Maybe That’s Enough Joy

I caught myself staring across the street at the neighbor’s this afternoon.

They have two teenagers—one girl, one boy. Nice family.

The boy has even shoveled my driveway in the past, despite the fact I have called him by the wrong name a few times.

My husband and I want a lot of kids, and by a lot, I mean more than 3, which is unfortunately considered a large family these days.20170420_172025

Since marrying and having children, I have wondered why anyone would choose to have just one or two kids and stop there. I have such a strong desire to have a large family, with a lot of grandkids running around, always a daughter or daughter-in-law to hang out with on a boring Saturday.

However, as I stared across the street to the neighbor’s, the thought crossed my mind for the first time, that perhaps my life would be easier if I would just stop at two kids.

Lately, motherhood has been hard, and I have found little joy in it.

Wait… am I allowed to admit that?

My sons aren’t sleeping and have been sick constantly for the past month. There has not been much to rejoice in.

If I were to stop at two kids, I could go back to teaching.

If I were to stop at two kids, I could maybe afford something for myself someday.

If I were to stop at two kids, I would only have two humans to keep alive, to worry about, to train up in the ways of the Lord—I would only have two humans to screw up.

If I were to stop at two kids, I would only have two college tuitions with which to scrape up money.

20170425_205435If I were to stop at two kids, a good night sleep might be nearer than I previously imagined.

If I were to stop at two kids, maybe I could take my life back, find some freedom, breathe a little.

So, to all my readers, now you know I’m selfish—disgustingly self-centered and entitled. Gasp. How could I admit something so dreadful, so personal? Um… we are all disgustingly self-centered and entitled— we are all sinners. I’m confident every parent, in every house, on every street, in every country, struggles to overcome their selfishness to raise their self-absorbed mini humans.

It’s because children take everything. They take your wits, your strengths, your time, 20170416_141733your freedom, and they take advantage of your weaknesses, wringing them out until you have no choice but to toss them aside, along with parts of yourself, and keep fighting.

There is good news, though. In order to parent the next generation, the Lord does not ask us to submit to our children’s needs and desires, only to stop recognizing who we once were when we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror.

No. In order to parent the next generation, the Lord asks us to submit to His will, His call, His desires. Whether you’re a parent or not, you are called to die to yourself and serve and honor the Lord. If you’ve been asked to do this in the shape of a parent, it is no different. You are honoring your Father by being a parent to His children. There is no greater, nor is there a more difficult calling.20170422_190447

Each time you deal with a day of constant tantrums, each time you sacrifice what you want for your kids, each time you give up another Saturday morning for your child’s activities, you have served the Lord. You have honored Him, by seeking out the joy in the life He has given you.

Finding the joy in motherhood can be difficult at times. However, the joy that it brings cannot be matched by any other experience on Earth. World travel will not match a mother’s joy. Money will not match a mother’s joy. A good night’s sleep will not even match a mother’s joy. For even though a mother has much to suffer through as she raises her Christians, she has even more bliss to revel in, to bask in.

She will revel in her child playing his own game with an imaginary monkey and shark. She will revel in her children growing up to serve God in their own way.  She will revel in all the dancing, the singing, and the laughing that comes with motherhood. She will revel in it all—and it is all joy.

20170422_184234She will even find joy in the struggle of it all, because it is in this struggle, that the Lord will refine her and make her more like Him. In the end, that is not a struggle, that is a blessing.

So, how many children do I want?

A bunch.

As many as the Lord thinks I can handle.

You can never have enough joy.

Posted in Adulthood, Christianity, Family, Motherhood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Day God Answered my Prayers with my Worst Fear

In the Bible, God tells us to fear nothing 466 times.  In the Bible’s 66 books and 31,102 verses, fear not is God’s most frequent command to His children.

joshuaIn the first chapter of Joshua, the words “be strong and courageous” are spoken four times in just 18 verses. God says it to Joshua three times, and Joshua’s men say it once. God also reminds Joshua not to be afraid several more times throughout his journey toward the promised land.

