Sunday, March 15, 2015

In The Garden, a reflection on suffering

"Can you not watch and wait with me a little while?"

He stands in the shadow filled garden, holding out an unscarred hand. He does not ask me to take His cup and win the war for Him, nor does He ask me for the strength for fight it or that I change the nature of the battle. He asks me to watch with Him, to wait in the darkness before He goes and fights for me.

I do not want Him to walk a little ways away, and come back to find me sleeping, too fatigued by the effort it costs to stay and watch. Instead, I want to walk with Him, to a darker place. I want to clasp arms with Him, around the blood-spattered rock of suffering, and wait with Him there. I want to listen, as He intercedes for me, as the weight of my sorrows settle on His shoulders. I want to look into His eyes, and see my helplessness reflected in the tears that He cries for me, and I want to see my weakness swallowed up in His all sufficiency. I want to weep with Him, in this darkened garden, and know the fellowship of His suffering, so that in a little while, when He bears my scars for me, when the dying is done, and the sun has risen, I will know Him.

Will not the breaking of bread in the sunshine be all the sweeter from the breaking of our hearts, together in the darkness? I will look across the table of plenty, and know by comparison the blinding glory of His light all the clearer. When I see His hands and side, wounded and scarred from fighting my battles, I will remember the strength of their clasp over that bloodied rock of sorrow, and I will know Him. 

He asks me to tarry here, in this place of suffering, that I might know Him. The morning is coming, and already, He bears the scars that foretell of the victory won. "... That I may know Him and the power of His Resurrection," I will wait.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Poem in March

I would now like to begin by pretending I have been blogging all this time, and not in fact, skipped months of goings on. Let us jump right in, shall we?

Today was beautiful. The sun shone bright and warm, unexpected and welcome after a disappointingly wet forecast. Daffodils and tulips donned exuberantly frilly hats and bobbed cheerfully in the breeze. Their ruffled skirts showcased every shade of happy; yellows, oranges and pinks all danced together in a beautiful bouquet. It was a morning on which I breathed deep of their simple fragrance, and felt suddenly, that it was a privilege and delight to be alive. I wish on days like these, for greater capacity to absorb all of the fresh, to steep myself deeper in the sunlight, to entangle my soul with the lacy roots of growing things. Spring has come to Memphis, and oh, it is welcome.

These soft petals declared the glory of their Creator to me today. To quote a fellow romantic:

¨Oh its the most beautiful poem I ever saw... The lines and verses are only the outward garments of the poem... the real poem is the soul within them... that beautiful bit is the soul of an unwritten poem. It is not everyday one sees a soul, even of a poem." -Anne Shirley

I saw poetry in the way these flowers blushed and beamed. The texture in their ruffled edges thrilled me, and you can almost see brush strokes in their carefully detailed stems, leaves and petals. They showed me Jesus.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Today, You are Four.

My darling girl, today you are four. Somewhere between sleeping and waking, the hour struck, and you became a whole year older. I know you expected something more magical upon awaking; the first words out of your mouth were ¨It is my birthday? Am I still talking the same? Am I still living in my very own pajamas?¨ and then you gave yourself a groggy inspection to make sure you were still you.

Leilani, my heart is so full today. Four years ago, at this moment, I had just surrendered your little self to the nurse, and was watching your daddy wheel your little hospital bed away, off to your first bath and checkup. You were so tiny. I was so bewildered and felt wholly unprepared to be your Mama. Four years later, I am still learning. As you have grown up, thank you for being so patient with me. Thank you for loving me as I have grown up too.

At three, I could still see the baby in you. But a year later, at four, I catch instead, glimpses of the little lady you will become. The infant is gone forever, and I admit, my heart is wistful as I look back. I hear ¨They grow up so fast¨ frequently, and my heart feels heavy with the weight of it sometimes. I have come to love these little years with you, Leilani. I love the feeling of your small hand in mine, of your tiny, wispy frame snuggled up close at bedtime. You hold so much Big in your little heart. Your sweet voice warbles like a little bird's, as you chatter happily away. You have a capable vocabulary, and I am always impressed with your ability to communicate the things on your mind.

I am so amazed by you Leilani, by your intensity, your enthusiasm, your creativity and depth of thinking. I have watched you become so aware this year. Aware of yourself, aware of your surroundings in a new way, aware of the feelings of others. You are compassionate and considerate, and I am challenged by your generous tendencies. Your understanding of the gospel blesses my heart. It is a joy to hear you tell ME about the saving love that Jesus has for us. Your reminders of what true beauty is, echo my little lectures, but they convey a real understanding that Beautiful is something we were created to be, not because of anything we do or put on, but because Jesus loves us. I need to hear all of these things Leilani, thank you for listening and letting the Lord use you.

