She was sipping on a blend of passion tea and lemonade, making slightly sour expressions after every sip. She wanted it sweetened and she wasn’t going to let me forget that my saying no meant she had to pucker. I had moved the comfy chairs so we were facing each other with our knees touching. We broke the conversation for a moment to watch the “baby” birds hop along edges of the concrete patio. I said they were probably looking for worms since it had rained. She told me about seeing worms in the street one time. One of the little birds got a thin strip of plastic in its mouth and flew off. “I bet she’s making a nest! Can we look for it before we leave?” I said we could certainly try. The last little bird landing on the railing. She kept pointing to show me where but I couldn’t see it through the mesh window covering. I finally stooped down so my eye was aligned with her pointing index finger. “See?!?! He’s staring right at me!”
For the first time in at least a week, the smile that flashed across her face was a true smile. Her nose crinkled, her top teeth exposed, her dark eyes danced for a moment.
All at once my heart was crushed between the youthful joy of that expression and the weightiness of the sheer number of days I’d gone without seeing it. Not more than a second elapsed before I was caught in the middle of two other thoughts that pierced my heart. She looks so little. She’s lost two teeth so far. One spot is still completely empty and the other spot has an adult tooth pushing it’s way through. As soon as her face turned away from the window and back to me, we both were transported back into the conversation. The sparkles were gone from her eyes, her shoulders sagged, she took a hard breath in. That’s when thought number two about took me out. I’m having this conversation with a kindergartener. I too sucked in a hard, jagged lungful of air.
Friday evening we met up with my friends for a quick dinner before a church gathering sans kiddos. We were all tired from a long week, but excited to be together and curious to hear from the speaker everyone had been buzzing about. I have made up my mind to never, ever, EVER google someone before I have the chance to form my own opinion. I probably should have made that vow years ago. I was glad to have stuck to my new rule but there’s nothing as nerve wracking as inviting friends to hear a speaker you know almost nothing about. Let’s call it adventurous.
As it turned out, the minister was very likable and interesting. Some things he shared I am still not sure what to think of but I have no doubt of his sincerity and integrity. You can smell that on people…even from the back row of a large room when you are one of many in an audience. He shared from his heart about his experiences in ministry and following Jesus. I was on the edge of my seat. I kept having the same thought over and over. Even if none of this were true, I should want it to be. He interjected a ton of somewhat related stories, his age telling only in his lack of filter.
My mom has four brothers, three who are older than she. One of her brothers used to gather up all the cousins and tell us wild stories about his travels. A favorite was the story about the time he wrestled an alligator. To this day I can’t verify if that story is a complete lie, the honest to God truth, or somewhere in the middle where legends tend to take up residence. Friday evening for me felt a little akin to those times we were crouched around our uncle, devouring the words as quickly as he could get them out of his mouth. It felt like a huge gathering of cousins, eager to hear from our favorite, warm, loose lipped uncle. I loved it.
Even if none of this is true, I should want it to be, I thought to myself on the way home. After all, Uncle Denny is the alligator wrestling type.
I left the church around 11pm with my cousin and his wife in the car. Once we made it back to Logan county, we sat another two hours in the car discussing what it means that God is “sovereign” and whether or not God gives struggles to teach us lessons and ultimately how that impacts how we see Him. It was spirited in the great way that cousins can get spirited with each other out of love, knowing the family connections will hold all those different perspectives together in some kind of unexpected harmony. We both, he and I, can get pretty passionate in our discourse so I kept checking in with his sweet, quiet-by-comparison wife in the backseat to make sure she knew we were okay. Her laugh reminded me this probably wasn’t the first time she’d be an audience for this kind of a discussion.
When I got home and crept into the dark house, I couldn’t see anything but my next step. Still, I knew I was grinning from ear to ear. What a great evening I thought as I woke up my snoring husband on the couch and attempted to send him to bed. I hopped in the shower, changed into pajamas and tip toed down the stairs.
I stood on the bottom step for a couple of minutes before I located the sound. Then left behind mere attempts at waking David, screamed and shook him into the land of the conscious. “What? WHAT?” he asked, rubbing his eyes and trying to catch up. Once he was on his feet, he no longer to needed to ask. Underneath the half bath door, water was pouring out. I ran up the stairs, grabbed all of the towels out of the storage closet and threw them down on the ever growing puddle that was coming from a backed up toilet…. the second backed up toilet in less than five days.
Somewhere, someone must’ve been interceding for Adler’s two and a half year old life because he is still alive tonight. By Saturday evening the culprit had been located and removed from the plumbing. This time it was a baby spoon, the time before it was a pair of blue sunglasses he decided to make go “bye bye” in the toilet.
