Worst Enemy

I had a friend in elementary school named Jill who was allergic to chocolate. I knew she tried to avoid it, but I didn’t know exactly why or what would happen if she ate it. That is until we were in the same homeroom in the 3rd grade…

 

Without any warning or explanation, Jill jumped up from her desk and ran out of the room. She just bolted like a flash of light. My teacher instructed me to go after Jill and see what was wrong. Now, had this been any other teacher, I would’ve asked where I should look for my friend. I would’ve requested more guidance as to how I should best care for Jill, but this was Mrs. Yells-A-Lot. She was mad all the time and not so very fun. I was a ball of anxiety for all of 3rd grade, because this teacher was as predictable as a tornado. You could see her coming across the horizon, but you didn’t know which way the funnel would swerve, toward you and your paper without a name at the top of the page or toward your neighbor who had forgotten to clean up his crayons. (Crayon Kid was probably Kevin, a boy who was a bit disheveled and indifferent to learning and always in her path of angry destruction. To make matters worse, when the teacher would holler, “Kevin!” it would inexplicably sound like she was saying my name and I would answer. Then she would yell, “Is your name Kevin?!” I was so anxious I would say, “I don’t know!” and start gnawing on my Smurf erasers. Yeah, I was a stressed out 8-year old.)

 

Back to Jill…I also ran out of the classroom to search for my friend. Using the detective skills I had learned from The Bloodhound Gang, I determined which way to look for her: to the right which would lead toward an outside door and eventually the nurse’s office or to the left toward the bathrooms? I found the clue I needed when I saw a trail of blood on the linoleum floor to the left. I followed the little red drops to the girls’ restroom. (The restroom which, according to school lore, was home to the Bell Witch, a ghost who could be summoned if you said, “I hate the Bell Witch” three times while staring at the mirror. Then she would savagely claw your face with her razor-sharp fingernails. Childhood is such a magical time.) When I threw open the restroom door, I saw Jill standing at the sink, her blue and white romper with the smocked pictures of hot air balloons across her chest now covered in blood. She turned to look at me, blood dripping from her chin, and I scanned the room for any sign that the Bell Witch still remained, but Jill just squeaked out, “I ate chocolate! I know I shouldn’t do it, but I did it!” And then she broke down and sobbed.

 

Just like Jill eating chocolate even though she knew it would cause her to have a severe nosebleed, most of us do the opposite of what we know we should do. In this way, we’re all too often our own worst enemy. The Apostle Paul knew this. In the Book of Romans, Paul says, “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking…I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.” (Living Bible)

 

But thankfully that’s not the end of it. “So there is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit—and this power is mine through Christ Jesus—has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.

 

Praise the Lord that we aren’t stuck slouching over that nasty sink in a haunted bathroom with the temptations and anxieties of the world keeping us on a never-ending loop of our own foolishness. There’s a better way and a heavenly prize waiting for us. “For all creation is waiting patiently and hopefully for that future day when God will resurrect his children. For on that day thorns and thistles, sin, death, and decay—the things that overcame the world against its will at God’s command—will all disappear, and the world around us will share in the glorious freedom from sin which God’s children enjoy.”

Deadheading

I enjoy being outside in the summer, especially in the morning before the sun sends down the full force of its intensity. One of my favorite tasks is watering the potted plants on our front porch.

 

I like a variety of colors and textures in these pots—stalks of purple salvia, fuchsia trumpets of million bells, and petit bouquets of pink and yellow lantana. But one of the easiest flowers to care for and find at the store is petunias. They’re so simple and cheerful. And they come with an added bonus for people who like fussing with things, like peeling off labels and picking at stickers. I get to deadhead the petunia blooms nearly every day.

 

It’s amazing what a difference it makes to pinch away these shriveled, brown blooms! In the space of just a few days, my petunias can go from looking like they’re ready for the compost pile to full and lush and beautiful. Even the most unassuming plants are more complex than they may seem. Little Petunia is constantly trying to keep itself alive by passing water and nutrients throughout its maze of roots and stems. When I take away those dead blooms, Petunia can concentrate on its healthier parts. It can conserve energy. It can send out new blooms.

