Learning grace

I notice a perfect lip-shaped imprint on my water glass.  It is pink lip gloss, perhaps a color I would like but not when it wasn’t my lips that left it there.  I catch her eye and noting the lip gloss, I ask for another glass.  She apologizes profusely that she didn’t notice it and brings me a clean one.

My four year old tea-date and I order our drinks and tea accompaniments and we wait.  The fifty-something year old server is the only one in the tea house and she is spread thin.  I see beads of sweat on her forehead and I smile at her.  “It’s so hard to get good help” she tells me as she whisks by.

My little lady and I talk about tea manners and how to hold our cup and talk all things girl together.  A quite elderly lady walks slowly by, listening to the little girl banter across from my seat, she grins wide and whispers “I love this, this is too wonderful”.  I nod in agreement and keep listening to the sweet face across the table.  She won’t be four forever.  I won’t be her whole world like this for long.  I listen and I savor the minutes, the sweetness.

My coffee comes, fairly warm, and I try to wait for the hot cocoa to come so we can sip together.  But ten minutes pass and there is no cocoa.  I remind her that we did order it and she apologizes again that she forgot it.  I observe her righting mistakes all over the place, trying to keep up with an impossible pace.

Audrey tells me what she loves most about having a big sister, how lucky boys are because they get to be married to pretty girls someday and have lots of kids with them and how fun that is – she determines tea dates are fun and “we should do this again” she tells me.

Our bill comes and it’s wrong.  I gently note the errors and she goes back to rework it.  She returns and I put cash inside and she thanks me for understanding and I reply with words that come without thinking…

I live under so much grace, how could I not extend it to you?

I’ve never said it before or read it in a book but its a truth that sinking deep into my heart, that I’m holding tight to and learning how to live out in new ways.  She stops cold, wraps her perspiring self around me and hugs me, total stranger, so tight.  Thank you, oh thank you, I’m going to remember that.  I needed to hear that.  She tells me she’s sorry, again, that she’s too sweaty to hug and I just keep smiling.

It is the absolute truth to me, the daily grace of a living, real God that loves so fully, so infinitely.  I feel it covers over mistakes, hurts, misses and frustrated-mom-moments like today when someone shattered a snow globe in the kitchen and went running away instead of alerting me to the danger and then I had glass shards in my socks and…grace wasn’t a frontrunner just then.

I forget. Every day.

And every single day I get the chance, again, to pick up the mantle of grace and hold it over those around me.  Knowing full well, I don’t deserve it, neither do any of us.  That’s why it’s called grace.

A little bit of give…

It was the worst kind of day to go downtown to the big city.  Sideways sheeting rain/sleet, the last minute frenzy of holiday shoppers and the ever so tentative relationship with my GPS.

Construction met us at our destination and kids hushed knowing this was the hard part.  Having learned the hard way that our big van is too tall for nearly all parking garages, we searched for street parking.  Four trips around the block and we finally spied a 30 minute loading spot.  Perfect.

Each one grabbed their bag of men’s socks to donate to the shelter.  Kyler’s co-op class had collected them and our family volunteered to deliver them.  70 pairs of men’s socks.  When you have to walk around all day and some nights, your socks get pretty worn out I’d explained to them on our drive.  We hustled across the street in the pouring rain, rang the bell and noted that all the windows were covered with metal bars.

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The director (Rick, who is in the video on the link above) met us at the doorway, welcomed us in and thanked the kids for the socks.  He offered to show us around.  We walked through their kitchen where they prepare and provide meals every night for the homeless of Seattle.  He showed us the dispatch office where they work every night to match people with shelter.  Freezers full of donated food and Christmas gifts ready to be wrapped, socks, scarves and the most basic things.  And I just wasted an entire evening stressing and fretting over finding the right gift for someone for Christmas.  It seems so very meaningless now.

We walk upstairs and are overwhelmed with the smell of cigarette smoke.  I watch kid faces and no one says a word.  They tell me later “I had to breathe through my mouth mama, my nose was burning!”.  I would tell them I was proud they hadn’t been rude and had listened with respect.  He shows us a room where they offer long term housing for seniors, most of whom are coming out of homelessness.  We meet a sweet old man in their common dining room.  Their idea of housing is one small room not even the size of my daughters’ bedroom.  Shared bathroom and kitchen.

I catch myself so many times, the magnitude of the need is so great, the weight feels so heavy.  And the reality of life, of Christmas, as someone without even a bed to sleep on?  Truly, I can’t really even imagine what that feels like.  So instead of crying this time, I treasure that we got to be the ones to bring the socks.  That we could have a tiny part in warming cold, worn feet.

No matter who you are or what your resources, there is something EVERYONE can do to change their part of the world for good.  My sister saw a need and created a fantastic monthly event at her church, deemed it “Diapers and Donuts” and they provide diapers for mom’s with little ones and provide something even more vital, community, love.

If we all did the small things we were able to in the circles of life we walk in, I honestly (perhaps idealistically) think the world would be a different place.

