Sunday, November 01, 2009

Oh, no… OH, NOOOOO! I lost my earring! Screamed my suddenly fully awake Sleeping Beauty as she checked her ears and the rest of her body for the missing accessory to her Halloween costume. It was dark. It was late. There was no way we could retrace our steps and find it. I quickly jumped on my always ready pulpit, and started preaching my favorite I-told-you-so sermon while screams and wailings utterly unrelated to the season-appropriate ghosts and goblins pierced the darkness around us.

If you don’t stop right now, we are done with trick-or-treating and we are going home right now!
I comforted my distraught daughter, scanning the surrounding for the lost object, just in case. The fun of the evening was over and we trotted back – a conflicted Mother, a forlorn damsel in distress and her frustrated brother for whom the night was still young and whose feverish brain was hoping to increase the sweet loot by canvassing our own street, which in the past had produced a greater harvest of candy than the rest of the neighborhood combined.

After I dropped the kids off, leaving the emotional clean-up to my husband, I grabbed a flashlight and in hope against hope went back, in search for the gaudy piece of junk.

Aaah, the things we do for our children… I muttered. But, this may be a good lesson… maybe she can finally learn to listen to me when I tell her something… or a lesson about safekeeping… or, even a lesson about the joy of finding something that was lost! Aaaah - THAT would be a good lesson… now, if only God would help me find the darn thing...

I slowly followed the beam of light from the flashlight, back and forth, back and forth… All the trick-or-treaters were gone, probably joining in the communal overdosing on sugar that night. After a while, I finally gave up and returned home.

Any luck?

Nope. Nothing.

It was very late. We quickly put the pajamas on and brushed our teeth, and I was just about to send the kids to bed with a quick prayer when a sweet, soft voice pleaded,

May I have a bedtime story? From the Bible?

I shook my head, too tired for a bedtime story. The emotional roller-coaster of the evening has taken its toll.


I agreed. Go and pick a story.

A SHORT one! I added.

She got her Bible and started flipping through the pages until she found the chapter titled, The Saddest Day.

That’s a very good choice of reading, hon. When we are sad, this is a good story to remember.

I know, Mom. This is why I picked it. I was very sad. And you were sad because I was sad.

I looked up surprised at her reading of my reaction that night. I certainly wouldn’t have given myself The Most Compassionate Parent of the Year award.

And God was sad THAT day. He understands sadness better than anyone else.

She leaned into me as we read the familiar story of betrayal, rejection and ultimate loss. I closed the book and looked into her eyes.

You feel better now?

She nodded her head. We wrapped the evening up in a prayer and crawled into beds.

You were right about a lesson there, you know…

No, I wasn’t right – I was WRONG!

Well, yes, of course - you were wrong about the KIND of lesson. But there was a lesson there… and I AM teaching My Daughter and your daughter about finding strength and comfort in My Word… and My Presence. And that lesson, as you know, My dear child, is better than making her fleetingly happy by giving her back the pretty pink plastic she thinks she so desperately needs…

Saturday, October 10, 2009

So, I glance at the headlines a couple of days ago and see that Obama won Nobel Peace Prize. The news seemed so outrageously hilarious that I didn’t even bother reading any further. At least not yet. The enormity of the decision of the Nobel Prize committee, of course, spawned the expected controversy which spilled into IN-boxes, blogs and Facebook pages. The audience was equally divided between the outrage and the encouragement.

What did he actually DO to deserve this prize?

Why can’t I get one if it is awarded for good intentions!

Common, give guy a chance to live up to it!

Being registered independent, I see both sides of the coin. I admit I scoffed and rolled my eyes, but part of me also understood the intent of the Nobel Prize committee in trying to encourage and promote peace, not just “reward” past accomplishments. Still, something inside me is repulsed by the seeming unfairness.

Until I think of something even more outrageous than Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Until I think of God awarding the unthinkable titles to the likes of you and me, such as, “child of God”, “holy”, “righteous”, “royal priesthood”, “children of light”, “people for God’s own possession” – to name just a few - all because I said my feeble “yes” to His Son?!!!! Now, that’s a cosmic-proportion outrage! Think of those poor angels after God made His nomination public.

