Friday, January 28, 2011

when grace is more than I can handle

As a little girl, I was burned.

Pulled a hot cup of liquid out of the microwave, spilled it scalding all over my left thigh. White-hot pain. Mom raced me, screaming, to the bathtub, pulled off clothes, ran water, both of us and my baby sister crying… can’t remember the trip to the doctor, can’t remember anything except how much it hurt. How gross it looked every week, when they changed the bandages. How difficult to hobble around on crutches that hurt my armpits. How I was afraid my leg, all mottled white and red, angry-looking, would never look normal again.

And the fear remains. All my life I’ve hated burns. Theman with the burned face, a guest at a camp I worked at, permanently disfigured in babyhood from a truck accident. He was at my table, a guest in my section. I could hardly bring myself to look at him each day. I felt nauseous. The fear I keep pushed down, take it upon myself to move cups back from edges, to be the vigilant watcher of children around hot drinks…

Now I am a mother myself. And my worst fear, as a mother?

My worst fear.

It happened today.

30 seconds. That’s all it took. Ben was in the bathroom messing with the washer, watching it spin his blanket around and around, washing the suds rinse away his throw-up from this morning. It was important that it finish its cycle, lest the all-important blanket not be dry by afternoon nap-time…. And of course Ben, being Ben, turned the dial, stopped the cycle… my anger bubbled and popped. I raced in, grabbed baby,spanked his hand, pointed him towards the door, turned my attention to the washer…

He wandered into the kitchen, and in less time than it takes to read this, reached up and pulled my just-poured cup of scalding-hot tea onto the floor.


Loud wails.

My heart stops beating. In a flash I know exactly what’s happened, and I’m already starting to cry as I flash to the scene, pull off bib and wool sweater, frantically feeling, looking, patting-- where, where, where? Belly? Hands? Face? Dear God, no… NO!!! My worst fear, my worst fear, the thing I’ve tried SO HARD to be vigilant about… the thing I dreaded happening to my children more than anything…

Where is he hurt? Where? Which direction did the tea pour out? Over his back, his front? Sobbing now, I race him to the bathroom sink, turn on cold water, get his hands underneath, still looking, feeling-- where are the burns? My own fears throbbing in my stomach, his face screwed up with crying, I’ve gotten down to the last layer of clothing, and it’s not even wet.

It’s not even wet.

His right hand looks a little red, that’s all. That’s all. Nothing. Nothing. NOTHING. Face intact. Belly dry and sweet and soft. Back unharmed. I’m holding him from behind while he stands on the stool at the sink, letting the water cool his hand. Ben’s crying is slowing, he’s starting to play in the water. Me, I’m still sobbing, gasping, trying to catch my breath, heart pounding.

Will watching scared in the doorway, says, “It’s ok, Mama, Jesus will help us… It’s ok, Mama…” Repeats grace. Speaks grace over me, over his brother.

Every time I rest my head on Ben’s almost-bare back, whispering thank yous to Jesus, whispering praises, Ben chuckles. It tickles. He’s chuckling! Me, I’m reeling. I’ve just seen my son snatched from maiming, scarring, unbelievable pain… just seen us escape by a hair’s breadth a horrible 2-hour ride to a clinic, holding a child in agony… just seen his precious little face spared from scarring disfigurement…

My world is rocked. I’m reeling from grace.

I check his hand-- nothing. Not even a blister. Just red from the cold water, that’s all. I turn off the water, let it drain away, sink to the floor, weak with relief, weak with grace. My tears start to ebb. Will comes for a hug, and we sit together, hugging-- and Ben wants to get up immediately and toddle off to play. He goes and gets his drink bottle, tips it up, grinning-- drinks grace. Drinks deep and long.

