I Can’t Do It

Do you all remember “The Prayer of Jabez” ? It was really popular about 18 years ago. Bruce Wilkinson wrote a book, “The Prayer of Jabez, Breaking Through to the Blessed Life”. It became so popular that someone even gave me a “The Prayer of Jabez for Little Ones” book to read to my little kids.

I always had a problem with The Prayer of Jabez. The prayer is supposed to be understood in 4 parts. The first part Jabez asks God to bless him. The next part he asks God to increase his territory, the third part he prays God will be with him, and the fourth part he asks God to keep him from harm. That is my very simplistic explanation. While I’m sure that this prayer and the book about it has been a blessing to people, I would always get hung up on the “Increase my territory” part. (Which I interpret to mean, increase my circle of influence.) No. Please don’t increase my territory. My territory is quite large enough thank you. In fact my territory feels so large right now that I actually feel a bit like I’m drowning. In fact, I’m a little overwhelmed that there are people walking around who actually feel like rising to the challenge to ask God to increase their territory. It makes me feel like a loser, an underachiever.

Along the same line, there’s another story in the Bible that Jesus tells. A parable about the “talents” (a measurement of money). So, a man goes on a journey and he entrusts his property to his servants. He gives each servant the number of talents that he thinks they can handle. One gets 5 talents, another gets 2 talents, another gets one talent. Each servant takes the money, invests it, and manages to double the amount, but the servant with one talent goes and hides his talent in the ground and does nothing with it. The master returns, the good servants show him how they’ve increased his money, he’s happy and he says, “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Except for the servant with one talent who gets punished for not even trying to do a little with the talent. This story also disturbs me. If I’m going to be honest, I would kind of rank myself as a two talent kind of person. I’m not going to hide my talent, I really do want to achieve something, but I’m not overly ambitious. I am often not a very hard worker. I don’t see myself as one of those super-successful people who just push themselves really hard until they become CEO of the company. That’s not me. If I were to join the business world I would find a low-stress job that kept me happy enough and I would call it good.

Sometimes…Just sometimes…I kind of feel like God made a mistake and slipped a couple extra talents to the low-talent girl.  I feel like saying, Hey, you made a mistake, here, you can have those talents back. I’m good with just one or two.

Here’s what I mean. I feel like God went ahead and increased my territory, loaded on the talents, when I wasn’t asking for him to do it. I want to stick with my tiny circle of influence. I want to just a keep a talent or two to fool around with, and maybe just coast my way on through life. Of course, some of you may be scratching your head and saying, Umm Esther, I think that’s what you have already. And yes. It’s true. I’m not leading any big ministries. I’m not a public figure. I don’t have any titles attached to my name. Haven’t written any books. Lead any online groups. But here’s the thing. I have TEN children. 10. Ten souls that have been entrusted into my care. Ten people who will one day look back at their childhood and either bless me, curse me, or find me so inconsequential that they won’t even think about me. Whether I like it or not, what I do with my kids is going to have a life-long influence on them. Either an influence that will bless them throughout their life, or an influence that they will struggle to heal from for the rest of their lives. Or, more realistically, maybe a mix of both.  I feel like God said, hey, I know you just wanted to take care of your own yard, but instead I’m going to put you in charge of Knox County. Or, I know you just wanted one or two talents, but here, I’m going to give you ten instead.

Overwhelming. Sometimes to the point of panicking. Sometimes I want to just hide from the responsibility. I can’t do it. Doesn’t God understand that I’m not “That Person”? “That Person” is the lady I know who writes out thirty minute incremental schedules for her entire large family and then makes sure that everyone follows the schedule. I’m standing here scratching my head, saying, hmm, what should I do today? “That Person” is the lady I know who plans out her entire menu a month in advance, pre-cooks everything over one weekend, freezes her meals, and feeds her large family quickly, efficiently, and with a super-small budget. And I’m standing in front of the fridge at 6 o’clock at night, still not sure what to make for supper, and often just running down to Little Caesars to get cheap pizza instead. “That Person” is the one who has her children reading through the entire Bible every year, memorizing whole books of the Bible at the age of five and leading hour-long sessions of praise and worship and intercession with her children while they use their interactive-map to pray for unreached people groups. I’m over here, bribing my children with candy to memorize verses, stopping in the middle of my prayers to yell at the 4 year old to be quiet and sit still, having family devotions when I can make it happen, but certainly not on a strict schedule. I am not “That Person”. Doesn’t God understand this? How on earth am I going to not majorly fail at this undertaking called Motherhood???

There’s one more verse in the Bible I guess we should talk about. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul is talking about a “thorn in the flesh” that he was asking God to remove from him. God didn’t remove the thorn and instead said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Over the years, that verse has ministered to me in many situations. I am the definition of weak. Not overly disciplined. Not a poster-child of anything. And yet, somehow, God’s power is made perfect in me. When things happen in my life that are good, when things amazingly turn out right, that was not me. That was God’s power being made perfect in my weakness. Let Him get all the glory. Let people scratch their heads in amazement and say, well, the Esther I know isn’t capable of pulling off those results, that HAD to be God.

Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is the other verse I cling to. When I was giving birth to my 9th child, it was time to push and he got stuck. I was pushing and nothing was happening. This went on for a while and the doctor was starting to get concerned, especially since my typical deliveries usually saw me pushing only a couple times before the baby came. I started to panic. What if they decided that I couldn’t deliver and we ended up with a C-section, what if there was something wrong? By this time I was deep in that place where the world faded out and it was just me and my body, trying to conquer this Herculean Feat. That verse popped into my mind. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It became my mantra. In my head I repeated it over and over again as I pushed again. And this time something shifted, the baby started moving again and soon he was safely delivered. Tears of relief. Thank you God, thank you. Your strength, not mine.

Yes. I will remind myself of this again. I am weak, but because of it, I’m a perfect vessel to bring glory to God. God has overwhelmed me with the responsibility that he has placed on my shoulders. But he’s also promised to be with me, to strengthen me.

Listen. If you ever see something admirable about me, you can just start giving praise to God, because I can’t think of anything good I’ve ever done in my own strength. I will continue to stagger along with my over-large territory, my heavy burden of talents, and I will continue to remind God that I am weak, I can’t do it. And he will continue to remind me that it’s His Power, His Strength that’s going to make it happen. May my weak, inadequate life bring Glory to God.

 

Another Chapter in the Book of Memories

Over this Thanksgiving weekend the theme has been, of course, thankfulness. Today I was thankful for memories. You think about different times in your life, and it’s like picking up a good book and reading it again. Reliving all the old stories. This weekend I’ve been remembering my 4th grade year.

When I was six we moved back to the States from Haiti. We settled in a little trailer on my grandparents’ farm in Morehead, Kentucky, and my mom enrolled at the Morehead State University. She was going back to school to become a Physician’s Assistant. She did two years at MSU and then was ready to start the PA program which was at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington. We were established in Morehead, had a church, our home was comfortable and my Mom only needed to be in Lexington for one year. My parents made the decision that we would live in campus housing during the school week and then would drive the hour back home to Morehead every weekend.

We got to Lexington before classes started and moved into our new apartment. We didn’t bring much as the apartment was already furnished, and we didn’t plan on spending weekends there. For some reason we were put in the Foreign Student Housing. There was a long road with identical apartment buildings lining the road. The apartments set aside for Foreign Students were at the very end of the road. Each apartment building had 8 apartments with outside entrances at each corner of the building. I remember having a very real fear that I wouldn’t be able to figure out which apartment was ours since each building looked exactly alike. This was the beginning of one of the most multicultural years I have ever had.

Let me introduce you my neighbors. Downstairs, directly underneath us, was an Indian couple who had a little boy, maybe three or four, named Sanjeet. The mom wore saris and had a beautiful red dot on her forehead. The smells from her cooking would waft up into our apartment and my mom, who grew up in India, would long to just go downstairs and ask to eat with them. In the next building over from ours were two brothers, Harry and Franklin who were from Panama. Franklin was my age and Harry was my brother’s age. These were the two that we hung out with the most. There was Ronnie from the Philippines who was in my grade at school. He lived across the street. He was different. He liked to wear his mom’s makeup and sometimes one of her scarves or her shoes. He was unmercifully teased. I tried to be nice to him but he was not the nicest person and so I ended up keeping my distance. There was the kid from West Germany (this was before the Wall came down) who had stair step brothers and they all looked alike, same bowl haircuts, same worn out clothes. There was the Muslim family whose Mom we would see walking around, veiled, pushing a stroller with several other small children walking along. They were from somewhere in Eastern Europe. They stand out in my memory because the boy that was my age liked to pick fights and his five year old brother went down in history as the first person to totally cuss me out. Then there was my friend Katelynn. She was from Hungary. Even though she lived across the street from me, I didn’t meet her until we had been in school for a while. She was brought into my math class and the teacher sat her next to me. The teacher explained that she didn’t speak English and could I please try to help her figure out what we were doing in our math book. This was when I found out that math crosses over any language. I was amazed that she could look at the math book, understand it, do the problems, and do them a whole lot better than me, even though she couldn’t read the English words that explained the problems. This began our friendship and we soon discovered we lived close to each other. At that time Hungary was still a communist country. Katelynn’s father was a scientist who had gained permission to come do some kind of research work at UK. Katelynn wasn’t able to play a whole lot because she had to keep up with her Hungarian school, plus her Russian school, plus she was trying to learn English and keep up with American school. When she was able to play, she would come over to my apartment with her little sister Ignes, and we would play “Mickey Mouse Club”. I wanted a club and Katelynn and her sister loved Mickey Mouse and had all kinds of Mickey Mouse paraphernalia, and so, it became a Mickey Mouse club. I have no idea what we did, but I do remember that we were happy doing it. Little girls, hiding in a corner, giggling. Some things are the same no matter where you are from.

