Thursday, September 17

Conversations with God: Pruning Flowers


The woman stood nonchalantly on her front porch, calmly and innocently pruning her potted flowers (which looked beautiful, I might add) as I ran past the house on my morning jog.

     They were lovely flowers, all perky and overflowing out of the pots. Brimming with buds and vibrant petals they stood, in my mind, in stark contrast to the ones on my front porch looking parched from the sun and sullenly deserted.

     Scott and I have joked over the last few years, that that spot on our porch must just be killer for flower pots. Too much sun? Too little? Who knows? Maybe it's the fault of the concrete or the spider lurking behind the front door with his webs connected to the pots that they seem to wilt and die every year.

     (Or, ahem, the fact that we can't manage to water them consistently. Pruning? Isn't that a fruit?) 

     Whatever the case, something about that unassuming woman having time to prune her flowers ignited something not so nice in me...Poor woman!

     (My request for forgiveness comes later in the post, don't worry!)

     Must be nice to have time to prune your flowers, I found myself thinking.

     The plants on my own porch desperately needed pruning. Our vegetable garden has been overtaken by tall grass and weeds this year, and we never even got around to mulching our small flower beds. Our swing set is half stained, the tarp piece that covers the top 'playhouse' component fell apart and blew off over a year ago,  and the most hidden corner of our backyard is beginning to look, well, very..."white trashy" for lack of a better explanation,  with its stash of plastic pools, old toys and a copious number of tall, gnarly weeds.

     My irritation drove deeper than flowers (obviously!).  It stemmed from the fact that there are so many areas of our house and lives that feel like they need our attention these days that we just can't keep up. Scott and I, individually and collectively, often don't know where to begin and can feel like we're failing more than flourishing in the areas that are most important to us (quality family time, how we're living out our faith, exercise/healthy eating, investing in our marriage) as well as areas that are less important, but still need attention, like the yard and house management.

     The flowers, on that morning, were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg (perhaps a fruit/root analogy would be more fitting, but we'll stick with icebergs for now!)

     The truth is I don't care that much about the flowers on my front porch. Sure, I'd like them to stay alive, and to keep blooming, at least until autumn when they're replaced by mums and pumpkins, but my discouragement was not really about the flowers. Or the dying tomatoes. Or the trash/stash in our back yard (lol!).

     The real challenge is that I feel like our day to day lives have become so full of domestic responsibilities that it can be hard to intentionally put time behind the things that really matter-- carving out time to spiritually nourish and "prune" our own hearts, investing more deeply in our children's personal and spiritual lives, finding ways to serve others in the community, or even just connecting more deeply with our neighbors.

     I want to be able to do it all...not in a compulsive and perfectionist way, just in a way that allows me to feel like I'm fully being who I am supposed to be. Who God created me to be; wife, mother, daughter, friend, good neighbor, church member, carpooler, writer, thinker, ...whatever else happens to be on my "plate".

     But, sometimes the plate just feels "too full", and like "too much", and like even though I'd like to eat all that food that is piled on there (or manage all those tasks!), it seems virtually impossible. And, it probably is.

     Sometimes I stand back and observe other families that seem to have figured it out; they're managing the chaos, walking through it with grace, and somehow finding time to serve others, be connected to each other and go on cool trips and adventures, all while pruning their flowers with a smile on their face.

     There are times when it feels like we're the only ones. Like everyone else somehow has their act together, the lawn cut and their flowers pruned while we stand there scratching our heads trying to diffuse the latest argument between the kids over who gets the pink bowl and who gets the blue.

     I just want to pull the shutters down on my front windows..."No, don't look in here! No, there aren't kids screaming, and toys everywhere. Oh no, that house project hasn't been going on for two years now! We just started that yesterday...I swear! Sure, you can come over for a lovely chicken dinner, with the table nicely set. No, no.  That's not my child standing on the kitchen counter...gulp...naked....with a mouth full of chocolate chips!"

     Maybe some other families do have their acts together better than we do...

     Or maybe they just hide it really well that they don't...

     Or maybe they just don't write blog posts about it all (;

     Whatever the case, comparisons are rarely, if at all helpful. Especially when you're comparing your "insides" (what is really going on), to someone else's "outsides" (the "image" they want you to see, not what is actually going on).

