A Love Poem of Sorts

It is our 20th Wedding Anniversary this week. I thought that perhaps I would search the internet high and wide and find a poem that would immortalize our love. A poem that I could point at and say, Yes, that is what we have. I am not a poet. I read through these poems. These amazing works of art. My soul jumped at the beauty that was portrayed. Love displayed as passion, as longing, as yearning. As a lifelong quest. I am not a poet. I can’t create these airy pieces of lace, strung together with words. And I searched and searched. But I couldn’t find a poem for us. I am not a poet. But I long to gift you with an arrangement of words that would express our love for each other. 

 

Our love is not the kind that is celebrated by poets.

 

Our love was Slow. Solid. Practical. 

 

In a world of French Cuisine, we are meat and potatoes. 

 

Our marriage was never about You and Me. It was always about You, Me, and the children we made. Always children present. 

 

And yet, somehow we have managed to lift our gazes high enough, to look over the tops of our children’s heads, and still see each other. 

 

Our love was never about extravagance and ease. It has been a constant pushing, striving, scraping, saving. Somehow miraculously taking the small amount we have and turning it into enough. And more than enough. 

 

Our love has never contained long romantic getaways, stealing away to be alone. No, our love has been about installing a lock on our bedroom door. Whispering to each other in the middle of the night when all the children are asleep. Exchanging flirtatious glances across the dining room table. Snuggling on the couch together as small toddlers crawl all over us. Kissing and hearing a chorus of “EWW YUCK!” from the nearby children. 

 

The most dramatic moments of our marriage have come in the form of conversations. Where I reveal to you a secret part of who I am and you reveal to me hidden parts of who you are. And the conversation slowly dies out and we stare at each other. Amazed that it is possible to know another human so deeply. 

 

And always, the most romantic part of our week is to go to church on Sunday morning. Sit close together. Hands clasped. Stand together, lift our hands in worship. Heads bowed together in prayer. Our shoulders brushing together. Exchanging knowing looks when something significant is said that touches the problems we happen to be facing that very moment. 

 

Ours is not a love of fireworks and showy bonfires. Ours is the slow, steady burning of coals that light the kitchen fires and cook the meals and provide a constant, steady source of warmth. 

 

Ours is not the story of two puzzle pieces that perfectly fit together. Rather we are two rough-edged, world-scarred people who chose each other. We chose to wrap our two mismatched pieces of iron, jagged and sharp, and twist them together into one piece. Two separate, infinitely different pieces of metal, twined together by divine hands into one strong piece that cannot be broken…Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate…

 

I don’t have the money or the creativity to show my love in large flashy banners. Instead I show you my love in small ways. I try to leave enough hot water for your shower. I serve you a plate of food at supper instead of making you serve yourself. I speak highly of you to our children, even on days when I am irritated with you. I don’t give you any grief for staying up late to watch Fast and Furious #37. I keep your Louis L’amour books in one, easy-to-find spot on our bookshelves. I not only wash your clothes and fold them, but I also put them away. I have developed the habit of not talking about money or bills or other stressful topics right before you go to bed. 

 

Nothing big. Just daily little considerations to let you know you are important to me. I’m thinking about you. I want you to be happy. 

 

You do the same for me. 

 

Our love is not the love of flowery poems. Our love is Plain. Simple. Steady. 

 

And yet, something tells me. Something says, generations from now, our children’s children’s children, will still speak of us. They will say, That is the kind of marriage I want to have. That is the family legacy we want to pass down. 

 

Maybe one day, my love, we will be legends. 

 

But, the far distant future doesn’t concern me. Right now, I will simply enjoy the pleasure of sharing your bed every night. Cooking your meals. Parenting our children together

Here’s to simple, unadorned love. 

Here’s to us.

 

Thoughts That Keep Me up at Night

I was awake at 4am this morning, not able to sleep, my mind racing through thoughts and arguments. I finally got up at 4:30am and started writing down my thoughts. Then I spent all day, revisiting, writing more, erasing, starting all over again. This has been a difficult blog to write, probably because I have too much to say, and it’s a subject matter that I don’t feel like I have completely thought through yet. I would say that I am at the half-baked stage right now. But, I’ll catch you up to where I’m at in the process.

