Friday, February 26, 2010

Please Help Me Like My Brush Step!

Ever since Allyson said a prayer on her own for the first time--the time she prayed for her lost puppy Allum--she's developed quite an eagerness about praying. She wants to say all the dinner prayers, much to Ethan's dismay since she's rather long winded. She wants to say her own bedtime prayers, too, though she still wants me to pray afterward.

She both amuses and inspires me with her requests. About a week ago, the night before her third ballet and tap lesson, Allyson surprised me by praying about her brush step. Instead of asking God to help her master the step, which is what seemed logical to me, she said, "Please help me like my brush step!"

She had been very frustrated with this step, in which she is supposed to lightly brush her foot in an arc from front to back. Her first efforts were hilarious; all she did was stamp her foot as if she was trying to crush a cockroach. When I tried to get her to practice at home, she wanted nothing to do with it.

Allyson with Allum, Ballet Slippers, and Tap Shoes

So when she prayed about the brush step, I couldn't resist suggesting, "You know, Allyson, you could also practice your brush step. I'm sure Jesus will help you with it, but you can do your part by practicing."

"No," she replied, cheerfully oblivious to my bossing. "Some people practice and some people just pray for Jesus to help them."

"Mmm-hmm.... Well, good night," I said.

At class the next afternoon, I began to wonder whether she was onto something. I couldn't believe the improvement in her brush step. What was most impressive, though, was the fact that she was clearly enjoying herself!

I've decided that I can learn from her example. Maybe when I struggle with deadlines at work, I should stop asking God to help me get the work done and start asking him to help me LIKE the work. If I enjoy what I'm doing, I'm bound to do it with passion and enthusiasm, and I bet I'll also stay more focused instead of wallowing in boredom as I so often do. I can't wait to try it out!

A Welcome Interruption
Another area where Allyson is growing is in her love of scripture. A couple of times recently, she woke up early and interrupted my quiet time. For some reason, instead of putting away my Bible and setting aside my prayers for later, I decided to include her. Using a sheet I got at Bible study, I was praying Psalm 139 over each of my family members, and I invited her to pray with me. "Oh Lord, you have searched Daddy and you know him," we prayed. "You know when he sits down and when he rises. You know his thoughts when he travels and when he rests at home...."

I expected her to lose interest since it's a rather long psalm, but she loved it. "Let's do Ethan," she said, and then, "Let's pray for you, too, Mommy." The fourth time, we prayed the psalm over her.

Off and on since that morning, she's requested "the Bible study prayer" at bedtime. It takes a long time to pray Psalm 139 four times!

One morning this week, Allyson woke early again, and I immediately invited her to share my quiet time. As I practiced my memory passages on the couch, she snuggled against me under a fluffy blanket and listened intently. When I got to Psalm 139--in a slightly different translation than the one we had prayed--she yelled, "Hey! That's our Bible study prayer!" She obviously felt the same excitement that I feel each time I run across one of my special passages.

After I finished all the passages, I set the little business cards on the desk and went to my room to get dressed. A couple of minutes later, I found Allyson in front of the desk muttering to herself. Moving closer, I saw that she was flipping through my memory cards as if she were reading them. I realized with a start that she was quoting Psalm 139--quite accurately! "If we go up to heaven, you are there," she said. "If we go down to the grave, you are there.... You have laid your hand on us."

"Hey, you're quoting our Bible study psalm!" I said, utterly thrilled. "That's wonderful, Allyson."

I'm so excited to see my little girl growing into a woman of God! And I'm so thankful that God woke her up so she could "interrupt" my quiet time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Number My Days

This semester my ladies' Bible study group is doing a study called Replenish, on the book of Psalms. It has definitely been living up to its name. So far we've studied psalms of worship (Psalm 29), intimacy (Psalm 139, my favorite!), hope (Psalm 42), and celebration (Psalm 90).

This week's lesson on Psalm 90 both sobered and thrilled me. This psalm, which is the oldest psalm and the only one written by Moses, contrasted God's eternal nature with the brevity of human life:
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.... For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning--though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:2, 5-6)
When I first I read this, I felt so insignificant, like dust or a wisp of smoke. As I read on, I was challenged to be a better steward of my time. With Moses, I prayed, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)

One of the homework exercises was to literally number my days. I determined that I've lived almost 14,600 days, and that I might have around 10,950 left assuming I live to be 70. This somehow came as a shock to me--I'm well past halfway! These days have passed so quickly, and I know the rest will go at least as quickly.

