Gratitude

Gratitude.

It may very well be my most overused word of 2014. Days have passed, time has moved forward, but there remains an overwhelming swell within my soul that cannot make it through a single day without bubbling up and making itself known. Even when there is no one around to hear, the whispers of my heart make their way to my lips and I thank my Father…for the zillionth time for the miracle He has worked in my life.

So it should come as no surprise, I suppose, that on this Thanksgiving Eve especially I am overcome with it. I fail miserably to find a word that fully expresses the depth of my emotion, so inevitably the same word emerges time and time again…gratitude. Plain and simple.

There are so many dimensions to the story that has redefined me, that I frequently balk at the task of capturing it in words on a page. Just as your appreciation for the beauty of a prism deepens with every turn of the wrist, so it is with me. Every time I carefully unpack the memories that have become some of my greatest treasures, God illuminates a new angle of those familiar moments and leaves me speechless.

I’m just so thankful, I don’t know what to do with myself. If you had told me years ago that one day I would nearly die in an operating room, listening to the doctors’ helpless voices as they struggled to invent a procedure to save my life, I would have been terrified. If you went on to say that I would come to value that experience as one of my greatest gifts, I would have thought you were a crazy person. But so it is.

On that cold night in March, God took a faith that I professed and showed me His power first hand. He took the scripture that had been planted in my heart and brought life to those words in a way that I never could have imagined. The promise in His Word that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us leapt off the page and into my life. He carried me. In my darkest, most helpless hours, He focused my eyes on Him and piece by piece put me back together.

I laid on a table watching my vitals slip away and was completely at peace…not because I was ok with dying, but because I knew God had me. There is a song by Mandisa that I can no longer listen to without brimming with tears. I loved it before, but now the words echo the cries of my heart,

“He is with you in the ICU when the doctors don’t know what to do and it scares you to the core, He is with you.”

I sing this song with joyful tears because while I always understood it to be true, I KNOW it to be true now. I was there…that was me…and God showed up.

The nurses couldn’t help but remark on their shock at my calm. Outside of my epidural, there were no drugs. No sedatives. Nothing to alter my mental state in the slightest or numb me from the reality playing out around me. “How was I keeping it together?” They wanted to know. What I was unable to tell them in the moment, I long to tell them now. I wasn’t. God was. Fully awake and fully focused on Him, I was acutely aware that He held the broken bits of my body together and I felt wrapped in His abiding, profound peace.

Three hours of surgery and a single scripture.

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

A scripture that reminded me of God’s incredible faithfulness and one that I shared on social media 3 months to the day PRIOR to the night I would need it most.   God didn’t just show up on March 3. He didn’t take a break from heaven to check in and rescue me. He was there all along. Three months prior, He knew what I would be facing and He planted that scripture deep in my heart so that when I needed it, it would already be there. The fact that it’s documented as three months exactly is just icing on the cake. It’s as though He wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the fact that He was there, preparing me far in advance before my greatest trial.

“It’s a miracle from God.” At the end of my surgery, the doctors used those exact words to say what I already knew to be true. They couldn’t explain how I was saved, outside of divine intervention. God showed up. Not just for me, but for everyone who was there to witness it.

Gratitude.

Not just for the fact that I live to see another day, but for the fact that every day is now framed with the understanding that I will never walk alone. That just as He orchestrated events and carried me through this harrowing ordeal, He is even now, preparing me for everything that lies ahead. I don’t have to fear…I don’t have to wonder…for the rest of my life, I walk in tremendous freedom, knowing that I won’t live a single day outside of His will for me, and that He will always see me through.

And for that, I am forever awash in gratitude…plain and simple.

Building Blocks

A good bit of my time with W is spent playing with blocks. We count them, we identify their colors, and we build a “Super Truck” almost every day. Without question, the most popular game we play involves me building a tower as high as I can and allowing W to knock it all over. Sometimes he barely lets me stack two blocks before he pummels them to the ground, cackling in delight. On other occasions, he gives me a little time and keeps his distance, waiting for just the right moment to pounce on my creation. Every time he brings my tower to its ruin, I try to alter the design in order to make it a little stronger to withstand future blows. What starts as a flimsy edifice evolves into a fortress with a wide, strong foundation and thick walls. No matter the shape, when he drops the hammer a smile overtakes his entire face as he watches the colorful blocks tumble to the ground. To my delight, he has now added sound effects to our game, shouting “BOOM!” as they fall. Brilliant.

