Sunday, June 1, 2014

The New Jonah

In my life, I have found myself drawn to the book of Jonah over and over.  In times of difficult ministries I found myself encouraged, in times of deep despair his prayer has had real meaning.  His is a story that I totally relate to, and totally loathe all at once. I find myself wondering at Jonah simply not doing what God told him to, when he told him to go. Lately, though, I have been questioning my ability to procrastinate, and whether it is really just me running from God's will.

The longer I think on it the more I come to see that the answer is a resounding 'YES'.

I'm thankful that he doesn't send a big fish after me, because that would scare the crud out of me. I have to say, though, that I have been in some big ole stinky situations because of my lack of action.  I have always felt that since Jonah was being more deliberate in his disobedience that it was a worse transgression than my pretending that days aren't passing, that there is always a chance to do it right. I can't see that there is any difference.  I mean, the result is always the same: I end up in the opposite place of where God wants me. Period.

I always act like procrastination happens by accident, too, as if I were not consistently choosing other things over what I should be doing.  Even worse, I act like I am forced to keep choosing to do what I want to do rather than what I feel God is urging me to do. I use my husband and my family as reasons for  why I am not doing what I know I should be doing.

Many times I find myself choosing to do the easy stuff of Christianity. Leading bible studies for Christians, spending time with fellow Christians, and praying for other Christians. Those are good things, necessary things, but they are not the only things I should be doing.

The fact is I have become comfortable with complacency when it comes to my faith. I have lost my sense of urgency, placed my mind on other things, and forgotten how it felt when I first felt God's Spirit stirring within me.

That Jonah of the Old Testament, he ran from the Lord and then took a nap in the bottom of his ship. I was being super judgy, ripping Jonah for not even losing sleep over his decision to do the complete opposite of what his God asked of him, when a friend said, "What if he was just depressed?  I see that sometimes, in people who just can't care anymore. They're really just depressed."

Huh. I had never thought of it that way because I was too busy judging him and thinking that I was nothing like him. I wonder if my friend was on to something. I do not believe it is our natural human state to simply not care. I believe we have to talk ourselves into that state, or dull our minds through t.v. watching and internet scrolling, or in simply keeping ourselves extremely-busy-doing-very-important-things in order to be able to not fully feel the effects of caring.  Once our minds have been thoroughly dulled it becomes easier to be inactive.  A saying that always makes me uncomfortable  is 'if the devil can't win you over he'll keep you busy'.

I look busy, doing all of the right things, reading all of the right books, but in my heart I know that I am inactive when it comes to what God wants me to do.  Jonah got on a boat and went in the opposite direction, but I stay right where I am and allow myself to believe the lie that because I am in constant motion I'm not going in the wrong direction.

My heart does not lie, though. I am as asleep as Jonah was in the bottom of the ship.

I am the new Jonah, and I fear it is the disease of the Church.

I may be rambling, but I feel like something is about to explode inside of me. I've been reading all manner of books about people who sacrifice for God, for His people to know Him better.  Books* that make me say to myself, "Well that's good for them, but it won't work for me. I can't go to Africa (or fill in the blank with any country). People here don't know that kind of hunger so they'll never need Jesus like they do in other countries." or the worst "My family is my ministry."

I only say those things to myself to tamp down the fire that starts in my soul and makes me want to feed thousands with two loaves and a couple of fish. I only say those things to myself so that I can sleep at night as I sail further and further away from the young woman who fell in love with Jesus. I only say those things so that I can look my children in the eye when I walk away from someone without telling them about the Living Water that will quench their thirst forever.

In all of this, I am not fishing for compliments or pats on the back. Those of you who know me in real life know that there have been sacrifices made, that there have been times I have put myself out there in order for another human being to get to know my God.  I just feel like I checked it off the list.  Somehow sharing Christ became a goal I had fulfilled and not a way of life and I am tired of it. I am tired of sitting in church and missing what it felt like to feel God's fire rise up in me, making me feel like I could do anything for Him because He had done everything for me.