My favorite part of this psalm is verse 14, where Moses asks God to "satisfy us in the morning with [His] unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." If only I can learn to be satisfied with God's love every morning, I will be well equipped to deal with all the challenges and disappointments the day might bring. As I bask in His love, I can stop obsessing over the things I hope will happen someday to make me happy, and instead I can rejoice for the blessings I've already received.

The psalm concludes with a request for God's favor to rest upon us, and for God to establish the work of our hands. I love the word "establish," which means to make firm, stable, and enduring. I long to be obedient to God and leave an enduring legacy! Contemplating one of the homework questions, I decided the work I most need God to establish is my parenting; I need His wisdom, unconditional love, and supernatural patience.

I struggled with many of the homework questions, and my workbook was littered with question marks. This reminded me of studying poetry in high school English. It was challenging to interpret the figurative language, and it frustrated me that there were no definitive answers. At the same time, I was in awe of the rich mysteries that were ALMOST within my grasp.

I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion in my small group last night, and I was thankful for my friends' insights and the experiences they were willing to share. Two things really made an impression on me:
  • One friend told us how a verse she was studying last week in her Faith Basics class stood out to her during this lesson: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." (Colossians 3:23). She realized that she needed to apply this scripture to her attitude at work, where she was feeling terribly bored. She committed to think of God in all she did for a full day, to be kind and loving with her coworkers--even the ones who usually annoy her. She was amazed at how pleasant her day was, and how much more quickly it passed.

    Later, the speaker mentioned the same verse, and I smiled knowingly at my friend. I love it when God does this, as if to say, "Are you getting this? This is really important."

  • Another friend said that we can number our days well if we remember that God has given them to us to use for his purpose. If we give God the best portion of our time, he will make all of our time more rewarding. I had heard this philosophy before in conjunction with finances; I've long believed that God gives us our resources and expects us to use them wisely. But I'd never thought of my TIME this way. What if God could somehow multiply my time just as he multiplies my money when I am faithful in giving?
I'm so excited to let God help me apply what I've learned from Psalm 90. I don't want to waste even one of my precious days.

How many days have you lived, and how many do you have left? Does this fill you with urgency, or make you depressed?

An Easy Way to Support the Salvation Army

My blogging friend Victor, whom I mentioned in my last post, is donating one pound (£1) to the Salvation Army for every comment on this post (his post, not mine).

Please leave a comment to support this worthy cause.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What I'm Reading These Days, Vol. 1

I'm adding a new section on my blog sidebar (down the right side of the webpage) so that I can share the books I've been reading. I'll start with the book I just finished, and then I might add some favorites that I've read recently.

Last week I had the pleasure of reading a book called Visions, written by one of my blogging friends, Victor Moubarak. It was really cool reading a friend's book, but I would have enjoyed it regardless of the author.

The book is set in a small, impoverished town in England, where three teenagers see an apparition of Jesus in the park. This ignites controversy in the community. When the teens go to their priest, the genial Father Ignatius, he must do some soul searching as he decides whether to believe their story. (I was already quite fond of Father Ignatius since he is a regular feature on Victor's blog. He's a kind, gentle man with practical wisdom and a genuine faith.)

The laid back setting, the local flavor, and the gentle humor all reminded me of the At Home in Mitford series, by Jan Karon.

Here's what I told Victor when I finished the book:
I liked the questions you raised about faith and submitting to higher authority. I loved the messages of forgiveness woven throughout. And I loved the way believers from many backgrounds came together to pray and worship. It was very uplifting.

If you live in the U.S. and you'd like to order the book, click here. (You can find links for other countries on Victor's blog.)

Also, be sure to check out Victor's blog here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

PLEASE Take This Spoon!

This past Saturday, I stopped by Central Market to pick up some oat milk--which they didn't have--and some whole wheat pastry flour. Thinking I'd get right in and right out, I made the grave error of skipping the grocery cart even though I knew that allowing Allyson to walk was a risky move.

Needless to say, my little basket was soon loaded to overflowing with all sorts of exotic products, like the organic whole wheat real-cheese macaroni that Allyson simply had to have--in BOTH the Arthur and the D.W. shapes. I also said yes to all three products I sampled, including the amazing Magic Puffs, which are like giant wheat puff cereal pieces in the shape of a rice cake, and which they make right in front of your eyes--with an impressive POP! as each one shoots out of the machine. Those had to be carefully sequestered from the other items in order to keep them intact.

