain from a relationship. I don’t flawlessly uphold my covenant to love. I don’t love anyone like I should. But God has loved for me. He has made a covenant and fulfilled His part and my part for me. And that is where marriage and the shortcomings of marriage show me the graciousness and goodness of God.
The times I am most grateful for the state of marriage are when I recognize the covenant God has made for us. I am grateful for marriage to someone who takes a vow seriously. I am thankful for someone who mirrors God by not considering any other options than the promise he made to me.


The point is, our lives are about what God is doing, and what He has already done for us. And each relationship we have or don’t have molds our souls to make us see God more clearly. Our lives, our love, our faith are continual navigations through the unseen. When we do not know how we will continue, Christ has been love for us. Christ has already met our need.
(Photo credit: Sabrina Scolari, Scolari Photography)

Birthdays & Broken Bones

My little baby had surgery today. I’m snuggling with her as she wanders off to dreamland, peeking back at me with one eye, to see if I’m still with her. She reaches out from her blanket to rub my arm. We are listening to JJ Heller’s   I Dream of You album. I love all the songs on this album, but tonight this one is our little world. Birthday parties not so long past, incisions and bandages tonight. 

  

“I Get To Be The One”

 

Well hello,

Little baby.

Your eyes have never seen the sun

You should know

Little baby

That I am the lucky one


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


Don’t feel alone now,

Little baby.

Do you hear me singing you a song

I can’t wait to show you

Little baby

How to crawl

How to walk

And how to run


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


How does someone so small

Hold my heart so tightly

I don’t even know you

I love you completely


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

 

I get to be the one

 

Looking for Christ in the Crumbs

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever eat a leisurely meal again, unpunctuated by interruptions. Breakfast is often consumed while standing, monitoring cereal consumption, watching for tidal waves of milk to come hurling over the cereal bowl rims. Lunchtime is a breathless race to place edible food on the table before the residents revolt in mutiny and march themselves through a Taco Bell drive thru on foot. (please note: they never eat at Taco Bell, because I normally manage to suppress most mutinies.) In between these times are moments where they like to act out Oliver Twist and the Little Match Girl, begging for more food or extra snacks, precluding the making of my own food at times.

  
Then, there is the crowning glory of the culinary day, dinner. The time in which I prepare food while one child transforms into a koala and pretends by leg is a tree and the other thinks she is Alton Brown and tells me she knows what she is doing and that she should be able to use sharp knives. The food finally gets placed on the table, hot and edible. Everyone eventually meanders to the table, we cut up food into bite size pieces, drinks are placed, and it is go time. The youngest child takes one bite before she scrunches her face and begins to send food to the floor in a pattern somewhat like rain dripping down the drainpipe. The oldest insists that she is going to gag on the food. Water spills, the other sippy cup is being used as a fountain, following the food from the virtual drain pipe to the river on the floor. I clean up the puddles.  I take my first bite. The food is now cold. We attempt conversation. There are more interruptions. More drink requests. More conversation. Laughter. Despair. More bites of cold food. Finally everyone else has finished. I scrape my plate and stir the leftover bits around. I start to clean up the floor, scrape plates into the trash, and run warm water over messy plates, before we begin the mad rush into the bedtime wonderland.

  
Meals do not often occur as I envision them. They are not the beautifully, plated and gourmet events I imagine. Not much about life is.

But there are some meals, moments of meals, when I feel like I’m looking through a magazine at a beautiful meal, that isn’t really showcasing the food. Not a real meal, but still a kind of event that makes one full. These moments happen when I least expect them. Like a breeze through a window, like a candle that flicks light across a room, it happens quickly and is gone. It takes a laugh, a giggle, a smile from one side of the table to the other, even while rice is strewn over the floor and broccoli shoved to the side of plates. I see happiness. I see plenty. I see provision. I see beauty.

  
I see time, time that seems long and interminable when I’m picking rice and broccoli off the floor, again. I see time that goes too quickly, like a firefly in the summer night’s air, flashing in and quickly darting away when I hear a delighted giggle. On long days it is hard to remember that time goes fast. On the quick days, it is hard to remember that the brilliantly exploding moments, ones that fade too soon life fireworks, are a necessary part of life’s path. 

It is hard to remember, in the interminable moments and the full moments, that one day we will feast with Christ. Feasting with Him is a vague idea that is often hard to imagine in the middle of our mundane. We repeat our meals and go through the motions of cleaning up, preparing, eating, and cleaning up again. In our lives, in the middle of our messes, the repetitive motions often seem just that, repetitive. In the beginning of a challenge, we bring excitement with us. At the end, we either bring disillusionment or grand achievement. But the middle is when we need grace and commitment.

  
Often those short, perfect, magazine-like moments are gifts from God, They are gifts that show us small graces now and the large graces to come. Sometimes those moments we share, laughing together, in between spilled water and refilled plates and reaching for extra napkins and cutting up food are the ones that give us glimpse into the joy of togetherness that the New Heaven and New Earth will provide. I see tiny children who depend on me for survival. I see a God who makes all things consist and cares lovingly for each of His children. I see a piece of perfection that could be, if the mess were held at bay. I see messes that will be gone, and curses that will be undone, and an existence that will be redeemed along with my soul and body.

