Monday, January 31, 2011

Transformational Motherhood

I am not whining. Really. This is just a sliver of truth that God helped me see this weekend. I wish sometimes I could pick how lessons are learned. I would have chosen a different path but that's just me and obviously NOT the way things need to be learned around here.
It all started a week ago when Mark called me out to the garage to point at the dryer. It was running - the clothes were spinning around inside it as they should. The problem was that they had been spinning in there for a good 45 minutes and when Mark opened the door the clothes were cold and still very wet.
My dryer is broken. Really? I mean, I literally looked upwards towards heaven and said, "Really, God? My dryer? Right now?" Mark and I are not in position to spend any money to fix the dryer right now. Then I thought about how everything belongs to God and in my momentary lapse of acceptance and understanding I actually said, "What I mean, God, is YOUR dryer is broken." (Not unlike a petulant, spoiled child).
Well, we live in southern California and, as the Midwest and eastward are preparing for yet another cold winter blast of ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures, we are enjoying 70-something degree weather. A few minutes later, as I walked out into the back yard and felt the warmth on my face, I almost could hear the Lord responding, "No, Cyndi. my 'dryer' is working just great.
So there were Mark and I, draping all our laundry across stuff in the back yard, hoping it would dry before the winter sun set. I was pretty cranky about the whole thing, to be honest. When nothing really dried fully and we brought it all in and then had to drape it all over my living room and bathrooms, I got even more cranky. Lots of "sighs" and "Why me's" flitting across my lips. I believe I might have said, more than once, "I HATE this".
Then on this past Friday, I had a couple of extra hours in the late afternoon and I thought I would sneak off to see a movie I really, really wanted to see, The King's Speech. It was by all accounts my kind of movie. Great acting (I love Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth), historically juicy, and what I used tell my boys about a movie I knew they wouldn't like, an English 'talkie'" movie - In other words, no car chases. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, A Room With a View, Babe - you know, English talkie movies where nothing much actually happens but you are enthralled nonetheless (if you happen to be me). [OK, Babe takes place in Australia and is about a pig who thinks he's a sheepdog but it kind of fits the criteria. I mostly wanted to see if you were paying attention.]
Anyway, I was so looking forward to this respite in the theater. Then Isaac called from college.
He was coming home, could he bring his laundry? Of course! He arrived with a terrible cold, a paper to write that had to be submitted on-line by 5:00pm and 2 weeks worth of dirty clothes. Before all you perfect mothers jump up and down yelling at me about "enabling", Yes, Isaac is absolutely capable of doing his own laundry. That is not the point of this story.
While he sniffled and cough and sneezed his way through writing his paper, I CHOSE to help him with his laundry.
So there I was, draping his clothes all over the backyard and I was actually humming and smiling. Weird!
I was not at the movie and I knew that I wasn't going to make it to the movie that day. I was hanging socks and Levis and boxers over a temporary clothesline and I was humming. Just five days earlier I had been doing the same activity with my own laundry and I was so cranky that the dog hid under the couch. Now, I was happily humming as I battled with the rickety clothes hanging apparatus, trying to eek out maximum sun exposure.
I was actually startled when that awareness seeped into my brain. The very thing that had made so cranky a few days before was now an opportunity to show love to my child. Trust me, it wasn't at all like Isaac was thinking, "Wow, my mom really must love me - she's out there humming while she drapes my boxers over my workout bench".
It was just this tiny moment when I glimpsed behind the curtain of transformational love. I made the choice to stay home and help Isaac and I was happy. No movie, no matter how many Oscar nominations it received, could fill me with joy like the unexpected opportunity to spend time with an adult child who didn't have to come home but wanted to come home. That movie never stood a chance. It's how God wired us moms. And who better than God understands transformational love? He turned me from a hag to a hummer.
PS: I got to see The King's Speech on Saturday afternoon and it was wonderful. If you are all done with your laundry (or that of a loved one), go see it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wanting Loaves and Fishes but Getting Manna

