“But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13b
I maneuvered the morning traffic, our 3 year old screamed his frustrations at the world while the sun shone brightly on our 6 year old’s head buried in a book. I was running close to the bell again. Someday, I thought, this-getting-kids ready-in-the mornings-thing is going to get easier.
I had just referred an all-out brawl between these two on who was going to turn off the TV. If you see our 3 year run out the front door screaming, it’s not because I’m beating him. It’s simply that I let his sister turn off the TV, or the light, or something else this time. Lord, these children are infinitely creative. They never cease to amaze me as to what they think to fight over.
After everyone was in their respective places, I power walked down the elementary school hallway to my car and the work day ahead. I tried to imagine what the voice mail that came in entailed. I have a stick shift, and a 3 year old, which pretty much means answering my phone while driving is nearly impossible. If I am not changing gears, then I am navigating endless questions, or on this morning, complaints. “Mommy, I am mad at you!” He declared. (To which I managed to calmly reply, “That’s okay honey that will happen, just keep moving, we are on a schedule….”)
I saw a little boy out of the corner of my eye. He had his full concentration focused on the flimsy Styrofoam breakfast tray he was carrying to his class. It happened in slow motion – his milk tumbling into his grits, his grits about to hit the floor. I rushed over and got there in the nick of time. “Can I help you out with that?” I offered. He just glanced up at me, readjusted his stow of goodies and proceeded on.
“I love you!” He replied over his shoulder. “I love the whole world!” One of the Special Education teachers came up then, and helped him on his course. My heart went out to him and his generous love offering. I thought of his mom, and his team of teachers and paraprofessionals. I don’t know what it’s like to walk in their shoes, but I applaud them and appreciate them. This kid must absorb a lot of love to want to so freely give it -reflecting so well what regularly shines on him. This little one: barely three feet tall, living out 1 Corinthians 13:13, walking in step with the greatest thing.
His morning routine is not punctuated with the passing of another Accelerated Reader test, or the mastery of arithmetic, or thoughts of after school activities. His morning is different, because he is different. This morning, though, it was not limitation I saw. Instead, it was a different ability that I fell witness to: the ability to so purely live out the greatest of these.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Particularly when it comes to parenting, my hubby tends to be a little more adult. Yesterday I gave the kids Captain America ring pops as a pre-dinner snack, because, well, CAPTAIN AMERICA RING POPS! He reveled in the coolness with them, then presented a beautiful, fresh fruit salad. He is just good like that.
Later, at dinner he had a great, ‘novel’ idea. I felt like Homer Simpson letting out a loud “DOH!!!!!!”. Somewhere in the process of gestating, birthing, and raising little people, the concept of teaching them table manners escaped me. This is a pretty sad fact given the effort our parents put into the deal a few decades earlier. My hubby and I both grew up in households where sitting down at the table each night as a family was priority. You gratefully ate what you were given, you were polite, and you didn’t get up until excused. Napkins resided in your lap, elbows off the table, and “OH MY GOD! DO NOT STAB WITH YOUR FORK – LIFT!” echoed throughout our home’s halls.
I’m not sure how old I was when it started, but I know by the 5th grade, I knew the different place settings and what fork to use. I was likely closer to a little adult then a wild banshee at the table.
So, back to giving my hubby props, who, in the middle of tacos last night declared it table manners training session number one. It’s like every other parenting decision. You just have to decide to start. And do it.
Which got me thinking: I don’t see training in table manners come up to often in my flashy family oriented magazines or hear about it on the radio. I don’t think I have ever walked up to another friend and heard them gush “We had the best family devotional on table manners last night, let me tell you about it!” Sadly, table manners is a dying training category falling prey to busy schedules and its art is compromised and simplified to simply feeding everybody something (other than Captain America ring pops :)). Ask any 30 something with young kids the priorities each night and it is likely food, bath, bed. We are in survival mode (of the rich, first world kind).
So, this weekend, I am on a mission. I’m scouring the internet and going to the library to see what resources are out there for teaching children table manners. It’s time this act got cool again. Everybody should be doing it.
It had been a really good weekend. Why then did hot, salty tears decide to fall? It was late and the morning would come soon. Why, emotion now?
