Stockpiling God’s blessings

Our two sons are both on travel soccer teams. This means that they seem to be playing ball all the time. In the winter, we’ve watched them play in high school gymnasiums and indoor soccer facilities, but most of the action is outside. We’ve stood under umbrellas watching them play in the rain. We’ve stamped our feet to keep warm at spring tournaments where there was still snow on the ground. And there have been plenty of games where we have sat, sweaty and sunburnt, in the blazing heat. This was our experience the last weekend of August.

 

Last Saturday, our older son played in Murfreesboro on those beautiful new turf fields. As nice as they are, that hunter green rubber grass also seems to draw in the heat, creating an atmosphere similar to the surface of the sun. Now I’ve been watching him play soccer for more than a decade, so I was mostly prepared for the magnitude of the heat. I started the morning drinking from my water jug, hours before I ever sat in my camping chair in the noonday sun. I had chugged 32 ounces by 10:00 a.m. and brought along more to drink during the game. I knew from experience that once you begin sweating, it’s almost too late to start drinking water. You have to start before you even feel thirsty.

 

This idea of storing up what you need before you get to a moment of crisis isn’t particularly profound. You can see it exhibited in the grocery stores at the first sign of a snowflake. The bread aisles left bare, with only a few loaves of raisin bread remaining. But there’s more to stockpiling necessary goodness besides just water and other staples. We can also store up sweet memories and miraculously puzzling developments. The light of these reminiscences brightening future darkness.

 

You have to wonder if Mary, Jesus’ mother, did just that as she held her newborn in her arms. She couldn’t have known the scope of Jesus’ ministry or the horrific death he would suffer, but the Book of Luke paints a beautiful picture of a mother treasuring the sweet moments in her heart.

 

Mary had given birth. Then a pack of shepherds came bursting inside the stable where Jesus was born. They must’ve blurted out crazy stories about an angelic choir announcing the Savior’s birth. They were joyfully spreading the news all over Bethlehem, and people were listening. Then, in one brief verse, we read that “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” (The Message) She tucks away the image of the shepherds and the story that they told about the hillside concert, almost as if she knew she might need this precious memory for later. Perhaps she knew she’d need to take out the sweetness of that night and hold it, turning it over in her mind to escape a challenging time.

 

How are you preparing your heart for future difficulties? What’s the spiritual equivalent of building a Y2K shelter? Make a list of the good things God has done for you, counting your blessings and thanking the One who provided them. Commit Scriptures to memory, giving yourself an arsenal of God’s Word to have at the ready. Store up treasures, just like Mary. Ponder them and then share them with a thirsty world desperately in need of relief.

Greatest of All Time

Somewhere between 4th grade and 7th grade, it was a common pastime for girls in my school to rank their friends. “Tiffany is my first best friend. Holly is my second best friend. You are my third best friend.” Unless you were number one, it was demoralizing and humiliating, but you also knew your place in the pecking order was always tenuous. Any move by you or those in your circle could shift you up or down. You could get demoted by another girl extending an invitation to her birthday party at the skate center or a sleep-over at a house with an above-ground swimming pool or something as seemingly small as the gift of a Cindy Lauper cassette tape or a Duran Duran slap bracelet. (It was the 80’s, so these were a tween girl’s currency.)

 

As cut-throat and cruel as this may sound, it’s not a new idea. For all time, we humans have wanted to know where we fit as we’ve worried about the prominent placement of our seat at the table. Whether we like to admit it or not, we desire confirmation of our significance, and this often comes at the detriment of those around us.

 

Jesus’ twelve best friends were no different. As He was traveling around the area, preaching and healing, his disciples were arguing over which of them was the greatest. When we read Mark’s account of the story, Jesus asks them what they were quarrelling about (even though he knows the thoughts in their heads let alone the words they’re saying to each other as they walk down the road), but “they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” They knew what they were talking about was childish, and they were embarrassed to tell Him.

 

Of course, Jesus used that moment to teach them (and through His Word, us) a valuable lesson. He told them, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Then Jesus saw a little child standing nearby which he lifted in his arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

 

You would think that the Disciples had been adequately upbraided by Jesus once he held an actual child to illustrate to them how they were acting like babies, but they didn’t fully absorb the lesson. Later, we see them reclining at the last supper they would eat with Jesus. He’s just dropped a bombshell, saying that one of them would betray him and His death was just around the corner, and they’re arguing about their status again.