This week I have been reading different books and articles that come from a much more liberal view of Christianity than what I profess. It has been enlightening. I want to tell you what is so appealing and Right about these books and viewpoints. They all seem to have a really good grasp on the overwhelming Love and Grace of God. They talk about rich and poor people serving alongside each other. They talk about the healthy serving bread to the sick. They talk about the people in community seeking out the lost and the lonely and drawing them into a nurturing environment. They talk about grace to forgive the most heinous wrongs. They talk about including those who are the social outcasts, extending mercy to the misunderstood, being Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth.

It is so Good. So Right. It draws me in and I find myself wishing to be more like that, wishing to be part of this group of Christians who have somehow been able to set aside selfishness and have learned how to serve the lost.

I feel like the mainstream evangelical church, of which I am a part, has been portrayed as a people who don’t venture far outside their four walls. People who have a strict standard and woe to those who don’t fit into the mold. People who are comfortable hanging around their own race, hanging around people who all make about the same amount of money as they do. This is the reputation that I see on the news, on the internet, in books, and articles.

Is this reputation deserved? I guess that depends on who you ask. I want to come back to this, but before I do, I need to talk about the problems I saw with these books and articles I was reading. They portray a gospel that is incomplete. It’s grace without judgement, heaven without hell, forgiveness without repentance. It is a soft gospel that seems to go through a lot of awkward contortions to ignore the written Word. It also seems to ignore the awesome, fearful Holiness of God.

So, here is my question that has been nagging me for over a week now, keeping me up at night. How do we maintain the balance? How do we extend a hand to the hurting, be the hands and feet of Jesus, be so overwhelmingly loving that people are just drawn to the Jesus inside of us..How do we do that, but also call people to repentance? How do we not only say, I love you, though I hate your sin, but I also want to offer freedom from those sin addictions? Freedom from bondage! How do we hold true to the scriptures that say, Come! Come to the table, everyone is welcome!

‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22 8b-10

And while we are telling everyone to come, everyone is welcome, we also acknowledge the scripture that says,

small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14

As I read arguments from both sides, I feel like they are saying you have to choose. You have to choose love and grace or you have to choose law and Holiness. Why?? Why do we have to choose? It’s the same Jesus who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves who reached out and touched the leper to heal him, who also said, Go and sin no more.

So, back to the evangelical church. Is our reputation for exclusiveness and legalism deserved? I look at my own church and I realize, there is no easy answer. A church is simply a body of people. People who sin. People who are weak. People who have said, Yes, Jesus, I want to follow you, but they are still daily having to learn how to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus. We’re all learning as we go, and we make a ton of mistakes along the way. My church is a holy mixture of God’s divine love being played out right alongside people’s sinful natures. There are definite things I want to see change. I want to see a lot more color and variety of people at my church meetings. I want to us to work harder at making our church a place where drug addicts, homeless people, ex-cons, prostitutes, and even awkward teenagers, can walk in the door and immediately feel welcome and at home. I want to figure out how I can be one of those people that make people feel welcome and at home. I want to stay fully immersed in God’s word while carrying that Gospel message that I’m so diligently studying, carrying it to my neighbor, to the lady at the library, to the neighborhood children who come to my door. I want to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus and I want those hands and feet to be cemented, fully rooted in God’s word.

 

These are some of the thoughts that are keeping me up at night.

Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

Quite a while ago I had a vivid dream. The kind you wake up and think, that was important, I need to remember that, I need to think about that…

In the dream I was in a big castle whose King was in residence. There were all kinds of people in the castle, lord and ladies, courtiers, servants of all kinds. It was actually pretty crowded. I was a servant. I had never actually met the King face to face, but would see him in the distance occasionally. I also heard what everybody had to say about the King and I was in awe and a bit afraid of the King. One day, for some reason I ended up serving in the dining hall and somehow I managed to trip and spill what I was carrying all over the King who had been standing in a group of people. I was terrified. Face down on the floor begging forgiveness. The King was not angry at all and reached down to me gently to help me up and with a puzzled look on his face said, “What have they told you about me child?”

That was it.

So, it’s not too hard a dream to interpret. I would say I was the servant and the King was Jesus. My knowledge of him was as a harsh taskmaster when in reality he was kind and gentle and forgiving.

