Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sick Day

I did the inexcusable last week.
I am mom.  And I got sick.

It felt like a cold coming on during the beginning part of the week.  First I got somebody's pinkeye, then somebody else's cold, then it seemed like flu.  Thursday morning, I knew it was inescapable.  But the baby had an appointment first thing.  Then all four helpers came with me for the weekly grocery store run.
We got home.  Put away the perishables.  I sent the six year old on reconnaissance for all available tissue boxes in the house.  The five year old dug out some juice boxes and hauled a bag of chicken nuggets out of the freezer.  The three year old pawed through the shopping bags, found crackers, and dumped a generous portion out to share with the one year old.
I sat down on the living room rug with my heavy head plastered to the sofa.
And I did the only thing I could think of.
I called my own mother.

She couldn't come for long, but she stopped by on her way to work and made sure the children ate something and the little one had a clean diaper before nap.  And she did the dishes.  I collapsed on the sofa under the weight of full sinuses and a revolting stomach.  I haven't gotten this ill since the early weeks of each pregnancy.  (The housekeeping staff at the hospital where I worked never forgot me after I lost my lunch in a patient's room during my first baby's early trimester...)  But I'm not pregnant (this week anyway!  Honest!)

It would have been better if it was raining.  A warm fire, cup of ginger and honey tea, and a good book to keep misery company would have made being sick almost pleasant.  But it was a balmy mid-60's, the sun painted dappled shadows through the resplendent autumn foliage.  The soccer moms in the field down the road sent muted chatter up the hill to add every sense to the picturesque fall scene.  I should have been in the midst of it, walking on the old train tracks with the children and a camera - or at least cleaning out the stinky minivan while they tumbled around in crunchy leaf piles.
Instead, I closed the curtains and took a nap.
The older boys, too big to nap but too small to be outside while mommy was completely indisposed, got to watch a movie.  The sun shone.  The birds sang.  I blew my nose and allowed myself to officially call off the school day.
The boys got a box of macaroni and cheese for their evening meal.  (Ok, and some broccoli and leftover chicken and an apple.)  They were ecstatic.
We made it through bedtime.  It was quiet when our fearless leader finally drove his purple minivan into the driveway.  I was sitting on the sofa, staring oozily at the wall while I cuddled with the box of the good tissues.  "You're sick?  This can't really happen, can it?" he asked, incredulously, when he walked in and surveyed the scene.
"Sorry," I snuffled.  "I momentarily forgot the rules."
I heard him putter around the kitchen for a few minutes, appearing a few minutes later with a heaping bowl of cereal.  He sat down heavily beside me and patted the flakes down into the milk.
"Does it stress you out to see me sick?" I was curious through the haze around my brain.
"It just makes me grumpy," He answered, half-smiling. "But you'll be better tomorrow, right?  We won't be able to hold out much longer than that!"

The next day was difficult.  They ate more cereal.  Grandma provided sandwiches at lunch and changed several diapers.  And life didn't revolve around me for a day.
It was humbling, a little.
It was encouraging, a bit, to know my brood would survive if I wasn't on my A game 24/7.
It was kind of a bummer to sort of be granted a break, only to waste it in sweat pants and misery.  We had to drive a dirty van, walk around on sticky floors, and use a bathroom where the germs bred unchecked for over a week.
I didn't blog, keep up with politics, or even plan meals over the past week.  There are still carrots in the garden and a husband who needs some attention.  We're behind on math and reading homework.  There's evidence of mice behind the cereal and I still can't find the library book cover.

Tissue box thief.

But life went on.  I'm starting now to play catch up with the laundry mountain, school, cleaning, and the general mayhem that went unchecked for several days.  I feel sometimes like every little body's life around here swings around the mommy fulcrum.  Won't they spin out of control if I am out of commission?  Aagh!
And yet - this mothering position was given me by God.  I love being so integral to my family (most of the time.) But my life - is still His.  And this family - it is still His.  He is completely capable of taking care of all of us even if one sprocket gets loose for a moment.  How humbling to realize He's got it all in control.  I thought I did.  Ha.
Now I find it a pleasure to rise again from the sagging couch and return to my position as chief cook and bottle washer.  It is good to be reinstated in the God-given groove He's made for me.

And, of course, thank God for grandmas.
Angels in disguise.

