Monday, April 7, 2014

Throw the Ball

Benjamin's baseball team competed tonight, but I noticed a curious phenomenon.

For the first few innings, the boys would field the ball and then hold it, arm back as though ready to throw, but frozen in inaction until the runner was safely on base.

I can only surmise that this paralysis came in response to the game they barely lost Saturday.

After a close game in which they headed into the bottom of the last inning ahead, they made error after error in the field: throwing over the first baseman's head or into the ground or anywhere but the glove. The mis-throws gave the other team run after run and ultimately the win that could have been ours.

The loss was painful to watch and disappointing for them to experience.

And so, I think, they decided to play it safe tonight. Rather than throw the ball away and give up runs, they'd field the ball and hold. This way they wouldn't make errors. This way they wouldn't give up runs.

But in so doing, they gave up outs.

After the third inning of incomplete plays, after watching player after player field the ball and freeze, after watching the other team score four runs one inning and five the next because the only outs came from strikeouts (not common in coach pitch), the boys' coach finally yelled (uncharacteristic in itself), "The next person who doesn't throw the ball will sit out the inning!"

Even our mild-mannered, ever-encouraging coach couldn't take it. Play the game or sit it out!

So the next time they took the field, the boys began to attempt the plays. Not perfectly. Not to the point of turning the game around. But they made the throws to first. They got the out at second. They tried to throw the runner out at home.

They were playing the game. And in one inning, their plays got the outs they needed to hold the score and get their at-bat.

At one point, Benjamin fielded a ball from short stop and threw to first. He didn't beat the runner, but he made the play. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and the attempt made me prouder than anything else he had done on the field.

Another boy in the outfield attempted to throw a runner out at second. He overthrew the ball, giving up a base in the process, but I found myself cheering wildly in the stands.

Sitting in the bleachers under the lights of the little league field, I realized I'd so much rather they throw the ball and miss than be afraid to make the throw.

At least when they throw the ball, they have a chance at greatness. At least when they throw, they can grow in skill and experience. At least when they throw, they can learn something for next time: stay calm, get your arm back, point your other arm toward the target, step into the throw.

In the first three innings, it felt like they would never progress because they wouldn't try, wouldn't practice their new skills, wouldn't put the coaching and rehearsing to use. Playing that way, they'd be the same team in three years that they are now.

They have to attempt the plays in order to make the plays. And they have to attempt the plays to become better players.

I felt myself convicted because I recognize that sometimes, we lead our lives like those boys played the game. We hold back because we're afraid to fail. We're on the field, and we can say we stopped the ball, but we refuse to take the risk and throw.

Unfortunately, in our paralysis we beat ourselves.

When our focus is to not make mistakes, to avoid disappointing those around us, then we ensure we will never contribute to victory. The goal must be the process, regardless of outcome.

Field the ball, make the throw, get the out.

Sometimes we'll fail. But we will have learned something, and we will have gone down trying.

But sometimes we'll nail it. And the joy of that one moment is too sweet to be missed for fear of shame.

And the cumulative joy of making play after play and having moment after moment? Well, that's pure glory.

Throw the ball or sit it out.

Anything less isn't baseball. Or true living.

photo credit: adwriter via photopin cc

Sunday, April 6, 2014

60 Minutes Closer to Bedtime

Some days of mothering are uninspired. And uninspiring.

Everyone's tired. Everyone's cranky.

And I try to be the bigger person but mostly I'm just the bigger boss who gets to draw the majority of the lines regarding activities or sounds that are too annoying or too loud or too much to deal with on this tired and cranky day.

We were all up late playing with the neighbors last night, so it's no wonder. The marathon of yesterday's fun was delight from start to finish, but we paid for the hours-too-late bedtime with grumbling and malaise and general snappishness today.

I don't think one child made a statement today without the other declaring said statement could not possibly be so or insisting the exact opposite was so or asserting the speaker's intentions were to ruin the other's everything.

I don't know where they get the energy to fight when they can't even lift their eyelids all the way up.


Abby was mouth-open asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow tonight.

Benjamin unfortunately took longer, his earlobe still pained after taking a hit in yesterday's neighborhood Nerf gun war.