In the big picture of life, pipes plugged with objects a toddler has put in them is pretty small potatoes. A couple hours of work, a snake like tools to push things through and a gross clean up job don’t stack up well against real tragedies. Still, spending an afternoon cleaning up toilet water and airing out the house isn’t the best way to begin a much needed, previously thought-to-be free Saturday.
I wanted to go back to the Saturday gathering but by the time I would’ve needed to leave, not enough was finished for me to justify leaving David with even half the kids. Sunday was off kilter by 8:30 in the morning and I ended up being an hour late to both the church gathering and our evening class. Pair that with the fact I had to leave early Sunday morning and you can imagine the slump I was in by the time we arrived home from class last night.
I had wanted badly to have that same Friday night experience all weekend. I wanted to sit on the edge of a seat every service, awestruck to the point of near unbelief. I wanted to discuss, even loudly and with great animation, with my friends. I wanted to be able to excitedly call my mom and tell her the miraculous stuff I had seen God do. Instead, we had a couple of conversations on Sunday where I was begging for perspective on parenting because I could feel I was *this* close to losing my cool.
I came home exhausted and I really wanted to sit and have an ugly cry on the couch but I was just too tired. I had wanted the weekend to go differently but I had felt even more like I needed the weekend to go differently. Beginning the Tuesday before, the week had gone from challenging but hopeful to unimaginably emotionally draining.
Parenting is hands on, hard work. Most of the time I feel like, failings and all, I have some grip on what I need to do or how I should handle issues that arise. But at the end of everyday last week, I felt buried under all of my not knowing. I can’t tell you how many times last week I prayed the prayer Anne Lamott made infamous:
“help me, help me, help me”
Today went better overall. I felt things shifting back to our new normal. We ate breakfast, worked through math and reading lessons, played, talked, and I broke up squabbles and answered the question “what is happening today, Mom?” five or a hundred times.
random aisde–> [[I resist the urge to go all Pinky and The Brain on them every time "What are we going to do today? The same thing we do every day- try to take over the world!" I would crack myself up, but the reference would be lost on my 6 and under crowd]]
The Starbucks pit stop after counseling tonight brought back the heaviness despite the good day. There are some things no one should ever have to discuss with a child but there we were in the thick of verbally processing those very things, saved only momentarily by birds outside the window. I felt that prayer on my lips again as I struggled to keep my face from appearing shocked or horrified or disgusted: “help me, help me, help me”. He did just that or I promise you, I wouldn’t still be in one piece.
That nasty spirit of heaviness is like a many layered wool coat that has rows of tiny eye hooks holding together each one. This week the already cumbersome prison of the coat got bogged down even further by the steady rain of circumstance. Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would come and give a garment of praise in exchange for that heaviness of heart. It is a darn good thing Jesus is the one giving and taking in that Word fulfilled because I’m not sure I could’ve taken off that soaked, sad, wool coat alone if I had a lifetime to do it.
Before we left the house this afternoon, I grabbed the new album I purchased for the kids on the recommendation of my sister. Its called “Rain for Roots: The Kingdom of Heaven is Like This”. We were somewhere between Marysville and home when Kacey asked me to turn up the music. That girl has a true ear for music. She can hear a song once or twice and have it down pat. She sang along, giggled a little at the words, not knowing the origin of their meaning.
apples don’t grow on pear trees/ apples don’t grow on pear trees/ apples don’t grow on pear trees/ no apples there it only grows pears
the heart is where the words of your mouth grow/ your mouth is where the thoughts of your heart go/Jesus, change our hearts to bear/ to bear good fruit
s’pose i glue an apple on a pear tree?/ no no no, no no no, no no/ s’pose i tape an orange on an oak tree?/no no no, no no no, no no/ s’pose i staple some cherries on a maple?/ no no no, no no no, no no
I giggled at her giggling. I couldn’t help but sing along. When I did, conviction came quickly to my heart.
While we were in the courtroom waiting for our friends and family to be ushered in for the final part of the final adoption hearing, the judge asked me the kind of question most people would think but not say. “Well, what’s the real prognosis..? I mean, I’ve read research and everything but what do you think? Will she be okay? I mean, what are the professionals telling you?” Knowing him well enough to assume his blunt question was actually coming from a caring heart, I hesitated only a moment before beginning to answer. I didn’t get a chance to answer though because our brief, abrupt conversation was quickly curtailed by the arrival of our excited guests and five adorable kids who had been waiting at the house all dressed up with their grandmas.
We almost never get to answer that question primarily because although we can read it on the faces of those we love, most of them have enough tact to leave the question in their eyebrows and not give it words.