Joshua was facing a nearly impossible situation, entirely impossible if you view the world without God’s abundant grace and power. His mentor and leader, Moses, had just died, and the Lord appointed him to continue Moses’ mission by leading the Israelites to the promised land. In order to gain access to the promised land, the Israelites had to defeat a large number of tribes, all encompassing Israel’s seven enemies. God’s people faced multiple setbacks as they progressed further into Canaan.

They had to cross the Jordan River, which looked impossible.

They had to defeat a strong city with impenetrable walls, which looked impossible.

They had to make a second attempt at defeating Ai, having lost the first time, which looked impossible.

Throughout this war, Joshua is the pinnacle of strength and courage, just as the Lord commanded him. However, he was just a man, and I have little doubt that his faith wavered and nearly broke numerous times throughout his conquest of this land. There is no way around this conclusion. The things that the Lord asked of Joshua were impossible by human standards, and it was only through the miraculous intervention of God that the Israelites were able to conquer the land.

fear-2083657_1280Since God tells his people not to fear 466 times in His word, He surely knew fear would be a strong and real presence in His children’s lives. I’ve realized with my children, that just as we are born sinners, we are born fearful. My youngest son is beginning to panic and cry when I am out of sight, just as all babies do. This is revealing a baby’s fear that he will be left alone. As a child grows, he begins to fear the dark, monsters, the first day of school, losing his friends, not fitting in, getting cut from the basketball team, etc.

When he becomes a man, he will fear just as often, but his concerns will be with much different things. We are born fearful, so why does the Lord command us so many times to do such an impossible thing as not to fear?

I have lived with a fear, some would call it a phobia, all my life. It has followed me around throughout many of my days like a shadow, and I have never been able to fully escape it. There have been moments in my life where it has become debilitating, where it took control of me and my logic escaped me. I thank God for the moments I have been able to control it, and push it far away from the forefront of my thought.

Since it has mostly just been a quiet, gnawing within me, I have ignored it most of my life, dreading the day it took control of me once again. Part of me thinks since I have been afraid for so long, it is more instinctual than anything else, like my brain has been trained to be afraid, more so than I have been given any reason to fear.

I have hesitated to pray for healing, because of the painful knowledge that the Lord often answers our prayers by making us face the things we don’t want to face. Since I have known this fear would dramatically affect the way I parent my children, I began praying vehemently to be freed from it just two weeks ago. This is the first time in my life I have begged the Lord for healing.

In these two weeks, I have had to face my fear not once, but twice. God immersed me in it so much that I was unable to escape it, unable to run, which is how I had been handling it throughout my life. Just like Joshua was asked to do the impossible, I was also asked to do the impossible.

A life without fear is the way the Lord intended us to live, before sin seeped into our world. A life without fear would be indescribable, and humanity would be unstoppable. My life without this fear would be the epitome of freedom. It is my hope that someday it will not define me, but that Christ will define me. It is my hope that someday this fear is such a distant memory, that I laugh about it with my husband. It is my hope that whether the Lord frees me from my fear or whether I struggle with it until I see Him in paradise, that He will use it for His glory, that my suffering will serve His purpose.forest-1529055_1920

Even though all of us have fears, we need to remember to credit the One who always carries us through them. I have never been able to follow God’s command to not be afraid, but He has never failed to prove His promise, originally made to Joshua, but now for us all, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

God never fails us. In the deepest, darkest hours of our worst and strongest fears, the Lord works, and the Lord remains our King. It is Satan who tells us to be afraid; it is Satan who tells us there is anything to fear at all. Satan has been whispering lies to me my whole life, and I believed him, and have allowed him to gain strength within my mind.

boards-2040575_1920If we could only see how impenetrable and immovable God’s protection really is, we wouldn’t dream of being afraid of anything. However, when God tells us to fear nothing, He knows we will fail. We will fail every time. The beauty of the Lord, however, is that He works in our weaknesses, and it is our weaknesses that often bring Him the most recognition and the most glory, for it is in our weakness that we call upon Him, plead with Him, and depend upon Him.

In our fears, in our joys, in our triumphs, and in our sorrows, all praise be to our Father.

