Thursday, July 26, 2012

Embracing 35

In exactly three months, I will turn 35. I am often reminded, in my own mind and wanderings, that my older brother did not reach this milestone. Tim will always linger at the cusp of 35, with six weeks remaining in the age 34. He realized the Lord had spared him, and was gracious in the miracle, and as a result, Tim assembled a list of events he would have missed had he died during his first aortic dissection event in 2003, at the age of 27. The list included Jeni’s graduation from PA school, Daryl’s BA graduation, Daryl & Sara’s wedding, the birth of his three children, the birth of his three nieces (my daughters), extended family weddings, his best friend Brian’s wedding to Stephanie, and Tim and Daryl receiving their Master’s Degree in the same graduation ceremony.
I know Tim felt incredibly blessed to have witnessed these tremendous events in his life, and in a real sense, his presence at each offered the culmination of God’s blessing and grace, coupled with the ability of a reward: these events were the result of many years of prayers, wise counsel, and effort toward a beginning, of marriage, children, or a degree, all of which his attendance brought sparkle and comfort. Tim was indeed the one who planned family events, brought wisdom and humor to those gatherings, and remained a steady presence.
The age that is approaching is not an age which I fear, although I realized – and hoped – this moment would be upon me, of turning 35, I doubt anyone anticipates outliving an older sibling. In the early days of grieving, I suspected there were probably unattained dreams and accomplishments which lingered in Tim’s mind and idealism, which he seemed to never accomplish, and later I have realized that perhaps while those dreams were valid and honorable, they were not intended for Tim’s life. This has been a difficult reality to accept.
Additionally, I cannot expect that my own journey or experiences will mirror Tim’s own life journey, nor do I imagine that I will undergo the exact surgery or challenges that he faced at this time. Tim stepped into each difficulty – even the death of a friend just months before his own – with a peace and security in the Lord rarely witnessed from a man of his age. The spiritual depth and study with which he lived was a genuine example, one which I would be wise to follow and seek to emulate. In a sense, Tim’s life at 34 was different from my own life at 34. His children were quite young, ages 5, 3, almost 1, and Tim's family were in the midst of early years of establishing a family and home life, of developing tiny characters. Those early years are especially exhausting physically and emotionally.
When I turn 35, my daughters will be ages 8, 6, and 6, with my eldest in 3rd grade and twins in Kindergarten, and all three will attend elementary school all day, altering the established schoolyear routine I had previously grown fond of: quality time with my younger daughters during the school day, and special after school moments with my oldest, of snacktime and homework and snuggles.
However, this summer has afforded much opportunity for quality time, with evening walks as a family when daddy returns home from church, board game nights, exploring our local mountain zoo, mornings working through educational workbooks, afternoons filled with backyard playtime of swimming in the mini paddling pool (which barely fits 3 little girls!), blowing bubbles, chasing butterflies, library reading programs, park adventures, free evenings at museums, and other exciting summer blessings.
A majority of our greatest moments together – of cuddling on the couch, watching “Anne of Green Gables” or reading the Little House on the Prairie series, among other great times – involves our complete devotion toward time, toward offering our energy and playful enthusiasm toward whatever interests our daughters. Even daddy has grown fond of the Strawberry Shortcakes game box, with four “berry fun” games. Sometimes we allow them to pace our day, with their desire to stay home and play house, animals, dollhouse, or other imaginative games, and other times we challenge them, with outings that stretch their abilities and encourage them toward loving others, offering a helping hug, stepping out in new friendship.
And, most of our favorite moments do not involve money, computers, or the television, and without fear of sounding archaic or outdated, I have purposefully rejected the notion of the Internet on my cell phone. While at the park, my cell phone is in my pocket, only utilized for emergency telephone calls, and instead, my intention is for playing enthusiastically at the park with my daughters. Perhaps in a few years, they will desire other activities, with friends, or at church youth group, surrounded with activities like summer camp, or sports or music or art which may occupy much of their time.
Yet these current fleeting moments will not settle into my mind as regrets. Even now, while writing about my experiences, my girls are settling into their evening routines, with last-minute princess-doll-baby-tea-animal games, of which they request I do not participate, unless I provide my own dolls and animals. They are assembling their rooms for bedtime, and in a few short moments will be sleeping peacefully. Earlier in the day, our couches, tables, and chairs were covered with books they are reading, fake bottles with disappearing milk, feeding sets for their babies, blankets covering beloved stuffed animals, girly toys, beaded jewelry they made at Oma & Opa’s house, and other pink, purple or sparkly, glittery, items.
In those moments, I have no place to sit, and even our kitchen chairs are filled with items, yet we laugh at their excitement for playtime. In those moments, the house looks like a small unique toy store, with items displayed for purchase, or some museum for little girls. Later, our girls found proper places for their items, and our living room returned to the simple setup of a couch, a loveseat, and a chair, which are now seemingly boring in light of the previous display!
Now, they have gathering the tea set into the box for another day, assembled books on their shelves, are tightly tucking their dolls into corners of their beds, in case those dolls are wild sleepers and fall out of bed, and placing knitted miniature blankets on their animals, to keep them warm. Many items, like the twenty books my eldest daughter insists on reading each morning, lay scattered in happy piles around their rooms, and I cannot bear to scoop everything into one efficient giant pile of everything, since they are organized in their own way. I am learning to watch them carefully, to examine their personalities and styles, and help them toward their best self, with particular ways of achieving those character traits. Tonight is not for organizing, but for acceptance, and we will teach additional lessons in the days ahead.
In remaining open to all the delightful adventures the Lord has for us, I am stepping into another season of life, involving work, of finding a part-time job to supplement our meager income, to offer us an edge of breathing room in life.
I sincerely hope that as we progress into this next adventure, of three daughters in elementary school and me working again, we can all journey together in grace, sensitivity, love, and willingness. I know I will miss the cuddles, helpful spirits, and generally cute noise of little girls singing and playing and loving in my home every day, and will always eagerly anticipate the 2:30pm school pickup time. Our afternoons will be filled with laughter, catching up on our days, snack times, homework, and a general sense of togetherness, as we welcome daddy back home in the evening and share together at the dinner table.
I am fully aware that as a mother, these seasons of change are sweet and provide ample opportunities for growth and blessing. Our summer days are truly filled with wonderful memories, yet are also intermixed with arguments, battling siblings, tears, frustrations, and the need for personal space away from nosy sisters. Perhaps these are all normal happenings, with their growth at interpersonal relationships, expressing their feelings, achieving success in sharing and giving.
And, those seasons of early parenting did not always feel especially warm or cozy in the midst of trials and difficulties, yet were sprinkled together with blessings and challenges, of those earliest years of childbirth, three girls in diapers, the silly twin who refused a bottle, always, and pushed me toward breastfeeding my twins for an entire year (for which I was later thankful), moving 300 miles away from family when our daughters were tiny babies (our eldest being only 2 years old and twins 3 months old), potty training, the general idea of cleaning and wiping again and again, the overall zany and exhausting and perplexing, yet happy life of a pastoral family, the busyness of three tiny girls; along with many positive moments, marvelous experiences of friendships developed in MOPS group and at church and school, and the love our girls have provided to us. All of these adventures are not lost moments, yet remain as generous memories, coupled with opportunities to reach other mothers in their early years of raising children, which I hope to remain involved in over this next season of mentoring new, young mothers in our church.
My surprising and brief emotional tears this summer, in unexpected moments, will transform to beaming smiles of readiness, as we welcome in the new schoolyear in three weeks. My three daughters are ready for their next step of adventure, and J.P. and I are eager to unveil all the wonderful opportunities of this new era. We all journey together, beyond 35.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Life Well-Lived