We left the shelter and headed to our next stop and as we drove by the upscale trendy shops in the heart of the city, one exclaimed from the back of the van….”Oh look, they must be loading food boxes for Children of the Nations!” It was actually a box dropping off the latest merchandise for Macy’s.  Slightly cynical, I explained no, it was in fact not meals for starving children but more “stuff” that people were convinced they needed and they would likely spend the next few months paying for.  In their young minds, it made more sense that it was boxes of meal packets.

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I remember how I skipped my beloved coffee spot on the way to pack meals on Tuesday night, not because I’m awesome – I’m anything but, an absolute sinner every day, swimming in a sea of grace.  But because I was calculating in my head that at $.25 per meal, my cup of coffee could buy 16 meals to fill the bellies of kids who have NOTHING.

Socks, coffee….small things yes.  But the sum of all the small stuff, all the little things we think no ones notices or don’t matter?  It does.  It makes a difference for someone.

When Christmas is sad

It’s impossible not to feel a pang of guilt getting to wake up this morning, snuggle my kids on the couch and spend the morning making Christmas treat bags for our neighbors when there are parents planning funerals for their kids who are the same ages as these pajama-clad ones around my living room.  Impossible.

A decade or so ago I remember being twenty-something and pondering with a fairly light, optimistic heart that indeed Christmas must be sad for many but it surely was only joy for me.  I would think kind thoughts, do kind things and pray for those who must know sadness this time of year.  But the people I loved that were synonymous with holiday tradition, happy moments and love were all still alive….my parents weren’t divorced so I didn’t know what “splitting Christmas” or “trading off” looked like….I’d never truly gone without a basic need met.

As the years passed though, beloved grandparents died, friends dear to me had to navigate the challenges of broken families and so many different places to go every December to appease everyone, and our growing family made it just till payday on our food stamps balance more than once.

Then just a few years ago only 4 weeks after Christmas, Chris’ dad died on a hunting trip.  Our whole-family-Christmas photos were fresh from the photography studio and I was sure we had at least another decade or two of our Christmas Eve traditions.  Eleven months later my oh-so-precious Grandma who’d flown in for the festivities had a stroke the day after Christmas and passed away just before New Year’s.

The heavy weight of loss, the burden of sadness that threatens to completely overwhelm has so many times seemed just too much.  I can only imagine it seems that way to mama’s in Connecticut who already had gifts wrapped to put under the tree for their sons or daughters.

Just too much.

The brightness of the season dims a little (or maybe a lot).  And though we celebrate fully and delight in the gift of Jesus, sometimes the night is a little too silent.  Sometimes there is a face we want so badly to behold, a lame joke told that we’d love the chance to laugh at, a velvet soft Grandma-hand that we long to squeeze, a giggle we would give anything to hear, a baby-belly that was supposed to be growing – and that these things are missing?  Deep sadness.  There’s just no way around it.

Last night the weight pressed so heavy and I took so many deep breaths, kids stung with words and I ate dinner alone in my room.  I tucked myself in under the covers as if that would ease the hurt, take away the sense of loss I felt so acutely.  But it didn’t.  Nothing does.

Nothing but a quiet whisper under the darkness, under the sadness.  A whisper of love.  His words that are life to me, ringing in my mind “The Lord is near to the broken  hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)  It’s all I can do to believe those words for the families across the nation attending memorial services instead of Christmas parties.  And to believe it for me in my own sense of loss.

There is no way to know if the people who live on my street or the ones who live on yours have their own stories of sadness, but I’m pretty sure most of us do.  And one way I’m learning to lift my heart up is to love, to do something thoughtful or fun no matter how much I don’t feel like it.  Today it was putting together Christmas treat bags with goodies we made and cards the kids drew themselves, for each house on our street.  Most we’ve met, some we know.  There is something lovely and beautiful about spreading kindness.  In the process of blessing, we are blessed.

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An ordinary Wednesday

I’m awake before there is even a hint of light coming in.  I find my way to my chair, now decorated with black sharpie thanks to Finn last week.  I read and write and pour my heart out and ask the God I love for big things and small.  Let there be lots of laughter here today, let me make time to snuggle and please give me grace to respond to things in the right way.  And if its not too much, I pray that I could live at least 5 more decades and see all my children grow up.  I wonder if it seems selfish but I ask anyway, my heart a little shaken from a terrible nightmare.  Several people we know are facing such difficult health struggles and I don’t take ours for granted, not a bit.  We’re keenly aware of how life can change in a second.

A hearty, healthy breakfast is on the menu but before I can start cooking Rylee runs in the door and says Beth can’t stand up and is “just rolling around in the barn”.  Beth is the runt goat that we got in September, always been super small but super sweet.  She’s got a special place in my husband’s heart, I can tell.

I throw boots on, ask him to come out with me, not sure what I’ll find.  I grab a towel on the way out and almost slip right into the fence on the slick mud from the night long rain.  I find her in a slump in the straw and wrap her in a towel and carry her inside.  She doesn’t look good.

I dial my friend (who also happens to be our dairy goat 4-H leader) Sam and I know its too early to do it, but I call anyway.  I start to tell her what’s wrong and my voice wavers “I just can’t do another sad thing right now, I can’t do it.”  I make a few more calls, choose the best plan all the while kids that never got breakfast, are troopers and one holds Beth in the van and the rest get buckled up right quick.  We drive almost an hour where the breeder we got her offered to give her some medicine at no charge.  We hope for the best and drive all the way back home.