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Why my Husband’s Illness was the Best Thing to Happen to Us

When I am in the midst of a storm and panicking, I often imagine God trying desperately to get me to see the bigger picture—that my suffering is part of a much greater plan, a plan I could never imagine for myself. When I face a trial, however, the only thing I can see is the trial, and God often becomes a distant memory…

In the middle of August, my husband began complaining of a sore throat and ended up suffering from a three-day cold. The cold went away, and about three days later, he began complaining of a sore throat again. My wifely intuition told me that was a bit weird, so I pushed him further, and he assured me he was fine. Within a week, he was back in bed, and unable to go to work.

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My husband was sick, on and off, for the next two months. His fatigue was so extreme, there were moments that I fought the urge to scoop him up and rush him to the ER, panicked he may fall asleep and not wake up again. Since my husband is the sole wage earner in our home, I was not only wracked with worry for my husband, but also for our future, as I often imagined the worst-case scenario—my husband would become debilitated from the fatigue and would never return to work.

I wish I could say that through this time, I was the epitome of strength and faith—that I never once cried out to God is panic, doubt, and fear. I cannot say that. As my husband and I fought countless doctors for a diagnosis, and my husband’s boss became increasingly less understanding, I often could do nothing but beg the Lord to pull us out of this situation.

He didn’t—not at first.

Financially crippled, I will never forget the nights I lied awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering why God asked me to be a stay-at-home mom, only to send me back to work 18 months later. There were moments I was confident in our decision and confident the Lord would find a way for us. There were other moments I was certain He had left us, and we were alone.

Doctors were not able to tell us what was wrong with my husband, and we were certainly stumped—that is until he quit his job. Having filled out roughly 25 applications in the two months my husband was struggling, one job came through, and he has been there ever since. His health issues have never returned once he walked away from his job, where the stress was literally killing him.20170413_151411

I have no doubt there are people reading this that are in a struggle of their own. It is my prayer that this will offer some hope and comfort to them as they wait for their prayers to be answered. Even though my husband’s illness was the most terrifying experience I have ever endured, it was also the best thing that ever happened to our family. Here’s why:

Change. A job that seemed like an answer to prayer, quickly morphed into a series of broken promises, and the cause of constant arguments in our marriage. I had begged my husband for months and months to walk away from it, but the only way he was finally willing to walk out the door, was when it made him sick.

Marriage. Going through an incredibly difficult experience with my spouse brought us closer together than I could have ever imagined. Our marriage has improved in inexplicable ways since my husband got sick. We talk more; we laugh more; we trust more; most of all, we serve the Lord together.

Faith. My husband and I grew up in the church and definitely trusted the Lord with our lives; however, since facing a seemingly hopeless situation, our faith has reached new heights, especially my husband’s. He has begun to serve our church with an unmatched passion, we constantly converse about God and His abundant grace, and he has stepped up to become the kind of spiritual leader of our family that I always wanted him to be.

Dependence. When my husband switched jobs, we had to adjust to a rather dramatic pay cut. Struggling financially has been more of a blessing to us than anything else. It has allowed us to depend on the Father in ways we never would have imagined when we were financially comfortable. It has given God the opportunity to show us His vast provisions, and, despite my hope that someday we will be able to give back to the Lord financially, I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.

Time. My husband is no longer consumed by the responsibilities of running a hardware 20170219_205909store. His focus has switched from his job to his family, and the time we are able to spend with him now has been a great blessing to us. He is home at a consistent time every evening, and he is carefree enough to enjoy the evenings with his sons. I would give up all the money in the world for this to continue.

Confidence.  Since God brought us through such a difficult situation, my husband and I now have gained the confidence to go after what we really want in life. We have explored many options, and we know, even if we take a step that involves risk, we can be assured that the Lord walks with us, and will provide for us along the way.

I never imagined I would look back on this time and consider it a blessing, but there is no other word for it. I know I will never take my husband’s health for granted again. Our life has changed immensely since my husband became ill, and even though life is still uncertain, especially financially, I have seen firsthand the love God has for his struggling children, and the way He uses a trial for His glory.