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." - Psalm 91:1-2
Tim was my amazing older brother, and always found an appropriate way to weave humor and insight into every aspect of life. He had such a bright, sharp mind, full of ideas and dreams, with great wisdom. Sometimes I would wonder about him, being a young guy with an “old soul,” being able have perspective past the moment and look at the overall situation. I truly miss his compassionate approach to parenting, his generosity in giving of his time and encouragement, his contagious, genuine love for people.
Tim and Jeni were such strong supporters when we moved to western CO for a pastorate job five years ago. That required sacrificing fun family times, a chance for cousins to grow up around the block from each other. Yet I think he saw the larger scope of nearly everything in life, and in an instant. What a gift!
His witty tendencies could soften a situation. I miss the strong, peaceful presence he would provide, the balanced approach to a stressful moment in parenting, the solutions he offered, his readiness to listen and help shift my perspective. Sometimes he’d initiate a debate…and take the other side…just to mess with my mind. And then we’d be friends again. But he was a great critical thinker!
How interesting to see the Lord had prepared Tim all along, and the evidence was realizing his readiness. He had prepared Tim’s relationships and soul. Certainly he knew the sweetness of God’s miracle 7 years before his death; and he absolutely lived a tremendous legacy.
I think Tim would urge us to live in wisdom and with fervor; to be changed. To care for those who remain – to bless, love, and provide for Jeni, Blake, Logan and Dekker. Tim would encourage us toward purposeful life, to remain on a course of outreach and intentional love, keeping Christ in the center of everything.