Jackson Five Friday: “No Deutsch”

Do you have pictures that instantaneously conjure up a slew of memories?  I’ve come across quite a few of those while packing up to move, and this one is particularly memory-flooding.  It was taken in Amsterdam in the Spring of 2005.  We were there because my husband was in the Army and was doing what they call “backfill” for two months in Germany.  I flew over with little Will (3) and Nate (18 months).  Although my husband had a total of three days off out of the seventeen we were there, we lived it up for those three days (we went to Switzerland once and the Netherlands once).  While Daddy worked the boys and I saw every little town and zoo within 150 km and we were usually home in time for dinner.  We were blessed to have an amazing rental car (a Mercedes, we were in Germany after all) that seven years ago had a GPS that was better than any I’ve seen here.  It was a hilariously good time for me to be driving on the Autobahn, and all over Germany, and never for a second fear getting lost.  Kind of sad that Nate remembers nothing and Will only remembers castles that were so old they were falling apart.  But I’d do it again regardless — for me experiences that are far from home or just really out of the ordinary are emblazoned with a more searing synapse  — I have so many vivid, fun memories from this trip.

Shameless bribery was the means by which I got the boys excited about our daily excursions.  We went on train rides, visited parks, ate many German pretzels, but the deal was no matter what little city we went to they could each get a very small toy.  They took this very seriously and tried to choose the best little car or truck or gadget they could find.  One day we were in Kaiserslautern looking around, and it began to rain.  I told Dub that we might have to skip the daily toy and head to the car.  He was more than a little disappointed.

“Just ask someone where the toy store is,” he pleaded.

“I can’t, Dub, I don’t speak German.”

“But, Mommy,” he said, “They all speak English.”

And of course, my perceptive little man was absolutely right.  I did end up asking about and finding a toy store before heading to the car.

It was interesting that everyone did speak English and yet many of them were convinced that I was German.  I don’t know if it was the double stroller I tooled around with, that I look very German, that my sons look German, that I wasn’t in particularly touristy areas, but there seemed to be total but polite shock when I uttered the one German phrase I had mastered, “Ich spreche kein Deutsch.”

Of course, that’s all background for the photo above because this was taken a long way from Germany in a land where I felt very much at home for different reasons.  You may know that Amsterdam is chock full of tall people!  I mean I was looking eye to eye with most of the women I passed on the street.  I could not believe it.  I fit right in!  But then a young man came up to me near the flower market where the boys wanted to buy lollipops made from pot, and things got complicated.  This young man had a quizzical expression and a map.  He started asking me questions and pointing, and I got quite discombobulated.  I didn’t know the Dutch phrase I needed to use in such encounters, instead I stammered and spit out an idiotic and embarrassing, “No Deutsch.”  My husband has laughed about this for seven years now.  “No Deutsch” is kind of short-hand for an embarrassingly, speechless moment.

How wonderful to have pictures and phrases that capture memories in such a concrete way.  Our experiences have texture and meaning which are intertwined with the visual images and language that describe them.  Do you think this is true for faith?  I do.  I think it’s important to read the Bible with a visual in mind.  Think about Isaiah who said, “Send me!” (Isaiah 6).  Do you have a visual for that?  I do.  How about when Jesus fried up the fish for Peter who had denied him three times?  Do have a visual for that?  Peter betrayed  Jesus.  Jesus even told Peter he would betray Him, and then after a long night of fruitless labor, Jesus made Peter breakfast (John 21).  We should take the time to really think about the words and imagine what it was like.  If we don’t, we miss the redemption that this breakfast brought to Peter.

C.S. Lewis said that the imagination is the organ of meaning.  May we utilize this organ to visualize the events we study in God’s Word.

Jackson Five Friday: My Big Brudders

Sammy Jackson has the distinct blessing of having two older brothers, just like I do.  What a privilege to be loved and looked after by two big brothers.

My brother Craig died in a plane crash ten years ago today.  I have written about this unexpected and horrific loss in a couple of different places (my book, an article in Knowing & Doing, and in P31 Woman Magazine), but today I miss him most for his companionship and love.  I could hang out with him doing nothing for probably a year and love every second of it.  Man, did we have fun!  How great to know in the depths of your soul that someone adores you and would do anything for you.