What?!!! Are you kidding me? Those wormy greedy scum-balls?!!! Called “holy”, “children of… GOD”?!!! No way!

Excuse me, Your Majesty… but what exactly have THEY done to deserve such honor?

And so on and so forth…

Suddenly, Obama’s inexplicable award doesn’t seem as outrageous as at first. And, perhaps, his award may inspire a desire and a motivation in me to live more congruently with the prized names which my scandalous God has awarded me independent of any prior (and, after-the-fact, for that matter!) accomplishments on my part .

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mom, I know of one big boring chore we will need to do when we come home, chirped our six-year old daughter as we drove down I-75, on the last leg of our almost eight week, 8,000 mile long journey. We had enjoyed 5-star hospitality in many of your homes, got to exchange some hilarious, heart-stopping, unrepeatable stories which could fill several lifetimes and said more good-byes than we thought emotionally possible. I wasn’t quite mentally prepared to face the giants lying ahead.

What is it, hon?
I asked, scrolling through a long to-do list of big, boring chores lodged in the back of my mind, wondering to which one she might be referring.

We need to pull the weeds!

I chuckled at the responsible fore-thinking of my little gardener-in-the-making. My heart echoed her sentiment, shuddering at the notion of what may greet us when we step into our backyard. Out of respect for our neighbors we had hired somebody to take care of our front lawn while we were gone, but the back we entrusted entirely into the care of Mother Nature, which has a way of going a bit out of control, especially during the hot, wet Florida summer. In the past, it would take me weeks, even months to reign in the wild. I saw no reason why this year would be any different.

Our worst fears were confirmed later that night, as we peered into the weed infested wasteland mercifully veiled by darkness. A full and accurate assessment would have to wait until the next morning, but I already knew what I was going to see: every garden boundary disregarded; the weeds and the cultivated plants entangled in an unholy embrace; the flowerbed overachievers sprawled all over the disheveled lawn and across the sagging fence into our neighbor’s yard.

I braced myself for impact as I slowly opened the drapes to our sun-drenched windows the following morning. What happened next took me completely by surprise. It might have been my rock-bottom expectations, or a few years of dirt-digging experience, or just getting older and maybe a little wiser, but instead of a moan of exasperation at the sight of the jungle that met my eyes, my heart skipped in delight as I was greeted by several beautifully matured plants which earlier this year I had planted as tiny babies in a new flower bed stretched outside our bedroom window.

My, my… look at you… Look at YOU! See how much you’ve grown since we left!
I affectionately muttered to the beaming flowers, suddenly blind to the mess of weeds and deaf to the fact that I was actually talking to the plants! I quickly threw on my gardening gear, eager to reclaim this small plot of land, re-establish its obscured borders, free it from all intruders so the plants could show themselves off in all their glory. This wasn’t a ‘big boring chore’ - it was an energizing exercise of loving authority, which yielded amazing results by the end of the day!

Then, as it happens in many a garden story, a mirror appeared, revealing another, frequently overlooked reality. I stop to ponder how often my heart gets paralyzed by the inevitable, indomitable weeds of life. Everywhere I look I see a tangled mess of good and bad - messy people, messy families, messy churches, messy governments. The boundaries trampled as much by thriving overachievers as by out-of-control weeds. My paralysis, then, turns into a zealous impulse to go at it – hack it down, mow it over - the good and the bad, the honeysuckle with the crabgrass. I want a quick-fix, simple black-and-white outline to follow. While all along there is another Voice calling. His way is patient waiting, gentle endurance so He can slowly, carefully train my eye and heart to see what He sees…as He sees. A gracious invitation to humbly join Him in His work of planting and nurturing towards maturity the tender heavenly plants His loving hand has placed along my path. Resting my soul in the confident knowledge that He will take care of the weeds, fully and completely, when the harvest finally arrives.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Yesterday we went to a birthday party and the kids had a blast (the pool being one big draw and the water balloon fight coming right after it!). All this fun made our sleep time considerably shorter than usual and the ripple effect of such late-night partying was felt throughout the family well into today’s afternoon. Our daughter was particularly on edge, her attitude hovering between grizzly bear approachability and paper-thin patience, especially towards her brother, whose reaction to being overly tired makes him exceptionally excitable and annoying, especially in relation to his sister. It didn’t take long before the keg of gunpowder and the match collided resulting into a World War I worthy explosion.

