Monthly Archives: December 2011

My Heart Knows That Song

 

Last night, I was singing to this boy, ThingFive, at bedtime. I don’t often sing to them at bedtime any more.

Sometimes we read. We hug and kiss. And we pray. Always, we pray. But I don’t often hold them and rock them and sing to them as I did when they were smaller.

But last night I did. I sang You Are My Sunshine and Jesus Loves Me.

And then I started in on Te-ell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue. And I will tell you just why I love you. 

ThingFive leaned in closer against me and started humming along, singing a word every line or two. As I finished, I do be-lee-eve that God above created you for me to love. He picked you out from all the rest. Because God made you, I lo-ove you best, ThingFive sighed and smiled up at me.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words, he said.

Tears sprang to my eyes. All the nights of holding a baby ThingFive, whisper-singing that  song to his tiny ears. All the nights of standing over a crib, patting his back, hushing his cries with this song. The naptimes I held his chubby toddler body and sang about God making the blue ocean and the climbing, twining ivy. The nights I cuddled in next to his preschool body, worn out from running and climbing and playing with his brothers, and I sang this song. All of that. All of it settled its way into his heart.

My heart knows that song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

Sometimes I feel that way about God. My heart, my soul responds to his song, but my brain doesn’t know all the words.

I see a beautiful sunset or the shadow of birds flying over a lake. I watch ducks bobbing along on the choppy water and feel the wind tickling my hair around my red cheeks. I sense His protection as that 18-wheeler swerves back into his own lane and the accident is narrowly averted. I sing that old hymn asking Him to bind my wandering heart to Him. I read a Psalm reminding me that I cannot flee from the Lord. I taste a juicy clementine. I see the redbuds blooming on the mountainside. I wake to my children’s giggles that turn to roaring laughter.

And my heart leans in closer to Him. Snuggles up against His side. And I hum along, unable to put it all in words.

My brain may not comprehend it all. I can’t explain it all in logical, scientific words. I can’t even explain it all in long, multisyllabic theological words.

But my heart knows this song. My whole life, my Father has been singing over me. And His song has settled its way deep into my heart.

Some days or weeks or months, I rush about or busy myself or go my own way. I don’t slow down and take time to sit with Him and listen to Him or maybe I even avoid Him, preferring to do my own thing for a while.

But when I finally do stop and listen, my heart sighs and leans in to the familiar tune. My heart knows that song.

Do you hear it? Does your heart respond? Do you lean in a little bit closer to Him? 

My Exhausted Heart

 

Sorting. Throwing away. Giving away. Boxing up.

Packing up eight lives. Wrapping up four years of life in this home.

It’s exhausting work.

And then there is the come over for one last dinner and the let’s go out for coffee one last time. The squeezing in of playdates and sleepovers and girls’ nights out.

Four years of friendships being fitted for a memory box rather than a daily way of life. Promises of phone calls during weekend minutes and emails and text messages and keeping up on Facebook. Knowing that in spite of it all, things won’t be quite the same. It’s exhausting.

And in the midst of it all, messages from friends in the home we’re moving back to. Counting down the days. Promises to help us unload. Plans for visits and hugs. Excitement and joy and anticipation of catching up and sharing day-to-day life again.

Yet four years have gone by. Four full years. And I have changed. I have faced loss and loneliness. I have fought battles. I have seen death creep closely to my home. Though death did not win, I have felt its sting.

Knowing that in spite of all the anticipation and excitement, things won’t be quite the same.

It’s exhausting. All this sadness and happiness and sorting through memories and making more memories and grief and excitement. My heart is tired.

Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel like your emotions just need a nap, a break from feeling, from emoting? I sure feel that way now. And in the midst of it all, my mind keeps returning to this invitation from Jesus –

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest

 

My exhausted heart needs His rest. Does yours?

Merry Christmas!

I love this children’s Bible. I especially love the Christmas story in it. It’s simple and beautiful.

. . . The God who flung planets into space and kept them whirling around and around, the God who made the universe with just a word, the one who could do anything at all – was making himself small. And coming down . . . as a baby.

