An Empty House

The house feels different today.

I park my car in the same place as before. I unlock the same beveled-glass door, and the same slobbering chocolate Labrador greets me. I set my keys on the same table and see the same pictures on the wall.

But this doesn’t feel like my house.

There are no shoes littering the entryway, threatening to trip anyone who dares to enter. There are no bicycles gathered in the driveway, and no baseballs on the couch. There are crumbs on the counter, of course, from a half-eaten breakfast muffin, but no one is arguing over who gets to use the computer first.

The start of the school year has robbed my house of its life today, and my identity went right along with it.

You see, I have been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years now. I always considered myself blessed to have the option, and I always knew – as did my husband – that it was a good fit for our family.

But my kids are in school now. And somewhere deep inside me is a nagging voice, telling me that I should get out and do something. That I should contribute financially to my family. That it’s self-indulgent to stay home in an empty house.

In years past, when this voice got the best of me, I worked as a substitute teacher, because it offered me an opportunity to work and keep a schedule that matches that of my kids. The income was nice, but the dynamic of our mornings and afternoons changed, because my stress level was higher.  My kids weren’t crazy about it (maybe because I was teaching in their respective classrooms?) but they tolerated it in the name of supplementing our budget.

Fast forward to now, and the voice is still there. My substitute teacher application is as yet unacknowledged, and I’m home in an empty house. Still trying to find the answer.

I think back to a friend from years ago who told me she stayed home until her last child graduated from high school. She didn’t do it because she wanted to be available to “rescue” any of them from consequences (like forgetting homework.) She did it, she said, because there were moments when her children needed her immediately. Urgent problems that her kids were unsure how to handle. Important questions that required answers. And if she had been at work or otherwise unavailable, she would have missed the opportunity to guide them.

Like the other day when one of my children asked me a private question on the way to school. None of the other kids in the family were around, and we were alone in the car. Because I had a few minutes to spare, I was able to pull into a parking space and answer the question.

Or when my youngest child came home from school and cried inexplicably. It seems she was “exhausted” from the first days of school, and her emotions got the best of her. I laid down with her and talked to her about her day, and within a few minutes she was napping.

Then today, I read this:

“Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world – wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important – has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out – but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”  — 1 John 2:15-17  (Msg)

It lead me to think that perhaps going back to work because I feel compelled to is different than going back to work because it’s the right thing for my family. It caused me to think that perhaps I’m right where I’m supposed to be, at least for the moment. And it reminded me that I’ll always have an opportunity to take a new job, but my children won’t be here forever.

Need Jesus

A classroom of first graders was learning the difference between needs and wants. The difference between the things you’d like to have, and the things you must have in order to survive.

As we took turns allowing each student to offer up an idea of what a need is, I heard the obvious answers: water, food, and shelter. The kids talked about the chance of survival without each of those things.

And then a little boy surprised me when he said, “Jesus is a need. We can’t live without him. I learned that in Sunday School.”

I was struck initially by the simplicity of the statement, because it really is true that without a faith and trust in Jesus, we will die. Unless we have the saving grace of Jesus, we will not enjoy eternal life, and we will suffer the lasting consequences of our sins. And I presume this is how the little boy interpreted the response.

But the more I thought about it, I realized that I NEED Jesus in order to get through this life. Too many times in my life I have attempted to “go it alone.” I have tried to make my own way and I have really messed things up, so much so that I ultimately return to prayer and ask for help straightening out the mess I’ve made. Maybe the little boy was suggesting that, without Jesus, there really isn’t much of a life. It’s more a case of survival.

But the most striking part of the entire exchange was the boldness the boy spoke with when he stated the need for Jesus. No apologies. No watered-down explanations. No disclaimers about different people and different beliefs.

Just a simple statement that Jesus is the equivalent of water and food in our lives.  The longer we go without them, the weaker we become. We might survive for a while without them, but eventually, we will die.

And then, at the end of it all, as kids so often do, another boy wrapped up the conversation this way: “Jesus is both a need AND a want.”

From the mouth of a 6-year-old.

