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.

10 months home

When I was in college I went on a couple of mission trips to Romania to teach English using the Bible. Like any overseas trip, it was eye-opening. So much is different: the food, the customs, the language.

I remember that one time when, unbeknownst to us, our shower was leaking through the bathroom floor in our flat and down through the ceiling in the flat below us. The landlord came knocking to tell us what was happening but our Romanian language skills were abysmal. We had no idea what he was saying. Like so many Europeans, he was fluent in more than one language—but none that we understood. In the end, he had to speak Romanian to a non-English speaking friend who translated his words into French. A few of us had studied French in high school, so we cobbled together his meaning: your shower is leaking, you dumb Americans.

The longer we were there, the less difficult the language barrier became. We learned to point, pantomime, and draw pictures to communicate. We also learned some important phrases, like “Unde este toaleta?” (Where is the bathroom?) But mostly, we learned to be comfortable with the confusion. And we learned that in spite of our differences, there was much more we had in common.

Bringing someone into our home who speaks a different language has been difficult at times, especially at the beginning. As of today, our African-born son Ezra has been in the U.S. for 10 months. He can understand nearly everything we say. Although he usually likes us to repeat it for clarity.

Me: After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes.

Ezra: Mama, what?

Me: (Slowly, emphasizing every syllable) After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes.

Ezra: Oh. Shoes. Yessee, ma’am.

It may take a few times but he can get it.

When I stayed home from church with his sick older brother on Sunday, Ezra was able to tell me the Bible story they learned in Sunday School. It was like I was a contestant on a game show.

Ezra: “Um, a boat. Jesus was sleeping. Rain and crashing waves sound effects. Jesus say, ‘Be Still!’”

Me: Jesus calms the storm!

But there’s so much more to communicating with Ezra than words and phrases and idioms and explaining why he shouldn’t use his middle finger to point at things. We are still attempting to speak the language of trust and forever and unconditional love to his wary heart.

There are times when I am reminded of where Ezra has been and how he spent the first 5 years of his life. Those occasions come less often than they did when he first came home so I sometimes forget that he still needs so many reassurances.

This morning was one of those times. Ezra said something unkind to his sister in the car and I said, “Be nice to your sister.” To me, it was a restrained, insignificant rebuke. Full disclosure, I may have had my 7:30 am on a weekday voice which I use to say things like: “Let’s go! We’re late! Where’s your lunchbox?” But I honestly didn’t think it was a full-on Mom Scolding. For whatever reason—Ezra’s head cold or my strained tone—he took it to mean that I was mad.

He gave me the cold shoulder while we completed our carpooling duties. Then he stayed in the car after I pulled into the garage, refusing to leave. I left him there to stew for a bit.

When he finally came in the house, he sat at his place at the kitchen table, laid his head down, and exploded into snotty sobs. “Mama, no love me!” he cried.

“Ezra,” I said, “What is the matter?”

I scooped him up and carried him to the sofa. I wrapped him in a blanket and held him in the way I have held all of my babies—his body curved into a J and his head resting against my left arm. He cried with his whole being as I pulled a dozen tissues from the Kleenex box to wipe his eyes and help him blow his nose.

He wouldn’t talk. He would only cry. So I started to throw out possible scenarios:

Ezra, if you brought a lion in our house and the lion ran to my closet and ripped up all of my clothes so that they were in pieces all over my room, I would still love you.

If a policeman came to our door and told me that you stole all the soccer balls in Murfreesboro, I would still love you.

If you never learn your colors or your letters or your numbers or how to tie your shoes, I will still love you.

If you fuss at your sisters and brother and daddy and me every day for 100 years, I will still love you.

If you tell me you don’t love me, I will still love you.

Nothing you could do or say would make me stop loving you because I will love you forever, ever, ever.

In between hiccuppy breaths, he agreed to a cup of hot chocolate with no less than 12 marshmallows and we moved on with our day.

Before Ezra, I don’t think I ever considered how life would be if I felt completely unloved. Sure, I’ve questioned the extent of affection from certain people but I’ve never known an utter lack of love. Now I am learning some truths about unconditional love. Love is a verb, an action, an effort. It is also a noun, a thing, a gift.

Love, the noun, has more weight with the addition of our son. Love, the verb, requires constant motion. Love, the word, bears repeating over and over and over.

Awkward

When I was around 6-years old, I would imagine that I had curly blond ringlets and blue eyes (think Cindy Brady). My imagination was so proficient, I can remember being truly surprised to look in the long mirror in my parent’s bedroom and see my boring, brown helmet hair and doo-doo brown eyes staring back at me. What a disappointed and slightly delusional little girl I was!

My imagined identity was just that—imagined. In real life, I was (am) not a striking beauty, not athletic, not graceful, barely in the same species as a runway model. So as child with an active imagination, I would go to a place in my mind where my awkwardness was replaced with cool confidence. I may still do it from time to time. It’s called daydreaming and it’s pretty great.

If you ask a group of 4-year old girls to raise their hands if they think they’re beautiful or smart or fast runners, they’ll mostly all answer with an enthusiastic “yes!” But if you ask the same question to a group of 5th grade girls, you’ll get a lot fewer raised hands. Why is this? Logically-speaking, they should all be more of what they had been 5 or 6 years before, but they often don’t see it that way. These gangly, growing girls only see the flaws and the awkwardness.

As a 40-something year old woman it’s still difficult to not feel out of place in certain situations. But trying new things and putting yourself “out there” where you might fail can be a catalyst for growth.

In spite of what you might think, I’m actually an introvert. I like intimate gatherings above large groups. I like a quiet house with few distractions, although as a mom you have to learn to block out things if you want to ever get ANYTHING done. I am depleted by noise and activity and conversations with lots of people.

So as an introvert, I have to give myself little pep talks telling my “I-just-wish-I-were-home” self to take a chance and speak to a group or say hello to a new acquaintance whose name I can’t remember. Sometimes the reward for stepping outside my comfort zone is immediate and evident. Sometimes it’s a disaster in the produce aisle.

There was a teacher at my kids’ school who I didn’t know well and had trouble reading. In fact, we barely had occasion to speak. Then I saw her at the grocery store. I was in the produce section, picking out some cucumbers. I turned around just as she stepped forward. We exchanged brief greetings and she raised one arm for what I thought was a shoulder hug. I guess I should explain at this point that I am an introvert but I’m also a hugger which is maybe a strange combination. I went in to fully reciprocate that hug—both arms right around her midsection—feeling validated and loved and significant (did I also mention that I am a people-pleasing, middle child?) to someone who I was never sure how she felt about me. Instead of hugging me back, she reached up to tug down one of those plastic produce bags hanging above my head. She wasn’t so much looking for a hug but more like looking for the perfect bell pepper. It was a bit awkward.

I look back at that one (of many!) awkward interactions, and I have to say that I am weirdly proud of myself. I hugged a non-hugger and lived to tell about it. I’m hoping I took a step closer to becoming who I’m supposed to be, even if it was painful.

One of my all-time favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 139. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.”

I love the imagery of God creating us in this special place—a dark and cozy womb. Then what happens next? Our messy and—if we’re being completely honest—gross birth. We all start off in this same way: slimy and bloody and messy. And things will continue to be messy off and on for as long as we’re here. We make mistakes. We feel pain. We shed tears. We stretch and grow and all the while we can live with the assurance that we were fearfully and wonderfully made. What we see as awkward, God may see as progress, purpose, possibility.