Saturday, April 24, 2010

Memories and Making More

I just checked in on the girls as I put Jon-boy down, his body already limp in sleep. The girls are out cold, Clare hidden in a huddle under blankets up on her bunk--you wouldn't know she was there if it weren't her norm, and Ev flat on her back with one hand cupped protectively around her favorite baby-doll who's lying on her chest. It's Clare's turn to pick the music tonight, and of course it's her "favorite," so I walked in on Michael Card singing, "Let the children come, don't dare drive them away. Let the children come. Hear the holy, foolish things they say...." Beautiful, true words that echo Jesus' love for us and for little children.

It's been a marvelous day! We've been looking forward to it for a long time: A Day Out With Thomas is at Greenfield Village, and we had tickets! My friend LH, the one who got me roller skating again, has a pass to Greenfield Village that allowed us to get in with her and her kids. We only needed to buy one day pass as a result (and of course, we splurged and bought tickets for the Thomas train ride--three only, though--we only splurge so far!). Ev's third birthday is coming up, so it was a great way to have a special celebration.

I've loved Greenfield Village ever since we moved here when I was in fourth grade. My family had a membership for a few years when we were growing up, so I have many memories of checking out the Wright Brothers' store, Thomas Edison's lab, the Salt Box House, Noah Webster's house, etc. Over the past couple years we've had a few chances to go with our family, and though the kids have been a little young to thoroughly enjoy all the history, they get their kick out of riding on horse-drawn omnibuses, watering gardens, and most of all, riding the carousel.... The fact that Thomas the Train was there today was simply icing on the cake.

It's amazing to see how much they're growing up, too, because today for the first time, the girls (Clare particularly) really wanted learn about things. We thought we'd be heading out the gate as soon as we got to nap time, but the time came and went, and all three kids were still happy and raring to go, and wanting to look at everything. We visited the roundhouse and discussed railways and steam engines;

we traipsed through an old cider mill and Henry Ford's soybean lab (Clare wanted Kraig to read all the signs to her); we went to the working farm and listened to the mother sheep bleating (LOUDLY!) as their new lambs went in for a drink, and checked out the farmhouse kitchen where the ladies were making a hard money cake.
And then, of course, there were all the Thomas activities--playing with model trains, riding vintage push cars around, coloring pages, even getting a picture with Sir Topham Hat....
Jon-boy, of course, couldn't do much, but he smiled and slept his way through the day, pulling his sisters' hair when they got too close, and on the few occasions when he could get down from his stroller, heading for the nearest object that could be a) pulled up on, or b) put in his mouth.

Despite the highlight of Thomas, and the fact that when we got home this evening the girls wanted to watch our two Thomas videos (because they hadn't had enough), I do think their favorite part of Greenfield Village is the carousel. And really, who can resist the excitement of choosing a brightly colored horse (or frog, pig, cat, or rooster...) and whirling around in circles, rising up and down to the music? They went on it three times today (and that's not their record!). Every time we've been there as a family we've gone to the carousel, and as a result I have special memories of taking Keren on it two summers ago. She, too, loved it--grinning like mad as we spun around. I wonder what she thought of the combo of music, color and wind?

I have pictures of Kraig standing between Keren and Clare, hand out to keep Keren secure on her mount. Today, I watched from the sidelines and saw Kraig standing solid and straight between two charges, balanced securely like an old sea hand on a ship in high seas. It was still a beautiful picture, even though now it's Clare and Ev and he doesn't have to reach out a hand to hold them.

On our first ride this morning, there was a mother with her son who had special needs. I recognized them as ones Kraig had pointed out to me after the train ride. They had been on the same ride as him and the girls, and when they were getting off he was able to help her with maneuvering, as they weren't in the section with the wheelchair lift. "There are a lot of special needs kids here," he said. "It's so cool that there are places like this where they can come." Anyway, I spotted the mom with her son--she stood beside him, holding him securely on his horse. He leaned forward, arms looped loosely around the pole, his mouth slightly gaped. But as the music played, and the carousel whirled, I saw him grin. And I saw his mom grin--and her eyes never left his face as she drank in his joy. And his joy gave her joy...and it gave me joy to see it, even though the tears that poured down my face, because I understood her so completely, and I wished I could be there once more, even for a moment....