 

We got on a tremendous roll with this recently and I found myself building tower after tower after tower. I started wondering how many times I had rebuilt these broken structures when out of nowhere, God got my attention. I frequently feel His presence during my days with W because our life is so simple and focused on the “now.” As I stacked my millionth tower, I began thinking about how I could relate to this same kind of repetitive rebuilding in my own life.

 

I winced as I recalled such seasons of destruction…

 

carefully organized plans that crumbed before they became reality,

poor choices that led to instability and erosion,

seemingly random instances that knocked the foundation out from under me.

 

I thought back on…

 

the pain,

the desperation,

the sadness and anger,

the countless “Why” conversations with God, punctuated by groans and tears.

 

I became temporarily absorbed by the emotion of those memories and as I nursed the wounds freshly opened, He spoke to my heart.

 

He had always been there.

 

Through every trial, every devastation, every life-changing event, His Presence was not only evident, but was exactly what carried me through every difficult moment. In times when I was building something self-serving or destructive, He was the one who lovingly brought my tower down, but was always right there to help me pick up the pieces in the wake of my disaster. And just like my silly game with W, every time I rebuilt, He helped me put the pieces back differently, arranging them in a new way, each structure stronger than the one before. I used the lessons I learned to assemble the blocks of my life in such a way that reflected the wisdom of experience, the understanding of resilience, and the faithfulness of God. I look at who I am now, battle scars and all, and know that I am stronger, wiser, and more humble than I ever would have been without the intervention of God in my disasters. While I don’t necessarily want to go back and relive those moments, I am forever grateful for their impact on my life.

 

As I put the remaining blocks in place for another round, I prayed…that my little one will have the same awareness and appreciation for God’s presence in every season of building and inevitable rebuilding in his life.

Called.

I once heard it said that the greatest difference you make in the world might not be what you do, but who you raise.

While I no longer remember the context or author of this idea, the weight behind the words has remained with me for years.  When I first heard it, I was not yet a mother and still the words stunned me with their profundity.  Now with a future man in my care, the idea has an even more sobering impact.

I thought that when we first had William, we had a complete understanding of the tremendous responsibility given to us as parents.  As we crept along I-4 after leaving the hospital, we were overcome by the reality that we. were. his. parents.  We would be responsible for making sure he was safe, fed, and cared for, every hour of every day.  It was daunting and inspiring, terrifying and empowering.  We weren’t sure how to go about it but minute by minute, day by day, that is exactly what we started doing.  We woke in the middle of the night to make sure he was still breathing.  We obsessed over how much he was eating.  We checked the temperature of his toes constantly to make sure he wasn’t too hot or too cold.  Every doctor’s appointment served to affirm that we were actually doing ok.  He was growing.  He was healthy.  And we were relieved.

16 months into this thing, my perspective has shifted a bit.  God has taught me so much in these 500+ days of motherhood and I can say without question that I am not the same person who welcomed William into the world…hopefully, I’m better.  I have grown and changed in countless ways and am now feeling at home in this identity of Mom.  While I am much more confident in my day-to-day responsibilities as William’s mama, one thing hasn’t changed…I remain humbled and awestruck by the responsibility of raising this little boy into a man.  While the general concerns regarding his well-being haven’t lessened, the scope of what it means to raise him in my mind has broadened considerably.

I must teach him the alphabet and also teach him how to give and receive love.

I must protect him from harm but also encourage him to take risks that will enable him to grow.

I must hold his hand to show him that he is safe and cherished, but let it go when he needs to experience new things apart from me.

I must help him read.  And dance.  And swim.  And compromise.

I must instruct him on how to eat with proper table manners and also how to live a life with integrity, honor, and passion.

