Take Heart

He clutches his ‘nearly-the-size-of-him’ backpack tightly to his chest. His shoes, somehow having landed on the wrong feet, stand motionless- flaps to the wind. But thankfully we remembered the bus pass. He holds the tiny stub of paper with the little bit of tape I stuck on for good measure, absently rubbing it against his cheek.

There is fear in his eyes.

He is going on a different bus today, but because he is right now alone, this experience is terrifying to him. It is unthinkable. To get on a vehicle you have never before traveled and trust that it will end up somewhere familiar is beyond his capability right now. All he wants is something sure and someone familiar. Someone recognizable to travel this road with him that will eventually take him toward home.

Don’t we all?

Life is lonely. And so very hard.

We were never promised easy. Never guaranteed a trouble-free road.

That road might look different depending on where you stand, but the road remains the same. Challenged with obstacles, roadblocks, detours, barriers and obstructions of every kind.

{“In this world you will have trouble.” It’s a certainty. A sure thing.}

I stand beside him with my hand on his back. I see the tiny tears welling up in his eyes, and my own heart breaks in two. Breaks into a piece for him and a piece saved for all the others that I will stand alongside in comfort and offer my heart of hope.

I crouch down beside and whisper those very words of hope that I believe. Words that I trust will bring him peace of mind and ease of trouble.

I tell him that his brother is on his way. It won’t be long, they will soon be reunited. We both look toward the door in anticipation. For when that older brother appears, all anxiety will subside. Brothers offer that kind of sustaining optimism sometimes. When they do, it is a powerful thing to behold.

{“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”}

Sometimes we wait for things to come to us. But sometimes we must move towards those things we know are waiting.

We two walk toward the outside door, through it and then up the stairs and towards the classroom buzzing with voices where we know Big Brother patiently waits for his own release.

The lost is found.

{“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”}

We know this world is fraught with tribulation, difficulty, pain and hardship. We are all located somewhere on that continuum of trouble. Where we are located is different depending on the story, depending on the variables. But the outlook is hopeful no matter what the situation.

For He has overcome the world.
And that very fact makes all the difference.

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When We Are At Our Worst

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“To reveal someone’s beauty is to reveal their value by giving them time, attention and tenderness.  To love is not just to do something for them but to reveal to them their own uniqueness, to tell them that they are special and worthy of attention.” – Jean Vanier

I stand over her, feeling helpless. Hopeless. Maybe even a bit heart-less right now. It goes without saying, really: I am finding it hard to love right now. Finding it really hard to emotionally connect, even as I realize I MUST.  A full temper tantrum has ensued- complete with refusals, stubbornness, crying and whining: a perfect storm.  And she is fixed in front of me, un-moving- immobile, with a sulky frown permeating her features.  Anger is so unbecoming. And this anger- it is reaching inside me, threatening to pull me under.  Tentacles wrapped around my fragile patience. Causing me to find it difficult to keep the calm, cool collected-ness deemed so necessary in these situations.  I can feel the heat rising under my collar- I just don’t know what to do.  How can I persuade her? Convince and assuage her?  Our verbal exchanges having been reduced to a power struggle, I find myself pleading, only to hear the frustrating words retorted back from her mouth:

“NO.”

What do I do with that word?  Can I force a ‘no’ to become a ‘yes’?  Should I?

It is when we are at our worst that we need most to be reminded of how much we are loved.  Of who we are in love. This truth about others and myself helps me to more deeply understand those others I interact with both at home and at work.  When we show what appears to be our “worst sides” to the individuals with whom we are interacting, might it be that we are looking for some small confirmation of our own self-worth?  Looking for a sign that we could indeed be loved even in the midst of our recurring difficulty to exhibit love first?  Vanier (2008) states that love gestures which are filled with respect are often what instigate the belief in one’s own sense of self worth, even when that belief is buried under ‘anger, hatred and madness’.

We need love to show love.

Yesterday, I arrived home with much on my plate.  There is much going on in all our lives, as we can so easily attest to, along with witness via social media, conversational exchanges, electronic messaging, body language and the like; we read via the lines and through the lines coming to the conclusion that life is hard. Life is so, so hard.  Busy, stressful, fraught with trouble and sadness- HARD.  And these words would appear to be an absolute understatement.

I felt the pressure rising and inside me an inaudible ‘NO’ rose to the surface.  I felt the surge of defiance, tasted the bitterness of wrath.  And I lost my cool.  I lost it.

I got angry.

And suddenly, I was that little girl again that stormed the house and left over supper hour.  I was that little girl who later came home and went into hiding for a while (albeit, this time in her daughter’s room).  And I was that little girl who lay silent when the calling voices inquired where she might be.

