Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's in it for me?

He's been trying to weasel his way out of schoolwork all day.

Who am I kidding? He's been trying to weasel his way out of schoolwork all year. This rowdy, distracted, can't-sit-still kind of kid is itching to get outside. And he's using every tactic his six-year old brain can conjure up to get me to agree.

But there are spelling words to be conquered and math problems to be solved. And I'm standing my ground this morning. He's surprised; after all, I'm usually a push-over, easily swayed into changing our routine to suit his "learning style".

Today, I am not so agreeable and not so spontaneous and a little more responsible and goshdarnit, he just needs to learn to sit still.

So, a pencil and a worksheet serve as handcuffs and we plow forward with our work. Until the twinkle flashes in his eye and I know that he has tuned out the reason why frost forms on plants and instead has figured out how he might just thaw his mom's icy demeanor.

"I am going to do something real nice for you today. Because you're such a great teacher, and a GREAT mom...

(dramatic pause, I'm listening with a frowny grin),

I'm going to make you a wonderful lunch. A wonderful, healthy.... PICNIC lunch!"

Ah... He's good.

"A picnic lunch, huh? Let me guess, outside?"

"Of course, Mom! Let's see, I'm going to make you..."

I cut him off. I appreciate the art of his style but can only tolerate so much of it without my shovel. "You know what, we can eat outside. That's fine."

This is no grand gesture of gratitude on his part. I'd tell him that I'm on to him, but I don't really see a purpose in that. Besides, I'm too tired of saying "No" and I'm out of reasons for being disagreeable.

As I expect, his heartfelt, "thank-you lunch" idea abruptly ends with my agreement to have our meal outside, and he rushes away from the refrigerator, leaving the door swinging open.

Leaving me to come up with yet another healthy, well-balanced, crowd-pleasing, inexpensive meal in the next ten minutes.

Because now that I'm standing in the kitchen, everyone is STARVING!!!!

After a pot of macaroni and cheese is dished into serving bowls, and my salad is topped with last night's leftover meat, I head outside balancing 3 meals, drinks, napkins, and a crying toddler.

The boy is already suited up in his bicycle helmet and has spread a pink blanket out on the driveway. The warm winds have turned the blanket into a disheveled pile, and I find myself staring down at a demanding finger. "Go get something to hold this blanket down... QUICK!" he orders.

After receiving a short lecture on respect and honor, the boy sprints into the house and emerges with 20 pounds of freeweights. "Look at how strong I am!!" he shouts as he bangs and clangs the dumbbells into and out of the front door, placing each one clumsily on a corner of our picnic blanket.

Not a thank-you is spoken and not a prayer offered up as our meal begins. I could do it. No, I SHOULD do it, but I'm just on that bitter auto-pilot of serving the ungrateful, I suppose. The girl and I begin to eat, while the boy rides circles around us on his bike. I ask if he'd like to join us for the picnic - it was his idea, did he remember?

I'm not surprised that he's not hungry. He's never hungry. He's just busy pedaling faster and faster. More and more toys emerge from the garage. His sister is now distracted and running after him - a fool's mission. She'll never catch up. But she's trying and she's begging him as he races by. "Chase me. Catch me! Chase me, Nuhnuh!" He pauses briefly to tickle her and she soaks in the attention. Then he's off again.

Miss M toddles behind me and spills my soda across the blanket, then bursts into sobs. I hold and rock her until she's comforted and then she squirms out of my reach and rushes to play with the weights holding down our lunch table. She drops one on her foot, and I once again hold and rock her until she's comforted and then she squirms away again.

By now, Drew has pulled out two pairs of roller skates and it's one for him and one for her, and could I PLEASE help Miss M put on her skates, Mommy?! I oblige and spend the next 20 minutes "skating" her around the driveway while the boy races back and forth around us. When the baby tires of skating, she lets me know by suddenly erupting into another outburst of uncontrollable tears. I peel off the skates and tell Drew to put his away, too.

My "Thank-You-For-Being-A-Great-Mom/Teacher" picnic lunch ends unceremoniously and the kids plunk themselves in front of the television. I follow behind, with a stack of uneaten bowls of noodles and spilled cups of soda. The blanket stays out on the driveway. With 20 lbs of freeweights, it's not in danger of blowing away, right?

I scoop the baby away from the T.V. and begin our naptime routine. She attempts another emotional breakdown, but it's not really even in her. She turns over and closes her eyes as I tuck the blanket high over her shoulders and kiss her red, tear-stained cheek.

I ignore the sinkful of dishes and give the boy a five-minute warning that school will resume shortly. I wander to the laundry room and, as I'm placing damp clothes in the dryer, he finds me to declare that he's now hungry! I hear myself begin some sort of lecture on lunchtime being lunchtime and that I'm not going to make another meal and that he's old enough to find something for himself and that it MUST BE HEALTHY!

The next thing I know, we're back in the classroom and he's eating cookies straight out of the box and I am not even saying a word about it. Because I'm in a funk over my ungrateful kid's attempt to manipulate what he wants out of me under the guise of doing something for me.

And then God quietly nudges my heart with gently-spoken yet heartbreaking truth. My young son once again has shown me what I do to my Father all the time. I chase after my desires. I'm relentless about what I want. I'm fussy and irritable and uncomfortable until I get it. And sometimes, I even figure out ways where MY selfish wants might just do God some good, too!

"Lord, if You just answer this prayer this way for me, I will be so thankful. I will just glorify You in it! You will get all the praise!"

And I fool myself (and myself alone) to think that my self-centered, self-seeking desires will somehow bring honor and glory to God. Because all too often, once I get the answer I'm looking for, I'm just like my boy... leaving that refrigerator door standing wide open... to run off in pursuit of what makes me happy.

