Thursday, December 29, 2011

Celebrating A Perfect Savior Imperfectly

I hope Jesus comes back before I have to celebrate Christmas without my parents.
Truly, they do Christmas like no other.

Many years ago, I mentioned to my children that I thought we might have Christmas at our house in Las Vegas that year.
"It's tradition, Mooooom. We aaaalways go to Colorado. We aaalways go to Grammy and Papa's. We haaaave to go, Mom."
Thank goodness. That's the answer I was looking for. I want to spend Christmas in Colorado too.

My mom masterfully weaves old and new traditions into our Christmas holiday.
She faithfully bakes all of our favorites. She joyfully focuses us on the true meaning of Christmas. She wholeheartedly gives all of herself during the week. No mess made by us is a bother. No late nights preparing for the next day are ever mentioned. She loves Jesus and loves her family and uses this time to bring us all together.

My dad decorates the house for all of Colorado Springs to see. The pine tree that used to be small enough to be decorated by him standing up on a van is now so massive it requires a cherry picker. The lights twinkle from miles away. My brother and I used to help him. He does it all himself now. He gives generously and unselfishly and tends to all of our needs as we walk through the week. The snow is cleared, the gifts wrapped, and the surprise "visitors" always planned.

Together, they are quite a team.

We've tried to weave Jesus, gifts, family, and food all together into our Christmas holiday. We always wonder if we're doing it right. Are we honoring you, Lord?

We have some friends in Tucson that give their time, energy, and money to a local family during the weeks leading up to Christmas...anonymously. They give up their Christmas. They say that doing the holiday this way is more fun. They secretly bless and joyfully meet the needs of some other family. They love Christmas. They give of themselves. That must honor Jesus.

Some work in soup kitchens. Some welcome lonely people into their homes for the holidays. Some give sacrificially. Some go on vacations. What's the perfect way to celebrate Christmas? Is it all okay?

Our family gives gifts, we spend time with family, we go to our Christmas Eve service, we eat. We play games, we drive around and look at Christmas lights, we go to zoo lights (tradition, Matty!), we sing Christmas carols, we laugh. We welcome people into our home (actually into my parents' home), we take a picture with Santa at the mall, we bake, and then we eat some more. Is this okay, Lord? Are you okay with us giving gifts, lighting a Christmas tree, singing "Jingle Bells"? My brother added a fondue feast on Christmas Eve. My sister-in-law's new contribution to tradition this year was presenting three anonymous gifts to the kids. The kids got three secret gifts representing the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, given to Jesus. I love the idea. Our improved version of Santa. Of course, our littlest actually call this Santa. Are you okay with this, Lord? He knows our hearts. We want to honor Him.

But this year...even with my parents doing all the Christmas preparation and pointing us to the Savior, even with friends around me focusing on the true meaning of Christmas, I hardly prepared myself or my children for the celebration. Truly, until we got to Colorado--only three days before Christmas--I had relied solely on those around to point my children to our Savior's birth. I was distracted. Going through the motions. Anxious to get the holiday over. In fact, the first time I read the account of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the month of December was the night before Christmas when we were reading Luke. The foundation had been laid for us to truly worship our King---we just had to show up and rejoice---yet my heart wasn't in it. I hope my kids were more focused.

I sat through our Christmas Eve service trying to rein in my thoughts. Our little guys were busy. The two-year-old cousins were having a heart to heart chat through the service. The toddler babble was cute...but it wasn't about Jesus. It was about jingle bells.
"Jingle bells in my home."
"No, jingle bells in my home."
"Oh. I have jingle bells in my home. You no have jingle bells in your home."
"Yes. I have jingle bells."
On and on. Back and forth. It was so cute.
I was in the mood to be distracted anyway.

As the pastor ended the service, I heard him mention something about imperfect people trying to celebrate Christmas.
That totally struck a chord with me.
Imperfect people celebrating Christmas.
Sinful people trying to celebrate the birth of their Savior and honor Him in the process.

