Sunday, April 26, 2009

If the Son Has Set You Free

Today I had an uncomfortable conversation that left me feeling unsettled and dredged up some hurt I thought I had carefully buried.  Since God speaks to me when I run, I tied on my running shoes and hit the mountain behind our house. 

My mind raced as I started my slow climb to the summit.  I methodically ran scenarios and each played out with an unsatisfactory conclusion.  From a human standpoint, it was an impossible situation.  There was no happy ending.

The chasm created from years of disappointment and turmoil left me bitter, and when I was completely honest with myself, filled with hate.  How could I love someone who was so unlovable?  I wanted to be like Jesus - to have His heart of love - but I had no idea HOW to do that.  The baggage of hurt, wounded pride, despair, and pain weighed heavily as I trudged up the mountain.  

As I prayed, the songs transitioned on my iPod.  A worship band sang, "Amazing love.  How can it be?  That you my God would die for me?  Amazing love.  I know it's true.  And it's my joy to honor You.  In all I do, I honor You."  

I've sung that song a thousands times, but the words pierced my soul.  God was whispering the solution to my problem in the melodic voices floating through my iPod earbud.  "Love.  MY love is amazing.  Transforming.  I died for YOU.  Love your enemy."  

I started arguing with God.  But you don't know the depth of the pain.  The intentionality.  The consistency.  The pattern.  It's impossible.  I can NOT love in this situation.

And God whispered, "But I do understand.  Do you know the depth of the pain your sin causes Me?  Your intentionality to choose wrong?  Your consistency in making poor choices?  Your repeated pattern of sin.  Repentance.  Sin.  Repentance.  Sin.  Repentance.  And I love you still." 

The vocalists sang, "You are my King," over and over.  God whispered, "Will you let me be King of this?  Lay it down.  Let me set you free."  

I fought God.  Running harder.  Faster.  Fighting tears.  The burden was too old.  Too heavy.  Too much a part of who I am.  I wasn't even sure I could find the locks amid the tangled web of chains binding me.  

The song slowed to a quiet chorus.  Hundreds of college-age students sang, "If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed."  Over and over, increasing in volume and passion as they let the truth set their hearts free to worship. 

I labored up my mountain, each step in cadence with the struggle in my heart.  "If the Son has set you free.  You are free indeed.  You are free indeed.  You are free indeed."  Somewhere along Corral Creek Road, I saw my chains.  Binding my feet.  My hands.  My heart.  Why was I choosing to be a prisoner to pain?  

I whispered, "Set me free.  Oh Jesus, set me free."  Each step got lighter.  I felt the locks open and one by one, the chains fell off.  I left the chains of hurt, pain, bitterness and hatred in the woods next to Happy Trails Ranch, and ran the rest of the way, FREE.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

EIGHT






My 5 pound, 10 ounce preemie turned EIGHT today. Most of the time I feel like I've been Grant's mom for my entire life. It's what I was born to be. But there are moments when I can't believe that EIGHT years have passed since we began this journey called parenting.

When I think about it, it doesn't seem much longer than a week or two ago that I was riding the train home from another busy day of work in downtown Chicago. Reading with interest The Birth Book and wondering how it would compare to our birth classes and tour of the hospital the upcoming weekend, when SURPRISE! My water broke. Within hours, we were holding our son in our arms and wondering who parked the car that we left in the Emergency Room parking bay.

And that's how our parenting journey began. Rough. Unplanned. Not according to schedule which of course irked me given the fact that I had the the next 6 weeks preceding his arrival completely and entirely planned out. Unexpected. Joyous. Heart-warming. Exhausting. Here we are EIGHT years and four kids later. Who would have guessed?!?!

