Time Away

A new year, a new look.  It was time.  I’ve changed so much since I set up this space nearly two years ago.

When I first became a mother, I was advised to reserve time for me.  I couldn’t; it just felt so wrong.  I understand the airline concept of putting on my own facemask before turning to help the child beside me; but this isn’t an emergency.  This is everyday life.  This is the season of life to rear children; I must be with them, I’d think.

“Me Time” was such a buzzword, and it grated on me.  I quickly learned to avoid the topic, since it was met with such hostility.  “It will become a necessity; you’ll see,” an old lady warned me.  But after 15 years, I was still much happier with my family intact.  Dinner out wasn’t fun if I was wondering about that little piece of me I’d left behind.  Even when I had six not-so-little pieces of me, time out wasn’t right without them.

Yeah, I’m weird.  I know that.

Eventually, though, I saw that I couldn’t breathe anymore.  I had to stop and focus on my own facemask.  I hate the taste of crow.  This space was set up as my time away – my adult time.  But the whole concept still irritated me, because no matter how much time I got to myself, I still could not breathe.  I needed something, but even getting away wasn’t helping.  It was merely taking me away from my responsibilities, which didn’t help anyone.

Then I saw something important. Jesus made time alone, away from his disciples.  But He didn’t go to spend “Me Time”; He went apart to commune with His Father before returning refreshed.  I was confirmed that my path is turning a corner.

Spending time for me and spending time with God is vastly different.  As I put aside time every morning to read Scripture, to let His word flood through my soul, and to talk with him about what I’d read or was struggling with, I was strangely strengthened.  My time is often interrupted (how could it not be in a house with 6 children?), but that’s okay. The rewards are tangible, and I see that I no longer have time not to read my Bible in the morning.

It wasn’t “Me Time” I needed; it was God Time.  I give everything I have in caring for my family, and it makes sense that I might need refreshing.  It must be refueling time, though, not just recess. God Himself put me here and gave me this family.  His Spirit must filter through every pore, into every cell, and flood every bronchiole and hemoglobin for me to actually accomplish His purpose.

“Give me your firstfruits.” “I have living water you know nothing of.”  “Come to me, you who are weary.”  His words jumble together in my mind as I think.  So when I come directly to Him in the early morning for my thirst to be quenched and my body quickened, He is there.  Just as He promised. It all comes together.

Bring it on, 2012.  I’ve got a new outlook and a new look, and I’m ready for whatever you have in store.

Ready to Go

This thing stinks.  And it’s huge; it takes up a lot of room.  It has been underfoot in my office and on the front porch.  I’ve purchased loads of groceries and found it taking up the entire cargo area of my Suburban.  On too many humid nights, it has stunk up the entire car.  I’ve grumbled or yelled a few more expletives about it than I care to admit now.

Because it’s going back to the fire department tonight.  And it means a lot more to me than I care to admit.  Because while I will not miss its reflective body in my walkway at night, it means my oldest son isn’t going to be here to need it.

Mind you, he’s only taking a leave of absence and it will probably sit on a shelf intact until his return.  Because the plans to drive home are just as integral to his plans as his time away.  This should not upset me.  I’m really excited for the opportunity he has before him.  If he decided not to go, I’d kick him on his way.

But I’m really going to miss him and his gadgetry in the meanwhile.

And I really hope Little Bro feels, like Big Bro once voiced, “that the cavalry has just arrived.”

(Day 5/365)

The Perfect Wife

The ad sounded simple enough.  Wanted:  Do-It-All Sally with Barbie Stewardess smile who can maintain Sunset Home filled with children and pets, teach college preparatory school curriculum while providing beautiful, nutritious meals three times daily from extensive organic kitchen garden.  Must possess current valid Class B driver’s license, EMT certification, and fashion model registration.  Minimum bachelor’s degree in child psychology or hotel management.  Bilingual in Latin/English preferred.  Successful applicant will have complete security of position for a minimum of two decades in exchange for compensation. Live -in position; time off by appointment only.

I’m not sure it’s always worth it.  Criticisms are plentiful and pay raises non-existent.   How come I can be reprimanded by hired dance teachers for being tardy, volunteer baseball coaches for not providing a clean jersey, and my own charges for dinner being too hot – all in one day – but never get fired, even if I burn the kitchen down?

Weren’t we told as children that once we found Prince Charming and were whisked away on his fine white charger that we’d live happily ever after?  I don’t remember diapers and dirty dishes in “Cinderella.”  I distinctly remember a shining castle with a wait staff in that final portrait.  I also thought it said something about “and all their dreams came true.”

illustration by Chuck Gillies, in "The Sleeping Rose"

And then we find out once we’ve signed on for the position that there’s fine print to the deal.  The Christian wife must dress modestly, so no neighbor is tempted, but intriguingly, so her husband is.  She must expend an absolute minimum on all aspects of the venture, so that the budget is always balanced.   No matter how many times the baby has been up overnight, she must have hot coffee ready for her man before he leaves for work in his freshly pressed shirt.  She is to send him off with a full tummy, a smile and a kiss, and alluringly welcome him back home the same way, to a clean house and completed assignment list, ten to twelve hours later.  If he is angry or depressed about his job situation, she will sympathetically listen and cheerfully encourage him, regardless of what kind of  handbasket her day has gone to hell in.  She is eternally content to have the luxury of  a stable career and lucrative ministry in rearing their children – simultaneously with keeping the home fires burning.  I couldn’t find a photo of this;  I had to resort to an illustration in one of my children’s books.