I am not sure why my initial impressions of Jesus were of a harsh, unapproachable person. I think a lot of it was the Christian culture I grew up in. Christianity seemed to be about learning the rules and following them. Christians don’t listen to that kind of music. Christians don’t watch those movies. Christians don’t go to those places. Christians don’t wear those kinds of clothes. I remember hearing the phrase “Jesus doesn’t like it when you: have a bad attitude, aren’t thankful, say mean things, talk that way…” Yes Jesus loves you, as one song says, but you also better watch out, better not cry, better not pout, Jesus Christ is coming…Oh wait, was that Santa?

My adult life has been all about learning about Jesus as a God of compassion and grace and mercy and forgiveness and love. It’s been a long difficult journey and I think I have come so far and then some behavior or thought pattern shows me that I still have a long way to go to understand God’s love for me and walk in it.

Today someone at church asked if they could pray for me after the service as I had been on their mind all week. After the service I went up to get prayed for and they prayed for me, spoke words of encouragement and wisdom, direction. It was an amazing blessing. The one phrase they spoke over me that hasn’t left me all afternoon has been, “You are much beloved.”

What does that mean? Perhaps that God is for me not against me. That I’m not trying to earn his favor. That I am not alone. That God is someone I want to be with.

Here’s the hard part. God’s loving me has nothing to do with how awesome I am and everything to do with how Awesome he is. That is the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around, that He is that Good, that Kind, that Compassionate, that He can extend his love to me, an everyday human who is tangled up in sin and selfishness. I feel unworthy and so thankful. And joyful and wondering and hopeful and excited. And just a little bit scared. Do I dare believe that it’s true? I have heard this message before, but somehow, every time it’s brand new, once again. God Loves Me.

For those of you reading this…It’s true for you too. He loves you. Oh that you could know this for yourself. That is my heart’s desire for you.

This is one of my favorite hymns. May it’s words bless you.

O THE DEEP, DEEP LOVE OF JESUS

TEXT:
Samuel Trevor Francis
MUSIC:
Folk Tune

1. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Thy glorious rest above!

2. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne!

3. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’Tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’Tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee!

Public Domain

Love Tinted Glasses

This evening I felt myself succumbing to a really grumpy mood. I rehashed my day and thought about how bad it had been. Woke up way before the alarm went off, couldn’t go back to sleep. First day of kids going back to school meant an early morning and a bit of craziness getting everyone out the door. Had to take the two year old to a well-child checkup appointment at 9 am. Had to take the two little ones to Walmart for a big shopping. Got home at lunch and had a million things to do, but the baby fell asleep on my lap and clung to me any time I tried to move him so I ended up sitting in a chair with him for two hours. When he finally woke up I only had 45 minutes before I had to get back in the car to pick everyone up from school. Had to take my seven year old to physical therapy after I got the kids home from school. Didn’t get home till it was time to make supper. House was a mess. Kids were making a lot of noise. Aside from feeding people, I hadn’t got any housework done. I was stepping over toys on the floor, kicking dirty clothes out of the way, grabbing the baby as he tried to reach up on the counters and pull everything down. The younger kids all had their skates on and were crashing around the house, running into walls and furniture as they wobbled around. Chaos. I don’t like chaos.

As I sat at the supper table, I suddenly had a perspective shift. All the kids were sitting around the table talking to each other, talking with me and my husband. Everyone was laughing and joking with each other. My kids were fighting over who got to talk to me first about their day. The older kids were teasing the little ones. After the meal everyone gathered in the living room. It was still chaotic, kids running around in circles chasing each other. Every once in a while a child would hand me a book to read out loud. My oldest boy was playing the piano. My husband was working at the fireplace, trying to get our new wood burning stove installed. Still Chaos.

But good chaos. Family hanging out together. People enjoying each other’s company. Kids basking in being at home, being a part of a family, being loved. Warmth, security.

Two ways to look at the day. A failure: house didn’t get cleaned; dishes didn’t get washed; laundry didn’t get done. Or, a complete success. Children were hugged and cuddled; kids were listened to; laughter was shared. It was actually a good day.

Perhaps my perspective shift was simply getting a heavenly glimpse of my life. Seeing things through love-tinted glasses. And that is my New Year’s Resolution, that I would start slapping those glasses on my face every day and start judging my success on how well I loved that day, not how many chores I checked off my list. Love God, love people. It’s going to be a good year. 

