Sunday, December 3, 2017

What Tasks She Was Given

Yesterday, in my advent reading, I considered Mary.
I spent awhile thinking bout her,
and what tasks she was given to serve the Lord in
-- the significance of motherhood.

The holiness of gestating and birthing
and breastfeeding Jesus in all its mess.
Diaper changes, and potty training.
Cooking for Him, cutting up His food.
Holding His hand, and walking slowly for His short, young legs.
Giving Him His bath, tucking Him into bed.
Getting Jesus a drink of water,
and sitting down to eat with Him at the table.
Sewing for Him;
knitting for Him;
mending His torn clothes.
Kissing boo boos, and cleaning out skinned knees.
Planting, watering, and weeding the vegetable garden.
Cutting up a chicken for dinner.
Standing by and watching while they hurt Him.
Weeping at the cross, and preparing His body for burial.

These tasks, these human tasks,
so often feel outside the service of God.
Many of them are done alone.
There's no audience for this service -- no audience but Him.
This was Mary's calling -- the great purpose for her life.
Her most holy and intimate ministry to the Lord.
They are holy things when they are done for Him.
Jesus said that a cup of water given in His name has a reward waiting.
How many cups of water do you suppose she fetched for Him?

"He who receives you receives Me," He said to His disciples,
"and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me."
Who opened her life to receive Him more than she did?
Years after she answered, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord!
Let it be to me according to your word,"
she was still enduring snide innuendos by religious people.
Her son, 'that Holy One', always looked at as tarnished by evil minds.

This woman, young and hopeful, betrothed, and a virgin --
said yes to the disruption of her life and her plans.
She gave herself entirely, body and soul, to the will of God.
No 'after I've filled up my bucket list' from her.
In her virginity, she welcomed Him.
Before her marriage, and before her home was established.
Have some, in welcoming strangers, entertained angels?
Consider Who she welcomed in to her very body.
But every one of us has the opportunity to serve Him.
Jesus said, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven
is My brother and sister and mother."
Oh, that I would respond like she did --
she who is highly favored,
and blessed among women,
and who found favor with God.

The Limbs Lopped Off

We add things in to our lives one at a time -- small things.
Baking bread every other day.
A front porch and a fence that lets the kids run
while we drink coffee together.
Buying the organic flour from the bulk bins at the natural grocery store.
Daddy making pizza from scratch on Fridays.
Batches of scones every Saturday morning.
The making of the yogurt.
The laundry washing and drying and folding and putting away.
The clothesline.
The walks in the woods, and the lunches by the water.
The music we play,
and the friends we pray with.
Watering the houseplants.
Where and how we read our Bibles.
We settle into our grooves,
weeding out the things that don't work for us,
and adjusting each thing that does until it's a good fit.

Several times in our twenty years of marriage,
our life has gotten lost, it feels like.
A baby is born, and the baking ceases.
The dishes go undone,
because we haven't found our new rhythm yet.
The baby cries when it's time for cooking,
and we eat McDonald's, because everyone is hungry.

There's a job loss, and a forced move,
and our pictures are packed away,
and we don't see us on the walls anymore.
Are we still here
if we don't see ourselves smiling together anymore on the walls?

Just as we finish painting the oppressive walls
we were too tired to paint at first,
and we take the pictures out of their boxes,
and remember ourselves in the smiling frames,
and breathe again in the salt air,
holding hands on the beach,
and seeing the kids smile and run,
a call comes that we know must be answered,
and we pack up the music again.
We don't hear the songs of our life for awhile.

We miss ourselves.
The rhythm of the bread and the music and the yogurt and granola.
The way we work and the way we play.
The breathing and the writing and the smiling family photos.
The knitting of our days, one by one, into fabric.