By the time I reached the whole goods section, where I suddenly remembered I needed oat bran, the basket was getting so heavy that my shoulder and neck were reminding me that I was already sore from way too many push-ups in Pilates the day before. I set the basket down thankfully and poured the oats into a plastic bag, all the while shouting, "NO, Allyson! Don't open that! No, don't touch those!" as she lifted the lid to one bin after another, stooping to sniff the organic dried prunes and the wide assortment of granolas.

Though I could feel my blood pressure rising, I couldn't resist the lure of the freshly made peanut butter. I set my basket down again and laboriously slopped the sticky, runny peanut butter into a little plastic tub using a very long wooden spoon. I managed to smudge just a bit on one of my knuckles, so I held my hand down to let Allyson try it. "Yum!" she cried, and I grinned in triumph--now I could switch her over to natural peanut butter!

Turning to search for the bar code labels, I gradually became aware that Allyson was speaking to me. "Yes, baby?" I said distractedly.

"This is really yummy, Mommy!" she repeated. "You should try some."

I spun around so quickly that I almost dropped the peanut butter tub. Allyson was holding out the long wooden spoon. I sputtered, "What did you...? Oh, no. You didn't!" My stomach dropped when I saw the peanut butter around the corners of her lips.

My face must have darkened because Allyson hurriedly tried to put the spoon back. "No!!!" I shouted. "Don't put that back." I grabbed it from her and looked around helplessly. There wasn't a single store employee in sight.

I set my peanut butter in the basket and slung it over one arm, holding the spoon out in front of me with the other. "Come on," I ordered. "Stay close to Mommy, please." I began to snake my way through the tight aisles and around the displays, intermittently shouting, "Come here NOW, Allyson. Put that back, Allyson. No, we don't need that, Allyson!"

I tried to ignore the raised eyebrows as other shoppers took in the bizarre sight of a crazed, rather shrewish woman wielding a big wooden spoon covered in drippy peanut butter. Finally I spotted a woman in a store smock in the floral department.

"Can you help me?" I asked, my cheeks flaming. "I think my daughter.... touched... this spoon (with her TONGUE, I added mentally). I need to give this to someone and get another spoon." To her credit, the woman didn't laugh--her lips didn't even twitch. But she apologetically informed me that she couldn't leave her post. She tried calling the whole goods department, but there was no answer, so she told me how to find the employees' area in that section.

Switching the basket to the other arm, I sighed heavily and headed back where I'd come from. That's when I looked down and saw a large smear of peanut butter on my pant leg. I didn't know whether to cry or laugh. "Come on, Allyson!" I said crossly. "No, don't touch that. Put that back."

I finally found someone in the employees' area and gratefully passed off the messy spoon. Then I drug my daughter back to the front of the store, where a checker in the express lane beckoned to me. I tried to let another woman go in front of me because she only had two items, and I was pretty sure I was over the limit, but the checker said, "No, you in the pink shirt. Come on up."

I set the basket down with a thud and smiled warmly at her while I tried to scrape the peanut butter off my leg with my fingernail. She told me it looked like my basket was getting too heavy for me, and that's why she'd called me up to her counter.

I figured what she really meant was that I looked like I was on the verge of a mental breakdown, but all I said was, "You know how it goes. I didn't get a cart because I thought I was only going to get a couple of things, but..."

"Yes," she agreed. She finished sacking my groceries and sent me on my way. Her little act of kindness was so heartening that there was almost a spring in my step despite the two heavy bags.

My mood quickly deflated in the parking lot, however. Halfway to the car, Allyson spotted a kid with a bright balloon. "We forgot to get a balloon!" she cried. "You said we could get a balloon."

"Oh, honey. Can't we just get one next time?" I pleaded.

When I saw the tears pooling in her eyes, I heaved a sigh and called out to the boy's father to ask where they'd gotten the balloon. Then I turned around and trudged resolutely back to the front entrance, where a kind man let Allyson pick her favorite color and then tied the string on her wrist.

When I'd finally strapped her into her car seat and dropped into my seat, I mentally reviewed all the annoying and embarrassing events that had occurred on our brief visit. What a disaster! It'll be a LONG time before I take Allyson back to Central Market, I concluded.