 

Jesus shuts down the bickering by telling them that the order is different in His kingdom than in the kingdoms you find in the world. He tells them that it’s not about being the boss. Instead, it’s about being the servant.

 

I heard a preacher tell his congregation about an assignment for a discipleship course. He said that for a week, the person taking the course couldn’t brag about himself or defend himself when being criticized. He also couldn’t gossip or speak negatively about anyone else. He explained that the assignment was nearly impossible. He became aware of all the times he was concerned with his position, his seat at the table. He had to fight the urge to inflate his own ego or puncture the self-worth of others.

 

Jesus shows us that choosing to live the life of a servant isn’t an act of weakness, but one of extreme strength. To continually die to ourselves goes against the selfish nature we were born with and requires willpower and self-control. Most likely you won’t read words like humble or submissive or foot-washer in a political campaign ad or in the job description for a CEO or in a post-game interview with a professional athlete, but Jesus provides the best example of how to be the greatest.

Hold my ladder

As a homeowner, there are plenty of jobs most of us just don’t enjoy doing: weed-eating, grout-cleaning, baseboard-dusting, etc. Generally, these are tasks which run on a never-ending loop: We clean. We pause briefly to bask in the triumph of our accomplishment. Then, before we know it, it’s time to do it again.

 

Cleaning out the gutters is an accurate example of this “life of a homeowner” principle, (along with possibly being on the list of the punishments God gave Adam in the Garden of Eden which are now meted out upon us, his miserable descendants).

 

When we get a heavy rain, it becomes obvious that the gutters are clogged. Water is pouring down in sheets at the corners of the roof, instead of coming down the drainpipes like it’s supposed to. Once the rain stops, my husband Brent goes out to the shed to get the ladder. He carries it over to the house and leans it against the wall. But before he climbs to the top, he does what smart people do: he asks for someone to hold his ladder.

 

I am usually the one at the bottom of the ladder, legs planted firmly in the ground using all my might to hold the metal frame which the love of my life is precariously perched at the top of. Even though I run the risk of getting splatted by the gross sludge coming down in handfuls from the clogged gutter, I preferred to be the one holding the ladder, because I don’t trust the kids to do the job. In a way, it’s an honor to be asked to do something so important for my most favorite person, or at least that’s what I tell myself as I comb rotted vegetation from my hair.

 

Now that I think of it, climbing should never be a solitary journey. In the same way that they encourage people to use the buddy system on a mountain climb, we should all be scaling the heights together.

 

Over 100 years ago, a group of women gathered together to form an organization that would do just that. It was called the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), and their mantra was “Lifting as We Climb.” The women who started the organization, including the heroic Harriet Tubman, were dedicated to improving the lives of people of color, not just for themselves, but to lift up their communities for generational impact.

 

The NACW was born in a time when people of color, and especially African-American women, were demonized and considered less than human. When a British suffragette asked a Missouri newspaperman to encourage American journalists to speak out against lynching, he wrote back to her in no uncertain terms what he thought about the people of color in America. But his words of hate and prejudice only solidified their mission. The women proved their humanity in the best sense of the word by working together to better the lives of their sisters.

 

Anyone with an ounce of ambition (or who’s ever played Chutes and Ladders) knows it’s better to go up the ladder. We want better—better for ourselves, better for our kids, better at work, better at home. The question we should ask ourselves is this: Are we willing to hold the ladder for others as they scale to higher heights? Are we lifting as we climb?

Would You Rather?

Our youngest son was recently interested in the game “Would You Rather?” In it, a person asks another person questions like: “Would you rather have one thumbnail pulled off or all your eyelashes plucked out?” It’s meant to be a difficult task, choosing between two mostly equal options. But when Ezra posed the questions, he didn’t always grasp the required balance necessary to make the game fun. For instance, a few months ago, he went running down the driveway, shouting to a friend who was driving away to roll down his window. Then he asked, “Hey, Tyler! Would you rather fight a dog or eat a hot dog?” To most anyone, the answer was obvious.

 

If only all our choices in life were as easy as eating a hot dog instead of participating in a dog fight. Unfortunately, many of the selections we face are more like the actual “Would You Rather?” game. In the real world, there are nuances to consider and unknown variables and long-term consequences. Further investigations may be needed with possible pros vs. cons lists. “Would You Rather?” turns into What If I Don’t?and What Will It Cost? and Are There Better Choices?

 

I’m no expert on this and I’m sure to forget this plan way more than I will remember it, but I am going to try to use three key verses when I’m making a decision, big or small. (Note: I recently heard someone say that he even prays before he chooses which restaurant he should go to for lunch just in case God has a plan for him to go to a particular place. No choice is too small!)