Sometimes it's years before the pictures go back up,
and I take them out to look at them, and to hang them up,
and the children in the picture aren't with me anymore.
My babies with their curls are men and women now.
Almost, anyway.
And their siblings haven't seen their infant perfection,
because the pictures weren't on the walls
for the first few years of their lives.
And we lived in other places that they don't know.
And we were another family that they never met.
And I struggle not to cry
because other people stay in the same places always,
never putting their pictures and their music and their baking in a box.
It seems like they have always been untrimmed and unpruned,
and I grieve the limbs we had lopped off.

So many new grocery stores to learn,
and friendships to build,
and green places to find,
and we had to find them without our pictures on the walls.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Seeing Glory

I've been reading about the total solar eclipse for weeks.
How many things we've learned
about the sun, the moon, our own planet,
the laws of physics, and our universe
through observation of these events we are witness to by 'cosmic coincidence'.
I told my husband weeks ago I wanted to see it.
With no reservations,
and fully booked accommodations, it seemed impossible.
(I've told you I have six kids?)
We both researched, and tried to brainstorm how to do it.
The closer we got, and the more I read, the more I longed to see it.

We would have to drive into the eclipse path
in either Oregon or Idaho to view it,
and the predictions of traffic sounded nightmarish.
We looked over maps of eastern Oregon,
looking for the more remote locations to see it from.
I hadn't had the money to pick up the eclipse glasses
I first saw in the grocery store,
but thought I could wait a week or so until he was paid.
Like many people, when I went back for them, they were gone.
I scoured stores in town for three days, and there were none.
I checked Amazon.
Sold out.
Couldn't ship in time.

We started praying.
And I found a paper listing local sources for them I'd had for a week or two,
but not read through.
I began calling the places on the list I hadn't already checked (which wasn't many).
And the third one in, I got a half positive:
"I think there's still a box on the counter..."
I called my husband and asked him to race over there and see if they did.
A few minutes later, he told me he was the proud owner of their last six pairs.
This development encouraged us to make every effort to get down to see it.

Our kids were all sick leading up to it.
Saturday, another one began to vomit.
But knowing we may never get another chance,
I continued to gather what we might need.
I studied our van, and decided to attempt sleeping Sunday night in it.

All the kids were still sickish, but nobody had thrown up on Sunday.
We weren't able to leave town until after 8 pm Sunday night.
Less than one hour into the trip,
the kid who had been sick on Saturday started throwing up again.
Our hopes of getting there by a little after midnight
slipped further and further away
as we stopped at gas station after gas station
to use the facilities and clean out our bucket.
But we kept finding what we needed when we needed it,
and I bought a high priced bottle of 409 to disinfect with.
The three year old wet through her clothing, and we took care of that mess.

We had a general area in mind to watch from,
but it was pitch black (with stunning starscapes and falling stars!),
and without light, it was hard to tell if we'd be able to see it.
My husband had seen a promising looking truck stop on a map
that we thought we might be able to park in and sleep.
We finally got there around 2 am, but it was coned off,
and we didn't know what to do.
I didn't want to view it from a paved parking lot, anyway.
After sleeping very little, I felt the kids would need grass and trees,
and shade in the desert sun.
There was a state park next door,
but we had figured it would be crawling with people
 since they had camping facilities there.
We thought we'd go see if we could use the bathroom, anyway,
since we had counted on being able to use the truck stop bathrooms.
The road before and after the state park entrance was lined with cars waiting to get in.

The entrance was blocked with cones, too,
but there were state workers sitting there.
We pulled up close, and asked if we could use the bathrooms.
The park ranger said, "Well, the park is closed for day use."
It seemed final, but she looked at us, at our van, and said,
"Did you just pull off the highway?"
"Yeah... we thought we could use the facilities at the truck stop, but it's all closed up."
She nodded,
and then she told us she was going to let us in for ten minutes to use the bathrooms,
but we had to go back out since the park wasn't open until 3 am.
So we were able to brush our teeth, change the babies, and use the facilities.
Another mercy.
As we pulled out, and thanked the rangers,
my husband asked if this was the line to get in,
indicating all the cars parked on the shoulders.
"Well, we can't tell you you can park there," they said,
"but at 3, you can come park inside the parking lot."

