Friday, May 19, 2017

No Ordinary Turtle

(Note: I wrote this when Ben was 6 years old. And tomorrow is his high school graduation celebration!)
It was clear right away that this was no ordinary turtle. Ben set him down on the deck for all to see, and he stuck out his stumpy little legs and started marching! When Ben picked him up again, instead of pulling into his shell, he kicked his legs, stuck out his crinkly little face and stared right up at him.

We named him Sunny, for his disposition, and for the sun-yellow streaks that marked his domed shell. Ben identified him as an Eastern Box Turtle, endangered but quite common to our woods, and a gourmand of such gooey delicacies as slugs, snails and earthworms. (He also had a taste for Asian pears.) So Ben set to work collecting Sunny’s slimy menu from beneath rocks and rotting logs. When he offered a nice fat worm to Sunny, he ate his revolting lunch right out of Ben’s hand!

We set up a tank for Sunny on the front porch. I smiled every time I checked on him, because he’d boldly peer up at me instead of pulling into his shell.

One afternoon, I watched Ben walking Sunny. (He would put him down on the grass and Sunny would walk, as Ben stayed just ahead of him.) It occurred to me: Ben and Sunny share a personality trait.

For Ben’s never been one to pull into his shell, either. As a toddler, he had no fear (although he provoked much fear in his stunned parents) as he ate or climbed or otherwise tackled anything he came across. If a child hit him or took his toy, he did not run to Mommy; he just hit or took the toy right back (thankfully, he has outgrown that stage). He was not one to hide from any risk or conflict. He stuck his neck out and marched along with Sunny-style confidence.

And he did not inherit this trait from me! By nature, I am not one to stick my neck out in risky situations. If it were up to my own desires, I’d pull into my shell and hide.

But when I gave my life to Jesus, I discovered this happy paradox: with God as my hiding place, I possess all the boldness I need, in order to do what He asks of me.


I have learned more of what this means through the years. Hiding in the Lord doesn’t mean withdrawing myself from the world, like your average turtle would pull into his shell until danger passed. Instead, God hides my life inside His love, no matter what is going on around me. I can risk investing in a difficult relationship, or standing up for what’s right when silence would be easier, because even as I do so, I am hiding in the most secure shelter in the world: God’s protective hand. I have the freedom to stick my neck out when God asks me to get involved, no matter how risky it may look to my human eyes. Even as He hides me under His wing, He sets me high upon the rock of His strength.

God’s children are safely hidden in His own perfect power and goodness and faithfulness. Confident and secure there, we can stick out our necks, stretch out our legs, and walk boldly wherever He may lead.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Measurements

(Note: I wrote this roughly 10 years ago, when both sons would have been grade-schoolers.)

For a change of pace from the math workbooks one morning, we held a Measurement Day. With rulers and tape measures in hand, my boys chose items and distances to measure. From Ben’s big toe to the length of the house, they recorded all kinds of numbers on their charts.


Of course, their ideas exceeded what we could reasonably do. Matthew wanted to calculate the height of our house from basement floor to sharply peaked roof (I think he really just wanted to climb the extension ladder). Ben wanted to measure the distance from the grass to the sky.

In the Bible, God uses mind-boggling measurements to convey the immeasurability of His ways, His thoughts, His mercy.





They are described by the degree of difference between earth and heaven. The quality of heaven as compared to earth — its perfection, purity, brightness, joy — exceeds all earthly computation. 

When it comes to God’s ways, this gap between earth and heaven is an insurmountable obstacle: we simply cannot get there from here.

“Can you search out
the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limits
of the Almighty?
Their measure is longer than the earth 
and broader than the sea.”  
~ Job 11:7-9 ~


As my mind struggles with wanting to understand God’s mind, He reminds me that I cannot comprehend His size. Seeking to understand His thoughts is like trying to figure the distance between the grass and sky using Ben’s school ruler. What I can know is what God has already given me to know — in Christ and in His Word.

God makes it clear to me that His ways are far beyond my comprehension — then, He calls me to comprehend the immeasurable dimensions of His love!



Instead of making sense of His ways, God wants me to understand His love — that vast mercy which fills the chasm between heaven and earth.

As great as the difference is between my own thoughts and the thoughts of a holy, Almighty God, so great is His love toward me. To better comprehend that love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge: that is my prayer.     

