Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Family Vacation

Donny and Grampy spot a loon...or is it a boat?

We are on vacation this week. In return for seven days without internet access, we get to enjoy a private lakeside beach, nightly cook-outs on the grill, and the company of family. We are nearly halfway through our vacation already, but this is the first time that all three of my boys have been asleep at once. After using up the play dough and bubbles from our limited stash of emergency toys during yesterday’s quiet time, I decided to let Donny nap today rather than face another two hours with a restless three year old. Hayden has been ornery all week, so naptime was certainly a necessity for him as well. And my hardworking husband deserves a day to rest, so I am glad he is taking this opportunity to nap on the couch while the cottage is quiet.

Having children changes everything, including vacations. The four of us are sharing a bedroom that has two twin beds, so we set up the Pack N Play for Hayden’s naps, and put the two twin mattresses together on the floor to create a makeshift king-size bed (just what we have been needing!). When Don and I tiptoe into our dark room at night (I didn’t think of packing a nightlight, and of course there are no streetlamps here to shed light through the windows), we usually find Hayden curled up on one mattress and Donny on the other, and we have to push them aside just to carve out a place for each of us between them as we try to avoid getting wedged in the crack between the mattresses. Then every morning around 7:00 am, I wake up to a little face just inches in front of mine, whispering, “Mumma, the sun is up!” Yes, Donny, the son is up. And even on vacation, when most people would sleep in late, if my sons are up, I am up too.

Activities have to be adjusted as well. We made a special trip to the nearest Wal-Mart - about 30 minutes away - to buy life jackets for the children so that we could all go out in the canoe. After bundling up the boys in their colorful new life vests and setting sail, we paddled only about 30 feet away from the shore before Donny started asking if we could turn around. Soon Hayden stood up and declared that he was, “All done!” So, we turned the canoe around, dropped the children off at the beach with the grandparents, and Don and I enjoyed a quiet canoe ride around the lake together. Thankfully, our new purchase was not completely wasted; Donny is getting plenty of use out of his life jacket by sporting it as a stylish top whenever he goes near the water. Hayden, on the other hand, is “all done” with the flotation device and prefers to make his grandmother panic by running out on the dock sans life jacket or chaperone.

As we paddled around the lake, I admitted to Don that I have changed my sentiments about family vacations. I used to think that spending a week with extended family was more of a social obligation than a time of relaxation. More recently, I have realized that having family around makes it much easier to vacation with young children. Relatives can play with the children while I enjoy a mini-date with my husband or take a much-needed shower, the children get plenty of attention and affection, and it is always helpful to have another set of eyes to tell me when my toddler is playing with garbage and eating questionable items off the unswept floor.

Something about the peaceful quiet of the lake, the rustling of the wind in the trees, and the freedom from everyday distractions make this a perfect time for reflection. Years ago, my family owned a trailer on different local lake, and I would spend hours playing by the water composing stories in my head. This week – and during this season of my life – vacation has been more about making sure that everyone has snacks and sand toys and sunblock than about sunbathing with a book or dozing off in the lakeside hammock to the sound of the waves lapping on the shore. Still, thanks to the help of family members and naptimes, I have managed to carve out a few moments such as this when all is calm and I can reflect on what God is teaching me during this time away.

The way God created things is good. He made the placid blue lake, the rolling green mountains in the background and the bluer mountains beyond. He created the loon who calls during the night and made an appearance just a few yards in front of our canoe. Even the ants that marched across the kitchen table last night are part of His Creation, though I often question why the Lord declared insects to be necessary components to our ecosystems, as I would happily live without them. And He created people to be in families. I am so blessed to be a wife and helpmeet to my strong, handsome man who can swim with a three year old on his back and catch a minnow with his bare hands. I am blessed to be a mother, not because my children are always perfect and wonderful, but because the challenges they bring are perfecting me. I am very blessed by my generous parents, who not only invited us on this vacation, but are also grilling steak and potatoes for us to eat when I would have served leftover spaghetti. And I am blessed to have siblings and siblings-in-law so that Don and I can practice our skills at Mad Gab (not that we need practice; we beat everyone else in record time) and Texas Hold ‘Em, and so that our children can read books with their aunties and learn to fish with their uncles. (In fact, Donny caught his first fish today with Uncle Matt! I don’t have a picture, though; I was in the house at the time, eating lunch with my mom.)