I loved playing with Katelynn, but as I said before, she was usually busy with school work. Most of the time I played with Franklin and Harry. Franklin and Harry are responsible for exposing me to every imaginable swear word in the English language. Their English was actually great. I’m not sure how long they had been in the states. I only ever heard their parents and other siblings speak Spanish. It was quite a shock to come from my missionary kid background plus my small-town country-living, and come to a place where all the kids cussed like sailors and every other word out of there mouth was unrepeatable.

Franklin had black hair and twinkling eyes and he was the life of the party. Everything was more fun with Franklin. I had a pair of skates. Franklin didn’t have a pair of skates. So I gave him one skate and wore the other and we would link arms and team-skate up and down the sidewalk. He was the one that convinced me we could skate down a really steep hill. Come on! We can do it! (No, we couldn’t). It took quite a while for the bloody knees, elbows, and hands to heal from that escapade. Harry and Franklin had very little supervision and they would get on the University bus and ride all over campus. They would go down to the football stadium after a game and scour the bleachers, looking for money people had dropped and whatever treasures they could find. One time they brought back some little pom poms and gave me one. I was so excited. I had, for some reason, decided that having big bushy pom poms and giving cheers would be fun. So Franklin went back and gathered up a giant bag of mini pompoms for me. We divided them up into two bundles, taped the handles together, and created two giant pom poms. I played “cheerleader” to my heart’s content. I would cheer for the boy’s tag football games that they played in the median that was in the middle of our parking lot. I tried to play football with the boys, and they didn’t mind me playing, but after experiencing being tackled to the ground and then having everyone jump on top of me in a giant pile, I decided cheerleading was more my thing.

We all attended Glenwood Elementary School. The school was located in an upscale neighborhood and all of us kids from the UK campus were bused over. The school had a very dedicated music teacher, Miss Markle, who taught daily music classes (she introduced me to the wonders of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite), had an orchestra, the Swing Choir which was by audition only, and a Glee choir that was mandatory for all 5th and I think 6th graders. I was in the swing choir. That year Miss Markle decided that everyone was going to learn “O Come All Ye Faithful” in latin. Adestes Fideles. There is a part in the latin where it says, “venite adoremus, venite adoremus, venite adoremus, Dominum”  So, the “adoremus” is pronounced “ah-do-re-MOOS”. Harry and Franklin and a bunch of other kids on our bus learned this song. They all loved the “adoremus” part because it ended in “MOOSE”. This lead to the really interesting experience of riding a public school bus with a bunch of rowdy, rough-edged kids, all of us singing Adestes Fideles at the top of our lungs with a heavy emphasis on the “MOOSE”. A definite improvement from their normal habit of flipping off the cars that had the unfortunate luck of getting behind our bus.

During the school year I also got to know a girl named Emily who went to my school. She was Jewish. Her family lived in the neighborhood right next to the school. I think her parents weren’t quite sure what to do with our friendship. I was allowed to come to her house, but she wasn’t allowed to come to my house. I would make the very long walk over the fields behind our apartments, through the neighborhood to her house all by myself and we would play in her fenced-in backyard. Her mother was always dressed very fancy and she was always concerned that Emily not get dirty or mess up her clothes. One time her mom had to run errands and so we got in the car with her and we stopped by the synagogue, which was, to my eyes, surprisingly modern. Growing up learning all about the history of the Jews in the Bible, I found it fascinating to finally be interacting with some real modern-day Jews. Emily’s mom would also bake something called Beer Cookies. My parents were strict teetotalers and so I found this quite scandalous. I tried one, but didn’t think they tasted very good, even though Emily thought they were the best cookies ever.  

All week long I was inundated with culture and amazing learning experiences. Then the weekend would come along. Friday night we would pile into our little car and make the trek back to the farm. It was only an hour’s drive, but to children, an hour feels like a lifetime. We would get home late at night to our cold trailer, nestled in among the pine trees on the hillside. I would go back to my tiny bedroom and jump under the covers, my patchwork quilt making my room feel cozy. All my toys and books had been waiting patiently for me and I would snuggle under the covers, just enjoying being in my bedroom again. I could hear my dad in the kitchen struggling with the wood-burning stove, trying to get a fire started so the trailer could start warming up. Tomorrow was Saturday, I could look forward to playing with my cousins, and the new girl that had moved next door. We would run around the woods, play in the creek, maybe ride my Aunt’s ponies. Sunday we would go to church and see our old friends, then Sunday night, back to the city for another week of adventures. I breathed in the rich smell of woodsmoke, dad had finally got the fire going. I turned off my lamp, snuggled down into my blankets, and fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Meandering Thanksgiving Memories