I must provide a safe place for him to ask questions and also show him that it’s ok to not always have the answers.

I must help him learn to walk without assistance and navigate the path between right and wrong.

I must kiss his hurts and wipe away his tears, while affirming him and letting him know that it’s ok to cry.

I must show him how to put others first, all while the world is screaming at him to only look out for number one.

I must teach him the Gospel, but even more challenging, I must live the Gospel before his eyes in the way I love.

And on…and on…and on…

A person could get downright overwhelmed and desperate in the light of this awesome responsibility.  How thankful I am that I will never walk a day of this journey alone.  When I start to feel like I can’t do something, I am reminded that God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.

God has called me to this position…chosen me not just to be a mama, but to be William’s mama.  With that knowledge, I can take a deep breath and rest in the fact that while I am caring for William, He will take care of me and meet all of my needs minute by minute…hour by hour…day by day.

 

His mercies are new every morning.

How thankful I am for days.

It’s an odd thought, but it hit me today with such power and relevance that I couldn’t help but express it here.  W and I had a bit of a rocky day together.  His sleep schedule was thrown off last night, which trickled into today, which wrought havoc from sun up to sunset.

We limped through this day and fought for moments of joy.   I was exhausted, he was exhausted, and frustrations loomed around every corner.  My sleepy baby is prone to falls and he had many.  Trying to keep a hand on him at all times was futile, since he is now a “walker” and “doesn’t need my help.”  When a much-needed nap turned into an hour long rebellion, my patience wore thin.  It had been a day and I was over it.  I wanted to show him the grace and love of Christ, but what he got when I lifted him from his crib was a grumpy mama.  I prayed out loud, for his sake and for mine, that God would redeem a day that had clearly derailed.

We made it.  Minute by minute, hour by hour, we trudged through our challenges and made the most of our moments.   Near the end of the day, we took a walk to the pond and chatted together while he chased the ducks.  Just before we started the journey for home, he plopped down in the grass and excitedly squealed “DOH!!” which is his word for flowers.  I laughed.

He was sitting in a patch of weeds.

I was just before redirecting him to a beautiful azalea bush just a few steps away when I saw it.  Sure enough, out of the hideous tangle of overgrown and unwanted plants, a darling little flower emerged, its petals reaching for the sun.  We sat there, my boy and I, for several minutes enjoying the flowers amid the weeds and I was reminded that while beauty is always present, sometimes we have to work a bit harder to find it.

Grateful that God had redeemed the day, I enjoyed the second half much more than the first.  Our evening wasn’t without incident–there was still a toe to be stubbed, a bath meltdown to be had, and a tumble to be taken while feeding the puppers–but I found comfort in the awareness that this too shall pass.  How incredible…an idea that is a bitter pill to swallow in moments of joy, had the capability to make my frustrating moments palatable.

Once my little lion was sleeping soundly, I plopped on the couch and exhaled.  I thought about how it wasn’t my best day, nor was it William’s, and asked God to forgive me for all of the ways I blew it.  With those thoughts buzzing in my brain, I was reminded of this scripture:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

I was so thankful that we would be able to turn the page from this day…go to sleep and wake up with a whole new opportunity to love and live the abundant life God offers.  Certain I had used up all of my allotted “mercies” for the day, I was thankful to get a whole new batch in the morning.  ;0)

Thank You God for days…for the ones that make us smile and the ones that make us cringe.  Thank you for loving us through our messes and giving us a chance every 24 hours to start again.  Thank You for days…and for the grace You pour out according to our many needs on every. single. one of them.

 

 

Rocks in the Garden

Now that William is mobile and the weather is delicious, our favorite activity is playing in the backyard.  We spend hours every day romping around in the grass, swinging in his swing, and chasing the puppers around.  William loves to explore and is fascinated by nature.  He wants to examine all of the plants up close and has the gentlest touch with even the most delicate of flowers.  He will often find leaves or petals on the ground that draw him in and he inevitably scoops them up and tucks them into his palm, treasuring them for as long as they can withstand his grasp.