Yes, the way God designed families is good. Even if our children’s cries disrupt the peace of a quiet lakeside morning and wake everyone up prematurely, we are blessed to be surrounded by people we love and who love us in spite of our imperfections.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. - Genesis 1:31

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Patience, Love, and Forgiving Hugs

I used to think I was a patient person. I rarely, if ever, got angry. Then I had a two year old, and the truth was revealed.

My two children are some of the most precious and beautiful blessings God has given me, but I am convinced that children are not just to be enjoyed. Parenting is a constant challenge to our character, a drain on our energy and patience, and a true exercise in learning unselfishness. It is only through the trials of parenting a toddler (and now two toddlers) that I have discovered how quick to anger I can be. I recently read She's Gonna Blow!: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger. While the book helped me understand that many mothers struggle with similar issues, the author focused on a more explosive type of anger than mine. For me, I may not be yelling at the top of my lungs, but I react to misbehavior in anger, words of frustration slip out, and after a string of such misbehaviors, I often convey a mood of general annoyance with the children. As the Lord convicts me in this area, I am realizing that loving my children has little to do with thinking they are beautiful and precious (what mother doesn't think so about her offspring?) and a lot to do with patience, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

Today's events were nothing extraordinary. I had a migraine and was busy trying to finish baking, wash the dishes, fold laundry, and start packing for our upcoming vacation. When I finished folding the boys' clothes just in time for lunch, I set them out on top of their dresser so that it would be easy to pack them later. The thought occurred to me that the piles might get knocked down and unfolded, but I decided not to worry about it as I moved on to the next task. After lunch, Donny was supposed to be napping, but like many days recently, I found him still awake. I was less than thrilled to discover a messy "accident" in his Pull Up (I use quotes because "on purpose" would be a more fitting term for a child who is well aware of his need to use the toilet). Then when I walked over to his dresser, I saw all the clothes I had folded...on the floor. I was angry - angry about the Pull Up, about the clothes, and probably a little bit about the fact that he was so wide awake and making no attempt whatsoever to take a nap and give me a few moments of peace.

After a few words indicating that this laundry unfolding was a terrible tragedy and an unheard-of offense (even though I knew it would happen), I stepped out the room to analyze the situation. WHY was I so upset about refolding a few tee shirts and changing a dirty diaper? I concluded: because it makes more work for me. When my children make a mess, I have to clean it up - even if they help - so I try to minimize messes. But am I so selfish that I cannot do a little extra work for the sake of my children without grumbling? Acts of defiance may bother me greatly and should be disciplined appropriately, but appropriate discipline is done in a gentle and loving way, not with anger or impatience or a defeated woe-is-me attitude. I would never talk to a stranger or a friend or a student with an exasperated tone, so why do I feel justified in speaking that way to my children? And besides that, unlike my peers and random people I meet, my children are learning from me. Since they spend nearly all of their waking hours with me, my words, actions, and attitudes are the model that will shape their early years. Do I want to teach them to sigh in exasperation, or to raise their voice if they have to repeat something? Of course not. Such behavior manifested in a child would merit discipline, because it would be rude. And love is not rude. Love gives selflessly, even if it means changing diapers that should never have been dirtied, folding laundry that you have already folded, or forgiving children for the same offenses that they seem to commit seventy times seven times each day.

Later that afternoon, I went in to clean up the laundry mess and pack the boys' bag for vacation. Surprisingly, I didn't have to refold anything - all of the clothes had stayed perfectly folded despite being knocked to the floor. I calmly placed the piles in the bag while Donny, eager to help, insisted on fastening the bag buckles. The chores were finished, my headache was gone, and the trials of the morning were forgotten with what Donny likes to call "a forgiving hug." Thank you, Lord, for forgiving hugs, and for teaching me how to love my children.