At that same moment, Allyson crowed, "That was so much fun, Mommy! I'm so happy I got a purple balloon!"

I smiled in spite of myself. These are the days I'll remember for the rest of my life!

I Can't Move Them a Inch!

When Allyson woke up and wandered downstairs this morning, she found me standing at the back door, praising God for the gorgeous snowflakes that had been steadily falling ever since I'd woken up.

"It's snowing!" she croaked in her morning voice.

"Yes! Isn't it beautiful? Now we need to eat breakfast and get dressed for the gym. When we get back, you can go out and play in the snow!"


At noon, I bundled Allyson up as best I could and sent her out to play in the snow with Lola. Since it so rarely snows down here, she doesn't have any proper snow gear, so I improvised a waterproof "slicker" out of a trash bag. She wore her blue snow boats and Daddy's toque, but no gloves. I searched high and low in the two minutes before my weekly team phone conference was to begin, but they were nowhere to be found.

Before you laugh too hard about the trash bag, I want to state for the record that I got that idea from Bill, who did the same thing for Ethan on a snow day a few years back. I guess I cut the neck and arm holes too big, though, because it wasn't nearly as effective on Allyson as it had been on Ethan.

Ethan, February 2004

Allyson joyfully ran out to play while I watched through the window, thankful that my team meeting had given me an excuse not to go outside. (I do NOT deal well with the cold.) After only ten minutes or so, Allyson came back in and slammed the door. Leaning her back against the door, she panted, "I wanna come inside now. It's too cold out there!"

I smiled and nodded and helped her take off her coat. I didn't have the sense, however, to take off her boots, and I soon found out that ten minutes is plenty of time to muddy your feet. Allyson tracked mud all over the kitchen floor! I didn't bother to mop it because I figured Ethan would do the same thing when he got home from school in the afternoon.

When Bill got home at 4:00, it was (amazingly) still snowing heavily, and Allyson was ready to go back outside. This time, Bill was in charge of bundling her up, and he showed me how it should be done. She wore wool tights under her brown camouflage track pants, and she wore two shirts and two windbreakers. Over all of that she wore her bright red rain coat. Bill also managed to find her black hat in the back window of the car and her pink-striped knit gloves on the floor of our bedroom with all her other clothes. (We gave her changing table/dresser combo to Baby Charlie a couple of weeks ago and are still awaiting her new furniture.) He forced the damp blue boots back on her layered feet, and she was ready to go! With such a wild combination of colors, she looked only marginally less ridiculous than when I dressed her, but she was definitely much warmer.

She stayed out with Daddy for over an hour, helping him shovel the driveway and build a snowman while I made supper.

A little before 6:00, she hollered for me from the doorway to the garage. "I'm so c-c-cold!" she complained through white lips, which contrasted starkly with her rosy cheeks.

I peeled off all the sodden layers, starting at the bottom and working my way up. She winced when I took off the soaking wet gloves. "My hands are so cold I can't move them a inch!" she exclaimed. I held her icy red hands between my own for a moment, and then carried her upstairs to dress her in dry clothes and wrap her in a blanket.

Meanwhile, Ethan had been playing in the park for hours with all the neighborhood kids. He claims they built a snowman that was 11 feet tall, but he was a little fuzzy on the logistics of just how they managed that feat without a ladder. He'd planned to stay out another 30 minutes or so, but as soon as the sun started to go down, he couldn't bear the cold another minute; he called and asked me to pick him and Tin up, but Bill graciously (and grumpily) offered to go instead. He was probably afraid to see what might happen if I backed the car down our steep, slick driveway.

Ethan was half frozen, and his cheeks were crimson, but he was practically giddy with stories. It was a lively dinner, though there were long minutes of silence while Ethan, Tin, and Allyson attacked their spaghetti ravenously. I smiled with contentment while the fluffy flakes continued to drift gracefully down outside the kitchen windows.

It was the perfect snow day!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

When Will We Make Our Nest?

It's been so long that you've probably forgotten the rest of our love story, but here's the next chapter....

When Bill and I started dating, long before we made a serious commitment, I informed him that I'd really love an old-fashioned proposal if I ever got married again. I didn't want to pick out a ring together, go house shopping together, or even talk about a wedding. Instead, I envisioned a proposal that was a dramatic surprise.