     When I consider the families that I do know more intimately, the ones who also have young children, I realize that the reality of their lives is much more similar to our own. They're living some version of the same, young family life craziness--busy schedules, breaking up fights, maneuvering the idiosyncrasies of kids wants, desires and attitudes, all while trying to cultivate something meaningful.

    They're tired too. Sometimes their lawns get cut and the flowers get pruned and sometimes they don't.  They fight and make up. Their kids fight and make up. They have days when their patience is thin and  the voices get loud, and others where they are praying with their kids and teaching lessons like the parenting champions that they are (sometimes all in the same breath!)

    Several hours later, I was thinking about that lady again and the more I thought about her the more my heart went out to her. I have no idea what was going on in her life: She might have been struggling with her marriage, or working through the issues of a hard relationship, or dealing with job loss, or illness in some capacity.

     She might have looked at me and thought, Must be nice to be able to get out and go for a run. The more I thought about it the more I realized I was  glad she had a chance to prune her flowers that morning. It might have been the one moment in her day that allowed her to focus on the beauty of life, rather than the hard parts. 

     Later that day I said a prayer...

     Sorry God. I know...bad attitude. What's the deal? What do you want to show me? 

     Well, there might be some areas of your heart that need a little pruning. The places you are not trusting me. The places where you are giving into discouragement rather than standing on hope and peace about your own life, and the season you are in.

     Ugh. Yes, you're right. Is there more?

     Your flowers,  literally and figuratively, could be pruned in five or ten minutes a day. You can read a book with Ava, color a picture with Ella and throw a ball with Aubrey in the same amount of time.  Do what you can, give what you can, be who you can in the short bits of time and it will add up to something bigger in the long run.

    Really, God. Really? It will?

     It will. I promise. Now trust me, and go water your flowers.

God has been teaching me, for months now,  to not become so overwhelmed by the many tasks, but to focus on what I can do in a given day, and to then give the rest to Him (and then "rest" in that intentional play on words!). That while the enormity of our responsibilities can feel like too much, that if we pray about our vision, ask Him to guide our priorities and help us to see more clearly where and how to use our time, that He is faithful to answer those prayers.

      So, go do that small thing and trust God with the big picture!

Matthew 6:34  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Friday, September 11

Back in the School Swing of Things

It's Friday of back to school week in these parts.

Oh, what a summer it was.

     It felt fast and furious. A hustle and bustle of some planned and LOTS of unplanned activity.  Days that required little more of the kids than to venture outside to draw chalk murals on the sidewalk, or wait for one of the neighbor kids to invite them to play (or better yet, swim in their big-people pools! Our backyard is so small that we can only fit one of these unsightly blue blow-up pools that wiggle like a bowl full of jello every time the kids splash around in it!).

     There is some gladness in the back to school rhythm. It's fun to don shiny new aqua blue sneakers to gym class (shoes with actual shoelaces to tie in Ella's case!), and see old friends.

     It is fun to use new crayons, and sharpen pencils with the anticipation of using them in crisp writing journals and new math workbooks.  It has been fun to meet new teachers, and swing by to say hello to the old, being grateful for familiar faces, yet very aware of a new level of maturity: that each child has graduated to the next phase, stage, classroom of life.

     It's a delight to watch them, and walk alongside them as they experience all of this change and newness and then to hear their response to it...

     "Mom," my 1st grader said, "I saw the kindergarteners today and they looked so small! Was I that small?"

     "Yes, honey," I say with a smile. "Yes you were."

     "Wow!" She says as I pull up a picture still on my i-phone from the first day of school last year.

     "Yeah mom," my third grader chimes in, "I felt so old today!"

     I smile again and nod my head. She is "old" by her standards...the oldest in her elementary school now (which only goes up to third grade).

     Here is last year's picture...

     And this year's...

     I was a total cheeseball and decorated the door from our garage into the mudroom with a "Welcome Home" sign and balloons. We also had a cake (purchased from Wegmans) that said "Happy First Day of School" for dessert.

     Somehow I started this cake and door decorating tradition on Ava's first day of kindergarten (because she was my first to go off to school and I was all emotional and over the top. Ha!), and then felt like I HAD to do it for Ella's first day of kindergarten (before she adds any more fodder to her "middle child plight" file), and then it just kind of became a fun thing we do...

     I did find myself apologizing to the girls for my cheesiness. Are they too old for this? I thought momentarily.

     But their smiles at my cheesy door and cake efforts reaffirmed my silly intentions to try to make the first day of school fun and celebratory, rather than something sad or disappointing.