I see a similar reward when I deadhead bitterness from my life. I can wake up early, before the heat of another busy day has worn me out, and choose to do what Ephesians 4 instructs: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This may look like cutting back on social media or being open to the Spirit’s nudges to serve in a particular way or limiting my exposure to people who radiate bitterness like the sun on a hot afternoon in July.

 

Then I can put my energy into doing some more of what I read in Ephesians: “…put off your old self…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” I can receive the reward of fresh, new blooms. Oh boy! I can feel the contented sigh rising up through me already! Why does it too often take so long to cast off that yucky burden and exchange it for something so much better?

 

When I’m done deadheading my petunias, I look down at the handful of sticky, brown flowers. I wad them up into a smooshed ball and throw them out into the yard. They’re gone, on their way to transforming into the dirt where my grass is growing. There’s no reason to hold on to them, not with better than bitter alternatives waiting for me. See ya later, old self!

Patience

I’ve written before about the perils of broken bones. With four active (and possibly clumsy?) kids, we’ve had our fair share of trips to get x-rays. During a recent high school soccer game, our older son Knox added a fifth broken bone to his personal list. From what I could see from my seat on the diagonally-opposite end of the soccer field, Knox had passed the ball, then a player from the other team ran into him like a locomotive and sent him flying through the air. Knox landed on his arm and was escorted to his team bench. We hustled him off to get an x-ray, and the next day he had a new conversation-starter by way of a black forearm cast. Oh, Knox! What happened? Well…

 

It’s not especially serious—just a little buckle fracture on his left wrist—but he got a cast just to keep it protected. It hasn’t slowed him down much. He’s still playing soccer and will wear the cast at church camp in a few weeks. (Yes, that’s just as gross as you think it is.) But if there’s one thing we’ve learned through all these broken bones (other than asking for a waterproof cast, if possible), is that all you can do is endure it. The healing takes time, and waiting for time to pass takes patience (and sometimes liberal applications of Febreze).

 

Unfortunately for our current society, we’ve become abysmally bad at exercising patience. When I was young, it was nothing for me to stand in a long line with my mom at the bank or a store. I’m not saying that I liked it, but we definitely practiced this skill a lot more often than we do now. It’s possible to force ourselves to strengthen this rarely used muscle of patience in specific, intentional ways, but let me give you a motivator for why it’s important to learn to be patience. And it goes beyond waiting for a bone to heal so a stinky cast can come off! It is actually downright spiritual!

 

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul is writing to the church in Rome, encouraging them to remain faithful and righteous, even when it seemed like they should give up. He compared what they were going through to the pains of childbirth. Just like a mother struggling to give birth, they should hold on to a future hope. It would all be worth it!

 

In Romans 8, we read, “We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.  We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” (NLT)

 

Paul doesn’t tell them to ignore their present troubles. He also doesn’t tell them to imagine they’re already living in the time of future glory. He reminds them that the waiting is a gift, a one-of-a-kind, gorgeously-wrapped present. You unwrap it and look inside. What do you see? Hope. It’s quite literally the gift that keeps on giving.  Having an event or holiday or special meal to look forward to can often be just as rewarding as the thing itself. One version of the Bible called The Message puts it this way: “But the longer we wait…the more joyful our expectancy.”

Turn on the light

When you’re the youngest kid in a family, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with an eclectic treasure trove of toys/junk. At least that’s the case for our youngest son, Ezra. His three older siblings amassed plenty of plastic figurines during their early childhood, and now those Happy Meal toys and army men and Fisher-Price animals and Matchbox cars are in various bins and boxes in his bedroom, if not strewn across the floor waiting to be stepped on by my bare feet.

 

One of his favorite collections is a set he picked out when we traveled to Disney World a few years ago. It’s made up of figurines from the movie The Lion King. He likes pretending that the hyenas are attacking the lions with the ultimate fate of Pride Rock in jeopardy. Recently, he asked me to help him find Scar, the main bad guy from the movie. Ezra didn’t feel like he could satisfactorily play out the drama without him.