The only option a Christian has when all seems lost is to turn to the Father and trust Him all the way through it. There is always a way through it.

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When God Moves

Sometimes the Lord moves in a whisper, a barely detectable draft with not even enough power to lift a few strands of hair. You lift your prayers to heaven and they seem to go unanswered, as you try to keep your eyes on the horizon, fanning your faith like a flame about to burn out. You flip the pages of your Bible, a mixture of obligation and desperation, surely those pages contain the answer, the answer to your burning question, “Where has God gone?” Your prayers continue only because of your innate awareness, programmed inside of you through years of knowing Christ, that an answer will come.praying

Despite your waning belief, prayer has become more instinctual than anything else, a means to survival, a piece of bread in a famine. Everything you’ve ever learned about the Lord tells you He must be listening, but your faith is struggling beneath a heavy mass of doubt and fear.

Your prayers have dwindled to a few a day, having malformed into more of a frantic plea than a hopeful petition. Pushing your anger and doubt away, despite all logic, you cling to the only life raft you’ve ever known – your faith—nearly forcing yourself to fall on your knees and beg the Lord to come more powerfully, to rescue you and pull you out of this storm.

Just when your delicate faith threatens to shatter if hit once more, the Lord finally moves. In a windstorm of hope and aha moments, His presence becomes not only obvious, but impossible to ignore. As this tornado whirls through your home, signs of the Lord’s goodness settle upon every surface of your life like dust. As the pieces fall together and His answers come in waves, crashing against your life while you drink up the hope you almost lost for good, your house and family seem to almost float upon His beautiful and constant plan, ebbing and flowing according to God’s design.

Having doubted His presence a short time ago, you are now entirely content with handing it to God, allowing Him to work, and hanging on tightly to the promise that His plan has been there all along, hiding just outside your line of sight.

wave-1939190_1280When things settle down, your household still giddy from the infusion of faith God provided, you have a chance to look back on the pain you endured, yet conquered. It does not take long to recognize God’s mighty hand upon each prayer you prayed and each tear you cried.

Resting once again in calm waters, you lift your eyes to the skies and thank Him for your suffering, for it was this suffering that allowed you to see God’s promise fulfilled – He will always show up, and He is always moving.

“I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” ~Hebrews 13:5

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A New Creation

I’m dead.

Yep, dead as a door nail.

Nail down the coffin, people.

I am entirely unresponsive to the world around me.

Dead.

Don’t plan my funereal yet though, that would just be weird.grave-2036220_1280

Allow me to explain…

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the Bible says that in Christ, we are a new creation. In fact, Paul explains it further by saying that old things have passed away and all things have become new. Notice that Paul does not say some things have become new, or you have become new, or the world has become new. No. Paul says all things have become new for those who live in Christ Jesus.

I have always had a rather ambivalent relationship with Paul’s words. There is nothing more encouraging or edifying to know that Christ frees us in such a way that we become a brand new creation.

Just as many times as this verse has encouraged me, it has confounded and alarmed me. I am not certain when I became a Christian; I pretty much just always loved Jesus. I could tell you when my faith became my own, instead of my parents’, but I did not have a defining moment where the Lord saved me. I often wonder if Paul’s words would have a more potent impact upon me if I hadn’t always been a Christian—if I had a “me before Jesus” with which to compare myself.

I know I have grown more in love with Christ as I have entered adulthood, and I know my faith has matured in immeasurable ways; however, I don’t know that I see myself as a new creation. I am still pretty much who I have always been. I continue to struggle with the same sins I was struggling with as a young girl; they may look different now, but they are the same. I can be unimaginably prideful, and impeccably self-absorbed; I tend to envy one’s success long before I rejoice in it; I seek my own glory before I seek my Father’s, and I am impatient beyond logic.

How is this kind of mess a new creation?

Romans 6:4 says, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”grave-2115941_1280

Read that verse again. I mean, really read it.

Paul says we were buried with Him…Whoa. I don’t recall being held up in a tomb for three days with the Son of God. I guarantee I would not have been as chill about it as Jesus was.