  
The short conversations that I have with tiny people are grace. The laughter we share, the bread we break together, even the bread that crumbles all over the floor, are the grace that tells us know we are made for another world, a greater feast.

 CS Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him and with Him everything else thrown in.” That is true at meal times. That is true at every time.

  
And so, during the interrupted meals, I remember a better feast is coming. A feast where I hope my children join me.The hope of this feast cancels out the frustration of my non-feast like events. This will be the ultimate meal, full of grace and beauty. I do hope then, that I can put my fork in my mouth before someone needs a refill.

Snow on Snow

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The snowflakes keep falling from the sky. Snow has fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow*. The sky seems to have settled into a permanent shade of chalky gray. Not a shade I would want to paint my walls, exactly, but it is a still, calm color.  The snowdrifts are feet high, not inches high.  I look up at the sky and down at the ground and straight out my windows and I see the same whitish shade.  It is punctuated only by brown tree branches and the faint color of neighborhood houses.  It is not the winter wonderland often seen in photographs, a snowy world where the trees turn white with icy sparkles. Instead, its a bit like living in a large milk carton.

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I am trying to be fine with the repetition of each white day.  There are days that feel leisurely and slow and a bit like living in a candle lit Hallmark commercial, with warm stews simmering on the stove and family gathered together.  There are other days that feel like I’ve awoken in a white walled asylum and should just don an orange jumpsuit. And find mini-jumpsuits for the small inmates.  The sameness can make me restless.

And yet, every snow fall is different.  Every snow flake has a different size and form.  Every snow storm has a different atmospheric influence and temperature.  The vast whiteness has a form.  The canvas stretching across in front of me is composed of millions of particles, all unique.

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There is something comforting about sameness. About repetition.  About eternality.

And there is something refreshing about new.  About different.  About individuality and love.

The snowflakes fall, looking the same, but they are all individual, unique, and fresh with each appearance.

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And then there is God who makes it snow, who creates these innumerable snowflakes.  Eternal, forever, the same yesterday, today, forever.  And new, merciful, loving, and creative every day. God, the one who brings the seasons, is the same at the beginning and end of each season.  Eternal God before horrific acts are done to His martyred children, and eternal God after.  The God who gives new mercy every morning, welcoming home His children waking in Heaven and giving grace to His church still on Earth.  

If Abraham had been in a snowy climate, I think God might have asked him to number the snowflakes instead of the stars in the sky in Genesis 15.  Snowflakes and stars and grass and leaves and waves and flowers and people have this repetitive nature.  It is fairly difficult (in most cases) to number them and yet every single one is different.

There is comfort in the thought that God never changes and that when mercy is extended it is never revoked.  That sameness will keep one’s mind steady in a dizzying world.  But that mercy is not just old mercy that never changes. It remains the same, but it is new every single morning.  It is fresh, renewing over and over.  It is the same and it is new.  It is the mercy that holds the souls of men and women who belong to God from the beginning of time and the mercy that lands upon men and women today.  It is the fullness of God, giving us grace upon grace, like snow upon snow.  Repeating and replenishing at the same time.

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“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25 ESV)

*paraphrased from Rossetti

Cosmic Sledgehammer or Eternal Redeemer

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I used to think of God as a kind of harsh teacher who would send one lesson after another, periodically spaced, into my life. In this picture, I envisioned that I would head through a hard event and if I could learn the corresponding lesson quickly, the event would end, I would get everything right and then God could be happy and love me. I would then be free to scamper along merrily, until it was time to learn a new lesson. Then He could hammer in another scenario and I would repeat the scene of learning and pleasing Him. These events would repeat one after the other, Him smashing down the hammer of learning, and me responding appropriately and with complete surrender to make sure He was satisfied.

We do not want hard lives. We do not want to suffer. We do not want to be afraid. There are various levels of suffering in our world. There are places in the world that know of more intense suffering than I can handle mentally. Then there are troubles with money, sad relationships, divorce, infertility, monetary struggles, loss, and general fear. I don’t really feel like I have suffered in great measure. Life has been easy, and almost too pleasant. My cynical side says, “you have it too good, something has to correct itself.” After life goes along smoothly for a time, I begin to wonder what might happen next… But, then, everyone’s life is different and what is hard for one person does not come to another’s door. When the potential for hardship looms, it leads me into a place where I am forced to remember that God is loving. That even in the hardest circumstances, God is my help, my salvation. He is the resurrection and life.

I often live afraid of suffering. I’m more afraid of being afraid of suffering than I am afraid when actually going through something hard and trusting God in the process. But ironically, in some respects, it is easier to be in a place where I have no choice but to trust because the circumstances are so far beyond my control that I have no illusion of having options. I like to think I can control my life and minimize risk. That too is faulty logic. I admire people who say that they want to be closer to God and they know they will suffer in the process. I would never pray to bring suffering on myself. I am too weak. And yet, I know there will be hardness and pain in life, regardless whether I pray for it or pray to avoid it.

