Friday, November 30, 2012

Eggnog, evergreens, and Psalm 98

What do all these things have in common - mulled cider, pine trees, an overstocked Wal Mart, the smell of cinnamon, stockings, spoiled children, reindeer, and a song written three hundred years ago on Psalm 98?  None of these things were originally intended for Christmas.  Yet, oddly, they all epitomize the modern holiday.

To our almighty Maker God,
New honours be addressed;
His great salvation shines abroad,
And makes the nations blessed.

Recognize that?  It's the first verse of that classic Christmas carol, Joy to the World.  As it was originally written, anyway.

He spake the word to Abraham first;
His truth fulfills his grace,
The Gentiles make his name their trust,
And learn his righteousness.

The song mirrors Psalm 98 closely, though it's not direct quoting.  Isaac Watts, the writer, was considered scandalous in his day (it was published first in 1719) for daring to interpret Scripture through music.  Even the dissenters, who were already considered rebellious for splitting from the Church of England, only sang word for word Psalms in their services.  This song must have made more than a few of them shift in their pews.

Let the whole earth his love proclaim,
With all her different tongues;
And spread the honours of his name,
In melody and songs.

Watts viewed this Psalm in light of Jesus' eventual return to earth to reign as King, not only as proclamation of His first coming (to Bethlehem, away in a manger, no crib for a bed...)  Funny how a song so liberal and at the cutting edge of theology in its day turned into a fundamental classic of Christmas. (Of course, now it's practically archaic and too boring for Pandora to play much on seasonal radio.)

Joy to the world - the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King:
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

It's freeing, really.  Here's a classic Christmas carol we have every right to sing the rest of the year.  I can't say that about all the traditions.  After all, friends would look at you funny if you stuck a pine tree with lights in the middle of your living room in July.  There's hardly any point to doing it in December in the first place, other than that it's tradition, and everyone else is doing it, and its ambiance makes sitting near it with a mug of spiced cider while you shop online rather jolly...

Joy to the earth - the Saviour reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow,
Far as the curse is found.

Seems like it would be just as appropriate to sing while gardening, or during a thunderstorm, or when out for a walk in the Spring.

He rules the world with truth and grace;
And makes the nations prove,
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love.

He was God in the year 1 (or whenever that first Christmas exactly was).  He was God in the year 1719.  In 2012 - He is God still.  And all next year He will be too.  Maybe some rainy afternoon in July I'll whip up a batch of eggnog, dig an ugly Christmas sweater out of storage, and sing Joy to the world at the top of my lungs (the kids are learning to ignore me.)
Why?  Because the Lord IS come.
And that is worth singing about.  With or without twinkly lights.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tank full

I do not believe we are evolved creatures.  I can't.  I've spent three separate years with three separate 2 year olds so far.  And an assortment of 3 through 6 year olds.  They are proof of entropy - lacking order, descending into randomness, ending in utter chaos and destruction if left to their own devices.  They are born sinners.  Big eyed cuteness masks the sugar-driven evil within.

But they have their moments.  Not usually at bedtime, or when they have lots of math problems to do, or when I ask for help with laundry, but occasionally some smidge of a lesson on the golden rule will tickle the right part of their brain at the moment it is needed.  Yesterday, I was the one that needed that moment.

I ran upstairs to take the shower I should have managed before they all awoke and descended on the morning.  They'd had breakfast.  They were dressed.  Two were outside in the chilly November pre-winter dirt.  An assortment of plastic dinosaurs were apparently to be excavated that morning.  The snotty nosed archaeologists were already hard at work.  My oldest was in the living room.  He was puppeteering a quiet conversation between two transformer toys, completely engrossed in their riveting discourse.  Ben was doing loops through the house.  He scooched from the kitchen to the dining room to the living room and repeated, stopping every few feet to pull something off a shelf before continuing.
His ensuing clutter would take an hour to clean, not counting the mud the kid scientists would trek in later, or their pajamas still in a pile on the living room floor.  Ben had already grabbed his brother's long underwear and was trailing it solemnly behind him on his journey.  Everybody appeared both busy and not in immediate danger for their lives.
It was a perfect time for mom to shower.