I was talking to my good friend, Keith Ward, about how you simply cannot put God in a box. God is inscrutable. The dictionary says inscrutable means, "Not readily investigated, interpreted or understood." In other words, "mysterious".
That is a perfect description. Our God is mysterious.
Keith and I happened to talking about the CAT 50 Day Year End Challenge which began in late October and ran through the end of 2010. I totally thought it was an idea straight from God. We would run a fund raising campaign for 50 days with the ultimate goal of raising $50,000. It seemed doable, attainable and, if not exactly easy, certainly a worthwhile challenge. In October I imagined how it was going to feel to have not just enough funds for CAT but an abundance that would give us a strong foundation as we headed into the new year.
I talked about the challenge with people every day. I prayed about it every day. I blogged and e-mailed about it. I'm pretty sure people got a teensy-bit tired hearing about the challenge. I even went through the phase I call the "insurance guy" period. When I was much younger I sold life insurance for a bit. I imagined people who saw me coming would change direction to avoid me or, if I were in a store, would hide behind the clothing racks so I wouldn't ask them about their long range financial plans. I had this same sort of paranoia-like experience mid-way through the challenge. If I ran into someone I knew at the grocery store, I kind of imagined that they would swerve down an aisle at Staters they had no reason to use (Wow! What a selection of diapers here, I had no idea!") or they would suddenly take a cell call as I approached.
Still the Lord was in it and people were incredibly generous. From the widow who gave all she had ($5) to corporations who gave thousands, we watched with tremendous joy and exhilaration as we worked our way through the days toward the end of 2010.
I wanted it to be like the miracle of the 5 loaves and 2 fishes. You know the story from the Gospels. A huge crowd is following Jesus because he had been performing great miracles like healing the sick. Jesus sees that the crowd is enormous. They are out in the middle of nowhere and there's nothing for all these people to eat. He asks his disciples where they can buy bread to feed everyone (John 6:5). The ever practical Philip points out that it would take 8 months worth of wages to be able to afford to feed everyone. Peter's brother, Andrew brings up one little boy whose mom had planned ahead (of course, what a good mom!) and sent her son off with a sack lunch. "I found this boy but all he has is five little barley loaves and two fishes (the Biblical equivalent of tuna on rye, I guess). Andrew goes on to ask what difference such a small amount has against the reality of 5,000 men and their families.
Jesus does not answer Andrew's obvious question but instead tells the disciples to have everyone sit down. That would have been fun to watch: 12 disciples flapping their arms in the air: "Sit down, please everyone, sit down...." Then Jesus takes the loaves and fishes, prays over them and then tells the disciples to share them with all the people. Everyone got all they could possibly eat. They were stuffed. Then Jesus tells the disciples to gather all that was left over - that nothing should be wasted. According to John 6:13, they had 12 baskets of bread left over: WOW!
Well, honestly, that's what I wanted to have happen with the 50 Day challenge. I wanted us to end in December by not just hitting our goal of $50,000 but with baskets of abundance for the New Year. Note: That's what I wanted but that is not what happened.
What did happen was more like the story in Exodus 16 when God provided the Israelites the thin, white wafers that tasted like they were made with honey every day (except on the Sabbath Day): Manna. Exodus tells us that each day the ground was covered with manna. Exactly enough for all of the Israelites to eat. By the time the mid-day sun had heated all the ground, the manna was gone until the next day.
Well, just like God's manna for the Israelites, every day God cares for CAT and provides just what we need: no more. He holds us close and sustains us in a tender and wonderful way. He's been sustaining us through thick and thin for our entire 12 years.

We received an incredible abundance of $22,174.69 from the 50-Day Challenge: Fantastic! All that wonderful generosity helped meet our obligations as the year came to a close.

I have, I admit, been second guessing myself, though. Did I work hard enough? Did I follow up every lead? Did I clearly explain why supporting CAT is a good thing for kids and families? I don't know how to answer those questions. I did my best although I always, always think I could have done better. As I said, I thought the Challenge was God's idea. It wasn't that I thought raising $50,000 was a fore gone conclusion but.. if I faithfully did the work wouldn't God "do his part", so to speak.
But, you see, God is inscrutable and mysterious. As I Corinthians 2:9 says, No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. God loves me. God loves CAT. We were faithful to do his work with the challenge and in 2011 I know He is going to continue to love and sustain us. That is his nature. Psalm 91: 14 says, "Because he loves me," Says the Lord, "I will rescue him: I will protect him for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
It's wonderful to know that God is in charge. I don't need to know all the details, that's God's part. Now, how about joining me for a delicious piece of manna?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Not So Incredible Journey