When he finally found me, I was motionless, with a hand over my face.  And his tender tone brought me to tears.

I cried.

And the ‘no’ inside me melted away- along with the anger and rage and fear and worry and anxiety and all that threatened to pull me under.

Love has that kind of way with me.

For it is when we are at our worst that we need most to be reminded of how very much we are loved.

Giving Christmas Away This Year

For the past few weeks, my two youngest children have been talking about what they want for Christmas. The lists began to form about mid-November, a modest collection of this and that. Nothing that would break the bank or Santa’s aching back as he pulls that sack up and of his sleigh. And of course, it’s fun to think about the magic of Christmas at this time of year- writing letters to Santa, browsing through dog-eared copies of the Sear’s Wishbook.

But it is all too easy to get caught up in that holiday hullabaloo- shopping, ticking things off our list. Compiling our lists of wants and needs.

I have been struck this year by the fact that there are people- adults and children the world over, who sadly know that this is their last Christmas spent here on earth. Their last Christmas ever. And with that in mind, I have started to shift my focus to a few of these stories.

Meet Addie Fausett- she’s a little girl much like my own MaryAnne or the little ones I teach in my kindergarten classroom. Except Addie is dying- this is her last Christmas. Due to an unknown illness, she stopped growing when she was 3 and she now weighs all of 23 pounds. Doctors told her Mom last month that she will not last more than the coming year. With that in mind, her family wants to make this Christmas one of the most meaningful ones they have ever had. Because all Addie really wants materialistically this year as a gift is some Christmas cards from all of her friends. There has been a world-wide appeal for Christmas cards for her, as this would be one of the more meaningful gifts a child spending their last Christmas might like to receive.

If you would be interested in sending her a card, here is her address:

Addie Fausett
c/o Tami Fausett
Box 162, Fountain Green, Utah, USA 84632

Meet Cali Griggs- a little girl from Glendale, Arizona. She’s two years-old, and she has terminal cancer. A couple of weeks ago, the doctors gave her one to three months to live, but her parents intuitively believe she won’t even make it until Christmas. All Cali wants this year is to experience Christmas- the lights, the glow, the paper-wrapping, the smells and sounds. The snow. Her community came together in mid-November to create a winter wonderland for her outside her home. “She just wanted to get out and play with everything. She was so happy. And I had to fight it, I was about to cry,” said Greg Griggs, Cali’s father.

And if these stories are not enough to break our hearts, meet Aimee Willett who is 26. She’s a mommy to two precious little boys. She had her first ever, routine PAP test this past year and in June, doctors told her there was cancer and it was inoperable. Doctors have told her that she is unlikely to survive until 2016. This will be her last Christmas

I ask myself: is there something I can do? However small that something might be. Something I can do even within the community in which I live. The school in which I teach. Is there something I can do- both for these precious families as well as for the others who are unknown and living out countless stories much like these three I have shared above?

Don’t we all play a part in making this Christmas an unforgettable one for the people we encounter around us?

I write this piece not to make anyone feel guilty or pressured- only so as to broaden hearts and give us all a deeper awareness of the world around us. I write so as to remind myself and others that this Christmas: we can make it the most meaningful one ever both for ourselves and for others by choosing to think outside our comfort zone- outside our private lives. We can make it meaningful by choosing to extend our love- our care and concern, to the multitude of others in the world around us.

We can GIVE Christmas away this year.

Safe Havens and Soft Landings

You know, I have had many people tell me over the years that they could never be a teacher.  Could never do my job. That they don’t have what it takes. That it is too demanding in terms of the behaviors and the complicated issues children present. Too hard on the nerves. Too taxing on the stress levels. Never mind the additional stressful academic responsibilities that come with the job.

Honestly, it isn’t the easiest profession. It isn’t the easiest calling to be drawn to. It hasn’t been the smoothest sailing I’ve ever known. There are many challenging days, many hurdles to jump. Many deep waters to traverse.  There are many moments when I wonder myself. That all because: it is hard being there for people, day in and day out.   Hard staying the course when the ride gets bumpy.  And truth be told, the ride is very treacherous.  And all because there are so many variables.  So many children with so many stories.  For in our classrooms, there are children who have seen things I will never know about in my lifetime. Who have heard things I will never hear. Watched things transpire that I can only envision in my worst nightmares. Who have lived lives in their short years that I will never live.

It isn’t easy being a kid at the best of times. Try being one at the worst of times.