You need to change your attitude! Preached our seven-year old minister of condemnation at the top of his lungs into his sister’s ear.

I can’t change my attitude! Only God can change my attitude!
screamed my daughter back.

I decided it was time to intervene, so I walked out of the kitchen into the living room, sat in our lazy boy chair and propped up my legs.

Come. I said to my daughter, who was convulsing on the floor in a fit of out-of-control emotionality.

She briefly looked at me and then redoubled her screaming effort.

Come to me. I repeated quietly.

Why? She asked between the sobs.

Just to be with me. I responded gently.

I am already with somebody. She snorted, clutching her recently acquired stuffed penguin.

That’s O.K. Bring the penguin with you. Just come.

If I come, you will want to talk to me about my bad attitude!

I chuckled inside, thinking of all the sermons I have preached to my exhausted children, and shook my head.

No, I won’t talk about your attitude. I just want you to come and be with me.

I’ll come when I am done eating, chirped her older brother.

By this time the screaming has stopped, and slowly, suspiciously my daughter got on her feet and came. She crawled into my lap and I held her, and we just sat there… without a word… for quite a while. Bit by bit, her tense little body relaxed and her grip on the penguin loosened considerably. As we sat there, I thought of all the times when the same invitation has been extended to me, and the same excuses I offered to God – I don’t really need You, I already have my comforter – impotent though it may be; and I know You will ask me to give it up, and I don’t really want to; and I already know what You are going to tell me – that I am bad, bad, bad – and I don’t need to hear that because I already know that myself, all too well… All the while the Father keeps shaking His head and saying, Just come, My child, just come to Me… I love you… I want to hold you… I see beyond the madness and the screaming, beyond the addiction and bondage… beyond the badness and fatigue… Just come to Me… as you are… and find rest in My arms…
We’ve just returned home from church and the kids immediately engaged in their usual bickering, fighting and whining about their pitiful, deprived existence.

Hey, hey there! I yelled several notches above their current decibel level. What did they teach you in Sunday School today? I asked wondering if there might be a bridge I can create between Sunday morning lesson and Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday) afternoon application.

Our seven-year old, already know-it-all son shrugged indifferently. We were just talking about Moses. The times past, you know.

Times past, huh? So, what did you learn about Moses? I probed further.

Hmmm… we just talked about the time when they got really hungry, you know the story… his voice trailed off.

And? What did they do? Now, I definitely wasn’t dropping the subject. Didn’t they complain? And weren’t they whining? And arguing with Moses?

Yes! Yes!
Both of our kids cried out in unison.

Well, it sure doesn’t sound like “time past” to me. It sounds just like what you guys are doing right here, right now.

Their jaws dropped together with their smug “been there, done that, already- know-all-this-stuff” veneer. The Word of God suddenly lost its musty odor of the dust-covered dead stuff of the past, and started living, breathing afresh among us. The God who WAS dropped into our living room as the One who IS today, and as I looked at my children I thought how we all may have a lot more in common with those shaggy old characters wearing long robes than we care to admit.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It was the eve of the big day – tomorrow was Wednesday, and our family was hosting a one-of-a-kind appreciation party in honor of Mrs Stackfleth, our daughter's Kindergarten teacher this year (she was also our son’s Kindergarten teacher last year). We considered it a special privileged to enjoy her vital role in our children’s and our family’s life during such important season. We valued her calm wisdom, her kind affection towards all of us and her miraculous ability to reformat the gray globby mass inside our children's heads into an amazingly responsive factory of reasoning, ideas, artistic expression, engineering design and more. All this was taking place as we weathered many real-life storms together and, not to be neglected, celebrated numerous victories. As I was tucking Caleb in, he said with a sigh,

Mom, I can’t wait until tomorrow, I am so excited.

I pulled the cover over him and thought of something,

I know… I am happy too. But I wanted to ask you something….Who would you rather have come for a visit, Mrs. Stackfleth or President Obama?

His eyes popped wide open sparkling with wondrous disbelief,

The Obamas are coming?!!!! Are they really coming?!!!