Parenting just has that way. Emotions pop onto the scene with little warning. Like that moment where you may simultaneously burst with joy from a fierce/tender love, and ache with an unknown longing.
Our mission is to receive these little beings with a simple assurance that while they don’t come with instructions, with enough love, we can figure it out.
And you have to be comfortable with being a work in process. Because just when you think you may have found your rhythm, something changes again and you learn how to love. How to love more, better, differently, the same. Loving consistently.
And that love morphs and changes. Because they morph and change. And I think I have identified why the hot salty tears.
Tonight our almost 6 year old (going on 16) seized an opportunity: her little brother fell asleep early which left my undivided attention to her. She suggested we cuddle while we watch a movie. “Are you too big to fit in my lap?” I teased. I didn’t really think so, but she did have a wild growth spurt over the recent holiday. It felt like she grew three feet (but more like three inches since summer). “I think I can still fit.” She replied.
But several rustlings later, she really didn’t. “I can’t get comfortable,” she lamented. I understood. And suddenly her dainty twin bed felt just too small. “Oh, okay, we’ll adjust,” I brightened.
Later she sought me out in the worn out recliner and without hesitation climbed up onto me. She still didn’t really fit. But she didn’t care. And I didn’t either. Before long I looked down to see her sprawled across me, fast asleep.
With everybody tucked in, I settled in as well – to the outpouring of emotion. I let the tears fall and soak my pillow and my husband just went with it. I was seized with that panic of what happens if your kids grow up too fast and suddenly one day they are too big to fit in your lap?
That love overflows. It overflows to spill out over your lap and into nooks and crannies that you didn’t know love could pervade. I realized through the swollen eyes and crying onset headache an important truth: when your lap gets too small, your heart grows to make up for it.
And that’s why calling my parents is so important. Because in the process of doing well at raising a really independent daughter, they have had to let their hearts grow to make up for distance in miles and distance in phone calls and emails. Do they know that their love fills in my everyday moments of life and the hobbies that give me endless joy? Their love is why I find a piece of Heaven in a hot cup of coffee and the play of words. I am way too big to fit in their laps now, but their love pervades my life, and is the DNA of the simple truths that make me, well me.
So I have their example to assure me of what happens when our kids no longer fit in my lap, when I lay awake at night, almost fearful of sleep, because I may miss something.
And, I have this beautiful birdhouse. My husband’s grandfather made it by hand, it is beautifully painted with a red chimney and cheerful flowers, and a little sign by the entrance that says, “For Rent, Cheep.” I don’t know what I love more, the attention to details, or the play on words (Get it? For rent, cheep!).
I have never sat on my husband’s grandfather’s lap. I likely never will. But I feel incredibly and magically, and beautifully loved. Thousands of miles separate us, and we don’t talk much. But his love will hang in a prominent place in our kitchen. His and GG’s love have found their way into the nook and crannies of our lives – how that birdhouse will hang and if it could talk, have stories to tell.
I think of Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” There was always love to give -it just took on different forms, at different times, in different ways.
And I have to believe that our love is enough, growing in increasing measure, to adapt and morph and continue consistently.
When love overflows the lap, the heart grows to make up for it. We must simply keep our hearts and eyes wide open to witness it.
Knee and shoulder pads? Check.
Thirst for adventure with the realistic anticipation of falling?
We are bike riding now. And by “we,” I mean she speeds along as fast as her little legs will take her, while I walk a supervisory distance behind, mug of tea in hand, gratitude in heart, and prayer on my lips.
And all of a sudden, we are in a new season of life. A “big-kid-bike-riding-season.” Man, they grow up fast. I feel like I learn something new in parenthood every day. Often, the more I see of our 5 year old meeting the world, I want to be just like her as I grow up.
It was never a question of when she would fall. We all simply knew that she would. But we also knew that she had the proper equipment, knew where she would be riding, and knew to keep her from the obvious dangers of careening off parked cars and cliffs.
She has taken to having her first bike with more zeal than fear, and complete trust in her “Hello Kitty” safety gear. Each time she meets the pavement, she jumps up with a hearty “I’m okay, I have my stuff on! I can still do this!”
Can I tell you? I love how this process of learning to ride is overall drama free. There isn’t frustration, or doubt, or fear, or second guessing. When she falls, we don’t have deep philosophical conversations on the possibility of getting up and riding again. We just do.