There are many Scriptures that would be appropriate for today's reflection, but the one that came to mind is actually posted in the boys' room next to Psalm 4:8 - ironically, right above their dresser. These fitting words from the familiar love passage remind me of my own little loved one, as I hear his toddler voice reciting them in my mind:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Monday, July 21, 2008

Baby Teeth

My Donny is growing up, or at least it seems so since he decided to switch toothpastes. A few days ago, he declared that he doesn't like the fluoride-free apricot toothpaste - which we have been using to brush his teeth for over a year - "emeneemore." We actually use it on both boys, since even Hayden has outgrown the toddler training toothpaste that contains a fruity flavor and zero cleansing action. I set the half-used tube of Baby Oragel aside a few months ago, thinking we would have to give it away or save it for our next baby. And now Donny wants another new toothpaste. Unwilling to waste money on various flavors only to have him turn up his nose at them too, Don and I agreed to let Donny try a tiny bit of our "adult" toothpaste. The condition? Our toothpaste contains fluoride, which is supposedly bad to swallow in toothpaste, and supposedly good to swallow in tap water...but I digress. So instead of lying on our lap for his toothbrushing session and swallowing the toothpaste as usual, he would have to stand at the sink and spit it out.

I soon discovered a flaw in the new plan: Donny did not know how to spit. As I brushed his teeth with the sudsy Crest, I told him, "Okay, now try to spit it out" - to which he swallowed, ran for his water cup with a panicked look on his face, and gulped down several sips. I was ready to return to the familiar and swallow-able apricot after that, but Daddy offered to teach him the fine art of spitting. After just one evening of male bonding with glasses of water over the bathroom sink, my eldest son can spit like - no, not a camel - more like a waterfall. Yesterday evening, he christened my sheets, his sheets, and his brother's shirt with a flow of backwash. (And no, this was not smiled upon by either parent.) Of course, he still swallowed his toothpaste. Tonight I used the apricot paste. So far, the sheets are still dry.

Earlier today, Donny and I were having one of our conversations of Whys and Hows and other deep questions of which three year olds never tire. "Mumma, where was Hayden when I was a baby?" Not surprisingly, my answer of "He wasn't born yet," was countered with, "Why wasn't he born yet?" So I explained that God usually gives babies one at a time. "First God gave us baby Donny. Then when you were almost two years old, God gave us another baby, which was Hayden. Maybe someday God will give us more babies."

Immediately, Donny exclaimed, "Like, ten! I want ten babies, to use that baby toothpaste we have."

Both his random toothpaste reference and his choice of numbers caught me off guard. On our first date almost five years ago, Don and I discovered that we both wanted to have a big family. In fact, as our relationship progressed and others began to point out the many differences between us, this was consistently one value that we had in common. That evening as we shared our dreams for the future in the Barnes and Noble cafe, we jokingly agreed to have no more than ten children. Since having our first two blessings, we have amended that agreement only to remove the limit altogether; we will welcome as many children as God gives us, whether is is three or six or ten or twenty. The Bible tells us that children are blessings, and we believe that God's Word is true. A friend from the church we grew up in saw me last summer and asked whether Don and I still want ten kids - and I said yes. Now, without us ever mentioning it to him, our firstborn has the same dream!

If Donny gets his wish, I will have a good reason to stock up on every flavor and type of toothpaste. For now, I think we will stick with the fluoride-free apricot, so I can brush Donny's teeth on my lap like I always do. Since I only get babies one at a time, I want to cherish their little smiles for as long as I can.

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. - Psalm 127:3

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sleeping Arrangements

If the robins outside had not abandoned their nest already, they certainly would have this week. Apparently it was construction week here; besides Monday’s adventures in file cabinet assembly, a crew of construction workers have been stripping and replacing the siding on our apartment building. Hayden must have exclaimed, “Mang mang mang!” a hundred times as we listened to the sounds of hammers all day. The commotion prevented the children from napping for a few days, but on the plus side, it also kept them occupied; the day the workers were right outside our window, Donny and Hayden glued themselves to the glass to watch the crew in action. They even practiced hanging pretend siding with a toy hammer, converted their toy eating utensils to tools (the forks now have bent prongs as a result of being used as screwdrivers), and donned their yellow Bob the Builder-style construction hat. Speaking of which, one of Hayden’s favorite songs lately is the Bob the Builder theme: “Baa-woo! Yay yay yay!” sung perfectly to the tune of “Bob the Builder, yes we can!” Despite his limited vocabulary, I am amazed at his ability to carry a tune!