Then how, exactly, is this humanly possible?

It is not – by design.  God wants us to realize that we cannot do it on our own.  That’s what the Ten Commandments were about, too.  They are so simple, yet so impossible to maintain.  Sure, I can probably make it through life without murdering anyone, but how many of us made it through adolescence completely honoring our parents?  I’m not sure what obedience to the first couple commandments even looks like, but I suspect I’m not doing overly well.  Everybody will fall down somewhere in them, and that’s exactly their purpose.

But I’m getting out of my depth.  I’m just a housewife.  I can’t even keep up my everyday chores without feeling the desire to run, screaming, from the building.  So why were we all led to believe that adult life would look like Sleeping Beauty’s final scene?  That is so not reality.  Even though it’d be easier to just shuck everybody out of the house and do the work myself, all would be for nought the minute the whirlwinds returned.  I must teach them to clean after themselves and develop a lifestyle of orderliness in order for my workload to come into something less than slavery.  Sometimes, though, I think I will expire of absolute exhaustion first, and they’ll trip over my body for two weeks before noticing I’m gone.  Maybe not – when dinner doesn’t magically appear in front of them, they’ll go hunt me up.  Then they’ll go to McDonald’s.

But somebody told me once that this is a ministry, and I should derive eternal pleasure from my duties.  Couldn’t I just keep it up one more day?

No.

It’s going to take more than telling myself I’m doing a great job.  Something superhuman, because I am not moving another inch in service to anyone without divine intervention.  Yesterday, I was struggling with a passage in Hebrews. My daughter woke early and came to sit in my lap, which meant now I had to juggle a wiggly toddler for my “quiet time”.   She ran to get her Children’s Bible, and insisted I find the page so she could study with me.  I forced a smile and did the right thing.  If there’s one thing I don’t tolerate well, it’s interruptions in the morning before I have my head together.   But I read her the passage out of her Bible anyway.  Instantly, the words came alive and I understood – but not before she had jumped down to go find out if brother was awake.  I was relieved to be left alone as the words jumped off the page to explain everything I was struggling with.  Then I chuckled as I grasped that it was no accident she’d awakened uncharacteristically early.

This morning I woke up tired before I’d begun.  It seems I have more to do now that my two oldest are off at work during the days.  So I decided to tackle the biggest drudgery first.  I ironed about a dozen shirts, hung them up, and returned to find that the little kids painting at the kitchen table had turned into four beings of different hues.  I thought I had the Blue Man Group in my dining room, but one was red.  And they were shorter.  I uttered one word:  showers.  In their dash to the bathroom, one went the most direct route straight across Mom’s Persian rug.  I saw that the dog, too, had a blue paw and was trying to round them up.    I had more mess than floor.  Of course, Grandma’s little song would end all my frustrations, right?    “This is the way we wash the rug, scrub the tub and bathe the dog;  This is the way we clean the room, so early in the morning!”  Never a dull moment in the homeschool household, that’s for sure.  And now another load of laundry.

But tomorrow I will get up and do it again.  I may actually keep my baby’s Bible next to my chair so I can remember that I’m not sitting here alone.  I can do it for one day.  Not one day more; each day has sufficient troubles to drop me thankfully in bed at night.   But each morning, I must stop at my chair and fill up my tank in order to make it through today.  Because there is no such thing as perfection alone.

Wildflowers, Wifery and Wisdom

Here in Texas, we’ve had, I don’t know – 4 years? – of drought.   I lost all track of time, partly because there were no seasons by which to mark it.  Then this last winter, we were inundated with rain.   The clear sunshine that comes out between the spring storms has brought up the most resplendent display of wildflowers I’ve ever seen.

I grew up with California poppies and the now-extinct freeway oleanders.  Acacia trees lined the streets near school, and mother grew Johnny-Jump-Ups in the garden by the front door.  But entire fields of wildflowers?  Only on one of our cross-country expeditions had I experienced drifts of Black-eyed Susans or the occasional century plant spear.

So I was completely broadsided this year with not only the abundance, but diversity of color all around me.  Bluebonnets are always the first marker of spring, but this year the blood-red Indian Paintbrushes came out almost the same day, with the aptly named Indian blankets close behind.  The Paintbrushes and bluebonnets are about gone now, but the blankets have joined another, lighter yellow flower to cover every pasture that has not been grazed this month.  Coneflowers have sprung up, usually alongside another, taller, bluish-purple flower resembling a milkweed.  Cactus is another yellow bloomer which is surprisingly delicate against the hard, prickly paddles they emerge from –  they seem quite out of place.  There is such an amazing array of color, texture, and pattern everywhere I look.  And occasionally I catch the scent of something that smells like a rich, but faint, cup of honeyed vanilla water just after the rains.