As I search my heart, I realize that even my "good" desires can be laced in selfishness. I want to be a good mom, a patient teacher, a loving wife, a devoted disciple. Those are all good things, I know. But sometimes, I want to be a good mom so that others are impressed with my kids' behavior. Sometimes, I want to be a patient teacher so that my kid doesn't drive me insane by the end of the day and I don't feel guilty for losing my cool again with him. Sometimes, I want to be a loving wife so that my husband will, in turn, be an adoring husband.

Sometimes, I just want my life to be easy and comfortable. Sometimes, I want the picnic-blanket thank-you lunch to actual be for me.


And then the Still Small Voice is speaking again. Still gentle, still full of truth. Showing me that I need to be refreshed, and my refreshment can come from a new focus. So I spend my time seeking the Only One who can refocus me on the Only One who really matters. I sit at the feet of Jesus and lay down my desires one by one. It's a messy heap, and I know there's more to add daily.

I am begging Him to teach me to just LOVE Him. To love God so much that there's no room left in my heart for it, and it just ends up spilling out onto my husband and kids. That I realize just how patient He is with me, and I cannot be anything but patient with the people He's given me to love. That His goodness toward me is so immeasurable evident that I am compelled to be good-natured toward the children He's entrusted to my care.

And I am begging that the next time I'm offered a picnic lunch, I embrace the moment with a grateful heart for a child capable of (if not eager to be) fixing it, and the provisions of food that make eating it even possible.

Next time, my heart's desire will be that I find something divine in the driveway-dining experience!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Today is my husband's birthday. I'm not sure he would want me to share his age publicly, but as he put it this morning, the next "BIG" milestone in a few short years is going to be FORTY!

I'd dwell on his advanced age a bit more if it weren't for the fact that I'm only a few months younger than he. When in the world did we get so old?

A few weeks ago, I sat in the waiting room of a large eye surgery center. The place was filled with all manner of grandparent-ish folks, waiting for cataract or glaucoma repairs. I was kind of feeling my age a bit as I looked around at my "peers" that day. A younger guy leaned over to me and whispered, "Are we ever going to be this old? Are we ever going to find ourselves hanging out in the eye surgery center waiting rooms for our spouses?"

Sensing the question was rhetorical anyway, I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. He was obviously just there to give his dad a ride. But I knew that down a long corridor, in a sterile surgery room, my way-too-young-for-this husband was earning his membership the hard way. This guy didn't know he was talking to someone who was already in the "club".

About 33 years ago, David suffered a significant injury which resulted in almost a complete loss of vision in his left eye. Since that time, he has braved countless surgeries to correct and repair the damage he did when he poked a stick into his eye after being startled by the sound of a B.B. gun.

(Yes, we'd like to apply to be the poster family for every "It could happen to you" cliche' involving eye safety).

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out White T-Shirt

Besides the loss of vision, he's lived relatively symptom-free from the injury until this year. To the best of their knowledge, the doctors and surgeons he's consulted over the past few months haven't really known how to explain the sudden onset of intense pain and discomfort he's endured. Their general consensus was that, after all this time living without function, his eye began to shut down and his body, in turn, began to reject it.

David decided to pursue "Enucleation", which meant he would have his eye removed and replaced with a prosthetic. He was confident in his decision. After all, he'd told me (even years prior) that if he ever had another eye surgery, he'd want it to be taken out to ensure it was his LAST eye surgery.

I didn't blame him. I was one of his biggest cheerleaders in the decision. And quite honestly, in the weeks leading up to the procedure, I didn't give the whole thing much thought at all.

But a week before he went into the appointment, he was sharing a little of his heart with the small group he teaches at our church on Sunday mornings. As I listened to him speak, I was profoundly struck by one thought in particular.

He said, "I'm not afraid of the surgery because I know it's the right thing to do, and I don't want to live with the pain for another minute. But it's still hard as I think about it. It may be a bad eye; it may be diseased. But it's still mine and it's all I've ever known."

I realized at that moment that my husband is honest, wise, and one of the bravest men I know.

For the next few days, I mulled that comment over and over in my mind. It wasn't long before God began showing me the spiritual applications for what David taught me. I, along with so many people, struggle with letting go of those things that encumber me, even though these things cause pain and discomfort in my life. I am aware of areas in my life that are diseased with pride or complacency, but sometimes I let my "stuff" just stay because:

It's who I am.
It's all I've ever known of myself.
And while I may not like it, I don't know what I'd be without it.
So I hang on to my selfish ways.

It was a rough week, the first week after David's surgery. There was a lot of pain. There were a few complications. Isn't that always the way? The pain has now subsided, but there are new challenges. Although he was legally blind before in his injured eye, there was a small amount of peripheral vision there. Now, he has only the vision his right eye affords him. He's literally adjusting to a completely new outlook on life. And he's doing it with grace and dignity.

Let me say it again, my husband is one of the bravest men I know.

And I want to be like him. I want God to give me the courage to let Him remove the areas of my life that aren't acceptable to Him. I realize that there may be pain and adjustment in the process. But what He has for me is worth it!

Hebrews 12: 1Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. 2We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith.

My husband may be lamenting this birthday as a reminder of the aging process. But there are good things that come with age, too. Wisdom, maturity, a courageous spirit. And if those qualities are usually reserved for the "more mature" in years, well, I'll welcome my time spent hanging out in the glaucoma/cataract center waiting rooms. As long as we are out of our appointments in time for the early-bird dinner specials!

Happy Birthday, David! I love you!