I have had it with believing that I do enough, or that I deserve a rest, or that because I was born into an easier life than some that I have earned it.  It's just not that easy any more. I don't know what it means, these feelings I have rumbling around in me, but I know that I cannot keep moving about in the world this way. I am thankful that I remember what it felt like to be truly alive, to know that while I might not change someone's life, I could certainly introduce them to the One who can make all things new.

I am praying that following God's Spirit is like discovering a pair of forgotten gloves. At first they feel tight and restrictive, then with use and stretching they feel right and good.

This evening, as I type, there is a thunderstorm right outside of my window.

I am not sleeping.

 Awake, O sleeper
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.
Ephesians 4:19

*Books like Kisses for Katie, Crazy Love, Whatever Happened to Worship, and Christian Atheist, The Hiding Place.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hand Towels

For reasons beyond my control, I have always desired to have beautiful hand towels.  I feel that hand towels are a symbol of a home well put together, a home where visitors may wash their hands and be assured that they are drying them on a clean, germ-free surface.

As it is, hand towels are a rare find in the Shepherd home. Well, it's rare to find one in the bathroom.

You may find one in the backyard covered in mud and grass because it was used to clean the sidewalk. 

You may find two or three under the couch, in an attempt to hide a spill that was hastily cleaned.

You may find one in the kitchen sink, having been used to wash rocks in a soup pot.

You will not, however, find one hanging on the towel rack next to the sink.

I have had so many conversations with my family concerning hand towels and my deep need for them to be available. They listen and nod their heads at the appropriate moment, but true knowledge does not appear to be imparted. Sometimes, in an effort to appease me, they leave a wash cloth where the towel should be. Usually it's a dirty washcloth.

Once, someone left a paper towel. Not the roll, mind you, just a single paper towel.  A few weeks ago I entered the children's bathroom to find a glob of wet toilet paper waiting for me in the sink.

"What the heck?"  I asked the kids.

"I was trying to dry my hands,"  a child answered, and pointed to the roll of soggy toilet paper resting on top of the towel rack where the hand towel should be.

" Gah!!"  I moaned in exasperation.

"We're sorry mom,"  my four children said in unison. "We'll do better."

There were so many excuses.  They don't know where the hand towels are, or which ones they should use, or if I prefer matching ones. As if we have matching hand towels.

The last three times I've gone into their bathroom there's been a t-shirt limply hanging on the rack.

I figure at least it's effort on their part.

The other day I was showering when I remembered what I had forgotten: my towel.

I hollered for one of the kids to bring me a towel.

Guess what one of them threw me?

Yep, a hand towel.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Week in Pictures

 This has been one of those weeks where ALL my plans were taken over by life.

We had a soccer tournament on Saturday. Can I admit that I was relieved when my son's team lost because it meant I could get home?

I wanted to get home because I needed a serious nap. Our four year old, Liam, was down with a virus and the middle of the night medicine doses were killing me. Also, worrying about my guy was wearing me out - then there was the worry that it was going to go through our whole family like the plague. The boy had an ear infection, throat infection, and probably a couple of viruses going on. Twice a day I get to make him scream like a maniac while forcing this stuff down. Good times.


I also got to go tot he doctor this week. It was kind of a day out for me after a week of taking care of a sick kiddo.  I mean I was by myself!  It was pretty exciting until the nurse asked me to get on the  scale.  Then it got exciting again when they left me in the exam room all alone.  I read my book for a bit but then succumbed to the two month old People magazine. I guilty threw it under the chair when my doc came in the room.
I had a piece of Bubble Yum, original flavor and could not help channeling my inner 13 year old. I even felt a little sassy so I spit my gum out before the doctor came in.

My Mother's Day flowers.

 Me after a long night with Liam.

One of our knock out roses.

