Waiting on the Pope

A few weeks ago I ran into a friend in Target who I never see and of course I looked ridiculous.  I know, it’s kind of implied.  That’s what a trip Target entails, right?  But for some reason my appearance didn’t work its I-look-too-absurd-to-carry-on-a-regular conversation power, and I not only didn’t retreat in embarrassed and awkward horror, I ended up having a lovely chat with this delightful woman.

For some unknown reason I ended up telling her two Pope stories, and it wasn’t until we were standing there just a few feet from the checkout line that I realized I have two pope stories.

Here is the first: my son, Dub, will enter seventh grade this coming September.  We adore his current school, but wanted to make sure that we fully understood our options before we committed for another year.  As part of our research, Dub “shadowed” at our local public school and at two other private schools, one of which is Catholic.

In the course of his shadow day at the Catholic school, Will attended his first mass.  Did we prepare him for this experience that was sure to be wholly unlike anything he’d ever seen before?  Nah!  We just let him navigate his whole day without an ounce of guidance.

When I picked him up he told me about his day.

“We went to math class, we had P.E., then we went in this one building.  I don’t know what it was, but the Pope was there.  He was like doing all this stuff, burning stuff, saying I don’t know what.  I have no idea what was going on.  And the guy I was with asked me if I was Catholic.  I didn’t know if I was supposed to lie or what so I said, ‘No actually, I’m Protestant.’  And he told me to cross my arms over my chest, but it was too late because the Pope was about to hand me my… whatever.  Then at the last second he pulled back.  It was so weird.”

Miraculously I managed not to laugh outwardly (inwardly I was downright hysterical) or interrupt or correct in anyway.  I so badly wanted the story repeated to Dad entirely untouched, and it was.  Of course Dub now knows that the leader of mass was a priest and not THE pope.

But maybe the second pope story informs the first.  Last year Will’s baseball coach said they would take a knee and have a player-led prayer before the start of each game.  I was stunned when I heard about this, not because I wasn’t all for it.  I just was surprised, to say the least.  Leading prayer, unlike attending mass, is right up Will’s alley.  He’s totally comfortable with it because he’s been doing it at home, school and church his whole life.  That first game when the coach asked for a volunteer, Will offered to pray.  Although other players prayed too over the course of the season, Dub was evidently kind of the go-to.  And his teammates dubbed him “The Pope.”

By the end of the season, the team would gather and take a knee.  The coach would say, “Who’s going to lead the prayer?”  The players would start chanting “Pope!  Pope!  Pope!”  They won the regular season championship and the playoff championship in 2013, and “The Pope” continues to often lead team prayers this year even though it’s a different coach.

Tonight my lil Pope is spending the night on an island in the Chesapeake Bay as part of a school trip.  He gets home tomorrow afternoon just an hour or two before his baseball game.  He’ll have new stories to tell, and new prayers he’s prayed.  I’m pretty sure, based on the updates I’ve gotten from school, he’s rejoicing over new experiences.  And I hope he is giving thanks for it all.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I love this verse, and it often comes to mind, but truly I will rejoice all the more when my Pope comes home.

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“A Dumb Decision”

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My son, Sam (7), has been fixated on and off, mostly at night, about what he calls my “dumb decision” for the last couple weeks.  What was this error in judgment?  Taking him to California in February.  The four of us tagged along on a business trip with Daddy and had a fabulous time.  We spent two nights in Napa Valley and two nights in San Francisco.  We got to hang out and bum around and do lots of new things like walk on the Golden Gate Bridge (pictured above), see 1000 year old trees, and eat sourdough bread that’s been baked just the same since 1849.  We explored the city mostly on foot and the boys brought along a basketball, shooting hoops at Joe DiMaggio park when they were tired of sightseeing.  The weather was warm and sunny in the afternoons and it was lovely, beyond lovely.  At least I thought it was, until Sam decided that going at all was a “dumb decision” because we also visited Alcatraz.

