Thursday, May 19, 2011

How Imaginary Adventures Make Joyful Mothers

He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 113:9

We went to the beach today.

Nevermind that the weather has been decidedly chilly this month. Clouds, rain, and temperatures below 60 degrees have filled the weather reports every day this week. Certainly, it is not your average beach day weather.

And nevermind that packing up a potty-training toddler, a four (and-now-a-half) year-old with food allergies and asthma, and a certain persnickety six year old for the day is more of a chore than I want to undertake unless absolutely necessary. Though we are blessed to be part of the small percentage of America that lives within easy driving distance of the ocean, the comparatively close proximity of salt water does not mean that spontaneous beach trips are the norm. In fact, any family beach trips at all are unheard of before the mainland temperatures reach at least 80 degrees, and at this rate, we will be lucky if we get a few weeks by August that meet such criteria.

But armed with some books, wooden play food, and three willing companions with great imaginations, I enjoyed the delights of the shore today. We feasted on a picnic lunch of sandwiches, watermelon, brownies, and orange juice (which Lydia spilled, but not to worry - the sand absorbed it!). Donny found a sea anemone and a sea urchin in the tidepool. The boys set up tents by the shore, and after a long day of enjoying the sunshine, we drifted off to the sound of the waves. In fact, Donny and I slept right under the stars, and even sleepy Hayden woke up early enough to watch the sunrise over the ocean. We hated to leave, but eventually, we had to return the picnic supplies to the rental house and get back to regular life.

At least, I had laundry to do. Donny said something about needing to help Bob (you know, the Builder) work on Sunflower Valley. Hayden gave Lydia a ride in the laundry basket. People have responsibilities, you know.

I should mention, lest it be unclear, that our "real life" days here are far from idyllic. There are five sinful people here 24 hours a day, which means that impatience, anger, selfishness, complaining, and the occasional piercing scream are all an unfortunate part of our everyday life. Thankfully, God gracefully gives us occasional moments - brief though they may be - where the children stop fighting and the parents stop reprimanding and we can all just enjoy an imaginary day at the beach.

And I confess, the days are seldom when I put off the laundry and the toddler's nap for a few extra minutes just to spend time being fully engaged with my children. I feed them, bathe them, teach them, train them, and clean up after them all day long. At the end of the day, there is little time or even desire left to sit down and just play with them. But by neglecting to enjoy my children, I am missing out on a great blessing. Yes, caring for their needs is accompanied by blessing as well, but in getting to know them at their level and creating memories (even pretend ones) with them, it is easier to find the joy in motherhood. Sometimes I realize that I have checked off all my obligations for the day, but never really took time to enjoy my children. They need me to smile at them and laugh with them and occasionally munch on some painted wood watermelon with them while sitting on a tablecloth on the floor.

In fact, as I imagined myself asleep on the beach, with Lydia climbing on my head and Hayden curled up beside me, with Donny talking nonstop, and even the tiniest of flutters reminding me of its presence in my womb, I thanked God for this great blessing: I am never lonely! Quiet moments may be few and far between, sleep may be sacrificed, and cleaning up puddles of milk, oatmeal, and toileting accidents may constitute a large percentage of my day. But I am blessed to always have someone to love and hug and play with. Thank you, Lord, for dreamy days and a growing brood little people to share in the magic. And thank you for reminding me that you have settled me in my home, not just to keep it clean, but to be the playful, caring, exuberantly joyful mother of my children.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Monday Morning Coffee with God

It was Monday morning. I set my alarm for the first time in weeks, spent some much-needed time with the Lord, and started my sweet husband's coffee before he was even out of bed. I hadn't managed to get up quite early enough to squeeze in the workout I had hoped for, but still, I felt like I was on top of things. The sun was shining, the children were quiet, and the coffee was ready just in time.

Except, when I went to retrieve the steaming cup, I realized that something had gone wrong. Instead of finding the oversized, hand painted (by me!) mug filled with freshly brewed coffee, it was only half full. A few suspicious specks floated along the top, revealing that grounds had somehow snuck into the beverage. Upon further investigation, I discovered the source of the problem: I had forgotten to put in the filter! Here I was thinking I was so ahead of schedule, but instead, I spent fifteen less than agreeable minutes cleaning hot, wet coffee grounds out of every nook and cranny of the coffee maker. Instead of surprising my husband with my forethought, I had to apologize for the delay, dump out the spoiled cup - which turned out to have a thick layer of sludge at the bottom - and start over. So much for being on top of things.

As I reflected on the minor, but annoying, incident, I saw some similarities to my spiritual life. Sometimes I forget to look closely, and I think that things are just humming along smoothly. I assume that I am bearing fruit for God and He is filling my cup to overflowing. Often, it isn't until telltale specks of sin rise to the surface that I realize there is a problem. When I finally allow God to search my heart, the truth is revealed: neglecting to spend regular time with Him leaves me with a thick layer of spiritual sludge. Instead of overflowing with love, joy, goodness, and grace, I am depleted, and sinful thoughts and attitudes begin to taint the living water that God wants to flow through me. Weak and bitter, I have no refreshment to offer to others. I am as useful to God's kingdom as a ruined cup of would-be coffee was to my tired husband on Monday morning.

How thankful am I that the God of grace has promised to renew His mercies every morning! Repentance makes me clean. Time in the Word and prayer renews my spirit and puts my filter in place. Instead of dripping half-full and tainted with grounds, I am filled to overflowing with the goodness - indeed, the greatness! - of God.

Tomorrow morning, I will be sure to put the filter in place before attempting to bless my husband with a welcome cup of coffee. And more importantly, I resolve to rise early enough to spend time with my Lord. In seeking Him, I know I will find the hope and refreshment I need to face the day. The best part of waking up is not, in fact, the particular brand of beverage in my cup, but rather knowing that my merciful God is filling my cup with His great, compassionate, and contagious love.

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
Lamentations 3:21-26

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reflections on Clearwater

As part of our recent family vacation to Florida, we were privileged to spend nearly two days in Clearwater Beach. The time went by quickly as we enjoyed the warm water, sweet sunshine, and white sand. The boys dug holes, built castles, and collected shells, while Lydia loved playing in the water with Daddy. Exciting findings included a hermit crab, sea sponge, and fossil rock with the print of a scallop shell. We even spent a precious evening on the shore watching the sun set over - or as it appeared, into - the Gulf of Mexico. On Easter Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection of our Savior right on the shore, enjoying the God's amazing creation as we remembered His most precious gift. I wished we could stay longer - and, admittedly, our curiosity did lead us to spend half an hour in discussion with a local real estate agent - but even a brief visit to such a beautiful place was a blessing. I am so thankful for the peaceful moments of reflection and the chance to watch our children discover one small corner of the amazing world God made.

The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.
~ Psalm 97:1

The perfect horizon

Swimming with Daddy

She loves the beach

The water is so clear!

Sunny smiles

Everyone out to sea, enjoying the calm waters

My goofy, sweet, precious gifts from God!

The sun melting into the ocean - what an incredible sight!