There are days when these same children come into the classroom and they just your push buttons. They try your patience and test your resolve. They act out, cry, push, scream, whine, slap, punch and spit. They holler and run. They pull things off the walls and shove things on the floor. There are days when you just want to give up and walk out the door.

There are certainly days when you wonder why you ever thought teaching was a good idea in the first place.

But sometimes, there are days when everything comes together for you.  When the pieces of the puzzle just FIT. When there is clarity and everything murky is finally clear. Days when something happens and a door is opened, a view is granted into the inner sanctum of a child’s private life. And you see for the very first time why it is, this child is angry. Is hurting. Why it is this child is wounded, frustrated, broken and scared. And all of the moments that happened before- when you thought seriously about pulling out your hair and giving up the fight- those moments are all but forgotten.  All but a memory. Because you’ve just seen a child for who they truly are for the very first time.

Seen that their anger is just a disguise for pain.
Seen that their screaming hollers are sometimes a cry for help.
Seen that the physical aggression they exhibit is sometimes a response to what they know as familiar.
Seen that their hurtful words are just the everyday vernacular of their private world.

And in those moments of clarity, you realize: I am a safe haven. I am a lighthouse- a beacon of hope. I am a soft landing for this child. And I am such so that when they come to school, when they come to my classroom- they know they are loved.  Know that they are protected, accepted, wanted, appreciated, valued, enjoyed, liked and seen. They know they don’t have to be afraid. Don’t have to fear.

Because here…they are safe.

That is all I could ever really hope for as a teacher- to be a safe haven and a soft landing for my students to fall on. A person they know who will be there for them, each day and every day… through all the moments, both shining and otherwise.  There to be a caring, loving presence in their lives.  Unwavering through the storms.

As a teacher, it’s all I ever really needed to be.

{photo retrieved from crislorenzana.wordpress.com}

Our lasting hope, our consolation

My dear friend- buried Monday on a beautiful November afternoon. Snow softly falling as if to quell the pain. The hour prior, friends and family crowded into a small country church, four hundred strong to say last goodbyes. To sing and pay tribute to the woman they loved while honoring the God she adored. To bring humble offerings before the One who had held her through it all- knowing that same Dear One stood in God’s very presence even as we mourned. Her beloved family there, lining the rows. Clutching Kleenex in hand, heads bowed in sorrow even as they said final earthly goodbyes to a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt and kindred spirit. Not a dry eye in the place.

What if your blessings come through rain drops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

This life- it is never time enough for those of us who love. We always crave for more. More time, more moments, more memories, more laughter, more hugs, more touch. More opportunity. And when time is up and eternity claims the ones we hold the closest, we wonder: where is the good in all of this? How can good come from so much sorrow?

When friends betray us When darkness seems to win We know that pain reminds this heart That this is not, This is not our home It’s not our home

And this life- it is so hard. So much to bear. I talk to another precious woman, listening as she shares her story of a broken marriage, a baby lost and the hope of any other future babies gone with a medical complication not of her own doing. I talk to others, even as I think back over this past week’s events and wonder: how can we carry on? A colleague killed crossing the road, another three-car pile-up, a mother left to carry the burden of her sister’s accident, a father and mother-in-law struggling with the ravages of Parkinson’s. A father taken, a mother. Disease and death surround us at every turn. And that is just my story- my precious friends with their own stories of sadness to share. It is all too much. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the misery that this life brings. Our own dear family- both immediate and extended- a testament to this truth. So much suffering. So much pain. And I have to wonder, how is all the misery of this life able to become a blessing?

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace Comfort for family, protection while we sleep We pray for healing, for prosperity We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

We pray for the realization of all that we believe would give us joy: an end to cancer, an end to disease. An end to brokenness of any sort. We pray for restoration in marriage, for lengthy lives lived until the grey hairs crown our heads in glory. We pray for an end to all suffering. We pray for inner peace, familial peace, relational peace, world peace. An end to poverty, famine, war and pestilence. We pray for an end to our misery and trouble. We pray.

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love As if every promise from Your word is not enough

And we wonder: where is God? Where is God in all of this? I come across a beautiful message in my Facebook feed from this same dear friend whom I am mourning the loss, a note written to me six years earlier. Who would have known that this message would come back into my present reality and speak to me- as if they were words given to me in my time of sorrow from God Himself. Words offering comfort and hope.She writes:

Hi Lori, I know things are going to work out for all of you, time is a healer and GOD is all powerful, nothing happens without a reason…the healing can start…. Time will bring everything back to where it should be!! …you are a wonderful person, God is not finished with any of us yet, and he is doing a wonderful work in you, it may be a very DIFFICULT time right now, but look how close you have come to God in all of it!! GOD is using you in many ways, some you are not even aware of, HOW EXCITING!!! Just let go and let GOD, he is carrying you and he will never let you go. I was thinking of that song today, it is my favorite and my prayer when I am down, “Draw me close to you, never let me go” I pray that you feel so close to GOD, I love you guys, and am still praying for you all!! Good night my friend! and GOD BLESS YOU.