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After my husband and I got married we gallivanted around for a while. We spent our first year of marriage in Knoxville, Tennessee, while Andy finished up his last year at UT. Then when our first born was only 10 days old, we moved to Alaska to be near my parents. We stayed in Alaska for a year and half then, when I was 7 months pregnant with our 2nd child, we moved to Chile to be near my husband’s parents. We stayed there 15 months then moved back to the states when his parents retired as missionaries. We arrived in Florida, bought a used car, packed all our earthly belongings, a 2 ½ yr old, 1 yr old, and our dog into a little Suburu station wagon and headed north. We found out right away that our car needed work. It overheated continually and our 10 hour drive to Knoxville, TN turned into a 24 hr drive as we crawled our way up the highway in the middle of summer, stopping every couple miles to let the car cool down before we crawled forward again. Our goal was to make it to Knoxville where we had some friends who were willing to give Andy some work and give us a temporary place to stay. We eventually made it in and enjoyed our couple weeks in Knoxville, catching up with our friends, fixing our ailing car, getting some traveling money.

After Knoxville, we headed north again, this time heading towards Green Lake, Wisconsin where we met up with Andy’s parents at the American Baptist World Missions Conference. During that time I discovered I was pregnant again. We now needed a place to hunker down while I weathered the months-long intense nausea. Andy’s parents were settling into a new home in Maine and offered for Andy to come and remodel their kitchen. We loaded up our car and headed towards Maine. We ran out of gas money just as we got to New Hampshire and so we made our way to one of Andy’s adopted Moms’ house, Lynn Yule. She was willing to let Andy do some handyman work around her house in exchange for some gas money so we could make it the rest of the way to Maine.

We spent several months in Maine with Andy’s parents while Andy built a new kitchen for his parents and I stayed close to the bathroom. Finally I started feeling better and we prepared for the future. Our plans had been to go to Kentucky to live close to my Grandparents who were having some health problems. It was where I had been born and spent some of my childhood so it seemed like as good a place as any to settle down. We bought a very old camper/trailer. It looked and felt like a miniature trailer home instead of the more modern campers, but it had a built in bathroom, beds, and a small kitchen. No living room furniture, just empty space which we later filled with a loveseat/hideabed. Andy bought an old truck (an ‘86 F250 4wd diesel) (my husband said some people would want to know) that “needed work” to haul the camper and we figured we could live in it until we got ourselves more established. We were ready to go. About a week before we had planned to leave, my grandmother wrote and asked us to not come. Life’s messy. All the reasons behind that letter really aren’t my story to tell, but we did feel a bit like the rug had been pulled out from under us.

So, we regrouped. Looked at our options. Andy’s uncle offered a job in Florida, but we didn’t know anyone there, no friends. No church. We had a place we could stay in Maine, but the job options were very limited. We could go back to Tennessee. We didn’t have any jobs or place to live there, but we had a good church family, good friends. We finally decided that Tennessee was the way to go. With the connections of friends and a church, we figured that jobs and places to lived would fall in place. We loaded up the trailer, truck ready to haul, Suburu stuffed to the gills again. It was November and I was now 5 months pregnant and would be driving from Maine to Tennessee with two little ones in the backseat, following Andy while he hauled our camper. I just have to add some pertinent information. I didn’t get my driver’s license till after my first child was born and the only driving I had done was in small, rural towns. To say I was terrified of the drive would be putting it mildly. This was before cell phones were completely dominant so we bought a set of walkie-talkies to keep in touch while we drove.

It took us 7 days to get to Tennessee. Not because we were taking our time, but rather because everything that could go wrong went wrong. Vehicles breaking down, weather breaking windows on the camper, me going left while Andy went right when we got to a confusing intersection. We spent a couple nights at a Flying J’s truck stop while Andy tried to fix problems on the truck and camper so we could keep going, and I tried to keep two small children happy in the middle of November at a truck stop.

We finally limped into Knoxville on November 12th and headed for the Volunteer Campground up on Raccoon Valley Road. We had looked it up in the yellow pages, called ahead, and they were affordable and had space. We got there on a Sunday afternoon. We pulled into a short-stay sight and Andy got us all hooked up, went to the camp store and got some food to cook for supper, then he told me he figured he would head over to our old church for the Sunday night service. Maybe he could hook up with one of his old friends and ask about jobs. I inwardly groaned at having to settle the kids in for the evening by myself, but I was grateful for his willingness to pursue work right away.  I nodded and agreed it was a good idea.

Andy came back a couple hours later and said he had spoken to his friend Tony and he would be able to head into work the next morning. It was just a temporary job, but it was something. We took it as a good omen. The temporary job ended up introducing Andy to another person who was hiring and for whom Andy ended up working for another six years.