Grant had a great birthday weekend. On Saturday he invited three of his buddies to go with him (and Curt) to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum on a boys-only excursion. They saw, among other things, the original Spruce Goose. Grant stood in awe for several minutes, taking in the enormity of the plane, then said to Curt, "Man Dad. That thing just knocks me out." They came back to our house for pizza, presents, cake and ice cream. One of his gifts was a Lego pirate ship. I overheard Grant tell Curt in a matter-of-fact tone, "Dad, did you know that Chinese pirates were exceptionally skilled swordsmen?"

Sunday was an amazing spring day - it hit 84 degrees, no humidity, blue skies. Grandma Ru and Grandpa Terry had an afternoon of fun planned, so we headed to their house for a delicious Sunday lunch. Grant loves to hike and play in the woods with Ru and Terry, so they made a Grant vs. Wild poster for him with photos of him doing crazy stuff (like hanging from tree branches and jumping over river rocks) on their outings together. His gift was hiking and outdoor-survival related with a fleece, a water bottle holder and a whistle/compass thingy. The snake cake, made from huge cupcakes, fit the Grant vs. Wild theme as did the obstacle course and worm-eating competition Ru and Terry put on for the kids at the park. (Okay - they were gummy worms...) Grant was so intent on winning the obstacle course race that he slid down the fire pole too fast and pole-burned the inside of his arm.

This morning Grant opened presents from us. Since he's grown and grown and grown this year, his "presents" were mostly a new wardrobe. It was great to send him to school in clothes that actually fit! Grant, like his Dad, LOVES music and building things, so he was thrilled with his new clock radio/CD player and Lego set.

Alli, Paige and I brought birthday treats to Grant at school and got to participate when his class sang Happy Birthday to him. He played with Alden, his best friend, after school and we finished the evening with dinner at Lil Cooperstown Pub and Grill. Since it was over 80 degrees today, we ate outside in tank tops! We should have known the weather would be great today. Grant ALWAYS gets an amazing-weather-day on his birthday.

All four kids are in bed and the house is enveloped in silence. I'll head there soon and I'll fall asleep the mom of an EIGHT year old.

Spring

The first warm days of spring invigorate me.  After months of feeling cold and clomping around in boots, slippers, jeans, sweaters and hats, the spring FINALLY arrives.  The sun breaks through the gray and on the breeze is a hint of spring.

I ran five miles on Parrott Mountain this weekend on a picture-perfect spring day.  The sun warmed the top of my head and my back.  My body begged me to shed my long-sleeved T-shirt and let these arms have one of their first kisses of sunshine.  The vineyards that slumbered all winter are transforming before my eyes.  Little bits of color appear on gray vines that diagonally and uniformly stand at attention on mountain fields.  The mountain was painted in vibrant hues of greens as the trees take on new life and florescent green buds cover the tips of the branches.  

The air is crisp.  Clean.  I inhaled the glorious smell of the first fresh-cut grass of the season.  Ran under a canopy of flowering cherry trees and grew intoxicated by their fragrance and beauty.  Who needs an iPod when you have the birds to serenade you as they twitter about in a bright blue sky?  The sun illuminated the dark forest and a mountain creek burbled over rocks and sticks.  Bullfrogs croaked in someone's koi pond.  

I startled a deer grazing on fresh strips of new grass.  It gave me a dirty look for disturbing lunch and bounded off into the woods.  Daffodils stand proud next to clusters of wild, purple mountain flowers.   

My feet crunched the gravel and my breathing approached wheezing as I climbed and descended, climbed and descended.  Long-sleeved T-shirt came off and my shoulders, back and arms soaked in the warmth of the sun while sweat poured down my face and off my chin.  It was glorious!

I couldn't help but thank God for designing a cycle of seasons that so closely reflects the cycle of life.  As I celebrated the arrival of spring, I also celebrated God's willingness to give me new beginnings, second chances, and a fresh SPRING in my step.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grant's Creative Writing - He forgot the title


Grant, who will be 8 in two days, wrote a story a few nights ago, "just for fun."  It took him two evenings of his after-dinner-but-before-bed-time.  Here's what he wrote.  He forgot to title his story.  I'll type it exactly as he wrote it with punctuation and spelling.