My brother Jeff had surgery this morning.  Yes, sort of a tough day for my sweet mom!  Jeff had his gallbladder out which we are all hoping will clear up the chronic symptoms he’s been having for months.  And amazingly Jeff is an incredibly fun and sweet guy too.   How blessed am I?  Jeff is eleven and a half years older than me, and Craig was four years younger than Jeff, so it is not surprising that growing up I saw a lot more of Craig.  When I was in first grade, Jeff was a senior, so that gives you some perspective.

But anyway, I distinctly remember the first time one of Jeff’s buddy’s said something that expressed some level of interest in me.  I do not remember the guy or what was said.  I do remember where we were, that the comment was harmless, and that Jeff’s reaction was not so harmless.  His stature is quite intimidating, and so I was quite certain in that moment that if Jeff Huber didn’t want someone to so much as look at me, well then, they wouldn’t.  And that protection has been a comfort to me.  Jeff has my back.  He loves me; he would drop anything and everything to help me out.  Will you pray that this surgery cures his symptoms?  I would so appreciate that.

Are you blessed with brudders?  Why not give thanks for them right now and let them know how much you love them.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5: 18

Sammy in the Middle?

Yesterday Will and Nate swam in a meet, as they do most Saturday mornings in the summer. This was an away meet for our team, Lee Graham. When we entered the pool there was a giant homemade sign that read, “Welcome to the Slowest Pool in the NVSL.” I do not know whether that pool is one of the slowest around or not, but it did create an interesting dynamic, and helped highlight the vivid differences in my sons.

Nate was in the first race, the 25 meter freestyle. Although he won, he added a full second to his time. As he circled the pool and made his way back to the team area, he passed Daddy Will and me, and said, “that pool is too cold.”

Later he swam the 25 meter butterfly, added two full seconds to his best time, but still managed to get first place. Again, he passed by post-race with a smile, “that is a slow pool!”

But Will had a different kind of morning. He was distraught by his less than best time in the freestyle. Winning the race wasn’t enough. Getting a great time wasn’t enough. He didn’t get his best time, and he claims that is always his goal.

In the backstroke he lowered his time by more than a half second (which is a LOT at this level), but since he got second to a boy two years older than him, he was disappointed again. The child wants to win every race, and he wants a best time every single race. It’s ridiculous. He’s way too hard on himself. Yet his goals do motivate him to work hard so it’s something of a double-edged sword.

Nate, on the other hand is so optimistic, so inherently satisfied, that there was obviously some rationale for slower times. It couldn’t be him. Not in his mind. And I love that because I do not have to worry about him being too hard on himself. No sir, that is not a concern. But again, not sure that maybe some degree of self-reflection and willingness to take responsibility wouldn’t be a good thing. Nate has a wholly different sword, but it too is double-edged.

Could it be that Sammy will be right in the middle — driven and self-reflective but not so so hard on himself. Could it be? Time will tell. He is ecstatic to be part of the swim team, and very much looks forward to his races, but it’s too early to characterize his competitive drive.

He’ll probably be completely unlike his brothers and yet not in the middle either. Because as Paul writes in Romans 12 (a chapter which reads like a quick view of the Christian life), we are all members of one body (the church), but have different functions and gifts.

It’s gratifying as a parent to learn how God has gifted a particular child. You hold a helpless babe in your arms and you love them, but you mostly know the way they look, the way they smell, and the incredible softness of their skin. You do not know what they’ll be like. Maybe they throw up if you let them cry for more than fifteen seconds, like Nate, or maybe they’re stubborn as a mule from day one like Will. Or maybe they are tactile and cuddly from the very first breath, like Sam. But until they grow up a bit, it’s really hard to tell how they are gifted. It’s like solving a mystery, and it’s fun. But it’s also a responsibility. My job as a mother includes encouraging their gifts. They need to learn from a young age to use the gifts they’ve been given for God’s glory, as a means of worship.

That’s a lot to ask of a ten- and eight-year-old, but you know the saying, most of what we learn is caught, not taught. So that means I need to use my gifts for God’s glory, and as a means of worship. That puts it all in perspective. Tonight I am praying about how to do that. May God show me what that looks like. May I be faithful to use my gifts for His glory, and heed the words of Peter: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace…” 1 Peter 4: 10.