So we parked our van directly across the street, behind someone's truck.
We removed the carseats, unrolled the sleeping bags,
padded the floor for the baby, clipped sheets up over the windows,
and got everybody into their assigned sleeping quarters.
My husband and my oldest son in the front seats, reclined.
I laid a sheepskin over two bins to make a bed for the three year old.
The two middles each took a bench seat.
The baby slept on the floor between the two men.
And I slept on sleeping bags with my oldest daughter.

About fifteen minutes after we settled them all in,
Jeff pulled into a parking place in the park
(the second vehicle admitted for the day),
and we attempted to sleep a few hours before it got really loud.
The babies were wired, and had trouble resting,
so I was surprised when I woke up to find that any of us had slept at all.
The milling about our van by people coming into the park picked up a lot around 5 am.
In the daylight, our situation was clearer.
About 20 feet from our parking place, there was a beautiful, grassy,
tree-shaded place to set up with a perfect view of the sky
that (by cosmic coincidence) was next to the one man in the park
with thousands of dollars in telescopic equipment and cameras aimed at the sky.
We set up a tent with no windows facing the sun,
threw sleeping bags and pillows, and toys and books and drawing materials into it,
and fired up the new camp stove to make coffee and oatmeal.
Amos ate two bowls, and kept walking back, holding out his bowl,
and asking, "More, please? More?"

My introverted daughter Elisa brought a book into the tent, and read,
coming out to look at the sun off and on until about fifteen minutes before totality,
when she stayed out.
Jeff took the little ones down to walk by the river for a little while,
and Isaiah and I went over to speak with the telescope man for a few minutes.
He offered a peek into the telescope, and we jumped at the chance.

As the eclipse began, a quietness came over the park.
There had been a constant line at the bathrooms all morning,
and we had heard they closed the park to new arrivals when they hit 1000 people.
Even though there were many people there, it did not feel crowded.
They were spread out over the grounds, and many were down at the boat-launch.
The quiet, though, was unusual for the amount of people there.
Especially since it lasted from just after 9 am until totality.
The park was full of owls, and their hooting was lovely.
There were a few possibly tipsy people around, but it wasn't a party scene.
A man a couple hundred yards away had a guitar,
and broke out into song periodically.
Just before totality, I heard him singing You Are My Sunshine to the sun.

As the shadow fell, some birds all went wherever it is they go,
and the owls, I noticed, got quiet.
I had asked my husband to videotape from just before totality,
and I'm glad I did,
because the hushed dimness that we had been in
erupted into cheers and shouts, and gasps of astonishment.
"Oh, WOW!" and other expressions of awe seemed to come from everywhere.
And rightly so.
The guitar man was praying out loud in another language.
Everything he'd sung all morning had been tinged with humor,
but I think the prayer was sincere.
Babies started crying in fear of the dark (although mine didn't).

Afterward, I told family, "That was the most glorious thing I've ever seen.
The sun's corona is so beautiful.
I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life."

And here's the thing: that beauty is always there.
The sun's corona is always blazing out its glory.
But we can only see it on these rare occasions
when the sun itself is veiled for a moment,
and our frail eyes are able to look up at what otherwise blinds and maims us.

Revelation 1:16 says of the Lord Jesus Christ:
"His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength."
In Exodus 33 the Lord says, "No man shall see Me and live".
But in John 14, Jesus says, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."
He took on flesh, and veiled Himself in it,
giving us the chance to take a really good look at Him.