"I'm Jim.  I'm an animal scientist in Alaska.  I study everything from the smallest squirreles to huge Kodiak bears.  Here is one of my scariest stories.  It all happened one warm (30F) day when I was looking for an interesting animal(s) to study.  So far I had found a chitery chatery squirrel and a lost wolf cub wandering around doing nothing that interest me.  But the real story begins now when I was walking and all of the sudden a monster sow Kodiak bear jumped out of the bushes.  I din't realize I was walking toward a bear den until I saw to bear cubs in the tree behind the bushes because I had learned that at a first sign of danger a mother bear chases her cubs up a tree.  I also climbed a tree.  I could tell the mother bear was mad.  Then the mother bear went to get her cubs.  I realized one of the cubs was falling of one of the branches.  I also realized an inersection of the to branches of my tree and the cubs tree.  I carefully walked on the branch that intersected with the other branch and scooped the cub up just in time.  At first the sow snarled, growled and chew her teeth, then the sow realized I saved her cub then very carefully I climed down the tree with every eye on the sow just in case she was still mad.  Then as she walked away she droped a cub.  I picked it up but the sow didn't care.  I walked away and she still didn't care.  Then I realized she was giving me a cub.  Now it's a couple years after that and he lives in my old horse carrall and now he's 5 feet tall but I now that some day he'll be an 11 foot monster I'll have to give to nature."

I think the boy has a future in animal science.  Anyone else agree?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What Happened to Yesterday?


My son is growing up before my eyes.  Of course that's the point of parenting, but I had one of those "What happened to yesterday" moments recently with Grant.  

Wasn't it yesterday that I was nestled in our over-stuffed, leather chair in a sleep-deprived, new-love euphoric state, reading 80-page Winnie The Pooh classic tales to my 5-day-old who was snoozing in my lap?  I was living a dream come true and couldn't wait to read a story to my OWN baby, even if he didn't comprehend a single word. 

Last night as a joke, Grant tried to curl into a ball and crawl in my lap, pretending to be a baby while I read stories to Paige.  His head, shoulders and chest slammed against my chest.  The rest of his lanky body sprawled all over our beat-up coffee table and depleted couch in the toy room.  We giggled as we "fed" him a drink from a sippy cup and burped him to stop his crying.  Paige stared at me in wide-eyed wonder as I recounted the good old days of Grant's infancy.  It had never occurred to her that her big brother had once been a tiny baby.

Wasn't it last week that we put him on the bus with all the other early-elementary students for the first time, dwarfed by his larger-than-life backpack?  But this morning at the bus stop, he towered over the "little" kids and he doesn't even have to lean forward anymore to avoid toppling over backwards from his now-normal-looking-sized backpack.

Wasn't it yesterday that I was in the trenches, doing my best to raise four little ones, each with different temperments, and seeing my lack of success in out-of-control bursts of rage from my very stubborn first-born son?   But next week Grant turns eight, and the son before my eyes is one who consistently prays for Holy- Spirit-strength to have self control and be kind to his sisters and his friends.  His heart is so soft, tender and honest that he nightly confesses poor choices and impure thoughts, even if he hasn't acted on them.  I wish  my heart was as moldable as his.

Wasn't it yesterday that I couldn't bribe him to pick up his toys or put anything away EVER? The days of constantly tripping over toys loomed like a mountain I would never summit. Today, Grant is overly responsible, meticulously caring for and cataloging his personal belongings and adhering strictly to his self-imposed morning routine to make sure he doesn't have to rush to catch the bus.  