Monday, October 15, 2012

From Thorns

 In 1879, the artist John Ruskin said "she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be Immortal."  But to do so, he said she would have to give up her pursuit of spiritually-focused social work and devote her life to developing her art.  After a great deal of prayer, Lillias Trotter decided. She gave up a promising career as an artist.  Instead, she spent the next four decades living in North Africa among the Arab people as a missionary.  Her paintings are hidden away in the archives of the Asmolean Museum in England, viewable only upon request.  Her canvas became the hearts of the culture-cloistered Arab women of Algiers.  Her paints - the vibrant love of a God they wouldn't have otherwise known.  But Ruskin was right.  Lillias indeed did things that were immortal.  We'll see the masterpiece in heaven.
This is taken from a little devotional book she penned about 100 years ago.
I am captivated.

See this bit of gorse-bush. The whole year round the thorn has been hardening and sharpening. Spring comes: the thorn does not drop off, and it does not soften; there it is, as uncompromising as ever; but half-way up appear two brown furry balls, mere specks at first, that break at last--straight out of last year's thorn--into a blaze of fragrant golden glory.
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby." Never mind if the trouble shews no sign of giving way: it is just when it seems most hopelessly unyielding, holding on through the spring days, alive and strong, it is then that the tiny buds appear that soon will clothe it with glory. Take the very hardest thing in your life--the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom!

Excerpt and painting from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Parables of the Cross, by I. Lilias Trotter
[EBook #22189]
Biographical details taken from A Blossom in the Desert, compiled and edited by Miriam Huffman Rockness.
Discovery House. 2007.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dirty Laundry

I love my other half.  He eats what I cook, he lets me spend the money he earns, he plays with his children, and values my opinion on most things other than if the food is salty enough.  But, ahem, he isn't perfect.
Yes he takes the trash out when he's home, but no, he doesn't put his dirty socks in the laundry pile.  And other stuff.

You know the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  Those men who were there at the beginning?  They were the first men God promised to make a special people out of.  And He did.  I mean, they are in the Bible.
But it wasn't because they were particularly good at hitting the hamper with their own dirty socks.  Actually, Genesis has a fair laundry list against them.

The socks I will pick up later.

I'm gonna take some license here and tell an old story.

Can you imagine being married to Jacob?  You wouldn't be alone.  He was also married to your prettier little sister, and had two girlfriends and their kids in the tent too.  When you first met him, he had nothing but a stick to his middle aged name.  In fact, he was kind of a momma's boy.  Your dad saw that, and took advantage of him for 20 years.  You wept on your wedding night, dreading the morning when he realized who lay beside him in bed, and he would get up, disappointed and angry.  In your anguish, you cried out to God.  He granted you children - babies to cuddle to your broken heart.  You carried many of his children - and the ensuing baby weight that your sister never gained.  You were the unloved wife of a stinking, dirty shepherd.  Divorce was not an option because you would starve or be stoned to death.  Life seemed pretty bleak.
Finally, one night, your husband hit his midlife crisis.  Being a late bloomer, he was already an aging man.  Now he had led you into the desert with everything you owned, claiming some unproven old promise from God.  But you knew his older brother was coming to find him out here.  Last you'd heard, his older brother, who was quite a weapons expert, wanted to kill him.  Would you be killed too - or ravaged and made a slave?  What about all your children?  Your husband wasn't the fighting type - he was instead attempting to buy off his brother with your children's inheritance.  You didn't sleep well that night.  Perhaps you prayed, desperately, for the God of your husband's grandfather to now be real to you.  You begged  Him to see you, stranded between the brazen sky and the baked earth, and save you.  Save your children.  Save your crazy old pansy husband!