I laughed at his naivety and reckless trust in his mother’s social skills and influence without boundaries and shook my head,

No, the Obamas are not coming… I was just wondering who would you rather have for a visit, Mrs. Stackfleth or the President.

He sat in his bed and deliberated in his head for a moment, and then cautiously replied,

If it was Thursday, I would like the Obama family to come for a visit, but on Wednesday, I would rather have Mrs. Stackfleth.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Over the years of gardening I’ve learned to use some cool tools, like gasoline powered pruning shears, or self-propelled lawn-mower, or weed-whacker, or good, old shovel - the old-fashioned classics which my temperament turned quite infamous due to its outside-the-garden use. My recent favorite, an unlikely visitor from the silverware drawer – a double-edged knife has been of tremendous help, alongside its more traditional garage-housed friends, to subdue the piece of land allotted to my care and conform it to the design which for longest time existed only in my own head.

In addition to this, I had to learn to protect my body against the occupational hazards of gardening – I lather every inch of my exposed skin with SPF 45 or above sunscreen against the relentless Florida sun. I also discovered the hard way a necessity of wearing protective garments – a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, knee-high 100% cotton socks, sturdy tennis shoes, a baseball hat with large shade and last, but certainly not the least, a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves - even in blistering Florida summer. There is no question in anybody’s mind about my intentions when they see me dressed like this. Clearly, my concern here is not a fashion statement. I need to look like this, because I enjoy gardening, but over the years my body has developed allergies to select plants, sweat, dirt, fire-ant and various insect bites that made each of my extremities swell five-times its normal size at least once in the course of my on-job training as a gardener.

But, even with all the amazing tools at my disposal, and the protection I wear around like a NASA astronaut, I found that some weeds can only be rooted out of my garden one at a time, on my knees, with my bare hands as the dirt rushes under my fingernails while they sink below the surface and grab hold of the invisible root. Gardening is a dirty job and its joys are reserved for those who don’t mind being on their knees and getting dirty.

Is this what Jesus meant when He said, This kind goes only by prayer…and more prayer?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mom, why are you watering the weeds?!!!!

My 5-year-old daughter’s puzzler was in overdrive as she watched me standing with the garden hose near a small cleared-out patch of land in our back yard. I had just buried some squash, cantaloupe and zucchini seeds and was giving them a good soaking. The seeds, of course, were invisible, since they were covered by the dirt, but what my little gardener-in-the-making could see were hundreds of tiny ears of weeds springing up all over our vegetable garden.

As I opened my mouth ready to launch into a lengthy explanation, my heart pounced, as if instantly transformed into all ears. I halted the launch, allowing the moment to reverberate through my whole being.

That’s a very good question, honey…

I said buying some time as my own puzzler scrambled for answers. Countless times I have stood before God asking the same question.

God, why are You watering the weeds?!!!! Why do You tolerate all this evil and let it sprout and grow, thrive and take over? Moreover, why have You left this arrogant, stubborn, independent bent in me that seem to thwart all my efforts to obey You and ruins everything it touches?!!! What kind of Gardener are You?!!

I slowly turned to those big brown eyes waiting for my answer and with fresh awareness I gently assured her,

In due time, we’ll take care of the weeds, honey… In due time…

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Maybe it is the body posture that sets gardening apart from most other activities. When I work in the garden, I am usually on my knees, immersed in dirt. It’s a posture of submission and dependence. Kneeling willingly doesn’t leave much room for arrogance and defiance. With most other occupations, the dirty part of the job is not quite as obvious as with gardening. Most doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, poets, missionaries, pastors and politicians don’t accumulate the dark-brown substance under their fingernails. This is quite deceptive, because their work is as strenuous and exhausting, as much “a shot in the dark” and grasping at the wind as sowing and planting, watering and weeding. But the dirt under my fingernails and my aching knees are a tangible reminder of who I am, where I came from and where I am going and how those destinies intersect today, in this small plot of land I call our back yard.