The hard part of living in this broken world is to understand why, if God is good, there is suffering. Really, the suffering is not because God is good or bad, but because there is systemic evil haunting us since the Garden of Eden. The fall and the resulting need of redemption is the root of suffering’s stem. The truth behind all of the brokenness is that God is there, always present, helping His beloved children along THROUGH the suffering that the fall has cursed them with, not sending hammers down on their heads to make them stronger or more valuable to Him. His children are of value, otherwise, why the need for a redemption plan? He is the one who said, “don’t”, in the beginning. But we did. So, now He holds us close as we suffer under the effects of that original disobedience.

I once thought God was the sledgehammer. I thought He dangled it over the heads of His children, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to judge us for our missteps, to teach us valuable lessons, to make us more incredibly and mindlessly obedient.

And then I became a parent. And I am by far not a perfect parent, as He is. But in no imaginable scenario would I ever tauntingly discipline my children “just because”. (I have read some sadistic discipline advice that does advocate creating teachable moments for children, to test their obedience, but that is wholly unbiblical or extra biblical, whichever word you like.)  No, rather, when the child falls down because they were told not to walk on the ice, or the second child gets hurt because the first child created a harmful situation, or, fill in the blank…., that is when we remind them of how they could have avoided the situation, remind them that obedience matters, remind them that we all are in desperate need of Christ’s help, and comfort them and help them with every shred of breath we have. Of course there is natural frustration at times, because we are not perfect. No normal and healthy parent wants to see their own child suffer. But we know they will, at times. And so we prepare them and help them and comfort them and encourage them as much as we can through these hard times. And that is how God cares for us, but with infinitesimal perfection.  The effect of the fall wasn’t God’s revenge on His creation. Instead, He took the evil of Fall and created good from it – the incredible path back to His arms through Christ on the cross.

There is no possible way in which a cosmic sledgehammer would create the plan to redeem His children when they had enraged his wrath by disobeying His command. A loving Father, however, would look at His children’s disobedience and find a way to rescue them from the tangles in which they were trapped. A cosmic sledgehammer would stand by and watch suffering of His creation with snark and cynicism. A loving Father sacrificed His son to rescue the poor souls who distrusted and still distrust Him. When children fail to trust, we reach out again and again, assuring them of our care and love. Most religions have a God or god like figure who exacts some sort of penalizing retribution upon disobedience. But our God is one who looks in pity with grace and says, forgive them, they do not know what they do. He looks at suffering children and says, come and rest, give me your burdens, cast your cares on me, I am the resurrection and the life. The perfect Father, the perfect Savior, is the one to whom we trust our lives and our souls, as little children who need to be held.

The Father Younger than We

It started in the Autumn. There was a birthday in our house. A four year old’s birthday. We left babyhood behind forever, heading officially into the realm of little girl hood. She converses with me in sentences and paragraphs, flits through an imaginary world complete with “pretend friends” who interact with her, states her opinions quite decidedly, and makes observations about the world that make us laugh, make us shake our heads, and make us fully aware that she is a rapidly maturing human being.

Then I began a new hobby of pulling out gray hairs fighting their way from the depths of my hair to the surface, shouting for the world to see. Less than vanity, it bothered me because it was a sign that life was passing by, that youth is farther past me than ever before. While age is just a relative number, it is after all, a non-negotiable figure.

My birthday came at the end of the year. It is always the non-landmark birthdays that bother me. They launch me closer to the milestones and the silent, encroaching progression is worse for me than the actual reality of age. I began to feel restless, unsettled, anxious, worrying about worrying. Worrying about what the rest of life holds.

Without realizing it, worry becomes a part of our life, even when we do not recognize it as worry. It begins by hearing someone’s bad news and feeling sympathy. Sympathy turns to empathy, where we envision similar circumstances upon ourselves. We hear too many news reports in a day and our processing attempts lead to worry. In my world, the distracted nature of my current life leaves me little time to process my thoughts from beginning to end. Instead of trusting a good God, I build a collection of random facts, speculations, headlines, observations, probable health hazards, and simplified answers to childish questions about complex realities. I teach my daughter Isaiah 41:10 to help her diffuse worry about monsters in closets. I repeat it to myself to deflect fears that clamor to be heard.

I was scrolling around the other day, landing on Sally Lloyd-Jones’ blog. She had highlighted a favorite GK Chesterton quote of mine from Orthodoxy.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
    G K Chesterton

God is our eternal Father, who never ends. He does not begin or end. He is both older and younger than we are. He is timeless. The Creator of beauty, the author of redemption, sustainer of life, and the essence of love does not plot the harm of His Children has an eternal presence, allows us a childlike confidence in Him. He is constant, the Father of light with no shadow of turning, and yet as Chesterton says, He makes each daisy separately, the designer of creative repetition.

Stop worrying, I remind myself. Age is not a reason to worry, because our Father is in fact, younger than us, unhampered by sin’s decaying process. While day in and day out propels me closer to older age, my God is timeless, unbounded by age or the sin wearied monotony of our world. He carries the loving joy of a child and the loving mastery over every piece of life on earth.

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