So, all the sick and ick got me feeling down because our house has been pretty crazy for the last month year. I feel like we've not quite gotten settled since we moved almost a year ago. There are STILL boxes in a closet and my homeschool stuff is in complete chaos. I was planted on the couch with Liam for so many days that things like the fact that our t.v. has a huge orange extension cord running to it started to make me crazy. So Monday the kids and I started working on decluttering, deep cleaning, and decorating - all while the big kids were starting to come down with Liam's super virus. THEY ARE AMAZING KIDS!
How is my girl able to drive? What the heck?

Sad but cute.

There is just something sad about a sick kid. Can I confess something, though? Sometimes, when my most active children are sick, I experience a moment of glee. Maybe even a couple moments of glee. I can put them on the couch with a movie one, without guilt, while I cook and clean and organize, actually completing a whole task at a time.

This time wasn't really like that though, because little man was so sick he didn't want to be alone. Very sad.

We live a few blocks from the Ohio River, so going down and seeing what great things the boys can scavenge is a favorite activity. These pictures were taking just a day or two before the virus took my people down.


Liam will NEVER walk on the pavement here - only on these rocks.  He says it's our tradition. I'm not about to argue with a kid who wants to blaze his own path.

It's good for me to remember the good. I can get a little overly focused on the  bad, like the orange extension cord.  I need to remember that the  sun is always there, even if I cannot see it. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Second Favorite

My second favorite household chore
is ironing. My first being hitting my
head on the top bunk until I faint.
- Erma Bombeck
There are times in every person's life when they realize that thinking before speaking is not merely polite, it is life preserving.
The men in my life may be slow to learn some of the truths about living with women, but they do know when they have gone too far.
I was lamenting our abode and its resemblance to a fraternity house, when my darling man said, "I know you - if you really wanted to do it, it would be done."
Truer words may never have been spoken, but saying something like that to a woman on the edge (i.e. a homeschooling mother of 4, one of which is a 2 year old intent on being the next hurricane to make national news, who also teaches Sunday school, acts as husband's secretary, manages all household affairs and makes sure dogs and children alike are caught up on vaccinations) is just dangerous.
As penance I made him go to Wal-Mart in search of the ever elusive capers, skinless, boneless chicken tenders (kept in the center freezer not with all the other chicken bahahaha), and my favorite shampoo and conditioner, for which he had a picture of to make sure he had the right ones.
He asked what I wanted him to say.
"I want you to say the house looks great,"  I replied.
"Okay, the house looks great,"  he said tenatively, perched on the edge of the couch to accommodate the pile of laundry behind him. The book he was reading rested on two cereal bowls stacked on each other on the end table, the spoons tips, barely visible as they poked up from between the couch cushions. I was crawling around the living room picking up bits of toilet paper and cardboard the puppy had chewed in a frenzy.
I looked at him questioningly.
"No, really.  It looks great it's fine."
"I love you," I said. "Now, please, go to Wal-Mart."
While hubby was hunting and gathering at Wal-Mart I called the other children down.  I gave them a pep talk about Christian hospitality and stewardship while handing each child their to-do list.
The girls, being older and wiser, knew to nod complacently before slinking off to a closet with their ipods thoroughly plugging their ears to my cries.  My son, who was 9 at the time, neither had age or wisdom on his side.
"Why are you doing this to us?  The house looks fine."  the kid said.
"No, it doesn't look fine. Dishes go in the dishwasher, not under the couch. No one should step on legos to get to the toilet, and there shouldn't be a gross apple core waiting for that person when they do finally make it to the commode."  I informed this boy of mine.
"Well, you're the only one who cares what the house looks like, so maybe you should clean it."
Time stopped, I heard the closet doors open and my daughters tip-toe into the room. Even the toddler's jaw dropped.

"I mean, you seem to like it. You talk about cleaning all of the time, it's what you do.  It's, it's like your hobby is what I'm saying."  My boy's face grew from resolute to confused to concerned as he went on.  "Why are you smiling that way?"  he asked. "Are you mad?  I was only saying..."