Dual Citizenship?

For the last three years I’ve lived in a neighborhood on the rim of the Capital Beltway.  It has been a very convenient location for me and my family.  We are close to Will’s work, the boys’ school, the boys’ winter swim club, our church, my Bible study and almost everything else.  Because Dunn Loring (our actual address) is kind of in the middle, the boys have played sports in both Falls Church and Vienna.  In many respects, I feel like we’ve held dual citizenship in both these Northern Virginia communities.  And I have a great fondness for both Vienna and Falls Church because they each represent a piece of small town America imbedded in a metropolis — and since we all long to be known this “small town” feel is vital.

For nearly six months — knowing that we’d be moving  — I’ve been studying and obsessing over real estate in these two areas, and I’ve thought about how I might maintain my dual citizenship.  But it looks like (prayers that everything falls into place appreciated) we will be moving to Falls Church (renting for one more year, and then, Lord willing, buying).  These two areas are only about five miles apart; I’ll be hardly any further from my Vienna peeps than I am now, but it feels like a big deal, like it has implications for my future, like somehow I am marrying one little town and leaving the other out to dry.  And I hate leaving Vienna out to dry because Vienna has been good to me.  It feels like I’m being an ingrate, unfaithful even.

Yes, I am being dramatic, but I really do feel sad about it.  Do you ever feel sad about decisions you make?  Not that you aren’t making a good choice, but that you are saying “no” to something else?  Do we even stop to think that this is true?  Because it is.  When you move to a certain house, you are saying “no” to all other houses.  When you accept a job, you are saying “no” to other jobs.  When you buy a car, you are saying “no” to other cars.  Choosing involves an implicit rejection of other options, whether we routinely acknowledge this or not.

This is true for our faith too, although we may be reluctant to frame it this way.  When I choose (yes, it is both a moment in time and an ongoing, daily choice) Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I am rejecting all other faiths.  And for those who say they really don’t know what they believe, in actuality, they are rejecting Jesus and all other faiths.  It may be implicit, it may be something they would never verbalize, but those who try to take a dabble of this and a dabble of that are rejecting Jesus and the truth of the Bible.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “ All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (emphasis mine).  Biblical Christianity does not have a buffet style, take-only-what-you-like option.  C.S. Lewis was absolutely right — you can’t revere Jesus as just a good moral teacher, because He claimed to be God.  As Lewis famously quipped there are only three options: Jesus was a liar, a lunatic or the Lord.

I hope you know Jesus as Lord.  I hope you have the fulfillment, the meaning, the purpose, the forgiveness and the promise of living for Him.  As Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, may we not set our minds on earthly things (being pre-occupied with Vienna v. Falls Church, for example), because our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:19-21).  May I live this in the days and weeks ahead and not obsess over my stuff, nor where it resides.  After all, my citizenship is in Heaven, thank God!

Living in the Vine

All truth is God’s truth.  Any thing we find any where to be true or good or beautiful is of God, is from God, was His idea, and should lead us to acknowledge Him.  But sometimes we can march through life in a cloud, not recognizing all those signs and wonders that point us to the God who loves us.

We rent our house and we do not own a chain saw.  I’m not sure we even own a regular saw.  Either way the management company is supposed to be sending out a tree service, although I’m not sure we’ll see anyone for a while!  But just think, this branch was healthy and beautiful and strong at 10:30 on Friday night, June 29th — not even five full days ago.  Now it is brown and dead and withered.

It is a strikingly vivid illustration of John 15:5 where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

These branches were fruitful and gorgeous when they abided in the vine, but look at them apart from the vine.  Clearly they can do nothing!

Do you believe the same is true in your life?  Do you think you can muster up enough self-will to wake up and be a “nice” person tomorrow?  Do you think if you try hard enough you can forgive those who have hurt you?  Do you think that you can ensure that the next breath you take won’t be your last?

Because I believe that this broken tree is a picture of my life.  Apart from Jesus I can do nothing.  I can’t be nice, I can’t forgive, I can’t even breathe.  Apart from Him I can do NOTHING.  May I abide in in Him today and always.