Rylee gets Beth all set with a crate full of straw in front of the fireplace and does her school work sitting next to the sweet little goat.  I marvel that we are living out my favorite James Herriot stories I heard as a girl.  It’s like a scene straight out of “Moses the Kitten“.

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rylee and beth

In hustling through the garage when we get home I knock a glass jar which shatters all over the garage floor, which is covered with our puppy’s latest shreds.   So I have to actually clean a great deal just to get the glass up. The sparkling new shop vac just doesn’t seem to be working well, I take it apart to figure out why.  I laugh out loud to find that all the attachments the shop vac came with, which indeed look quite helpful, are nicely tucked inside the canister.  Lo and behold, the shop vac is so happy to be unloaded and works much better.

I throw out some apples and cheese on the counter and deem it lunch.  I get littles down for naps and fight the urge to hurry.  I give Audrey girl the 5 minutes she loves, the snuggles wrapped all around and she picks up my mama hand and carefully intertwines her tiny fingers in with mine.  She inquires about “when will we find a good solution that will help me stop sucking my thumb?”.  She snugs my head up next to hers.  I take a deep breath.

There is a sound in the kitchen, I run his direction.  Caleb bumped a stoneware mug and it shatters all over the counter and floor.  More deep breaths and I help him clean it up and we both manage to do so without any cuts.

I wonder out loud if this is the day I hoped for, in any way, at first blush its not.  We didn’t get the cool history project done I’d been so excited about.  We didn’t get the healthy breakfast I’d planned.  We didn’t get a quiet, orderly day at home.  But we got something better.  We got the chance to face something hard together.  Everyone jumped in, helped out, gave a little, to try and help save Beth.  She might still not make it.  But if she doesn’t, we’ll sure know we tried our hardest.  And in the process we’re learning something together that can’t be taught.

Life in all forms is to be treasured, fought for.

These are the sorts of truths I want to sink in to their little hearts.  This beats a history lesson or handwriting practice any day, in my book.  This is part of the beauty of home based learning, we all get to be here to share these sorts of things that come up on an ordinary Wednesday.

Searching for holy

It’s been five years now since I asked, if I promised to do the leg work, if we could include a live nativity in the Christmas party for low income, pregnant and newly parenting women and their families.  I relished serving every holiday season and it became the highlight of our families calendar every December.  But I couldn’t shake the sense that it was strange hosting the event at a church, showering them with tangible blessings (toys to put under their tree, a bag of groceries, etc) – and not have anything that pointed to the heart of the season.

This year was exceptionally special because we finally had our own set of farm critters to bring to the party.  My friend Holly has always graciously brought her own for me.  It was a delight for our kids to bring their beloved animals to share with others.  It was also extra special because the friends that I spent almost two years praying for for our daughter, joined her as angels this time.  My heart nearly burst with gratitude for these sweet girls and their families who have crossed paths with ours.

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I turn to a friends’ husband last night, telling him how I find it so interesting how certain people groups, cultures tend to pay so much more mind to the nativity scene. Every year I watch this, usually there are two or three unique people groups who linger there, place their baby in the manger, take dozens of photos and exude this sense of respect, awe.

They come once, then sometimes come through again later.  I hear a little boy not more than five – I know I’ve seen him once already – he’s pushing, elbowing through the crowd that has gathered and I hear him say “move, I need to get through, I need to see Jesus”.

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I listen to the little boy and my eyes well up because that’s all I want.

Somewhere in the midst of a wild holiday schedule and gift lists and parties and baking to do and my Christmas boxes still untouched in the garage… all I’m looking for is a glimpse of something holy.

A taste of the miracle that God came down.  Emmanuel.

My hands are a little numb and the earthy smell of the animals and their wet fur and hay meets my nose.  It may not be Bethlehem and the night is surely anything but a silent one – but I breathe cold air in deep and ponder the baby laid in straw in the manger a few feet from me and can’t help but feel a sliver of the “holy night” that came so long ago.

He could have come any way He wanted.  But this, this was the way He chose.  Innocent, small, helpless and perfect.

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He would walk among us.  Live among us.  Know loss and heartache and struggle and unspeakable joy in the midst of all of it.

Emmanuel.  God among us.  Not God-in-heaven-distant-one.

God with us, with me.  One who is intimately acquainted with sorrows.  One who understands pain and the deepest heart sadness.  One who came so I would know what life to the very fullest would look like.  One who hears every word I utter and all the ones I can’t.

Deeply, unceasingly grateful.  For all that He is and how He fills in the places that need filling in.  Brimming at the very thought that God would choose this way, this simple manger in the back of an inn instead of a royal palace….so that I would know, so we all could know, that His gift is for everyone.   For me with the dishes undone from 5 days ago and shredded stuffed animal all over this room and no clean clothes ready for kids tomorrow.  And for every other person who feels a little less than worthy.

He came for you.  He is Emmanuel.

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