As I pondered our imperfect efforts to honor our perfect Savior, I found great peace in the fact that the whole reason for the season was our perfect Savior. Our efforts to honor our Lord may bring him glory, but they aren't the focus.
He's the focus.
The REASON the baby's in the manger is the focus.
He earth...wrapped in swaddling clothes...because WE AREN'T PERFECT.
Our imperfection brought Him to earth.
And we probably aren't going to celebrate that perfectly.

I know I didn't this year.
I wasn't completely moved by my Savior's birth.
Christmas has come and gone and I'm just now in the holiday mood.

Blessed are all of those who joyfully gazed at the Lord this Christmas season.
That baby in the manger is for you.
For me...distracted, slightly irritable, and selfish...
That baby is for me too.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift.
The gift that I truly have no idea how to worship.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Someone's guilty of praying for us.
Thank you.
The deployment "goodbyes" evolved as peacefully as possible.
Can I say it again? Thank you! Oh, and thank you, Jesus.

We began in a "holding" room with all the other families of deploying people.
Build-a-bears were passed out to every child---my littlest were glad at that moment daddy was leaving. They got a build-a-bear out of the deal. Bags of stationary journeyed around the room and the Air Force personnel made themselves available for any thing deploying families might need.
How about an extra day? Can you give us an extra day?
Actually by this point, we're ready to just get this thing started.
Let's not postpone this goodbye one more day.

I spied on fellow deploying families. Some tears, lots of hugs, plenty of laughter. It was a fairly small group. The main body is not deploying for another week. Just a handful of the "lucky" get to leave before Christmas.

It's a brave group, these military families.
One other pilot was deploying at the same time and I only knew his family. All these other airmen deploying and I only knew one. That sort of made me sad. These other men and women are the core of this deployment--they maintain the airplanes, load the weapons, brief intelligence, and provide support. I hope my husband knows every single one of their names by the time he gets back...maybe he already knows their names. I hope he does. He can only do what he loves to do because of their competence. I sort of wanted to go meet them and thank their families. Not the right time for that. It's not the time for introductions.

The time ticks as you wait for the final call. The last hugs seem to drag on forever. Finally we watched him disappear into a secure room. Whew. At the last minute...wiggly Noah yells out, "Gooodbye, Daaadddy!" The little guy has no idea. Blessed innocence.

Is it harder to stay or harder to leave? I think both kinda stink, but I'd much rather hold down the fort at home than head out to the great unknown. I'm not that adventurous or courageous. I'll stick with what I know.

We watched the big military transport starting its engines on the runway. We waited for the bus to pull up to load our men and women. As the bus appeared, dozens of family members strolled out the aircraft.
Oh. No. Not another goodbye. Maybe the kids won't see. Maybe they won't notice.
Hey, Kids, look up at that formation of birds flying through the sky. Too late. They saw.

"Mom--we gotta go on to the flight line. All those other families are out there. We gotta go see Daddy."
"Run, Mom! Run, Mom!" (I am running by the way, Kids. This is my run!)
"We gotta meet the bus before they load passengers. We can't miss this last goodbye."
Goodbye Number Two begins.

This was classic military goodbye. Family members lining the path to the airplane. Last minute hugs...last minute kisses...last minute words...each person that walks by gets a handshake and a pat on the shoulder. I loved every single one of those airmen and women at that moment.

My husband was last to board the plane. Mostly because untangling from our hugs takes him ten minutes. I made sure I got the last kiss.
He was mine first, Kids. I get the last kiss.
Walking towards the plane, he keeps glancing back at us.
The last handshakes are from the important people on base. The commanders. The leaders. They stand proud wishing their people well.
Secretly they are probably wishing they were going along on the mission.

Our family knows to wait until he turns away for the last time. We'll watch him until we can't watch him any longer. I don't want him turning around for one last look to find that his family has already turned away.
One last look and smile as he boards. We watch him disappear into the windowless plane.
Exhale. I think I've been holding my breath for three hours.
I bend down to pick up Noah as the two older boys watch the door close.

