Thursday, March 28, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

Our house has been on the market for almost three weeks. Three weeks of keeping it immaculate, which is no easy challenge, three weeks of frantically dragging the child and dog out of the house minutes before an agent arrives to show it, of baking 2 cookies at a time in the oven before a showing to overpower the scent of lemon pledge and then not being able to eat them because I am sugar-free, of wiping away every sign that people actually live here in any kind of normal state, of waiting for that call that tells us someone else loves our home as much as we do.

Three more weeks in our lives of uncertainty and waiting. Right. 

The dictionary defines practice as repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. And it is widely accepted that the more we practice, the better we will get: practice makes perfect, right? But what becomes perfect- that object that is practiced or that person who is the practitioner? What's the real point of practicing to the point of fatigue? If this adage is true, my husband and I should be experts at waiting. We should perfectly know how to handle uncertainty, to deal with the unknown. Having our house on the market should be barely a blip on our radar screen. More waiting? Whatever. We know how to do this. 

The thing is, though, practice doesn't always make perfect. We are not experts at the actual waiting, we are just experts at the experience of waiting. There's a pretty big difference. We aren't waiting because we want to get better at it, we aren't inviting the uncertain into our lives to acquire new skill levels in hope and patience. We aren't, most of the time, thankful for the opportunity to practice and become better at this. I wish I could say we were that noble. I'd be lying. Waiting all the time is pretty darn hard.

Just this past weekend, my Fireballs had the first game of their spring season. Their fifth season together. How far they have come - from a cat-like herd of chaos to a group of kids who know the rules, are starting to understand the concepts of spreading out, passing and calling for the ball, of dribbling around the big crowd rather than straight into it, of not touching the ball with their hands. All this has come of practice, practice and more practice. Are they experts? No, and unlikely ever to be. But those moments when a kid who could barely dribble last year suddenly does, gets around the defenders, shoots and scores? Those moments are when that practice has paid off. No one has seen a grin like a kid scoring her first goal.  Or, for that matter, the reaction of her parents on the sidelines.

 The thing about practice is that it's never really finished. Once we've mastered one skill we get a new challenge to tackle. And every challenge, every game, every note of music practiced is different- so the practice isn't about making those pieces perfect, it's about our own change, our own skills sharpening, our own ability to meet each piece, each game, each wait, with deeper commitment, skill, patience and wisdom.

I have been struck again and again, though, what the difference is between the practice of waiting for Something and waiting on Someone. Practice increases our familiarity with the thing on which we wait, it sets our mind on that thing, it pulls our mind away from other, possibly lesser, worries. It shows us our weaknesses, those areas in which we constantly falter and it gives us the chance to rejoice when we push through and master a new, tricky part. If I am constantly waiting on that something and that something doesn't come, my practice seems fruitless and my hope fades. If however, I spend that practice of waiting not on the outcome but on Who is with me in the waiting, well, that is a whole different ballgame. That time that could feel wasted or frustrated becomes fruitful. Because that Someone, God, on whom I wait, is reassuring me that my dreams are good, that the wait won't be forever and that He is with me when the practice gets difficult and I falter.  

I am constantly comforted by the many waits that God's people have had to endure through the ages and, indeed, the waiting God himself does constantly on us, without faltering. One verse comes to mind today that reminds me that this God on whom I wait, in whom I seek to dwell, is even more hopeful than I am that these dreams will come true and who stands beside me and strengthens me as we find ourselves waiting again.

"Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 
He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength. 
Even youths shall faint and be weary
and young men shall fall exhausted; 
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up with wings like eagles, 
they shall run and not be weary; 
they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:28-31

So, we will keep on practicing, we will walk and not grow faint. We will keep on waiting, keep on living with a lot of unknowns in our lives for now. We will not wait for the solving of those questions to somehow complete the story but understand that the practice is just as important as the outcome. 

Indeed, the outcome will be all the richer for the many hours of practice that has come before it. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rest is a Four Letter Word

The thing about rest is that the more we know we need it, the more we realize we've forgotten it, the more we seem to find ways to avoid it. That common adult problem that feeds out of the idea that "busy-ness" equates importance, that common fear that if I stop what I'm doing even for a moment, my world might come to a loud, crashing halt; these things cause me to run from rest. And if you are like me, you are really too tired to run in the first place.

But just like I have to find ways sometimes to command my soul to praise or to be thankful or to turn towards God, I have to find ways to command it to rest. To accept that gift that I cannot and am not made to do everything all the time without stopping. That the very rest that I run from would actually cause the rest of the chaos to abate a little bit.

So, like all things in my life, it comes back to control. When can I plan to rest, when can I make it happen. Rather than receiving. Rather than stopping without a managed plan of attack. Just a ceasing. Wouldn't that be amazing? Just stopping, without guilt, without remorse, without lists of things to do when the rest has finished. Just letting my soul enter into the rest it's already been given.

This post was written as a part of Five Minute Fridays. Check it out and give it a shot next week!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Naming

It's been over four years since we lost our second child. That first year was full of pain and secrets and transitions. The second year was full of questions and anger and the first stirrings of healing.The third year was full of hope and waiting. This fourth year has seemed to roll all three years into one huge, emotionally chaotic experience. One constant, though, through these four years has been the namelessness of that little one. Calling he or she an "it" or a "baby" but never being able to refer to that child with a name. It's kept that baby distant from me. Nameless, far, removed. 

When I first began to share what had happened, that loss, people always asked me how far along I had been. And each time I was asked that I was reminded again that our culture, including myself, thought of the pain as less real, as that child as somehow less human, the earlier its death had occurred. So with each asking of that question and each increasingly timid response of mine, I felt that my pain should be somehow less than it was. This wasn't really a baby, it seemed. Just a positive pregnancy test. Just a blip on a screen. Nothing that should have had a hold on me.