Yes, my darling was scarred by “the rock,” like really scarred.  And the sad part is he didn’t say much about it at all when we were there.  He’s a slow processor and often brings things up weeks, months, even years, after the fact.  It’s really odd — I don’t ever remember his brothers doing anything like that.  So, until ten days or so ago I would’ve thought all was well.  But then he started saying before bed that he was scared he might have a dream about Alcatraz.  He started asking questions about it revealing how much the whole thing impacted him, how much he’d been turning all of it over in his little mind.

“So, they were only allowed to go to the library if they were good?”  Yes, Sam that’s right.

“Why were those guys on the beds like that?  Were they dead?”  Oh, Sam those guys were trying to escape and they wanted the guards to think they were still in the bed.  They weren’t real people, just stuffed clothes like.

“Remember where the grenade went off?  Why wasn’t it a bigger mark?”  I do remember that and I don’t know.

“So they couldn’t go outside except in that one spot?”  That’s right, Sam.  But Sam it’s been closed a long time.  It hasn’t been a prison since before Mommy and Daddy were born.

A faint smirk, a small sign of hope washed across his face.

“Really?  Before you and Daddy were born?  Well, it was still a dumb decision to go there.”

Telling Sam to just get over it doesn’t seem to be an option.  Does delegitimizing others’ fears ever really work?  Whatever the fear is it doesn’t need to make sense to us to sympathize.  We can try to reason and listen and encourage, but some fears don’t die just because they are irrational.

In fact, I had a morbid fear as a child of a scene from a movie.  If someone enacted this scene today I still wouldn’t like it.  And it didn’t matter how many times I was told that this fear –and my crazed reaction — was silly, my fear remained.

You know what finally helped me?  Believing in my heart that God is with me, that He has a plan for my life.  That I am not ultimately in control.

I am praying this morning that little Sam will have a robust, comforting faith, even at a young age.  That he will cling to the promise from Isaiah 41:13 which says, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

What are you afraid of?  Surely there is something.  My fears are much different than they were as a child, but I’m certainly far from immune.  I too need to cling to the promise that the Lord my God is with me.  That He takes hold of my right hand, saying lovingly, tenderly, patiently, “Do not fear: I will help you.”

May I stop trying to steer the false reins of my life, and instead offer my hand to Him willingly each and every day.

 

 

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Two Kinds of…

Sometimes I think I have only two kinds of days: (1) Days where I sing “Jesus, Jesus, please come today.” or (2) Days where I feel that I am the very inspiration for the funky, pick-me-up style of Pharrell Williams.  Do you know what I mean?  I am either seeing the goodness in every little thing, or I am longing for my Savior with the abject thirst of the most barren desert.  And this pendulum from grateful to needy isn’t really daily at all, it’s minute by minute.  The truth is I have two kinds of moments.  And I guess I could worry that divulging this sounds rather bipolar, but I actually believe it’s the human condition.  In Psalms poems of thanksgiving and praise are right there next to desperate pleas for deliverance.  So I figure I’m in good company.

In fact, I think alcohol and sex and drugs and zombie-like consumption of “entertainment” mask the heart’s longing for more, for fulfillment, for Jesus.  When we experience Him in the here and now — His love, His purpose, His story, we feel hopeful.  But we live in a fallen world and sometimes the pressure of all that’s not-yet-redeemed is crushing.  We can taste the kingdom of God, but it’s not yet our whole reality.

So maybe it’s totally natural to have your heart burst with joy over your child’s smile and cuddly nature, but to then feel utterly discouraged when they then lie to you over an ice cream sandwich (Hypothetically, of course.  But please don’t mention this “hypothetical” to my middle son).

Maybe it’s totally natural to be awestruck at the beauty of sunlight shimmering on snow, but to then get on the Internet and be heartbroken by all that’s wrong with the world.

Maybe it’s totally natural to feel loved and affirmed and connected with friends, and then have one awkward interaction and feel insufferably dorky.

Maybe it’s totally natural to laugh with your family to the point of utter hysterics, and then be physically restraining brothers who have it out for each other just moments later.

