Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wise Man

It was Christmas Eve and our little brick house in Iowa was warm with holiday cheer. A fire blazed. Sweet honey ham baked in the oven. The table was a bountiful sight – salads and breads and desserts with chocolaty swirls. Warm cider bubbled on the stovetop and the music was just right.

I’d been working all day.

Logan and Grant were small boys back then, and they pressed little hands against the living room window while they looked up the snowy lane and waited for my parents to arrive. When Nana and Papa finally pulled into the drive, the boys charged to the door. Mom and Dad came in on a hefty December gust, and they bent to hug each boy.

As I carried their coats to the closet, I glanced at the table. The place settings sparkled red and gold. Candles flickered in a welcoming way. A fresh Christmas centerpiece offered a lovely, deep green. We were in for a special evening.

But it didn’t go as I had planned.

“Logan, why are you so full of energy? Please settle down. We can’t hear the music.” In the next breath, “Grant, this isn’t the time for dancing. Still, quiet bodies.” The boys had gone wild with excitement and the evening seemed to roll out of control. “Lonny, please settle the children. It’s time for dinner.”

Lonny tried his best, but his efforts were without fruit. It wasn’t that the boys were disobedient. It was more like they just couldn’t put a cap on the excitement that bubbled in their souls. As I pulled the ham from the oven, they burst into a scene from their Sunday School Christmas program. When I called them to the table, they rushed toward their chairs in a rush of loud song.

My breaking point was when I found GI Joe on my chair, a slice of very nice cheese tethered to his back. I left the table and started to cry.

Dad found me in the kitchen. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me in. For a few minutes it was quiet. Then, in a tender, fatherly way, my dad spoke. “Shawnie, dinner is going to be lovely. I can see you’ve worked so hard. We all appreciate what you’ve done.”

I wiped a tear and smiled.

Dad continued. “Would it be okay,” he asked. “If I share something I’ve learned?”

I nodded.

“Darlin, sometimes the best memories happen when we don’t try so hard to create them” Dad squeezed me tight and whispered the last part in my ear.” Sometimes, if possible, we need to sit back, enjoy, and let God create the blessing.” Then he paused. After a moment he added, “and He will.”

I’ll never forget that evening. That moment in the kitchen with my Dad. And this year, when I plan and prepare and make things lovely (I just can’t find the off switch – it’s the way I am), I’ll remember to relax, enjoy, and let the Lord take the pressure off.

I’m sure He’ll bring the blessing. A wise man told me so.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Listening Heart

Lord, I’m frustrated. I teach and train and days like this make me stark raving mad. Help! Brotherly love? Out the window. First time obedience? Nowhere in sight. Our Scripture for the day was Romans 3:10 (there is none righteous, no, not one). The boys were downright surly and I was fast on my way.

We were driving home from my parents’ house (where we were the cause of a few grey hairs). The three little boys bickered in their seats.

“I want my marker,” said Zay.

“Well then give me the tablet,” said Gabe.

“I had it first!”

I jumped in, to troubleshoot, for the eight hundredth time that day.

After my speech about others-centered hearts, Gabe crossed his arms across his chest. “Well, I still just want my tablet.”

That summed it up. Day in a nutshell. The morning had begun with teenage trauma and the afternoon was winding down to a brotherly brawl over a red Mead spiral.

When we pulled into the drive, I tried to keep the agitation from my voice. “Now when we get inside, everyone find a quiet place. Alone. You’ll need to sit until we’re ready to be together again.”

The boys shot through the backdoor and dispersed. I tugged out of my coat and hung it on the oak rack.

That’s when I saw the surprise gift - a sampler, sitting beside my Bible, on Gabriel’s old-fashioned school desk. It was tea-stained muslin, in a black wooden frame, and the words in dark brown stitches hit me in the right place.

“What’s planted in the heart takes root in the soul.”

I was immediately uplifted. And I knew where the gift had come from. I’d recently shared my struggles with a friend. She had understood. And now God had used her to speak encouragement to my heart.

Of course the words were true. As moms, we plant and sow. Sometimes the sowing is tough because the fruit isn’t as evident as we’d like. But our efforts aren’t in vain. We turn our children over to the Lord and trust that His truth will become a deep, anchoring, life-nourishing root.

I was blessed, that day, to be encouraged in parenting. I was also blessed that God had heard my prayer. And isn’t it cool? The way that He intervened?

He used the listening heart of a friend.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pillow Talk

The note was simple. To the point. I found it under my pillow, first thing in the morning. It was written on lined paper, torn from a tablet, top edge feathered and frayed.

Dear Mom,

I am not feeling loved. No one has talked with me. For a long time.

Your Son, Samuel

P.S. Please do something about this.

Really? I blinked to clear my eyes. Then I read that note again.

I didn’t understand. We’d taken a family bike ride the day before. Up the river. Down the river. And we’d spent the evening in the pool floating on round, rubber tubes. How could Samuel feel neglected? We’d been hanging out all summer.