 

Now most moms know that they are often the only ones who can find lost things. It’s not uncommon for me to hear the following: “Where are my shoes? Have you seen my library book? I can’t find my jersey!” And apparently I’m the only one who possesses the unique ability to find these things that I don’t own nor am I responsible for. (Often, all that is required to find the lost item is looking under other things, and, for some reason, this is a difficult skill for kids to master.)

 

I instructed Ezra to comb through his bins of toys and his toy chest. After a few minutes, he came back to the living room and reported that he had been unsuccessful. He said that he had dumped all of his toys on the floor, but he still couldn’t find Scar. I walked back to his bedroom and saw the piles of toys, noticing that the light was off and the window blind was still closed from the night before. Ezra was standing behind me, so I asked him, “Did you look for Scar with the light off?” He answered, “Yes.” I told him that it’s difficult to look for something in the dark. In fact, it’s nearly impossible. Knowing my proclivity for finding things, he decided to believe me. We switched the light on and started digging.

 

The Bible mentions light and the goodness of light hundreds of times. We see that God made light at Creation, just as He is light with no darkness in him. The Bible says that we can’t simultaneously live in the light and hate a fellow believer.  It says that people can be walking in darkness, then they can be transformed once the light dawns. We read Jesus’ instructions not to hide our lights under a bowl or a bed.

 

Jesus also tells a story about a woman who has ten coins and loses one. She lights a lamp and sweeps her house, carefully searching for the lost coin. Once found, she rejoices, calling her friends and neighbors over for a party. (Jesus’ parable doesn’t specify that the woman was a mother, but it makes sense that only a mom would be able to find the lost coin.)

 

Light is essential, from growing plants to finding lost things. Just as a sunflower leans toward the sun’s rays as it climbs taller, we should set our sights on good things and allow the light to reveal what we’ve lost.

Deadly weapon

I’m in the process of teaching our 15-year old son how to drive. Since this is the third kid for me to teach this particular lesson, I know there’s a lot of important information to cover. There are the basics—which pedal is the gas and which is the brake, how to switch on the wipers and the turning signal and the headlights, and the meaning behind the various traffic signs. There are also nuanced skills, such as how to know that you’re in the center of your lane (new drivers are usually really scared of the series of mailboxes flying past them on their right and incoming cars whizzing by in the opposite lane) and when to start braking (they rarely start as soon as I’d like them to).

 

But before he ever sat behind the wheel, I told my son one of the most important truths about driving: This car is a weapon. I told him that a driver must take this task very seriously, paying close attention to the other cars and pedestrians around him. In the hands of a careless and distracted driver, this car is like a loaded gun just waiting to kill someone. This may sound severe, but I know it to be true, and I would be a fool to ignore my chance to warn him about life-altering mistakes before they happen.

 

We often concentrate on the physical dangers of recklessness, but it’s important to warn our children (and remind ourselves) of the perils of something much smaller than a car or even a gun, but deadly in a different way—our words. With a few choices words, we can tear down another person, and the better we know them, the easier it is to dismantle their self-esteem.

 

In his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum plays with the old adage which claims words can’t hurt us. Instead, he says, “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” In most cases, bones can heal, but it’s much harder to forget the pain inflicted on us by a parent who says we’re too stupid or a spouse who says we’re too fat or a friend who says we’re not wanted. Words can create an inner scar. They can pop back into our thoughts decades later to remind us of our shortfalls. Especially nasty remarks can affect future jobs and relationships. They can be joy-stealers and future-destroyers.

 

In James 3, we read about the power of the tongue. We see that it’s capable of great things: “We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.” From the inspiring sermons of Dr. King to the sweet “Have a great day!” note your mom put in your lunchbox, words can make the world a better place.

 

But there’s a dark side to what the tongue can do. “People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.”

 

The next time you’re in a car, safely passing other giant boxes made of metal and flame, consider the dangers involved. Then take a moment to reflect on the destructive power of your words. Steer both your car and your mouth as if lives were on the line.