Like it? Where had my child received that completely wrong impression?  Housework is not something I enjoy. For Pete's sake, I can't even enjoy the after-effects for more than 4 hours.
At moments like these, action is the only solution.
My husband returned a short while later bearing capers, hair products, but no frozen chicken tenders. He looked at our son, kneeling by the couch and wearing rubber gloves.  The trashcan next to him filled with rubberized apple cores, sucker sticks, wads of toilet paper, and a half eaten petrified corn dog told the tale of woe before anyone had to speak.
"Spencer, what did you say to your mother?"  his father asked. He knew that cleaning out the couch cushions was the worst of the worst, reserved for behavior so offensive no other consequence would do.
My nine year old, now showing more wisdom and age than he ever had, said, "Dad, it shouldn't be repeated."
I smiled proudly. My men were learning.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Quite Literally

So, my brother, Erik, is quite literal. I forget this sometimes, the way that I forget that he has developmental delays (I think that is the new politically correct term for his issues).  I know that seems like a dumb thing to forget, but I'm his sister.  I don't see him as brain injured, I see him as my wonderfully annoying little brother.  Who just so happens to be 5'10, 32 yeas old, and functions with a lower than average mental capacity, and is one of the funniest guys I know.

cool dude, right?

What I'm saying is that I forget that Erik has these little quirks, until said quirks slap me upside the head.  The way he takes things literally often takes me surprise and reminds me that the nuances of the English language are vast.

One time I asked Erik to get me a little glass of ice water.

He brought me a shot glass filled with an ice cube and a teaspoon of water.  I politely sipped it and he politely refilled the shot glass 1,042 times.

That's just how we roll.

Our three older kids were staying for a week with my mom and dad, and in passing I said, "Erik, let me know if anyone causes trouble."

I got text messages the ENTIRE week:

Laurel is screaming because she does not like chicken. It hurts my ears.
Kiley and Laurel have been upstairs fighting and screaming all morning. It's not gonna stop.  They are definitely too young to go to Jesus Prom in November with me.
Spencer Michael is definitely upset because Mimi said no more Disney channel.  Disney channel definitely has rude talk and lots of cursing going on.

I no longer ask him to let me know when the kids are causing problems. Clearly, Erik and I have two very different definitions of the word 'problem'.

Last week Erik had come to stay with us, along with my mom, for a couple of days.  Everyone was sitting around the living room when I got home, and our older girls had some friends over. Teenage friends, which means that my husband was on especially bad behavior.  I walk in the room, and my dear husband shouts, "Whoa!! Somebody turn the air down, it is HOT in here!"

Teenagers politely giggled, I gave the obligatory eye roll, then we all left for a play.

I got a text message that night:

WOW! The house was getting colder and colder. I went and looked and someone had set it at 52 degrees!

I couldn't stop laughing. I had this memory of Erik jumping up from the couch and dashing out of the room during Lee's sophomoric rant.

Lee did say it was hot.

Erik did take care of the problem.

Quite literally.


Monday, May 12, 2014

24 Hours After

Dear Me 24 Hours After Your First Mother's Day,

It's official - you've been through your first Mother's Day! You have a four month old who is the most precious child you have ever seen. You don't sleep much these days, I know, which makes you feel MUCH older than 22. Your first Mother's Day was filled with flowers and lunch with your mom, but you're also left feeling like you don't know what all the fuss is over. I mean, you know it was a good day and you are filled to the brim with love and gratitude that you have made it through pregnancy and child birth, but this mothering thing?  You're still trying to get a handle on it. It is consuming in a way that no one could have warned you about even if they could verbalize all of the intricacies wrapped up in the word "Mama".