There is a profound sense of powerlessness and dependence in being a gardener. No gardener ever caused anything to grow. Growth is a mysterious process which happens hidden from the naked eye of a casual observer or even an devoted gardener. Gardener must submit to the cosmic transitions which produce seasons of death, dormancy, vigorous growth, pruning, flowering, coming to fruition, harvesting, attrition and death… and again… and again… Gardener must work when it’s time to work and rest when it’s time to rest. He is guided by the impeccable internal clock of the nature that opens widows and then closes them up. The widow is not a dot on the line, a tick of the clock but a period that allows us to align ourselves with the opportunity presented and consequently live life to the fullest. This is true not only of gardening but of life and relationships too. The gracious providence continually invites us to enter through the windows it opens, to savor his rest, to lean into the wind and hear it call our name… But, not everyone hears, and those that do are often discouraged and distracted by the incessant noise pulling our attention in all other directions. No wonder our lives are haphazard and void of meaning, a frog-jump from one lily pad of activity onto the next.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Trapped in maze of cobwebs,
Entangled from within,
Haunted by the ghosts of past,
Hope is growing dim.

Silence echoes
With deafening cries,
All is darkness
Of swarming lies.

Held by cords of hatred,
Breathing its deceit,
My soul has turned to ashes,
Nothingness of pit.

Roaming madness
Captured my heart,
Am I alone
In this dreadful night?

The cross is standing silent,
Against the stormy skies,
A form in tortured anguish,
Yielded, "It's finished!", cries.

Lord of Glory,
Son of my Shame,
How dared my heart
Despise Your Name?

Sudden wind descended,
With fiery, cleansing breath,
Dross and ashes of my soul,
Lifted from the hearth.

Voice of Thunder,
Speak the rain,
My parched lips
Thirst for You again.

Beneath the dross and ashes,
A thread of glistening light,
Reflecting Your expression,
Of joy and pure delight.

Washed afresh,
I see Your face,
Etching Your image
Through my disgrace.

In darkness and confusion,
Of soul's uncanny ways,
It's hard to grasp His wisdom
And see His loving hands.

The battle now is over,
My heart enjoys its rest,
'Till once again the darkness comes,
And urges holy quest.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lately God seems to have taken a particular liking in speaking to me only by echoing my own voice. At first, I didn’t mind - actually it was kind of cute. Almost fun. I'd say I took it as a compliment. Few weeks ago, for example, Caleb was putting together a jumbo crane built out of Brio blocks, and the structure was way too big and kept leaning to one side or the other, and eventually falling altogether. Needless to say, he was getting frustrated and it WAS showing! I looked at the crane and said to him, Your structure is way too big for your foundation, honey! If your structure is wobbly and falling apart, that means you need to focus on strengthening the foundation. You need to stabilize it by making your foundation more sturdy. I have barely finished speaking to Caleb when a little echo rung in my ear,

Your structure is way too big for your foundation, honey! If your structure is wobbly and falling apart, that means you need to focus on strengthening the foundation. You need to stabilize it by making your foundation more sturdy.

I thought of my propensity towards overreaching, overstretching… Overachieving?!!!!! The crabbiness and the utmost exhaustion with which I greet our bed every night… yes, I would say that my structure is wobbly and in parts it IS falling apart. It is true, I do need to focus on the foundation... I should make it sturdy again…

These little echoes continued for weeks… After awhile I started wondering if He has nothing new to say… This repetition business started getting on my nerves, annoying my ability to listen out of me. Yesterday morning, for example, the kids got distracted with toys and were not ready for school when it was just about time to leave. I told them that we need to leave immediately, which sent our Oscar-winner-in-the-making drama queen into a fit of frenzied panic. I responded in the like manner. YOU FREAKING OUT OVER NOT BEING READY IS NOT GOING TO GET US TO SCHOOL ANY SOONER! Then, far, far in the back in my mind where I can barely hear, this sweet, soft voice was repeating the same,

You freaking out over not being ready is not going to get us to school any sooner.

I don’t want to hear this anymore! I barked. Why do You keep repeating these things to me all the time?!!!!

The answer came in the most appropriate way imaginable, out of the mouth of my know-it-all seven year old son. I was engaged in my broken-record instructional exercises I deem my sacred parental right and responsibility (some people call it nagging), when he barked at me, Why do you keep repeating these things to me all the time?!!!