Praise the Lord! 
Praise Him from the heavens;
praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you stars of light!
Praise Him, you heavens of heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, 
for He commanded and they were created. 
He also established them forever and ever;
He made a decree which shall not pass away...
Let them praise the name of the Lord, 
for His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above earth and heaven.
(from Psalm 148)

Daddy Will Carry It

Late one night last week, our three year old was crying,
and we went down to tend her needs.
She was wet and needed changing.
After being changed, she continued to cry as I tucked her in.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
She wasn't awake, but she answered,
"I can't carry stuff!"
She was dreaming.
In my mind, I saw her small body struggling to lift heavy loads.
"It's okay;" I said: "Daddy will carry it for you."
Her little body relaxed, and she stopped crying,
settling into her bed to sleep.

How many of us are crying and troubled when we should rest?
Our Daddy will carry it.
He will carry us.
Take a deep breath,
and let Him carry the stuff.

Lord, my heart is not haughty, 
nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
nor with things too profound for me.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.
~ from Psalm 131

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dwelling Place

Since early August, we've had no home.
(Don't be too alarmed. We haven't been sleeping outside.)
Our house sold.
We weren't living in it, anyway, but it still felt like losing to sell it.
We've been here renting for three and a half years.
At first, it was fine.
It's a large* house.
Three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.
One bedroom and a bathroom downstairs.
But we moved in with four children, and then had two more.

Every time we have had a baby, it's been a disruption to life and routine.
I figure on a year of unpredictable chaos,
and then a settling in to routine we can work around.
Because I nurse them, we've kept our babies in with us for the first year.
It takes less time to settle them if they need to eat in the night.
Wakes less of the household up.

We passed our youngest child's one year mark in December,
and he's still in our room.
The fifth child is sharing with sisters.
I've had a growing irritation with our living situation.
At nap time, there's been no retreat
for those of us who need quiet spaces in our lives and thoughts.
We love each other, but good fences make good neighbors -- even in families.
The one napping upstairs, and the one napping just off the dining room,
and the fact that the kitchen, dining, front room,
and living room are all open to each other,
has meant that, no, a friend can't come over -- it's nap time.
And no, you can't watch a movie.
I can't go to my room for a little quiet.
And they can't go to their rooms.
And although it's been a little better now that the weather is seasonable,
it's been grating on several of the more introverted members of the family.

We started looking a little more seriously for a home to make our own this fall.
We had been looking (but casually) since the spring,
when our anticipation of freedom from our mortgage was growing.
It's something we've been praying about.
Longing for.
When we began to look seriously, the market was pretty fast.
At least five homes sold before we could even look at them.
But we walked into a house in October that was perfect -- or nearly so.
It had been on the market since the week we sold our house in August.
The pictures I had seen online actually drew a laugh out loud.
Some of the color combinations looked horrible.
But I am a woman of imagination,
(and experience with redemption),
so we went to look.
And I fell promptly in love.
It was an unusual thing for me,
because I've always just bought what I could afford,
and what would do.
Every house we've owned has been a house we could make work.

But we are tired of moving.
We want to just live quietly, and not move.
And we told the realtor we were not in a hurry,
and planned to take our time,
and find a place we wanted to live in.
That fit our family.
That fit our lifestyle.
That felt like a sanctuary.
A retreat.
And when I walked into this house, I loved it.
It has four official bedrooms, and a bonus room with a closet in it.
Two of the bedrooms are upstairs.
It has an upstairs living room, and a downstairs living room.
There's an office.
A dining room that isn't carpeted (!!).
It has been owned by older people who were having mobility issues.
So they moved the washer and dryer upstairs,
leaving a utility room downstairs with hookups.
You probably don't have eight people competing for a washing machine,
and do not realize the depth of the possibilities.

The most beautiful thing of all to me is just the house's layout.
No one comes up confused about which door to knock on --
the front door that opens almost into the living room
which is scattered with toys,
and in which I am trying to nurse a baby while answering math questions --
or the back door which opens into the laundry room
with the cat's litter box and the hand washables hanging up to dry.
It has an entryway.
With a coat closet.
And a slate floor.
And that entry way leads to a living room with closing doors,
a dining room with a closing door,
a kitchen (with a hidden pocket closing door!!)
and the bedrooms are not visible to it.
So if perchance someone comes up to the door,
and there are people in the house who are not dressed for company,
or dishes waiting to be washed,
or a table that has not been cleared and wiped,
those things can remain private.