We settled in pretty quickly. We got together with old friends and had a good time comparing our new parenting experiences. At church I got hooked up with our church’s homeschooling co-op and ended up getting some piano teaching jobs, plus a whole new group of friends. Life at the campground was fun. We were moved over to a more permanent spot and had fun meeting lots of interesting people. There was a strong sense of community, and people helped each other out.

Our finances were very tight. There was a man in our church who worked for a bread store. He had got permission from all the powers-that-be and he would bring in the old bagels that could no longer be sold and put them on a table at church where people could help themselves. Every week I would got get a couple bags and that kept us fed for lunches for the rest of the week. I figured out which grocery stores had the best deals and stretched my pennies to the breaking point. I learned how to be very creative with what I had. I couldn’t afford to buy a calendar, but I had some craft supplies so I got my two little ones to help me make a calendar page for our current month, complete with stickers and little stick drawings. During the holidays I bought a large bag of oranges and some sugar and using my saved jam jars, made orange marmalade and homemade cards for Christmas presents. Andy got some wood and made homemade wooden blocks for the kids which entertained them for hours. I would go borrow a bunch of books from the library to read out loud. We only had a tiny space to live in, but it was full of peace and fun. The kids even managed to somehow play hide-and-seek with their dad. In a camper. It helped that they were little and unobservant. 🙂 It was a difficult time, but a very rich time. Andy and I were determined to do whatever we needed to move forward and we didn’t let the hardships get us down, because that was just part of the adventure.

We got to Tennessee in November and Thanksgiving rolled around very quickly. My parents flew down from Alaska and got a room at a nearby hotel. My mom and I went shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner and I kept having to remind my mom that I only had a tiny fridge and a little stove. As it was, when it came time to cook the turkey, we had a big scare that the turkey wouldn’t fit in our mini-oven. But we finally managed to cram it in there. We had a little card table set up as our dining room table and we got some folding chairs and somehow, holding small children in our laps, we managed to squeeze around our little table and enjoy our feast. Sometime during the meal we went around and shared what we were thankful for. Family, good food, a roof over our heads, a job, new beginnings. Friends.

In retrospect I can see how that Thanksgiving kind of held to the spirit of the first Thanksgiving so many years ago. Starting over in a new place. Things aren’t super comfortable. Some mixed emotions about the places you left behind. No idea how the future is going to unfold. And taking some time to be thankful. Because there is always something to be thankful for. This Thanksgiving, fifteen years down the road, I give thanks for Tennessee and how it’s people have opened their arms to us. I give thanks for my family, a roof over my head. Jobs. Old pathways that continue to meander their way into the future. Friends.

God is good.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

To Dye or Not to Dye?

This has been on my mind the past week, then I saw a NY Times article written by a woman in her 60s who decided to stop dyeing her hair. Made me think about my own decisions…

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I noticed my first gray hair when I had only recently turned 20 years old. My mother had turned gray prematurely and so it wasn’t too big a shock. More of just a surprise. I told my friend and she said, “Pull it out!!” What? Why would I want to pull out my gray hair? It’s interesting! Surprising! I admired the lone hair in the mirror. I had long hair and this single gray hair was pretty long itself meaning it must have been there for a while and this was just the first time I had noticed. My hair was pretty curly at that time and my favorite hairstyle was making a bun and sticking a carved “hairstick” into it to hold it in place. Not surprising that I hadn’t seen the gray hair. A couple months later I saw my brother who was two years older than me. Somehow the gray hair came up in conversation and he admitted that he had found a couple gray hairs himself, but he was always diligent to pull them out as soon as he found them, “so they wouldn’t invite company”. Apparently this premature graying thing was a pretty strong gene since we had both inherited it.

I really didn’t think about my gray hairs too often until I was in my 30s. By then I had a noticeable amount of gray hair. I had a lot of older women friends and I would listen to them exchange reports on hair dye and touching up the roots and their favorite hair stylists. I always felt a bit like an outsider. I didn’t go to a hairstylist. I had long hair. I liked it long. When it got a certain length where it started looking scraggly, I would just have my handy husband cut off a couple inches. I started looking at people’s haircuts. Most of my friends had short hair and since I’ve never been interested in short hair, I was only mildly interested. But every once in a while I’d see a woman with longer hair that was bouncy and curled just so and you could tell that it had been layered professionally, and it looked very attractive. And I would ponder whether I should go to a hairstylist and get a haircut, and maybe, just maybe, try out a new hair color. Two things always stopped me though. One, I really didn’t have money to go to a hairdresser and my Keep It Simple motto had to question why I needed to pay money for my hair when I had always been perfectly happy with how it looked. Second, and this was the big one, what on earth would I do when, a couple weeks later, my hair started growing out and the gray started showing up at the roots? There was no way I could afford to go to a hairdresser regularly. A friend tried to encourage me and told me how she did her own color at home from a box. I asked her to give me a blow-by-blow description of the process. By the time she was done, I knew for sure there was no way I would have the patience or skill to do that. Especially on a regular basis. I am a low-maintenance person. I don’t even wear makeup. Personal preference. I think all my friends look beautiful in their makeup, I just don’t have the patience for it, and my husband prefers me without it anyway, so, win-win.

