Thursday, September 29, 2011

when in need of a mountaintop experience, we head to the mountain

As mentioned in a previous post, our last month has been a little rough. One afternoon, Maddie was thrown into an emotional tailspin after losing a game of memory. The previous weeks of sensitivity & clinginess hit an all-time low in a long moment of sadness, despair, and self-hate. Maddie was saying things like, "I mean nothing to you. I am nothing. I am just a stupid girl." No matter how many times we spoke the truth or tried to comfort Maddie with our words, she just turned away. She couldn't hear them. So I did what came only naturally: I held her in my arms, rocked her back and forth, and shushed her like a little baby.

After what seemed like minutes and minutes of the most heartbreaking expressions of sorrow and self-doubt I've ever experienced in my child, she finally relaxed, melting into my arms, no longer fighting but acquiescing to the comfort of my body. We prayed for her, spoke words of affirmation, encouragement, and love. We held her caressed her, kissed her tear-stained cheeks, and cozied our bodies around her tiny one.

I had been planning to take a spiritual break that afternoon. I needed time away with Jesus, time to collect my thoughts and open up my heart. But with Maddie in such a vulnerable state, I knew I didn't want to abandon her for a few hours, so I asked if she wanted to come along. I explained how, in times of questioning or sadness, in times where I want to grow closer to God and hear from him, I find it necessary to get out, to go somewhere high on a mountain, where I can pray and listen and heal. San Damiano is one of those sacred places where I always walk away feeling refreshed, renewed, and met by my savior. Maddie agreed to coming along.

She packed a light snack and two water bottles in her backpack, which she flung over her shoulders with determination. Eyelashes still damp from the crying, we put on our hiking shoes and headed up the hill, pausing to talk, to pray, and to listen.

It was a hot day, but in the coolness of the shade we found lots of places to sit and rest. We trudged over fallen trees and under hanging branches. We sat on moss-covered rocks and listened to the crackling of creatures in the forest. I explained to Maddie that taking care of her heart is so important, because in times where we don't actually believe the truth, it still lies down deep in our souls, written on our hearts.

As we hiked, I prayed out loud for her. "Father, would you reveal yourself to your daughter Maddie? Would you show her your never-stopping, never-giving-up love that left heaven to pursue her? God, give her complete joy and peace in you and in the hugeness of your love for her."

We spent a lot of time in the garden. I introduced her to the labyrinth, a place to meditate and think on God's character while journeying to the center. She wanted to step over all the rocks and make her way to the resting place in the middle. In that moment of childlike impatience, I myself wanted to pick her up and carry her in my arms to her center, to Christ himself, for the healing and grace her heart so desperately needed that day.

We lingered by the cool water. Maddie beckoned the bright orange and black-spottted goldfish, dipping her fingers in the water, calling to them. We met a couple frogs cooling themselves in the shallows.

And I snapped photos. Hundreds. As Maddie found her peace by the cool pond, I found mine among dahlias and passionflower vines, brown-eyed susans and fragrant roses.

It's funny how when you stop talking and start listening, even the flowers have messages. There, amidst the long thorns of a cactus was sprouting a beautiful pink bud, God's creation reminding me of the dangers and difficulties necessary to produce beauty.

As I admired the passionflowers through my viewfinder, I thought of our friend, a prayer warrior and daughter of the King whose arm bears this flower's resemblance. She became a person of prayer and devotion in the wake of much hurt, pain, and abuse. Jesus met her in her sorrow and gave her a new name: baby girl, beloved, treasured one.

And as I snapped photographs, freezing these moments in time, I prayed for my daughter. I prayed that Jesus would reveal himself as the one able to hold her, to comfort and keep her, to cover her with a blanket of love in the midst of her own great sorrow.

I recognized my own limits as a parent. In my desire to just take the pain away, to carry my daughter through the storms of life so as to shelter and protect her, I was actually trying to be God. He's such a better savior than me. I prayed, again, that he would carry her, that he would provide, that he would produce the fruit in her life that is in line with his plan.

The roses were the perfect shade of pinky orange, fragrant and lovely. They bloomed for the glory of God, not for any other reason. Dragonflies danced and hovered around us. Bees hummed near our ears and hummingbirds drew nectar all around. They moved for the glory of their Creator.

And I found peace with my girl, there on our mountaintop, where Christ himself poured out love and grace and compassion and mercy.