I hurried through my daily ablutions - they're a lot more simple than they used to be before children were my life - and was just opening the steamy bathroom when I heard the front door open.  I peered down the stairs.  No, it wasn't one of the archaeologists.  Gavin stood in the doorway with his 22 month old brother clasped in a bear hug.  Both were dressed warmly with hats coats and mittens.  Ben even had on a puffy vest.  The six year old looked up at me.
"I'm taking Ben out to play, Mom.  He wants to and it's good for him to get outside you know."
"Uh... Yeah... You're right, Son... Did you get all those winter clothes on him?"  I asked the stupid question.  Obviously the toddler hadn't zipped himself into a coat.  I was pretty sure I hadn't been involved either.
"Yup.  We'll be out front."  He backed out the door with his 20-odd pound load dangling at his knees.
I stood there dripping for a moment.
Then I hurriedly threw on some clothes and ran to the front door to check the scene.
The archaeologists were still busy with bulldozers in the driveway.
And the six year old was crouching by the almost 2 year old in front of the porch.  Ben was happily ramming a toy tow truck over the crunchy old leaves on the walkway as Gavin piled more of them within his reach.  I smiled and shook my head in wonder.
I know the boys generally like having each other for playmates.  It is handy to have a younger brother  when you need someone to be a bad guy, or hold the toy nail that you want to hammer, or have an accomplice that you can point to when Mom frowns at you.  But brothers are also in the genre that you can ignore if they serve no purpose in your immediate game plan.  I found it odd.  My naturally egotistical six year old was going so out of his way to make a special play date with this little fellow human.

They played for nearly an hour.  They visited at the excavation site at the end of the driveway.  When I next peeked out, Ben was throwing the soccer ball and Gavin was dutifully chasing and returning it.  Ben chortled delightedly.

I forget often that Ben has Spina Bifida.  He has limitations, but so do all my children based on their age and natural proclivities.  Still, when I do consider his differences, it is often with a sigh.  I do wish he could toddle with the other toddlers.  I wish he could feel his feet.  I ache to think of the future when he will realize he is different, when kids will tease him, when potty training is uncertain, when he isn't chosen to play tag and his peers run off and leave him behind.  Certainly, God has made him this way for a reason, and it is good.  I know that.  But I don't see the future, and I don't know why He did it.  So, in my limited view of the big picture, his handicaps make my mommy heart hurt.

But was it the fact that his little brother was handicapped that made the six year old's heart soft?  I saw them giggling together through the window.  Through tears.  And my mommy heart broke again.  In thankfulness.  The helplessness of the little one encouraged a strength in the bigger one.  And I hadn't had to force it out of him.
I didn't plan to be thankful for the handicaps of my baby today.
But for the love it brought out of my older son, I was suddenly overwhelmed with appreciation.

They came in, cheeks flushed rosy.  Eyes bright.  I picked a crackly leaf off Gavin's hat.  And hugged him.
"Thank you."  I said, sincerely.
"He likes it." He answered nonchalantly, shrugging out of his coat.  And leaving it in a heap on the floor.  Ah, there's the boy I know.
"Pick it up."  I commanded.

I wasn't planning to be particularly grateful yesterday.  It just sneaked up and smacked me by surprise.  Apparently, God uses disabled little brothers to make men of big brothers, and the big brothers make Mommy thankful for the little brother's disability.  For the first time, really.  
And I got to shower in peace.
I am blessed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Seven year switch

November 7, 2005.  A day that will live in - well, not infamy, but it was a big deal in my little world.
It was the day my husband and I promised the bank we'd pay them for the next 30 years.
We signed lots of papers to prove it.
And they let us put our name above an address.
And we turned the key in the lock and began to claim it with paint, and bleach, and a new toilet to replace the old baby blue one.

I was five months pregnant, in nursing school, and juggling two part time jobs.  He was working full time already, and had never really run a skill saw before and didn't know anything about plumbing or tiling.  That all changed in the next several months.
It was in those days when we really started to realize our parents knew more than we had assumed in high school.  They came, scraped wallpaper, hauled over their own power tools for him to practice with, let us borrow the pickup truck for loads of gravel for the driveway, stopped by to reprimand me for lifting heavy things I shouldn't, and donated houseplants which I have summarily kept at the point of death by dehydration for years now.  We spent  that first Thanksgiving in our bare living room.  On the first piece of furniture we'd ever bought.  A futon.
I wasn't satisfied; but hey, it was a starting point.  We'd fix it up, let its character show through, chase the bats out of the attic, refinish the floors.  I would be happy in our first house.  Eventually.