Today Daddy’s tool box made another appearance, this time to disassemble. We decided to take the front rail off of Hayden’s crib to convert it into a toddler bed. After Daddy and his crew had finished the task of removing the rail and lowering the mattress, we pushed Donny’s twin mattress up against it so that they now have an L-shaped sleeping area, though so far they have used it more as a playground. In fact, Donny dubbed it “the jump,” referring to how they jump (or in Hayden’s case, tumble) from the crib to the larger mattress. I tried to take pictures, but most of them came out blurry because the boys were moving around so much.

I’m curious to know where the children will end up sleeping now. Although we have provided him with a comfortable pillow top mattress of his own, Donny prefers to nap on the floor beside his bed, and lately he has been starting off the night in Hayden’s crib, which means that poor Hayden gets placed in the corner while Donny stretches out in the middle of the mattress – the crib mattress that was obviously meant for one very small person. Then at some point during the night, he wakes up and runs into our room, trailing his sheet behind him. In fact, Don and I couldn’t stop laughing one night when Donny had put the sheet over his head, and we watched a little green ghost dash across the living room and bump right into the wall.

Hayden usually stays in his crib once he falls asleep, but the past few nights he too has woken up and pointed to our bedroom, crying, “Dada!” I’m not sure why he has suddenly decided that our bed is the place to be, but letting him join the slumber party means waking up to feet in my face or little hands pulling my hair – and that’s only after he stops rolling around and finally goes to sleep. Plus, as you can imagine, it’s not entirely comfortable for four people to sleep on a queen size mattress, though this is not the first time we have tried it. When Hayden was first born, we were living with family and the four of us shared one bedroom, so both children often slept in our bed. It was so crowded that I vividly remember thinking that I would be blissfully happy if I could just sleep on my stomach, instead of being stuck on my side thanks to limited space and an easily awakened newborn. These recent nights of co-sleeping (or co-waking-up-every-few-hours) have brought back those memories, and with them the thankfulness that even if we fail to use them to their full potential, it is nice to have two bedrooms. Someday, maybe we will even have three. In the meantime, we are thinking of saving up for a king-size mattress...or getting rid of the bed altogether and giving everyone a sleeping bag on the floor.

The advantage to the bedroom invasion is the opportunity to spend more time bonding with our little ones. No matter how loud and chaotic the day may be, or how restless the night, or what challenges the next day will bring, I am always filled with warm affection at the sight of my children sleeping. I love seeing them curled up with a peaceful look of innocence on their face. For me, it the most poignant reminder of what precious blessings they are, and what a great responsibility it is to raise them up for God. And on the rare mornings when I manage to sneak out of bed before anyone else is awake in the morning, it melts my heart to see my three men snuggled together in blissful slumber. I am truly blessed!

We have this verse hanging above the children’s beds, and Donny memorized the comforting words when he was just two years old:

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Psalm 4:8

I am thankful for the construction that made our home a safer place to live, but so much more so, I am thankful that He alone makes us dwell in safety, and allows us to sleep in peace.

Donny, two years ago

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Working Together

We have been needing a new file cabinet for a long time. The rails in our Wal-Mart cabinet broke over a year ago, and it only remains standing in our living room as a place to keep the diaper bag out of reach, while the flimsy drawers hold the children's outside toys and some miscellaneous picture frames. After months of waiting and virtual shopping, I finally ordered a simple wooden model from Office Max, which arrived on Monday. Don came home from work and, instead of stepping around the box on his way to the couch as I expected, began to assemble our new cabinet right away. What a blessing it is to have a husband who knows how to use tools - and read directions! Of course, our two little helpers were nearly bursting with excitement when they saw Daddy get out his tool box. They love to "help" Daddy with any of the occasional home improvement projects he takes on. He armed them each with their own small screwdriver, and the construction - or destruction - began.

As he matched up numerous boards and screws, Don managed to stay patient with the future builders, despite repeated inattention to his instructions regarding the tools and a few near sabotages of the entire project. If you have ever attempted to complete a project with small children underfoot, you understand the significance of this. At one point, I began to wonder why he was letting them help at all, especially since Hayden seemed determine to injure himself with one of the forbidden tools, but they were having so much fun working together with their dad that I had no desire to intervene.