Wait. God was sending a baby to rescue the world?

‘But it’s too wonderful!’ Mary said and felt her heart beating hard. ‘How can it be true?’

‘Is anything too wonderful for God?’ Gabriel asked.

So Mary trusted God more than what her eyes could see. And she believed. . . .

I want to be like Mary. I want to trust God more than what my eyes can see. I want that quiet confidence, like Gabriel, to know that nothing is too wonderful for our God.

And that’s what I wish for you as well – faith far exceeding sight, a heart of awe and wonder that a Baby would come to rescue the world, belief.

Merry Christmas!

Temper Tantrum

I wrote this four years ago when we first moved here. As I pack and prepare to move again, it’s probably a good time to remind myself to evaluate my expectations. 

Actually, maybe this is a good reminder for all of us this holiday season. 

I have a confession to make. Last Saturday morning, I threw a temper tantrum. If I thought for a second I could have gotten away with it, I would have thrown myself down and kicked my legs and pounded on the floor.

Since I couldn’t do that, I wrinkled up my face and hissed out my frustrations. I fumed and fussed and let it all out.

And what was I so upset about? Well, my balloon had burst.

You see, I had some expectations — expectations which, in hindsight, may or may not have been completely unreasonable. And when everything didn’t work as I had planned, I felt like a balloon recklessly whizzing around as the air sprays out.

Before we moved, I had it all planned out in my head that we would get here and as we unpacked, everything would be organized and put into its place. I expected that fewer belongings plus a new living space plus all my plans for organization would equal a tidy, neat home.

Of course, I did not factor in the children unpacking some of their own things and ignoring my organization plans. I somehow forgot that we’d have to live a normal life — playing and eating and wearing clothes, making messes, dirtying dishes, dirtying clothes — while we were unpacking and organizing. I did not factor in that all of our personalities would stay the same, and none of us seem to be super organized or neat, by nature.

So when reality crashed into my expectations last Saturday morning, my balloon was pricked and went whooshing all over the apartment, spewing blame and frustration all over its path.

And though I did have some valid complaints (Seriously, how hard is it to pick up dirty laundry from the bathroom floor? And it is painful to step on LEGOS!), I now realize that I elevated my expectations and plans to god-like status.

My expectations for organization and neatness got out of balance; and, in that moment, my expectations became more important that my relationships with my family. In my moments of frustration, I foolishly regretted the way I had spent some of my time since our move — time I spent playing games with the children, loving on them, taking them to the park, baking with them, helping them adjust to their world being turned upside-down. Really, I know that spending my time doing those things was far more important than unpacking and organizing. It just took me a while to take those thoughts of frustration captive to the truth.

My dragon-momma temper tantrum is what happens when my plans get unbalanced. When I expect myself to fit into some standard that God never planned for me. When I compare myself to other moms, other wives, magazine articles, Martha Stewart, of course I’m going to get frustrated and want to scream! I’m attempting something completely unrealistic, unfair, impossible . . . ridiculous!

And though I’d love to tell you that I’m mastering this tendency to compare myself to an ideal, I must confess that I did it again yesterday. This is a lesson I will probably learn again and again and again. I’m sort of slow that way.

Some days, I will get all the laundry folded and the dishes washed and dinner in the crock pot hours in advance and still have time to play twenty rounds of Don’t Break The Ice. Some days, I will have a healthy afternoon snack for the children, and they’ll quickly and cheerfully do their chores. Some days, all my charts and lists and plans will pull together and the schedule will click and life will be perfect. Aaaaaah. And it will feel good and like all is well in the world.

But other days, the children will throw clothes on the floor and write on the walls and dump all the toys in the middle of the room, and the car will break down, and I’ll dump an entire carton of eggs in the hall, and tired children will fuss and cry and argue. Some days, people who don’t know me at all may jump to conclusions about me, and I might feel inferior and like I don’t measure up. My child may scream at the top of his lungs in a store or fail a test or burp in class. And on those days, I will be tempted to scream and fuss and feel like a total failure.

