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. 

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The Peony’s Soul

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Slowly, they bud, as the lilacs fade, as the days grow warm and long

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One by one, they pop open, bursting bright raspberry shades across the lawns

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They open wider, flinging ruffles and ripples across our paths

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They are generous benefactors, stacking pillows of pink and magenta in front of our eyes

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The slanting sun shimmers in the distance as the bowers of bright pink smile and bounce in the spring breeze

And if you look deeper, inside – as often happens in life – you find that more than the surface color and shine exists. Farther in, tucked away, only slightly hinted at, there lives a completely different color and texture, hidden from first view, but ever so beautiful and surprising as you peer beneath the garish surface of a peony.

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Rudolph, Isaiah, and the Best Years of Our Lives

We stumbled and bounced into the post office, three of us at one time, bundled into hard to move winter coats, with a large pile of crisp white Christmas card envelopes in tow. When we enter small spaces, it can sometimes feel like quite the dramatic entrance. I never know who might trip, if someone will stop and stand still because something “scary” looms ahead inside the doorway, or if the smallest child will suddenly decide she doesn’t want to be held and simultaneously doesn’t want to stand on her own two feet. I negotiate how doors will be opened with a child in my arms, with a four year old who either believes she can handle the world on her own and needs to open even the heaviest doors alone or gets distracted by her imaginary friends, and with the kind attempts – or lack thereof – from strangers to politely help up with said doors. Sometimes the opening of doors and falling into rooms can be one of the trickiest parts of going places with children.

So, into the little post office we bounced. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer stamp posters were decorating the wall, to the delight of my daughter. “Rudolph!” she squealed. An older man attaching stamps to envelopes turned around and gave the girls a big smile. The two girls entertained themselves as I bought some (Rudolph) stamps. The man was the friendly sort, chatty but not overbearing, obviously happy at the sight of two little girls. I started placing stamps on envelopes, with a break in the action for both girls to send envelopes down the letter shoot before they darted under the counter where the man and I were working. He was still talking to them and then he looked up at me with a smile and said to me words I often suspect and don’t dare to voice. “These are the best days of your life, you know.” He said it cheerfully, with no regret, but only enthusiasm.   He told me he had three children, eleven grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. He told me raising his children was the most fun he had in his life. Everyone says time goes fast, but this statement was specific, pointed.

My birthday was this week. For some reason, there are certain years that stump us. The years that are in between the milestones make me pause more than the milestones. These sorts of years remind me that while things like birthdays and Christmastime return annually, but the years never recur again. There has been a bit of pause for me in the last few months. Watching my baby turn into a little girl in four short years and my second baby valiantly fight to keep up with her older sister is an everyday reminder of the overexposed speed that life travels. Suddenly, another birthday is here, one baby face is growing older, and another baby is running and talking. Someday I will be able to type with two hands because there will not be two girls wriggling on and over and around my lap as I write. Perhaps I am odd, but I can get caught up in what my childhood expectations of my life were and in anxiety about what the future may bring. Instead, I am better off realizing that NOW is the life that I am living. The past has left and the future will be in God’s hands. I cannot live with regret about the past, frustration about the present, or anxiety about the future. I can learn from past mistakes, live fully now, and realize God will care for the future.

I’m trying to finish up some books I started awhile ago. In The Luggage of Life, Frank Boreham touches on Isaiah,

It is the intermediate stage that tests the mettle of the man. It is the long, fatiguing trudge out of sight of both starting-point and destination that puts the heaviest strain on heart and brain. That is precisely what Isaiah meant in the best known and most quoted of all his prophecies. He promises that, on the return from Babylon to Jerusalem, ‘they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint/ Israel is to be released at last from her long captivity. Imagine the departure from Babylon—its fond anticipations, its rapturous ecstasies, its delirious transports! Those first steps of the journey were not trying; they were more like flying. The delighted people walked with winged feet. And the last steps—with Jerusalem actually in sight, the pilgrims actually climbing the mountains that surrounded the holy and beautiful city—what rush of noble and tender emotions would expel and banish all thought of weariness! But Isaiah is thinking of the long, long tramp between —the drag across the desert, and the march all void of music. It is with this terrible test in mind that he utters his heartening promise: ‘They shall walk and not faint.’ They would fly, as on wings of eagles, out of Babylon at the beginning; they would run, forgetful of fatigue, into Jerusalem at the end; but they should walk and not faint. That is life’s crowning comfort. The very climax of divine grace is the grace that nerves us for the least romantic stage of the journey. Farewells and welcomes, departures and arrivals, have adjusting compensations peculiar to themselves; but it is the glory of the gospel that it has something to say to the lonely traveller on the dusty tract. Religion draws nearer when romance deserts. Grace holds on when the gilt wears off.