Monday, May 8, 2017

Blackberry Delight

(Note: I wrote this in July 2003; Ben would have been not quite 3 years old.)
It was 7 am. The front door was wide open, and the mosquitoes were accepting the implied invitation into our home. As I looked out across our driveway, I had to smile at the familiarity of this scene: Benjamin, still in his pajamas, was carefully picking blackberries.
We’ve taken to calling him "berry boy.” After our Virginia vacation, I reminded him of our swimming, fishing and cave-exploring fun. Then I asked, "What was your favorite part?" "Taking walks," he said immediately. "I liked picking da behweez!" For him, the treasures found on the roadside bushes were the highlight of his week.
Matthew does not share his brother’s passion. For him, the thorns, the sweat, the spider webs and the purple hands make berry-picking work, not fun. But for Benjamin, these obstacles are a small price to pay for gaining a fistful of fruit. He likes the "duicy ones.” I’ve watched him climb right into the middle of a tangled patch, be stuck by thorns on all sides, and barely seem to notice. He recognizes the color of good fruit; he warns me not to pick the "wed ones" because they’re not "wipe." His face and his clothes are perpetually marked with streaks of purple.
Benjamin is generous with his little gems. He offers a moist handful to Frank for his cereal, and brings them to play group to give to friends. He carries a cupful in our car, just in case he finds someone who might want a taste. He wants to share his "blackberry delight" with everyone!
His devotion to harvesting fruit, no matter the mess or discomfort, is a good example to me. For those who belong to Christ, the Spirit who lives within us is working spiritual "fruit" into our lives. Yet, working for this fruit can be a thorny job. There is pain involved in being patient in trials, in giving love to someone unlovely, in being gentle instead of harsh with my words.
I too easily lean toward physical comfort and laziness — trying to dodge the thorns, missing out on the fruit that’s hidden behind them. I find sitting on the couch with a good book more comfortable than pursuing blackberries (or faithfulness). But the rewards of couch-sitting are minimal compared to braving the berry patch. And what fruit do I have to share with others, after I’ve finished my last chapter?
I want to seek God’s fruit in my life with the same eagerness I see in Benjamin toward his berry-picking. I want to disregard the cost, and clutch the tiny fruits in my hand like holy treasure.

I want to view my life with God’s eyes. Certainly, when God sees His children growing in these spiritual fruits — pursuing them, practicing them, taking joy in sharing them — He delights in His harvest. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Chasing Crickets

One of the rich blessings of having written hundreds of devotionals for our homeschool group is this: I have recorded our family's daily experiences, God's daily graces, over the course of the past 18 years! With Ben's graduation coming up, I've been reading through the ones that paint a picture of his childhood. This is among my favorites.

Up on our hilltop, some days simply seem to be made for the memory books. Like today: As I stand at the dryer and fold laundry, I can see Benjamin outside, capturing crickets and grasshoppers. No matter that, last night, he and Matthew have already caught and fed 30 crickets to our skinks and gray tree frogs, who pounced upon their moveable feast with leggy glee. Ben and Matthew’s Daddy estimates that our reptile tank will not need crickets for at least a week.


But, in spite of this information, Ben continues to chase big black crickets and little green grasshoppers for his plastic “cricket canister.” Knowing he can’t feed them just yet to our lizards and frogs, he stuffed the canister with roughly one pound of grass, leaves and other assorted organic materials, so they would feel at home (and fatten up?) in their remaining days before becoming reptile chow. He even snuck them into his room during naptime, so he could enjoy their chirping companionship. He assured me with blue-eyed sincerity that he did NOT open the lid. (I am waiting for the day that he sets up cricket races in the sunroom. . .)

I don’t remember if I ever chased crickets as a child, but I do remember chasing my brother and sisters in our postage-stamp backyard in greater Boston. We climbed apple trees and took aim with rotten fruit. We made cakes and pies from leaves and mashed berries. We designed forts in the shrubs that surrounded our house. We played hide-and-seek, mother-may-I, and all kinds of other games that I can’t recall at the moment (and, honestly, probably never will remember again). But that simple, sunny, outdoor joy is a vivid memory. I can still feel it as I watch Benjamin leaping through the uncut grass and wild strawberry vines carpeting our backyard.


Matthew finishes his math assignment and runs to the door: “Ben! I can come out now!” Ben has proven to be an expert cricket locator. But, while he tends to squash the poor bugs with his aggressive technique, Matthew gets them quickly and safely into the canister. (You would think they were hunting wildebeest on the plains of Africa for how seriously Matthew stalks his prey.) They work well as a team. Day after day, they choose cricket-catching over swimming in the pool, riding scooters, or even sliding down the mud hill.

As I describe the delight my boys take in “simple things,” a friend with teenagers reminds me that their interests will change as they grow up. They won’t be as content to make up games at home, she says wistfully, but will want to be out with friends, doing more planned sorts of activities. I am glad to be reminded that these young years won’t last forever, so I will savor them all the more.

Later, when I look out the window and see Benjamin and Matthew hot on the trail of those hopping critters, my heart swells with pleasure at being able to be home with them during their childhood years, to share in the things that bring them joy.


And so I leave my pile of unfolded laundry on the floor, run outside and join them in the chase.   

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sweeping the Deck, Smiling

After dinner, as the light softens and the air stills, I sweep the deck. Oak pollen is everywhere, the extravagance and abundance of life raining down. Sunny dandelions dance in twilight; lacy dogwood blossoms flutter above my head; every green leaf carries the bright sheen of promise and hope in this new season.

As I lift my broom to brush the pollen from the patio tabletop, I remember.