Childish faith

I haven’t yet achieved the child-like faith the Bible describes, but I’m trying.

Unfortunately, mine has often been more childish than child-like.

And there’s a big, big difference.

  • Though I should trust God with everything, I have a death-grip on my life’s decisions. Like a toddler with a favorite toy, I’m  not good at sharing. It’s mine. Until it’s broken. Then I’ll gladly give it to someone else. Once I have botched my life’s decisions completely, I’ll gladly give them to God. So He can fix my mess.
  • Instead of waiting on God and trusting His perfect timing, I get impatient. I want an answer now, and I don’t function well when God’s timing doesn’t match mine. All that is missing is the foot-stomping and clenched teeth of a typical temper tantrum.
  • Rather than learning to be content in every situation, I seem to be ever-dissatisfied. “It’s not fair. I want what my friends have.” I spend way too much time thinking about the things I don’t have instead of being thankful for the things I do. I find myself asking God to remove the hardships from my life rather than watching to see what I can learn from them.

The reality is that I should be more like my 10-year-old son. When he can’t find something, he prays. When he has a decision to make, he prays. When he’s afraid, he prays. When he makes a mistake, he prays. His knee-jerk response to every situation is to pray. He doesn’t concern himself with flowery language and he doesn’t care who’s watching. He simply knows that God’s word tells him to pray without ceasing. But even better than that, he reminds me to do the same.  When he knows I’m struggling with something or having a tough day, he reminds me to pray.

So I’m thankful to have my son’s example under my roof, and thankful that he is demonstrating humility. I’m thankful that he’s showing me what it looks like to trust God with every aspect of his life. And that he’s modeling child-like faith and obedience within the very walls of our home.

Beginning today, I’ll practice sharing. And waiting. And trusting. And I’ll seek contentment instead of seeking what I don’t have. I’ll keep my eyes on God and talk to Him throughout my day. And I won’t wait until things are broken.

 

 

 

Duck-Duck-Goose

The transmission in my Suburban cratered on Black Friday, and the whole episode had God’s handwriting all over it.

It happened about 30 minutes from home on the interstate, without any warning at all. We had just picked up my daughter’s friend who was in town for the holidays. And suddenly, we were stranded.

Typically, I would be a disaster in a moment like this. I have a history of worrying. And I even have a history of worrying about the transmission in my car. But as we sat on the side of the road evaluating the next move, I felt a peace I’ve only known a few times in my life. A peace that defied logic. After all, I had someone else’s child with me. I was nowhere close to home. My husband was deployed. And we were stalled just over the crest of a blind hill.

But as we waited for the wrecker and a generous friend to retrieve us and the car, an odd thing happened. Somebody had the idea to play duck-duck-goose. While the rest of the world scrambled through stores fighting for the best deals on Christmas gifts, we enjoyed a few minutes of simplicity on Black Friday. Playing a children’s game on the side of the highway. No ipods, no televisions. Just duck-duck-goose. And afterward, several rounds of Red Rover.

Hard to picture, isn’t it?

The absolute simplicity of the scene was striking to me. I couldn’t remember the last time we did such a thing. And realistically, we wouldn’t have done it that day, but for the fact that we had little else to do. And there we were laughing together and truly interacting in the most unlikely of moments.

While we waited for our “rescuer,” no fewer than three other friends offered to pick us up.Then several friends got to work searching for an affordable solution to my problem. They made phone calls and negotiated deals. One even called in a favor on my behalf. As if that weren’t enough, he then made arrangements to have my vehicle transported 30 miles to the shop that would do the work.

I was completely humbled by the fact that so many people were willing to help. That they were willing to sacrifice personally to help out my family. It’s a difficult feeling because I cannot possibly express my appreciation to them. I cannot think of anything I could ever do to thank them for their generosity. And I can’t identify one reason why I “deserve” this kind of generosity.

Exactly like God’s love for us. And like Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We can’t possibly earn it. There’s no way we deserve it. But it’s there just the same. It’s difficult to comprehend. And it’s humbling to experience.