 (pp.72)

I always skimmed over the walking part of that verse. It seemed like that action had to be included to make the analogies complete, but was otherwise superfluous. But a good part of our life includes the walking, perhaps sometimes impatiently, perhaps sometimes wearily. The days spent doing whatever it is we do without seeing grandiose or world altering results are walking days. The phases when accomplishment seems elusive, but work is in process are walking days. We repeat many days over and over without feeling like they are different. We remember time in clusters of days, sometimes with outstanding moments glimmering like stars.

Whether they are the best days of our lives or the worst, they are our lives. I do not know if I am in the best stage of my life. I suspect I may be. There is certainly plenty of happiness and gratefulness surrounding me. I know that years can be hard and life can hold suffering. But the constant is that the God who holds us up when we run, soar, or walk is the God who never changes. He is the God who sent His Son to give us the only comfort and joy in life and death. We look at Advent with anticipation, at Christmas with joy, and through that lens we can see our whole lives. I am not sure that God carries the perspective that there are best days of our lives. We feel that on a human level. But He cares for us completely, at all times. He grants us the years to live, rescues our souls, bears us up as we move through this life. The only way we can run, soar, or walk is by His grace and providence. His is the love that never changes. He is the one that remains the same. And that, through the best years and soaring years, the low years and the walking days, is the great promise in which we find hope.IMG_0248.JPG

Uncharted Monotony

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Four years ago last week, we brought a little five pound, five week old baby home to live with us.  I remember being terrified the entire first 24 hours she was home. My husband and I took turns sitting up with her overnight that first night.  I think we stayed up partially because she was restless and fussy, but partially because we were afraid to fall asleep. It seems funny now, it wasn’t like she was going to raid the refrigerator or draw on the wall or use scissors unsupervised (all activities she has since indulged in).  But there was this incredibly fragile human in our house now and all the territory was uncharted and a bit scary.

Last week, I handed this same little girl a five dollar bill, a handwritten note requesting a loaf of bread, gave her instructions to wait in line and be polite, and sent her into a bakery by herself.  At first, she wondered out loud who would open the door for her.  I reminded her she usually opens the door for me.  Then, she placated herself with the idea that some Good Samaritan would smile upon her and kindly open the door.  And with that happy thought, off she ran.  She returned a few minutes later with a loaf of bread tucked under her arm, change in her pocket, and a humungous smile on her face. The note returned with her, carrying  a message back that she had been very polite.

Everyone tells me that time goes so fast. I don’t need their reminders, but I don’t mind them either.  Days and weeks and years repeat over and over. These are probably some of the happiest days of my life, I tell myself.  It is sad to me that these happy days are so short, but I am grateful for their presence at all.  Some days the overwhelming feeling that I carried that first night, an undercurrent of excitement and anxiety about the future, making me catch my breath, comes back.  I watch as the days back away off of the calendar. I watch as the children grow taller, older, and more independent. I wonder what they will be like when they are grown. But then I stop myself before that thought is fully formed.  I want each day to be here, now, not the future.  Never before have I wanted to future to stall more than now.  Nor do I wish to dream about the future I am not promised.  It is easy to dream as a child.  It is with greater caution that an adult dreams.

Each month and year repeats. Each one sends us deeper  into uncharted territory as parents, as our children grow, as children of God. We live the same months over and over again each year, marking off the same holidays, rituals, and every days.  But each day is unique and different. As a Creator and Father, God has made each story and path and day new.  We exist in His image, but individually created for unique purposes.  I love how Chesterton puts it in Orthodoxy. “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. ”   Days repeat themselves. The Cross remains the same. The Heavenly Father never changes. But, His creativity and that of His world is boundless, His grace is unending, every day.