Grant has both the privilege and disadvantage of being the first-born.  All of our parenting "firsts" happened with him, for better or worse.  And in spite of our screw-ups and experimenting, God is growing up before our eyes, a son who loves God and loves people.
Yesterday was a sweet memory.  Today is a beautiful answer to prayer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I Can Dance





I love Palm Sunday when we celebrate Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem. I can almost see the crowds, lining the streets with their coats, chanting Jesus' name in loud praise, waving palm branches and worshipping their Messiah. My vision of that day is sunshine, blue skies, birds singing, and God, the proud Father, smiling down on His Son.



Curt attended a small-town Pentacostal church while he was in college. We happened to attend on Palm Sunday and I'll never forget it. The services had a designated starting time and ended when the pastor decided the Spirit was done moving. This particular Sunday, we'd already been worshipping for a good two hours and my stomach was growling. I was inwardly griping and asking the Spirit to STOP ALREADY so we could go get lunch before I keeled over.


It appeared the service was finally wrapping up and we were heading into the last song, when they started passing out palm branches. Really? In Minnesota? Where on earth did they find palm branches and so many of them? And did we have to pass them out now? How about next year on Palm Sunday instead? Confusion was etched on my face as I begrudgingly took my palm branch. What's a Baptist girl to do with a palm branch in church anyway? It's not as if there was a decorative vase at the alter for us to put them in.


The college-age worship band started up with what I hoped was the closing song. The congregation launched right into singing at top volume and before I knew it, people started going crazy. Clapping and whooping it up reverberated across the small church. Shouts of "Praise Jesus" and "Hosana to the King" echoed over the rafters. The palm branches emerged, up, up, up, over the heads of the worshippers. Swaying in the air, they reached to the vaulted ceiling of the old church. People poured out into the aisles and started dancing.



My stereo-typical style of worship at that time was to close my eyes and if I was feeling really crazy, raise my hands. This over-the-top worship unnerved me. I glanced at Curt to get his attention so we could discreetly leave the mayhem, but he was engrossed in worship. I was officially stuck in the craziness.


I stared dismally at the sea of dancing palm branches in front of me, when IT happened. Jesus' rebuke to the Pharisees rang loud and clear in my ears, "I tell you, if my disciples keep quiet, the stones will cry out." The palm branches were worshipping, but my heart was cold. It was a painful realization.


As I confessed, I realized there was still time to redeem myself. In good-old-fashioned charismatic style, the worship band was just getting started. I grabbed my palm branch and slowly hoisted it up over my head. My voice lifted in song and my palm branch started swaying, joining the jungle overhead. My hunger dissipated as the beat picked up. Jubilant enthusiasm gathered momentum and before I knew it, this white, Baptist girl was dancing in the aisle. Let me tell you, when the Spirit moves, I can dance.



We celebrated and sang, "Look what the Lord has done. He healed my body, He touched my mind. He saved me, just in time. Oh I'm gonna praise His name. Each day He's just the same. Come on and praise Him - look what the Lord has done."


I've yet to have another Palm Sunday rival this one. But each year, when I read the story of Jesus' triumphal entry, it reminds me of the day when I let it all go and worshipped in total abandonment. And I gotta believe that God, the proud Father, is looking down on His daughter and smiling.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

One Extreme to the Other


On Thursday night, we packed up the van for another weekend trip to Bend.  Curt was attending a continuing education conference and so the kids and I tagged along.  Dad and Marcy were both working Friday and Saturday as well, so I knew going into the weekend that I would be flying solo with the added benefit of seeing family at random times.  

It was in the 50's in Newberg and I almost wore my flip flops in the car for the drive over.  After all it IS April and when does it snow in April in Oregon?  Answer: on Thursday night.  We watched the temperature drop from 53 degrees to 28 degrees and drove straight into another blizzard on the pass.  The visibility this time was even worse than 3 weeks ago.  The plows weren't out yet, so there was no rock on the road to provide any definition to the sea of swirling white.  I found myself gripping an imaginary steering wheel in the passenger side, staring intently into the whipping white world outside and praying that Curt could continue to follow the quickly disappearing tracks in front of him up and over the pass.  The kids were oblivious to the danger we were in and sang the High School Musical 3 soundtrack over and over at the top of their lungs.