Once the clouds of the afternoon's pain had lifted, the sun shone through even brighter, more golden and warm on our backs. We explored the garden in the new light, finding people in trees and little bugs in centers of flowers.

Time seemed to stand still in my little girl's inaugural mountaintop experience. Her shoulders relaxed and her countenance lifted as we talked about the beauty all around us. I reminded her that she is the joy of Jesus, the joy set before him when he endured death on the cross that she might know his love.

She wanted to hang from a branch in the garden, swinging her legs and hanging with the strength in her upper body. Again and again she asked for help in grasping the limb so she could enjoy the security of its branch as she spun and kicked and swung. Again and again I lifted her, until her arms were tired and she moved on.

"I am the vine, and you are the branches. Remain in me." That day, in that beautiful garden, I lifted my girl to the branch so she could be connected to the tree. Each and every day as I raise and disciple my child, I'm teaching her to return to the vine, to hold her branch securely to the most firm foundation she'll ever know.

Trials and sorrows will come, of that I'm sure. I'll want to carry her, to protect her, to assure and encourage her. That's my job as her mom. But I'll remember this day in the garden as a day when God reminded and reassured me of his love for my daughter and his control in her life. She will experience pain and suffering. Drought will inevitably come. My job is to help keep her attached to the vine, to remain in the love of the father, so that even when it doesn't feel as though her world is safe or secure or even fun, the truth of who she is in Christ what keeps her rooted.

Thank you, Father, that you love my child. Thank you that you love me. Help me to weather these storms of life in prayer and dependence on you. May I always point my children to their Creator, their Sustainer, the True Vine, and that deep in their souls they are satisfied because you've already secured their deepest need and desire in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Indian Summer

101 degrees on the first day of Fall?! That's when we're thankful for the pool!

Sam peeking over the edge:

Sam peeking out from under the snuggle nest we created:

Diva gets her attitude on:

Jumping in!

Maddie: 56 Months

Dear Maddie,

Somehow the 14th came and went this month, without me remembering your monthly update. Suffice it to say that it's been an unusual month for both of us. Busy, with unexpected moments. Difficult, with unexpected emotions. Such it is with transitions in our house, and boy, has it been a month of change!

In just a short month, you've gone from Summer to five days a week of school. You lost a great-grandfather and traveled to Oregon for a long weekend. You've spent many a Monday night with sitters and every Sunday afternoon running around with church friends. You no longer have morning play dates with best buddies or cozy mornings in pajamas. That's a lot for my sensitive girl.

And so, there's been some adjusting going on, some changes, most of them really, really difficult. You are emotional and clingy, questioning and unsure. Whereas you've always been the type of kid to head in to a new situation with both feet running, eyes smiling, we've seen lots of holding back this month. One day at preschool drop off I had to peel you from my arms, crying, and leave you with a teacher. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

And so it goes with parenting. Just when I think I had some major elements of your personality figured out, well, you changed. And I'm totally okay with that. It's just taking some getting used to. My girl who was once so self-assured and confident is needing more reassurance, longer hugs, closer snuggles. This is definitely not a bad thing. I've treasured our special dates, our one-on-one time to ground you in love and adoration and relationship. I can't get enough of those late-evening snuggles where I spoon you in bed until you tire of the closeness, ask me to remove my arms from around you, but still want me to linger. And almost every morning your little footsteps proceed the crawling under the covers and snuggling up to your dad, the resting close and secure in his strong, capable arms before embarking on your day.

You're learning how to handle changing relationships. We don't see each other in the mornings while you're at school, and it's been hard. You and Nicole get to ride together in the car 3 days a week but it's not enough. And instead of being excited and joyful in the moments where you get to spend time together, your couplings produce conflicted, head-butting confrontations. It's painful to watch, but us Mamas know that with any change, we have to trust that you're going to work it out. Transitions have been really, really hard, but we're getting by.

This month there have been heart-wrenching, gut-clenching moments as a parent in which I absolutely wished I could take all the pain away, scoop you in my arms like a newborn babe, and "shh shh" the tears away. Yet it's not so simple anymore. Part of you learning to navigate this broken world is learning to navigate change, learning to grieve the passing of times known and understood, adapting to times that are filled with unknowns. You will come out the other side of these difficult changes with more character, a deeper sense of who you are, and a greater sense of how God takes care of you. If it only weren't so darn hard.