Lessons from the Outage

After almost seventy hours, power was restored to our neighborhood tonight.  It feels downright luxurious to recline on the couch without any fear of rapid dehydration, and I’m really not being facetious.  Today, after charging my laptop at the pool, I let Sammy watch a few minutes of a video while I took a delightfully cold shower.  When I came downstairs he was already overheated.  He was way too hot, just sitting on the couch.  I immediately put him in the car and took him to the mall.

But I haven’t just learned to appreciate A/C and cold showers, I’ve also been reminded of important truisms.  The list below is a mere sampling:

  1. I married so well.  Will got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday, as he does most days, and got us coffee, bags of ice, a tank of gas, and cash (all of which were almost impossible to come by a couple hours later).  Since we went to church on Saturday (yes, in part, because it would be nice and cool!), on Sunday morning,  Will said, “It’d be a good day for a day trip.  Where do you want to go?”  Man, am I grateful for this man!
  2. My boys can roll with it.  Certainly the complaint-o-meter did not hover at zero exactly, but it never really shot up too high, either.  They all prayed really sweet prayers about being patient, about recognizing that God was in control, and at the same time asking for the power to be returned.  Boy, am I grateful for these boys!
  3. Sammy is a gift, a very funny gift.  When you have two healthy boys and are thirty-five years old, there is a certain sense that you should be thankful and content with what you have.  And I think I was content, but I wanted another baby too.  God blessed us with Sammy, and he is such a delight for all four of us.  He is constant entertainment.  For example, a huge portion of the beautiful Bradford Pear in our front yard was taken out by the storm.  Since Sam slept through the storm and the neighborhood looked pretty unscathed except for this tree, Sammy tried to reason through this isolated loss. “Mmhh,” he said, “The tree broke off.  Maybe a big squirrel climbed out there and broke it off.”  His commentary on life adds so much!  Plus, I think he may be more prepared for Broadway than kindergarten.  He has this performance gene which was exhibited very early on and is truly uncanny.  On our day trip to Harpers Ferry yesterday, we went into a wine store.  Inside the little store was a player piano, which when fed a quarter played some kind of ragtime tune.  Well, Broadway Sam danced around the store in the most outlandishly winsome way that I had to video it.  The twenty-something behind the counter said, “That needs to be on YouTube.  Killer.”  Good gracious, am I thankful for Sam!
  4. People connect through stories.  Women sometimes bond through sharing birthing stories — if you meet another mom with a similarly harrowing “rocket bound for mars” birth experience, you feel kinship.  Big storms are the same way.  Over the last few days, greater DC has had this shared experience of a brief but powerful storm followed by an extended loss of electricity (of course, for some families there was devastating loss of life, and even a brief consideration of their sorrow puts a lack of cool air in perspective).  But you do feel connected through sharing and comparing common experiences.  One couple we talked to in Harpers Ferry was hiking the whole Appalachian Trail.  They had an eventful night, to say the least, on Friday!  Even though they were under a tarp, and we were safe inside a brick house, there’s an undeniable connection.  In this case, it was sort of a “Dude, I know!” type of connection, but it’s still something.  Plus, this hiker hailed from Grand Haven, and had a tattoo of Michigan on his calf.  I mean, Dude, C’mon!  Dude, am I grateful for shared stories! 
  5. Unplugging is vital.  I don’t watch much television.  In fact, I essentially watch none.  I’ll hang out with my boys to watch sports or an occasional episode of SpongeBob, and on very rare occasions Will and I will watch Frontline or something similar, but on a day-to-day basis I never turn the TV on.  I also don’t spend too much time in front of the computer, unless I’m actually writing.  But what I am horribly guilty of is using my iPhone a lot, and by a lot, I mean A LOT.  I check Facebook on my phone, I read the news, I email, I text — I stay pretty well connected through this amazing and unbelievably useful device.  However, with limited ability to recharge my phone over the last few days, I had to cut back on use.  It made me appreciate how great this tool is, but also how unplugging and playing cards with your kids by candlelight can be great too.  Wow, am I thankful for technology, and man, is it important to turn it off sometimes.

As Paul admonishes, may we give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5: 18).