It is seven years later.  This little two bedroom house is the only home all four of my children have ever known.  Every other year there's been a new baby, and the house seemed older and smaller and I was discontent.  I wished the wallpaper wasn't torn and I could afford better curtains.  I wished for bigger closets.  (Heck, any closets!)  Turns out, you need money to fix up a house, at least a little.  Once a policeman turned up at our door, a warrant in hand for someone once connected with the address.  We bought a new deadbolt.  Twice we (ok, he) chased bats out of the bedroom at midnight.  I've still never refinished the floors.

 Well, we determined to try to sell it, and sometimes people could see past the six person clutter against the walls and would try to buy it.  Each time, it didn't happen.  We stayed on.
I sighed and started to take the hint.
We talked about the possibility of having to build an addition.  And of making the place more handicapped accessible.  Of having 4 teenage boys fit around the table.
He got more gravel to make the driveway fit two vans.
I planted a garden on the side lawn postage stamp.
He cut down some trees so we could see from the deck to the old steeples across the river.
I stopped worrying about showing the house to perspective buyers.  The boys took advantage by ferrying Grandma's collections of train tracks, building blocks, books, and dress up from her house to fill every available inch of wall space I hadn't ruled out.

So now it's been seven years.
We've settled in.
The house is cluttered with my pack rattiness and memories.
With crayons.  Papers.  Books.  Life lived 24 hours a day not in offices or school halls, but within these crooked, chalk-streaked walls.
There are Crayola pictures proudly scotch taped to wallpaper.
There are my own sticky notes slapped haphazardly around the kitchen sink.
There's the woodstove filling the kitchen with warmth as the dishes drip dry on the sideboard.
My grandmother's old piano is wedged into our dining room after it was delicately removed from the house my grandfather built around it forty years ago.
Hanging askew, family photos are gazing benevolently over primary color maps and hand made calendars push pinned into walls below them.

Almost, almost - when the toys are picked up into their baskets and the tick of the clock is audible again in the evening calm - almost I am content in this little house.

We are warm and safe and have running water.  I must humbly acknowledge I am rich compared to 95% of the world.  So what if my curtains don't match my eyes?  (Or, ahem, even each other?)
My children are with me 24/7 - and (most of the time) I really like that.
My husband can wield a drill with a fair amount of skill, and build good fires and good bookshelves, till a garden, dig out the basement, tile, roof, and shows a flair with duct tape when all else fails.
I have a place to hang laundry; I am queen of my kitchen.
The boys have local playmates.  They've learned which way all balls will roll in the un-level kitchen.  They find forgotten little trucks behind the baseboards.  They dig for treasure in the slope behind the hill, bringing me old blue glass Milk of Magnesia bottles and Moxie from 100 years ago.  Laughing recklessly, they wrestle with Daddy on the mattress we graduated to upstairs in the bedroom.  At night they snuggle, bunk beds, crib and toddler bed, together in the cozy little room with the blue carpet.  The curtains Grandma made sway gently in the window.

Maybe we will sell this little slice of real estate at some point.  Or maybe our kids will inherit it in 60 years, and have to figure out how to get Great-Grandma's piano back out the door to their own house.
Maybe it doesn't matter so much.

This home sometimes seems to encompass my whole world.
I have to remind myself this world is not my ultimate home.

No matter how content I am, this world will never satisfy me.  In fact, if I let them, these passive inanimate objects can own me.  And do, sometimes.  Why else would I dissolve in tears when the washing machine breaks down?  Why be so depressed when the Google Maps car gets a snapshot of my house with all the kids' toys piled on the front lawn? And the throw rugs drying on the porch railings?  And there were doubtless some scantily clad brothers chasing each other will realistic looking water guns in the background.  The moment is rather etched in my memory.  Why?  As if I believed for a moment it really was such a big deal.

We were not made for this world.
I can not be content, not truly, until I am in the place my Savior is preparing for me to be, with Him, forever.