And even through the difficult transitions, there have been moments of sheer joy. I've been praying almost daily that you would know and experience the immense joy and peace of God within you. I've prayed that he would make himself real to you, that you would see him at work in and through the changes. You are learning SO much at school, like writing your name with one capital letter followed by lower-case ones. You clap out syllables and make up songs. You are still silly as can be, wearing jammies on your head, socks on your hands and scarves around your waist, dancing and shaking your booty in an effort to make us giggle.

God is so good. In the midst of all this struggle, I still see in you the amazing, fun, smart, sensitive, creative, imaginative, generous person he's created. I recognize that my desire to shield you from pain comes with the territory of being a mom as much as kissing boo boos, tying shoes, and breaking up fights. And so I will continue to dance this fine line of protection and letting go, trusting my Father to take your hand when I can't, to soothe your heart when my words and arms fail, and to create in you the person he's made you to be.



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Trip to Oregon: September 2011

The fam and I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Oregon. My sweet grandpa died last week and we spent a few days with my family, loving on each other. It was nice to be home, even if it meant grieving our Painter family patriarch, because we were together.

Sunrise on the first morning. The sun coming up behind Mt. Hood is absolutely breathtaking. I could post a hundred more photos of this very scene.

We spent a lot of time outside; the weather couldn't have been more beautiful. Oregon is getting the tail end of an Indian Summer and the poor schoolteachers (Ack! Mom!) are sweating it out in their classrooms. Maddie loves to climb trees now and so would scamper up the little apple trees and shake the limbs to get us a treat.


Maddie also LOVES the swing that Papa and Joe built out front. This would be her third Summer in a row enjoying the long, sweeping, rhododendron-grazing swing. And how can you not just love this contented face?

Also outside at my parents' house: blueberry bushes. Lots of them. I ate SO many fresh blueberries, plucked right from the bush. I bought a carton at TJs this week. What was I thinking? They don't even come close to the tart-sweet goodness of these lovelies:

Early on our first morning the kids, Papa and I went out to meet Great Grammy Mimi on her walk. Sam was SO excited to pick her some flowers:

Friday was my Grandpa Bob's memorial service. Here is photographic evidence of why two year-olds should not be allowed in such services:

Many thanks to my sweet hubby for managing the robot/cowboy shenanigans outside of the sanctuary.

At Grandpa's house, the extended family hung out for most of the day, remembering, loving on each other, getting into a wee bit of trouble, and just having fun.

Climbing trees in the front yard:

Finding old glasses and broom-brooms (tractors) and beep-beeps (golf carts) in the garage (blurry but too good not to include):

Catching up on some guy time with Uncle Joe:

My sweet cousin Rhonda organized a donut toast in honor of our dearly departed Grandpa. So fun. Grandpa used to take all of us cousins (7 of us) to get donuts, among other goodies.

Favorite memories at the G&G Painters house included: oreo cookies, hand-churned ice cream, golf, golf cart rides, trips to the pro shop for penny gumballs, playing in the back room, climbing trees, and running around on the golf course. At the end of this month, some renters are moving in, so we were also saying goodbye to the house, in a way.

Post-donut, no-nap, end-of-the-day (but still kissable) face:

There were many, many rides on the golf cart. It started nice and innocent with Uncle Mike driving around. Then the cousins started trying it out. Timid at first, not so much at the end. Glad we ended it when we did. No injuries. :)

Sam with his cousin D.J. and Great Uncle Mike:

Back at Grammy and Papa's, we got another afternoon of playtime with the cousins, which made my Maddie girl very, very, VERY happy. She loves those guys.

Slip and slide fun:

This was a GREAT story:

On their way to pick some blackberries and play in the creek:

After the trek (Maddie wanted no part of the group photo):

Covered in dirt, cowpie, blueberry juice, dinner, dessert, creek water, blackberry stains, thorn pokes, blood, sweat and grime (but still extremely kissable):

And, sunrise on the last day:

Don't you wish this was what you woke up to every morning? Seriously beautiful.

Love you, Painter family. Miss you already!! Thanks for the memories.

Monday, September 12, 2011

School: Week Two!

A few things I've already learned from my kids this week:

1. Daddy has a cross in his office that Maddie and Sam "decided" was "perfect for a mouse to die on." (It took us a minute to catch on, but once we realized she was referring to the size of the cross, we had ourselves a really, really, REALLY big laugh.)