I decided ibuprofen was justified since he's complained about his earlobe three other times since he went to bed last night. And since I had no resistance left in me.

I assume I needn't worry about a cartilage injury.

So, dear ones, I humbly accept the super-fun mommy award for yesterday's frivolity and spontaneity and carefree approach to bedtime and dessert and soda consumption and bathing.

And I likewise accept the mediocre mommy award for expecting the tired and cranky children I produced through yesterday's surrender of responsible parenting to treat me and each other civilly, and to also clean their rooms, and not drive me mad in the process.

There are some days when every hour is simply sixty minutes closer to bedtime.

Sleep well, my darlings. Tomorrow is a new day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

When You Say Yes

Last night, Josh and I filled more of our empty walls. We gathered the screws and nails, the screwdriver and hammer, the level and tape measure, and proceeded to hang our modest collection of eye candy.

Up a little.

Over just a quarter of an inch.

No, back a smidge.

Yes, right there.

Do you think it's too high?

Do you think it's high enough?

Is is too much?

Is it enough?

Are we centered?

It's perfect.


When you say yes, you don't think about the minutiae-filled moments of a lifetime.

You don't think about the laundry you'll fold, the toilets you'll clean, the floors you'll sweep, the dishes you'll rinse, load, unload, repeat.

You don't think about the utilities you'll set up, the bills you'll pay, the contractors you'll manage, the appointments you'll make.

You don't think about the decisions you'll mull regarding retirement accounts and home mortgages and insurance policies and wills.

You don't think about the little bathroom floor where you'll spend the wee hours of the morning with your sick child or the nights you'll climb into bed next to a coughing, snuffling, snoring and miserable spouse.

The pretty house, the weekends away, the snuggly babies, the games of catch in the backyard--those you can imagine when he's down on one knee. Those are the elements of romance you can conceive.

But the other stuff--the logistics and the finances and the repairs and the kids who confound and the jobs that disappoint/thrill/exhaust and the nights you spend moving pictures up an inch, over a quarter--those are the moments of which a marriage is made. Life shared in all its lovely and crazy-making and snooze-worthy glory.

When you can smile and tease and chuckle your way through an evening when the most exciting thing on the agenda is organizing the garage or marveling at how your daughter can manage to leave a trail of belongings that reaches every room in the house...

When you can collapse into bed together at the end of the day, knowing there's nothing left to do but hold each other and pray over your kids, wondering if you've disciplined them too much or not enough, if your words and actions even mattered...

When you can ride the waves of success, job loss, relocation, and limbo, and watch infinite possibility stretch out before you, knowing everything could change again in a moment, or not...

And want nothing more than to live each triumph and crisis with the man who kneeled before you once upon a time--

Then you have a real romance.

I looked across the room at my husband last night, balancing on the big red armchair with hammer in hand for the love of me, and I realized how naive I was all those years ago.

And how wise.

When I said yes, I could never have imagined this moment: hanging pictures at ten-thirty at night in Houston, Texas, with two precious kiddos asleep behind closed doors and a pup curled into a ball on the floor between.

But when I said yes, deep down I knew I could enjoy anything, anywhere if I were with him.

And I was right.

Up a little.

Over a quarter of an inch.

Yes, right there.

Saying yes means you'll spend your days crafting a life together: big decisions, small adjustments, course corrections, questions and doubts, and the labor of making the vision come true.

So that when you step back, you'll see something beautiful, something that enhances this temporal home on earth not just for us, but also for those who pass through.

Friday, March 28, 2014

One Perfect Moment

Childhood defines this moment.

From my perch on the front porch, I hear Abby chatter and holler and giggle with the neighbor kids. They run from driveway to driveway following the impulse of youth, doing whatever excites their wide-open minds.

Bikes and scooters dot the street, abandoned to new flashes of inspiration. Chalk drawings climb the driveway. Markers spill over the sidewalk into the planters.

A breeze tickles the warm spring air. The children do not notice the sun falling slowly back to the horizon.

They play for no other purpose than to thrill at being alive, together.

The evening is perfect. In the midst of global crises, politics, and religious scuttle, these children at play remind me that God really loves this world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Home Again

On a sunny Friday morning a little over a week ago, Josh and I signed the papers that gave us the keys to our new home here in Texas. 