While he has the run of most of the space, there are a few areas that are off limits, due to the danger factor.  I am always with him, of course, steering him in the right direction and away from peril.  With so many accessible areas, it is usually easy to distract him away from the areas I don’t want him to go near.

Usually.

The other day, he noticed the rocky terrain near the gate leading to the front yard.  Now, although he is technically mobile, he is far from “expert level.”  I still keep a hand on him when we are walking on hard surfaces and uneven ground often trips him up.  That said, the rocky area with the giant metal fence post was not a good spot for him to play.  Did I mention he was barefoot?  He kept pulling my hand in that direction and I repeatedly said, “No,” shaking my head and trying to entice him in another direction.  After multiple attempts and multiple refusals, he pitched. a. fit.  When it was clear that my mind was not going to be swayed, he dropped himself into the grass in a fit of desperation and wailed, looking over at the rocks while crocodile tears cascaded down his cheeks.  He couldn’t understand why I would rob him of the adventure he hungered for.  Why would I deny him such joy??  I told him that I understood how upsetting it is when we aren’t able to do what we want, but that I was only protecting him from harm.  I explained that I didn’t want him to get hurt and that really, the rocks weren’t that cool anyway.  In an effort to redirect his attention, I started pointing out all of the other areas brimming with adventure, but he would have none of it.  He continued to cry in the grass, lamenting the fun he was certain he was missing.

After a minute or two, I actually started to chuckle in my mind.  I glanced around and looked at everything surrounding us.  It was a gorgeous Florida day…there were butterflies fluttering about, flowers waving in the breeze, and puppy dogs chasing dragonflies.  There was a hammock beckoning for a lounger, sparkling pool water to splash in, and a shady oak tree providing the perfect respite from the sun’s rays.  All of this was accessible and my boy was pitching a fit over a handful of rocks and a metal post.  I was just about ready to roll my eyes, when it hit me like a ton of…well…rocks.

He was me.

This is exactly what God has to deal with from me and far more frequently than I would like to admit.

I started to think about how often I pout and stomp my feet when I don’t get my way.  How God has surrounded me with countless blessings and the opportunity for unending joy every day and still, I often choose not to see it.  I plead for His guidance and protection, but only really want it on my terms.  I get frustrated when opportunities pass me by, doors close, relationships end, and I don’t get to do what I want.  Rarely does it occur to me in the moment that the limitations I am facing are quite possibly the hand of God saying, “You really don’t want to go there.  Trust me.  I’m trying to keep you from getting hurt and really, it’s not that cool anyway.”  Instead of accepting His provision and giving thanks, I bemoan the unfairness of life.  While God is pointing out all of the other things around me that I could be focusing on and finding joy in, I choose instead to sit and cry.  God wants to give me the garden and I want the rocks.

The most incredible part of all of this is how God responds to my tantrums.  Instead of rolling His eyes and wandering off, He stoops down with me and lets me cry.  He gives me unending grace to feel the depth of my frustrations and even comforts me in my sadness.  He waits patiently, loves me lavishly, and when I’ve gotten it all out, He ever so gently, brings me back to my feet and guides me back into the garden.

Grace.  I don’t deserve it, and yet He gives it.  Abundantly.

With that in mind, I viewed my sweet boy with a whole new set of lenses, and felt overwhelming compassion.  Instead of rolling my eyes, I sat down in the grass with him.  I wiped away his tears, told him that I understood, and let him have his moment.  Once his frustrations were fully vented, I offered him my hand and he took it.  The garden was waiting and he was now ready to take it all in.

So together we wandered off, hand in hand, and left the rocks behind.  He quickly forgot what had transpired, but I still have not.  As we moved forward I was humbled by God’s unending grace and thanked Him for the millionth time for loving me so well, that I might shower that same love on my precious baby boy.

Word.

So thanks to a dear friend, I have started a little project for W.  She recently learned of someone who keeps a Bible for her child, writing in it, underlining in it, and journaling little notes to her boy and her plan is to give it to him when he graduates from high school.  Beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful and naturally, I had to steal the idea.