Unplugged

Our home has had more work done on it than an aging movie star. Roof, siding, bathroom renovations, kitchen renovation, basement renovation, carpet, carpet again (after the flood of 2010), the addition of a sunroom, and gallons and gallons of paint. It’s gone through a lot of changes, so it isn’t unusual for us find something down in the basement or up in the attic or even out in the yard that just doesn’t make sense.

 

A few summers ago, we had to have a portion of our front yard dug up to repair the gas line. One might hope to find a treasure buried beneath all that dirt, but we weren’t so lucky. We mostly found rocks. One puzzling thing we did find was a random black cable. The length was indeterminable, and the cut end was just sticking out of the dirt like a curious garter snake. Though we’ve been assured that it isn’t connected to a power source and no electrical current is pulsing through it, we have left it there. Each time I walk past it, I am reminded of what it is to be rendered inept, defective, powerless.

 

I’ve felt the same as that cable many times, hopeless and broken down, unable to make a difference or exchange bad for good, disconnected from power. But I’m told in the Scriptures that I’m not so powerless as I sometimes feel. I’ve just forgotten where the Power is coming from.

 

In Ephesians 3, Paul says: “…I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (NLT)

 

Tapping into the power of God’s spirit gives me strength, peace and confidence, but more than that, it allows me to be an adapter. Wired for the highest voltage and fitted with the ground wire of Christ-like humility, I am equipped to help pass that spirit along to others.

 

After Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, his disciples got busy spreading the Good News. There were times when their message was met with acceptance and joy, and other times when they were run out of town. Once, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council. They had healed a lame beggar and a crowd had formed, anxious for answers and more miracles. The Jewish leaders didn’t like where this was heading, so they wanted to shut them up. Acts 4 tells us that Peter and John were filled with the power of the Spirit as they boldly refused to stop speaking about Jesus. The Jewish leaders eventually gave in and released them.

 

Peter and John hurried to meet with the other disciples to share what had happened. They prayed together, asking God for courage and even more miracles and healings. Next, the place where they were meeting shook, vibrating with the presence of God’s Spirit. But this isn’t where it ends. If this were a Marvel movie, we might expect that those who were electrified would become selfish and power-hungry. Instead, we read that they were compelled to testify to the story of Jesus and give away all that they had so that no one was needy.

 

When I feel helpless, I can still help others. When I feel powerless, I can still plug into the power of God’s Spirit. And when I feel defeated, there is still something I can control. I can choose to submit to the will of the One who ultimately holds all the power.

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.

Difficult things

This morning, while I was walking my 3rd grade son to school, he asked me the question which I hear nearly every morning: “Why do we have to walk to school when we have a car to drive?” Like many questions, this one can’t only be taken at face value. I have given him plenty reasons for walking, such as the fresh air, the opportunity to chat, not wanting to add to the pollution from cars. He knows these answers, and normally he will begrudgingly agree with them, but he doesn’t like them because he just doesn’t want to walk. He will point to his sore knee or how much his coach worked him at practice the night before or how it’s too cold/too hot/too windy/too cloudy. His excuses have no effect on me, for I am Drill Sargent Mom and he’s my fourth elementary kid to walk to school.

 

I told him that when he’s a dad, he’ll have to make his kids do difficult things, too. He disagreed and informed me that he’ll always let them take the easy way. He said, “I won’t make them walk to school. I won’t make them put away their laundry or clean their rooms. And I will do their homework for them.” Though I adore these imaginary, future grandchildren, I’m afraid they will be really miserable to babysit.

 

I asked him, “If you want to get big muscles, do you lift a feather a bunch of times or a heavy weight?” Too smart to be entrapped and too cranky about walking to play along, he said, “I would pick the feather. I am already strong, so it doesn’t really matter what I use.”

 

When Moses wrote the Book of Deuteronomy, he knew that we parents have to continually explain things to our children, including why we sometimes take the more difficult path. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (NIV)

 

He said that the Lord was about to give them a beautiful Promised Land, full of crops they didn’t plant and cities they didn’t build and wells they didn’t dig. It was going to be great, but there was work involved and commitment. Moses went on to say that in the future your children will ask, “Why do we have all these laws and commandments?” They will do the thing children are supposed to do—ask questions. Then the adults should explain the reasons: how living in this land is better than being a slave in Egypt, how the journey was difficult but the promised reward was greater, how having a covenant with the One and Only God was a relationship worth pursuing.