Later in the day, Sam was playing in the side yard. He had a short ladder propped against the tree. I walked over just as his hands were closing around the rungs.

“Hey, Sam,” I said. “Going for a climb?”

“Yep, Mom.”

“Can we talk? About the note?”


“Sam, we’re together all the time. But you feel that no one talks with you. Can you help me understand?”

Sam’s arms dropped to his sides. He stepped back, into a glint of summer sun. “It’s just, Mom, that I mean, just me. Just you. Talking.”

Oh. It began to make sense. Sam needed some one-on-one. To be pulled from the pack. But I worried about how to squeeze one more thing in. How to cover one more need. It’s tough, sometimes, with a big family.

“What would make you feel loved, Samuel? What can we do?”

“Um. We could, maybe take a walk?”

Sam and I did take that walk, after dinner, along the river. The air was heavy and still but conversation was lively and light. Sam was still young enough to take my hand. The time blessed us both.

And later that night, when the kids were settled in bed and Lonny slept quietly beside me, it was time for more one-on-one. This time, just God and me.
Lord, help me to meet the needs of all these boys. Give me the time and heart to listen. And please fill me with your Spirit, so I can take care of them.

And in the quiet of the night, I was peaceful. I knew He’d meet my needs. Because my pillow talk had been heard, too.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wonderfully Made

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

My eighteen-year-old son, Logan, has a favorite T-shirt. It’s fire engine red with a huge Sesame Street Elmo face. The shirt isn’t flattering. Or trendy. Elmo’s eyes, nearly the size of dinner plates, are cracked from frequent washings. But Logan loves the shirt. It was a gift from his little brother.

One afternoon, Logan and I stood in his bedroom and packed his clothing into grey, plastic totes. He was going to college. There were two stacks of T-shirts on his bed. The stay-at-home pile. And the go-to-school pile. I’d placed Elmo on the stay-home pile. His big eyes peeped up at us.

“You sure I shouldn’t take the Elmo shirt, Mom?” Logan asked.

“I’m sure,” I said over my shoulder as I plucked socks from his bureau drawer. “It’s time to spruce your wardrobe. You have nicer things to wear.” I wanted Logan to fit in. To be like everyone else. But then I stood to look at my son. My nearly-grown guy looked very young. And uncertain. “Pack the shirt,” I said.

Logan smiled.

A week later, my husband and I sat on a bench outside Logan’s dorm. It was Parent Orientation Weekend. We were waiting for Logan to return from breakfast following his first night on campus. After a moment, my cell phone rang. “I’m on the way,” Logan said. “Be there in a minute.”

I peered up the block. Through a mass of kids moving down the sidewalk, I saw the eyes. Huge, round Elmo eyes. Peeking out from the crowd. Making their way toward us.

I laughed out loud. Day one. Elmo shirt unveiled. That was just like my son. He knows what he likes and it’s okay if it’s different from everyone else.

“Looks like our boy’s on the way,” Lonny said.

“Yes,” I said. I watched Elmo and Logan come closer. I couldn’t keep from smiling. “I think he is.”

Thanks, Father, for hand-crafting our children. Help each of our sons to be comfortable with who you made him to be.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stories Passed Down

My dad clasped Gabriel’s hand in his. “This was the meadow where I used to play. And back there? A winding creek. My brothers and I once made a raft from an old door and a tire.”

Autumn had produced a fine day. Blue skies. Rich, gold color. Warm breeze. My boys and I were with my parents. We were at a new community park that had been built behind my dad’s childhood home.

“Can we go back there, Papa? Where you used to play?” Gabe asked. Then he turned to me. “Can we, Mama?”

“Sure,” I said.

Gabe grinned.

“Okay,” Dad said. “Let’s go.”

The two of them walked, hand-in-hand, down the sidewalk that encircled the swings and slides and climbing equipment. It wasn’t long before Zay and Samuel were at their heels. They knew that Dad would be full of boyhood stories, and they wanted to see and hear, too.

Logan, Mom, Grant, and I stayed back. We sat on a bench and began to talk about school and basketball practice and food from the college cafeteria. But I was distracted. I couldn’t help but watch Dad and the boys as they made their way across the field.

There was something precious in the moment. Something strong in the simple. Gabe walking. Dad talking.

Logan nudged me on the shoulder and smiled. “Are you listening, Mom?” he asked.

“Oh,” I said. I zipped my sweatshirt. The sun had dipped under a big, white could. “No. Sorry. What did you say?”

Logan filled me in on the conversation, but I’m not sure I heard. I wondered about the story being shared between Dad and my little boys. Was he telling them about the raft? Or the old stone fireplace that once stood in the field, long after the home that held it was gone? I couldn’t be sure.

But Dad was sharing. And the boys were listening. And when they all disappeared into a deep, green fringe of trees, they were unaware - completely unaware that in those sweet, simple moments, they were creating a story of their own.

Thanks, Lord, for my Dad. And thanks for my boys. And thanks for tender moments that will one day be sweet stories passed down.