Colossians 2:11 also describes Christians as being buried with Jesus through baptism, but it goes further to say not only was Christ raised from the dead, but so were we.

Colossians 3 reminds us again that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God.

This begs the question that if we are dead, how then should we live on this earth?

It’s hard to be dead and alive at the same time, even for the most gifted of people.

woman-591576_1280Colossians 3 says more, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

Christ is life. Christ is life. Christ is life.

There are countless verses that address being dead to the world and alive in Christ. Galatians 3:26-27 says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

Colossians touches on this same concept in chapter 2 by saying a Christian puts off the body of the things of the flesh…

If my faith in Christ allows me to drape Him over my shoulders like a blanket and traipse around like a beacon for Jesus, then I must simultaneously clothe myself in newness of life—my new man—killing my old self.  

In fact, Ephesians 4 says this of a Christian: putting off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Despite all this evidence, the problem many Christians have with this idea is that our old self seems to still live, lurking in the shadows of our hearts, revealing himself or herself countless times throughout the course of one day—this old self is our sin, and it has the power to eat us alive if we don’t let Christ fight it.

Our old self fears sin, fears the world, fears failure—fears everything. Putting on Christ each day and making Him our life does not mean sin no longer exists within us: it means that sin no longer controls us; it becomes so powerless, in fact, that it is dead. Christ has given us a weapon with which to fight this sin, and the ultimate gift when we lose that fight – forgiveness.

For many of us, choosing to truly believe this is half the battle.

Jesus was buried with our sin, our muck, our nastiness, our filth. It is no longer ours, but His. Being a new creation does not mean that I no longer sin. When the world looks at me, it sees little change between who I am and who I once was. However, it is what God sees when He looks at me that truly makes the difference.  20170309_142125

He sees His pristine and perfect child, dead to the world, yet alive and well in Christ. He sees a woman who has her mind set on things above.

My master is no longer sin; my master is God.

This is freedom.

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Sam.

I used to have a best friend named Sam.

She lived on the other side of the forest, a few blocks down. We spent a lot of time in that forest, imagining trouble, and sometimes actually causing it. Sam was bolder than me. She had what my mom would call, a glint in her eye. She wasn’t afraid of adults and she wasn’t afraid to get in trouble. I, on the other hand, earned the nickname Miss Goody Two Shoes quite early on in my childhood, so I always envied this quality in Sam. For instance, when we were about ten, we sent my mom into a tizzy when she couldn’t find us one afternoon. We were on the other side of the forest enjoying some lemonade with some strangers who invited us in for a cup. Without Sam, I wouldn’t have dared, but with her… I was invincible. My mom was not pleased.

sam3Sam gave me Porkchop at my 8th birthday party. I insisted on inviting every girl in the 2nd grade class. It was probably one of the most disastrous experiences of my childhood; however, I still have my gift from Sam. I actually passed it down to my son. A tiny lion, called a pocket pal, filled with beans. I slept with it from the day I turned 8 until the day I turned 18. Since he was easy to conceal, I had him stashed in my college dorm room. Then, I had him stashed in a keepsake box. Now, I have him stashed in my son’s closet.

Sam may have been a bit of a trouble maker, but she eradicated more trouble than she caused. I remember one particular example quite well, another birthday party. I was turning sixteen and was squeezing every minute out of it in my green, cement basement with a large collection of friends—some may have only been acquaintances. Things took a negative turn when two rough looking boys showed up unannounced. Miss Goody Two Shoes was not impressed with some stunts they were pulling in my basement. Sam found me crying in my parents’ exercise room because they had ruined my birthday. She released me from any reason to cry, with her impeccable ability to listen and make things right. It is even more impressive that she pulled this off, since she is the one who invited the boys in the first place.