Drummer Boy, Scrooge, and the Christmas Party

Today we have been preparing for our annual Heneise Christmas Party. We’ve had one every year for the past 14 years, only missed once. It’s a special time for me as a lot of our old friends come who I sometimes don’t see at all through the year. It’s a day of family and friends and fellowship. I love it. But, today, we have been doing the preparing part. Not so fun. Trying to clean the house while we are still living in it.

cleaningoreos

I have a tendency to go a bit crazy when I’m trying to get ready for an event. I promise that I have improved over the years, but the tendency is always there and I have to do some exaggerated deep breathing, put myself in time-out occasionally, and do a lot of self-talk to keep myself from totally flipping out. Here’s a link to a Youtube video that really sums up my state of mind when I’m getting ready for some big entertaining at my house.

crazy mom cleaning for company

So today I made lists for all the kids which detailed what chores they had to do. Organized. Efficient. The kids all got to work and actually had decent attitudes about the whole thing. For the most part. So, my 9 yr old vacuumed the couches. The 11 year old swept/mopped/vaccuumed the living room. The little girls swept/mopped the hall. My 13 yr old swept/mopped the dining room. Many hands make light work. Right. So here comes the almost 2 yr old. He was sitting at the table chewing on a chunk of french bread. All is well. He is where he is supposed to be. Crumbs are being contained. I walked out of the room to do something and turned around and he’s following me, carrying his chunk of bread, shedding crumbs everywhere. I walked towards him with the intention of picking him up and setting him back at the table. He sees me coming, thinks this is some great game and takes off running. Through the dining room, through the hall, through the living room, throws himself on the couch, still holding the french bread which he is now mushing into the couch cushions. I lose it. I’m yelling, grab him, swat his behind and thrust him into my 16 yr old son’s hands. TAKE HIM!! GET HIM OUT OF HERE NOW!!!! I learned many many years ago that when you are angry at your child it’s better to get away from them for a while till you calm down. My son takes off with the baby and I grab paper towels and brooms and dustpans and attempt to undo the damage that little run through the house caused. I’m muttering under my breath. All the kids are keeping their distance. I decide it’s time to give myself a time-out. Go sit in a corner somewhere and get hold of myself.

I stomp back to my bedroom and sit in my chair. Take some deep breaths. Then I start feeling guilty. My kids don’t deserve this. They do not need me to be going crazy about keeping a house clean for the next 24 hrs until the party starts. I sit quietly and I hear the Christmas music playing from the living room. The Little Drummer Boy. “I have no gift to bring…pa rum pum pum pum…That’s fit to give the King… pa rum pum pum…” And I think. It’s true. I don’t have a worthy gift to give my King. Because of course, the sappy, pat answer is, I bring myself as a gift to the King. Well, here I am being grumpy. Yelling at my kids. Being a jerk. Not much of a gift.

I sit quietly a bit longer and then I start remembering the night before. My husband and I went and saw “A Christmas Carol” at the Clarence Brown Theater. It was a wonderful production. I was in tears by the end, truly moved by the story and the actors who portrayed it so well. One of Scrooge’s lines really stood out to me and I started thinking about it again.

 

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forebearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

Mankind. People. That’s what we’re here for. In Matthew 22:36-40 someone asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment and he says, Love God with everything you’ve got. And then love your neighbor as yourself. (a paraphrase). It came home to me once again. What is the meaning of life?? To love God and to love people. That’s it. What gift can I bring my King? I can continue to love Him and love the people around me. Love my kids. Even though I know they’re going to mess up my house after we cleaned all morning. Love my friends. Love my neighbors. Love the people I see in the street, at the store. That is the gift I have to bring. Love. When Scrooge has a change of heart, at the end, he starts the process of repentance, restoration. In the play he walks into the church. Standing at the entrance, hesitant, uncertain of his welcome. When I watched this I had a vision of the story of the Prodigal Son, when the father welcomes back his wayward son with open arms. And I found myself silently encouraging Scrooge, Yes! Go in! You are welcome! Forgiveness is at hand! That wonderful forgiveness that I need daily, hourly, minute by minute as I mess up over and over again. You are forgiven! You are free from the burden of guilt. Free to love. Get up, try again.

I relaxed my shoulders. I decided. Ok. Right now we are doing the deep cleaning. Tomorrow we will tidy up whatever messes have occurred. Keeping a clean house is not what it’s all about. Let’s go back out there, offer some apologies, and try being patient and gentle again. This is the way to live, open hands offering up a life that is full of love and repentance, and love again.

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?