You are so smart Leilani. I used to think that you were a budding artist, for you would color wild scribbles with great intensity. As we have waited for your lines to take shape, we have begun to realize that you are not drawing your imaginings, but taking notes and writing about them. Your early love of crayons and sketchbooks has evolved into an obsession with office supplies. You still love stickers, but tape makes you just as happy as they once did. New rolls of tape make you almost as giddy as new notebooks and pens. We can not go anywhere without a notebook and pen, but usually you require an entire backpack and tote bag full of them to be content. You exclaim ¨I NEED SOMETHING TO WRIIIITE ON!¨ frequently, and you have filled literally hundreds of pages full of scribbled notes. I wish I could translate your lines, they are transcribed with fervent dedication. I am excited to see some of your lines become recognizable letters, you can almost write your entire first name unaided, an accomplishment you take great pride in. I am eager for the day to come when you will find yourself equipped with the ability to read and write. I hope to nurture your journalistic tendencies, and I want to encourage your enthusiasm for words.

This January, a spot in the 3 year old hallway became available at Daddy's preschool. We had to make the decision of whether or not to send you to preschool 6 hours a day 5 days a week very quickly. The second I realized this was a serious option, and one that we really needed to consider, I cried. The thought of you spending your days away from my side was one I was totally unexpecting. I had always imagined that I would homeschool you at home, it never entered my mind that sending you to school would be the best option for you and for our family. But after prayer and much consideration, we decided that you were ready to take your first leap outside of the nest, and 4 days later, you stepped into your new classroom for the first time. You have never looked back! You are absolutely thriving, and you are learning so much,  but I have to admit that my days often feel empty without you. Ezra and I really miss your companionship, and I am always glad when I can come get you at the end of the day, or when you and Daddy ride home together. I have been so proud watching you navigate and acclimate to such a huge life change.

The Birthday Girl!
I am so, so proud of you and so deeply thankful for the privilege that it is to be your Mama. Happy Birthday Leilani. I love you so much.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Reflecting on 2013

I can't honestly say that my brain has registered this whole ¨New Year¨ thing. It will be January 1, 2014 in an hour, and I am still processing that it is December. 2013 has come and gone so quickly, yet I feel that the past 365 days could have easily contained several years.

This year was the first year of my whole adult life (which I count as having started the day I found out I was pregnant with Leilani) in which I was not smothered under the nauseating weight of anxiety, or troubled by wafting depression. Jesus killed it dead, and it stayed in the ground this year. It feels like the color yellow. All the time. Sometimes things are a little mustardy, less chipper and bright, but still savory. But usually, if I close my eyes, I can breathe deep and feel Yellow. Bright, alive, promising and joy. I saw sunlight dance on the dust this year, I felt the beauty in pain this year, I tasted the delicious of the Goodness of the Lord and was filled by it in ways I never have been before.

This year, I met my Beanboy, and have watched him grow from a tiny raisiny infant into a full fledged Boy child. I have realized that my toddler truly isn't a toddler anymore, she has sprouted into a preschooler, with strong opinions and long legs and delightful vocabulary. My children are growing up, and this year, I really noticed. I love these little years. I don't think I realized it until this year. I love my babies and it tugs painfully on my heart sometimes to see their beautiful faces and glimpse a whisper of their grown-up selves. I know I will embrace every stage of their rapid ascent into adulthood and independence, but for now I am savoring their round cheeks and praying for a heart that remembers these moments.

I think I also met my husband this year. Is that weird? That sounds strange. But I think I really did. I married this great guy several years ago and I thought he was pretty awesome, but I think that the Lord gave me the gift of new eyes, because the man I live life with looks totally different to me lately. Its like I was living in a 3D movie without the glasses. Then all of a sudden, I put a pair on, and those weird lines on the side of things made sense and the fuzzy squiggly guy that was walking around all far away popped off the screen in nearby, colorful clarity. I am gaining new understanding of the details that make him so perfectly him, and I am realizing more every day how sweetly the Lord has loved me in His gift of Ryan. This was and is a big deal.

The biggest thing though? The biggest thing was Satisfied. I asked Jesus to give me a word this year, a word to focus on and learn about. And He gave me Satisfied. He told me that I needed to know that He alone is enough to Satisfy my soul. Satisfaction goes beyond learning to be content. Contentment implies that one has found oneself in a circumstance or situation, and chosen to be at peace with it. To me, Satisfaction starts with choosing the situation and circumstance itself. Good or bad. I needed to learn not to accept whatever the Lord brought my way, I needed to learn instead to want it. My soul could not be satisfied by merely accepting that His will, His will had to become my will. I needed to learn how to count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. And that meant that I needed to learn how to embrace some hard things because it meant embracing Jesus.

