Tuesday, March 31, 2015

patience and love to thy servant

In the haze of my last baby's early newborn days, I kept saying to her "I'm all yours.  We have all the time in the world.  I'm just going to pour all the love I can on you."  And I did.  I sat and looked at her sweet features.  I nursed her till we both fell asleep.  I didn't do much but love on her. 

But that "all the time in the world" is so short and fleeting.  We get a little window when its OK to ignore the demands around us and just be together. 

Now my moments are usually divided between the needs of 3 kids, a husband and all the details of life.  I am overwhelmed frequently by all that I cannot get done.

Patience and love.  Patience and love.  Patience and love.

I need to go back to that babymoon.  That time when love is in its most distilled form.  Yes, I do the dishes and laundry and errands and bills because I love all these people.  But its not done in that same spirit of timeless, unrushed love.

Love is patient, love is kind.  When we can hush the clamoring of the daily needs and demands, we can hear the heartbeat of love. 

We have time to love.  We have time to look in those eyes.  We have time to say "I love you" one more time.  We have time to listen to a story again. 

Patience with those I love- giving them the gift of time.  Patience with myself- giving myself grace for all I won't get done today.  I'm busy loving.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I am thinking of that scene from Charlotte's Web, when Charlotte is explaining what the word humble means.  Low to the ground was one way of explaining it.

As a mama, I am often low to the ground.  Just today I have squatted pulling weeds, kneeled scraping off stickers from the floor, sat on the bathroom linoleum and read books aloud.  All these things lower me physically, but they don't necessarily  make me humble.

I think mothers struggle as much as anyone with humility.  C.S. Lewis said :

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."

 In my experience, there are many ditches along the humble road.  One ditch is to think your way of _________ is the right way.  How you put your baby to bed, how you feed your family, how you handle TV, church, school, etc.   All these have the potential for a mom to feel she has the answers and that others need to know the truth.  These moms are no fun to be around for much time because inevitably something you are talking about will run into an area of their expertise and advice will be freely given, whether you want it or not.  I have been the mom on both ends of that exchange. 

 Another ditch is despair. Its refrain is usually something like "I never do anything right."  The house is a mess, the laundry is piled high, the bills are late, dinner is burnt, my kid cant read yet, my kid throws tantrums, my friends don't call me.  On and on the vortex of despair goes down and down.  There is nothing good to be seen and all the bad is glaring in my face.  And as Lewis said so wisely, this person isn't truly humble because when you are in that spiral you are thinking about yourself all the time. Yup, I have been that mom too.  

These ditches can both come under the dangerous habit of comparing ourselves to others.  I really admire my friends now who are skilled at really listening in a conversation and not comparing their children or house or family to the speaker's situation.  It is hard to do, our bent is to see if we measure up to others.  But a friend once told me, when you compare, it never comes out even.  Either you will be raised up higher or brought down lower than the other person.  

So how can we be humble?  Again, some wonderful words from CS Lewis:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, swarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seems a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

 Its simplicity is daunting:  don't spend so much time thinking about myself.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

a spirit of chastity

I grew up in the age of "True Love Waits", so like most of you, when I hear the word chastity I think of sexual abstinence before marriage.  After 17 years of marriage and 3 children, that definition is not one that I meditate on as much.

Now, when I pray the prayer of St. Ephrem, I use the more general meaning of "self-restraint" or "self-denial".  Wow, none of the above definitions are ones we see encouraged in popular culture.  Go with your feelings, do what makes you feel good is the mantra we are fed each day. 

We need God's help in this.  Our perception of when to say "enough" is so skewed, we need Him to speak to our hearts and say stop. 

My little toddler is at the stage where she can see the edge of the countertop, but not what is on it.  So she will see a handle and not know that it is a knife.  She reaches up and grabs blindly because of the whims of her desires.  But I see from above and I see the danger and I intervene.

 We need God to do that for us.  We do not have the divine perspective, so we depend on his guidelines, his gentle boundaries to keep us safe. 

For some it is sexual sin, for some it is eating, for some it is too much T.V or video games.  We all have things we have trouble saying no to, or saying "That's enough".  

But like a loving parent, God will give us what we need.  He will give us strength and the prompting of the Holy Spirit so that our hearts can be safe from the things that would hurt us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

But give rather. . .

But give rather. . .
So far we have named sins, weaknesses, symptoms of the human condition that we struggle with and we have asked to be delivered from them.  May they not have a hold on us any more. 

And now the hinge moves and we see what God gives.

There is not a way to have both sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk in the same space as the virtues we will now ask for.  We have to clean the dirt off the windows for the sun to shine through. 

But just as we asked for the sickness of sins to be taken from us, we ask for the healing forces of these virtues to be given.  Please give these, God.