I was thinking about that again this evening when the girls were down and I was nursing Jon-boy in the quiet of the living room. Suddenly I heard a chiming sound and I looked out the window to see that the wind had caught hold of the cardinal wind-chime we picked up for our garden. Keren's teachers at Old Village were the ones who put me onto it last month; they'd gotten one for the kids in the classroom, and it's a cardinal because of Keren. It's become a standing symbol for her teachers and me that a cardinal is a reminder of Keren, and that God is watching out for us, too. Long story, and it would be a tangent to tell now, so I'll leave it at that for now. But yeah, the cardinal wind-chime, all flamboyant red and joyful in sound played its music just then. Another little reminder that God had made this whole day exceedingly special, bringing together memories of the past and new-formed ones, carrying us one step further toward the future.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Pile

The other night I spent over an hour sifting and sorting a paper pile to find a document Kraig needed for taxes. I figured I might as well take the time to sort while I was searching, and might, as a result, actually file those stupid papers! The night resulted in filed papers...and I even found the desired document--on the top of a totally different pile (and the information on it was something I could have told Kraig off the top of my head, but didn't realize what he needed from it!). Sigh!

So the papers are filed (except one part I'll touch on later), and I can start my stash all over again. Because, knowing me, there will be a stash. It doesn't matter that we actually have files in a filing cabinet all nicely set up and organized so that theoretically every paper that comes into this house could go immediately into the correct file. To paraphrase (and butcher) Robert Frost, "Something there is in Loren's nature that loves a pile." I'd have to add that Loren herself does not like piles. Piles are stressful, annoying objects, and when they are gone, Loren is light as a feather, free as the wind, blissful as.... Okay, enough talking in third person and waxing eloquent (or not so).

The reality is that despite the fact I feel released and refreshed when a pile is gone, I also know that they will always be a part of my life. Maybe I have piles for that very reason--so that I can look forward with anticipation to the time when there will not be a pile. The same is true for the days when the house is in chaos. I know that at some point in time, we'll all pull together and clean, and for a little while the house will look great. And I anticipate that time with great pleasure; but knowing it in my head and actually acting on it so that I can experience the joy of no piles or a clean house seem to be two entirely different beasts.

So I live with piles. Part of the pile-problem stems from the fact that there are things that I don't have a particular place for, or I just can't part with the pile-item. This was the case the other night when, despite 90% of my initial pile getting nicely filed away or tossed, there was a remaining 10% that sat there, and still sits. It is, apparently, my Friends and Relations Pile, because a lot of what is in it is people stuff. Cards, photos, personal notes. It has a lot of Keren in it.... I kept stumbling across old medical reports and documents, IEP reports, school handbooks. On one hand one could say, "Well, that's done. Toss it. Who needs a list of all of Keren's doctors, after all?" But that's the cold, logical, strictly reasonable part. I was not feeling in any way logical as I happened across piece after piece of our life with Keren and realized again, each time, "I don't need this because Keren is not here." And so I set it aside because I couldn't think about it just then. I didn't want to deal with it, and I in no way, shape or form wanted to throw it away, because it would be throwing away a memory, or worse. It would be denying myself the chance of ever stumbling across it again....

That is one reason I have piles. I can't, yet, let go. I know I am moving forward, and that God is continuing to move our family forward. I know that He used Keren's life to shape us into who we are today so that He can use us in His next great thing. I've know this in my head since I read Isaiah 43:18 & 19, days after Keren died:
Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
I am excited about the "new thing" and I'm anticipating it with a sense of expectancy. I know that it will be beautiful, and wonderful beyond anything I can imagine. I know that Keren and her life had a part and purpose in it.... But I am not ready to get to work and clean up so that I can get to that place.

My pile is comfortable because I know it well.

I wonder what I'll have to go searching for to get rid of my pile.

Monday, April 05, 2010

It's All About the Relationship

I had a bit of an epiphany Sunday morning (during our Easter morning worship service--triggered by a comment in our pastor's message) and I'm hoping I can translate it into words....

If I've heard these phrases once, I've heard them a thousand times: "[Christianity] is not a religion, it's a relationship," and "Spending time with the Lord is the way to get to know him better." Now, I will quickly clarify that I do agree with these statements.... It's just that sometimes when I hear them I want to pick up something and hurl it. Very Christ-like of me, huh?