Because,… I stopped, and with new awareness proceeded to finish softly, … because you are not listening to me. You may hear me with your ears, but you are not doing what I am telling you to do. This is why I have to repeat and keep repeating – until you learn to actually do what I am telling you to do. Hearing is not the same as doing. It is the doing of my words that makes the difference.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No, I want to EARN my after-dinner candy, announced our 7-year old, Cross-the-‘T’s, Dot-the-‘I’s son. I stared at him bewildered.

Why on earth would you want to ‘earn’ your candy when you can just have it?!!! I responded.

No, but I want to earn it. And here’s the to-do list I created! He showed me a piece of paper divided by lines, indicating the days of the week and the chore of the day he needs to fulfill in order to earn his candy. On Tuesdays he had to Clean out the Plates; the Wednesday chore was Put Away the Salad Bowl. I chuckled at his meticulous nitpicking of the clean-up process and wondered where in the world he got this ridiculous idea.

Ordinarily our after-dinner clean-up procedure involves all family members and we all do whatever we can to clear the table as efficiently as possible so we can quickly get to the most important part of the meal - the dessert! There are no assigned jobs per se, no lists of chores, no points, no awards. The dessert is always on the menu and has nothing to do with who does what. We work together and we enjoy the eclairs together. My desire has always been to raise children with a strong sense of belonging to and enjoyment of our family, empowered to do what they can in carrying the burden of running a household or living a life. I don’t necessarily need them to work for me, but working together increases the sense of belonging and comradery and it’s more fun. Love and pleasure are given and received freely. All this to say that ‘earning points’ runs deeply against my parenting (and I might add, life!) philosophy. I want to raise a son and a daughter, not a slave and a haggler.

However, since our haggler-in-the-making insisted on earning his desert, I decided to alter my approach and give him a to-do list in order to acquire his candy.

Alright then
, I started slowly, You need to kiss me five times on my right cheek, twice on the tip on my nose and you must tickle my belly-button at least once in order to get your candy.

At the mention of the magic word belly-button, my daughter pounced out of her chair and proceeded to smooch my face with slobbery kisses and stuck her head under my shirt in search for my navel in order to tickle it with her little fingers. To say that she got the drift of what I was trying to do would be a sore understatement. My husband shook his head and rolled his eyes, and our son walked by us with dignified disgust, carrying his plate into the kitchen. He took the four plates off the table and stacked them carefully onto the counter, and when I pointed out that he’d left the dirty silverware, he pierced me with his eyes, icicles dripping out of his mouth,

Silverware is NOT on my list of chores for today, and walked away. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

How in the world did we end up raising a Pharisee?!!!

And then, a pause. And a peek into one of those redemptive windows into the Father’s soul.

I know, I often wonder the same about My own children.

It is beyond my comprehension why do I rather choose to stiff-lip, teeth-grit my way of earning my brownie points with God, than accept His free invitation to joy of smooching His face with kisses, knowing that my reward and my inheritance in Him is secure? What is it in me that would rather be a slave and a score-keeper than the Tickle Monster daughter of the King? Why would I rather miss out on the pleasure of intimate connection than surrender my meticulously dissected list of rules and regulations, refusing the invitation and resenting the party while scrupulously stacking my dirty plates?

In the time leading up to Incarnation, it was the Pharisees who knew the Word of God, who loved the Word of God, who took upon themselves to preserve and enforce the keeping of the Word of God because they had such keen appreciation of its unspeakable value and power. And yet, somewhere along the way, they, like us, started turning down an invitation after invitation to smooch and tickle, to rest and adore, to listen to the Voice as they pored over the Word on the parchment and slowly, imperceptibly the living, breathing, laughing, crying Word of God calcified into a monument of human religiosity, passing down spiritual arteriosclerosis onto all subsequent generations of the people of God. Following in their footsteps, we continue to divest the purpose of God of the Person of God and exploit His words to create a formula for micro-management of our petty universe. Our plates are clean, our silverware polished, our tablecloths ironed and all the napkins carefully placed in the napkin rings. But we forget that party is more than stacking the plates, and family is not about earning and scoring. We can be sooo close, close enough to hear the din of the party, the laughter and the noise and still miss Him altogether. And, yet, like in the story about two brothers, the Father still speaks to the generations of older brothers, Son, you have always been with Me, and all that is Mine is yours… Son… Son… Son…