"Mom--did you see? Did you see? Daddy looked out the door one more time and waved. We just saw him wave."
You have got to be kidding. Now I really could cry. I thought I had watched long enough. I wanted to see that wave.
I guess it has to be enough that my boys saw the wave. I had no tears up until this point. Now I want to cry.
Once the plane started taxiing down the runway, I gave up hope that the door would open one more time for me to see that wave.
I learn something new every time.
Next time, I'll know to watch until the plane actually starts to taxi.

I've never asked my husband what happens inside the plane once the door shuts. Is there sadness? Is there joyful whoops and hollers? Is there relief?
I'm betting they feel relief.
The dreaded goodbyes are done.
The mission now begins.
The training becomes reality and their readiness and skill tested.
I bet adrenalin flows on that plane.

As the plane takes off, I find that I'm sharing this life experience with a bunch of people that I don't know. Standing on the flight line, we're all on the same team.
All longing to get this thing started, yet not really wanting to say goodbye.

We're ready.
Sometime in the last days before he left, we made the transition.
The transition that allows him to go off and do his job.
He can leave knowing that we need him, we want him, we love him.
But we're going to be okay for a while without him.
I'll do what needs to be done at home, so he can do what needs to be done over "there."

The next time we'll be standing on that flight line it will be to welcome him home.
I can't wait for that day.
Until then, we press on.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Packing Bags

The bag packing is unavoidable.
Camouflage stuff has decorated our bedroom for the past several weeks.
Strange, strange gear overflows from these bags.
He asked me last night if the kids had been playing with his new leatherman.
I didn't even know he had a knife in his bag. No wonder Noah's been spending a lot of time in my closet. He's been playing with all daddy's "toys."

Normally laid back and fun-loving, it's generally easy to get my husband in a good mood.
I just turn on some charm--crack a few jokes--and VOILA! He's over the "tude."
Apparently that charm does not work on deployment stress.

I thought I'd help him pack.
You know, bonding.

I picked up an over-sized ziploc bag that was filled with tiny rolls of his underwear.
Certainly worthy of a joke.
"I like the way you have these pairs of underwear rolled up in tiny, neat rolls. I hope you can get them unrolled once you get there."
Not funny. He didn't even raise his eyes.

Just to add insult, he asks me to make sure all the air is out of the underwear ziploc bag so it will lay flat. I work twenty minutes on this task. I hand him the perfectly flat bag of underwear.

He sighs. "There's still some air."
Um, okaay.
He then spends another five minutes trying to get out this imaginary puff of air that he thinks is still in the bag. "Got it," he says. (Is he serious? I think he is.)
Then he proceeds to throw a big pile (unfolded) of gym shorts on top of the air-free bag of underwear.
"Good thing you got that small breath of air out of that bag or your big, WAD of shorts would never have fit." Not even a glance. Still not funny.

Weird, weird things emerge as he weighs what to take and what not to take.
A Darth Vader mask.
How can you not do the slow breathing in and out simulating classic Darth Vader?
I thought it fit the moment. Bad read.
"This is a gas mask, Michelle."

Then I catch him trying on a pair of goggles---camouflage goggles.
I'm from Colorado. This is easy. He's clearly going to have a day off in Afghanistan to ski. I know ski goggles when I see them.
Wrong again.
"These are for the sandstorms."
How was I supposed to know that?

I called his G-suit a harness.
I handed him his harness when he needed his G-suit.
They are the same color. Easy mistake.
Aside from the fact they don't look anything alike. It was time for the G-suit/harness lesson.
Don't you want to know the difference?
The G-suit helps squeeze their legs to keep blood flowing to their heads so they don't pass out when pulling G's. Yes, please take the G-suit.
The harness. The beautiful harness. I forgot how important the harness really is.
It straps him into the airplane. In the event of ejection, the harness ensures you eject with a paracute on. Pretty crucial if survival is your goal. Definitely, more important than anything else he's packing. Take two harnesses if possible.