Over that weekend, we transported our apartment goods--the dishes and clothes and files that came from the "guts" of our house in Colorado, all the things that were tucked away in cupboards and closets that no one walking through our home-for-sale would miss--into the cupboards and closets here.  

That Monday, everything else from Colorado arrived. 

And with those belongings arrived a deep peace that must come from the soul's recognition that we are home again. 

The furniture, the art, the bedding, the decor--it seems they ought to be insignificant, mere material possessions that they are.

But their presence soothes, comforts. Their years as the backdrop of our lives has imbued them with story, with meaning, with a nostalgia that re-roots our family in its history, placing our new life in Texas in the context of our former life in Colorado.

Making our bed with the bedding we received at our wedding, arranging the kids' furniture, decorating our family room has been therapeutic, an extended exhale of the underlying tension and stress we've been carrying since moving down in August. I hadn't even recognized that our temporary set-up in the apartment had activated a general sense of alert until the wariness slipped off, leaving a quiet calm.

I see the weight lifting in the kids, too. Though they enjoyed aspects of sharing a room in the apartment, they are both embracing the respite and solitude of having their own spaces with their own beds and dressers and rockers and toys. 

Abby goes to her room and plays and plays with her dolls and horses. She has made her bed nearly every day that we've been here--a sign, I think, of how happy she is to be surrounded by her lovely things again.

Benjamin comes home from school and cozies up on his bed with his homework or a book, sinking into restful contentment. His patience is longer, his tolerance for frustration greater. 

They are remembering parts of themselves that went dormant in our transient, make-it-work season. They are stretching their spirits out again after our cramped existence. 

And they are discovering new joys. A yard in which to kick the soccer ball. A cul-de-sac full of kids. A friend on the other side of the fence. 

For however long our time in Texas lasts, we have our own sanctuary to return to each day: a home furnished with the history and memories of our life before, a familiar backdrop for the new living to come.

Friday, February 28, 2014

It's Not *What* You Do...

Each morning on our way to school, I watch the crossing guards ensure our children cross the busy roads safely. They blow their whistles and flash their stop signs and gesture with determination to the hundreds of cars that drive through the intersection daily. If a car comes through the intersection too fast, they wave their arms and deliver a stink eye powerful enough to make grown men feel like children caught.

One crossing guard, a spry old woman as feisty as she is wrinkled, takes her job even further: she stands on the corner where the kids gather on the sidewalk and greets each one as warmly as she would a grandchild.

With the younger kids, she bends her knees and crouches to eye level, smiling large into faces that radiate joy at being seen, recognized. I watch them hug her and share enthusiastic stories, looking straight into her eyes.

With the older boys, she exchanges high fives, fist bumps, and all manner of handshakes. There is no sense of stand-offishness, no dismissive eye roll from these boys wrestling independence and identity. The pull of adolescent cool cannot deny the sincerity of her interest in their lives.

By all definitions, the job of crossing guard is not a glamorous one. Important, yes. Esteemed, no.

But this woman has elevated her position to something holy, sacred. Her presence has transformed the concrete sidewalk to a sanctuary where, for a moment, children are cherished just for showing up. She has not for a second believed that her job is insignificant. Rather, she has filled it with meaning and purpose through love.

The what of our days is so much less important than the how. Whether we operate in finance or construction, retail or medicine, engineering or housework, our day-to-day tasks are transformed by our perspective and intention.

When we believe our work matters to the folks around us, when we believe the people we serve or toil alongside are fellow children of God, then no task is insignificant. And we can no longer believe we are insignificant.

For we have the power to transform street corners to sanctuaries.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rest Without Ceasing

A few weeks ago, we enjoyed two "snow" days bookending the weekend here in Houston. Freezing rain led to the shut down of schools and businesses across the city and state, which doesn't have the abundance of de-icing equipment found in the northern states. All productivity stopped: work, appointments, school, sports, and extracurricular activities all cancelled.

As a result, the kids and I spent four gloriously mellow days together, enjoying the freedom to meander from game to puzzle to movie to make-believe. During our forced stay-cation, our apartment was full of quiet music and the sound of little voices giving instruction and encouragement on how best to accomplish their minds' vision.