And the backyard is fenced and gated.
Run free, children!
Go outside.
The hoodlums will not see you.
And I won't need to see you, either.

And there are trees and flowers.
I did not fully appreciate the glory of a tree
until I moved to a place in which they must be planted and watered
in order to exist.
Every window of the house looks out on greenery.
It soothes my soul to look out the windows.
Where I live now, I close my blinds.
(Go on back to the people being under-dressed for company,
the breastfeeding in the living room,
and the child-induced chaos of environment for reference.)
Plus, I may not have mentioned this,
but in the wee hours of the day,
my hair and makeup are not presentable.

In October, when we found this house, and fell in love with it,
we were not yet approved for a mortgage.
We didn't know what we could do yet, and we began to pray.
We prayed the Lord would keep this place for us, if He was willing,
since we couldn't make an offer until we were approved.
It took us a couple of weeks to get those things in order.
But the number we were approved for wasn't enough.
We made an offer that was ignored.
We came up a tiny bit, because that was all we could do,
and that was ignored, too.
Our banker gave us savings goals that would allow us to do more,
and we began to save and continued praying.
And checking on it.
I think we made a third offer in December.

Our realtor and banker both told us they were also praying for us.
The realtor was probably tired,
because we continued to look at other houses halfheartedly.
None of them were right.
Finally, in February, we were close.
We talked with the banker, and she assured us that we could make a higher offer.
We called the realtor immediately,
and she got the offer all written up, and called the listing agent.
She called us back, devastated.
They had accepted an offer the night before,
and the agent had forgotten to call her as she had promised.
We asked her to submit it as a backup offer, and we kept praying.

None of these prayers were confident in the outcome.
We didn't know.
Did the Lord want us to have this house?
Did He have something else in mind for us?
Is there even room for our family in this valley?
It just seemed too much of a coincidence
to see it going under contract right at that moment
to not be directly related to our pursuit of it.
I kept asking the Lord, "Is this Your will? Am I wrong to want it?
If You don't want me to have this, help me to kill the desire.
If it's not from You, I don't want it anyway...
even though I really want it."

Even our backup offer was ignored.
A week or two later, we tried again,
hoping maybe it would fall out of contract.
We were told it was a sure thing,
and the building inspection contingent was done.
We thought maybe that was the final word,
and the Lord wanted us to move on.

A house came on the market that would do.
We did not love it, exactly.
But we liked it.
It had seven bedrooms and over an acre.
With some adjustments, we could make it work for some years,
until our children started moving away,
and the house became way too much for us.
We made an offer, but we were outbid.
It was depressing.
"Lord, will You please make room for us here?"

We slowed down our looking considerably after that.
Kept watching listings,
but most houses are made for small to medium families,
and we passed that years ago.

In April, having continued to watch the first house,
and ask after it now and then,
we went to go see a few houses with our realtor.
Two could be made into something suitable,
but didn't have our hearts,
and the idea of making an offer
while the one we really wanted still hadn't closed made us hesitate.
We asked one more time about it,
because it should have closed a week before,
and its status was still the same.
I got a text late that night telling me the listing agent was confused,
because everything had been going along fine,
but now something was wrong,
and she didn't know what, but it was in the process of falling out of contract.
Would we please submit another offer?
We held our breath and tried again.

Eight months after the house was listed,
six months after we found it in a fast market,
two months after it went under contract with someone else,
ten days after it was supposed to close,
and six or seven offers in for us, 
we went under contract.
We closed June 2.
And we were so glad the Lord shut the door on the second house,
even though it was depressing when it happened.