 

  1. Listen carefully! Isaiah 30:21 tells us, “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go, whether to the right or to the left.’” This listening may require a long, sometimes uncomfortable pause. As a people-pleaser, I’m working on listening better for God’s discretion to tell me when to say yes and when to say no.
  2. Look different! Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” I’m going to give myself permission to look different than the world, removing that ridiculous and unattainable burden of worldly achievement and flawlessness which can weigh me down.
  3. Live faithfully! In Joshua 24:15, we read some of General Joshua’s final words to the Israelite people. “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua was taking the Israelites to an existential crossroads. He reminded them of all that the Lord had done for them, then he told them to make a choice to be faithful to the True God.

 

We will not always be given the greatest choices, forcing us to use phrases like “lesser evil,” “best of a bad bunch,” and “least bad option.” But, although we don’t live in a perfect world, we can serve a Perfect Lord.

What’s real?

As we watched a complicated battle scene in the new Mulan movie a few nights ago, my youngest son said, “It would be hard to be an actor.”

 

Assuming he was referring to the acrobatics required to do things like flip around on the back of horses while shooting arrows at a pursuing enemy, I replied, “It would. They must’ve practiced this scene a bunch of times.”

 

He paused a minute then said, “Yeah…and also why would you sign up for a movie if you’re just going to get killed?”

 

“Who got killed?” I asked.

 

“Well, that guy and that guy.” He pointed at the screen. “And that guy with the arrow in his chest. They’re all dead now. I wouldn’t want to be an actor.”

 

“They aren’t really dead!” I told him. “They’re just pretending.”

 

“Are you sure? They look dead.”

 

“I’m absolutely sure. No one was killed making this movie.” I thought for a minute, then added, “And it’s the same in other movies, too. They are always just pretending to die, and then they put fake blood on them.”

 

“Ohhhh…” At least outwardly satisfied by my answer, he finished watching the movie, hopefully with a new perspective about the craft of moviemaking and the exciting career of stunt professionals.

 

Reflecting on his film-related epiphany, I wondered if he’d been thinking this all along, that actors in the movies had been actually dying, like the man in the Darth Vader mask had really perished in Luke Skywalker’s arms. I also understood why he chafed at my frequent comments about how he should be an actor because he’s so funny and expressive and, let’s face it, very dramatic. While I thought I was paying him a compliment, he may have assumed I wanted him to kick the bucket on the silver screen.

 

Perspective is such an essential tool in understanding the motivations of another human being. The well-known phrase goes something like this, “To understand another person, you must walk a mile in his shoes.” I like Atticus Finch’s counsel to his daughter Scout even better in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

 

Atticus’ advice is more of a submission to empathy than just tying on a pair of shoes and going for a walk. It’s a desire to absorb every nuance of their viewpoint and outlook. How do they see the world and how does the world see them? But it’s possible to take this to the next step. Because even after trying our best to be empathetic, we may have to admit that the other person’s opinion just doesn’t make sense, and then what? Just agree to disagree? I’m sometimes challenged to figure out how to live on the same planet with some people so ideologically different than me, let alone the same country or even the same street. The only way to move forward is with a heaping helping of grace. In spite of how I feel about them and what evidence I have about the truth, that undeserved and magical gift is as much for me as it is for them.

 

I’m glad my son and I had our conversation about movies, because it gave me just one more glimpse into the mind of one of my favorite people. It’s a bit disconcerting to realize that he has been thinking that all of these actors have been dying voluntarily, and, even worse, that we’re all okay with it. But now that it’s out there, I can put it right. We can discuss it and the truth is revealed.  Then I can show him what’s real.

Hope for an untangled future

Per our usual tradition, my family put up our Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. (By the way, this isn’t a discussion about when you should or should not decorate for Christmas. You do you, merry-makers! Deck your halls and trim your trees until you can festoon no more! And if that helps you beat the blahs of a pandemic holiday season, keep them up until August!) We dragged the boxes from the basement and began unloading their contents. Wreaths on the windows and doors. Tabletop decorations and a nativity set for the bookshelf.