 

Moses knew that having children ask questions is so important that he also mentioned it as he explains the details about the first Passover feast. More than 2,000 years ago, Jewish rabbis included such questions in the Haggadah, or the program for the Passover meal. The youngest child asks questions about the meal, such as, why do we eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs on this night? If you’ve ever chomped down on a mouthful of grated horseradish or prefer a fluffy yeast roll over a chunk of matzah, these are good questions.

 

So I’ll keep on answering my son’s questions and pushing him to do difficult things. He doesn’t understand the power of pushing ourselves and finding our weaknesses. But it’s not like I’ve got it all figured out either. I’m trying to get to the place where I can say what the Apostle Paul said about doing difficult things: “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (NLT)

Donut cloud

A few days before we took our twin daughters to different cities to move into their respective college dorm rooms, I found myself in a parking lot sitting in my van at our older son’s soccer practice attempting to concentrate enough to read a book. Though it was mid-August, it was especially breezy and almost pleasant.

I looked up and noticed a strange cloud in the evening sky. It looked like a ginormous, fluffy donut with the sun shining through the hole. I snapped a picture of it with my phone and tried to get back to my detective novel and the page I had already read ten times without comprehension or any idea of who the murderer was.

 

Seconds later, I glanced back up at the sky again and saw that the donut cloud had disappeared, blown away by the gusty wind.

The moment was gone, and I suddenly found myself crying. It didn’t help that I was also watching a dad heft two pink bikes which belonged to his young daughters into the back of his pickup truck. One of the girls was pouting because she didn’t want to leave, but the dad barely registered her disappointment. As he continued to load up, the girl grouchily made her way to the back seat of the truck, moving in that way that kids do when they want to show their resistance to a command while simultaneously obeying you. Her arms hung limply at her sides and her feet moved forward an inch at a time without bending her knees.

 

I knew that my tears weren’t really about clouds or even hot pink bicycles. I knew I was feeling the weight of my daughters’ approaching departure from home, just as I knew they were ready to go and on their way to great things. Over the weekend before they moved out, I’ll admit I was pretty teary-eyed. It got so bad that our 9-year old noticed. One day he warily approached me and said, “Hey, mom. That’s a nice shirt. Where did you get it?” I looked down and saw I was wearing the $5 gray Old Navy flag shirt which we each owned an identical version of. I could tell it was time to get myself together.

 

I needed some strategies to survive this new phase. I was already planning to avoid going in my girls’ shared bedroom. I wasn’t going to sit on their beds and stroke their bedspreads and smell the clothes they left behind. Uh-uh. No way. That’s a suicide mission. Instead, I started praying. I began a dialogue with God about what I was feeling and fearing. I told him I was blessed and beholden. I asked him to protect them and point them in the right direction. And I consistently received the same 4-word sentences: “Your world is expanding” and “God is big enough”.

Additionally, a couple of Scriptures have begun a rotation in my thoughts:

“Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God! Do you know how God controls the storm and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds? Do you understand how he moves the clouds with wonderful perfection and skill?” (Job 37)

“I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32)

Nearly a week after the donut cloud, my girls were all moved into their new rooms—curtains and pictures were hung, throw pillows were fluffed and area rugs were unfurled. (I’m guessing this will be a really different process with my next kids…two boys) Now I can see why my heart is feeling this heaviness. What I’m realizing is that it’s not just that I’ll miss them—their help with their younger brothers, their stories after school and before bedtime, their general presence in the kitchen while I’m cooking or on the sofa while I’m watching TV—it’s an acknowledgement that things will never quite be the same. It’s like that fleeting moment with the donut cloud. The new cloud arrangement wasn’t bad, in fact it was doing just what clouds are supposed to do—move and change and re-form. I’m just happy I looked up from my book in time to see it.