Monday, June 25, 2012

Deeper Than We Can Understand

On Sunday morning I woke up early to spend some time with God and Lola on the back porch. I prayed for several minutes about the internal battle I've been struggling with the last couple of weeks, and I meditated on scriptures about how God's glory is being revealed through my suffering. I enjoyed sitting in the morning sun, eyes closed, listening to the birds--which always reminds me of how God takes care of me.

But on this particular morning, the pain in my heart wouldn't go away. It was there underneath everything, a heaviness, a dull aching.

"Why can't I feel your love this morning?" I asked. "Why won't you come to me like you did last week when I was awake during the storm?"

I heard nothing.

After a few more minutes of relaxing, I went inside to wake the family for church, and then I put on a pot of Cream of Wheat, Allyson's favorite. I had just poured the cereal into the boiling water when Allyson came down with her daddy.

"Mommy, I made a surprise for you!" she said. "Come and see."

"Just a minute, baby. I can't leave the Cream of Wheat right now."

"Please? I want to show you now."

I started to put her off again, but then I remembered the feeling I had on the swings last week, the realization that there is nothing more important than spending time with my family.

"Bill, will you stir this?" I asked. "I'm going up to see Allyson's surprise."

Beaming, she took my hand and led me up the stairs. At the top, she made me cover my eyes as she led me to the master bathroom. "Now you can open them, Mommy."

It took me a moment to spot the surprise, there among the sticky notes and snippets of paper that I'd been sticking to my mirror. Nearly every day I've been adding another scripture or encouraging word that God has given me through the Bible and through friends and family.

At the bottom, Allyson had added a sticky note of her own:

I was sobbing before I finished reading the note aloud: "God's love is higher and deeper and wider than we can understand."

I could tell from her crazy phonetic spelling that she had done this all on her own.

"Why did you do this?" I asked.

"I don't know, Mommy. It's a song we sing at church. I just wanted you to hear it."

"It was God who gave you this idea," I said as I folded her into a hug. I marveled at how she'd written a portion of my most precious memory passage, the one about being rooted and established in God's love.

Like a hundred other times when I have held her while she cried, she clung tightly to me, rubbing my back with tiny gentle hands.

I leaned my forehead against hers. "I love you so much, sweetheart."

She rubbed her nose against mine and we laughed.

All through the day I could feel God's love, and I saw signs everywhere. I cried all through the worship service because it seemed God had hand picked every song just for me. And the sermon! Every word of it was for me, right down to the pastor's "digressions."

Oh how He loves me.

Kisses From God
Speaking of Lola, I have to tell you a quick story. If you've been reading a really, really long time, you might remember the time God sent me a dolphin, or the time he told a horse to give me a kiss. Well, the other day he gave me some kisses I wasn't sure I wanted at first, but they really were sweet!

I was enjoying my morning quiet time while Lola ran around the yard chasing birds and barking at passing cars. Just as I closed my Bible, she came up to me and pushed her nose into my lap. I pushed her away once, twice, but she insisted on climbing right up onto my lap, gazing up at me with the adoring eyes she usually reserves for Bill.

"Okay, okay," I said, allowing her to put her heavy paws on my bare legs. She licked my chin ecstatically and looked straight into my eyes. "I love you," she said. "And so does God."

I smiled at her. "Thank you, Lola."

You know, I really do love that dog.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Like Nobody Else

As Father's Day approached this year, I knew I wanted to help Allyson shower Bill with gifts as she had done for me on Mother's Day. I wanted him to feel the same warm joy of knowing that your daughter thinks the world of you. The only problem was that I am not at all a craftsy person, and now that Allyson is out of school for the summer she didn't come home with crafts and cards ready made for Daddy. So I arranged with my friend Gentle to go over and make Father's Day crafts with her kids. But then Gentle got sick, so we were on our own.