 

We set up one (pre-lit) tree in the sunroom with colorful lights, kid-made ornaments, and a Santa tree skirt. I always ask our kids to hang the ornaments on this one. It’s fun to listen to them reminisce and laugh at the clay snowmen, pipe cleaner candy canes, and photos framed by popsicle sticks, dotted haphazardly with red and green pom-pom balls. And we always have to tell the story about the time when one of my daughters took a bite out of a dog bone ornament because she thought it was a Scooby snack cookie. (Either way…why? Rule Number 754 Of Things I Didn’t Think I’d Have To Say Aloud: Don’t eat, lick, or even nimble anything that is hanging on the Christmas tree.)

 

The other tree went up by the living room window. This one is artificial, too. (This also isn’t a discussion about live vs. artificial Christmas trees. Why is there so much to argue about when it comes to this stuff, anyway?!) We’ve had this tree for going on twenty years. It loses tons of (fake) needles each time we set it up, so it will eventually be bald. Until that happens, it falls to me to wrap the branches in white lights before the ornaments go on. This is not my favorite part of the process. It involves a lot of lights, standing on stools, going around in circles, and sweating.

 

As I was plugging in each strand of lights to check that they still work before putting them on the branches, I congratulated my January 2020 self for taking the time to wrap the lights around pieces of cardboard to keep them separated and organized. It would be oh-so easy to just dump the lights in a jumbled heap in the bin, pop the lid on top, and forget about it. But how I would regret it!

 

If you stop and think about it, there are plenty of things most of us are able to do because we’re infused with hopefulness. Unconsciously, we make assumptions about where we’ll be tomorrow and what we’ll be doing. When I wrapped all those lights around cardboard rectangles the day after New Year’s Day, I was saying, “I have a hope that I will need these when another Christmas season rolls around.”

 

During bleak times, remaining hopeful can sometimes feel foolish or naïve. Should we even make plans anymore? What’s the point when so much is uncertain? It reminds me of what James, Jesus’ brother, said when he scolds people for focusing too much on their own plots and proposals. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Good grief, James! This forces me to ask myself if I should even wrap those lights at all!

 

But then I search the Scripture for whispers of a living hope—hope for resurrection, hope for justice, hope that things will be made right. James goes on to say we shouldn’t boast about our own schemes, but spirit-filled hope is something we should shout about from the rooftops. Romans 5 gives us permission to boast, because we are bragging on a glorious and generous God who has given us a reason to be hopeful.

 

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Praise God for the hope He continually gives us. Whether it’s in the form of another day or a newborn baby, looking forward is an essential quality.

 

But focusing on the future doesn’t mean you don’t act in the present or even ignore the past. The miracle of hope is that it can involve all three. C.S. Lewis said, “Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

Trimming the edges

I’m not trying to brag, but I have a massive art collection. It’s true. All of them are one-of-a-kind originals. Sure, they were made in elementary art class by my four children, but I’m telling you…it’s a priceless collection.

 

I display this priceless art in our basement. There’s a wall of just fish and bird paintings. There are self-portraits and cityscapes and jungle animals and a variety of foods, including a slice of pizza. Lots of good stuff. Bright and colorful scenes which make me happy when I’m heading to the laundry room.

 

For more than a decade since I first had elementary-aged kids, I’ve bought very cheap frames for my collection. To keep the look cohesive (because, you know, I’m pretty fancy), I pop the glass out and spray paint all of the wooden frames the same dark red color. (If only da Vinci had thought of this, that Mona Lisa thing might’ve been more popular. It’s a shame, really.)

 

The artwork that comes home from school is rarely the same size as the standard frames I buy from Hobby Lobby. Their chalky tempera masterpieces are usually on these oversized sheets of stiff, white paper which are larger than the 11×14 frames I purchase. But, as a patron of the arts, I am not daunted in accomplishing my task. My solution is to lay the glass on the artwork and trace around the sides with a pencil. Then I trim the excess so that it will lay perfectly inside the frame.

 

At first, it seemed heartless to alter my sweet babies’ drawings, cutting off pieces of suns in the upper corner or blue waves at the bottom. But the paintings don’t suffer from the lack of these edges. The artists (my kids) were mostly focused on the center of the page—the big, fat pumpkin sitting in the sunny pumpkin patch or the sails on the sailboat which is tossing on choppy, blue waves. So taking out an inch here and there is no big deal.

 

There have been times when I’ve voluntarily taken on the task of trimming the edges of my activities, duties and even the concentration of my thoughts, but first I’ve had to determine what has priority. Some things fall right in the center, such as my kids and my husband, while others hover on the periphery. It can be difficult to determine which is which, especially if it feels like people are counting on me to follow through, and I worry I might disappoint them.