Tricia, Naturalist Extraordinaire, taught our homeschool group, the Explorers, right here at this table. Earthworms and other decomposers. Susanna and Kalie and Ben and Mica intently observing earthworms wriggle in their hands. Dry ice experiments. I can still see in my minds eye: Justin with his orange Mohawk, watching Tricia’s magic alongside Joanna and Benn. Eli helping his Dad launch a bottle rocket from the lawn just behind me.

 

 

I reach beneath the table with my broom toward a heap of golden pollen. The Fall Festival, the one where Cassie and Tabitha and Melissa bobbed for apples in our washtub on the table. Madison prepping our Asian pears, green-gold ribbons of peel spiraling onto the ground. The sweet wet fragrance of those pears still hangs in the air. I glance behind me; yes, the clothesline that runs from the deck railing to a far tree. I remember it weighted with donuts on string, Stephen and Matthew and Lillie taking hungry, messy bites.
 


The swingset: Jacob and Kate and Sydney taking turns flying off and jumping into piles of leaves. I can hear their high-pitched cries of delight.

The Easter party, the one that the teens planned: Moriah painting eager little Rowe faces. Melanie and Denise and Jamie donning Easter ribbon wreaths atop their heads. The “big kids” hiding the eggs behind the house, Tabitha and Scott herding the wide-eyed “little kids” onto the deck so they couldn’t peek at the hiding spots. I feel sure that there are still a few plastic eggs, cracked by weather and time, along our hill’s treeline.


  
I remember the Christmas party when the older kids put on a nativity pageant for the parents; we sat on the deck as they performed in the yard. Matthew narrated; Ansley and Sarah Kelly were fashionable shepherds; the Robinson girls were exceptional directors.

I swat at the filmy webs knitting the railing together, spiders eager to feed and build families. Cindy and Connie, Lisa and Samantha lined up at this railing, watching their kids, sharing their thoughts and wisdom with each other.
 

I bend my neck back, watch slate-blue sky crowded with clouds, and wonder: were we EVER rained out of an Explorers party?! If memory serves correctly (it doesn’t always), we consistently had friendly weather. I look toward the sunroom door and see Leah and Gwen, their little boys on their laps, spreading tomato sauce and grated cheese onto homemade dough during our annual Pizza party.

Back to my broom. As I push my pollen collection toward the deck’s edge, I smile to think of the families that have passed through Explorers, passed through this home, for nearly 18 years. As the seasons wax and wane, I will sweep away pollen, fallen blossoms, clay bootprints, rust and gold leaves, dusty snow, from these aging boards. But nothing could ever sweep away those years, those layers of memories!

Those families and shared experiences helped shape this family. Those lively, full-color memories echo in my heart with a clarity borne of joy and gratitude; they are as much a part of our home as these swept wooden boards, as full of life and joy and promise as the seeds and leaves that I launch from the deck's edge, twirling and carefree in dusk's friendly, gentle light.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

On Eagles' Wings

Do you know how a mother eagle teaches her eaglets to fly? The golden eagle (the one the Israelites would have seen in their day) weaves thorny branches and brambles into her nest, which is built very high above the ground. When the young birds are immature and still, they are comfortable; but as they grow bigger and more wiggly, the nest becomes uncomfortable.
When the mother eagle observes that her eaglets are ready for flying lessons, she nudges them out of the nest. She doesn't wait for them to go (they might choose to stay for Mom's good food), but actively pushes them out, one by one, watching each one descend with maternal concern, ready to swoop to their rescue as needed.
And how does she rescue the immature eagle who isn’t yet flapping effectively? She flies beneath the baby, and he gently falls onto her outstretched wing. Then, she returns him to the safety of the nest, until he is ready for another gentle push toward independence.


The Lord compared Himself to just such an eagle mother when He spoke to the Israelites in the desert, reminding them of how He saved them out of slavery and carried them to freedom “on eagles’ wings” (see Exodus 19:4). In other passages, His glorious wings guard and shelter: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge” (Psalm 91:3-4; see also Psalm 36:7 and Malachi 4:2). Our God is the one who both challenges us to greater heights, and rescues us from falling.
Some of us may have full, even thorny, nests at the moment. Still, we encourage our children every day to step out on their own: get themselves dressed for the first time, test out their bike without training wheels, cook dinner for the family, apply for a first job, get a driver's license. Each of these is a loving nudge out of the nest as they awkwardly move toward maturity. Yet, if a child fails — falls off the bike, burns the casserole, blows the driving test — we move in to rescue and to comfort, as he regroups for another try at learning to soar.
And as we guide our children toward increased independence, no matter how many test flights it takes, we can confidently hold fast to the One who guards, shelters and rescues His children with mighty, outstretched wings.

“The Lord found [Israel] in a desert land
And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness;
He encircled him, He instructed him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirs up His nest,
Hovers over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up,
Carrying them on its wings,
So the Lord alone led his people . . ."
Deuteronomy 32:10-12

But those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall soar on wings like eagles;
They shall run and not grow weary;
They shall walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31