Now I’m 40 and I’m starting to struggle with the concept of being “old”. One of my teenage daughters thinks it’s funny to say, “You’re so OLD Mom!” any time I mention something that didn’t happen during her short life span. I find myself staring in the mirror a bit more often. Staring at my gray hair. Maybe I would feel prettier if I dyed my hair. Maybe I would feel younger. And then one day my husband came up behind me and twined some of my hair around his finger. “Your hair is so beautiful! Look at all those different colors. It’s so unique, and it shimmers in the light. I love your hair!”  Well then. I apparently had a fan club of one member. But a very important member. He’s the only one I’m trying to impress, and it seems that dyeing my hair was not going to impress him. I put my hair dye musings onto the back burner again.

There is one other reason that I have hesitated about dyeing my hair. I have 5 daughters. The actions I take are going to have a very strong influence on how they see the world. I really want them to have a strong message that it’s ok to be yourself. You don’t have to change your appearance to be acceptable. I want my daughters to know that as a woman you have options. You can choose to wear makeup and dye your hair, but it doesn’t have to be your only option. You can choose to go out in public bare faced and gray haired if you want, and you can do it with confidence.

Who knows, maybe down the road I’ll have a surplus of money laying around and I’ll be feeling really adventurous and maybe I’ll go to a fancy hairdresser and get my hair all dolled up and colored pretty. That would be fine. Probably would be fun. And maybe I won’t. That will be fine too.

Playing the Game of Life

I have decided that I need to take a different approach to life. My typical approach is: I’ve got a big job to do and my worth depends on how well I do the job and if I get it finished. (Finishing it perfectly is an added bonus.)  This is not working for me.

Every morning I wake up feeling behind. A good reality check says that, Hey, there is no way one woman can possibly keep a giant house perfectly clean, 10 children fed and clothed and happy, be a good wife, be a good friend, be a good daughter, citizen, piano teacher, sister, aunt and any other role I find myself trying to fill. It is literally impossible. And so I wake up in the morning feeling cranky, overwhelmed, slightly panicky, because I’m always behind. I never finish everything on my list. My job becomes the priority and it’s not very fulfilling. You wash the laundry and it’s dirty again the next day. You prepare a meal and fill every one up then you have to repeat the process in 4 hours. I find myself getting short and impatient with my little boys because they are constantly hindering me from getting my work done. I find myself complaining a lot.

As I stood in my little boy’s bedroom, observing the giant mess that needed to be cleaned up, I decided it was time to change perspective. What if I see all of this as a big game? What if every day I just play hard and enjoy the process. At the end of the day we declare a Game Over and then start again the next day. Ok. Rules. Every game has to have rules. And a point. So, the goal of the game is to be loving and kind to everyone in my circle of influence. There are a bunch of tasks or challenges to do, but the point isn’t to finish all the challenges. Instead just choose each day which ones are most important and focus on those. But finishing the challenge doesn’t count unless you continue to be loving and kind to those around you, cause that’s the main point of the game.

I think life will be a lot more peaceful and fulfilling if I play the game instead of work the job.

(I wrote the above this morning) (Finishing this up after a long day.)

Ok, I tried my new method of looking at things today. It was a bit harder than I was hoping. Mostly because I kept forgetting, and I would get all caught up in my “job” mindset and then start getting snappy again when I was interrupted. Loving people! That’s the goal! I kept having to remind myself. Ok, little baby. I was half-way done cleaning this room, but you are having a meltdown, so I will stop what I’m doing and hold you and love on you till you feel better.  Then, if I still have time, I will continue to clean this room. Because the room isn’t the main goal. Loving you is the main goal.

I wonder how long it will take me to adjust to this perspective shift?

Morning Sickness and the Presence of God

Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  This is the official term for really bad morning sickness or “excessive vomiting during pregnancy”. I have 10 children (plus 2 miscarriages, equal a grand total of 12 children). Every single one of my pregnancies found me throwing up for several months. The first pregnancy the nausea didn’t stop till I was 20 weeks. Through each pregnancy that time period got a little bit shorter, but the shortest duration was still 15 weeks. Each pregnancy I averaged about a 20 pound weight loss at the beginning and usually had at least 2 trips to the ER for severe dehydration. I took a variety of medicine, but through trial and error, discovered that all but one gave me the wonderful side effects of severe panic attacks. My intense dislike of panic attacks meant I would choose vomiting over anxiety. I finally settled on taking Zofran which was very expensive and really just kept the edge off enough that I could stay alive. I know that sounds melodramatic, but that’s what it felt like.