 

Throughout my adult years, I haven’t always been skilled in carrying out these croppings and cuttings, then we were handed a global pandemic, and tons of activities were trimmed away for us, whether we liked it or not. I hesitate to say that it has been good, because I know so many have experienced huge heartache in the last 8 or 9 months and I would never want to trivialize that very real sorrow, but I will say that in spite of the stress and uncertainty, last summer held countless blessings—simple and beautiful ones—for our family. It was the last months before our daughters left for college for the first time and I enjoyed how slow time felt.

 

Now that those initial changes have become routine, I have had to be more intentional as I try to regain that often illusive feeling of contentment. So I go to the Scriptures and read Philippians 4:8, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Here I’m given instructions how to trim the excess. It’s not easy to block out the noise and distraction, but in verse 9 we’re given the prize: “Then the God of peace will be with you.” God-given peace, the priceless treasure we all desire to collect.

Alarming

I can’t think of anything more confusing than suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, unless it’s suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night while you’re away from home, sleeping on a pull-out sofa in a strange hotel and the fire alarm is blaring up and down the halls.

 

This was my recent experience, and I’m still recovering from it. Our 9-year old’s first response was “I didn’t do anything! It wasn’t my fault!” which it wasn’t, but I sure would like to know what he was dreaming about at 1:45 am. This information might be very revealing.

 

My husband, our two sons and I hopped up and threw on shoes before shuffling down the stairwell with the rest of the hotel’s sleepy occupants. We all stood in the parking lot, huddled in groups and waiting for the fire trucks to arrive. To entertain myself, I played a favorite game of mine which I call “Look How Everybody Thinks Differently.” Though it was a chilly 40-something degrees, several people were wearing only shorts and t-shirts, and some were even bare-footed. Others had jackets or blankets draped over their shoulders. One couple emerged outside fully dressed and pulling wheeled suitcases toward their car. They are my first suspects in The Case of Someone Pulled the Fire Alarm. Some joked, others fumed, but most seemed to assume the alarm signified no real threat to any of us.

 

The fire truck arrived with only lights flashing and no siren, a sign that this was going to be speedily resolved and we’d be happily snoozing away in no time. But moments after the alarm was turned off and we were back in our room, the alarm started back up again. Beeeeep, beeeep, beep it repeated every 25 seconds, followed by a 4 second break, a more clipped beeep, beep, and then it started all over again. (I know this because I counted.) More than an hour after it began, the alarm finally stopped and, if we could also stop the residual ringing in our heads, we could fall asleep.

 

It seems we’ve become overly comfortable with alarms. More often than not, we ignore the warnings because they come way too frequently, or we find that it’s easier to assume that it’s just a drill. Murder hornets and melting icecaps. Wildfires raging in California and derechos blowing through the Tennessee Valley. Widespread racism, harassment in the workplace, child abuse, identity theft…I could go on and on, but it’s too depressing and I might have to curl up in a ball, making it really difficult to type.

 

Reading the Bible gives me insight about being watchful but in a way which won’t drive me to the fetal position. 1 Peter 5 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (NIV)

 

I see four steps to follow as I attempt to up my Watchfulness Game: 1) From a place of extreme humility, acknowledge that God is in control. 2) With the knowledge that this All-Powerful God cares for me, transfer my worry to His mighty and capable shoulders. 3) Realizing that the devil is watching and ready to pounce, be equally as alert. 4) Sustained by my faith and backed by an army of fellow believers, refuse to follow the devil.

 

With God’s help, I can be prepared and watchful without giving up the peace He promises.

Warp and Weft

I’ve been doing a little sewing lately—a set of curtains, hemming a couple of skirts, and, of course, cloth masks. Fabric is one of those things that most of us take for granted—the cotton that makes the threads that makes the fabric that makes that favorite shirt you love so much so you never put it in the dryer. But if you look closely at the fabric, you can see a miniature kingdom of order and uniformity, tiny stitches going one way and tiny stitches going the opposite way. Longitude and latitude of warp and weft.

 

Imagine a loom being prepared for weaving: Yarn stretched taught in vertical lines, followed by shuttles of yarn woven in and out creating horizontal lines. To determine which set of thread is warp and which is weft, you must hold it in your hands and stretch it. If you pull on the fabric one way, there is very little stretch. If you turn it and pull the opposite way, the fabric gives. The stronger set of threads is the warp, because they were designed to withstand the tension of the weaving process.