My children grow, as children have since time began.  It is how a life lives.  Each life is different.  Each stage is unknown.  Each path is uncertain.  But what is certain is the promise that God’s mercies are new each morning.  That He renews His mercies daily.  While our salvation is fixed and firm, it is worked out continually.  I love this tension that occurs, most visibly paralleled, when one loves a child.  They are born at a fixed point in time.  The love we have for them continues on and renews over and over.

Time goes fast and we “do it again” every day.  The uncharted roads and paths are the chances for God to prove His faithful care to us.  He gives us new stages that burrow into the repeated months.  And just like the days when we send our children into unfamiliar territory and watch over them carefully and with pride, so He does the same for us.

The days bring new challenges and twists.  But there is a constant Father who delights in watching His children grow and thrive, who sits up at night to make sure their needs are met.  That is a fixed joy that does not change. 

If I Have to Repeat Myself

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“Stop it, get down, take that out of your mouth, don’t blow bubbles with your milk, stop climbing on that, take the string off of your neck, stand still, sit still, talk quietly, don’t stare, please don’t eat dirt, don’t pick up the baby…”

“Yes, of course you can have a snack, yes, I am getting your snack, honey I am making your lunch right now, I promised we would have lunch, get out of the refrigerator, yes, here is your lunch now….”

“Sweetie, there are no monsters in our house. No, none. The shadows don’t have to scare you, its just light reflecting in a funny way. There are not spiders in the bed, I promise. No, no monsters outside either. Yes, of course you are safe. You never have to be afraid with Mommy and Daddy with you.”

Do you ever feel like you repeat the same conversations about 6,237 times a day, at least seven days a week? I do. Some days, I am so tired if repeating myself that I am at a loss for words. Nothing comes out, and I’m sure I have glazed over eyes as I stare blankly at the hazy figure that is my child.

I read a piece of child development advice that noted how preschoolers need instructions repeated often. This is because they are constantly learning. Once they have learned a new piece of information, they have to figure out if the old rules apply to this newly acquired knowledge. My daughter has this need for repetition. We tell her no, yes, not now, later over and over. Night after night, we discuss monsters and shadows. I try to remember how the context of her world is so new and unknown. And as soon as I have that thought, I remember how often I forget or disregard God’s instructions and promises.

When I was young, I observed to my mom that the Israelites in the Old Testament must not have been that smart or spiritually astute because they had to learn the same lessons frequently. Naturally I later realized they were living without myriads of examples and a completed Bible. And the longer I live, the more I can identify with the doubts and disobedience of the Israelites, while having myriad examples and the Bible.

Repeatedly, God gives us good promises and instructions that help us recognize those promises. Be anxious for nothing, but make your requests to God with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). Do not be anxious about your life, God will provide what you need (Matthew 6:25). Those who trust in the Lord cannot be moved (Psalm 125:1). Fear not, I have redeemed you, you are mine (Isaiah 43:1). There is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1). The same promises and instructions are given from the beginning of time to the end of the Bible.

Why did God give us the command to take part in Communion?   I Corinthians 11:24     “ And when He had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”   Because He knows we are forgetful children. And like Israel had celebrations multiple times a year to remember God’s care, we have multiple times to remember His salvation and goodness. Because every time something new and scary enters our periphery, we tend to forget His promises. We take a new job, we move to a new country, we have a new baby, we suffer loss, we undergo change, and stress and we have to learn again that God’s unchanging Word always applies. A new day dawns and my child figures out how to peel a banana and suddenly she doesn’t think I need to fix her meals for her any longer. But I am still there to buy bananas and make sure she doesn’t fall off the chair reaching them. Our lives may change, but God’s salvation, promises, and sustaining care does not.

We take Communion to remember the Cross. We attend church remember God’s grace in saving us. We read His word to refresh our wonder in His redemption plan. We grow and learn, stumble and fall, question and weep, but God will always be there to repeat His love, to remind us of His promises, to uphold His saving care for us.   The blessing of repeating ourselves to little ones is that in doing so, we have a tangible reminder that God does the same thing for us patiently and lovingly.