But I don’t think that’s what God wants for me. I don’t think that’s what God wants for you, for any of us.

God doesn’t expect perfection from me. He wants me to love Him and other people. And maybe, just maybe, He doesn’t always want my life to go according to the charts and schedules. Maybe the interruptions are Divine Interruptions. And maybe the relationships I build are more important than the tasks to be done.

Maybe the expectations I have for myself are only those I’ve made for myself and not at all what my Father expects from me. And maybe the point is that I learn to love God and other people, and -more importantly- ACT like I love God and other people, especially in the middle of complete chaos and mess when all my plans and schedules and charts and lists are falling apart.

That’s so much better than turning into temper-tantrum throwing Dragon-Momma.

How about you? Are your expectations for this holiday season unreasonable? Are you focusing more on your list of tasks to be done than on your relationship with people around you? Do you ever breathe fire and spew smoke out of your nostrils when you step on a LEGO or trip over shoes left in the middle of the hall? 

Emotional Overload

The emotions in this home are sort of out-of-control.

To begin with, I have a 13-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old daughter. So, ummmm, there’s that.

Which is pretty much enough. But, like a Ginsu knife infomercial, THAT’S NOT ALL – THERE’S MORE!

It’s almost Christmas. And I have 4 little boys. The twinkling lights, the Christmas music, the anticipation of gifts, the candy canes with red dye that people keep giving them – all add to the crazed excitement.

But wait, THERE’S MORE!

If you live in my home, not only do you get 2 adolescent girls, 4 candy-crazed boys, and the happy insanity of the holiday season, we’re throwing in a mid-January 700-mile move!

So we have closet contents spilled into rooms to sort and pack. We have thousands, hundreds, tens of empty cardboard boxes piled high, waiting to be filled. We have a few packed boxes, labeled with hot pink duct tape and stacked up in the hall outside our apartment. We have garbage bags filled with outgrown clothes and unwanted toys waiting to be donated.

But wait, THAT’S NOT ALL! For the low, low price of losing your mind, we have all the sadness of leaving friends and neighbors and the known, AND we have all the excitement and joy of moving back to a place where we have lived before. As ThingTwo recently said, “We’re leaving one home to go back to another home.” And who knew it was possible to feel deep sadness and great happiness at the same moment?

Some of the children are feeling the pain of saying goodbye to best friends. They’re feeling melancholy thinking about the memories we’ve made here in the past four years. They’re feeling the discomfort of leaving the well-known for the sorta-kinda-I-might-remember. A moment later, those same children are feeling scared about making friends in a different place, excited about living in a larger home, and grouchy about being out of our normal routine for too many days.

They’re overjoyed with the idea of playing in the snow this winter, but they’re lamenting the reality of being far away from the beach. They’re already dreaming of cold weather, warm blankets, and fuzzy socks; but they’re complaining when it dips into the 50’s here.

Like a rollercoaster – up and down, jerking around, loopty-loop – our moods and emotions are taking us for a ride.

We’re trying to make a few more memories, savoring these last weeks, and we’re trying to enjoy Christmas celebrations and focus on the true meaning of the holiday, and we’re trying to sort and pack and tape and label.

Yeah, pretty much we’re all feeling like 12 and 13-year-old girls.

How about you? Have you felt like an adolescent girl lately? Does this season bring out crazy emotions in you? Does chocolate help?

 

The Essay Contest

When I was in eleventh grade, I entered an essay contest sponsored by the realtors in my hometown. The theme was Home Ownership and the Family: Homes Are Made of This. I won first place – a total of $350 in savings bonds from local banks.

More important than the money, though, was the response from my extended family. This essay was published in our small hometown newspaper, and my family members clipped it and passed it around at family reunions. It was mounted onto cardboard and laminated. Still, my family talks about this essay and the way it captured life at my grandparents’ home. A cousin recently asked me to post the essay on Facebook, which is why I decided to dig it out from my box of memories and put it here.