 

I’ve always been interested in the character of strong, courageous people. What is it about their backgrounds that make them this way? Was it the resilience cultivated in them after some childhood tragedy that made them the “warp” of their families? Or did they learn this strong moral code from watching the Giants of Goodness who walked among them as they grew up? When the “weft” around them stretch and change colors like a chameleon according to current opinions, the strong stand up for what’s right even when it’s not popular, but how did they get that way?

 

The phrase “Be strong and courageous” is used four times in the space of one chapter in the Bible. Flip to Joshua 1 and you’ll see why. Moses, the Israelites’ revered leader, has died and General Joshua is taking over. They are about to battle against nation after nation, and they need to be reminded how to be the “warp”.

 

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. (vs. 6) Be strong and very courageous. (vs. 7) Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. (vs. 9) Only be strong and courageous! (vs. 18)

 

Sometimes I also need to be reminded about the strength of my own design. I was woven with a warp and weft, strengths and weaknesses. There are times which require me to give a little and be flexible, just as there are times when I need to stand firm. Either way, we can heed the words given to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Roller Coaster Ride

You inhale deeply as you approach the wooden archway. A voice from the speaker above you and to your right is midway through its recording: “…so ride at your own risk. Only you know your limitations.”

 

You pull the corners of your mouth into a forced smile at the child who stands beside you. She has asked you to join her on this journey. It would be pure cowardice to retreat.

 

Together, you weave through the maze of metal fencing to find your place in line. The bars are painted a dark red. Shallow scratches and deep gashes in the paint show the original steely gray underneath. You rest your palms against the horizontal bars at your waist, but pull them back as you consider all of the sticky, sweaty hands that have blazed this trail before you, pioneers in tank tops and athletic shorts.

 

You glance at your child who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with you. You notice that you are eye level now. When did she get so tall or when did you shrink? She leans her back against the bar behind her, looking carefree and relaxed. A clattering sound rumbles over your heads, followed seconds later by deafening screams, and then both sounds are gone in a rush of air.

 

You shuffle forward a few feet. Conversations circle around you. Small children whine about the wait. Mothers remind them to be patient. A girl braids her friend’s hair into a long, tight rope. You turn away when you see a young couple embrace—too much affection in such a confined space.

 

Finally, you see the loading area. You watch people—brave souls just like you—as they board the cars. You fight the urge to salute them and their bravery. The affectionate couple from before is seated and both of them look nervous.

 

“I’m a little scared,” your child says quietly. You fake enthusiasm and confidence. You tell her, “Ah, come on. It’ll be fun. I promise.”

 

The cars return with their windswept occupants, smiling broadly. You wonder if their smiles are from joy or relief or both. Either way, you are encouraged that they returned without injury.

 

Your child slides into the car and you follow her. You attempt to steady trembling hands as you buckle the thick seat belt and pull down the padded bar. The bored, teen-aged park employee walks past each pair and tugs at their restraints. Internally, you question the extent of the training that allows him to operate this giant death trap.

 

It’s too late to turn back now. The cars rumble away slowly, teasing you with their nonchalant speed. You know this is a trick. You know this ride is designed to rattle your fillings and challenge your bladder.

 

The car climbs the steep hill with a repetition of clicks. At the top of the hill, you have only the briefest moment to assess the situation. In that moment, you calculate the risks and search your memory bank for any relevant news stories of crashes and negligent park staff. Then, you fall. The rapid descent lifts you ever so slightly from your seat. Your heart races and your stomach drops.

 

You chance a look at your child next to you—her eyes shut tight and her hands thrown into the air. She smiles. You scream. You find that you are grabbing her arm, involuntarily. The fear you felt before for your safety has been transferred to fear for hers.

 

When the ride is jerked to an abrupt end, you step out of the car and onto the platform with shaky legs. “That was fun!” your child says, as she bounces up and down with the release of pent-up energy. “Wanna do it again?” You manage a weak smile in response.

 

The endless recording continues as you exit the archway: “Only you know your limitations.” You chuckle at the thought of fully knowing something as fluid as your limitations. You follow your child away from the ride, watching her long legs manage a smooth, assertive stride and you wonder where this confidence comes from.

 

Suddenly, you wake up. It was all a dream. You’re not at an amusement park, but safely in your bed. As you examine the feelings of riding those ups and downs with your child, you realize that it’s May and your child is graduating from high school. Eighteen years of being her mom, and then this. Though there are giant question marks looming overhead as big as thunderclouds which seemed to be raining down their periods in the form of hail stones, you know there are sunny days ahead, just as you know that you are the proud parent of a Class of 2020 graduate.