The final, final blow to my packing efforts came when he had me open a pack of government issued lip balm.
This was going to be a sweet and tender moment.
I rubbed my lips on the lip balm and said, "Now, everytime you use this lip balm, you can envision I'm giving you a kiss." So lame. Surely worthy of a smile.
I didn't get a smile, but he did look up and raise his eyebrows. I think I saw a hint of my husband somewhere in that eyebrow raising.

Really, he's sort of already deployed. Already over "there" mentally. It would make sense that he would need to leave mentally before he leaves physically.

How else could he get on the plane and watch his family waving goodbye? How could he do that unless he was already sort of gone?

Let's get this thing started.
Go! Go, so I can get my husband back.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Teenager

I can't really decide if I'm enjoying having a teenager.

It's a little fragile. Like I'm enjoying him now, enjoying his budding sense of independence and humor, but I'm sort of on guard. I know this teenage thing may not to be easy. I'm waiting for it...

Leave it to my teenager to display his heart.

On the couch, we all lounged. The five kids and Mom. Typical homeschool morning. All of us loving each other, listening when the other spoke, dressed and ready to tackle the day. Whatever.

Okay, so there we sit. The prodigal son is next in our reading through the book of Luke. I know this one by heart. I have much wisdom to share. I hope they're ready. They're going to get an earful today. I'm irritated that they aren't fully embracing my introduction to the story.

Carefully, I paint the picture. The bold disrespect of the youngest son as he asked his father for his portion of the inheritance. The oldest son, by tradition and law, received double portion of the estate. The younger son received the rest. Most of the estate would have been in land, livestock, agriculture---things difficult to liquidate. The gravity of this request. The father would have to sell assets to give his younger son his inheritance. The father technically wished dead by his youngest son. The heartbreak. Both father and younger son viewed dead by the other.

Then the walk through the sinful life. Exciting at first. Always empty in the end. The height from which the prodigal fell. From wealth to envying the pigs. Squandering it all---left with nothing but his longing for his father's house.

I feel like music should begin playing at this point in the story.

Next, comes the big turn around. The son slowly begins the walk toward home. The long walk home. Surely his father would let him work for him. He rehearses his apology. Can you imagine how much time he had to think? His sorrow was probably overwhelming. He expects nothing. He's weary. He's alone. He's broken.

I pause. Yes, I have their attention.

The father sees the son. The running of the father to the son. Before the son can even apologize, the reunion of the father and son. The father forgives before the son can even finish his speech.

"Party!" The younger son gets a full-blown party. He's wasted everything on "fun" and his father is throwing him a party. Can you blame the older son for being mad?

Now, I share with my children the anger of the older son. Standing outside the party, he refuses to participate. I spend a lot of time describing the heart of the older son. I understand this guy. I've been him. Obedient on the outside, living with the pigs on the inside.

I end with Timothy Keller's observation that at the end of the parable, the younger son is the only one who was restored to the father. The story ends with the older son still outside. The son who seemingly wandered the farthest is the one welcomed home. The prodigal restored. The older son left outside. He never strayed from home physically, but his heart remained far away. He wanted the Father's things and not the Father himself.

I let the story sink in. Thanks to Timothy Keller's book Prodigal God I'm pretty sure I've nailed this lesson with my children.

No one says a word.

My teenager--my oldest son--is clearly moved.

He starts to speak--quietly, humbly, gently---


Wait for it, I thought. Let him speak. Wait for it.

"So is that the way it still works?" he says, obviously in deep thought.

"What works?" I answer. He's obviously going to speak wisdom.

"Does the oldest son still get double portion of the inheritance?"

He gives me a crooked smile and his eyes twinkle mischievously.

Poof. Moment shattered. I obviously read the atmosphere wrong.

Too bad, Kid. We're spending your inheritance.

I love that boy...even if he is a teenager.


He doesn't know this, but I'm memorizing my husband.

Memorizing his smile.
Memorizing his face.
Memorizing his voice.
Studying his hands.
Watching his walk.
Soaking in his hugs.
Saving his voice mails.
Capturing his laugh.
Appreciating his calming presence.
Listening to his wisdom.
Memorizing the way he fathers.