Yes, there is tension in this life full of blessings and joy and pain and sorrow.  But we need not try to numb the emotions, deny them nor avoid them.  No, we should bring them before God just like the writers of the Psalms.

When I am discouraged I can pray, among others, Psalm 5:1-3.

O Lord, hear me as I pray;
pay attention to my groaning.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for I pray to no one but you.
Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.

When I am so “happy” I could inspire new Pharrell Williams tunes, I can happily sing, among others, Psalm 103:1-5.

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

No matter where you are at emotionally there’s an app for that, and the app is called The Psalms. May I be faithful to read them, and may you too know the blessing of reading the ancient words that somehow express your very own heart.

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No Favorites in Philly

My husband and I just rolled back into town after spending two nights in a hotel without the boys.  Sounds lovely, right?  We were in the city of brotherly love, my husband’s birthplace, but not for the purpose of love, brotherly or otherwise.  No, instead yesterday morning Will had a “sports hernia” repair which is outpatient surgery that only a few surgeons in the country do.  In fact, this surgeon has performed this exact procedure on Detroit Tigers Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera just since October.  His list of famous patients is extensive, and spans pretty much all professional sports.

But what I found really interesting about the whole experience was how this physician and his staff did not seem to show any favoritism.  They treated Will like a king.  The surgeon was very personable when he came to talk with me post-surgery, giving the impression that he had all day to answer any questions that I might have.  Last night while we relaxed in the hotel, the surgeon texted Will to see how he was doing.  Then this morning he called.

I answered Will’s phone because he was in the bathroom.

“Oh, yes,” I said, “He is doing very well.  Thanks so much for calling.”  But that wasn’t good enough.

“Well, can I talk to him?” he asked.

Why is it so striking to encounter a professional who is also this personable?  I mean how much time does it really take to make very small gestures which happen to make a huge impact?  And I’m certain this surgeon called Verlander and Cabrera, but how great that he also calls Will and Joe Shmoe.

The Bible says this doctor has it right.  We aren’t supposed to show favoritism.  In fact, it says that “grumblers, malcontents, and loud-mouthed boasters” show favoritism to gain advantage. (Jude 16).  And James wrote half a chapter on the sin of partiality.  (James 2:1-13).

As I was standing in line for coffee at the hotel this morning, the gentleman, Carlos, who cleaned our room yesterday, asked about Will.

“Hello,” he said, “How is your husband recovering?”

Again very small gesture, but very meaningful and kind.  You think it really is the city of brotherly love?  We could see Lincoln Financial Field from our hotel room, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the most loving place on earth!

Either way, may I show no favorites and remember always how little gestures can mean so much.

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40 Lessons

A few years ago a friend of mine hosted my 40th birthday party.  I honestly cannot convey how much this party meant to me — it was a beautiful gathering with yummy food and fun drinks and many of the women closest to me.  The affirmations that were spoken over me that night will be vividly remembered and cherished till  I die, or become extremely demented.

This friend is turning 40 today.  She and her husband took an amazing trip just the two of them and many friends have helped her celebrate, but I want to use this day on the blog to post 40 lessons I’ve learned.  I wish I knew these and lived these all my life, but the wisdom of years is not granted to the young.  But Lord willing, I’ll be faithful to these 40 lessons for the next 40 years.