So I asked Him to fill all the achy, empty places of my soul, and He did. When I needed rest, He satisfied. When I was lonely, He satisfied. When I wanted to be held, He satisfied. When I needed to be understood, He satisfied. When I needed to know that I was adored and pursued and valued, He satisfied. The spiritual, the physical, the mundane and the extraordinary. Every moment in which I found myself discontent or wanting, He. Satisfied. I think this word will follow me through the rest of my life. I forget it so quickly and I need to be reminded of it daily. There is enough truth in Satisfied to feast on forever, and after a year of meditating on it, I am ready to take it with me into this year too.

So this year was a big year for me. A year of new, a year of yellow, a year of fresh and a year of Satisfaction in Christ. I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and I am truly thankful for all of the joy that He brought my way in 2013.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Home for the Holidays- Musings on the subject.

Today, the spicy aroma of dahl and curries punctuate the air. I have spent nearly seven years of holidays with their friendly presence, and after many months away, they in particular, remind me that we are "home for the holiday." Outside is brisk, cold breezes dance with our cheeks and noses. The bite is refreshing as we rush from door to car, car to door. I had almost forgotten what "cold" was, in my new warmer climate. English bobs into Tamil and back again, the fan over the stove whirs, cabinets are open and shut, children exclaim and the National Cathedral Choir sings over the television.

Yesterday, my parents signed stacks of papers, and sold my childhood home in Fulton. Over the summer, they moved West, ten hours closer to our Memphian habitat. Mom, Dad and siblings three now live in West Tennessee, while the oldest four of us are scattered between Texas and Maryland. My heart feels glad and at peace with where we all call "home," but I admit, I shed a tear or two and sighed a nostalgic sigh at (pardon the dramatics) The Passing of an Era.

So many Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas mornings were spent as a family in our sprawling rancher. Dad would always have a popping fire burning in the woodstove, Mom would have a candle and oil lamps lit with some festive CD playing in the background. Someone would inevitably be cranky and bickering would momentarily ensue, before general cheer and anticipation was restored. It was "just" us. Seven children spanning 13 years, Mom and Dad, Donna and the cats. A twinkling tree for Christmas, and Granny and Poppa and Dave, Vallie and Sophia on Thanksgiving. It always felt full and busy, and it was home.

Then Ryan waltzed into my heart and life, and our family holidays combined. Thanksgiving would begin at his parents in the fresh morning while family trickled in bearing loads of food. The cousins' little ones would tear through the house screaming happily, usually chased by a growling Unkie Ryan, aunties and uncles would chatter amicably, food was eaten at leisure in every room and enjoyed by all. For dinner, we would drive back to Fulton for traditional turkey fare, with my family. We would all smoosh around one table and eat till only Mom and Ryan were left sitting, usually chatting over their plates till dessert was clamored for. Christmas was much the same, but we would begin with breakfast in my parent's toasty dining room, devotions, advent candle and gifts by the tree and woodstove, before heading to his aunts for lunch and dinner. We got married and added a grandchild to the mix, holiday affairs got spread to other days occasionally, we bustled back and forth, from table to table.

With our exodus to Memphis, holidays look different, so far spending only Christmas in Maryland last year, and only Thanksgiving this year. Home is Memphis, but "going home" has still been flying back to Maryland, and Fulton. I only moved once as a child, and Fulton is where I grew up. My family has felt farther and farther away as we have all grown and spread, but at last, the Fulton chapter has closed, and their Jellico, Tennesse chapter has begun in earnest. I think that this year, for the first time, I am sensing a shift in my heart towards "home." For a long time, home meant Fulton to me, and as Fulton emptied and as the For Sale sign was posted, I felt such a sense of loss. As distance grew between the traditional "just us" Spinolos in Fulton, and as our little Abel family grew, and we moved west, I am finding that "going home" truly means going "where the heart is." Looking back at the holidays I have spent with Ryan's family, I realize that they were spent in various homes, with different configurations of family and foods, but that I only really remember them all as being at "home." I know it sounds strange to only just now be realizing it, but home is where my family is.

Home is with my Abels, Mom and Dad and Tanya, and family is cousins, babies, aunties and uncles. Home is colors and spices and accents and happy commotion. The location of our gatherings and the number of our attendees changes from year to year, but Home is with my Abels, wherever they may be.

And now, Home is where my Spinolos are, in Tennessee. There are entirely new traditions to create, a new house to fill with memories, and even new family to discover and embrace. I can't wait to watch as we establish new migration patterns, now encompassing the opposite corner of Tennessee.