Personally, I have prayed and wrestled over this house.
Again and again I came back to the Lord
to give Him the longing for it,
to submit my own will to His,
to tell Him our needs, and trust His care for us,
to ask for it,
to qualify the asking with with wanting Him more.

Do you ever do that?
Just really wrestle with the Lord over something,
to succeed in laying it down and giving it to Him?
That He gave it back to me is so humbling.
I'm flabbergasted, and overjoyed.

On the morning of June 2, we hadn't yet heard if we could close that day.
I read my Bible in the morning, not really sure if that was the day,
and in my regular reading, I was back in Genesis 26:22 again.
It's a passage I've been praying over for a long time.
"And he moved from there and dug another well, 
and they did not quarrel over it. 
So he called its name Rehoboth, because he said, 
'For now the Lord has made room for us, 
and we shall be fruitful in the land.'"
Less than an hour later
the realtor called us with a closing appointment time.
The Lord has made room for us!

*Large is a matter of perspective, isn't it? 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gathering Graces

A week ago, in the morning, I walked a labyrinth.
It was a stony, weedy path, and had not been meticulously maintained.
Nevertheless, I could see where I was supposed to walk, so I did.
As I walked, I looked.
Small wildflowers lined the path.
They were so small, they couldn't be seen from outside the path,
only from within.
They were tiny perfections.
They reminded me that on a rocky path, however it might from afar look like the path beside it,
there are particular things to thank God for.
Tiny perfections blooming where you are.
Intricately shaped.
Gather them up.
Smell their honey smell.
Do not neglect the looking.
Walk your path with thanks and eyes to see the flowers He has planted there.
And when you find you must return, look again.
The third time through, I found a new flower.
Really consider the lilies of the field, and how He clothes them.
Walk with a handful of mercy and grace.
Pick them up.
Don't go empty-handed.
Enter His courts with praise,
and His gates with thanksgiving.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Unlovely Valentines

I actually didn't expect hearts and candy to define my marriage.
I am a realist.
At least, that's what I think of myself as.
(You sunshine and unicorns people would call me a pessimist.)
Best case scenarios don't often occur to me.

Anyway -- it's Valentines Day.
I see all the posts from friends celebrating a renewal of their love,
a remembrance of the beginning of their romance.
I love that.

One friend mentioned in her love story
that they have lost as many babies as they have living children.
That's four.
I love these people dearly.
She said something about not having chosen the things they've walked through.
And it rings so true.

I found myself thinking through the unlovely valentines.
The markers of love that you've walked through together.
The hurts.
The waiting.
The pressure.
The labors.
Each one another bond, a shared grief.
The lost jobs, lost relationships, lost children.
The death of parents, of friends, of dreams.
The infertility.
The miscarriages.
The months without income.
The depressions.
The failures.
The frustrations.
The sleepless nights with sick children.
The frozen pipes.
The wound packing.
The wheelchair pushing.
The broken down cars.
The financial hardships.
The baffling parenting dilemmas.
The hormonal swings of pregnancy.
The things you don't take pictures of to share on Instagram.
The choking on tears together.
The desperate prayers.

Those parts of the vows we made --
the for poorer, for worse, and in sickness parts --
they have value.

The forgivenesses, and bandaging,
and helping each other dress because we are too injured to dress ourselves.
I would not trade them for other people's cruises.
Flowers are romantic,
but this morning my husband said that of course he had time
to rub juniper oil into my stiff neck and shoulder before he left:
a smelly, messy valentine.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Negative Confession

"And David said in his heart, 
'Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. 
There is nothing better for me 
than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines...'"

I love the substance and truth of the Word.
Scriptural saints are human men and women,
with passions like ours, and debilitating fears, and sunken spirits
that need Him to breathe life into them.
Here, David, the prophet of the Lord, the future king of Israel,
the man after God's own heart
falls into fear that drives him for awhile.
He forgets what God has said of him,
and believes his present is all there is,
and the only escape is to run to the enemy.
And, even more horribly (in some circles),
he voices his fear.
He speaks out his 'negative confession',
'speaks his own death',
'utters a curse'.
Yet God's purpose for him will prevail.