  1. Trust God in good times and bad.
  2. Make lists of how God has sustained you in dark days.
  3. Read the Psalms.
  4. Pray the Psalms.
  5. Make lists of how God has been faithful in providing for you.
  6. Find something to thank God for even when you are hurting.
  7. Know that even those who project perfection are not.
  8. Try your best not to compare because it only results in envy or feelings of superiority.
  9. Travel as much as possible — memories from new locations are somehow stickier than those made at home.
  10. Read as much as you can, use audible too.  It is such a gift to have someone read to you while you drive around or drift off to sleep.
  11. Never treat your husband like he needs to earn your respect.  It’s your unconditional gift to him.  Give it to him everyday.
  12. Always make time for sex.
  13. Never get over the awe of God’s creation
  14. Never forget that God’s mercies are new every single morning.
  15. Always remember that right feelings follow right actions.
  16. Tease your children — it’s important personality training.
  17. Surprise your children — they won’t forget it.
  18. Model love for God for your children.
  19. Don’t let dirty dishes be a priority over cuddle time.
  20. Don’t have expectations about time spent with your spouse — learn to just be with them.
  21. Don’t expect your spouse to be straight out of a fairytale.  They are flawed, just like you.  Love them anyway.
  22. Find authors who inspire you, that can be your go-to when you need some encouragement.
  23. Make your children tell each other that they love each other, especially when they are not getting along.  Words are powerful and healing (see number 15).
  24. Read 1 Corinthians 13 often, and always on Valentine’s Day.
  25. Spend time with your spouse after children are in bed just talking with no distractions.
  26. Require your children to use manners (yes, please, ma’am, sir, thank you)(see number 15 and 23).
  27. Keep searching for books your children love even if you read Fly Guy for months at a time.
  28. Go sledding whenever possible.
  29. Build meaningful holiday traditions.
  30. Regularly eat dinner as a family at the table.
  31. Take your children to fancy restaurants where they are expected to interact in a civilized way.
  32. Take your children to parks and beaches and let them run wild without any restrictions.
  33. Make sure your children can swim.
  34. Boogie board whenever possible.
  35. Make community a priority and know that it requires time and commitment.
  36. Pray for and seek friends who challenge you and make you laugh.
  37. Tell family stories over and over and over again.
  38. Make sure your children know the reward of hard work.
  39. Make certain your spouse knows you are for them.  No.  Matter.  What.
  40. Rest in knowing that God created you, rejoices over you with singing, and loves you with an unquenchable, unending love.

For the Lord your God is living among you.  He is a mighty savior.  He will take delight in you with gladness.  With his love, he will calm all your fears. — Zephaniah 3:17

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My Birthday Twin

In all my forty-two years I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone born the same exact day as me.  Sure I’ve known people with the same birthday, but same day, same year?  Not till today.

And of course there’s a story to how I met my birthday twin.  After all, that’s my life — hopelessly storied.  This one started on Friday, January 24th.  I popped into a furniture store and began walking around.  My intention was just to look — in fact, I had almost decided on something from a different store.  But then this charming Persian man started talking to me, “Oh, you like that?  Where do you live?  I can deliver it to you this afternoon.”  His handsome suave self just made it too easy.  It was delivered before my husband got home for work.  The problem was I didn’t really like it, and he hated it.  It was for our little library and I had purchased a recliner and a loveseat.  But the sight of my husband in the recliner made me laugh till my face hurt — somehow my youthful man looked 85 in that chair.  It was horrifying.  I had to laugh.  And laugh.  And laugh.  Otherwise I would’ve cried, cried, cried.  I called my Persian friend.  You know what he said?  That sweet man said, “Oh, no problem.”  This week they came and got it.  I took him my favorite baklava to thank him, but clearly that is not enough.  Should I buy one of those giant one-way signs and dance acrobatically with it near his store to drum up business?  I want to buy something else from him, but nothing has caught my eye thus far.

Then my husband and I discussed the bill we received for the constant passive motion machine that he used after knee surgery.  It was rather larger than expected.  So we were both in that sort-of-wounded-trying-to-be-grace-filled-to-each-other state of mind.

Then, despite begging from little Will (who was just coming home from basketball practice), Sam and I headed off to Family Fine Arts night at school.  This is pretty much a talent show, and I thought it would be a nice little date with Sam, since the other boys were too worn out to go.  They wanted to veg out and watch basketball, but I thought Sam and I should go for a little while.   And I was glad we did.  The talents were many, but it is also the tenth anniversary of the school and the slide show was so sweet and the festive sparkling cider was yummy.  About halfway through the show, Sam and I cut out.  I texted the rest of our family as we walked to the car, “On our way.”

