The Changing Seasons

We went outside to play at 4:30 in the afternoon, the air considerably cooler than a few weeks before, and I was immediately grateful for the coming fall. As much as I look forward to the warm days of summer spent at the pool, the children splashing in the water, I tire of the sunscreen and swim diapers, the intense heat and suffocating humidity.  I am part of the fickle human race who loses interest in the present and am thankful for the divine plan of the changing seasons.

I am thankful for the changing hues and the sweet smells that travel on the crisp air of the fall, the few weeks reprieve from the scorching heat that preceded it and a last glimpse of color before the bleak winter months that follow.  And yet a part of me looks forward to the chill of the winter, the chance to sip hot chocolate beside a crackling fire and let my nostrils fill with the smell of Christmas trees and cookies baking.  But as the drab and gray days of winter carry on, I long for the new life and blooms of spring, hoping this season will never end.

Each season carries with it a beauty of its own that cannot be found in the surrounding ones.  Each season gives just enough change so that one may endure whatever long stretch of weather may follow and fully appreciate those that don’t seem quite long enough.

I am thankful for the season of sword fighting with sticks, while little pirates who previously played beside each other but not with each other engage in a complete battle, full of giggles and smiles. My heart grows during the moment when the smaller of the two pirates knocks down the other’s sword, yet the larger offers a heartfelt congratulations (And prize–his Iron Man Transformer until Christmas to be exact).

And I am thankful for the season of apple-thievery, as the little baby  who cannot yet take part in their battle chooses one of her own.

Some seasons I wish would stretch longer, watching as they fade as quickly as the golden leaves upon the autumn trees, so I learn to savor them while they are here.  Others drain me as does the heat of summer, taking every bit of strength and energy out of my bones, yet I know this time, too, is just a season; the new life of spring is around the corner.

And so I learn to find joy in every season, for in every season there is beauty, an opportunity for growth and learning, a reason to give thanks.

For what can you be thankful during this season of your life? Come share your thoughts for this ‘Focus on it Friday.’

Little Feet

As I was standing in front of the sock rack in Target, my eyes scanned back and forth between the boys small socks and medium socks.  I whipped out my phone.  My mom and sister treated Caleb to a new pair of shoes a few weeks ago; maybe one of them would remember what size he was.  I dialed Lisa’s number, and the call went straight to voicemail. “This is stupid,” I thought.  “I know he’s in a medium now.”

But I didn’t want his little feet to have grown that big; I wanted to call my sister and have her tell me, “No, he’s a size eight.  Get him the small socks.”  I was upset that my ‘baby’ no longer fit in the toddler category of life, even by clothing standards.  He was now just a little kid.

I’m sure the socks episode was just a byproduct of the kids starting preschool this week, another summer behind us, another year of growth beginning.  As hard as I try to grab hold of the time, I watch as it slips from my grasp, forever pushing forward.

So I have no choice but to be thankful…

Thankful for the little feet that keep getting bigger, that run through the house and jump on the beds (even though Mommy forbids it)…

Thankful for the camera mishap that wouldn’t capture the perfectly posed picture of a brother and sister embarking on a first day of preschool but, instead, the uncertainty and silliness they brought to their first day, captured on a camera phone…

Thankful for the huge smiles that greeted the mommy who was ready for the break but even more ready for her kids to return…

Thankful for every precious day…and determined not to waste them.

For what are you thankful this week?

The Gift

When I hear people belt out the most beautiful melodies from their voices, filling a room with the sounds of angels, I want to be able to sing.  When I watch as two individuals extend their limbs into perfect lines, telling a story through their fingertips, I, too, wish I could dance.

Sometimes I see how God has gifted others and forget that He has given me a gift, as well:  I can write.  Now when I say that I can write, I offer this idea humbly, as I realize that I may never have a best-selling novel and am well-aware of my limitations.  However, I have always been blessed that, if an idea enters my head, I can turn that idea into a piece of writing.

When I was in school, I could turn out an essay in a relatively short amount of time.  I would jot down the supporting details and page numbers I wanted to use from the book or poem on which I was writing, write a first draft, proofread it once, and then print.  I rarely did multiple drafts, but more often than not, I made an ‘A’.

I never realized how lucky I was to have the ability to express my thoughts on paper until I started teaching.  I would watch as some students struggled to get the ideas from their head and turn them into sentences, and no matter the suggestions I gave, for some students writing would always be a challenge.

This past year has contained many challenges, yet writing has given me a joy.  When my mind feels clouded with angst due to struggles I am having parenting or when obstacles in my path cause me to trip, I find a great release after I type out a few words on my laptop.  When a current event is bothering me and I can’t wait to talk about it until Matt gets home, I write a blog and enjoy the adult conversation that follows.  And when I struggle with praying and can’t get my mind to focus, the sentiments swirling around in my soul find focus and meaning when I write them to God instead.