Finally, in order to keep them busy, he gave the children the important task of screwing together the Styrofoam inserts that came in the package. Translation: he provided tools for them to grind Styrofoam into powder and then sprinkle the confetti all over the living room, creating a picturesque wintry setting for the new furniture. I remained uninvolved as I was busy in the kitchen, scrubbing out the Crock Pot from the meal I mentioned last time (I had to cook it eventually, you know.) Here you can see the delighted little helpers in the aftermath of the snowstorm:

On the way home from church last Sunday, Don posed the question, "Why do you think God uses people?" People always mess up, they fail, they sin, and if they do manage to get something right, they take the credit for themselves. Why does God let us help with His heavenly projects at all? He could speak a word, and everything would happen according to His perfect will. Instead, He gives us the tools and directions and expects us to obey. He gives us the chance to be part of his Divine plan when we seek His will in prayer, study, and action. Reflecting on Monday's events, I can't help but think that more important than any mess we create in our vain attempts at doing good deeds, more important even than the visible finished product, is spending quality time with our Father. He is patient with us, inviting us to come alongside Him and help with His work. What an honor to be chosen for such a project!

For we are God's fellow workers...
1 Corinthians 3:9a

Sunday, July 13, 2008

"Remember Pizza?"

That's what I said to Don this afternoon. I had intentions of making pasta (that means spaghetti for him and whole wheat noodles for the children and me) with meat sauce and asparagus, but my head hurt, and a nap sounded much more appealing than washing the breakfast dishes that were still in the sink. The thought of defrosting the meat (which I forgot to pull out of the freezer last night), making a big meal, and the clean up that would follow was daunting - and I usually like to cook. (Though honestly, I can't claim that I usually like washing dishes, especially when it involves scrubbing cooked-on sauce rings out of extra large crock pots.) Randomly, I remembered that when other people don't feel like cooking, they order pizza for dinner. Since I have not been able to eat dairy products (like mozzarella cheese, for example) for over a year, and we haven't wanted to spend money on pizza for longer than that, I had all but forgotten that instant meal preparation in the form of pizza delivery exists. Then, after a moment of wishing I had a similarly simple solution for my dinner dilemma, I remembered that we had a gift card to the Longhorn Steakhouse leftover from Don's birthday last year. We had no plans and were still dressed in our church clothes, so Don agreed to go, and soon we were off.

Believe it or not, tonight was actually the first time in our three and half years of parenthood that Don and I have taken our children out to a restaurant . Because of our limited budget and now my restricted diet, dining out has never been a frequent event for us. We usually receive a few restaurant gift cards each year, which we save for special occasions so that we can enjoy a "date" while one of the three sets of adoring grandparents watches the children for us. In recent months, the same adoring grandparents have also taken our entire family out to eat several times, so it's not as if our children have been deprived of the joys of casual family dining. Today's event was unique in that it was just the four of us. Of course, Grammy and Grampy were still there in spirit, since they gave us the aforementioned gift card that inspired the trip.

Unfortunately, I was not entirely clear when I informed our eldest that we were going out to eat. Donny (who, incidentally, has never liked pizza, won't touch meat sauce, and only likes asparagus named Junior) translated "going out to eat" to mean that we were going to the nearby Chinese restaurant. Despite our attempts to persuade him that the Longhorn would be more fun (not to mention that our gift card would not be accepted at any other restaurants), he insisted he wanted to go to the Chinese restaurant - even when Daddy threatened that the restaurant owners would make him wash dishes if he couldn't pay for his meal. Being three, and having a limited understanding of money, his typical reply to, "You can't pay for that; you need money" is informing us that he does indeed have money in his dinosaur bank. On our way out the door, I attempted to give him a quick lesson in finances and how foolish it would be to spend one's entire life savings on a single meal, but I'm not sure he was convinced. He did, however, reluctantly agree to go with us and have fun.

And we did have fun. The children sat relatively still at the table, and were quiet enough to earn a compliment on their behavior from a kind elderly gentlemen as he was leaving the restaurant. Of course, he left before Hayden started his musical chairs antics and Donny refused to eat anything on his plate that may have been touched with a speck of pepper. Overall, though, I really can't complain. I remember that when we went out with relatives a year ago, one person would have to pace the restaurant with a fussy Hayden while another rushed through her meal in order to relieve the baby-walker. Now that our boys are older and more practiced (though far from perfect!) at restaurant etiquette, we were blessed with an enjoyable family outing.