But we were NOT on our way.  When I opened my door I was greeted by a puddle of glass on the passenger seat.  And yes, my purse was gone.  I called the police, tried to reassure Sam, and then called Will.

“Was it in plain sight?” he asked.

“Listen %#&*@$%#% !!!” I thought.  But what I said was, “Can we just wait on the recriminations?!?!”

He agreed and offered to come rescue us, but what would be the point of that?   Sam and I sat in the car shivering and canceling credit cards till the event ended, two more victims were found, and the police arrived.

So in sum, Friday, January 24th was not the best day ever.

And I don’t know about you, but once I’m thoroughly convinced of my loserhood, I don’t necessarily break out of that in a moment’s notice.  Sure, God loves me no matter what.  And I am so grateful for that.  But I hate confronting the fact that I do one moronic thing after another after another after another.

And then yesterday I had to go and turn forty-two.

That’s old.  I am not happy about getting old.

But today when I woke up, the sun was already shining brightly and I began to fully emerge from my fog of self-pity and loathing.

I met my husband for lunch, then I went shopping for a new purse.  The woman behind the counter said, “How are you doing today?”

“I’m alright,” I said, being honest.  “How are you today?”

“Well, I’m pretty good,” she said, “Yesterday was my birthday.”

I pulled out the old expired license I’ve been carting around this week, and showed her my birthdate.  She was stunned.

“Girl, we were born the same day and the same year!” she said.

My birthday twin, Martha, was born in Ethiopia.  We chatted about our birthdays and how we celebrated, how she had big plans for this weekend.  As I walked away I thought about how I wouldn’t have met her without my need for a new purse.  I thought about how incredibly blessed I am.

John 1:16 says “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  That is my story, day after day, year after year.  Grace upon grace.

When I was alone in the car I sang, “God is so good.  God is so good.  God is so good, He’s so good to me!”

It is always true.  May I always sing it.

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Happy New Year: Code Word Omar

On December 30th the Wall Street Journal ran this story about a young man from Syria named Omar.  My husband often picks out articles for Will (12) and Nate (10) to read, and oftentimes his choices have either a business or sports theme, but this one had neither.  Instead, the story is about the hardships Omar has faced living in tumultuous Syria and the transformation the unrest has wreaked on his own life.  His family used to have a modest business and live a comfortable life.  But with the uprising everything changed.  Omar (17) finally left Syria, on his own, for Lebanon.  After obtaining a job where he works 14-hour days six days a week, and a half day on Sunday, he has brought his family to live with him.  His parents along with Omar and his six siblings live in a one-room apartment.

After the boys read the article, we tried to help them process Omar’s story.  We asked them about the difference between first-world and third-world problems, and explained how the living conditions in Syria deteriorated.  We talked about how war ravages a society.  We asked them if something like that could happen here in the U.S.  It was an incredibly fruitful half-hour.  Then my husband said that he wants 2014 to be a year in which we Jacksons all have a spirit of gratitude, and that we need to find ways to serve the needy as a family.   Serving as a family — devoting time and energy — is not something we’ve been good about.  We did our end-of-year giving that same day, but there’s something too detached and too easy about writing a check.

We decided that when we are not exhibiting a spirit of gratitude we will hold each other accountable, we can even just use the code word: Omar.

Then yesterday we were back at the Honda dealership (where we had previously brought our rake).  We had to resign some papers because the VIN number was actually incorrect.  As we sat there with our charming finance guy, Ardi, we learned his story was strikingly similar to Omar’s.  He came here from war-torn Kosovo in the late 90’s.  He was by himself.  He did not know more than “Hi” and “Bye” in English.  Guess how old he was?  That’s right – seventeen.  His father was killed in the war, and Ardi said that we would not have believed all that he had witnessed.  He said he just wakes up grateful every day to have a job, to be here in America.  And our boys got to meet him!

So that’s how we are kicking off the New Year.  We have the story of Omar and the in-the-flesh example of Ardi.

May this year be a year where we “Give thanks in all circumstances,” be a family of grateful spirits, and find a meaningful place to serve.

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