My grandad died in 1997, on my 25th birthday. My grandma passed away in May of 2008. The house has been remodeled, and our family doesn’t gather there any more. When I wrote this essay, I had never experienced a Christmas Day or Easter Sunday anywhere except my grandparents’ house on the hill. Now, years later, every Christmas and Easter, I longingly remember those sweet times from my childhood.

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The usual odor of wood smoke from the chimney hangs in the air. The familiar voices of my family laughing at jokes, playing Yahtzee, or cheering for their favorite football team on TV greet me as I open the door of my grandparents’ home. While I am standing in the entry-way, two of my younger cousins crash into me as they chase one another through the house during a game of tag.

Walking through the living room is a feat in itself. I must step over several uncles and cousins stretched across the carpeted floor dazed by the television. Of course, I have grown accustomed to this because I have experienced it many times. It is my past, my present, and most likely my future- this is home.

My grandparents’ home is a symbol of hard work and patience. When my father was growing up in the 1950’s, his parents decided to build a new home. They chose a spot on top of the hill across the road from where they lived, and my grandad began building the concrete foundation.

After beginning, a problem arose. They lacked the money to complete the foundation. My grandad forced the thought of a new home into the back of his mind. Later, as the funds became available, he resumed the task of completing the foundation, but Grandad broke his back in a coal mine cave-in and once again, they postponed the project.

Finally, over a decade later, in 1974, with the help of friends and family, Grandad completed the foundation and built a new home on top.

Although my father and the older children of the 12 in his family were not raised in this home, many memories live on here for all of the Abel family. This has always been the gathering place for our clan. I have enjoyed many Sunday dinners with all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins – 38 of us in all. Of course, we never could fit around the dining room table, so we put up card tables, TV trays, and still some sat cross-legged on the floor at the coffee table.

Holidays have always meant family gatherings, and usually a delicious meal that Grandma has prepared. I cannot remember an Easter that we did not all gather at Grandad’s for a ham dinner and the family Easter egg hunt. All of us children reluctantly waited in the living room, guarded from the windows, while my uncles trooped through the back yard hiding the brightly colored eggs we had all dyed the day before, with Grandma’s help, of course.

And I can not even begin to imagine Christmas Day anywhere else but at Grandad’s with all of the family. I remember all of us grandchildren ripping open presents and squealing with delight at our new Barbie dolls, race cars, and G.I. Joe action figures. Then all of us would scramble to compare our gifts with our cousins’, leaving the living room overflowing with scraps of red and green wrapping paper, multi-colored bows and ribbons, and empty cardboard boxes.

The aroma of ham, turkey, and turkey dressing always filled the house, and I could never forget the sight of the large oak dining room table filled with mashed potatoes, buttered corn, hot homemade bread, chocolate pie, mincemeat pie, and Grandma’s fruitcake. Always before we ate, the entire family gathered in the dining room and living room, bowed our heads, and, together, we said grace.

Summertime has always been special at Grandad’s. Finally, after a winter of spending Sunday afternoons cramped up inside the house with 20 or 30 other people, we were free to pay outside. Most of the boys played baseball or football in the back yard, while we girls pretended to be mothers to our dolls on the back porch or pushed one another on the swings to the side of the house.

Occasionally, all of us grandchildren, under the direction of our aunts, played organized games, like “Red Rover” or “Upset the Fruit Basket.” Summer nights, after dark, always meant it was time for hide-and-seek and catching lightning bugs in our little glass jars and then either freeing them or making “light rings” for our fingers.

Of course, what would summertime be without barbecues and picnics? Many times we have assembled onto Grandad’s back porch and enjoyed a picnic lunch of hamburgers and hotdogs, potato salad, and plenty of cookies for dessert. And Grandma could never allow summer to slip by without homemade ice cream.

My uncles would pack the old wooden ice cream maker with ice, rock salt, and the family ice cream recipe. Most of my aunts and uncles would request vanilla and strawberry flavored ice cream, but my favorite has always been peanut butter.

Labor Day weekend has always been the Reese family reunion, and all of Grandma’s family reunites at Grandma’s house. Canopies are put out and tables and chairs must be borrowed from the local community building. I will always remember Aunt Glenna’s ham balls, Aunt Margaret’s chocolate pies, and Aunt Millie’s butterscotch pies.