I hemmed and hawed over what kind of Bible to get for William, but ultimately decided to get him the current version of the Bible I use in my study.  That way if there were notes at the bottom that I wanted to reference, I could be sure he had the same.  I also thought it might be neat for him to see the Bible that his mama used for her study for most of her adult life.

Well, I ordered the Bible and had his name inscribed on the front.  A friend of mine picked it up and brought it over to my house last night and I was absolutely giddy about it.  Since the idea was first planted in my mind, I have been so eager to get started.  After she left, I removed the Bible from its box and could not have predicted my reaction.

I wept.

Seeing his name on the front of a Bible that has been so incredibly dear to me was enough to do me in.  I sat with it on my lap and was overcome with a tidal wave of emotion.  As I cradled this Bible that had yet to be open, I glanced over to the dog-eared, battered, well-worn and well-loved Bible of my own.  Looking at my faithful friend, I was reminded of all of the times I was so broken and hurting that I couldn’t even open the cover, but was comforted by just clutching it to my chest.  I thought about all that God has taught me through the gift of His Word and how those pages are like life to me.  I thought about how I have been changed, one word at a time and how incredibly grateful I am.  I thought about the struggles…the victories…the battles fought…the lessons learned.  Moments of joy, of fear, of sadness, of anger, and of immense gratitude flooded my mind.  With all of those memories churning in my head and my heart, I was suddenly overcome with a burning desire for my sweet boy…that He would know the depth of God’s consuming love for him and that his faith would blow mine out of the water.

I wept and I prayed and I couldn’t thank God enough for loving my sweet little man more than I ever could.  I praised Him for being so faithful to me and for giving me the unbelievable opportunity to tell my boy all about it.  I prayed with the desperation only a mother could muster that I wouldn’t blow it.  That He would fill in all of my holes, provide everything that I lack, and repair every word that I speak that comes out wrong about who He is and what He has done.  I prayed that my boy would find fulfillment in his Father and that the Bible laying in my lap would be treasured by him throughout his life…not because it was from me, but because it was from Him.

I prayed.  I wept and I prayed and I sat for the longest time thinking about the journey that is ahead for my sweet boy.  When I composed myself enough to not soak the pages with my tears, I cracked the cover and made my first entry.  I turned to Ephesians 1:18 and underlined the verse I have been praying for him every day since he was 6 months old.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

His adventure is just beginning.

As terrifying as it can be to think of all of the hurts likely ahead that I want him to avoid, I also couldn’t be more excited for him.  His adventure is just beginning and he belongs to God.  God will watch over him every moment of his life, guiding and growing him, just as He has for me and I couldn’t be more thankful.  With a profound sense of relief and overwhelming peace, I closed the Bible and put it on my nightstand, thanking God for such an incredible gift.

A trip to crazytown.

Sooo, my sweet little man has been teething and the discomfort has wrought havoc on his sleep.  He is waking more frequently right now and is also rising well before dawn.  Sweet.

A few mornings ago, he woke up just after 5 am and was ready to start the day.  We waited to see if it was just a fleeting desire, but when it was clear that he would not be going back to sleep, we developed a game plan.    Gilbert went in, bundled him up, and popped him in the stroller.  I made myself a nice large mug of coffee and decided to look on the bright side of our early morning…it was chilly outside, I had yummy coffee, and if all worked out we would get to see a beautiful sunrise!

Once W was settled, we took off around the neighborhood.  The crisp air invigorated me and I took the opportunity to pray and enjoy the quiet morning.  William nestled in and relaxed as we walked our familiar route in an unfamiliar time.  It seemed that this was the perfect solution to his fussy wake up and I was just about to pat us on the back for our brilliant thinking until…yes until.  Such power in a single word.  As soon as one hears/reads/utters the word “until” it becomes instantly apparent that something is about to change…and in this case, not for the better.