Sam had a quality about her that I could never quite put my finger on. I always thought she was rather nosey, but I never had any qualms about letting her put her nose wherever she wanted. It was because she cared for me, even when we began to grow apart in high school, I knew she really, genuinely cared for all of us. Not only that, Sam was the girl to seek out when you were looking for gossip. She was the queen of knowing everything. I loved that about her.sam4

Some of my most exhilarating memories from my childhood have Sam in them; she is the leading lady in most of them. Sam and I spent an entire summer with our feet hanging off a handsome boy’s tailgate as he did circles around our Podunk town. It would be late and approaching my curfew, but it was hard to care when I was sitting next to Sam singing “Too Much Fun” at the top of my lungs.

Even though my parents believed her to be a rather negative influence on me, I never got into any real trouble with Sam by my side. I mostly just had the time of my life. She always took me home when I mentioned my curfew, and she never rolled her eyes at my inability to disobey my parents. The only time I remember her genuinely “corrupting” me was when she double-dog-dared me to yell the f-word at the top my lungs. Don’t forget my nickname. It took a lot of persuading, but Miss Goody Two Shoes eventually stood up on that dugout (I have no idea why we were sitting on a dugout) and yelled it. This was just another moment that Sam made me feel free, like I had some invisible shell that only she could see.

She eventually moved even closer to me, just a few blocks down the street across from the railroad tracks. I can’t imagine how boring my high school experience would have been had she not been right down the street. Her basement was the location of many unusual, yet always legal and, more importantly, God-fearing activities. Without Sam, I think I would have conversed with two boys during all four years of high school. But in Sam’s basement, I had more boys to flirt with than I ever had in English class. Sam was a great flirt; I sucked at it. The point is, Sam always made me feel like I could flirt, like I had nothing to lose. She made everyone feel like that.

I learned a lot from Sam. Most of the life lessons she shared with me were discussed on the top of a grain elevator. We thought we were such rebels. I didn’t find out until later that nearly every teenager in our town spent a good deal of time on the elevator, but still, we were trespassing and we felt dangerous. One morning, around five a.m., Sam and I snuck out of her parents’ house and walked to the elevator. We weren’t trying to break every rule in the book, we simply wanted to watch the sunrise from the highest point on the grain elevator, and we were determined.

I have thought back to that moment many times in my adulthood, sitting atop a grain elevator, discussing every topic from the most shallow to the most profound. I had seen countless sunsets with Sam, but this was the only sunrise I ever watched with her. I can still see her silhouette against the soft glow of the horizon, but what I didn’t know in those moments, was that I was taking her for granted, that one day she would not be there and I would only have the memory of everything she taught me.
sam5Despite growing apart as we became teenagers, I still remember spending so much time with Sam. She was my first friend, and she was the only one who never completely went away. We were so proud when we would tell people we’d been friends since we were two: We thought we had accomplished some impossible feat. The impossible feat would have been for us to continue to speak after high school—we didn’t.

Sam was not perfect—she’d be the first to tell you that. She knew her imperfections and she had plenty of insecurities, but she was an incredible friend. I would give anything to go back to our college years and somehow stay in touch with her. Even though she’s gone now, I am always surprised by how often I think of her and how often I catch myself mentioning her to my husband, who never knew her. I didn’t realize how big of an impact she had on my life, until the chances of her impacting it again became impossible. I wish I could share every memory I have of Sam—I can’t believe how many there are.

She was extraordinary, and she took away any chance of me ever hearing “Too Much Fun” by Daryle Singletary without lifting my eyes and asking Sam to sing it with me.

I do know one thing. I know she knew the Lord. I don’t know how much she knew Him in the days before her death, but if I know Sam, she never stopped seeking Him.sam

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A Light on a Dark Street

Claire shivers. She has stood on her front step long enough now that the damp, morning air has settled on her shoulders. She doesn’t even remember how to dress for a run in this cool weather. She considers going back inside to get a hat, but when remembering the chaos within, decides against it. Despite the guilt for leaving her husband to tend to their five children, Claire knows she must somehow force herself off her front steps and onto the sidewalk.