I want to tell you something, me to me. I wish you could hear me because what we've learned in the past 16 + years would give you a serious lead in the race you're running.  What I want you to know is that Mother's Day is every. single. day.  No, there aren't flowers and cards every day (but some days those will come out of the blue and crush every angry feeling you have), but there will be handprints and footprints from little people that you won't be able to hang from your fridge. Oh, but you'll remember them. You'll look back and remember the chubby hand that fit into yours and wonder at how you overlooked that mundane gift.

I want to you warn you, too, that there are Hard Days coming. There will be days when you feel that you are being lost in mothering, that who you really are is buried beneath smears of peanut butter, spit up, dirty toilets, too much laundry, and not enough sleep. You will go weeks without a shower long enough to shave both armpits, you will sacrifice fashion for function, your body will be stretched until parts of it resemble silly putty, and you won't always remember your first name.  Keep going, though, girl, keep going.

Sweetie, you think you don't sleep now? Just wait. The older your children grow the less sleep you will get. Mark my words.

Young mother, your prayer life is getting ready to radically change. You think you know of sacrifice because you gave up space to house a baby - but the sacrifice has yet to come. You will come to know what it is to put your baby on God's altar because He is the only one who can get your children to adulthood. Right now, you think it's all you, but it's not. You're merely the caretaker, and man are you going to mess it up sometimes!

I have to tell you that you those times, those Messed Up times, you are going to cry like you have never cried before. I wish I could spare you that, wish I could go and untie those moments like a knot in a necklace but those are the times that teach you about the deep love. There will be times, fortunately few and far between, when you feel alone and abandoned and you lash out at the only people close to you (people with chubby cheeks and eyes that still sparkle). In an instant you will know you've gone to far, you've injured the ones that God gifted you with to lighten your journey and you will be crushed. I think back on those times as the Double Whammy. Don't despair, because this is when beauty blooms.

You my friend, will learn what repentance means during these times. You will call your children to you, and they will come. You will apologize, and they will forgive. In fact, your babies will teach you how to forgive like Jesus. They won't harbor those memories and pull them out just to inflict more injury. No way. They will walk away from your mistake in 30 seconds or less. They will wipe your tears with their dirty little fingers, invite you to a tea party or a super hero game, and all will be well with your world, because they are your world.

You are getting ready to get your hands dirty. You will deal with puddles of urine, puke, and poop in places you didn't think possible (shoes, couches, and air ducts!). You will find things under furniture you didn't think possible: apple cores, full bowls of cereal, the phone that's been missing for a week, folded laundry that a kid didn't want to put away, and a couple of mice. You will learn how to hide when people knock on the door, and then later, how to open it and welcome them into your chaos. The kids will learn that the most important question to ask when the doorbell rings is, "Mom, do you have on a bra?"

You, Lee, and those four (yep, four, sister!) kids will become an unstoppable force.  The Shepherds will face Hard Days, but they will do it together. You all will learn how to be real with each other (and you'll always think of  that MTV show from the 90's about strangers living together), how to make the best of the bad, and that no matter what singing Broadway tunes will always make you feel better.

Oh, how I wish I could be there to watch you become who you are becoming. You will learn, that those times, when you thought you were being buried underneath mothering, that you were being buried to be reborn. You're in the kiln, so to speak. You are in the fire so that your true colors can come through. Your children will remind you of that when they call you beautiful and blessed. I know this now, these years later, that God always knows who you are and he sent children to remind you. Days when you're low a hand or a hug and eyes that say, "There is no one like my Mama" will keep you going.

So, march on mama. March on and know that your fridge will never be clean for more than 24 hours, there will always be laundry, someone will always complain about dinner, and that dishes were made to be dirty.  Choose the walks, and bike rides, and messy stuff every day because you don't get it back.

March on, mama!



P. S.

You will say that every Mother's Day is your favorite - but this one, 2014, really will be. You get to pick out your very own frozen dinner for lunch, have the remote, and nap on the couch by yourself. It is The Best Ever.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Murky Water

Last night, in our candle lit sanctuary, we celebrated Maundy Thursday with a hand washing and communion.