The loop around our neighborhood is just over a mile.  When we were as close to the halfway point as possible, William lost it.  I mean, absolutely positively lost. his. mind.  There were tears, there were screams, and my feeble attempts to reign him back in were fruitless.  The serene setting I had only moments before embraced now turned into a wicked nightmare.  The quiet only magnified the piercing shrieks and the once friendly looking houses were now certainly filled with angry, judgmental neighbors with their phones in hand calling DCF.

I sang, I danced, I pulled out every toy I had stowed away, and there was absolutely no effect.  In fact, at certain points my antics seemed only to add fuel to the fire, with his cries reaching the upper register of a banshee.  When it became apparent that my usual tricks were not going to work this time around, I swiftly popped him out of the stroller.  With his screams still slicing through the darkness, I threw my coffee into the seat of the stroller and started hauling tail toward home.  With W still crying in my arms, I started singing “The Mexican Hat Dance”–our go to meltdown tune since he was a newborn.  This turned down the volume, but didn’t eliminate the noise entirely.  With only a single bullet left in my gun, I drew out the iPhone and loaded the “Rattle” app as quickly as I could.  Magic: crying stopped.  Being carried, sung to, and entertained with technology was the solution I sought.  Any attempt to withdraw any portion of this twisted trifecta resulted in more tears.

And so we motored on.  I was as happy as a mama could be walking with a baby in one hand, simultaneously pushing a stroller and engaging an app making farm animal noises with the other, while singing “The Mexican Hat Dance”…all before dawn.

As we rounded the bend for home, we passed a jogger taking full advantage of the cool, peaceful morning.  I cringed as we neared this unsuspecting person, who until this point had no doubt been living under the blissful assumption that the neighborhood was free of crazies.  Not the case.  I could only imagine how ridiculous I must look to someone outside the insane world of babies.  I had to appear absolutely certifiable.

When our eyes met however, I found something I wasn’t expecting…familiarity.  On this woman’s face, I saw the unmistakable acknowledgment of someone who knew exactly what I was enduring.  A fellow mama in a different season, she recognized my world and gave me the knowing smile that said, “Don’t sweat it…I have been. there.”  I could almost see the battle scars on her face as she shook her head and closed her eyes, no doubt recalling countless moments of her own insanity and offering as much compassion and empathy as she could.

I smiled the rest of the way home.  Motherhood is such an incredibly cool club and I am beyond blessed to be a part of it.  There are highs and lows, victories and challenges, and when I find myself crossing the border into crazytown, it helps to know I’m not alone.  ;0)

Run with perseverance…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

I have recently started trying to hone the practice of praying specific scriptures over my life and the lives of others.  This morning I dug out my trusty scripture box and pored over the countless verses that God has drawn my attention to over the years.  I flipped through each one and selected nine that are just perfect for this season in my life.  I also found scriptures for Gilbert, for William, for friends and extended family.  Some overlap and I pray the same verse over multiple people, while others are specific to individuals in their present circumstances.

I stumbled upon Hebrews 12:1-3 and set that card aside for me.  I have read those verses, spoken them, and reflected on them throughout my life, but they called to me with new significance this morning.  The message of running a race with perseverance perfectly fits this season of motherhood and I seized upon them.  As a new mama, I am in a marathon, not a 5k, and need God’s continual provision to remain faithful in living as the wife and mother He has called me to be.

When I prayed these verses out loud this morning, I imagined myself running in an actual race and vividly pictured the scene.  Hair in a pony tail, sweat running from my brow, I could see myself jogging along, the sound of footsteps and shallow breaths filling my ears.  When I got to the portion about “fixing our eyes on Jesus” I paused to consider what that would look like in my scene.  Am I looking ahead of me?  Looking at Him running beside me?  Running with my eyes up to the heavens?

The more I thought about it, the more I pictured all of the other things that would be vying for my attention as I ran along.  Different portions of the race would yield different temptations to take my eyes off of Him and focus elsewhere.  Knowing myself, there would be times that the temptation to check out the crowds to my left and right would steal my attention.  Are the people around me cheering or are they snickering about how slowly I am running?  In other moments, I know I would be tempted to look down the road—how much longer do I have to go?  Are there hills up ahead?  In still other times, I would be tempted to look behind me, indulging in pride about how far I had run.  Look at me!!  These are common temptations I face every day in the race I am running—I’m not even going into the distractions that come when obstacles arise, when weariness sets in, or when the weather changes.