Though his words are faithless, and hopeless, and expectant of the worst,
David never does perish at the hand of Saul.
And there IS better for him in his future
than this awful episode in the land of the Philistines.

There are others, you know.
"And Abraham said, 
'Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; 
and they will kill me on account of my wife.'" 

"And Jacob their father said to them, 
'You have bereaved me:
 Joseph is no more, 
Simeon is no more, 
and you want to take Benjamin. 
All these things are against me.'"

"Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot;
 for she said to herself, 'Let me not see the death of the boy.' 
So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept."

In fact, so many come to mind, I couldn't list them all.
Esther. Elijah. Isaac.
Paul mentions despairing even of life because of the hardships they had suffered.

There is a false doctrine that goes around that 'speaking curses'
and negatively confessing your fears brings them to pass.
But Proverbs 26:2 says,
"Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, 
so a curse without cause shall not alight."
And in Numbers 22, an effort is made to curse Israel and God won't let it be.
"Thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed."

Our own fears and failures may sidetrack us,
but the Lord's purposes stand in our lives.
And no one can curse whom He has not cursed.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

And That Is No Insult

My husband is not
The Most Amazing Husband in the World(!!!).
And my children are not
The Most Brilliant and Incredible People you will ever Meet(!!!).
I am not The Kindest, Most Patient, and Loving Woman(!!!)
my children have ever had the privilege to know.
And I am not the Best Wife Ever(!!!).
And that is no insult to any one of us.

I struggle with The Best People Awards.
The Most Amazing People.
The Awesome Ones.
I find myself wanting to ask
(regarding The Best Husband and The Most Amazing Wife),
"To Whom?!
How many husbands do you have?
Have you tried them all?
Because, um, that's not okay."

Family love isn't just for the lovely.
It's for the crybabies, and the irritable women, and the cranky men.
I have wonderful parents.
Exceptional parents, even.
But I will not tell you they were Perfect, or The Most Amazing.
I can remember failures.
Things they later apologized for.
Parenting mistakes.
Mature love doesn't require amazingness to validate its affection.
And mature love has something to forgive.
That's hard to do when you live with The Beautiful People.

My husband doesn't have to be
The Most Amazing, the Wisest, the Strongest, or the Manliest.
He's mine.
I love him because he's mine.
Because we're one.
Because our kids are ours, we treasure them.
Not because they're smarter than all the other (stupid?) children in the world.

I am proud of their efforts
whether they beat all the other (losers?) in the contest or not.
When they draw me pictures,
I don't have to tell everyone they are The Best Pictures Ever Drawn(!!!)
to acknowledge their specialness.

I can admire those I love without making everyone else less.
I can honor those around me
without painting them as giants among grasshoppers.

Because otherwise, when they aren't the best anymore, then what?
What if the Woman with the Most Beautiful Smile loses her teeth?
What if The Best Provider loses his job
and can't be The Most Amazing Provider anymore?
What if you're married to one of the other spouses in the room--
you know: the ones who forget birthdays;
who lose their tempers periodically;
who get depressed and cry for a few days;
or who can't afford to take you to Hawaii?
Are our bonds dissolved
when our spouses turn out to be some of the lesser people?
Or do our obligations to bring up our children in love end
when said children turn out to be intellectual dunces or uncoordinated nerds?

I can tell you I love my husband, and admire him,
and he blesses me with kind and thoughtful behavior,
and I am proud of my children,
without declaring that your husband is, in fact, a second class runner up,
and my children surpass yours in every area:
their natural abilities which they haven't even had to work at
far outshine your children's accomplishments
bought with hard work and long hours of practice.

Beloved, let us love one another,
 for love is of God,  
and everyone that loves is born of God,
and knows God.
Oh, Lord -- help me to love better,
even though they aren't The Best Ever(!!!)