We recognize that just like we cannot rid ourselves of sin in our own power, we cannot put on the righteousness ourselves.  We need God to take the bad and give the good.  We need to let go and then receive.

In our pull- yourselves- up- by - the bootstraps society,  this seems so passive.  We want to DO something to make into ourselves better people. But it isn't us doing the changing.  It is God.

It is just our job to get out of the way.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

idle talk

Woah Nelly.   Does anything characterize 21st century America better than the phrase "idle talk'?  Where do I begin? 

Have you ever watched those home decorating shows that take an hour to show you how one room was renovated?  And most of the time is just talk.  I love watching the craftsmen and women tear down and build new things, but that is not the lion's share of the show.  Most of the show is talking about what they are going to do, what they are doing, and then what they did.  It takes a lot of chatter to stretch what could be a 15 minute show to 1 hour.

There is a southern phrase, "Spitting out words to see where they splatter."  That is the condition we are all afflicted with.  Whether a chat room, message board, facebook comment, texting, realtiy tv, twitter or other modes, we will talk just to hear ourselves.  There is nothing productive coming from it, no deepening of relationships or building others up. 

The thing we need so much and yet run from is silence.  We are like my little baby who will babble away in church, but then is shy and quiet with a stranger.   We don't know the time and place for talk, we let it fill our every waking moment.

And I do this.  I put on the news radio as I cook instead of praying as I work.  I talk on the phone in the car instead of noticing the nature whizzing past me.  I fill the void with noise, not the rich silence in which I can hear God.

Its like I tell my kids a million times.  When I am talking on the phone, I can't hear what you are telling me.  When our ears are filled with the sounds of idle talk, we can't hear God.  When our mouths are constantly talking, we aren't praying.

Oh Lord, have mercy on us and take this spirit of idle talk.  Give us silence. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

lust for power, ambition

I have seen too many movies and TV shows that have criminals, dictators and anti-social types.  That is what comes to mind when I hear "lust for power" and "ambition".  And that is bad because it can make me think I don't have that problem.

But I do.

The way I interact with my kids really shows me my struggles with power and control.  On one hand, God has given me children to raise in the knowledge of Him and that means giving direction and guidance.  On the other hand, God has made my children their own little persons with wills and personalities and paths in life that He will lead them on.  

So there is a dance I do everyday.  Lay out boundaries, give advice, season conversations with wisdom. But mostly I am hoping it sticks.  I am hoping that seeds are planted and that God will be faithful to do the watering and pruning long after I am gone. 

For when it comes down to it, I can only have so much power and so much control. The thing that those Hollywood villans and I do have in common is our finiteness.  We will leave this earth someday and all the words and actions we have done will be done.  All that will be left is our influence. 

So, yes God, take from me the desire to hold onto control.  Take away the need to make all things and people perfect.  Let me be faithful with what you have given me and lay the rest at your feet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

despair, meddling, discouragement

There are days when hope is hard to hang onto.  Children's squabbles wear me down.  My future lawyer has debated with every request.  My future teacher has been just a bit too bossy for all of us to handle.  The dishes and laundry never decrease.  Projects lay unfinished.  Baby needs me all the time. My thoughts drift to an imaginary vacation home on the beach.  . . .

Some translations say despair, some say meddling and some say discouragement. 

I wont even try to go to the Greek or Syrian or whatever this prayer was first written in and figure out the nuances. But just looking in my own life, I can see where they might connect.

What am I really doing when I despair?  I am looking at my life and saying that it is hopeless, that all the things I wish for will not come to fruition.  I cannot do this, that person will never do that, etc. I heap pronouncements and declarations on everyone around me.

Who am I to say when hope runs out?  How can I judge when to give up?

In that way, I am meddling.  I am letting my feelings of discouragement meddle with what God has put in my path.  I am saying what is good and bad instead of receiving what He gives.  I am like the little old lady that sits on her porch gossiping about the neighborhood as they go by.  Except the neighborhood is my life and I judge the events as they come my way. 

I read a wonderful quote today on Elizabeth's blog that gives us a way out of despair:
All the things in this world are gifts and signs. As gifts, they point beyond themselves to the divine giver. As signs, they point beyond themselves to the God they signify and reveal, as a letter reveals the writer. And since God is love, the one thing everything signifies is God's love to us. The whole world is a love letter from God...   (Peter Kreeft)
 Let us see each thing around us as a gift.  The dirty dishes, the fussy baby, the half-done projects. What has God brought to me today? 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Take from me the spirit of sloth

I homeschool, I run a small business, I have a toddler.  Sloth is not something that most people would accuse me of.  It seems more like the laying on the beach, ringing a bell for a servant to wipe your brow kind of word. 