And all the while, You hear each spoken need Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

What if the heartache of this life was the pathway to understanding? What if the insight we gained, the perspective we were offered- was the open door? What if the purpose of all this pain and sorrow in life was not for it all to end, but for us to endure so as to find the beauty within the pain? What if beauty could truly come through ashes? Joy through mourning? What if every-day, private miracles were just as necessary as public sensations? What if the little moments of victory were our true pursuit? And what if the moments whereby inner strength was gained were as valuable as those moments we derived the sustaining ability necessary to climb physical mountains?

What if life was less about the mountain-top and more about the climb?

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea And long that we’d have faith to believe

I take a walk the day after, last goodbyes already having been spoken; and the brilliant sunset brings me to tears. It is not that I see my precious friend or even Heaven in this earthly vision so much as I see hope. It makes me long for another time, another place. I think of Heaven and Wendy and others who are there. I think of Jesus and I long for home. Long for an end to the aching of this life. A brand new beginning.

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy What if trials of this life The rain, the storms, the hardest nights Are your mercies in disguise

And this is our lasting hope, our consolation: eternity. Forever is such a very long time.

Mostly Enough

I shouldn’t feel this way.  But I do.

In spite of my best efforts, in spite of all I do, all I say and all I strive to be. In spite of how many braids I plait, clothes I fold, rides I provide, meals I make. In spite of how much I take an interest. In spite of how many emails I have sent concerning them, conversations I have struck up because of them. Tears I have shed over them. In spite of the concerts I have attended. Piano lessons I have paid for. Not to mention hockey and skating lessons, soccer and softball fees. In spite of the board games I have played and bike rides I have participated in. In spite of all the times I have lain in bed at night with them in the dark. In spite of every dose of medication I have administered and days I have taken to be home with them.

In spite of everything.

I still don’t always feel I am doing enough.

So I sat with Husband on a Sunday afternoon on the edge of a bridge, lazily watching a river trout jumping in and out of the water, while minnows swam in a school right underneath our toes. I sat watching the breeze gently rustling the river grass while birds flew gracefully overhead. I sat.  On a perfectly beautiful autumn afternoon in the beauty of nature and the perfection of a gorgeous sunny day. And all I could think in those blissful moments that should have brought me peace and tranquility was how inadequate I felt as a mom.

How “not enough” I was as a parent.

No calling to mind of any of the above list could have really convinced me otherwise in that moment and time. I simply felt that I wasn’t doing enough. Being enough. Showing enough.

Felt I wasn’t enough.

And while it seems I have been succumbing to these feelings more and more lately, I don’t always have a reasons for why I do this to myself.  Why this happens. I know the research. I know what this generation is characterized by- indulgence and lenience. It is an age of tolerance and low expectations.  And I know my own story and personality well- I am an overachiever. A perfectionist. And as usual, somewhere deep in my perfectionist psyche, I am punishing myself for inadequacies that I think are there. That I felt others in my family could see and feel as deeply as could I.

My lack of patience. My quick temper. My exhaustion that affects both my mood and my energy level. My frustration. My intolerance. My tendency to speak without thinking carefully through beforehand. All combining to make me feel shame and despair- and added to that, make me even feel less than “not enough”: more like a complete failure.

Since Sunday, I’ve been thinking about these feelings. Ruminating about them in my head, if not even a bit out loud with Husband and my mom in casual conversation. And coincidentally, I happened to come across this little blurb from Jen Hatmaker’s new book tonight as I scanned her blog. Here’s what she had to say about her beliefs about parenting:

Only our overly-critical, overly-involved generation could possibly engineer such carefully curated childhood environments and still declare ourselves failures. We are loving, capable mothers reading the room all wrong.

Can I tell you my goal for my kids? That childhood was mostly good. People, I declare “mostly good” a raging success. If I was mostly patient and they were mostly obedient, great. If we were mostly nurturing and they were mostly well-adjusted, super. Every childhood needs a percentage of lame, boring, aggravating, and tedious. Good grief, life is not a Nickelodeon set. They need something to gripe about one day.

Mostly good is later remembered as “loved and safe.” I know because I now label my childhood “magical” even though my mom slapped me across the face in 7th grade and never bought me Guess jeans and accidentally left me at church numerous times. Mostly is enough.