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(This post was originally found at Domestic Kingdom. Since it was posted, Gloria Furman has moved her writing home to
gloriafurman.com)

Wants and Wishes

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Most of us, whether we realize it or not, want to believe that God is good.  Being October, the month my oldest daughter was born, I find it impossible not to reflect on God’s goodness as a Father and Creator. The writing I have done here this month is part of that reflection.  So I was delighted to write today for Jen Pollock Michel’s series Found Wanting about my desire to believe that God was a good Father.

The series is a collection of stories that, to quote Jen, “…tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”  Read through the different contributors that are part of this project and see God’s hand at work in many lives. So enjoy my post, and the posts of others, as well as Jen’s beautiful writing on her site.

 

**I recently wrote about Jen’s book Teach Us To Want in a post here.  It is a book you will not want to miss reading.

 

 

Want, Fear, & Grace -A Review of Teach Us To Want

 

Jen Pollock Michel. Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014. 221 pp

 

“But, I just love THINGS!” A beautiful woman married to a missionary pastor stood, laughing in our house, recounting a conversation she had had with her husband. She was describing the struggle between wanting and going without – leaving their comfortable life with a house and jobs and heading into a ministry, giving up luxuries and items that might be considered “extras.”

This quote often comes to my mind when I hear conversations about desire versus denial. Many of us struggle to reconcile our wants with what we believe God requires of us – death to self and therefore, to all that we want. Whether it is materialism, tangibles, ambition, self-gratification, or spiritual pride, each of us grapples with putting our loves and wants in order.

Jen Pollock Michel has plunged into the theology of desire and emerged with the masterfully written, Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith.

I started the book, intrigued by the title alone, given my own experiences of ambitious longing and wilderness exile. I was not disappointed as I delved into the beautifully crafted paragraphs.

With engaging narrative, Jen Pollock Michel weaves an incredible blend of personal experience, Scriptural lessons, and literary, philosophical, and theological concepts. With clear but enticing artistry, she unfurls for the reader a verbal image of the complex state of our human hearts and the lavish grace of God. Using the Lord’s Prayer as a frame, she sketches the natural human bent toward desires that pursue fleeting pleasure and push against trusting the goodness of God. She creates colorful narrations of conversion, temptations, loss, and gain. The images she builds are descriptions in which readers can find themselves mirrored, no matter how differently individual circumstances may have fallen.

Taking on our natural human desires, Pollock Michel shows Christ’s grace that pulls us from the fear and complacency found rooted in sin’s curse, transforming it to a brave pursuit of our God given desires. She writes,

And here is how desire becomes corrupt: wanting derails into selfishness, greed and demanding ingratitude when we’ve failed to recognize and receive the good that God has already given. Trust is at the center of holy desire: trust that God is good and wills good for His people…When we refuse God’s good, when we mistrust God’s intentions, when we clamor for self-rule, we exact the cruel price of suffering.” (pp 84-5)

 Just as Eve and Adam failed to trust God’s good plan and exacted a cruel price of suffering, so we wrestle with the same tension in our desires – we want and yet distrust the Giver. We want the wrong things – the fruit that looms ahead, looking lovely and shiny, rather than the intangible communion with a God whom we must trust. And only by God’s gentle goodness and grace, as our lives unfold, do we learn to trust that what He gives is enough for our desires.

The pages are rife with references and allusions to a diverse set of writers, theologians, and thinkers from St Augustine, NT Wright, and Tim Keller, to Madeleine L’Engle, CS Lewis, Edith Wharton, and Annie Dillard and many more. Rich with thought, the book is a synthesis of beauty, goodness, and truth; beautiful theological truths, stated in flowing and captivating phrases.

Jen Pollock Michel is able to diffuse our common thought about desire. She makes a compelling case against the fear of want and the negative connotations of desire and ambition. She writes, powerfully convincing her readers that God desires His children to want, but rather than wanting the temporary fruit, we must want Him, to desire His grace, His good will. She encourages her readers to want, to desire fully, the life of faith found in a lavishly generous Father.

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