And I drink too, deep and long. Deep. And long.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

how to choose the best threads

The airplane wheels bump hard on the runway, and we touch down for the ninth and final time in over two months. We’re back. The thought lands comfortably in my mind with a sigh of relief. True to Central Asian form, all the seatbelts clatter in unison long before the seatbelt sign is turned off, and our fellow passengers are up blocking the aisles, retrieving coats and luggage before the plane has stopped rolling. The cold trickle of inconveniences and frustrations of life here seeps back into my consciousness-- and yet, embers glow in my belly. We’re back.

In a warm welcome gesture, the same fellow passengers who had blocked the aisles now usher us generously to the front of the passport line, and we collect our mountain of luggage, teeter precariously out the doors to the waiting sea of faces. My belly warms. We see the two company workers who’ve driven two hours in the freezing pre-dawn to come to pick us up, we speak to them easily in their language, my mouth rejoices at the feeling. The embers pop and crackle, begin to leap. We’re back.

It feels like plunging back into water, like slipping on an old familiar coat. The feel of the sounds in my mouth, the easy banter, the ride over cold bumpy roads in early dawn hours, arriving at our blue gate, stepping into our bare, chilly house… outside is all frigid, could be frightening-- but in my belly, hot flames leap joyful. We’re back.

What is this fire in me? This hot joyful leaping of familiar flames, this odd, warm comfort in being stranded on the other side of the world, far from loved ones? Am I so strange?

Or is this how it feels to be in the center, the very center of God’s plan and desire? This comfortable safeness, leaping hot and joyful in my soul, is how it feels to be right where I belong?


I wake up at 5am, after a night disrupted by jetlagging children, lie there flat in the dark composing this post in my head for an hour before I finally get up at 6. I wrap up warm, put the kettle on, choosing a mug that says Trust, Stash Chai. I type, a candle lit, my fingers chilly, my heart hopeful.

Our first day back.

How do I choose which threads to weave into this year? So many good things unstarted, unfinished...

Project threads [a prayer map for our kitchen. art for our bare walls. covered bulletin boards for pictures, words.]

Child threads [a Russian tutor for Will, weaving him into life here. preschool options. quality childcare I can trust. time every day to connect one-on-one with each boy. a verse with Jesus each morning.]

Habit threads [verses to be memorized. daily prayer rhythms. a pocket of quiet time carved out each day. floss every night. exercise.]

Friendship threads [gifts to be given. words to be said. doors to be opened.]

Culture threads [Russian to learn. meals to serve. teammates to love.]

I add milk to my tea, take a sip, select a ponchik (deep-fried donut) covered in powdered suger, a gift from sweet friends the night before.

How do I choose? How do I prioritize? How do I make my life as good as it can be? How do I choose best out of good? I am swirling, full, hopeful. Not a little bit overwhelmed, slightly panicked-- my perfectionism says seize every moment and you must do it ALL….

I am only a bit terrified of how to live.”

Ann Voskamp

A child cries out. I go in, he’s sitting cross-legged, wide awake. No more sleep this morning, I invite him to the kitchen with me. He notices the candle, smiles. I warm milk in a pot, add a donut, another smile. We sit together, eating donuts. I whisper, “Hey William, I love you!” He whispers back, through a mouthful of donut, “I yuv you too!”

And this is how to live. Moment by moment. Donuts and warm milk at 6am with my son. He tries to blow out my candle, laughs, shoots conspiratorial glances at me. Thrilled to be here, just the two of us. Sensing celebration.

I pull out the verse calendar from my precious Aunt, the same calendar she used with her three children, now grown, the one they all chose to take with them when they left home. I read the cover with William: “Big Promises for Little People”.

“Are you a little person?” I ask. He smiles, nods. “Then God has lots of Big Promises for you!” His smile widens, deepens.

I turn to January 22. I read,

“The Lord is always with you.

He will make you strong

And keep you safe from the evil one.”

My belly-fire glows warm.

I’m doing it. The first, needful thing-- helping my son learn how to spend time with Jesus. By not resisting the interruption, by loving welcoming my son, I’ve chosen my first thread and started weaving.