And so I’m thankful today for a broken-down vehicle. Thankful for a peace that defies understanding. Thankful that we decided at the last minute not to make a Thanksgiving trip out of state. And thankful for truly amazing friends who “walk the walk” of Christianity.

 

 

 

 

No More Circling the Wagons

On Thanksgiving, my house will probably not look the way I envisioned it might.

No doubt there will be a bathroom I never got a chance to clean. Laundry will be stacked in the mudroom, and my kitchen will be messy in spite of my best efforts to “clean as I go.” There will probably be at least one dish that doesn’t finish cooking on time. Which means that the others will be ready and waiting as I mentally plead with the last dish to cook faster.

It’s enough to make me circle the wagons and shut out the rest of the world. That way, if Thanksgiving dinner is a dud, no one will be the wiser. But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll defy my natural tendencies and invite someone to dinner. Someone who has no plans and nowhere to go. Someone who doesn’t mind a little chaos on Thanksgiving.

And I know exactly how it’ll go: I’ll spend the hours leading up to the guests’ arrival stressing over every little detail. “What if the turkey is undercooked?” “What if we run out of things to talk about at the dinner table?”

But I also know exactly how it’ll end: I’ll look around at the end of the day, when all the food is gone and the guests have departed, and be thankful that I ventured beyond my comfort zone. I’ll be grateful for a day spent with friends and I’ll be fulfilled by the opportunity to share our home with others. I’ll realize that I anguished over silly things, because my friends didn’t come to see my bathroom or critique my cooking. I’ll realize that a mediocre celebration with friends is better than a holiday spent alone. And I’ll remember all the times that my friends opened their homes when I was the one with nowhere to go for Thanksgiving.

No doubt you know someone who is separated from family members this holiday season. Don’t assume she has plans. Ask her over. Don’t assume he wouldn’t possibly want to come. Ask anyway. Don’t let the fear of a flawed event keep you from sharing your celebration.

Think of it as a way to bless our nation’s warriors and their spouses and children. More than that, it’s a comfort to the moms and dads of those military families who will appreciate knowing that their loved ones are surrounded by friends on this day of thanks. Still yet, it’s a way to bless your own family by sharing yourselves with others.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. God bless you and yours during this holiday season.

 

Beyond Veterans Day

I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes.

I had heard this particular Army story numerous times, and I didn’t care to sit through it again. So I tuned out.

To make matters worse, I found myself a little annoyed that everyone else was hanging on every detail. And that my husband was enjoying the obvious fascination of his audience.

Beyond selfish, right?

It’s not a moment I’m proud of. And though I was much younger then, it’s still no less uncomfortable to recall. Especially given that my husband is as selfless as they come.

Over the years, experience has shown me that there have been times in my married life when I have been slow to recognize my husband’s selflessness. Like when he gave up a job he loved to take a job that moved me closer to my family. And when he gave up four walls of his own to live on base because it was easier for the kids and me. Or the fact that he has willingly given up a more lavish lifestyle so I could be a stay-at-home mom.

I could go on, but the point is that I got it completely wrong all those years ago. I was so wrapped up in me that I missed what was in it for everyone else. People enjoy hearing my husband’s stories because he is an accomplished soldier who has done amazing things in places most of us will never go. They revere him and his fellow soldiers who willingly sacrifice their own comfort and safety to protect the comfort and safety of people they have never met.

He enjoys telling the stories because he is a patriot to his very core, and he is hard-wired with a love for our great nation. It isn’t a matter of gloating over his accomplishments. Rather his stories usually end with some lesson or truth that Americans should never forget.

This lesson seems relevant now as our communities prepare to celebrate Veterans Day. Just as our nation makes a point to recognize our heroes and their service to our nation, so should we recognize their service in our homes. Just as our citizens pause to acknowledge a debt we can never repay, so will I remember that the opportunity to serve alongside him is a privilege.

But I will choose to do it often. Not once a year. Not once a month. But as often as it springs to mind. I have made it my business to be the most enthusiastic listener he ever had.

And never, ever will I roll my eyes again.