The main craft Allyson wanted to make was a decorative cemented tile for the garden; she'd seen the idea in an art book. Bill had to gather all the supplies for us and tell me how to mix the mortar, which almost made Allyson give up on the idea as she had wanted it to be a surprise.

It was messy and fun, and we both enjoyed it. Following Bill's instructions, I added just enough water to make the mortar thick like peanut butter, and we slathered it over the back of a spare ceramic tile. We gathered smooth pebbles from around the base of the pool, and Allyson arranged them to say "I U".

She lovingly made him a card that said "A is for Allyson. That stands for love." And on the inside, she said:

She tried to throw that card away because she'd made a mistake on the other inside flap, and then she'd tried to cover it up and made a mess with glue and paper. "You can't throw this away, Allyson," I said. "Daddy will love it because you made it. It doesn't have to be perfect."

She also decorated a picture frame and we put her Kindergarten graduation picture in it. And then she signed the card she had bought when Nana and Grandpa were here for her birthday last week.

We served Bill one of his favorite meals, fettucini alfredo, in the dining room with sparkling cider in wine glasses. Even though he came home with a tummy ache from a greasy burger at lunch, he still ate our fettucini, and I loved him for that.

Watching him open his presents was such a sweet pleasure. I realized with joy that the old feelings of insecurity about Allyson being such a daddy's girl were gone. I am so thankful for the special bond they share.

I saved my gift for last, and I was nervous. Because he's been traveling more lately for work, I bought him a fancy laptop case. It was quite extravagant, and I was hesitant to buy it because Bill is a practical person and he already had a functional laptop case. But this case had his name written all over it.

He loved it! He examined it thoroughly, searching every pocket and flap. "It's so stylish," he said, and I flushed with pleasure.

In the morning, after he'd left for Arkansas (carrying the new laptop case), I went out in the backyard to take a picture of the tile, which he had set next to the one he and Allyson made for me last Mother's Day.

I wondered if I had truly appreciated all the work that went into that stone. And I looked at the garden behind the stones and felt a stab of regret at all the weeds that have overtaken our beloved family garden. I've neglected it this year, just like I have neglected many things that needed my attention. I realized in a moment how self-absorbed I've been, wrapped up in unimportant things like baking bread and making muffins and running all over creation instead of spending time with my family.

That's why when Allyson asked me to sit next to her on the swing, I said yes even though it felt like it was already approaching 90 degrees (32 Celsius) at only 10:30 in the morning. I sat on the swing next to her and closed my eyes, enjoying (briefly) the warmth of the sun settling over me like a blanket. I felt the fragile beauty of this life God has given me with startling sharpness, and it took my breath away.

Allyson came and sat in my lap. "I think we're too heavy," I warned, but I couldn't push her away. I snuggled her close and swayed in the swing, breathing in her familiar scent. And then... we started to fall, seemingly in slow motion. Down we went in a pile on the ground. The swing had split!

Thankfully, neither of us was hurt. We had a good laugh together. "Maybe this swing set needs to go," I said.

"No, I love this swing set. Daddy and Grandpa built it for me when I was two. And even Ethan helped."

The Garden
You know what's funny about the garden? Even though it's been sadly neglected, this year we are getting a bigger harvest than ever. There are lots of flowers, promising cantaloupes and cucumbers. Bill has picked green beans three times, and once we got over 20 of them!

May we reap a similar harvest in our family!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another Walmart Angel

I don't know what it is about Walmart. Remember when my friend Gentle encountered an angel in human form right after our friend Laura passed away? Well last night I met my own angel at the same Walmart.

After work I picked up Allyson and raced over to Walmart to pick up a few essentials before Bible study. I couldn't find some things, and Allyson had to go to the bathroom, and the wait at the deli counter was interminable. So by the time I hunted down the last item, some jalapeno chips for Bill, I was beyond frazzled. 

It has been a hard week as I've been letting go of some things that stand between me and God. I've lost some sleep, and that has been a good thing because I've had some really amazing times of intimacy with God during those wee hours of the night. But last night in the chip aisle, those old doubts began needling me. It's all your imagination. God isn't real. This is all there is. 