Friday morning, my super studly and very smart husband went to the conference and he taught one of the sessions.  An educator educating educators (that's a fun sentence) and he rocked his presentation.  I am so proud of him.   

While he was impressing his colleagues with his knowledge of scoliosis, I was trying to get my rear in gear to get out of the house before 9 a.m. when Marcy had her first conference call.  Crabby, sleep deprived kids mixed with crabby, non-caffeinated, and allergy-induced, sneezing mom made for a challenging morning.  To add to the excitement, my brand-new left contact appeared to have done battle with some microcosms in my contact case over night and had a big chunk missing from it.  We somehow stumbled out the door at 8:59 am. and then sat in the van trying to devise a fun plan for the day.

Alli, who sheds her coat everywhere she goes, has been without a winter coat for at least three weeks.  Since the high temperature in Bend on Friday was 36 degrees, finding her a coat was our first order of business.  Columbia Outlet wasn't open at 9 a.m., so we went to Starbucks and Fred Meyer,  ate donuts and bananas and Mommacita drank hot, strong coffee and begged for it take effect quickly.  The five of us went back to Columbia Outlet and emerged an hour later.  Each kid got a rain coat, Grant got hiking shoes and I got a sweater to wear, since I hadn't packed any long-sleeves for our weekend adventure.  Now that our kids have rain coats, we are official Oregonians.

We found a park to play at and I sat on the bench, squinting into the bright sunlight (remember my contact ripped so no sunglasses for Jodi), and shivering while I watched my kids run around for an hour without a hint of acting or looking cold.   When I was a frozen ice cube, we loaded into the van and ran a few errands, then stopped at Subway for lunch.  As I was thawing out, I tried to orchestrate a dance between my eye doctor and the optical department at Costco, BEGGING someone to have mercy and give me a new contact.

We hit the hotel at 1:30 p.m. and all five of us crashed for happy nappy.  Even Grant, who naps about once every six months, slept.  Wow what a difference when we emerged an hour and a half later.  Mommacita was patient and loving.  Little children were obedient and sweet.  And life was good again.  We picked up Curt and headed to Costco where I finally got my contact and some pizzas for supper.  Shared a meal with my Dad and Marcy then headed back to the hotel for the oh-so-fun swimming in the steamy, indoor but outdoor accessible, hotel pool.  When the kids had their fill of fun, we made a mad dash for the van through the freezing night and eventually curled up in our warm beds.

Saturday was a little warmer and equally sunny.  The kids and I played all morning at a different park on the river.  We hiked along the river front, made new friends, watched the ducks and finally left at lunch time.  We found an Italian deli with amazing baked mac and cheese and fresh sandwiches and eventually headed back to Grandpa Don and Grandma Marcy's around nap time.  

Saturday night, Curt and I dined at a wonderful restaurant in downtown Bend with some colleagues of his from work, and the kids enjoyed some alone time with, as Paige would say, "Wampa Don and Wama Marcy."  

This morning, Curt finished his conference and Wampa Don put Grant, Katie and Alli to work in the back yard.  Hauling and stacking wood, giving them rides on the quad, and having entirely too much fun.  Paige followed Wama Marcy around all morning, chattering her ear off and asking a bazillion questions.  We headed out around lunch time, picked up Curt and started the trek back over the pass.

Today was glorious - it hit 75 degrees in Newberg, and was the first warm day of spring.  The snow-capped mountains were blindingly white against the brilliant blue skies.  Birds were singing.  The river was rushing with melted mountain snow and the first warm breeze of spring blew through the van.  We couldn't help but laugh at the stark contrast from Thursday night.  We went from one extreme to the other, but I'll take the warm spring day over a blizzard any day!  Somehow it makes digging out from under the sea of laundry and endless chores awaiting me on our arrival home more bearable.