This is what severe morning sickness is like. It’s your body saying to you, if you drink something, I’m going to make you throw up, if you eat something, I’m going to make you throw up, if you walk around at all, I’m going to make you throw up. So what do you do?  Well, I eventually worked out a strategy. Get up, go throw up, quickly take a Zofran with a tiny bit of water, sit very still. Eat something high starch and very salty (the last several pregnancies I settled on Velveeta mac and cheese), take another sip of water, and then lay very very still. Don’t move. No interactions with people. My goal was to not throw up for at least 3 hours so that my body could at least digest some of the food. About 3 hours later, I would repeat the process, except maybe this time eat a little bit of melon or eat some frozen pomegranate juice. (I had a really weird diet, only a handful of things sounded doable, and it was always random. Later when I would start to feel a bit better and get some appetite back, I would always crave green beans and boiled potatoes. Weird.) I counted up the my daily calories once and I averaged somewhere between 600-900 calories a day, depending on what kind of day I was having. The hardest part was being constantly dehydrated. I kept a glass of ice water by my bed but could only manage a sip here and there, anything more made me throw up. I would lay in my bed and dream about water. I usually day dreamed about being up in the mountains at the river, jumping into the icy coldness, hearing the sound of bubbling water. I would think about waterfalls, and picturesque lakes. I craved water. Sometimes I would go and get a little stool and just sit in the shower, letting the water rush over me, hoping that my skin would absorb some of the water and make me feel better.

I did this 10 times. (The 2 pregnancies where I miscarried, I had no morning sickness. Which made me change my perspective as I started recognizing morning sickness as a sign of a healthy pregnancy.) I am sure you are wondering why I did this so many times. Well, very early in our marriage my husband and I decided that we wanted God to determine our family size. I was willing to commit to this method one child at a time. After each pregnancy, I would think there was No Way in Hell I would ever do that to myself again, but when it came time to discuss birth control, I never felt comfortable. I still felt like this was something I was supposed to do. I loved my children. I loved having a large family. Really, my only problem with lots of pregnancies was the morning sickness. I do think that we have the exact right number of children for us. I am going to base this on the fact that when we finally decided that we were done, I had no regrets, no second thoughts, no ambiguity. I knew we were done. I hadn’t felt that peace beforehand.

During my times of morning sickness I would worry about my family. I think for the first couple pregnancies I felt guilty, like I was somehow failing my husband and children because I wasn’t up and taking care of things. After a while, common sense kicked in and I stopped feeling guilty. It takes two to get pregnant and my husband knew that I was going to get sick, so he could now deal with the consequences and take care of the family while I laid in bed for a couple months. And, he rose to the occasion. No children were lost, no one starved to death, the house didn’t burn down. Everyone learned to appreciate mom a bit more.

Being in bed for months on end does something to you though. I usually had one of two responses when I got sick. I either got really depressed or I got really angry. Depressed because there was no end in sight. I knew I wanted more children which meant I would have to go through this again. Anger because why on earth would God give me the kind of body that hates pregnancy, but at the same time give me a desire to have lots of children? Each time I had to do a lot of soul searching, a lot of talks with God, and as I started feeling better, I had to give myself a lot of grace to just recover from the whole thing.

My last pregnancy was different. I found myself just feeling resigned. Ok. I’ve got to do this. I’m going to read a bunch of good books, I’m going to watch TV shows, I’m going to distract myself as much as possible and endure.

During this time God gave me the most interesting gift I’ve ever had. The nausea had reached the point of no return and I ran to the bathroom, knelt in front of the toilet and started throwing up. Suddenly God spoke to me. Very clearly. He said, “Am I still worthy of praise?” My first response was, “What? Now? You’re talking to me now?” and then, as I continued to throw up, I thought back to him, since talking was not an option, “Yes, you are worthy of praise. Even now. I give you praise.” And suddenly I felt God’s presence heavy on me and now I was crying and sobbing. The sickness finally passed. I got up, cleaned up, staggered back to my bed. I lay there feeling a bit confused.  I had just gone through a holy moment. A very unexpected, out of the box holy moment. I must say I did not expect God’s presence to show up while I was kneeling in front of a toilet. God had just let me participate in that thing called “a sacrifice of praise”. Praising God when things aren’t going well, when you’re not feeling blessed, when life kind of sucks. I call this a gift from God because I can tell you that in my own strength I never would have thought about praising God while I was throwing up. Never. It was a gift because he got my attention, he gave me an opportunity to offer him a sacrifice of praise, and I think it’s one of the most holy moments I have ever had in my life. Because He is Worthy. He is Worthy of our Praise. No matter what is happening in your life, he is Worthy. And when we praise him it actually strengthens us, because we step into his presence for a moment.  We experience his Love and Peace and Goodness, and in my experience, that’s what I need to make it through this life.