Just walking through my grandparents’ home brings back so many memories. Pictures of Grandad’s parents, Grandmas’ parents, all 12 Abel children’s senior pictures, and photos of Grandma and Grandad sit on shelves and tables around the living room and line the family room wall. A certificate announcing Grandma as “Grandma of the Year” hangs on the living room wall and a plaque thanking Grandma for her devotion to 4-H decorates the dining room wall.

A piece of masking tape that has “six feet” written on it marks the paneling in the dining room where my uncles measured themselves, and later, my older brother and my cousins used this same piece of tape to symbolize their progress to manhood.

My grandparents’ home is now a shrine of family memories and a symbol of family. Like a family, that foundation took years to build, and the building of the home took patience, hard work, teamwork, understanding, and faith. Also like a family, after many years of weathering and its share of troubles, the house still stands tall.

 

Tree of Memories

I love decorating our Christmas tree.

Nearly every ornament holds a memory and tells a story.

There are the ornaments from my childhood – the ceramic angel with my name painted on it, the faded green felt drummer boy. There are the ornaments my students gave me when I was teaching – a tiny chalkboard, a handpainted angel. There are the ornaments commemorating special places – my husband’s high school, his hometown church, the waterfall where we got engaged.

Each year, I choose ornaments for the children. Sometimes the ornaments symbolize a special memory — a tiny Cookie Monster for the year ThingFive’s first word was “cookie,” a Cat in the Hat for the year ThingOne dressed as him for Halloween. One year we made ornaments from sea shells we collected on our vacation to Chincoteague Island. Another year I bought beachy snowmen ornaments – snowmen sledding on seashells – to remember a warm Florida Christmas.

There are the ornaments the children have made — gaudy stars on tiny paper plates, giant angels with a child’s tiny picture glued on the head, foam manger scenes, popsicle stick reindeer, misshapen beaded candy canes.

And then there are the most special ornaments, the ones that bring tears to my eyes each Christmas. These are the ones I’m going to cry about even as I type this for you.

When I was a little girl, my grandma gave me toys for Christmas. (My favorite was the Wonder Woman Barbie-style doll with her long black hair and giant red rubbery boots.) But after I became an adult, Grandma gave me special Christmas keepsakes each year — beautiful musical snow globes, a gold-trimmed cake plate with holly and berries painted on it and a matching cake server. And then after I began having children, Grandma gave them each an ornament every year. With my aunt’s help, she chose special ornaments — musical Nutcracker soldiers or snowmen, jingle bells with their names handpainted on, delicate Hummel angels.

The last Christmas before Grandma passed away, my aunt had the foresight to print a tiny photo of my grandma and attach it to each ornament. So ThingFour’s tiny snowman-shaped music box ornament opens to show a photo of Grandma. ThingTwo’s porcelain angel has Grandma’s picture on the base.

These last six ornaments are the most precious on the tree, the final gift of love from their great-grandma who wanted to give more than gifts at Christmas – she wanted to give memories and keepsakes to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

And so each Christmas her presence is profoundly felt as we decorate. Of course, each year, as I set out the snow globes and help the children hang their ornaments,  I am also reminded how very much I still miss my grandma. But mostly I am overcome with gratitude for the memories of noisy Christmases at her house with lots of cousins and for the thought she put into providing special Christmas keepsakes for me and my children.

I love my Christmas tree full of memories.

What’s your favorite Christmas ornament?

Here I Am!

The Advent season has begun. This morning, sipping my black coffee from a Christmas mug, I’m thinking about some of my favorite Christmas memories.

When ThingTwo was six years old and in first grade, she was explaining to her brothers why Jesus came to earth as a baby.

Jesus came to earth as a baby because He didn’t want to scare everyone by opening up the clouds and saying, ‘Here I am!’.

Every December, I look at the puffy clouds in the sky and imagine Jesus breaking through with a thundering voice, “Here I am!”