"God, help me," I prayed silently. "I can't question my faith right now. I just can't." I heard nothing, felt nothing.

I pulled Allyson's hand and propelled her toward the front, past all the beguiling candies and cereals and toys. "We've got to hurry or we'll be late for Bible study," I reminded her. After a 10-minute wait at one of the "express" lanes, we finally headed out to the car--just 15 minutes before I needed to leave for church. 

I'd just strapped Allyson into her car seat and was climbing into the car when I heard a woman's voice behind me. I turned and saw a blonde-haired woman idling behind my car in a van, with beaded jewelry in her hand. 

I sighed and braced myself for another sob story. I forced myself to smile, but my arms were crossed. She told me she was a single mom of three children, and she had no job but was supporting her family by making jewelry. 

I figured she was probably lying, but I felt a tug anyway. Give. 

I pulled out a five and handed it to her. "I'm afraid I don't have time to pick out some earrings," I said. 

Her smile was dazzling. "May God bless you double for what you've done," she said with an intensity I've never heard before. 

My eyes filled with tears. "I need that blessing today," I said.

And right there in the Walmart parking lot, with the heat of her van's exhaust hitting my ankles, this stranger quoted scripture after scripture to me. She didn't just quote scriptures, she proclaimed them with ecstasy. "God is your rock. Your fortress. Your strength. He's your deliverer, your comforter, your provider. He shelters you under his wings. He protects you on every side."

Although she knew nothing of the doubts I've been grappling with, she gave me the key. "Immerse yourself in the Word," she said. "Pray the scriptures. Say it out loud: 'No weapon formed against me will prosper.'"

Tears slipped down my cheeks. "Thank you, thank you," I kept repeating. "Thank you for being bold enough to talk to a stranger this way." 

She told me a little of her story and how she had come to this boldness because God had been so good to her. I could see in her face that she had had a hard life, yet there was a softness and a light in her. For the second time in my life, I wondered if God might have actually sent me a real angel. I have no doubt she was a messenger. Whoever she was, this Rhonda who sells handmade jewelry, she was an angel to me last night. 

Oh how He loves me!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Most Outstanding

Last week Ethan went to a percussion camp at a nearby university, from Monday to Thursday. He got to stay in a dorm, which was a great experience for him. I'm hoping that will inspire him to make goals about going to college one day. He had a great time and made a couple of friends. 

On Thursday all ten ensembles, each a complete drum line, performed for their families sitting up in the blazing hot bleachers. Ethan was center snare for his ensemble, which means he set the pace for everyone else. For two minutes I was back in high school, feeling the boom of the bass drum in my chest as we paraded through the tunnel between the gym and the main building. 

I thought they were just perfect, but he informed me later that it was a dirty performance, which I suppose means it was not clean. 

After the ensembles played, they gathered into one giant drum line of about 200 players. Even from the top of the bleachers, where we were huddled in a patch of afternoon shade, the noise was deafening. I had never heard such a large percussion group, and it was pretty amazing. 

But the best part was when they handed out the awards. Guess who got Most Outstanding Snare in his section? Yes, that's right. It was my boy. I must have screamed really loudly because a man from a couple rows up congratulated us on the way out. 

I wish I had taken a picture of Ethan's grin when we met him down on the field. Instead, you'll have to settle for a video of his ensemble...

We decided to go out to eat to celebrate. "Can we go to Subway?" Ethan asked.

"Subway?" Bill repeated incredulously. "Don't you want something better?"

"Yay! Subway!" Allyson seconded.

So we feasted on submarine sandwiches. I'm glad those two can agree on something. And all of us agreed that we were pretty proud of Ethan. Allyson's been telling everyone we meet about her brother's first percussion trophy. I'm glad she does, because it's a lot cuter coming from a 6-year-old.


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