One Year

It was April 2, 2016 when Ezra, our Congolese-born son, first stepped foot on American soil. Ezra, my husband Brent, and I were beyond tired but when that final plane landed on that final runway after so many hours (or was it days?) in the air, I had enough energy to push the plane to the terminal, if necessary.

 

Although we had waited so long for him to join our family, Ezra had lived in our hearts for years and in my imagination even before he was born. One year just doesn’t seem long enough. In spite of this supposed emotional discrepancy, we will mark the anniversary because it’s been quite a year!

 

It’s been a year of togetherness. Vacations together and watching TV together and going on walks together and riding in the car together and sitting on a church pew together and just generally being together.

 

It’s been a year of sharing. One year of sharing big steps and little victories. Sharing meals and sharing stories and sharing bathrooms with sisters who often remind a little brother about toilet etiquette. One year of taking turns and learning what it means to have five other people whose opinions also figure into the equation.

 

It’s been a year of choices. Choosing books to read, choosing DVDs to watch, choosing clothes to wear, choosing which breakfast cereal to eat. Who knew there could be so many choices?

 

It’s been a year of searching. Searching for the right words to say to make them understand. Searching for the meaning behind his behavior. Searching for a little more patience, a little more forgiveness, a little more grace.

 

It’s been a year of promises. One year for him to go from saying “Promise?” in a threatening way with a slashing mark across his throat to saying “Promise?” in a gentle, questioning voice while pointing to his heart.

 

It’s been a year of tears.

One hundred tears shed in frustration. Why is this so hard?

One hundred tears shed in laughter. How are you this funny?

One hundred tears shed in anger. If only you had come home sooner.

One hundred tears shed in gratitude. But you are home.

Light-up shoes

When my daughter was around 4-years old, I got her a pair of light-up shoes. They were brown leather Mary-Janes with Velcro straps and pink stitching. Hidden lights embedded in the rubbed soles would flash each time her foot made contact with the floor. She loved them but, over time, I noticed that she never wore them.

One day, I asked her, “Why aren’t you wearing your new shoes?” as I pointed to the shoes on the floor of her closet.

“I don’t want to run down the battery,” she answered.

I told her, “Oh, honey, I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

But my words didn’t seem to make a difference. She still wouldn’t put them on. I was too busy running after her twin sister and baby brother to remind her to wear them so the inevitable happened—she outgrew the shoes.

I’m fairly certain that Jesus never had to teach about the perils of buying light-up shoes for slightly OCD 4-year olds, but he did preach this:

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you.” (NLT)

Though I’m trying to do better, I confess that I am a frequent worrier. You could probably even call me a Worrier Warrior. When Jesus goes on to say: “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’” I am convicted of my weakness in this area but I’m also a bit defensive.

I want to ask Jesus, “If I don’t worry about it, then who will?” When my husband and I divide up the duties for our family, it falls to me to be sure we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear. It’s my job to take care of this, right?

To back up my defense, I scan my memory for an instance when Jesus seemed worried or stressed-out. Others around Him might have lost their cool, but He seemed to stay focused on His mission and on the present moment.

When He was in the garden just hours before His arrest and eventual crucifixion, Jesus had plenty of reasons to be stressed out. Instead, He took His concerns to His Father. He asked if it was possible to prevent the imminent suffering and death but was willing to follow His Father’s Master Plan, regardless. Then came the betrayer and the crowds and the soldiers. Jesus calmly followed.

So here’s my new plan: Take it to the Garden. Lay it out. Pray it out. Ask, seek, knock. Then calmly follow God’s Will.

I won’t always follow my own advice—in fact I know I’ll frequently forget the plan—but I’ll attempt to have faith that all of the pieces will fall into place. I’ll try to heed Jesus’ advice: “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Because it’s possible that all of that worrying will make me miss out on something fantastic, like the coolest light-up shoes ever.

Cleaning Pennies

When I was growing up, my mom’s answer to a good 50% of our questions was: “Look it up!”

 

Of course, this was long before we could ask our phones questions, like “Hey, Siri, what’s the best way to fix kale?” or “Hey, Siri, is Willie Nelson still alive?” or “Hey, Siri, what’s an electric pressure cooker?” We had to struggle and work for answers. We had to open actual books and thumb through actual pages to figure out the capitol of Luxembourg.

 

It seems like a lifetime since I cracked open an encyclopedia and only 5 minutes since I looked at Wikipedia. (How else was I going to find out what mincemeat was?)

 

Back in the day, next to our set of World Book Encyclopedias sat our 15+ volumes of Childcraft books, illustrated reference books published in the early 1970’s that taught my sisters and me everything—from planets to poems, from pumas to Purim. We poured over each one, fascinated by the pictures and the text.

 

One of the many facts I learned from the Childcraft books was how to clean coins. For some reason, this was a fascinating task for us.

 

We would gather the pennies from all over the house and pile them on the kitchen table. Then we would mix a solution of vinegar and salt together in a bowl and drop the pennies in, one by one.

 

We would watch expectantly as they were scrubbed clean. Impatiently, we would pull them out too soon to inspect their progress, and, seeing that they still held on to the dullness of age and abundant use, we would drop them back in. There were times when we forgot all about them and left them to soak for hours. When we finally remembered, we were rewarded with shiny copper coins, gleaming at the bottom of the bowl.

