24 September 2008

Joy in the Journey

I wrote this piece some time ago and just found it this evening at the bottom of a mountainous stack of papers on my desk. Since it will probably be a while before I am able to write a decent post again, I thought I'd give it to you to mull over until then.

Years ago, before kids and a mortgage, my husband Abe and I decided to celebrate our anniversary with a trip out West. The plan was to fly to Portland, Oregon, meet up with some dear friends of ours, then drive down through California to Yosemite National Park. It was the first time I’d traveled to the West coast, and I was eager to see all that I could see. Indeed, we did see many awe-inspiring things that the Midwest, where I was born and raised, lacks.

One of the highlights of our trip (or lowlights, depending on your view of it) was a day excursion our friend, Tim, took us on. Tim is a very fit fellow. He hikes. He’s trim and athletic. My husband had hiked with him extensively in the past, but I confess that I am not much of a hiker—scratch that, I’m not really a hiker at all—so since our marriage, Abe has done little in the way of camping or trekking anything steeper than the nearby bike path. Suffice it to say, we were not at our prime physical peak when Tim suggested we “hike” Mount St. Helens. But again, Abe had been an accomplished outdoorsman, and I am moderately athletic, so we figured Tim had considered our physical limitations and planned accordingly.

Apparently, Tim has a different perception of what is exactly in our comfort zone. The hike up the mountain was far more than we had anticipated—no trouble for Tim, slightly more trouble for Abe, and a whole lot of trouble for me. Oh, it started out easily enough, similar to a challenging trail in a local park, but once we got up past the timber line, things became substantially more difficult. Instead of treading the well-worn trails we’d traversed from the parking lot, we were pulling ourselves up over vertical miles of sharp volcanic rock. It was physically demanding, the day was hot and humid, Tim was climbing full-speed ahead, and I was worn out.

I was mad, frankly, that we’d followed him trustingly into this outing, believing it would be a fun adventure, when in reality, it turned out to be just a lot of work. There were lots of shops and tourist traps I’d rather visit, I concluded, than some treacherous mountain. It was a mountain, for pete’s sake! The only good I could see of it was that we’d come after the volcano had erupted. That meant less mountain to climb.

Sad to say, I did not keep any of these negative comments to myself. No, I was vocal about my discomfort and displeasure, and spoke it loud enough for anyone to hear. You’ve never heard anyone whine the way I did that day. My husband, the lapsed hiker, confided in me that this was the hardest hike he’d ever done in his life, and that if he’d known how difficult the climb would be, he would have suggested to Tim that a different activity might be better, or at the very least, he would have suggested that I stay home. But Abe hadn’t known. So there we were, stuck on what I called “this stupid, stupid mountain,” with seemingly no end in sight.

I whined for hours. Literally. I complained about thirst. Fatigue. Aches and pains. Heat. But still we climbed, higher and higher. I knew that we’d better get to the top to make the trip redeemable in any way, but I was doing my very best not to like it.

Finally, after hours of scrambling over craggy rock and trudging the steep incline of unforgiving, unrelenting volcanic ash, we reached the top. Suddenly, as I looked down into the vast crater at the center of the mountain and out over miles and miles of lush, mountainous terrain, it all seemed worth it. Peering over so much of God’s miraculous and beautiful creation, I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep from smiling. I was no longer thirsty or tired; instead, I was renewed and energized. We snapped pictures, savored the moment, felt kinship with our fellow climbers, and chiseled the images into our memories. There was not a complaint or whine to be heard from anyone, even me.

The way down was every bit as difficult, if not more so, and I am embarrassed to admit that I complained about that as well. I was bitter when my husband and Tim went on ahead of me and I lagged behind. I completely forgot about the high I’d felt at the summit. I was back in the whiny pit of despair, firmly planted there until the hike was over.

On the drive back to our friends’ house, though, the arduous trek behind me, I felt exhilarated. I knew this would be a great experience to reflect upon in the years to come, a wonderful story to tell, and an accomplishment I’d savor. Only one thing marred it: the fact that I’d been so whiny and baby-ish the whole time. I wished that I had kept silent about my frustrations and forged ahead bravely. I felt as if I didn’t deserve to have accomplished the summit because my attitude had been so poor. I wanted to do it all over again, but without the complaining spirit.

I knew this experience at Mount St. Helens had to be a metaphor for some other part of life, but at the time, I was not sure what. It is only years later, as I’m now chasing after kids, trying in vain to keep up with laundry, dishes, and bills, trying to stretch every dollar, and struggling to update our “fixer-upper” home, that I see it. So many days, I look at the things around me that I am charged to maintain, and I feel overwhelmed and tired. I resent being stuck in an uphill climb and long for the day when the path shallows and the way gets easier. I think that if someone had told me just how difficult the journey would be, I would have skipped it and gone to some nice shops instead. I spend those days bitter and complaining. Those are dark days.