He doesn't think I've noticed.
He's memorizing us too.

Enjoy the Week!

Last night, I loved the Air Force. Loved being a military wife. Loved pilots. Loved America.
What a cool experience to sit with hundreds of the nation's top military performers.
Last night, we were ready to make the sacrifice.

Today, not so cool.
Not ready.
We're down to a week. One week.
I always dread the dread that I feel the week leading up to a deployment.
The week before is worse than the actual leaving.
His list says it all:

Update wills.
Notification update.
Gather insurance/investment papers. Put in one envelope.
Pillowcases with kids pictures.
Pack bags.
Fix downstairs shower.
Have Christmas.
Write notes to kids.
Single dates with each child.
Take Michelle out for coffee.
Ice Skate at Crown Center as a family.
Call parents and grandma.
Learn how to Skype.
Take anti-malaria medicine.

Don't forget to enjoy the week.

Yeah, right.
One thing I've never fully learned as a military wife is how to enjoy the week they are leaving.
I have no idea how to do that.

I could use a little wisdom here, Lord!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Do Overs

There's several things in my life I'd like to do over.
Sometimes I just long to do certain things over again...and do them differently.

I'd like to have one more opportunity for conversation with a young woman who was sharing some decisions she was making for her life. She was doomed for heartbreak...baring her soul to a stranger, me. I listened. My silence, I'm afraid, affirmed her path...affirmed her sinfulness. I'd like a "do over." I wish I would have lovingly shared God's truth. I really, really want to do over that conversation with her. I can't even remember her name.

I'd like a "do over" with a friend from high school. I would have been faithful to my friend. I wish our paths had stayed crossed. It was my fault. I wish I could do that over.

I'd like to "do over" my dating. I'd date less.
I'd like to "do over" my first years of being a parent. I'd stay home more.

Mostly though my "do overs" involve a longing over the times that I didn't fully, unabashedly run the race marked out for me. When I failed to fully embrace whatever it is that God had me in at the moment. A longing to return to situations and trust the Lord more. I'm saddened at the times I didn't fully live in the moment. Some stages I remember just wishing they would be over.
I'd like to go back and really live through them.
To really learn the lessons.
I see God when I look in the rear view mirror.
I regret not seeing Him at the time.

Truly, many days I go to bed wishing I could do the day over...better.

What do you do with the the desire for a "do over"? What do you do with regrets? Surely everyone has some. Surely everyone has something they wish they could do again...and do differently. Is anyone perfectly thrilled with the way they've lived life?

I woke up yesterday morning in Vegas longing for a "do over."
My stomach ached for a "do over."
We're Vegas...witnessing a USAF Weapons School graduation.
A patch night.
It's a big deal. Six months of intense training for some of the top pilots in the Air Force.
They have left their families for six months, been broken down by their instructors, and finally built back up to be even better pilots, better leaders.
They get a simple patch for this training.
One patch.
It means nothing to anyone outside the military.
Everyone in the military knows what it means though.
It means you actually graduated from Weapons School.
It means you're pretty good at what you do.
There's lots of celebrating. Lots of parties. The honor is just as much for the families as it is for the pilot. The families sacrificed. This is their time to also enjoy the honor. They proudly stand beside their pilot knowing they played a crucial role in their success.
I'm watching this all happen for another young man in our squadron.
He's so relieved. His family so proud of him.
I want a "do over."

I'd like to "do over" my husband's graduation from Weapons School.
Eight years ago we were here celebrating this same accomplishment.
We sacrificed six months for this patch. We actually sacrificed much more than the time.
The families who go through this know that's true. The sacrifice is much greater than six months. The patch is costly to the family.
It's the promise of a different lifestyle, a faster pace, and a greater responsibility.
We stood at graduation side by side, yet a million miles apart.
We stood on the brink of complete destruction.
We barely spoke. We barely celebrated. We barely looked at each other.
The weekend was merely the tip of our regretful decisions.
I'd like to do that weekend differently.
Goodness I'd like to do the whole six months over.