 

We would fish them out and lay them on paper towels to dry. Our fingers would hold the sharp smell of vinegar and metal for the rest of the day.

 

Like that acidic solution we used to clean pennies, there are times when my heart requires some pretty abrasive scrubbing. I think of King David as he wrote Psalm 51. He had committed adultery and murder and he had been found out. He was weighed down by his grave mistakes.

 

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me—now let me rejoice.

Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.

 

Why is it that we often have to be taken so low before we see the need for a good scrubbing? How many times do I have to die to myself before I can fully realize the blessings available to the unselfish? But that is what the Lord desires for us—to forgive us and to instruct us and to cleanse us. I’m so thankful for His never-ending supply of grace.

Filled

I get such satisfaction from a full tank of gas. At the gas pump, I see the numbers whizzing higher, each click tells me that I’ve added another gallon of driving my kids around town. After replacing the gasoline nozzle, I start up the engine and watch the needle slide to the FULL position. One less thing to think about. One less thing on my to-do list.

I feel a similar satisfaction after a bulk-buying trip to Sam’s Club. I stock up on paper products—cumbersome packages of toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues—that I cram into our hall closet. I buy enormous containers of laundry detergent and fabric softener and other household items we use every day. It feels good knowing they are there and they are full.

When I disconnect my cell phone from the charger in the morning after it’s charged all night, I notice that tiny battery icon in the corner. I like seeing that it’s all black and accompanied by a miniature 100%.

There’s just something comforting about knowing that the things we need are in abundant supply. It’s a relief.

There was a woman in the Bible who must’ve known that kind of relief or at least a desire for it. We call her the Samaritan Woman because we don’t know her name, only where she lived.

She was going to the well to draw water and she met Jesus. He asked her for a drink and they started talking. They spoke about wells and husbands and where’s the best mountain for worship.

Some scholars say that the woman was there at noon instead of early in the morning because she was shunned by all the other women of the town. This woman had a bad reputation. She had been married 5 times and now lived with another man who wasn’t her husband.

I suppose she was worn down by the time she met Jesus. Life hadn’t turned out like she had hoped. Love hadn’t lasted. Memories were painful. Her future didn’t look much better. But still she had to draw water. She needed it to drink and cook and clean. She needed it to survive. So she grabbed a robe and wrapped a scarf around her head and went out into the midday heat.

When she questioned Jesus’ boldness in speaking to a woman alone in public, He tells her that she’s asking the wrong question. Instead she should be asking Him for Living Water. Like I often do, the woman was only thinking about the immediate, physical needs. She asked Jesus how He’d get the water without a bucket and where this living water came from and why did He think His water would be better than this well—the one Jacob gave them? So many questions but still not the right ones.

Then Jesus said, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (NLT)

Her mind must have been spinning. An endless supply? Water for eternity? Never to thirst again? Sign me up!

She pleaded for Jesus to give her this water. Then Jesus told her that He knows—knows about her past and her present. He knew all about all of it and yet He still told her the big secret that was meant to be told to everyone. Jesus was the One, the Messiah.  He had come to be the never-ending, overflowing source of Life.

In spite of my prayer life or Bible study methods or my own righteousness, I can look at the gauge indicating how much He’s willing to pour into me and see the needle pointing to FULL. I will eventually run out of laundry detergent and toilet paper, but there will always be an infinite stockpile of His love for me.

Sleep, baby. Sleep.

Yesterday, I found a much anticipated delivery in my mailbox. I received two over-priced bed pillows. (Disclaimer: It should be noted that I have bought most of our pillows for $9.99 from Walmart so my idea of over-priced may be different from others.) I don’t know what surprised me more—that I paid so much for pillows or that I bought something from an infomercial or that these pillows actually fit in my mailbox.

I ran inside with my purchase and opened the package. Inside were two large hot dog shaped bundles. I tore apart the plastic, releasing the vacuum-sealed pillows from their captivity. They expanded into what I am hoping turn out to be two incredibly helpful, non-pharmaceutical sleep aids.

A good night’s sleep is one of those things we can’t fully appreciate until we don’t get one. I remember the first year of my older son’s life as a constant series of eye twitches. He was the most pleasant baby during the day but a horrible sleeper at night. For about 12 months, I yearned for sleep like a thirsty woman wandering the desert searching for water…with a persistent eye twitch.

When we first got married, my husband was in medical school. His stress level was high, which became evident when he was asleep. He would experience a variety of stressful dreams that compelled him to move around and talk while still asleep. Once, he got up in the middle of the night, stood at the foot of our bed, pulled the covers off of me, and yelled “Spiders!” It wasn’t the most romantic way to wake up your newlywed wife.

Psalm 121, one of my all-time favorite Scriptures, reveals that—unlike the rest of us—the Lord has no need for sleep.

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.

Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.

The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.

The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

When my twin daughters were newborns, a friend and I met weekly to encourage each other to memorize several key Scriptures. Psalm 121 is one of the chapters that remains in my memory and etched in my heart. I think of God staying awake, watching us as we sleep soundly or rock our cranky babies or scare the bejeebies out of our spouses or feel stressed or feel calm or feel anything in between. He sees every second we spend on earth. The Maker of All makes time to just watch us.

Knowing and believing that should help me sleep even better than these fancy pillows.