I'll take on the second statement first. I know that I won't learn more about how to follow Christ if I don't "spend time with him;" that is, reading the Bible, studying it through the teaching of godly men and women, praying. But then the rubber meets the road...or more accurately, then the kids wake up from their naps, the baby starts grabbing at the paper of the book I'm trying to read, WWIII breaks out when one daughter takes something that the other daughter absolutely MUST have, dinner has to get made, laundry switched from washer to dryer.... You get the picture. By the time the dear little ones are in bed, the brain is fried, and in the early morning hours, well, it all starts over. I can't blame it all on kids, either. I have enough of my own nature to fight. For one, I love to read, and I don't mean deep, theological treatises or good spiritual self-help books. I'm also not one who will just pick up my Bible for a casual few minutes of pleasure. Nope. I love to read novels. I'm an admitted bookaholic. I recently came off a four-book binge and realized that I needed to get my brain back in the game, so I've fed my "need to read" with magazine articles in the last few weeks. That's been helpful, but doesn't take care of that "spending time with the Lord" part. So, I get frustrated.... I know in my head that it takes time and diligence, and I wonder if I'm being horrible and sinful because I'm not making more of an effort.

The other statement leads me to my epiphany, and I hope, in some way, it answers some of my angst about not "spending time with the Lord." While I have agreed with my head that "[Christianity] is a relationship, not a religion," I haven't been able to put it into my own words so that it really means something to me. I know that I have (to use the Christian-ese language) a "relationship with Jesus Christ." He saved me--I have no doubts; I am his. I don't go to church, follow a set of rules, etc., because that's what a Christian is supposed to do. I know that Jesus lived, died and rose again for me, and I believe that, as he says, he is "the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through" him (John 14:6). But how does that play out in the busyness of everyday life?

Our pastor yesterday spoke about the empty grave clothes that Jesus left in the tomb when he rose again, and how that made his resurrection personal. It wasn't something we see from far off--his followers saw and touched those empty grave clothes; Jesus appeared to them personally so they would know he lived. It was a living, growing relationship, and it is for us, too, no matter how long we've known this. And that's when it hit me: I've been a believer in this Truth for a long time--in some ways, it's been my entire life, though I can pinpoint the exact moment when I was four and prayed that Jesus would forgive my sin so that I could go to heaven to be with him when I died. And in those many years, I've gotten to know Jesus better. Everything that has happened in my life has ebbed and flowed out of my interaction with him. Even though it's been thirty-four years since I "prayed the prayer" I am constantly learning new things about who Christ is, who God is, and how much he loves me. Even in times when I've felt like he was distant, the overall theme has been one of growth. He's used even those distant times to help me know him better.

He's not just "God." He's not just "My Savior." He's not even just the more familiar "friend." Really, when it comes down to it, he's truly my family. The Bible relates how Jesus' relationship to us is like a husband's love for his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33), and there's the fact that when we accept that he died for us, we are adopted as God's children (Ephesians 1:5). I realized that this family picture helps me understand my relationship with Jesus better than anything else.

Now, granted, I have a close-knit, healthy family, so I can relate (my post Family Wranglings gives a better picture of that). But I've been thinking of the husband/wife scenario more recently as a result of some messages I've been listening to through Robert McLaughlin Bible Ministries (specifically a series early in March on Romans 6). In this life, as I grow and go through this and that experience, I have the chance to interact with Christ in many ways. I can reject him and God and shake my fist in his face, or I can accept the experience, learn from it, and rest in him...and as a result, get to know better him and his love for me. When I think of how Kraig and I have gotten to know each other better over the years, that helps me understand this better, too. We've been through plenty of ups and downs, particularly when we faced miscarriages, then having Keren and losing her. We're learning plenty about each other in how we interact with each of our kids, and our frustrations and joys there. With Kraig, I can be myself, but I don't get to be with him all the time (obviously), and there are even times when I don't want to hang out with him (shocker!), or times when I can't for the life of me understand his point or perspective (and vice versa). I am still learning new things about him, and I know we've both changed over the years, becoming more "one." I know that I love him, even when I don't feel it emotionally, and I want to know what makes him tick and to live life with him to the fullest so that we can do everything that God has planned for us.

So many of these aspects of my relationship with Kraig are like my relationship with Christ. I have times when I don't want to spend time with him, or can't. I have times when I don't understand him. There are times when I'm frustrated with the way he's doing things. But there are the underlying, unchanging truths: I can be myself with him; I love him, even when I don't have an emotional high about it. I'm committed to him and want to live my life for him to the fullest. When my steps are faltering, and I'm swamped with life and not resting in him, I know that he still loves me...and that draws me back to him. And over the years, I pray that I am becoming more and more like him, so that together we can live life to the fullest and do everything God has planned for me.

And if that's not a relationship, I don't know what is!