Stories From My Journey to Worship

I think one of my favorite journeys that I have been on is the journey of learning how to worship God through music. As a child my family sang a lot. My father had in fact been in a musical group all through his growing up years with his siblings, performing on the Christian Radio Station where his parents worked, performing for churches in the states when his family would come back on furlough (usually a year long break from the mission field, a time spent visiting supporters and speaking at many many churches and events). Music runs pretty deep in my family. My father plays the guitar and my mother sings alto and my brother and I quickly learned how to sing the melody while our parents harmonized and then later learned how to harmonize ourselves. I loved to sing for the sheer beauty of it. As a teen my brother and I and our friends formed a tradition, whenever we were driving in a car together, coming back from a trip to the beach or some other type outing, we would sing together. We would sing worship and praise songs and hymns, and usually the songs had parts and we would split into parts and it was the perfect way to end the day, driving home, tired, making beautiful music.

As I got older I slowly started focusing a bit more on the words that I was singing. I think I started doing this at the suggestion of a worship leader or pastor, and it kind of stuck with me. When I went to Biola University I was exposed to a lot more of the modern style of worship: words printed on a screen above the stage, all electric instruments with a good set of drums, easy, repetitive type songs that never quite have a clear melody line. It was the kind of music that you kind of spaced-out a bit when singing. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the music. It was just very different from what I was used to. But I started noticing something when I attended various worship sessions. There seemed to be a different attitude in the people who were singing. Like, it wasn’t so much about whether your voice sounded perfect or you played a really good solo, or sang a song that was technically difficult. It seemed to be more about disappearing into the song. What I mean, is that the song, the words of the song, who they were about was the focus, not the music that was being created. I enjoyed this new way of singing, I enjoyed the feeling of peace that was in the room and I slowly started learning how to turn my focus on God instead of the music.   

One of my big moments on my worship journey happened when I was twenty. I attended Biola for two years and then “took a break” (that never ended) and went overseas for a year. I spent my first four months in Haiti. I lived with Laurie and Jules Casseus, my old piano teacher from Haiti. I was kind of crashing emotionally and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life and Aunt Laurie ended up doing a lot of listening as I poured out my troubled thoughts. I was staying with them over Christmas (my first Christmas away from home!) and I was quickly caught up in all the Christmas Music performances. Aunt Laurie has a beautiful voice and she had been asked to sing “Oh Holy Night” at a church function in the nearby city of Cap Haitien. She asked me if I would accompany her on the piano and so I dutifully practiced with her and we quickly got it ready to perform. The night of the performance we drove into Cap Haitien to a large concrete church that I had never been to before. My hazy recollection of the church is that it had a large balcony that went around the entire upstairs with the section in the front of the church becoming part of a large stage-like area where the pastor preached, people sang, and I don’t know what else. My memories for architecture aren’t that great though, so I might be a bit off on that. I do remember that I was shown to a little alcove where there was a small, inexpensive keyboard, jury-rigged to a questionable sound system. There was no sustain pedal for the keyboard and so I quickly looked through my music, figuring out how to accommodate to a much smaller keyboard without a sustain pedal. I’m not a big fan on being the center of attention so this particular set up was a dream come true. I was sitting back, kind of out of the way, there were a lot of different people on the stage, and I was simply accompanying, so the focus was on Aunt Laurie. I had this. Aunt Laurie was singing in French. The words to the French version are actually not translated directly in our English version. We’re actually singing something pretty different when we sing the song in English.

Here is a literal translation of the final verse from French into English which I found handily on Wikipedia:

The Redeemer has broken every bond:

The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.

He sees a brother where there was only a slave,

Love unites those that iron had chained.

Who will tell Him of our gratitude,

For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.

People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,

Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

So, here I am accompanying on my little keyboard and Aunt Laurie reaches the final verse. She’s singing and suddenly the whole church rises to their feet and starts singing along, “People, stand up! Sing of your deliverance,” and suddenly I’m not accompanying one person, but instead I’m playing along with hundreds and hundreds of people. But it didn’t matter because I was singing along too and I think I may have been crying a bit because what happened felt like Jesus had suddenly walked onto the stage and everyone saw him and they all stood up and started worshiping him and no one wanted it to stop. I think we ran through the chorus several times, I’m not sure.

After the service we drove home in silence, through the dark, unlit night. We got to the top of the small mountain pass that was close to our home and the driver pulled the car over at Aunt Laurie’s urging. The car stopped and the motor turned off. We climbed out of the car and stared out at the valley below us and then looked up. It was the most clear I have ever seen the Milky Way. It was like we were surrounded by stars and they were dancing in the sky in their own form of worship to their creator and I experienced the meaning of the word “awe”. We just stood there in silence and my heart felt like it was going to explode, it was so full.

The memory of that night has stayed with me, I think because it was a rich experience of worship through music in a way that I had unknowingly always been longing for. Focusing on Jesus, using the music to communicate my love for him, my awe of him, my longing for him. The music was just the conduit. Worship. It’s about focusing everything on him and saying, You Are Worthy.

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