Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Makes Me Happy?

I welcomed the four day long weekend and the snow that came with it last week. Monday I ventured out of the house with my three girls in tow, and headed to the store to stock up on groceries ahead of the second blast of snow in the forecast. I love to peruse the endcaps of this particular store looking for a bargain on their orange clearance tags. My eight year old was chatting away non-stop and my two little ones continually dropped their treasured blankies under my feet. In that store there was a little whining and crying albeit brief. Then we went on to Trader Joe's to see what yummies we could find there. More than one time older women made comments like "that's a bunch" or "you've got your hands full!" Agitated, I responded happily "I have one more at home!" And then there was my three year old's loud "Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?" question after being assisted by a young lady who was clearly of an "alternate lifestyle." On the way out my three year old could have cared less about my directions to "stay close to Mommy, we're in the parking lot." At home, naptime was complicated and my son decided to ante up a not-so-pleasing attitude. That night I prayed that the next day would be better.

Getting back into the routine on Tuesday proved to be a challenge for this family of six. Surprisingly, I managed to rise without hitting the snooze button and had a master acheivement of getting a shower before the kids awoke. I had some more grocery items to purchase to complete the ingredient list for some new recipes I wanted to try and again, had several errands to run. My older two were off to school and the younger girls and I were ready to get going. We went on a mini field trip to the pet store, which they loved, and after more frustration with the will of my three year old, we headed onto the store next door. There, my three year old who had just pottied at home asserted that yes, she did have to potty again. After attempting to open the locked bathroom in the back of the store, we had to go to the front to obtain the key which was attached to a rather large bouy of some sort. I lugged my two year old who was wearing her slick and puffy coat still on one hip with large key contraption in hand and held my three year old's hand in the other. Of course after all that, she didn't have to potty....By the time we made it back to the van less than an hour later, I...well, let's just say I had a wardrobe malfunction that took more than a minute to fix in the car. Internally, I was a mess and continued to spiral into a pit of frustration and agitation for the remainder of the day. I could feel my blood pressure rising and felt adrenaline pumping through my blood. My husband had missed out on all the 'fun' for the last few nights - and again tomorrow night because of work meetings. This is all in a week when one child has an oral book report to give in costume, another has an Abe Lincoln log cabin to build, and I am in charge of eight first graders during an all day trip to the zoo on Friday.
Needless to say, I've been overwhelmed.

Exhausted just from the days behind me and from thinking about the days ahead, as soon as the last child was tucked in bed, I attempted to escape. I locked myself in my room with a glass of wine and a bubble bath, my favorite home design magazines piled high beside the tub. I opened the December 2009 issue of Domino magazine -my all time favorite one which was recently discontinued (boo!)- to a page entitled "10 Things That Make Me Happy." The items: a porcelain teapot, "huggable" hangers, an electric citrus press, linen sheets, suede boots, a $70 gallon of paint, a leather bag, a retro shower head, the city of Florence and a bottle of Champagne.

I began to consider what makes me happy....Is it Trader Joes' dark chocolate cover almonds? my family? my husband? my inner confidence? a beautiful home? body image? the events of the day? stylish clothes? the obedience of my children? financial security?

The truth is that I know all of those things will fail me: the almonds will go rancid, my family will hurt me, my husband is a human, my inner confidence is not dependable, I've currently given up on making our rental home pretty, my body will age, the events of any given day are always out of my control, stylish clothes will fade and shrink and eventually go out of style, my children will disobey and sin, and trust me, financial security is relative.

None of the things that come to mind when I think of what I need to be happy are necessarily bad in and of themselves, but using those things to pursue "happiness" is self indulgent nonsense. Seeking everywhere except the throne of God for fulfillment is what I'm really doing when I look to food, beauty and other people for what I truly need from my Creator.

When the things and people in my life do not satisfy and moreover, disappoint, do I wallow in self-pity or do I recognize my sin and MY need for the Savior?!

The last few days and really the last two years almost, have been challenging. During that time we've moved to a new state, been to two funerals of dearly loved ones, gone from homeschooling to private school and back to homeschooling plans for next fall. Physically I am drained, anemic and not getting enough rest. Emotionally, I am on a roller coaster. Spiritually, I feel like I'm wandering in the wilderness with no destination. In every realm I am spent. I want peace in my home and my heart and the world, but ultimately will not find it here. I know I've written this before, but the Lord is really hitting this home to me, and maybe to you too. That perfect peace I want is NOT here!! The only way to get close to it is by trying to be more like my Savior. Having a heart like his, hands that want to work for His kingdom, and having my head saturated in His word. Do I love things that are "pure and noble and good" (Philippians 4) or am I looking for satisfaction with self indulgent entertainment from this world? Do you? Are you?

First, I am going to really try to get more rest and exercise.
Then, I'm going to try serve my family well, praying for them and joyfully serving them and disciplining my children for Christ, and not so they will give me something in return (peace, quiet, rest, obedience...)
Lastly, I must faithfully pursue the Word being fulfilled and even entertained by it. God can transform me through His Word yet, I must open it.

One of my dearest pastor's sermons would often dangle me over the pit of hell, making me recognize my wretched heart, yet EVERY time the same sermon would call me to be convinced of my Savior's perfect work on the cross.

I love these verses below....Note how the phrase "But God...." reveals His character. I've also thrown in a Martin Luther quote that is poignant.