“Mommy, who is the evil one?”

“Satan, our enemy,...” The one who distracts us from the best. Clouds our minds with superfluous, tempts us to despair. “Remember the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, and the snake who wanted Eve to eat the apple?” He nods, questioning. “That’s him, the evil one, the one who wants us to disobey God, wants you to disobey Mommy & Daddy.” The one who wants to steal my year of here and destroy it, moment by moment, into a year of fear.

“And we don’t have to be afraid of him, because Jesus is always with us, to make us strong and keep us safe.” To tell us what is best-- what is the only necessary thing.

Sit at My feet.

Listen to My word.

Stay in each moment.

Commune with Me.

This is how to live: Always with the Lord. Always being made strong, kept safe from distractions. This is how to live: One moment at a time, joy-flame springing from always being with the Lord.

I start my day of moments, my flames leaping bright.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

moments from the last 7 weeks

Benjamin Timothy & Timothy James

Sonoma Train Town

Our 5th Anniversary - Monterey & Carmel

Time With Family

when the deep, deep love is really all you need

Eight bedrooms, in eight different houses, in 53 days... and today, Day 54, having just arrived in our ninth environment, bedtime is finally a wall that we hit head-on. Can't find the shampoo-- grab mine. Can't find the toothbrushes-- just forget it tonight (never mind the chocolate cake we had for dinner). The boys absolutely refuse to settle down to sleep unless I stay in the room with them. And I am frustrated. Tired. Impatient. Ready to get to all my projects. My mind jumps ahead to my list of administrative tasks, I am not staying in the moment-- not even aware of any moments at all, everything is a blur of snotty noses, tired bodies and restless hearts.

Every time I crack the door to leave, Ben cries and lifts his head. Will refuses to stay on his bed. And so I stay.

I stay.

I put a pillow down on the carpet, stretch myself out, and stay.

And I sing. The first thing that pops into my head. Lilting, calming...

:O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me...

Will pops his head up-- "Mommy, I can't see you singing."

"Shhhh, Will, lie down, go to sleep."

Underneath me, all around me
is the current of Thy love

Ben sits up for the twentieth time, cries out, I press him down gently, stroke his back. Thumb goes back in mouth, he finds his blanket.

leading onward, leading homeward
to Thy glorious rest above.

Ben is lying down now, sucking his thumb, sniffling back his oncoming cold, cuddling his blanket. Trying. I can feel his little emotions subside, his heart settling.

My emotions swell. I start another verse.

:O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread His praise from shore to shore...

That's what we're doing, my babies, that's why we sleep in all these different rooms around the world...

How He loveth, ever loveth,
changeth never, nevermore...

And that's how we manage, precious ones. We rest in His love. We sense Him, His never changing, Him with us in each space, lying on the carpet next to our beds, singing us to sleep.

How He watches o'er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own;
how for them he intercedeth,
watcheth o'er them from His throne.

Ben's breathing is slowing, steadier. He's making his adorable piglet thumb-sucking noises. Will is cuddling his dog, his body quiet. I hum the last verse as softly as I can.

:O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
love of every love the best!
Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
tis a haven deep of rest...

Rest, children, rest in Jesus' love. Rest in His constancy, His never-ending steadiness, His suredness, sure as every dawn. He is your morning star. He is your sun, and your moon. Make Him your home, your treasure, your all.

I quietly crawl to the door and leave the room humming...

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, tis a heaven of heavens to me,
and it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee...

#152-160 of the endless gifts:

-great hymns of the faith

-my humanness, which allows me to sing

-the sound of the small, quiet breathing of my children

-the full quietness of the house after crying melts into sleep

-an evening to myself

-internet, and inspiration to post

-the constancy of Christ

-His gift of the privilege of being His comfort to my children

-His gift of a life of sharing His comfort with His lost children around the world