     "We love it mom," they said.

     And really, who doesn't love store bought chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting? I mean it makes my day a little sweeter too (:

     (Please note! You are not allowed to read any of this and feel guilty! Sometimes I hesitate to share things because I don't want other moms to "see" something I do and feel like they should do those things too. That is the downside of our Pintrest, Twitter, Facebook culture...and while I love sharing about my life as a mom, I never want to add to the "comparison chaos" that we can find ourselves in! Please know that on most days I feel like it's about all I can do to get my act together, get places on time and brush my hair before I leave the house! And, seriously, I found those balloons in the junk drawer!)

     So...the structure is a welcome break from the sometimes too unstructured days (for mommy anyways!) of summer. I hate to say it, but it's nice to clean up the kitchen after breakfast and know that it will not be trashed again in 45 minutes.

     I can also say our house is finally a itsy, bitsy, bit cleaner as a whole...which feels very good! Summer days can leave me feeling like a hurricane blew through the house for 12 hours straight.  I'm then often left to pull the pieces back together at night before the wind starts blowing furiously all over again the next day.

    It's nice to feel like the wind has died down a little bit...

     I do, however,  miss the connection and time with the kids (when they weren't driving my bonkers!). When they come home at the end of the day it always feels strange to ask them what they've done for the last six hours and get a 60-90 second answer that feels like the smallest sliver of insight into their whole day experience.

     Tell me more! Tell me more! I want to know everything, I want to demand.

     Instead I prod them with a few more questions, offer them another Triscuit and cheese, and realize that this, to some degree, is the way it goes as our kids grow up and are away from us for longer stretches of time (Can't I just secretly install a camera on their backpacks?!)

     And while there was much we did, there was also much we didn't do. Unfulfilled intentions seems to linger all around the house as I clean up from the summer fun.

     There were books I wanted to read with them, and crafts I wanted to do. I pulled their memory books out that have been collecting dust all year with intentions of working on them together-- somehow many of these things never happened.

     I think mostly, while I wanted to "read" or work on memory books, what I really wanted were moments to sit and connect. Moments that felt fewer than what I had hoped for at the end of June when summer vacation was budding with expectation.

    I found, with a two-year old on the scene, that it is very hard to focus on...well, anything. I'd start something with the big girls and Aubrey would, naturally,  start ripping pages, or pouring glue, or let the hamster out of the cage...again.

     In the end, I mostly tried to keep her out of trouble, or out of her sisters' hair, while they worked on games or projects and played with friends. It's part of three-child dynamics that I'm still adjusting too... I did plan some big girls breakfasts, and tried to do some one-on-one bike rides, or moments together in a quiet spot on the couch. Often it's a divide and conquer parent is "on" Aubrey, while the other does something with the older girls (again, older mommas! insight here would be great!!! LOL!).

     So anyways, the swing of things looks like lunch boxes back on the counter and copious amounts of paper coming home from school!  It's mommy trying to figure out who likes peanut butter and who likes ham, and why the heck the Pirate's Booty that I packed yesterday morning is littered like confetti all over the inside of my oldest daughter's lunch box.

     There are paper's to sign, and homework coming home...

    This morning, after all the kids were off to school (and Aubrey was settled into playschool for the morning), I had a chance to sweep the kitchen floor, vacuum the rug and put some laundry away.

     And Wow! Can I just tell you? I felt like I had dislodged a popcorn kernel that had been stuck in my teeth for days! It was such a relief to clean something up without simultaneously anticipating the next mess that was going to go down!

     Then to sit down to write this blog post...that was like a sigh of relief too. For those of you who process life through writing or even just journaling, you'll completely understand this. It was like I had been holding my breath for weeks and was finally able to let it all out...


     Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy writing...or running...or reading ...(3 of my favorite things!)...even cleaning (occasionally, when I can do it by myself!) and then I have the chance to get back into them. It feels, momentarily, like I know who I am again. Like I'm living from my real, authentic, God- made self. But now I'm getting deep, and introspective, and all of that is enough fodder for a whole other blog post! So, I'll stop there (;

     We're looking forward to a warm weekend with the kids at home. While September marks the beginning of a new school year, it also marks the beginning of cooler weather and shorter days (bah!), we're making the most of the warmth while it lasts!

     Blessings to you in all of your own back to school, getting-into-the-swing-of-things adventures.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun."  Ecclesiastes 3:1