Taking a deep breath, she tries to resurrect her old self, the woman that used to run 100 miles a week with no problem. Now it’s been over three years since she’s run after anything other than a defiant, squealing toddler. Trying to get her out the door this morning, her husband told her she has nothing to lose. He was wrong—If she discovers there is no longer a runner inside her, that she has officially become just a mom, she would lose plenty.

running-573762_1280Setting off down the sidewalk, she feels sluggish and considers turning back with each step, but once she reaches the first avenue intersecting her street, she starts to gain momentum—her breathing evens out, establishes a familiar rhythm, and she starts to smile. Her lungs welcome the clean, cold air as her eyes flit to the right and to the left. There isn’t much to see other than the houses lined up on both sides, and she wonders what’s going on inside.

As she enjoys a perfectly timed deep breath, she thinks of how her husband is doing at home.

***

The bacon has come to life as Brad frantically searches for the lid to the frying pan, while one kid hangs on his leg and the other screams in his arms. His third born stands at attention and repeats a word Brad should have substituted with crap as the grease spots stain his church clothes. He should have known better than to get dressed before he cooked breakfast. He is just desperate to cook a meal that will impress his wife when she comes home from her run. She deserves to jump one less hurdle to get all five kids out the door in time for church. Brad is beginning to think that perhaps helping with breakfast was not a wise choice.

Within minutes, the kids are seated and eating. Feeling accomplished like he has just summited Mount Everest, Brad swipes a piece of bacon from Number 4’s plate. The feeling of triumph quickly shifts to trepidation as he turns around to see what he’s done to the kitchen—there’s that word again, slipping out rebelliously between his lips. He immediately pictures Claire in her church clothes on her hands and knees anxiously cleaning up this mess and shouting out orders for the kids to get their shoes on. It seems all he did was add one more hurdle for his wife to deal with.

He sighs and gazes across the street to Allen’s immaculately shoveled driveway.

***

houses-691586_1280Allen woke up looking for a fight. He can’t believe it’s Sunday already. Even though the days seem to pass slower than his days recovering in a Vietnam medic tent, Sunday always sneaks up on him, waiting to break his heart all over again.

Each Sunday, he rises at 5:30. He’d give anything to sleep until noon, wasting his life with pointless sleep is his only aim. Too bad his damn wife made him wake up before the sun on their first day of marriage, and sixty years later, he can’t even manage to sleep until 5:31—another reason his life is the epitome of misery.

He slogs out to the living room and lowers himself into his chair, careful not to look at the ostentatious floral ottoman sitting next to it. He stares at the floor for a few minutes before he musters up the resolve to look outside. The street is always so quiet on a Sunday morning—no doubt due to all the Heathens that Allen was sure surrounded his home. There’s that Claire running by, or was it Clara or Carla or Mary? He didn’t care. It’s no wonder her kids are always running wild: she shouldn’t have the time to go for a run when she’s got a zoo to feed at home. It’s so typical of a mother nowadays to avoid housework—all those women care about is how they look and how much money they can spend. Allen’s wife was never like that. She cared about everyone’s happiness but her own. He shudders at the idea that perhaps this is why she is not with him anymore.

If she was still here, sitting on that God-awful ottoman she just had to have, he would most certainly already be in his church clothes, eating one of her famous omelets. She would be eating her toast as they discussed the kids and grandkids. She would laugh and roll her eyes when he dropped a forkful on his tie, and then she’d scold him for swearing. He’d grunt–and take her for granted, like he always did. Then they’d go to church, hand in hand. She would smile and greet everyone in the building, as he found their spot in the pew—the same every Sunday. She was there for God and his people. He was there for her. That’s just the way it was.

Allen sighs, trying to deny that he misses church, and gazes over at the house of that lowlife, Tom.

***

Yep. It’s official. Jordan has been yelling all morning. She yelled at David when he woke up too early. She yelled at Charlie when he spilled Cheerios, and just to make things fair, she yelled at Sara when she emptied all her toys onto the floor.

womanShe walks over to the window to breathe and refocus just as Claire runs by. She would give anything to have a little time to herself—even if that time was spent running. She hates running—of course—probably because Tom did. She used to be friends with Claire, but now she can’t help but hate her…and her family. They are happy and it disgusts Jordan. Every Sunday, they flit off in their minivan, perfect clothes and perfect hair, to worship a God that seems to have completely disowned Jordan.