My kids tell me the house God is making for them for someday is made out of jello.
It'll be good.
And it won't take me seven years to accept that.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Upside down days

Some mornings, you wake up and open the refrigerator door and find Optimus Prime guarding your pickles.
And you know what kind of day you're going to have.
You sit down to change a diaper near the computer table and decide to check the weather on the internet and when it pops up all you notice is the finger smudges on the screen and you close the browser without noticing the weather and the baby has scooted away and the only diaper left was upstairs anyway and you know - it's going to be that kind of day.
You juggle the toddler on one hip while trying to teach the six year old how to tell the minutes on the clock - again - and the five year old can't figure out that 15 plus 0 doesn't equal 18.  And it is quite officially that kind of day.

You run to the store for diapers and remember that you need toilet paper too and the five year old needs underwear and you're out of plastic bags and suddenly you've spent too much but it's too late and you didn't get a thing that was even fun to shop for and, well, you know.  That kind of day.
The three year old falls on the rocky driveway and skins his knee but only wants a bandaid on the outside of his pants and you put it there because it makes him stop crying but innately you know you will forget to take it off before those pants get to the washing pile and won't think about it again until you fold laundry and find the indelible mark and feel like a fool all over again.
And nap time is late because you're children can't grasp the concept of a time change simply because everyone else set their clocks back and you don't really understand it either because it's now dark before  five p.m. and it seems depressing.

Your brother stops by to chat just as meal time is approaching.  The houseplants mysteriously disappear off the shelves.  You notice as you're burning the pork chops that there seem to be several someones clustered in the little half bathroom and being rather quiet.  You peek in the door and find the houseplants and all four of your offspring playing jungle by mixing sprigs of the succulent with the spider plant and throwing in a plastic penguin for effect and the sink is clogged and the water is purple and the toddler is wearing dirt and he stinks and you don't say anything.  You are not surprised since, after all, you are well aware that such things are inevitable when it is that kind of day.
Your husband comes in the door hungry after lugging firewood around all day and tells you he's been craving the chocolate chip cookies that you used to make in the early days of marriage.  And he takes a bite of one of the batch that you just made and you see it in his face that these cookies are apparently not anything like those ones that you used to make and you haven't a clue what you did differently.
You make rice for supper, which mostly ends up under the table and under the baseboards and in every cranny of the toddler's pants and and booster and he mixes some with his milk just for good measure and why does he think his full plate would make a good hat?

The boys take turns sharing the bath while the others strip to their underwear and take flying leaps onto mommy's and daddy's bed until the three year old gets bored while you are dressing the baby and decides to sneak downstairs instead of sitting in the bath.  You realize he's missing and he hollers up cheerfully that he's just putting papers in the wood stove and will be right up.  You panic on several levels and yell for him to stop and never touch the stove and get his little backside in the bath before it gets a stiff rebuke from your benevolent hand.  You run down and find the wood stove open and who knows what those papers were but they have been efficiently reduced to ashes.
And finally everyone is getting tucked in and you find the stash of little blankets that the toddler has been storing on the far side of his crib where you really can't reach without major intervention.  And after you say goodnight and go downstairs, the three year old peeks around the corner and surprises the heck out of you because you assumed he was already asleep.  And you march him back up to bed but your appearance makes the toddler excited so he sits up and starts telling babbly stories to his buddy who has been returned and they blow raspberry sounds into the dark for much too long.

You go downstairs and clean up rice and do the dishes and empty out some old leftovers so that you can use the tupperware to put tonight's cold supper in.  Your very gracious husband helps unclog the bathroom sink and you replant some of the succulent leaves and put away all the jungle penguins and lizards and very realistic rubbery spiders.  You start the laundry without remembering the bandaid and sweep and put away the new diapers and admit to your husband how much you spent at the store.
And you run outside to dump some old kale into the compost bin and it is so cold but the stars are bright and there's the crunch of the first snow under your feet.

And you shiver.
But it is beautiful.
And you catch your breath.
And you thank God for the moment.
And you run inside to hug the wood stove and smile to see your husband relax at the end of his own long day.
And you know you should have started the day with more thanks and less busyness.
And you decide to blog about it.
Because everybody has days like this.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The depths congealed

Wrote this the day after Hurricane Sandy inundated the East Coast of America.