But the St. Helens climb has a lot to say about living. God has put things in our lives—obstacles, it sometimes seems—for us to conquer and maintain, things like mortgages, families, ministries, and work. So often, we come to resent them for what they become—labor—and miss the joys they bring to our lives as well. We complain and whine about them, thinking instead of how our life could be easier or better. We miss altogether the fact that God has given these things to us as blessings. Is marriage a struggle? Perhaps. But your spouse is God’s gift to you. Do children manage to make us crazy? Occasionally. But children are a blessing. Does your home seem to be crumbling around you? It seems like it sometimes. But it is God’s provision for us.

The point is, we sometimes spend so much time complaining about God’s blessings, we miss the wonderful and miraculous view of his creation and provision. We don’t see the awe-inspiring view of life and its design, we only see our tired feet and aching backs. When we get to heaven, do we want to remember how our complaining and bitterness tarnished the experience? Or do we want to have shouldered on, thankful that God gave us the opportunity to make such an amazing climb? Do we want to be ashamed of our attitude and approach to life in the face of God’s limitless grace and blessing, or do we want to have been appreciative and fruitful? Perhaps instead of resenting the journey, we should seek to find joy in it.

20 September 2008

The Sun is Shining

Last night, Ruby slept through the night! Yep. I couldn't believe it myself. When Charis slept through for the first time, I thought (I'm not even kidding) she had died. Nearly hysterical, I went next door to her room to make sure she was still breathing. She was. Now, four years and two children later, sleeping through the night is cause for much rejoicing. I put Ruby down at about 10:30, she woke up at 7:30 to eat, and went back to sleep for another couple of hours. She still sleeps in bed with us, even though she is (as of today) 3 months old. I think that the fact that she is likely our last child has me cherishing this cuddly baby time more than usual. None of our other kids stayed in bed with us so long, but I am still not quite ready to let her go. Cuddling with her at night is one of my great joys.

You'd think I felt well-rested after Ruby's big feat; unfortunately, this is not so. I chalk it up to eating far too much fair food yesterday, but I woke up at about 2:30 with a horrible nightmare about Charis. It was heading in such an awful direction that I woke up from it, knowing it was a nightmare, but needing to see the reality for myself. I went up to Charis' room, crawled into bed with her and stroked her hair for a few minutes, just to reassure myself that everything as okay. I was glad to be there; I was able to witness her laughing in her sleep and saying, "It has such a big tongue!" (We had just been through a thousand animal barns that day, so she could have been talking about anything!) When I had woken up enough to replace the horrible dream images with real-life healthy sleeping child images, I went back to bed.

Just a few minutes later, though, I heard Charis at the top of the stairs. Apparently her sweet dream about funny, long-tongued animals had taken an unfortunate turn, and it scared her awake. I took her into the new room and we cuddled together for another few minutes, praying that God would take away the yucky dreams and replace them with pretty ones. Then she asked me if I would please go back to my bed. She shuffled off to hers, but not before pausing at her door and saying, "Have sweet dreams, Mama! I will pray for you!"

I did have sweet dreams, thanks to her prayers and a dose of Rolaids. When I woke at 7:30, I did the math and realized that Ruby had slept for 9 consecutive hours, which I woke Abe to tell him. At that moment, he was probably not quite as excited as I was. Hopefully, though, we've turned a corner, and this sleeping will become a habit!

And hopefully the nightmares will not.

17 September 2008

When the Roll is Called For Up Yonder

Judah and I took Ruby up to the pack-n-play for a nap just now, and as is so often the case, she didn't agree with the decision. I covered her with a light blanket because--wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles--it's actually getting a little bit cool, and she didn't like that, either, so she cried. In fact, she got so emotional over the whole thing that in the midst of her squirming, she actually turned herself from her tummy (so sue me, she's a tummy sleeper--all of my kids were) to her back. I knew it was about to happen and I became her one-mommy cheering section: "You can do it.....almost there! Keep it up!" And she did. Judah and I cheered, although I'm sure he had no idea why it was such a big deal.

I came right down to document the event in Ye Olde Blog, and midway through that first paragraph, I heard Ruby's crying intensify. I remember that when Judah was so little, he'd flip over and get stuck like a little turtle, and this really stressed him out. I suspected that this might be the case with Ruby ("Now she rolls over all the time! She can't help herself!"), so I ran up to check. It turned out that she hadn't rolled over again, but was in fact upset because her big, hulking brother had climbed into the pack-n-play with her. Too much closeness for her, I guess.

I must end this here because I think Big Brother may be up to his old tricks again, and Charis is begging for pretzels.

09 September 2008

Charis is Four

...and I have the photos to prove it. It had been a while since I'd sent any pictures to the grandparents or aunties and uncles, so I thought it was high time. I'm not a studio-portrait kind of girl, mostly because the idea of wrangling my kids to a professional studio is completely overwhelming to me. It does NOT sound like fun. What is fun to me, however, is doing photo shoots in the comfort of our backyard; we can change outfits if we want, the kids behave naturally in their element, and we've got a couple of acres to choose from, so it's never boring. Sometimes the pictures turn out quite well, sometimes they look amateurish. It's part of the challenge.

