The Smallness and the Quiet

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There is so much noise in my life. It’s not loud, necessarily, but there’s noise. We live in a crowded subdivision near the airport, so the noise of UPS trucks and dogs and bikes and airplanes is constantly in the background. During this endless summer, our backdoor is permanently open and neighbors’ conversations float over our fence and into my ears (both ways I’m sure, and I’m sorry about that!). My kids are “out-loud processors” and I am all day every day the sounding board for their precious thoughts and questions. When I get time to myself, I tend to fill the silence with more words. I turn on Netflix, I turn on a podcast. I give myself something to laugh about and I am hardly ever alone because Liz Lemon or Sarah Koenig are my constant companions. It’s easy and a habit and while it’s not the worst, it’s not the best. I take the easy way too often and forget about the gift of a hard space. 

The other week, I gave myself a little silence, by accident, and now I give myself that gift every day. After Cruz and London lay down for their naps, I set the timer on my phone for fifteen minutes and clean in silence. I pick up their toys, match their shoes. I corrall, I sweep, I rinse lunch dishes. In silence. I hear the gentle trickle of our oil diffuser. I hear the sweep of my broom. And after a few minutes I start to hear myself. I think thoughts and plan my writing. I pray as I wash dishes. My mind travels from our cul de sac and our homegroup to our church, to our country, to Syria. I want this time of silence to grow my heart and to allow me to trust the Lord more and more. I love the miracle of prayer– that my hands can be busy with the smallest, dirtiest, most mundane of this world while my heart and my mind and my soul are waging war for good and light. I can carry out the trash while I intercede for refugee children and for the children in our neighborhood. I am not trapped by the smallness and the quiet moment– I am liberated.

In the Morning

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Every time I post about my morning routine, I get two types of follow-up emails. The first kind asks how I do my devotions and how I stay on track with them. The second seems to be more along the lines of, “that sounds great, but I could never do it!” I thought maybe it was time to do a post about my morning time.

If you’re thinking about starting an early morning devotion time, it’s good to remember why you’re doing it. Real talk– I’m not winning any awards by getting out of bed at 5:30am. But I am spending time with my Creator, my Father, my Savior. I have seen with straight up trial and error that when I give the day to the Lord by spending time in the Word and in prayer, I am better equipped for what the day holds. I can feel God near me, bringing me peace and comfort, and I believe that He deserves my time and energy.

But it’s still hard.

+ The first key to making this work is get everything you need in one spot. For me, every night I make a stack of my Bible, a good journal, my favorite pen, and any other spiritual books I’m reading. Even if they get scattered throughout the day, I remake that stack every night before I go to sleep. It’s all about preparation!

+ When it comes to what you should read out of your Bible, it is entirely up to you. I’ve followed Bible in a year reading plans, online plans that covered a topic or a few verses each day, and right now I’m just old fashioned reading one chapter of the New Testament each day (I’m halfway through Acts). The key is to find a plan that fits your time but also gives you enough teaching. It is also nice to have a Bible translation that fits you. For my personal Bible reading time, I read from the NLT. At church I usually read along in the ESV. There are many great options to try out. I always have my journal open while I read and I jot down anything interesting, what I learn about God’s character, questions, quotes… there’s no right or wrong thing to write down during journal time.

+ Once I’m done reading, I start journaling my prayers. Real talk– if I just sit down to pray, it takes about ten seconds before I’m making a mental grocery list or thinking about Instagram or something silly. My prayers actually make sense when I write them down and follow a rhythm. Here’s my pattern:

  • Declare God’s goodness, holiness, righteous. I usually open up the Psalms and write some declarative truths about God. {I will praise You as long as I live, lifting up my hands to You in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise You with songs of joy}
  • Confession. God wants us to come to Him to be made whole. I confess all the stuff that keeps my heart from being wholly His.
  • Prayer for others. I pray over Tovi. I pray over my kids. I pray over my friends and the hurting parts of the world.
  • Prayer for myself. I stand on the promise that God hears my prayers. I stand on the promise that what God wills for my life is for my joy and His glory.

+ And then! If I’m lucky and by some crazy miracle the kids are still sleeping, I’ll read a book on Christian spirituality or Christian living (two recs: So Long, Insecurity and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality).

That’s it. My morning routine. If a morning devotional time is something you’re hungry for, I hope this will give you some inspiration or encouragement. Once I learned how to get up early and how to best structure my devotional time, I have found so much joy and freedom in my relationship with the Lord. And that’s my hope for you– not that getting up early would be a drag, but that you would learn to look forward to that sweet, sweet time with your Father.

Have you ever switched up your devotional time? What worked for you?

 

Far, Far Better Things

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Grandpa,

It’s been a few hours since we learned of your passing. Suddenly. Out of the blue. I know that in the days to come a lot of great things will be said and written about you, far better than what I can write here. After all, you were a lifelong scholar, a professor emeritus, faithful husband, devoted father. But I have been craving every last detail of you, I can’t bear to forget anything. So rough words, scratchy throat, red eyes, and hands typing out my memories.