You are doing a wonderful job. Parenting is mind-numbingly hard and none of us will be perfect at it and all of us will jack a thousand parts of it, and somehow, against all odds, it will still be enough.

Words like cool water on a parched tongue.

Mostly is enough.

And it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way. In fact, it’s NORMAL.

Tonight, Daughter and I exchanged a few unpleasant words- mostly from my mouth, not hers. And after we got through most of the ugly, the message that cushioned all that had been said was the fact that we both really did love each other.  A lot. I know I sure do, and she tells me the same still, every night. Sometimes we Two have a funny way of showing it, but through it all, that love is constant in spite of the bad bits that tend to color our relationship. It is there, in spite of everything that makes me feel “not enough”.  Not good enough. And thank heavens for that. Because love remains in spite of the misunderstandings, frustrations, clashes and head-butting that sometimes occurs, I can carry on- with the understanding that love will also carry both me and my family through the good, the bad and the ugly. For love is and always will be a constant in this family: even when the storms roll in.  Even when the bullets fly.  It is and will be the foundation on which our family life is built upon. And although we might fight like it is 1999, we still love each other through it all.  We’ve committed to that.

We love each other. And that love, while imperfect, is never mostly enough.

It’s everything.

Reaching for joy…

We stand in a circle of friendship this night of the Blood Moon, our feet planted firmly in soft sand while truant strands of pony-tales and coiffed hair-dos blow helter-skelter in autumn breezes. Earlier, we walked the hard-packed sand-floor from one point to another– me, with roving eyes on the prowl for sea glass. Others, just meandering along the jagged shoreline. I stop several times to add to the stash in my dress pant pocket so that each time I find place for the newest piece, my hand meets gathered grains of sand and other bits of ocean treasure. There is something mystical about the sea in autumn. Like a numinous, burgeoning being, it nips at our toes, crashes against the shore and then recedes as if in fear.

We hate to leave this place tonight- drawn together as we have been caused to come. Our hands and hearts are joined in love in the still of the moment even as we share one last poignant illustration of the evening to take away in our hearts. This illustration, one that calls on a memory of happiness from our recent days or years of life. Thus, the question is posed: When or where were we the happiest? Or put another way, at what time in our lives do we remember pleasure in its exquisite form? And at what point in our lives were we most joyful?

I listen as these enchanted hearts express the pleasures of the soul: births, weddings, trips, unexpected surprises. We revel in the sheer wonder of it all. How we can recall with delight the newness of the experience and the excitement of the incident in a momentary remembrance is marvellous.

And yet. It is so easy to lose the joy. To lose the innocence of celebrating pure pleasure. So easy for us to forget those emotions and feelings that call us back to time and place.

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Later on, I casually mention to Husband that it has been a very long time since I have felt excitement for an event or happening, calling back to that aforementioned illustration I had chosen to share about a moment of happiness. And in truth, I forget what this raw emotion of excitement feels like. Forget what it is to be elated with surprise, with anticipation. I comment as we walk the rain-slick road that I feel dry- that I am becoming dull, my feelings lacklustre at best.

Where does joy slip away? And how?

We live in a world that calls us to the heights of fear and the throes of love. A world that demands of us a response: to be appalled, sad or ecstatic. Invigorated. Jubilant. Horrified. We watch news clips day after day after day and all the while, expected responses to sensational headlines are left hanging there suspended in midair, waiting for us to claim them. Waiting for us to accept, reject or release them. But I wonder this: how often do we FEEL anything?

What do we feel?

Do we feel horror about the atrocities in the world happening right now? The injustices? The calamity on both small-scale and far grander schematas?

Do we feel sadness when we see pain and suffering? When we see hurt and sorrow?

Do we experience joy and thrill in the revel of a promise? With the invitation to witness a miracle?

Are our hearts hardened to the all-too- common horrors and equally compelling everyday moments of feeling that lie available to us at every turn?

How often when my children are wounded that I as their mother am called upon to feel their pain.  Just the other day when Daughter was hurt, her desire was to have me identify with her in the pain.  To come alongside and feel what it is to be wounded.  I am good at feeling pain- it comes with the territory. But how does a mother feel joy and elation when the world is so full of painful things to bear?

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We walk back to the beach house. I feel the cold ground beneath my naked toes, feel the wind ripping at my corduroy jacket. I feel peaceful and content.  And that’s when I catch a glimpse of it: of joy. It is here with me- with us, in this place. It waits for me and for all of us right there on the doorstep, playfully calling our names. And I see that the answer lies within the question.

We only have to reach for it- and it will find us.