Your husband couldn't sleep either.  Would it be his last night alive?  You saw him out by the makeshift sheepfold across the brook, graying head bent low to the dry ground.  Your husband was more of a conniver, not a pray-er.  You watched for a long time.  A man approached him as he knelt.  Was it a man from his brother's camp?  It was too dark to see his face.  You shivered.  Jacob stood up and faced him.  The man was taller and was built more like a strong carpenter than your shepherd husband.  Jacob looked like he was whining to the man, gesturing and sighing.  The man said little, but after a few minutes held up his hand to halt him.  Something seemed to snap in Jacob.  He lunged at the stranger, and they started to brawl.  The man looked like he could easily throw your old husband off, but continued to wrestle.  For hours, you watched them.  It almost looked like a father play-fighting with his little son.  Jacob threw frenzied punches, the man easily deflecting them.  He occasionally jabbed Jacob with firm blows, sending Jacob reeling, though he returned again for more.  The stranger obviously could have killed him, yet it was clear he wasn't going to.  As the night wore on, you felt a slight satisfaction when the man punched him.  Years of your own frustrated hope in your husband lessened, a little, in those hours.  There was no weaseling out of this fight.  And Jacob didn't try to.  You almost enjoyed watching him get beat, yet you started to feel an odd sensation of pride as again and again your husband stood his ground.
Finally, the gray of early dawn started to streak the east sky.
There were dark splotches on Jacob's face.  You assumed they were blood.  The man's face was still veiled in shadows.  He looked toward the sky, and back at Jacob who clung to his legs in exhausted determination.  He spoke to Jacob, who shook his head vehemently and gripped more tightly.  The man reached down, gently, almost tenderly, and tapped Jacob on the hip.  Immediately, Jacob lurched back, tumbling harshly against the sheepfold door.  You gasped, and ran out of the tent toward him, splashing across the river to his side.  He wasn't dead; he was breathing heavily.  You looked up wildly for the stranger.  He was gone.

Jacob was a mess.  His eyes were swelling; there was a cut on his jaw.  He smelled of hours of stress and sweat.  But miraculously, you could find nothing broken beneath the bruises.  The only major injury seemed to be his hip.  He seemed unable to lift his leg.
You managed to get under his shoulder and help him stand.  He draped an arm over you and straightened.  You glanced over at his face in surprise.  Was it possible he was standing straighter than he had before this fight?  On an injured hip?  He felt your gaze, and turned his gray beard toward you.  He looked at you.  He looked right into your eyes and held your gaze for a long minute.  In twenty years, he had never been able to look you in the eyes.  Suddenly, you felt a little weak.  He smiled, just slightly under the swelling, and sighed.  A deep, exhausted, satisfied sigh.
"I am a blessed man."  He said.
You were never prouder to be called his wife.

It wasn't even an hour later that you held your breath as you watched from across the river.  Jacob winced as his muscular brother slapped him on the back.  But leaning on his cane, he stood firmly. And you didn't die.  In fact, they met and parted peacefully.  And life went on.  Jacob took your family to his beautiful homeland.  You settled in.
But life and marriage weren't perfect even after that.  You sister died giving birth to her second son.  Her oldest tragically disappeared.  You saw your husband stagger under these devastating blows.  Then your own beautiful daughter was raped, and you watched your hotheaded sons carve a wake of destruction as liars, cheaters, murderers, and adulterers.  And, of course, the baby weight never came off.
But in those twilight years, sometimes in the evening you would sit with Jacob outside the tent and watch little Ben play in the sand.  After your sister died, you raised her son on your own knees.  But oddly, he brought out a tenderness rather than animosity in you.  You laughed with Jacob over his funny antics.  And your husband told you about the God of his father and grandfather.  This God had promised to make your children into a great nation.  You were incredulous.  How could any deity take your ragtag bunch of misfits and turn them into anything worth noting?  And why would a God capable of that even bother start with such losers?  Yet Jacob said that on the night of that fateful wrestling match, God had once again affirmed the promise.  You never said it to him, of course, but your husband before that fight wasn't much of a man.  Something miraculous had happened to change him.  You would have given up on him long before that night.  You practically had.  But apparently this God hadn't.
The next feast day, grandchild after young giggling grandchild filled your tent.  Noise and the smells of fresh bread and roasting meat all mingled in a joyous, messy cacophony around you.  You caught sight of your old husband, leaning heavily on his stick, surrounded by burly, boisterous men - your sons.  And you - the matriarch of this family - bustled around, shouting orders, shooing children away from the oven, sharing gossip with all your daughters and daughters-in-law, and kissing the youngest grandbabies.
In the midst of the hubbub and chatter, you were startled by a sudden thought.  All those years of heartbreak and frustration, all the tears and pain when your prayers seemed to go unanswered, perhaps they were not in vain.
Perhaps Jacob's God just liked proving points through wimpy shepherds.
Perhaps He liked to use the most unlikely people to show just how capable He really was.
Perhaps He really had heard your anguished prayers for your husband and children in those miserable early days.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this God loved you enough that He would pursue you throughout your whole life until you learned the lesson.
Perhaps all the pain was simply to prove the miracle to your own unbelieving heart.

Perhaps, just perhaps, you had to be broken by God to realize you were one for whom God would fight.

Perhaps, what men meant for evil, God had plans all along to use for your good.

Wrestling with Daddy.
Even, perhaps, the dirty socks.