She quickly busies herself with the dishes to get Tom out of her mind, as her three children wreak havoc on the living room she just picked up. She ignores it all and escapes into her head, repeating her mantra, You can’t break. You can’t break. You can’t break. This has been her mantra for the past 10 months—the longest 10 months of her life. She finds it disgusting that after nearly a year she still expects Tom to walk through the door, as if he might miss them or something.

Her hand is warm and wet with blood as she bends down to sweep up the glass. Her daughter is crying and the boys are simply staring at her, with worry and fear in their eyes. She doesn’t know what triggered her to throw the plate at the wall. She must have learned that from Tom, too.

Sensing their judgment, she screams at her kids to get out of the way, shaking and wracked with hatred for her life.

She finally broke—10 months was all she had in her.

***

Claire practically skips into the house, feeling reborn. She barely made it thirty minutes—her legs, chest, and arms burning, and yet she knows it is the start of something great. Her skip slows, however, as she is welcomed by a thick, reeking fog inside her home. Bacon. Unmistakable.

Her firstborn crawls to greet her, still in her pajamas. Claire tries desperately to stay upbeat as she glances at the clock—one hour until they need to leave.

“Brad!” she calls out.

Coming around the corner, Brad explains, “Honey, I’m so sorry. Breakfast took longer than I thought it would and the kids are just wild this morning.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. I was only gone thirty minutes,” Claire mumbles as she picks up the youngest and hustles upstairs to get her dressed.

***

“Mom, maybe we just shouldn’t go to church. Amy isn’t even dressed yet.”

“We are absolutely going to church! Get your shoes on!” Claire glances around hurriedly, counting her children, “Everyone get your shoes on; we have five minutes!”

Knowing he can’t be of any help, Brad has been sheepish since Claire returned from her run. He has learned through the years that once his wife becomes more efficient than an Olympic speed skater, it is best to just stay out of her way rather than try to help.

“Brad! Are you even going to help me?”

Brad tries to be the calm one, “Yes, of course. What do you want me to help with?”

“Obviously put Sam’s shoes on!”

***

No one is more surprised than Claire when they manage to back out of the driveway at 10:08 which should put them in the church parking lot at 10:28.

traffic-light-876055_1280With the kids chatting and smacking one another in the backseat, Claire sighs heavily, already mentally repenting for getting so frazzled and angry at Brad.

She glances over at him, so focused and intent upon the road, but she doesn’t know how to make the first move. She is so good at acting like a complete basket case sometimes–She wonders how annoyed Brad is, since she manages to drive herself crazy. He probably would rather I not talk for a bit, she thinks. As this thought crosses her mind, she sees Brad’s mouth twitch ever so slightly when he pulls up to a stoplight.

She pretends not to notice and intently watches the red glow in front of them, but when she feels Brad’s hand in her own, she knows that all is forgiven and settles a little more comfortably in her seat.

***

As Claire sighs at 10:08 and glances over at her husband, she is too distracted to notice Jordan peering from her living room window. Jordan will never know that her name is on a post-it by Claire’s bed, reminding her to pray for Jordan and her children every night. Claire will never know that as she rushes off to church every Sunday, drowning in stress and sin and family tumult, Jordan grows in curiosity about her God and what he might have to offer a single mom with three misbehaved children.

***

Brad is busy trying to convince himself to forgive his wife and himself for a fight that has become too common. As he drives by house number 1204, he does not even consider that past Allen’s freshly shoveled driveway is a man who desperately misses his wife, and his wife’s faith, which always kept him going. Brad does not know that underneath Allen’s constant irritable comments about him and his family, is a man who enjoys watching them pile into their van every Sunday, because it reminds him so much of a time past, when he was happier. Brad will never consider that perhaps his family’s imperfections will lead a grieving old man back into a church, where he will find peace and joy once again.

***

couple-1845334_1280Instead in their humble faith, Brad and Claire enjoy a quiet moment with their fingers entwined, despite the ruckus stemming from the backseat, as they press on in raising five more lights in a dark world.

***

You are a light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Matthew 5:14-16

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