There are so many other places to set my sights that I have to be intentional every day to focus my eyes on Him.  For me, this means taking a cue from Psalm 5:3 and going to God in the morning, before the day is in full swing.  I complete Bible study homework, read scripture, and spend time just talking to God.  There is a noticeable difference in the days that I do this—I am more centered, I have greater peace, and my perspective on life is tremendously impacted.  Without this focus, I frequently veer off course and barely limp along.

This is a race and running well requires dedication.  While I am not competing against anyone else, I am called to take every day that God blesses me with and run it faithfully.  This will not happen by accident, I must be intentional.

In the end, I decided that fixing my eyes on Jesus, means that I am running while looking directly in front of me.  That’s where I imagine Him to be—a few steps ahead so that He can guide me along the path, while in the perfect position to encourage my every step.  What a mighty God we serve.  Oh that I would be so faithful to train my eyes on Him alone.

Sometimes, quiet.

There’s a lot to be said for quiet.

Every day, William and I go on several walks.  We take a walk mid-morning to get fresh air around the neighborhood.  We walk to the pond in the afternoon to feed the fish and the ducks.  More often than not, we will sneak in a third walk in the evening to decompress before we start his bedtime routine.  He absolutely loves being outside, so I seize every opportunity to nurture that love.

On most of our adventures, we chat constantly.  The teacher in me can’t resist pointing out different sights and providing explanations for new experiences and encounters.  I ask him questions about the things we pass and I tell him stories that randomly come to mind.  We talk about the blessings in our lives and how cool our God is to have made such an incredible world.  His responses vary from humming and chirping to blowing raspberries and I love them all.  These “conversations” are absolute treasures to me in our days together.  It blows my mind to think that, in time, my monologues will give way to two-way communication.

All that said, I find time on at least one of our walks every day for us to simply enjoy the quiet.  My mini-lessons are tabled and my musings are silenced.  We walk together and simply enjoy the sounds around us.

Quiet has been a dear friend of mine for as long as I can remember.  This may strike you as odd, given that my chosen profession was public school teaching, which is not known for its serenity.  Quiet is something often sought but seldom found in the fourth grade world and yet, I loved every minute of it.  Cherishing quiet doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the beautiful chaos of being with other people.  I adore being right in the middle of kids’ hustle and bustle and relish opportunities to socialize with friends and family whenever I can.  When my tank is empty, however; it’s quiet that refuels me.

These days, if you want quiet you have to intentionally seek it out.  There are 9 million voices (both spoken and written) clamoring for our attention at any given moment.  As a result, many people have developed a discomfort with quiet and seek to fill every second void of sound. I don’t want that for William.  I frequently wonder if the noise in our lives is the single greatest contributor to stress and anxiety.  When was the last time you sat at a red light and just thought?  When your ears are always filled with something to dictate your thinking, do you ever have time to truly reflect?  To remember?  To process?  To pray?  To grieve?  When we distract ourselves from sadness or pain so that we never face it or feel it, do we ever really heal?

My fear is that the lack of quiet is stunting our emotional growth.  We are so preoccupied with external voices speaking all day long that our internal voice is often ignored.  I don’t want that to be the case in my life.  Rather than constantly allowing someone else to control what I think about, I want to choose daily to walk through the experiences in my life and be fully present within them.  This means spending some time every day just thinking…expressing my gratitude, reflecting on my victories and struggles, acknowledging my hurt, praying, remembering, and hopefully, growing.

I know quiet can be hard, but I believe it’s worthwhile.  Regardless of how often William chooses to pursue it, I don’t ever want him to be uncomfortable with it.  Rather than viewing quiet as a lack of something, I want him to see it as a gift of time for just him.  And so…we walk.  And while I treasure the chats we have during the rest of the day, sometimes our most incredible conversation can be found within those quiet strolls.

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