But the furry jungle animal and I do have things in common.  Look at some of the synonyms:

laziness, idleness, indolence, slothfulness, inactivity, inertia, sluggishness, shiftlessness, apathy, acedia, listlessness, lassitude, lethargy, languor, torpidity; literaryhebetude

Ok, so I had to look up hebetude.  (Its the state of being dull or lethargic, FYI)

There are days when I get up and get going and things get done around here.  There are days when I spend way too much time on the internet looking up urgent matters like how tall Geena Davis is (6ft!!) or the wikipedia entry for F. Scott Fitzgerald (did that this morning).   My kids are not neglected, the house is clean enough, but I struggle with that spirit of sloth.  Inertia is a good way to put it, just the difficulty of getting going when I would really just stay put.  

It's really a battle of the wills.   I want to do what I want to do.  Not much different than my toddler throwing a fit when I can't get the crackers to her fast enough. 

I can't say I have conquered this, or am even mildly successful.  I definitely pray this part of St. Ephrems prayer with earnestness.  

One tool that has helped me (not cured me) is to have checklists and a flexible routine.  It takes away the decision part of what to do first.  I look at the list and do what I think I can get done in the time I have.  Or, if I know I wont get something done, I start something that I can put aside when the next interruption comes.  This doesn't mean that I dont ignore the list altogether at times and watch a mind numbing sitcom.  But at least I have  a starting point when I get it together to get started.  

Routines centered around mealtimes have worked best for me.  We usually eat 3 meals a day at home.  So we have to clean up the table and kitchen after every meal so there is not a pile up for the next meal.  The kids are trained to put their dishes away and have after dinner chores, and I can usually get everything picked up that goes in the dishwasher.  I usually dont get to pots, pans and other handwash stuff till evening.  But my goal is to have the counters all clean at night so they are ready in the morning for the next round.  Also, our washer and dryer are in our kitchen, so mealtimes is when I make a shift in the laundry rotations.  I still havent figured out a routine for getting it all folded and put away in a timely manner.  

But as I duel this dragon of sloth, there is grace.  This is a prayer, a petition for strength to overcome what I cannot do on my own.  And God listens. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Oh Lord and Master of my life

I had all the intentions of doing a Lenten meditation based on the Prayer of St. Ephraim several times a week.  But then my toddler started giving up a nap. Which means that her only nap is during morning homeschool time, not in the afternoon when I would usually have "me" time.  Thats when I would write on the blog, or make phone calls, or do anything that required two hands and one brain.

But that hasn't happened for a while now, but I have pondered this question on the days I couldn't write:

Who is the Lord and Master of my life? 

Those words make me a little uneasy.  Ok," Lord" reminds me of Lord Grantham and Downton Abbey so thats ok, but I can't think long on "Master" without difficult images of slavery and beatings coming to mind.   But that is not the kind of Master we serve.  Our Master has a loving, kind yoke that is much easier than the noose of sin. 

What rules my life?  What is the center of my decisions, my schedules, my tasks?  

I would like to say I start the day with a half hour of prayer  before the children arise and receive the grace and wisdom I need for whatever comes my way.  But almost always I sleep until its time for breakfast and everyone is up.  I go by the rhythm and routines we have set up and try to keep the peace among everyone.  If I am successful, we get to bed at night with full tummies, clean clothes and not too many hurts to forgive.

These are the externals, the day to day lists and schedules that are ordered after my family's needs.  But God provides for our needs, so these externals are his provision for what we require to be healthy and whole.

But what about the internals?  What rules my thoughts, my feelings, my daydreams?  When loneliness springs up, where do I go with that?  When someone says something that could be taken negatively, do my thoughts let it go?  When I see others doing something I wish I could do, how does my heart react? 

These are the places where I see that I am not ruled by Love.  I do not give God the reigns of my internal life. My heart runs wherever it pleases, even if it leads me to a thicket of thorns or over a cliff. 

Giving up Facebook for lent was an impulse decision, but it has shown me how much my mind is a minefield.  I ruminate over peoples comments or posts.  I look again and again to see if someone updated the status of their whatever.  I am ruled by the possibilty of novelty, of newness.  The dog startled by the word "squirrel" is me, only my distraction prompt is "People!". 

Providentially, we have also been snowed in for a good chunk of this early part of Lent.  That has of course made us all stir crazy but has given me time to cook some new Lenten meals and to put out birdseed right outside our window. 

It is a small thing, but I find that the little movements outside the window are becoming my new prompts.  I look to see which bird is there now, but approach stealthily so as to not scare them away.  We look up to see what is that new bird and their little peeps become part of our background music.  The original twitter feed. :)

So I am wrestling.  Lent gives me space for that.  Space to see the yuckiness of my heart for what it is and to be honest with myself and God.  I cut some things out so I can give both hands to the hard work of healing, restoration and repentance. 

Before I can even pray the rest, I need God to be Lord and Master over this mess.