As I wrestled yesterday morning with all these waves of regrets about our own personal experience, I begged God "What do I do with this? What do I do with all these emotions right now?"

A little whisper.
Do it over.
Wait. What?
Do it over.

That simple answer for me. God is so good.
He brought me back to Vegas for a "do over."
It's not my husband's graduation. It's not our patch night.
But I get a "do over." I am getting to do Weapons School graduation with my husband all over again. And I'm doing it differently.

Sometimes we do get "do overs." Sometimes we don't.
Lamentations 3:23 "His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

I often feel a great longing over the daily issues that I miss. For instance, not fully listening to my son sharing details about a video game. Not reading my daughter a book that she really wants me to read. I'm reminded that God's mercies are new every morning.
Every day is a "do over."
Some things I really can do over.
I can listen to my son today when he tells me about the video game.
I can read the book to my daughter today that I was "too busy" to read yesterday.
Today, I can fully run the race marked out for me.

Tonight, I can go to Weapons School graduation and this time I'm going to be proud of my husband.
God is so good.
I don't deserve this "do over."
God is just that good.

So what about the things that we can't do over?
I found comfort in the very same verse that offered me today's joy of the "do over."

Lamentations 3: 19-24
"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself. 'The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.'"

As we remember, we don't need to be consumed by our affliction and our wandering.
Our downcast souls that struggle with regrets need to find joy in this verse,
"His compassions never fail. They are new every morning!"

And sometimes we get a "do over."
I can't tell you how thankful I am for this gift.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rest for My Soul

Psalm 62:1-2 "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken."

My soul finds rest in God alone.
Maybe that's why I'm shaken. My soul is resting on something not promised to give me rest.

Often I find my soul searching for a place to land. A safe place to rest. Whatever I'm resting on, might give me relief for a while, deluding me into believing that somehow I'm secure. Yet, God graciously shakes and reminds me that only He can provide true rest. True security for my soul.

Where am I resting, Lord? Why am I shaken?

I've tried resting on my husband. That works for a while. A short while.
As much as my husband meets many of my needs, he just wasn't created for me. Just to serve me. Just to make my life easier. Just to worship me. Bummer. Too much resting on my husband leaves both of us weary and empty. Plus, he's leaving in a couple weeks. No resting on him once he's gone. And even if he wasn't leaving, I have no promise that he will be given to me tomorrow. Resting on him will always disappoint.

My soul keeps searching.

My parents. Stable, loving, and secure. I can lean into them and rest. Yet, all around me I find friends faced with the reality that their parents are mortal. They will not live forever. Resting on their support is temporary. It will provide no true longlasting relief to my soul.

The search continues.

Healthy, happy children. Thank you, Jesus. Not a promise. Not a guarantee. Leaning on the blessing of my healthy, loving children is unsustainable. Even as I lean into that one a bit, I find my soul resisting. It knows that there's no promise of tomorrow. I'd love to find a Bible verse that promised me tomorrow with my children, but it's not there. These little ones aren't meant to bear the weight of my soul.

What else? Where else can I rest?

Financial security. There's a job. There's a paycheck. Our needs are met. We have a home, food, clothing. I can't have everything I want, but I can have some things I want. Surely I can rest on this security. Yet, I watch our investments fall and the cost of living rise and recognize that this "pseudo" security is such a facade. It will pass away. It could be taken at any minute.

No wonder my soul's searching. If these "good" things cannot sustain, where can I rest?
Where is there rest for the person who can't cling to any of these other things?

Psalm 63:8 "My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me."
Psalm 62:1 "My soul finds rest in God alone."

I love the vision of my soul clinging to the Lord.

Sometimes you just have to climb up in His lap and cling to Him.
The true giver of peace. The Only One who is capable of soothing our souls.
Hide in the shadow of His wings and rest in the promise that when all else fades, fails, disappoints, and deploys that He is our fortress that WILL NEVER BE SHAKEN.

What would it feel like if I truly believed that I was resting in a fortress that would never be shaken?
My soul would probably find rest.