You taught me to read poetry and every time I read to my kids, I hear your voice. One of the first things I did after I got the phone call was pick up The Last Battle, because you taught me that there was comfort in words. You were one of the greatest men on earth, and also you wore a short-sleeved button-up shirt every day (you’d probably tell me that’s why you were great– less time spent on clothes, more time spent thinking). You loved milkshakes and fried mush and pie. You really loved pie. You taught me the importance of history. You grew out your beard so that you could play Abe Lincoln. You took me out for hotdogs after trips to the museum. You always kept a pen and a pad of paper in your shirt pocket, and I doubt that I’m the only grandchild that tried to steal it. Thank you for your ending patience and good humor with us. When I went with you and Grandma to church, she’d hand me a peppermint from deep in her purse. We’d stand and I’d hear Grandma singing. You never sang but I’d like to think that you’re singing now. (I also know the exact joke you’d make right here, because, you know, Grandpa Humor)

But as much as I miss you, Grandpa. As much as tears have leaked out of the corners of my eyes since I woke up this morning, I have my eyes on the prize. You have walked with Jesus every day that I have known you. You have given our family a rich legacy of faith. You are with Him this morning and you are rejoicing, maybe even dancing. My favorite quote from Aslan is true for you today:

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You were a giant among men. You were the best. I can’t wait to see you again. I love you so much, Grandpa.

Open Hands (and a paraphrase)

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We had a tough morning. Well, tough is not the best word. Full? All the things? By 8:30am, both kids had eaten two breakfasts, had a time out each, done puzzles, played games, set up necklace store and were busy taking orders. I had heard my own name over a hundred times and knew we had a get out of the house.

Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I find myself mothering from a place of depletion. There’s never enough. Never enough sleep. Never enough patience. Never enough snacks for my two bottomless pits. That nap was not long enough. Neither was that episode of Dinosaur Train. Not enough clean pajamas. Not enough time for another story. We’re late to preschool because there wasn’t enough gas in the car.

So that morning we went to the beach. The beach is about five minutes from our house, and despite the holiday, the thick fog kept everyone else away and we had it to ourselves. We all unknot at the beach. I stretch. Our limbs get loose. At home we pile on top of each other. Kids climb onto my lap while I try to write a work email. Cruz sticks his feet on London’s high chair tray because he knows she doesn’t like it. London demands, “carry you!” all day long. But at the beach we wander. We can be together or be apart. London starts to fill buckets with sand near our blanket while Cruz pulls long strings of kelp up from the water’s edge.

The tide started to pull out, leaving behind smooth stones and the most beautiful small shells I’ve ever found on our coast. I picked them up, reminding myself of their names, learned a long time ago. Scallop, murex, whelk, olive shells, moon snail. I thought about where I would put them in our house, about how many I could gather and would they break on the way home. I looked at the small collection and realized I needed more. It wasn’t enough.

I called Cruz over to show him the shells. “Shells!” he yells. He grabs them from my hands, takes off running down the beach, flings them back into the waves. I regret it and then look back at the huge ocean in front of me, at my children running on endless sands. And miraculously, my friend pulls up to the beach with her girls, and we settle in for a spontaneous playdate.

Trade my clenched fists for open hands. It is enough. It is beyond enough.

The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing. He makes me sit down on empty beaches, He leads me beside crashing waves, He restores my soul… He prepares a picnic before me in the presence of toddlers. You anoint my head with sunscreen and sand; my cup overflows. 

 

Being Your Mother, Right Now

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We meet some friends at the zoo on Monday. I’ve packed two identical, but separate, lunches, because you both insist on having your own. I have cut the sandwiches into your preferred shapes; triangles for London and squares for Cruz. You sit at the picnic table with your friends, you eat pretzels and fruit, but do not touch the sandwiches. The sandwiches that I cut into your shapes. That night, before dinner, we decide to walk to the pond to feed the ducks. I fill a bag with cubed, dried bread. Between the two of you, the bag is polished off long before we reach the ducks.

London is our little mama. You push your babies in the stroller. You snuggle them and give everyone you meet a hug and a pat. You are so loving and maternal and have never met a baby (real or doll) that didn’t need your attention. But you’re also a mama. “Cruz!” you order, pointing at the stairs. “No crying! Time out!”

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Cruz, you ask the best (and hardest) theological questions. “Why did God make a fruit that Adam and Eve weren’t allowed to eat?” “How will we know how to get to Heaven?” “If I tried to swallow Daddy like the whale swallowed Jonah, my bones would break!” I ask you to give London some grace for knocking over your blocks. You point your fingers at her. “I’m shooting her with grace from my heart!” Kiiiiiind of…

London, you are boy crazy. I won’t reveal names to protect the innocent, but as soon as you wake up in the morning you start asking about every boy you know. Slow your roll, girl, or Daddy is going to chaperone all of your future dates.

I am always prepared with paper and markers. You are both coloring so much these days! Cruz, I love all the lists you write. “Eat brecfist. Eat lnch. Eat dinner.” You’ve got your priorities in the right place. London, you draw big circles and alternate calling them hearts and snowmen.

Speaking of snowmen… I can set my watch by the amount of time it takes both of you to notice a closed door and then sing “it doesn’t have to be a snowman” with your lips smooshed up against the door. Like. Clockwork.