Easter Sunday morning I read and reread 1 Corinthians 15. At the end of this letter to the church at Corinth, Paul argues the incredible importance of the risen Jesus:
“If Christ has not risen, then our preaching is in vain [it amounts to nothing] and your faith is devoid of truth and is fruitless (without effect, empty, imaginary and unfounded).” …
“If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is mere delusion [futile, fruitless] and you are still under the control and penalty of sin.”…
“If we who are abiding in Christ have hope only in this life and that is all, then we are of all people most miserable and to be pitied.”
You know, in verse 19 (last quote above), I don’t think Paul was necessarily saying “this life” meaning only earthly life verses heavenly life after death. Of course, it would be cause for pity if we went into the ground, dust to dust, and that was the end. But (THANK GOD) our eternal lives don’t begin with physical death. While we are outwardly waning, inwardly we are being made anew. If that was not true, then I can’t think of a better label than miserable. Even if we got to go to heaven after death, living here with just the physical, nature world would be torture. I find my prayer tonight morphing from “help, help, help” to “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I know the answer I would like to give the judge and the others who have wanted to ask but weren’t as brave:
Don’t pity her.
Don’t look at her with eyes that say faith is weak and fruitless against certain wounds.
Don’t act like she’s a prison of anyone’s sin.
She’s not a prisoner and faith in the work of Jesus is not powerless.
Why? Because there are no if, ands or buts about it. Christ did rise from the dead. And having beaten death, He emerged as The First conquerer, carving out a path for the many who would walk in his footsteps of mercy into the very same victory. We all came into sin thanks to Adam and we all have access to that inner life thanks to Jesus. Death was the final enemy that needed to be subdued and Jesus did that for all of humanity. He paid the price so in Him we could be made alive.
I love the vision Ezekiel had when God led him into a valley teeming with bones. He walked among the dismantled skeletal remains, noting they were “very dry”. God asks the prophet this haunting question, “can these bones live?” When Ezekiel wisely responds “only you know, Lord”, God tells him to speak to the bones and say that life was indeed coming. Ezekiel spoke the words God had put in his mouth and the with great shaking and trembling and thundering, those very dry bones came together. Sinews and flesh grew over the bones and then with another command of God, breath and life came into the beings and they got on their feet an army of whole, living men.
Because Jesus defeated our biggest foe and set it under our feet, we would be wise to believe God can cause abundant life to come from the driest of deaths. We would be wiser still to expect it of Him.
As I sang “apples don’t grow on pear trees” the conviction that came to me was simple. I had been saying the wrong things in my head all week. The thoughts of my heart had grown and become like cancerous deposits on my tongue, poisoning my every word. With every act of defiance or situation flooded with emotion or the revelation of more hurt, I had confessed the wrong words. You just can’t glue apples on pear trees . You can’t get a true response if your heart has been soaking in a lie.
So tonight I am reminding myself of the truth. The world has a dark, evil prince who goes about devouring what he can and leaving in his wake death, hope robbed, and rubble. That is true. And there would be very good reason to suffocate under the heaviness of that wool coat if Christ had only come and lived a nice, kind life only to die..dust to dust. But Jesus didn’t come to be a pattern or example, He came to put things back in order, to set everything right, to make all things new. He came, restrained Himself to live as a man, and demonstrated the unflappable mightiness of humanity rightly related to a Holy God. He rose and he put every make and model of death under His authority. And then, He shared that authority with those of us who would be bold enough to grab hold of it.
The words of Isaiah 61, then prophesying about the One who would come, translate well to the purpose and reality of who we are made alive in Christ:
We are to preach the good news, bind of the brokenhearted, set free prisoners, proclaim the favor of God, comfort those in mourning, and exchange ashes for beauty and mourning for gladness and heaviness for praise. We are to do the Lord’s planting and marvel at the vulnerable saplings transformed into immovable oaks. We should see all around us old wounds rebuilt, devastation reimagined, generations of destruction redeemed, possession recovered, oppression kicked out, shame replaced with a double portion of favor, and joy where humiliation once reigned… everlasting joy!
By the time we were had repeated the happy, bouncy little song twice and got to the end part about how you can’t glue, tape or staple fruit to the wrong tree (.. no no no, no no no, no no) that wet wool was no longer constricting my lungs and praise was coming out of my mouth, the expressive praise that the Word says has so much power. We sang and giggled and I watched her in the rearview mirror. The real smile was back on her face and despite the facts of the past, I am further convinced tonight that God is eager to bring life and perfect wholeness to all of His creation, including the beautiful pearl in the making I have the honor of mothering. And this apple tree is going to say it and say it and say it until apple blossoms are budding all over.
It is true that God is eager to restore but even if it wasn’t, I should want it to be. And anyway I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that God is the making-everything-new-defying-the-odds type.