The rain is hard.  So hard, the window looks covered in a sky-grey oil slick.
There's probably a river flowing through the basement.  I hope it doesn't stop.  As long as the water keeps flowing through and the drain stays unclogged, all his tools, all the baby scrapbooks, all the Christmas boxes stacked on pallets won't be destroyed.
Two children are napping, oblivious to the thunder shaking the sky and the lightning splitting it.  Safe.  Warm.  Imperviously hugging a stuffed cookie monster.  The other two are at grandma's, probably schlepping tools for Grampy in the garage or building precarious block towers on the living room rug in front of the wood stove.
But I know nearly 8 million people lost power last night.  Many were neither safe nor warm.  They were scared and helpless compared to that 900 mile superstorm.  The anxiety grew as the water rose; they know it will cost them far more than some new Christmas decorations this winter.
It was an inconvenience to some.  It was deadly destruction to others.  It renewed an impetus for us to pray for many whom we know were impacted.
But why would God send this storm?  How could he?

He could, because He is in absolute control of every little molecule in time and space.
He can stick His finger into a cloud and swirl it the way a three year old can make eddies in a mud puddle.
With a breath, He can direct the wind along the exact swath of land it was intended.
He sets the time of the tide and the heave of each wave to the exact millisecond.
He made the rules of science, and chemistry and meteorology and astrophysics, and can, in complete knowledge of how they function, write the equation that sets each atom spinning and each hydrogen bond forming.  He forgets no detail.  No atom left behind.

For He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees under the whole heavens,
To establish a weight for the wind, and apportion the waters by measure.
When he made a law for the rain, and a path for the thunderbolt.
Job 28:24-26

I personally don't know the science.  (That's just one reason why I write a blog rather than work a job as a rocket scientist.)  It is fascinating, but beyond me.  So I won't try to explain it beyond that.

But still, why the storm?

I can not explain love.  Or migration.  Or why only some babies sleep through the night.
I do not know why.
But I wonder...

I was reading Exodus this week.  The Israelites were at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army closing in behind them.  You know the story.  God parted the waters.  They walked through on dry land.  The soldiers behind them were crushed and drowned when the water closed back up.
Again, I haven't studied the science.  I'm not sure how the wind God sent made the water pile up, or how He dried the muddy sea floor.  That was some wind.  In the song of Moses in Exodus chapter 15, he says "the depths congealed."  I imagine Red Sea jello.
What were the fish thinking at that moment?
In this story, it tells us why this happened.

Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.
Exodus 14:18

In that moment when the jello turned back into deadly liquid, those Egyptian soldiers knew the Lord in His terrible power.  When the army didn't return from their conquest, the mothers and wives - who had already lost at least their oldest sons, all their winter grain, the animal food supply, their wealth - knew the Lord had made them widows and childless mothers.  They wept, and they knew.  Pharaoh, finally, knew the Lord was truly and completely in control.  He'd been raised to believe that he, as ruler of the great nation of Egypt, was a god.  Humbled, he knew.

I hope it doesn't take such lengths for us to know.  As a nation, we have enjoyed the Lord's mercy and blessing.  Four hundred years prior to the Red Sea crossing, God had blessed Egypt when Joseph taught the young pharaoh that God could and would provide.  But the morals of the nation had degraded until they allowed the murder of babies and warped justice so that men who did not work ate well while those who worked the hardest provided for them.  They forgot God.

From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, and cold from the scattering winds of the north...
With moisture He saturates the thick clouds;  He scatters His bright clouds.
And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance,
that they may do whatever He commands them
on the face of the whole earth.
He causes it to come,
whether for correction,
or for His land,
or for mercy.
Job 37:9,11-13

I have known God in His mercy this time.  Perhaps you have known Him in a different capacity.
He will go to great lengths to get your attention.
He knows you.
He wants you to know Him.
No atom is out of His hand.  No speck of matter will move unless He commands it.  No person, created  for the very purpose of knowing God, will He ever forget or ignore.
He who moves mountains, who makes the Red Sea into jello, who sent His beloved Son from heaven to earth to die a horrific death, He would send a 900 mile hurricane just to reach your heart.
I hope you know Him.
Because He'll do it again.
He loves you too much to leave you alone.