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You may never remember this, but we had the best moment on the way home from school today. Like usual, we listened to Bethel Music’s “You Make Me Brave” and when we got out of the car you both kept singing. Cruz starts the chorus,”You make me…” “BAVE!” London shouts. “Champion of Heaven, you made a-” “WAY!” “-for all to enter-” “IN!”

And that’s it, the very best part of being your mother right now. To watch you both fall in love with Jesus is such a joy and honor. Is that worth a few uneaten shape sandwiches? Every single one.

At Our Table

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It was Friday after MOPS, which means it was a chaotic lunchtime at our house. I am the coordinator for our MOPS group and by the time we get home at noon, I am exhausted and spent, exhilarated, ready for a nap. Through my fog, I snapped this picture, and it perfectly captured everything about life these days.

We’re learning together, Cruz and I. I’m learning to be a brave mom and he’s learning to be a brave kid. He’s finding hidden pictures in coloring books and can write all of his letters on his own. He cries when London breaks his crayons, but we’re talking about the ways that laughing and singing and smiling make us feel better than crying ever could. I think it’s working. I’m handing bits of my lunch over to London. “‘Affle? ‘Affle?” she asks, increasingly insistent. “Dip!” “Wait, we forgot to do our ‘actions,’ ” Cruz reminds me. I pick up the preschooler devotional, and then we talk about ways to show love to each other. Sharing, giving gentle kisses, saying ‘I love you.’

We go for a fall walk and add to our collection in the middle of the kitchen table. Two pinecones, three leaves, two dried beanpods. Fall has been hard to find in Southern California, but we’re looking. I use the word ‘spooky’ as we walk around our neighborhood. Halloween is spooky. Bats and jack-o-lanterns are spooky. We can save scary for later.

It was Cruz’s birthday on Saturday and he brought cupcakes for his class on Thursday. They made him a birthday crown and no one has even worn construction paper and stickers and staples with more pride. We made the cupcakes together, and he picked out red cupcakes (his favorite color) with blue and green frosting. I’ve been sneaking the leftover frosting while the kids nap and it leaves a bright stain on my tongue.

Life gets piled, one thing on top of the other. It’s work mixed with MOPS mixed with toddler lunchtime and texts from friends. There is nothing I would clear away.

Swim Lessons


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We did swimming lessons for Cruz this summer. These weren’t mommy-and-me lessons; these were sit-by-the-side-of-the-pool-and-play-Candy-Crush-I-mean-CHEER-WILDLY-FOR-YOUR-CHILD kind of swim lessons. Cruz is cautious by nature and not wild about trying new things. So predictably he wasn’t crazy about trying new swimming things, like putting his face in the water, but he also never cried, which landed him smack in the middle of the class (between half-fish and screams-for-thirty-minutes), and left me feeling pretty proud. As much as it was a learning experience for Cruz, it was a growing experience for me. It was the most surreal feeling in the world to walk my babychild to the edge of the pool, and then sit back while he managed the whole lesson on his own.

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We were driving home from swim lessons one day, probably on our way to Trader Joe’s, because that always seems to be the case. Cruz was singing along softly to the radio, tan legs swinging from his car seat, hair still damp from the pool. At a stoplight, the song switched to “Oceans” and that song caught me in the heart, like it always does. I looked back at Cruz through the mirror and I suddenly saw that everything we’ve done this summer — swim lessons, the twin bed and new big boy room decor, teaching him how to dress himself, throwing out the pull-ups — all of it was leading to a moment this fall when he would walk through the doors of preschool.

I am so ready for it and so not ready for it.

And it’s so good, this growing older. Today we made mustaches out of playdough and talked about why we need blood inside our bodies. We don’t have to guess at what he needs or how he feels about us (“I love London so much!!”). I just adore his big boy brain and his growing heart and the way he’s gotten so lean that his shorts always threaten to slide off of his skinny bum. But motherhood is the strangest experience in that every gain is also a loss. There is always a sense of putting off the old and taking up the new. I hang up new clothes and put away those that are outgrown. Cruz has gone from bassinet to crib to toddler bed to twin. Bumbo to high chair to just sitting at the table.  We mark the changes in his growth with new sippy cups or a bigger car seat, but the boxes of 3 month baby boy onesies in our shed are a silent testament to the fact that I might have a little trouble letting things go.

But starting preschool is the first time a true transition has happened outside of our home, outside of Tovi and me. I find myself wanting to stuff every bit of knowledge into him before school. I give Cruz little pop quizzes throughout the day. “Who can help you if you can’t open your pouch at lunchtime?” “Let’s pretend that you don’t know me. How will you find out my name?” (“Hi, Mommy! What’s your name, Mommy?”) There’s a certain anxiety to it. I find it hard to trust my own parenting sometimes, maybe even to admit to myself that I have done a good job and he is ready.

It all goes back to the song Cruz and I were listening to that morning after swim lessons. My feet may fail… You have never failed me and You won’t start now. The Heavenly Father that orders the universe also watches over sweet little boys on their first of preschool and calms the anxious hearts of mamas. We’re swimming with faith, even in oceans deep.