2. There is a boy in Maddie's class that is "really handsome." So handsome, in fact, that she "clasped her hands together against [her] cheek and batted [her] eyelashes up and down. He is going to be [her] boyfriend."

I have no idea how to handle this one. Don't know where she got the concept of boyfriend, or where she heard anything about hand-clasping or eyelash-batting! Advice? Please!

3. Sam made his first school project today, a stoplight. When I asked him what the red color meant, he yelled, "STOP!" and put up his palm in the universal sign for stop. When I asked about green, he smiled and yelled "Gooooooo!!!" Then I cried happy, sappy tears.

I SO took for granted how smart, capable and verbal my first child was. Going though all of this with Sam is, simply, heartwarming. I celebrate each new little word and concept with such unbelievable joy and emotion. When he repeated it for Daddy in his office later, I cried again. Then on the way home we passed through an intersection, he noticed the green light, and yelled, "Goooo!!!" Once again, teared up. Seriously, Becky?!

There you have it! All you ever needed to know about life, apparently you learn the second week of preschool.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Samuel: 2 1/2 and first day of school!

Today was one of those days I'll never forget. You turned 2 and a half and you started preschool. Quite an amazing day for an equally amazing boy. I wish I could just squeeze and squeeze you and keep you this cute forever.

Of course, the past month has been full of wonderful times. You are funny and silly, focused and intentional. You love to make us laugh but you also love to sit down, work at something, and stick with it until you've figured it out. You are so easygoing, it almost makes me feel guilty. You play well with others and also are great at entertaining yourself for long periods of time. You love to do puzzles, climb, make things into guns (ba-doo ba-doos), and follow your sister.

This week you got to dress up like a cowboy for our friend's birthday party. You relished every minute of your wrangler-wearing, boot-stomping, hat-tipping, lady-killing day. You were altogether delectable. I might have nibbled on you a few times that afternoon (hence the tastes of baked beans, hot dog, lollipop, orange soda, candy, watermelon and chewing gum). When the pony you were riding got a little frisky (okay, a LOT frisky), you grabbed that saddle horn and held on like a pro rider. My heart nearly beat out of my chest and I practically leapt off the curb to your rescue, but you didn't need rescuing. No sir, you done went and made yerself a darn-tootin' real-life cowboy. When my heart finally stopped pounding and you smiled that knowing grin, I felt the biggest surge of pride and delight in my big, independent, determined boy.

You turn every day into a wonderland of new experiences. You have an insatiable desire to explore, create and investigate. You and your sister are quite a pair with all the adventures you make up. So often I love to just sit back and watch as your imaginations take flight, admiring the way you love and care for each other, laughing to myself at the language you share, and shaking my head in disbelief at some of the things you come up with. It's so delightful.

You turn every stick, block, rock, cord, accessory, banana, celery stick, paper towel roll and who-knows-what-else into a gun. You run around shooting things all day. We own not a single gun but your arsenal is bigger than most sportsmen, what with your imagination. You are all boy.

This morning as we dressed for school, you were giddy with joy. Maddie kept telling you all the fun that awaited in the purple room and you nodded, said "uh-huh," and followed along with anticipation. You two were exceptionally amiable for picture time. Thank you.

At school, you and Maddie ran around, burning off excited energy while we waited for the doors to open. In line, the two of you held hands, eyes forward, as you crept forward toward the teacher.

Mrs. Sims was overjoyed when you ran straight in and backed up for your signature Sam hug. She laughed and told you how she's known you since you were a tiny baby, two years ago. You said, "uh-huh," and watched as she pointed out the fire truck on your name tag. Maddie tied your nametag to your backpack while you ran about the room, unsure of where to start: blocks, fire trucks, puzzles, playdough, paint? You mean, I get to do all of this today?!

You were so excited and not the least bit hesitant. You plopped right down, gave kisses to your family, and got about your preschool business. I didn't even have time to get emotional. It was such an easy, smooth, and joyful transition.

Little buddy, it's hard to believe that you've started school. Heck, it's hard to believe that the little chubby-cheeked fuzz-head who once dropped his big sister to the purple room is now in that room himself. Time sure flies.

I'm just crazy about you, sweet boy. In fact, everyone is. You are just a joy, a sweetie pie, easy and fun, loving and playful. And you're my little boy.