We have gone home for the holidays, and are in an entirely different house, but are still just as at home as ever. I miss my Spinolo family, but I am excited as they start this new journey and I eagerly await the time when we get to visit!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thankful- True Love

Love does not always sound like a sonnet whispered romantically by moonlight. It does not always have sweet nothings to impart or compliments to lavishly bestow. It does not always appear, debonair and armor clad, carrying roses or riding a steed. Love does not always come in pretty little packages tied up with string, by candle light, with the soulful strains of a violin giving voice to the passionate throb of our hearts. Love does not always appear with a kiss in the rain, or a held hand in the dark, or with the sweeping off of one's feet.

In fact, I would argue that True Love looks very different, because in the absence of these things, in the absence of traditional "romance," what is left? What songs does a heart sing when it is covered in and worn down by a life that doesn't smell like roses, one that tends to blow out the candles and that quite often leaves us with no words at all? What eloquence can the sojourn of Romance whisper when two hearts beat true beneath the weight of real life that often lacks dazzle and neat bows?

(photo cred: Rebekah Joy Photography) 

It sounds like the rustle of a weighty trash bag, tied off and hauled out in the early morning, before even the sun has woken up.

It looks tired and sudsy, washing a sink full of dishes, hours after an already long day has ended.

It sounds like whispered shushing, and a soft rise and fall of breathing, as it cradles a restless infant head in the last hours of a night that was already too short, so that I can snuggle warm, instead of pacing cold.

It looks like diligence, day after day, going out and working long, to then come home as fast as possible, to the loud, the untidy, the often cranky and unlovely.

It sounds like laughter, when unexpectedly covered in unfortunate substances, deposited enthusiastically by smelly little offspring.

It looks like a clean room, a boon that came mere hours after my sigh over the futility of my efforts to catch up with all that there is to do.

It may not praise me on the rare day of a new dress and a done up face, but it comes home every day and looks unflinchingly at my unwashed, unbrushed self, covered in baby smells and residue, and loves.

It may not exude declarations of adoration in unprompted moments of ardor, but it lavishly heaps moments of thoughtfulness, hours of service, days and days of tireless love.

It may not sound like accolades over a well cooked, impressively presented feast, but it eats uncomplaining the burnt, undercooked, bland, uninspired and underwhelming.

It may not sound like a sonnet or look like passion, but it is. This is the Truest Love of my life, and it is eloquent and sings to my heart.

Ryan, thank you for being the Love of my life. Thank you for serving me and ours tirelessly. Thank you for sharing the crazy and making the mundane so rich. Thank you for teaching my heart what True Love looks and sounds like, and for calling me Wife, and calling this often messy chaos Home. I love you. And I am so deeply thankful for you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thankful- Leilani Edition

What are some things you are thankful for?

"Stuffed animals because they are furry."
"My kitchen because it is smooth and pink."
"My desk because it is fun to play in and keeps my stuff safe."

What are some foods that you are thankful for?

"Carrots because Jesus made them and they taste like honey."
"You mean sweet?"

Who are some people that you are thankful for?

"Daddy. I love him."
"Why do you love him?"
"Because he first loved us." (Yes. This was her answer.)

Oh Lani girl. You are amazing. Watching you blossom in your new role as a big sister has been an utter joy. You love your little brother with an intensity and dedication that is precious to behold. You are such a little mother to him, and you take your job as his supervisor very seriously. Often, you will inform me when he needs a meal, a diaper or holding, usually after singing loudly to him. I love watching him respond to your sweet silliness, he just adores you, and rightfully so. (Right now, you are singing "Mr Handsome, Mr Handsome, heaverrry heaverry hoindy WIPE. LITTLE baybee hm hm hm OO! The bigger as your Daddy. My my mine mine mine. Mr footie highness." above his tipped over, raspberry blowing self.)

Your eye for detail thrills me. You notice the twinkles in the concrete, the flashes of sunlight reflecting off of dust, the way a long legged insect looks like a little fairy. You love crafting, and glue, and cutting things to peices just for the joy of it. It doesn't matter to you if the finished product is impressive, or even if there IS a finished product. You just create for the joy of it. I can learn so much from that attitude. 

You are so smart. Today I discovered that you could add and subtract 1 from any number 1-5. That is pretty impressive, especially considering that I never taught you how. You are learning your letters completely independent of me, and you remember auditory details that amaze me. 

You sing ALL day long, and you have a fascination with "God's TRUE Word" (Thank you Bible Study Fellowship). You are learning to love the Lord even now, and you challenge me hourly to practice what I preach. Thank you for pushing me forward, and for pushing me to my knees. My heart needs the refining fire that you are. 

Daily you challenge me to love more selflessly, to teach more patiently, and to "STOP talking Mama" and just listen. Thank you for loving me despite my numerous failings. Thank you for your vivacity and enthusiasm, thank you for your endurance as I try and fail so frequently at learning the wonder of you. 

Leilani, I am so deeply, deeply thankful for You