There are many talents in this world of which I could be envious, but God did not leave me empty-handed.  He gave me a talent that I can use to enjoy and to improve as a person and to offer as a gift to others who may benefit from the words that I write.

And He did not leave you empty-handed, either.  Our gifts may be different, and you may like mine while I envy yours, but God made each of us the way we are for a reason.  Whether you can strike up a conversation with a stranger and make him feel like he’s known you for years, or you can whip together the most scrumptious meal to offer the new family next door, you have a talent that you can use for good.

For this Focus on it Friday, what gift can you thank God for giving you? Take a moment and think about the talent God gave you, and share your thanks for it (or for anything this week for which you are thankful) with Him and in the comment section if you’re willing.  What a blessing to be able to say, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139: 14)!

Nothing Wasted

Last night as my birthday date came to a close, I lay in bed thinking about the last 31 years.  I was overwhelmed by the goodness of God.  I compiled a mental list of all my blessings, a list I have chosen to keep between God and me, and I realized what a full 31 years I have had.  God has given me so much, so many good things, and in His kindness, He has used the ‘bad’ parts of my life to grow me and teach me, as well.  He doesn’t waste any moments.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to compare.  Sometimes I like to peek at your list and question why God hasn’t blessed me with item #53 as well.  God then has to walk down the aisle, tap on my desk with His hand, and firmly instruct me to keep my eyes on my own paper.  He knows best.  You see, we’re not taking the same test; your list won’t help me.  And it is then that I have to rely on faith, faith to remind me that the items God hasn’t put on my list don’t need to be there, and those items that I don’t want to write on my list do.  He doesn’t waste.

I have no idea what the future holds for me.  God could grant me another 31 years, or God could call me home today.  But no matter the length of time on earth, I want to always say, “There were no wasted moments.”  And truthfully, having that attitude can be challenging for me.  But it’s important to try because it’s true.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”‘ (Jeremiah 29:11).

For this ‘Focus on it Friday,’ I am so thankful for all of the wonderful blessings God has given me over the last 31 years, and I am thankful for those trials that I normally wouldn’t see as a blessing.  Thank you, Lord, for using those difficult moments to bless me, as well!

My challenge to you for this Friday is to compile your own list while keeping your eyes on your own paper.  What blessings has the Lord given you?  And just an important, what trials has He allowed to come your way?  How has He shown you that He will not waste those moments?

Remembering

Sometimes it’s easy to forget.

I look across the bed at my husband, tired from a long week at work, and recognize my own weariness.  Weariness, a feeling more common than not.  Talking has quickly given way to sleep. Who are these two people?

Sometimes I look back at those two people, ten years younger, and try to remember what initially attracted them to one another.  It’s difficult to define.

When we were dating, our relationship was defined by doing. Every weekend dinner dates continued an early set tradition.  We eagerly anticipated the opening of new movies, and we experienced music flowing through our veins at many concerts.  We cheered at baseball games and yelled at football games.  And at night, we were able to stay up into the wee hours of the morning talking and laughing until we would go our separate ways, waiting for our next appointed meeting–the sooner the better.

I look at these two people now, how they’ve changed.  Physically. Emotionally.  Spiritually.  These are not the same two people from before.

Now, our relationship is defined more by being. We exist together for the same common purpose of serving God and our family, but the days of constant doing are few and far between.  No longer do we share weekly dinner dates; we share a quiet dinner around the table after the kids are in bed.  We don’t anticipate the opening of new movies; instead, we fight sleep on the couch to watch the ones that are now old.  The children come along to those rare sporting events; my eyes aren’t on the game but on three little heads constantly moving in different directions.

I look back at those people from ten years ago, and I begin to think that they are more different from us than alike. I wonder would they still find each other attractive if they met for the first time today? Until one night when he opens his computer…

Ten years ago, he sat at his computer.  I watched, tired and helpless, as he set margins, changed fonts.  He took my words and made them look beautiful.  He took my accomplishments and turned me into a professional.  He made my first resumé without my asking, as a gift for one he might love, and I secured my first teaching job comfortably before I graduated.

Ten years ago, he sat at his computer.  He set margins, changed fonts. I sat downstairs in my apartment, labeling pages, putting them in order, proving to my professors through those words and sample lessons my ability to teach.  Together we worked through the night completing this portfolio that encompassed a year’s worth of work and a journey.  I didn’t ask for his help, but he volunteered for the one that he loved, and I received an A+, my final task completed before I graduated.