"...this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever." 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 (New International Version)

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" Romans 5:7-9 (New International Version)

"But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them." Genesis 50:19-21 (New International Version)

"So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: "I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!" "
— Martin Luther

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dangled Over the Valley

Two years ago, on Super Bowl Sunday, I struggled to get myself and my three children ready for church and out the door. My husband, the church's worship director, had left early as usual to prepare for the services. Nine months pregnant with a six and a half year old, a five year old, and a seventeen month old in tow, being motivated to even go anywhere was a challenge. Physically, I was exhausted and uncomfortable. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for many weeks and they were beginning to get stronger each day. I decided to go ahead and go to church because my c-section was scheduled for a couple weeks later and I knew I'd miss church for a while after the baby was born. I left for church looking forward to an afternoon of rest.

Just after dropping off my children in the nursery and classrooms, I walked through a common area and had a sharp back pain, not unlike usual pains I had experienced after carrying the kids or wearing high heels for too long. I did happen to catch a glimpse of the clock hanging on the wall when the pain was followed by a contraction. During the Sunday school hour, my back continued to bother me and I watched the clock, timing these mysterious pains. I picked up my older two children and headed into the sanctuary for the worship service. Midway through the service when my husband was sitting down across the room, he mouthed "Are you okay?" I gave a very firm "No" nod. I walked the kids to children's church and went to my husband's office to put my feet up to see if rest would slow down or stop the contractions. Every twelve minutes I was experiencing a contraction - not a painful one, but firm and steady. Knowing that having three previous c-sections would put me at serious risk for uterine rupture if I were to go into labor, I called my doctor. She told me to come in right away. Someone notified my husband, who quickly left the stage (without his jacket and wallet!) and met me downstairs. We hurried through the potholes, which were not pleasant during my contractions, and made our way for the hospital.

Once we arrived, they hooked me up to monitors and of course, my contractions stopped. Shane left to go get himself some lunch and go home to pick up the camera - just in case. I assumed they would send me home until the anesthesiologist entered and asked me to sign papers. I asked him if we were doing this today and he said yes, they would be taking me back to the OR at 3:00 that afternoon. It was already a quarter 'til two and Shane hadn't gotten back yet. He made it back around 2:20 and not much later, I was whisked away into the O.R.

In the meantime, friends had taken our children and van home and my mother moved her flight up so she would be able to take care of the kids and me when I got back home.

At 3:11 that afternoon we met our precious fourth child, a girl, born with a head full of black hair, weighing 8 lbs, 8 oz.- our biggest baby yet! Obviously, my due date was miscalculated as she arrived seventeen days earlier than the anticipated due date.

I have learned to look forward to those first couple of days in the hospital when there is a quiet calm in the air, and even though I'm waking to nurse every couple of hours, I find it a very restful time physically because I no longer have eight pounds weighing heavily on my bones, making sleep very uncomfortable. Meeting my precious child is an awakening experience, pouring over each finger and toe and hearing everyone's take on who she looks like, and feeling a deep, unique love for this new little person that I'm seeing for the first time ever.

After two nights in the hospital, we were anxious to get home. My husband had started his first seminary class the second day we were in the hospital and I was ready to sleep in my own bed. We had one last night to stay, then we could go home. Our last night, around eleven, a plumber inspected several rooms on our floor and concluded that flooding could occur in our room. The hospital staff kindly asked us to transfer rooms and offered a restaurant gift certificate for our trouble. We didn't mind, after all, we'd be going home the next day. I didn't sleep well on the labor and delivery bed that they disassemble when one is in labor; it felt broken and hard. The next morning the head of hospital staff, or someone with a very official title, came in with two $25 Target gift cards, and a gift certificate to a ritzy spa where I could order one spa treatment. What a nice gift and on what a great note to leave the hospital!

The next morning we showered, dressed and packed our bags then waited patiently for our discharge papers. About an hour before our time of discharge, the nurse practitioner who had been examining our baby entered. She explained that she'd had difficulty locating the pulses in the baby's legs and it needed further investigation, as that could be the sign of a heart defect. Our hearts were worried, but she reassured us and said she was waiting for someone else to come in and see if he could find the pulses. We waited, and waited, and finally, we were told our new baby would need an ultrasound of her heart because he too could not find them. Our hearts were anxious. Never before had we experienced such helplessness. We could do nothing but wait. The nurse brought this precious new little one back to us while we waited for the ultrasound to be performed, sent to a radiologist, and the readings to be sent back. During that time we asked for prayers from loved ones and our church family. As we waited my thoughts raced over what this child's life beheld. Death? Pain? Suffering?

The answer was and is a resounding "Yes!" Death IS inevitable for my child. Pain also AND suffering. When I come face to face with any of those hard things will I look to myself for comfort, to other people, or to the One who holds my life, my very breath in His hands, my God and my Creator...? Will I teach this daughter to look to this world or to her Savior?

Today, we are celebrating my precious daughter's second birthday. I don't know what I would have done if the outcome that day had been anything but good, but I know that my King is good and just when he gives me joy AND when he calls me to suffer. My life is His for the taking. My life is not about me, my husband, my children, my stuff, my job. My life must be consecrated to His perfect will. Sometimes He brings me beside the still waters and sometimes he dangles me over the valley of the shadow of death.....yet - He. is. good.

Why is there sin and sickness, death and despair in this world? My only conclusion is that we could not know the bounty of heaven, the depth of His love, nor the holiness of Christ, if we did not taste this world and still remain thirsty.

John 6:35
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

The 23rd Psalm:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 63:1-8
God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips:When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice.
My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me.

John 7:37-38
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.
He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.