I hadn't realized how much I needed the quiet service.

My day involved rushing around, getting things at home done, convincing children to finish math or science (or both), and then rushing out to work. After work I rushed out to pick up my son for soccer practice. I had time to throw a few snack items in a bag, grab some water and my two boys and then sit at the soccer field. My time at the soccer field was nice - watching my 10 year old boy practice makes me smile. My four year old boy is BUSY; constant motion busy. So we chatted while he jumped, climbed on my head, ate all the food, and drank all the water.  

At break time I told the big boy that we had to leave - it was almost time for church. He rolled his eyes, he groaned; he wanted to scrimmage. I wanted to go home in and climb into bed and read while no one talked to me.  I pointed out that it seemed neither of us would get what we wanted.  

The entire five minute drive home the boy lamented the lack of food in our house.  The pantry is in a sad state, missing canned beans AND peanut butter. Also, I told said boy that he could not cook fish sticks while we were at church because I worry about him burning himself. Tears erupted at this point. Now my eyes were rolling because I had to go, had things to do, had to get in there.  As I walked into church, slightly irritated, more than a little tired, and quite hungry I felt the tension in my shoulders. 

So many places I would rather be.

My four year old was hanging onto my hand and bouncing around like a yo-yo on the end of a string, wearing his signature yellow boots (and please, God, let him have on underwear) and discussing farts.  All I could think was, "What the heck am I going to do with him during church?"  My teenage daughters were handing out bulletins, my ten year old was home eating frozen fish sticks, and I was supposed to help my husband with the service.  

I looked up from my littlest, to be greeted by three beautiful smiles on three beautiful faces.  The last time I saw these friends was at a funeral for a beloved wife, friend, and daughter.  Here were three people who had more than their share of long days, and they had come to see our family at our new church in our new town, and to celebrate Maundy Thursday.

It's funny how hugs can erase tension and growling stomachs. It's funny how you can forget about how tired you were just 3 seconds before only to be filled with gratitude that there are people in the world who know and love you.

The children and I eventually settled in our pew, in the dark and the quiet, and I whispered to my little one, "We are remembering the last meal that Jesus had with his best friends. They ate and then he washed their feet."

I wonder what kind of tensions Jesus had in his shoulders that night. I wonder if he was hungry as he sat at the table. I know that there was no where else he would have chosen to be that night. Jesus is not one to rush from place to place as we do, but I do wonder if he felt this night had come too quickly. As he looked around the table at his friends, listened to their conversations, what thoughts were turning over in his head?

I think of the love he had for his friends, for each of us in the world, as he taught them another thing about himself.  As Jesus and the disciples ate the meal, remembering the Hebrews escape from slavery, remembering the blood of the perfect lamb which protected the Jews from the tenth plague, the Angel of Death, could they have understood the perfect love that Jesus was offering? Did they enjoy their time with Jesus that night, did they look back and think, "I wish I hadn't been thinking about all that I had to get done."  I know that's what I think sometimes when I'm spending time with Jesus - making my grocery list, thinking of laundry and doctor's appointments rather than where I am and who I am with. 

As I watched friends and strangers wash each others hands in a bowl, and then tenderly dry them with a towel, my eyes stung. We remember how vulnerable we are when we allow another person to do something for us, but especially when we allow them to wash off our dirt. I can only imagine the distress the disciples felt when the Messiah washed their dirty, travel worn feet.  I know the love that filled their hearts as they relaxed, realizing that their Creator knew them inside and out, that the dirt on their feet was nothing compared to the dirt in their hearts, and that this act of love was a gift that they would never forget. 

Last night, after we had washed hands and shared communion, I sat back in my pew. I looked at the glass bowls that had once been filled with crystal clear water, but were now filled with murky water. My first thought was, "Oh man, we should not have used a bowl you can see through. That is gross."

Suddenly I relaxed, knowing that Jesus, our Living Water, has taken on way more dirt than is on our hands.