One of my favorite movies when I was a little girl was Disney's The Incredible Journey. The live- action film about 2 dogs and a cat traveling together through trials and tribulations in the Canadian wilderness some 200 amazing miles to get back to their beloved owners was thrilling. I would look at my cat and wonder, "Would you try to find me if we were separated like that?" The remake in the early 90's with the animals voiced by Michael J. Fox and Sally Fields was one of my boys' favorites when they were growing up. Having the animals talk to each other made communication so easy - we knew what they were thinking in every situation: Comedic or frightening. Well, I wish my dog, Scout, could talk right now because she has had a terrible adventure and I have no clue what happened to her.
When Mark and I left to go to our friends' Barb and Geza's for New Year's Eve, Scoutie was in her dog house on the side of our house. The side yard is completely enclosed and its where we keep her when no one is home. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20 and we should have put her in the garage with our cats, Hershey and Bandit, because of the fireworks and noise that come with the New Year.
When Mark and I got home at 12:30 AM, he went to check on her and discovered that she was gone. Somehow she had pulled herself up over the makeshift fence blocking the side yard from the back yard and then, apparently, squeezed between 2 boards in the fence to make her escape. Whether through sheer doggy curiosity or terror from the noise, I am pretty sure that if Scoutie could talk, she would say, "I've made a big mistake."
Mark drove around for about 30 minutes then continued to get up and check every hour until morning to see if she had come home.
New Year's Day, we both kept checking for her. I made "Lost Dog" signs and Mark rode his bike all over our neighborhood, posting the fliers and looking for our little lost pup.
By today, we had pretty much decided she wasn't coming back. We knew we would be calling the Animal Shelter tomorrow to see if she had been picked up but, since we live out in the county, I didn't really expect that animal control had been out in our neighborhood that night. Our best hope was that someone who wanted and needed a sweet dog had found her lost and alone and had taken her home.
Then, this afternoon, I opened the front door to shake out a tablecloth in the front yard. It was pouring rain. As I stepped out the door I looked up to see what could have been a scene from any Disney animal film. There was Scoutie, walking very slowly and barely able to put one foot in front of the other. She was covered in mud and trembling in the cold rain. I called for Mark and encouraged Scoutie to come into the house. I ran to get towels while Mark knelt down to hold her. We realized that the "mud" was actually dried blood and it was clear that she had been badly hurt. We carried her into the bathroom and gently set her in a warm bath where Mark carefully bathed her wounds. We gave her fresh water to drink which she downed immediately and later some food. It was clear she hadn't eaten in a long time. Then she laid down in her bed and fell into a very deep sleep. We have been checking on her every little while. She's had more water and another round of food. She has stopped trembling. It is clear that she is overjoyed to be back home. From the wounds it appears she tried to crawl under a barbed wire fence or something sharp like that. The cuts and gashes are all around her neck.
As I was sitting there on the floor with her, I got to thinking that Scoutie's adventure reminded me a lot of how we are with God sometimes. He puts us in a place that is good and safe. He cares for us and meets our needs - even when we don't realize it or when we think we need more: Bigger and better needs that God should meet. Scoutie was in a good place with a warm doghouse, fresh water, room to run and 2 great meals a day - not to mention a family that loved and cared for her.
Like Scoutie, though, sometimes we become dissatisfied with what God has provided for us and we want to escape the lives we have...kind of sounds a little bit like the story of the Prodigal son, doesn't it? We strike out to experience an ill-advised and ill-planned adventure, consequences be damned! Or, perhaps Scoutie's actions were motivated purely because of terror and fear. We can make lots of mistakes if we react to things that scare us rather than stopping to pray for God to protect us and calm our fears. Scoutie was never really in danger. The noises scared her but she was in a safe place. Still, poor thing, she ran away.
I think she is going to be ok. It must have been terrifying. We have no idea where she's been or what really happened. I am certain she would not have survived another night in the freezing, rainy cold. We are so grateful she made it home. I imagine this is how God treats his beloved children when they come home from some mistaken adventure. He washes off the mud, blood and sin. He clothes us in clean garments, he strokes our heads and heals our wounds and lays us down in soft beds. He loves us back to himself.
I hope its a story with a happy ending. I do know, however, that when the large gash on Scoutie's neck heals, it going to leave a pretty big scar. That's going to be a life long reminder of her nightmare adventure.
Its often that way with the sins in our lives too. We are loved back to God but we still bear the consequences of those wrong choices.
So, this year I hope and pray that I am able to remain close to the Lord, that I find my satisfaction in the places he sets my feet and guides me to walk. When I am tempted to do something I know I shouldn't, I hope I remember Scoutie's New Year's Not So Incredible Journey. It's my prayer for you too!
Well, poor Scoutie is struggling to recover. We took her the vet on Monday and were told that all the wounds were definitely the result of an attack by another animal, probably a large dog. It must have been a fierce battle. The doctor shaved all the hair around the wounds and cleaned them a bit - she was really mauled. I can't imagine how she survived the fight and then 2 nights out in our uncharacteristically bitter cold (it was below freezing both nights). We've been cleaning and dressing the wounds and giving her antibiotics. Today we've discovered that she probably has a couple of broken or cracked ribs. She mostly sleeps, walking to go outside is difficult and she has no energy. We're doing all we can to love her back to health. She's a good little patient, though, and she never complains when we change her bandages. I don't think I would be so good.