As we were driving to the restaurant, Donny randomly announced from the backseat, "I changed my mind about Chinese." Don and I laughed. Um, it's a good thing, because we passed the Chinese restaurant ten minutes ago! Now I'm wondering, though - is this what I do to God? Things don't go the way I expect them to, yet I stubbornly push to get my own way, thinking I know more than my Father. Then somewhere down the road, I suddenly realize that I since I can't change things anyway, I might as well accept them with joy. Maybe I even catch a glimpse of His wisdom and realize that He truly does know the best place for me to go. And maybe I am foolishly pointing to all the fast food places along the way, insisting that each one must be the destination, not realizing that I am actually on my way something far better: a feast He has prepared just for me. Parenting is truly humbling when I realize that the flaws and follies I see in my little lambs are the same ones the Shepherd sees in me - and yet He loves me unconditionally!

And speaking of God's wisdom, I think the Lord really know what He was doing (imagine that!) when he instituted the Sabbath rest. Once in a while, everyone needs a day off from cooking.

He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.
Song of Solomon 2:4

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Be Still

The last few days have been relatively happy and peaceful. I am caught up on housework; I am seeing some improvements in Donny's behavior (which has been particularly challenging lately); and I am working on tweaking our daily schedule to allow me more time to read to the children and enjoy their company. The weather has been perfectly suited to my mood: sunny, very warm, with a gently comforting breeze. With so much to be thankful for, I can't help but morbidly wonder, What is going to go wrong? Everything is going reasonably well with our marriage, our children, our home, and our health. All of our appliances and our (one) vehicle are working, our bills are paid, and I get to spend evenings eating popcorn in my pajamas while typing on my wireless laptop. Yes, things are good, but knowing the nature of life, I don't expect it to always be this way. At some point, there will be bigger challenges to face: a move, a ministry, a health crisis, a baby, a conflict, an accident, a war? I'm ever aware that I cannot take this comfortable season for granted, but I am sure that God is using this time to prepare me for whatever it is that lies ahead. Like an inquisitive three year old (just ask me how I know about those), I get impatient and start asking What and When, but lately I can almost hear Him whispering:

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
Psalm 46:10

Surely this is my time to be still, and to get to know my Savior and Shepherd. It is the time to be Mary at Jesus' feet, putting aside the busyness of the Martha world and listening to His voice. When the summer breezes kiss my face, I can be still and know that the Creator of the Universe is near, watching over me. I have a hard time doing nothing, but the tranquility of a sunny afternoon reminds me of the importance for my soul in being still before the Lord. Maybe He has blessed me with a few spare minutes in my day not just to catch up on chores, but so that I can spend some extra time communing with Him.

Donny wanted to see the baby robins today, but no one was home in the nest. I think they have moved on. Someday we will move too - maybe in March when our lease is up, maybe sooner if we buy a condo, maybe later if we decide to stay here another year. Truly only God knows where we will be by next summer. Did I mention that just today we have researched apartments and business schools near Don's work (his company will reimburse him if he goes to school while working for them), filled out paperwork to get information on a gymnastics facility that is for sale, and received a higher - but still not high enough - salary offer from the job in Texas? With glimmers of opportunities in so many directions, we continue to sit at the red light in the middle lane. I'm using the internet to look as far down each road as I possibly can, but even Google Street View can't tell me which path we will eventually take. As much as I long for a plan, I must be content - content not just because of my popcorn and picture books and the fact that all of my laundry is washed and folded, but truly content where God has placed me. Right now, he wants me in the middle lane. He is gently reminding me to "Be still and know." Wherever we go, whatever happens, I pray that I will know my Shepherd, and that He will be exalted in all the earth.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Looking at the Birds

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Matthew 6:25-26

I took the boys for a walk outside today. Considering that the landscape outside our apartment includes two main roads, a plaza, a few gas stations, and a McDonald's, I don't expect to see much in the way of wildlife during our walks. Today, however, we watched two gray squirrels nibble on a snack before chasing each other up a tree, and we saw several birds, including a friendly robin who hopped alongside us for a few moments. We have been especially interested in robins ever since we discovered a robin's nest in the young tree outside our window a few weeks ago. For a few days last week, we even had the privilege of watching the mama robin feed her baby birds! It was difficult to get a good picture, since the mama robin got upset every time I came too close to the tree, but I finally managed to get this photo of mama bird on her nest:

And here is one of the hungry babies reaching up for his meal (the other two in the nest ducked before I snapped the photo). If you look carefully, you can see the mama robin watching me from the branches.