The idea seemed wildly romantic at the time, but I'd forgotten one thing: I really, really hate to wait. And I despise uncertainty. You can imagine what happened. Bill moved down, and we enjoyed a normal dating relationship for a change. But six months passed, and then a year, and still we were just dating. I began to wonder just what was the holdup. How long did it take to figure out whether you wanted to spend your life with a person?

It took all my resolve, but I fought the urge to bring up marriage; I wanted to follow my own rules, after all. Just when my impatience was really mounting, I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

It was December of 2001, and Bill and I were flying up to Vancouver together before Christmas. We were about halfway through the four-hour flight, and I'd dozed off, nestled under Bill's sheltering arm. I woke with a start when the beverage cart came through, and then I stared through bleary eyes at my pretzels and Diet Coke.

Just as I lifted the cup to my lips, Bill said, "So when do you think we might get married?"

I choked on my drink. (I mean, I literally choked. I used to see that in movies and think it was just for dramatic effect, but now I knew that shock could do that to you.) As soon as I regained my power of speech, I sputtered, "Why? Is this a proposal?" I fought to keep my tone casual, but my heart was hammering against my ribs.

"No," he answered. "I just wondered what you thought."

"I don't know, maybe in the summer? What do you think?"

He wouldn't say what he thought, just said he wanted to "feel me out."

I was all nerves for the rest of the flight, but Bill was maddeningly calm.

I half expected a diamond for Christmas, but there was no proposal. I was torn between relief and disappointment--relieved because I feared another failed marriage, but disappointed nonetheless.

Just knowing that Bill was thinking of marriage helped ease the wait, but it also intensified the anticipation. With each holiday or special occasion, I geared up for the big moment. Valentines Day came and went, and my birthday was looming.

My birthday would really be the perfect setting. Both of us were traveling to Birmingham, Alabama, for training on a new software application. For a week, we'd be eating fancy dinners on the company dime, doing a bit of sightseeing in a beautiful locale, and of course doing a little work, too. For good luck, I packed the blue sundress I'd worn on our first date in Chicago.

We had a lovely steak dinner on my birthday, with some conversation that was mostly enjoyable, though my palms were clammy and my hands were shaky. When we headed back to the hotel, however, my ring finger was still bare.

That Saturday, we went canoeing on a deep blue lake, and then we went on a nature walk through the thick, lush woods that surrounded it. We enjoyed a picnic in the sun--and went back to the hotel with sunburns. Still, there was no ring.

On our last day there, we visited an art museum. While we sat outside waiting for the museum to open, Bill pointed out a bird building a nest. I took a deep breath and said, rather plaintively, "I wonder when we'll make our nest."

He replied, "I thought we were already building a nest."

"Yes, but when will we be moving into the nest? Summer? Fall? Winter?"

"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise," Bill answered. Then he said he'd have to wait six more months now so that the proposal could be unexpected. Argh!!!

More Waiting
Several more months passed, and I continued to wonder about our future. I poured out my frustrations in my journal:

Monday 6/17/02
I've been feeling a little insecure again. I'm wondering when he'll propose and when we'll get married. The summer is HERE, and we're not even engaged yet. I feel a little rejected. I don't know why he's waiting so long.

If he doesn't feel ready, then I don't want him to rush. I just don't like this not knowing. Help me be patient, Lord.... I want your will for my life. I surrender my future into your hands. Help me leave it there. I'm tired of trying to figure it out....

Tuesday 7/16/02
I want to be that sort of wife, Lord [the virtuous woman, from Psalm 31]. Please prepare me for the future. I put my hopes and doubts in your hands. Let your will be done concerning my prospective marriage, and let it be done in your perfect time. Help me to learn and grow and just enjoy this process....

Thursday 9/5/02
I feel frustrated because I hate not knowing. I guess I can wait another year to get married; I just wish I could KNOW how long the wait is. I think the Lord is teaching me something in this. It feels like the same lesson I was learning from waiting for the work Visa. I need to dig out my old journal and reread the verses God gave me then.

Here they are...
  • Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
  • Isaiah 26:3-4: "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the Rock eternal."
  • Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Thank you, Lord, for these verses! Help me learn the lesson. I put my trust and my hope in you. You are my hope, my peace, my joy. Let your will be done in my life. Thank you for your love and mercy!

I could have been frustrated that God was having to teach me the same lesson all over again, but instead I chose to be thankful. Just as had happened with the Visa the year before, once I'd learned the lesson, God gave me the desire of my heart. But that's another story.


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