Five days ago he opened his computer.  He set margins, changed fonts.  He took my ideas and gave them form.  I sat at my computer, made changes to my blog, this hobby now a daily part of me.  He changed my changes, making them better.  He took my words and made them look beautiful, my words that convey a year’s worth of learning, my journey.  I didn’t ask for his help, but he worked for this girl that he still loves, his ways not all that different from when she first graduated.

And I know now that the core of these two people is not all that different from those two of ten years ago.

For this Focus on it Friday, I am thankful for a husband who has always wanted me to succeed, who puts aside his time to show me his love.  We’ve changed, our relationship has changed, but the heart of the man who loves me is the same.  For what this week are you thankful?  Share in the comments or provide a link to your own post.

Catching the Laughter

Sometimes I wish for them to grow up, to age one more year and gain a little more sense, a little more independence.

And other times, I watch as a sudden spirit of carefree blows in and tickles their toes, pushing them off their bottoms,

creating a primal urge to shed clothes, innocence throwing off underpants in exchange for hats.

And I laugh, I soak in the moment, holding it to my chest, locking it in my memory forever,

knowing that in the blink of an eye they will be grown,

longing to catch and relish in more moments while they’re little.

For this Focus on it Friday, I am thankful for a moment of uncontrollable laughter when I watched the joy of innocence.  For what are you thankful this week?

Living With Animals

I’ll do push-ups.  I’ll do sit-ups.  I’m not afraid of pain. I’ve done the natural childbirth thing, and I’ve scrubbed poop off of walls.  I consider myself a fairly tough cookie.  However, even I have my limits.

Eight years ago when my husband jumped up and down like a four-year-old while I was trying to take a shower in peace, he pleaded for me to call my student. I had made the mistake of mentioning earlier that morning that this particular student had a litter of puppies he was trying to give away.  They were Jack Russell/Rat Terrier mixes and darned cute.  And really, that’s about all there is to say as to how we got our dog Scout.

I didn’t do much (okay, any) research before getting our puppy, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for training her.  However, for as unqualified as an instructor as I was, I was even less prepared for how Scout would bring  Animal Planet to my planet . And thanks to Scout, I learned exactly where I reach my toughness limit.

I can sweep a mammoth spider out the door without killing it, and I can quietly crouch and hide waiting for a baby chipmunk to follow the path of nuts back to his wild kingdom.  But if Scout brings a dead field mouse into my home, I will become the most useless human being in existence.  I will cry, ashamed at my failed efforts and inability to move this mouse four feet out the door. Each time I feel the body bend underneath the dustpan or rubber gloves I use, my fear will paralyze my limbs and my good sense. I will allow it to sit on the same spot of carpet all day until my husband gets home.

If Scout has a fight with a snake on our back patio before the horrified eyes of my three children and myself, I will not be able to close the blinds in time or control the giant shiver running down my spine. I will stand in disgust as she shakes her head, flinging that snake back and forth, up and down until the snake finally snaps into two pieces.  And I will leave it on the patio and ban the rest of us from outside until my husband gets home.

And if Scout picks a fight with a family of birds while the kids and I are playing an innocent game of baseball, I will yell at her from a distance, wanting her to stop but afraid to have a cameo role on this particular episode on Animal Planet. I will stand in horror as I hear the family of birds yelling at Scout to leave their brother alone, and I will never forget the sound a bird makes when it tries to scream, caught in the jaws of the ferocious canine.  We will make our journey to pay homage to this fallen creature and listen to the warning cries of its family telling others to stay away, and then we will walk back to our baseball game.  And the bird will lay on the same spot of grass where its blood was spilled until my husband gets home.

I don’t know why I cannot dispose of dead animals, but I cannot.  My shame as a mother is as great as Scout’s pride as she brings her kill to my feet, her face stretched in her happy doggy smile. And so, this week I am thankful for a husband who doesn’t ask questions or chastise his wife for her failure.  Instead, he finds the bird lying in the grass that was waiting for him to come home so it can rest in peace.

This week I am also thankful for a water leak that was the county’s fault, and therefore not our responsibility, a state tax refund that finally appeared, and a good Samaritan who helped my husband when his  jack broke changing his blown-out tire on the side of the road.  Join the conversation–for what are you thankful this week?

A Tilt of the Head

Last night as I was driving home from a shopping adventure, I peered into the back of the van to see if the kids had fallen asleep, yet.  Based on the meltdowns and general unreasonableness, I knew what time it was without seeing a clock and that my kids were through for the day. Sure enough, the kids who had exhibited devilish behavior fifteen minutes prior were now sporting angelic expressions as they breathed in and out, falling deeper and deeper into sleep.