Someone mentioned once that God gives us flowers, just as a gentleman will present his lady with a bouquet.  I cannot believe how generous He has been to me.  I have been ugly and selfish for  longer than just lately.  I’m reminded of that distracting boy in Wal-Mart, whining for what he needed ‘now’ and crying loudly until the second it was in his hand.  He was all smiley then, until he saw something else his heart desired. What a spoiled brat!  And yet, look at me,  pouting until I’m recognized appropriately for having dinner ready, yet again, on time, with nutritious foods.  And griping about being left with all the dishes afterward.

I think the biggest issue with being a housewife is that so much of it seems a constant dripping of needs from every direction at every hour, while still planning ahead for efficient handling of the predictable ones.  Everything could easily be done by unskilled labor, but my presence is the key to success.  I’m in the center of everything, needed by everybody, but my contributions are almost completely unnoticed.  I’m not sure that every mother experiences this, but I cannot imagine I’m completely alone. Still, I began to fret that I wasn’t doing enough to earn my keep.  Hubby was working hard already, so I tried to keep the troubling trivialities to myself.   After a few years, neither one of us could see that all the myriad little duties, worries and responsibilities, combined with my constant on-call status, left no strength for much more than absolute survival. I tried to train my mind for better efficiency so I could accomplish more, but that was just one more load I couldn’t carry.  What I realize now was that I needed nurturing, not discipline;  I needed someone to care for me.

Spring came on with a vengeance and so overwhelmed me that I couldn’t help but notice.  I came across that idea of these flowers being a gift from God.  I’ve seen all the “God loves you” bumper stickers, but I really just needed to feel his hand on my shoulder in a tangible way.  I needed something to fill my tank.  I went for a walk with my camera and took as many photos as I could.  I came home and played with the images on the computer.  The wildflowers began to bless me as I noticed each nuance of shape and texture.  They are the most delicate of plants, with no purpose or goal, and we don’t expect anything of them. They will not do as they’re told or grow where planted.   They are merely a gift, unexpected and treasured, wherever they are for as long as they last.   We have no hand in them.

I ran across this little teddy while cleaning this week, and remembered the sweet little girl who gave it to us.  She appeared at my side just before a Bible study, back in the days when my husband was traveling a lot with work.  I was lonely.  She showed me the book she’d been struggling to read, and offered to read it to me.  She did beautifully, and really didn’t want more than a listening ear.  She thanked me sweetly when she finished, and then gave the baby in my lap her gently used teddy bear to play with.  “She can have that, because I don’t play with it anymore,” she smiled.  I tried to gently give it back to her mother, but her mother smiled just as sweetly and assured me the little girl would be offended if I did not accept her gift.  I will never forget her as long as I live, even though I don’t remember her name.  That little girl blessed me with a pure smile and a gift for no other reason than her cup overflowed with love.  I went to the Bible study to find God – He wasn’t there.  He was in the little girl beforehand that I almost shooed away.

When I realized that these wildflowers and the thoughts they elicited from me were a similar unexpected gift, I looked around for what else He’d given me.  I noticed some cheerful people reaching out to me.  Wildflower people?  How else can I explain all those coincidences in life of people and sights and sounds that seem to have been placed just here, just now, for me.  There is only One who truly understands and knows what I need, because He made me.  But I must notice what He gives in order to  accept it, and then take it home.   Just like that teddy bear.  And my photos of the wildflowers.   It wasn’t until I published the photos that most of my family ever saw the wildflowers.  Somehow, the glory around us had been missed.  But once I noticed those tender little faces, loved them just for who they were with no expectation of return,  I received so much more than I ever dreamed.  They gave the same to all of us – but only I accepted it.  I must give some away; I have too much for only me.

Funny –  these last few years, I just wanted to be noticed and enjoyed for my presence.  I wanted someone to realize that I had more to offer than another baby to the world, and  that there might actually be a hint of intelligence inside these motherly clothes and forgotten, frizzy hair.  But it wasn’t until I asked God to provide, with no limitations on what that might be, that I found the flowers, which brought a smile to my face, however fleeting.  Those I shared them with smiled in return.   I unwittingly carried happiness with me the rest of the day, I was so thrilled.  Another smile and a pleasant comment came my way when I stopped at the store.  Pretty soon, enough joy had accumulated that my face didn’t fade the minute I returned to my duties.  I have new energy to do my tasks.

And maybe that’s the purpose of flowers after all – to smile up at us, offering us their fragile beauty and praying you won’t trample them underfoot.   It is God’s hand on our wounded soul, in the most delicate touch imaginable.  And as we smile back – or I photograph their happy little faces – I pray that your smile would be encouraged to come – or stay out a little longer.