Miss Charis is especially difficult to shoot because she has an overly-dramatic mind of her own. Tell her to smile, and she'll likely frown. Tell her to look at you, she'll likely look away. And if it's not that kind of uncooperation (is that a word?), it's the kind where she wants to take the picture instead of being in it. Photo shoots with her haven't produced the best pictures lately.

But the other day, I noticed Kodak Gallery was running a Labor Day special with 4x6 prints going for a mere $.10, so I gussied Charis up just a little little bit (though, in retrospect, it is somewhat strange she's not wearing a dress, since they're her favorite), (And, come to think of it, the gussying consisted mainly of brushing her hair) and took her to an"open shade" area to snap some cheap photos. I like the rustic look of our fence, so we went with that as a backdrop this time. Two minutes later, we had a couple of passable 4-year pictures. And in case you were wondering, there's not a frown in the bunch--I finally figured out that I have to play the "Don't smile!" game. Works like a charm.


It's kind of a goofy smile, but I think she looks sweet. She's really trying to stifle a grin here. Not too successfully, thankfully.

I don't know if this one really looks all that much like her, but I loved the band-aids on her knees. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that she actually didn't have an injury that warranted bandaging--she just wanted to wear her new Hello Kitty band-aids. You know, for the fashion of it.

This is just a close-up from the first picture. But man, she's cute. I love this girl!

02 September 2008

Things That Go Bump In the Night

Charis is a dear, sweet girl, and I love her. Sometimes, though, she tries my last nerve. Nighttime is a battle where this nerve is most severely tested, because we have differing opinions about what should happen then: Abe and I think Charis should stay in bed and go to sleep, while she believes she should get out of bed and wander. Usually, she is armed with a book and seeking out any lamp that will enable her to read for just while longer. Occasionally, though, I think she just wants to see what kind of action is going on without her. More than once, we've found her asleep on the landing at the top of the stairs, where she fell asleep while listening to whatever we had on the TV. Whatever the case, we almost always hear her creep out of bed and leave her room, so we're likely to jump on the situation and hustle her back to bed.

Last night, we didn't hear her.

We were watching a movie in the living room when we heard a series of sickening thuds. I knew in a moment what it was: my beloved daughter had fallen asleep at the top of the stairs and was now rolling down them. Abe and I both jumped up at once, but in moments like that, it is as if you're in slow motion, stuck in wet cement. We both instinctively wanted to catch her to keep her from harm, but we just simply couldn't get there fast enough. Charis tumbled and tumbled, and I thought the stairs would never end. When she landed at the bottom, I screamed.

Abe snatched her up, and while he cradled her, I spent the next few minutes making sure everything was okay: testing her reflexes, palpating her spine, making sure her arms and legs worked, feeling for head lumps, looking for blood. Then I took over the cuddling, because nobody comforts like mom does. Where she had been whimpering in a state of semi-slumber while
Abe held her, she calmed down as soon as I took over. We kept her up for a while to make sure she didn't have a concussion, which she didn't, and then I went and lay down in bed with her, just trying to soothe her back to sleep. I figured she was okay when she asked me to please go back downstairs so she could sleep.

It was just the latest in a series of bumps and bruises. But strangely, it was the first time for Charis to be involved in the scenario; poor Judah has had more than his fair share of injuries. It all started one evening when we were playing before bed. I think I've told this story before, but I'll recap: we were knocking the children over in Charis' bed, which the kids love. The kids fall over, land, giggle, and ask for more. On this particular night, I made an error in spatial judgement and pushed charis over before Judah was quite up. The result was the collision of their heads. The back of Charis' head hit the front of Judah's, and while she was fine, he immediately developed a giant lump on his forehead. It took forever to calm him, but we did the same as with Charis, keeping him up for quite some time to check for injury or concussion. We plied the bump with ice packs and plied Judah with popsicles, all in the name of comfort.
Here's Judah once hehad calmed down from the trauma. Note the goose egg on his head, and the end of his second popsicle. I couldn't believe how quickly this bump sprang up, nor could I believe how long it took to go away: it took only second for the bump to form, but it was weeks until the swelling went down, weeks until the purple bruise started to turn greenish yellow. And when it did eventually start to fade, the bruising migrated down between his eyes, giving Judah his first shiners. Then his shiners turned green, too, so instead of calling him Brown Eyes, we took to calling him Green Eyes. Poor kid.

Here he is a few weeks later, when the bruise had started to fade. Notice the green in the corners of his eyes? That took forever to go away.

We thought the bump was behind us, but it seems Judah has a knack for injuring his head. One day, not too long after this photo was taken, Judah was pulling his wagon up the hill to the pole barn when he fell on the concrete, landing on his--guess what?--head. In the exact same spot. The lump was back.

Only days after that, Judah was retreiving a puzzle from under the couch when he stood up and whacked his--guess what?--head on the wooden arm of the couch. We wondered if it would ever end, if the bump would ever ever go away.

As of right now, the bump is nearly non-existent. It has faded and flattened, so the worst of it may be behind us.

But we're going outside to play later, and we may take the wagon with us, so stay tuned...