The three of them couldn’t look any more like brother and sister, and I chuckled upon noticing that they all had tilted their heads to the left, no matter their position in the van.  I then wondered if Matt slept that way and tried to pull up a picture in my mind of him sleeping in the car.  There weren’t many (thank goodness) since he’s normally driving when we’re together.  I was pretty sure I naturally tilted my head to the right and wondered if genetics played a role in which way felt more comfortable.  After all, all three of them were sleeping the same way, but they didn’t seem to get that preference from me.

And I smiled.  This past week my marriage consumed my thoughts–what it means to work together, putting aside our own preferences for the good of each other and our family, finding comfort in the discomfort of life.  When I saw those three babies sleeping, I knew they each carried part of me and part of Matt–by the miracle of God, they were from our making.  They each would have some of our flaws, I hope, more of our strengths, but within those precious, unique individuals was part of a man and woman who committed to love each other and them for the rest of their lives.

And that love that brought forth this union is beautiful, no matter how ugly life gets.

Each Friday I will write a post reflecting on something specific from the week for which I am grateful.  Won’t you join me?  Write a comment about something this week for which you are thankful, or provide a link to a post of your own.  Let’s end our week together giving thanks.

Finding a Moment of Thanks

As I woke up this morning, I immediately was thankful for a new day.  To say that almost all of the 24 hours of yesterday was horrible would not be that much of an exaggeration.  Even after the day should’ve been over, Hannah Grace repeatedly came downstairs while Matt and I tried our best to unwind; she didn’t go to bed until 11.  Chloe cried on and off all night until Matt gave up and brought her in bed with us.  She became our first child to roll out of our bed and onto the floor, giving me a mild heart attack in the middle of the night.

As I struggle through exhaustion this morning, I look back on yesterday and still do not know what I should’ve done differently.  The two oldest were blatantly defiant all day. They didn’t merely find trouble numerous times; they repeatedly sought it out, doing the same wrong things over and over.

By 6:00, I was done.  I was hot, and after hearing ‘no’ and that my children no longer loved me numerous times during the course of the day, I was physically and emotionally tired. It was 86 degrees in our house, thanks to the energy-saving plan I chose to participate in during what will surely go down as the hottest summer on record, and Caleb was sitting on the step, refusing to go up to his room as I had asked.  I had no more energy and no more ideas–I had already taken away every privilege I could remember–and Matt wasn’t going to get home for another hour-and-a-half.  I felt like I was going to lose control in any moment, and I didn’t want to.

In the middle of the floor where I was sitting on my knees, I grabbed my face and squeezed my eyes shuts.  I started to pray a desperate prayer: God help me. Show me what to do!  I don’t know what to do! I sat silent with eyes still closed waiting to hear an answer.  I heard nothing.

And when I looked up and saw my son still sitting on that step, laughing with his sisters, the rage boiled within me. “Go upstairs NOW!” I yelled louder and longer than even I knew I was capable.

Chloe cried, Caleb looked at me in shock, but Hannah Grace’s reaction I will never forget.

She smiled, not a mocking smile, but a genuine smile.  And in the softest voice, she spoke the kindest words I have ever heard:

“Mama, I like you.  I like you, Mama.”

Somehow, this little girl no longer seemed like a little girl, almost three.  She sounded like a wise teacher, a teacher who knew exactly what her student needed to hear.

She walked over to where I was sitting and put one hand in mine, the most gentle touch I have ever felt. “I love you, Mama,” she said, emphasizing her choice of word, and then she kissed me on my lips while wrapping her arms around my neck.

The other children noticed and began to follow her lead.  Chloe toddled over and opened her mouth.  She kissed me, leaving a trail of wet all over my mouth, totally disgusting and totally wonderful.  She wrapped her baby arms around me, surprising me by the actual hug she was giving.  Then Caleb got off the stairs.  He came, adding his embrace to that of his two sisters.  I could hardly balance, three children hanging on me at the same time.  As Caleb pulled away, he, too, kissed me on the lips.

Chloe toddled back to the steps, Caleb following behind her, but Hannah Grace remained. Taking her soft hands, she gently slid them down my cheeks and said, “I love you, Mama.  I really love you.”  She continued to repeat her words, cupping my face, as if trying to ensure I believed her.

A few, short minutes later, I was still waiting for God to tell me what to do, as the disobedience continued.  The night ahead was long, and I didn’t get the rest I needed. However, in that brief moment on the floor, God answered my prayer, differently than I had hoped, but in the way He knew I needed.  My spirit was lifted as I had never experienced before, and for that, I am thankful.

Starting today, I’d like to use Fridays as a way to reflect on the week and find at least one specific thing for which I can be thankful.  I’d love for you to join me, as well! You can list your thanks in the comment section or provide a link for your own post.  We’ve all had different kinds of weeks, some wonderful, some stressful, but let’s all choose to end them the same–thankful.