But it did. SHE did.

I've written recently about the time I spent at a retreat center. During that time, God was very present. And though I hadn't spoken to Him about our miscarriage in a very long time, I felt the freedom to bring it up again. To bring the loss back into the light. To ask some hard questions. And all the while, I grew tired of saying "it." I began to wonder, for the first time, if it would be alright for me to name this child. This faceless little one that I never met. And the moment I asked the question, I already knew the answer. Why not? God already knew this little one, had already given her a name, knew her intimately. Why shouldn't I? And as I sat there, just listening, just being quiet, I knew two things. I knew she was a girl and I knew her name was Amara.

How do I know that? No idea. Does God regularly speak audibly to me? No. But there was just this absolute quiet and a sudden knowing. And I have never been more sure of anything in my life.

That night I got home and looked up the meaning of the name Amara. I've actually never met anyone with that name. I hadn't chosen it in the short time we had to plan for her birth. And as I looked it up, I was astounded to see that it means "eternal beauty." After all, this is the only kind of beauty that I will ever get to see of her. The beauty of getting to carry her little body for a short time and the beauty I will see in her when I one day pass on and finally meet her. Eternal. Not earthly. Not here and now. But someday. And forever.

Recently I stumbled onto an e-book titled "Naming the Child." In this book, the author, Jenny Shroedel, describes infant death as "the forbidden room." It's a place no one wants to go, an off-limits place full of painful memories, secrets, images. A place no one wants to engage or deal with its stirred-up questions.

But it's a place all too frequented by so many of us. Because we don't want to speak of it or burden others by the silent deaths, we keep them silenced. We don't name these little ones. And for some people, I recognize, the naming will only be too painful. It's not what they need. But for me? This has been a long-awaited step of healing. Naming this child, naming this daughter has once and for all helped me to unashamedly declare that she IS. She is not a positive pregnancy test, she was not just a blip on a screen, she should have and still does have a hold on me. She always should.

For three of these years I have worn a sapphire necklace just about every day, the birthstone of the month she should have been born. Sapphires, a symbol of truth, sincerity and faithfulness. And the day I named Amara, I stumbled upon the following scripture:

"For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, 
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, 
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you. 
O afflicted one, stormed tossed and not comforted, 
behold, I will set your stones in antimony and lay your foundations with sapphires."  Isaiah 54

I would never have asked for these four years. I would never have wanted to lose our daughter. I would never say those trite words that "this is for a reason," like some have said to me, but I do know one thing. Amara is a gift. And the years I've experienced after her death have been years that have changed me in different ways than maybe her birth would have. I'll never really know. I cannot. But since I cannot change the fact that I will never know her this side of heaven, I can continue to hope. I can be reminded that God's steadfast love has not departed from me during this time. I can, every time I glance down at my sapphire, be reminded of a precious baby girl who is a part of this family and is treasured.

Amara. Of Eternal Beauty. You have been named. You are no longer an "it."

You never were.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

With a Little Help From Our Friends

Many of us don't like to actually need other people as much as we like being needed. No one says it out loud, but we keep count in our heads, a sad little tally list of how many times we've helped someone compared to how much he or she has helped us. We don't want that tally to slip heavy on our end, being indebted to someone or owing anyone anything. We like feeling in control of it all and keeping just the right balance in our friendships so that we're really never quite vulnerable with those around us.

The Beatles, however, recognized that that is a foolish way to live. In their famous song, they pose question after question about what someone might do in lonely or hard situations. And time after time, the answer to the question is to "get by with a little help from my friends." Perhaps even more famously for our generation, we remember the Joe Cocker version which was the theme song for The Wonder Years and anytime we hear that song we think of our younger friendships and first loves, of our own Pauls and Winnie Coopers.  Either way, the understanding is that the friends are just there, they are supposed to be a part of it, it only makes sense to call on them all the time. No tally marks, no keeping count, just honesty, laughter, hard work and life together.

Just this past week, we were in some serious need of help from our friends. Ever since we got the phone call about our move to Wisconsin, we've been doing all those fun little house projects to get ready for going on the market. They have been virtually never-ending. And as we looked at our timeline, we realized there was absolutely no way we could do it without help. We looked at our schedules, we thought long and hard of any way to do it without inconveniencing those around us, but the bold truth was that we could not do it alone.

So, as much as that little voice in me that wants to be able to handle everything on my own was screaming inside, I sent an email. An email asking for some help from our friends around here. Help mulching, painting, staining, cleaning, entertaining our name it, it was probably on the list. And the funny thing was, once I sent the email, I didn't feel funny or skittish about it anymore. It just felt good. It was remarkably freeing to ask for help.

And the response? Well, these pictures can probably speak for themselves but on a cold and windy weekend, countless numbers of our friends and their children gave up time and energy to make this happen. They smiled, they laughed, they joked with us, they brought us food, they stayed for countless slices of pizza, they bolstered our resolve to finish these projects. We are overwhelmed by their generosity and friendship, not to mention their stellar power-washing and shoveling abilities.

Whether or not our house sells quickly, the generosity of our friends this past week has reminded us acutely of one thing: it will not be easy to leave this place. We have truly gotten by with a little help from our friends, friends to whom we will not easily say goodbye, friends who have shown me more deeply that there is nothing to do with tally marks and keeping score in true friendships. You help when you can and you ask when you need it. Bottom line. Anything else is playing games. And life is just too short to waste time on the wrong kinds of games.