I am so fascinated by the way God designed nature, and I am thankful for this glimpse He gave me. The mama robin knows instinctively how to build a cozy nest, how to defend her babies from predators, and how to find the perfect food to feed her little ones. The babies trust and rely on their parents for the food that sustains them and for guidance in learning how to fly. And if even these little creatures matter to the Creator, how much more valuable am I, one of His own children! Why do I waste precious time and energy worrying about where we will live, whether we will be able to afford a house, or how we will feed our family if my husband quits his steady job to embark on some risky business venture? My security must not be in a steady job or a well-padded bank account, but in Christ alone. Thank you, Father, for feeding these little birds, and for reminding me that I am cherished, safe, and provided for in Your hands.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Life in the Middle Lane

Today is a day for celebrating, because today the Lord has blessed our savings account with five digits. Considering that less than three years ago Don and I were $14,000 dollars in debt (which we paid off over a year ago, praise God), I am awed and impressed that we've been able to save so much from a modest single income. God is good!

ING Direct, we get to nickname our savings accounts, and we have dubbed our long-term savings account "House Van Israel Gym TX." The lengthy title (which could have been longer, but I was limited to 30 characters) reflects the many possibilities of how we might eventually spend our savings. We would love to buy a house, but can't afford it yet - at least, not here in New England. We want to get a minivan at some point, but it's not a necessity yet. Last year, God seemed to be calling us to go to Israel, but our after much effort we learned that was impossible. Don's dream is to own a gymnastics facility, but it's difficult to start one when we don't even own a home yet. And Texas has been our latest plan-of-the-month. We always have so many plans, which usually appear to include God, but so far He hasn't actually opened the door for us to pursue them. But our bank account is growing as our savings accumulate interest each month, and I am sure that I too am growing as God teaches to wait patiently on Him.

During our recent three-day Texas trip, Don and I took a picture of this sign that we saw in Dallas - we thought it was funny that cars in the middle lane can go in any direction! Later, we realized how perfectly the image fits our life right now. All year, I have had the feeling that some big change is just around the corner. We almost bought a minivan, but decided it was too expensive (a wise decision, in retrospect, since gas prices have soared, and we can still squeeze our family of four into our Neon). I thought God was leading me to join Don in working with the youth group at church, which resulted in an opportunity for us to take on a leadership role together, but then we realized that we had some major doctrinal differences with the church, and we were asked not to teach at all. Our most recent Almost has been moving to Dallas. Don thought that studying at seminary would help him equip him for future theological debates and discussions, and we had heard good things about Dallas Theological Seminary. Adding this to the temperate weather (Don hates the cold, so we have often discussed moving south), the favorable Republican politics, and the unbelievably affordable housing (we could actually buy a home!), we decided to look into relocating. Don landed a job interview and we spent the weekend there househunting. After a few weeks of waiting, he finally decided not to accept the position, and now I truly don't know whether Texas is in our future, or whether we will be staying in New England for a while.

There are so many directions we could possibly go (Move to Texas? Buy a home? Stay here and start a gym?), and we don't have any clearly typed printed "ONLY" arrows to point the way. It seems like we're stuck in the middle lane, waiting for a signal from God, but for now it's just a red light. The Bible gives us wisdom and principles to follow, but are no prophecies that reveal our earthly future. And as much my little human mind wants to know where we're going, I know that in light of eternity, it really doesn't matter. In the end, the Lord's purpose will prevail, and I trust our Shepherd to point the way when it's time to move forward.

While we were in Texas, God brought this very fitting Proverb to my attention - I am using it in my email signature so that the reminder is constantly before me:

Many are the plans in a man's heart,
but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:21