God equips us the same way – with His Word and His Spirit and His love, and His tangibility in provision and relationship. Here. Available. Present. Covering our head, our heart, even our knees and elbows.
And still here, available, and present when we do fall. Because we will. Why am I still surprised at this? Because somewhere deeply imbedded in my performance based matrix in my brain, I deeply disdain the thought of not doing well. I don’t like to fall. Sometimes, I don’t jump up so quickly. Sometimes, mentally, I want to stay down and hunker in doubt about that guidance that God provides. For some reason, it seems safer that way, hanging out on the pavement, waiting for the green light to get back up and go again. Silly me. That green light is there all along. It doesn’t go away just because I take my eyes off of it.
Life isn’t about avoiding the falls, it is about growing our trust in God’s grace so that each time we do fall, we joyfully get back up. What is it for you? Parenting? Pursuing a passion? A Career change? A Relationship? When we walk through our days looking all grown up and important, (doing important grown up things), we sometimes lose sight of His protection and provision. It may not be so obvious as bright pink “Hello Kitty” elbow pads, but it is there.
And somewhere, deep inside us, that child is telling us to get back up, dust ourselves off, and heartily say,”I can still do this.”
I often get a kick out of reading proverbs and short sayings, blessings, and benedictions. Easter, 2015: a new spirit resurrecting calm and peace emerged for my home, as God rolled away a tightly wound ball of uptightness. I wasn’t proud of it, or even willing to admit it, but I was the woman who didn’t relax well in her own home. I always felt like I had to do something. I was almost always doing or asleep. I operated on two speeds: whirling dervish of “homemaking” OR knocked out, oblivious to anything around me, totally given over to exhaustion. My husband understands how to relax, prioritize needs, and recharge. Truth is, I used to look at this ability of his with confusion, envy, and an attitude of “I wish I could do that.” It turns out, I can. Maybe it was because I was physically under the weather, physically lacking a good chunk of energy, but something clicked for me that weekend. My goals were simpler, any burden of accomplishment lifted. It was enough to be. It was enough to enjoy what was immediately upon me, which that weekend was lots of sunshine and tinker toys spread out across the floor, beckoning creativity in little minds and hands. I even chilled out so much that those tinker toys stayed on the floor for the entire weekend. They beckoned creativity a few times, initiating spontaneous fun and thought. My daily prayer, bolstered by intentional action, now includes getting out into the sunshine and a sprinkling of fun, however that looks for me and you. May the sun shine brightly, and tinker toys litter your floor. Such simplicity is often made far more complicated than me. But is a new blessing that I plan on sticking with.
I’ll have to remind myself… for those times I’ll want to revert to my old ways. Just like the newly built tinker toy design, I am a new, and more relaxed, creation.
We all need a place to catch our breath: a physical surrounding that shines the special in the ordinary; a simple abode to inhale gratitude deeply and exhale peace passionately.
Out front, I hear the birds and know that the sun is waking. The new day’s light illuminates opportunity, even if that opportunity doesn’t seem grand or mean great accomplishment. (Sometimes it is stillness for 10 whole minutes, free of interruption and discord.)
Though, I’m not quite sure a completely quiet place exists…while my little section of the human world is calm and all is well, I’m surrounded by the banter of wild geese, one in particular, really pushing an agenda. I imagine she is a mom too, expressing an important message, repeating herself to make sure it sinks in. I get it. It’s exhausting getting your brood in line and ready for the day, isn’t it, dear one?
Though, I’m not quite sure the world is ever entirely at peace, all at once. There will always be pain, suffering, grief, sadness. To believe it doesn’t exist or pretend its not there, or worse yet, think that it isn’t important because it doesn’t happen to us, is stupid, hurtful, naïve.
I’m changing my frame of mind, these days, when I stop and catch my breath. I regroup and reframe what is immediately or urgently in front of me, and I try to reflect on the world at large; on those hurting, grieving, persevering on paths unknown to me. What could my little moment of meditation offer, what good is in my little prayer?
There is One far more powerful than me directing, synchronizing, choreographing these quiet moments. My retreat to this meditation nook withholds such power, here I plug in to a Divine Energy. I catch my breath and fuel my Spirit. And I have courage to press on.