The kids completely upended their room, relocating all closet contents to the middle of the bedroom floor so that they could use the closet space to create the setting for their pretend adventures. Strategically-placed chairs suspended blankets above their heads, and they folded their bodies under their forts, discussing plot points in their alternate reality.

The great lie of our culture is that rest is a luxury, not a necessity; that downtime is wasted time: unproductive, lazy, indulgent.

In fact, this stillness is our very lifeline to connection, meaning, energy, and--paradoxically--productivity.

Our bodies are actually built on this principle, wired to thrive on rest. Any fitness expert will tell you that your body does not get stronger during the intense workout. It is in the recovery that the body does the hard work of repairing the damage, building muscle, getting stronger, preparing for the next exertion. 

Even our minds function in this way. We consolidate our memories, storing and hardwiring all we've learned and absorbed in our days, while we sleep. This is why infants, for whom every experience is new, sleep most of the day and night: they require abundant time to process and store their near-continual learning.

We don't realize we've fallen into the too-much trap until a day with nowhere to go reveals what we're missing in our busyness: the unstructured time to explore the recesses of our creative minds, to re-discover the healing power of togetherness, to remember who we are without the trappings of our achievement-oriented culture. When we break from our responsibilities, we discover ourselves and others.

Is it coincidence that we experienced so little fighting those few days? That we enjoyed a relative harmony with each other in the slow, quiet pace?

I doubt it.

God created us to require Sabbath. He could have made us to run endlessly, tirelessly, but He values the pause, the stillness, the surrender, making it a condition of our very existence.

Without rest, we break down, growing sick, injured, depressed, unstable. We simply cannot survive in a state of perpetual doing. With rest, we get stronger, we learn, we discover the expressions of creativity that have been stifled by our perpetual motion, we reconnect with those around us.

We remember what gives us life.

Is it any surprise, then, that the only "action" we are commanded to do without ceasing is actually a form of inaction? We are told to pray without ceasing, to continuously acknowledge the limitations of our own efforts, to surrender our productivity, to release the dreams of what we hope to accomplish and the burdens of what we should to the hands of the One in whom and through whom all things live and move and have their being.

Prayer looks like nothing. Like sleep and rest, it appears to be an indulgence, a break from the "real work." But when we enter into this form of Sabbath, we realize that anything worthwhile in this life is produced not by our will but by the mysterious workings of Christ in us.

Consider this. That which is essential to our very survival is beyond our power to accomplish: the beating of our heart, the steady inhale-exhale of our lungs, the transmission of millions of messages from body to mind and back--autonomic processes that would absolutely overwhelm us if we had to consciously execute them. 

As much as we think we control our lives, our physical existence is sustained outside the boundaries of mere determination.

So it is with our spirit. When, in prayer, we pause our own attempts to control, fix, manage, or otherwise produce our life and the lives of those around us, we receive everything we need to move mountains. We are invited to lay down our anxieties and questions and uncertainties in exchange for peace and life abundant: front row seats to the redemption being worked in us and those we love every day. Rest without ceasing: what a command.

The kids and I played during those snow days. We set aside the schoolwork, the responsibilities, the chores, and the ever-present list of to-do's in order to create and commune. We lived life like a prayer of gratitude, resting non-stop. The kids made up grand adventures in the wild frontier of their closet. I wrote in between trips to their room to admire their process. And when the time came to clean up, the kids put their room back together in record time with minimal fuss.

By the end of our four-day break, we had "accomplished" so much more than we would have in our daily hustle. The apartment was neater, yes. And our enthusiasm for the daily routine was renewed. But most importantly, our relationships with each other--the dimension of life I spend the most time and energy analyzing, trying to get right, and berating myself for doing wrong--grew stronger, more trusting, more intimate. Without effort, our connection grew, our joy abounded, and our energy multiplied. 

Stillness made space for creation.  Rest begat productivity. Doing nothing yielded everything that matters.

We are not foolish or lazy to slow down. In truth, pausing our rush to meet the insistent demands may be the only way to discover the inspiration, wisdom, and clarity that enables us to accomplish anything worthwhile.

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