"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Drink Up!

“Mom?” Alix muttered over the phone. “I don’t think I can drive home. Can you come get me?”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m really shaky and having trouble breathing. My hands and legs are numb.”
“I’ll be there in a minute. Hang tight.” Tony and I rushed out the door leaving the rest of the family with more questions than answers. As we sped toward the Subway where Alix worked, I dialed 911 just.in.case. The ambulance arrived as we were pulling into the parking lot. I scrambled out of the car to the open van door, Alix sprawled in the back seat, perspiring profusely.
The paramedics asked questions, trying to assess her condition. What were her symptoms? When did they begin? They took her blood pressure. More questions. More assessments. Alix, disoriented and dazed, stammered through queries from all of us. She started cramping and feeling dizzy at work.  No, she hadn’t eaten anything today. No, she hadn’t drank anything today. Her tongue felt thick, and she couldn’t enunciate. Her limbs felt numb. She was hot.
The paramedics suggested we transport her to the hospital for evaluation. They were definitely amenable to ferrying her there with all the bells and whistles for a fair amount of dollars, but given the tests didn’t appear to show anything life threatening, these sympathetic professionals gave us the ultimate decision. Minutes later, Tony zipped towards the hospital with Alix stretched across the seat, slurring and sweating.
I reminisce about events that occurred a year before when we received another phone call informing us that Alix had fainted at the pool. Sweltering heat. High humidity. No drink. No food. Yep, her hands and feet were numb then as well. A few years before that, she felt dizzy and disoriented by another poolside. The boiling temperature of summer, again. A pattern emerges. And before that? During a gymnastics choreography session, Alix, shaky, light-headed and sensing numbness in her limbs, was forced to stop.  How many times had we told her? Stay hydrated. Even if you aren’t thirsty, drink!
And, this particular day? She hadn’t eaten a morsel all day. She scared us half to death, and now we careened around corners like Nascar drivers. Once in the emergency room, nurses plied her with questions and poked her arm for blood. The doctor tested her for this, that and the other, ruling out all types of diseases and conditions except for the one sitting in the back of my mind all along—dehydration. Yep, she inherited the propensity for this nagging condition honestly. With six dehydration fainting episodes in my lifetime, Alix threatens to pass me by like Secretariat blowing past Sham in the Kentucky Derby.  And, it’s all due to the dilemma of not consuming enough liquid.
Like Alix, I rarely feel thirsty. Hours pass before I sense the urge to sip anything; even morning coffee is more of a ritual than a need for liquid. Occasionally, I wonder if I’m an anomaly, for a friend can hammer down three ice teas to my one in the course of a 2 hour lunch. And, of all known drinks, water never sounds appealing. When exercising, I force myself to gulp water by filling up two large jugs to be emptied by the end of the day. Since I don’t desire to add a seventh fainting episode to my existing achievements, I carry my tervis tumbler in the car for easy access. I’m nurturing my desire for water by removing other drink temptations and keeping the true thirst quencher at hand.
Much like my physical thirst, I must cultivate spiritual thirst. So often, I’m not thirsty for God. I want to drink at other wells: social media, shopping, television, friends, books or ministry. I expect these items to fill me up, but they, like drinks substituted for water, only temporarily satiate.  While coffee, tea and soft drinks are certainly tastier than water, if I drink them excessively and exclusively, they can cause dehydration. Lack of adequate fluids can cause serious repercussions and just might land a person in the hospital emergency room.  However, if I replenish with the real deal, I quench my thirst and don’t require the poor replacements. Similarly, when I seek fulfillment through other avenues instead of filling up with Him, my energy wanes, and I face spiritual dehydration. I need refreshment from the Life-giver.
How do I change my taste buds and develop a thirst for that which is refreshing and reviving? How do I exchange my desire to quench myself by stalking friends on Facebook, consuming a thrilling page-turner or serving in a motivating ministry? Even ministry can deplete our reserves when we seek fulfillment there rather than relationship with our Creator. Sooner or later, we will crash and burn. Many recognize this yet continue to drink from draining sources. In light of this, what are ways we can build our thirst for Him?
Drink Deliberately. Just like pushing myself to down water, I purposefully study God’s word. The more I do this, the more it becomes a habit, like brushing my teeth or fastening my seat belt. When I miss my minutes with God, I wonder what He had planned to reveal to me that day. Depleted of my reviving resources, I fail and fizzle out in managing my time wisely, treasuring relationships and handling household responsibilities. My water intake affects my energy output in the same manner my deliberate devotion does.
Refresh Repeatedly. I drag a bottle of water with me wherever I travel. A number of times, I’ve rushed back into the house in a panic for the water overlooked. Like the blanket my son lugged everywhere we trekked, I keep that tumbler of water nearby. It’s handy for a sip whenever I need the cool liquid. In the same way, I remain aware of God’s presence throughout the day. I swallow frequently, breathing prayers while washing clothes or dishes. I read an email and pray for a friend. Watching a bird at the feeder, I thank God for His beautiful creation and how He even takes care of the birds. Making lunches for the girls causes me to be grateful for the food we have to eat. I drink deeply when taking care of ministry matters, giving God glory for what He is doing in other women’s lives. God is my spring of living water from which I drink deeply throughout my day.
"...Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)
I wish I could say I’ve conquered my thirst problem. I fully intend to order water at restaurants, but when faced with the temptation of a big glass of iced tea, I cave. So many times, I succumb to my craving instead of what will truly invigorate. Still, I am working on it. Being aware of my tendency to become easily dehydrated propels me to choose healthy habits more often. In the same way, I gravitate towards the God who can refill and refresh me to overflowing so that I have unlimited supply to spill out in my home, ministry and community.
Drink deeply; He is the spring that will never run dry!    


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Joke and a Smile

He burst onto the planet with a smile tattooed on his baby face like those who sport tattooed eyeliner. Frankly, that happy face was simply his permanent face status.  And today that beaming boy celebrates his 21st year of life. The doctors gave me an April 1st due date, but true to his nature, Nick fooled me and came ten days later, a cruel joke to play on a mom still waddling around like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
If there were an award for babies, Nick would have received “Most Cuddly.” He loved being rocked to sleep rather than fall asleep on his own. And, when he moved to a big bed, he would slip out of it sometime during the evening and sleep right by the inside of the door so that I couldn’t open it in the morning. He hated being by himself; he always wanted to be in the middle of the action. And, Nick could eavesdrop on an exchange from two miles away! Seemingly engrossed in homework or a book, he would pipe up from the other room asking for clarification on a conversation that didn’t involve him. That’s my Nosy Nick. Wonder where he inherited that trait?
Not content to play alone, Nick looked forward to little sister, Alix’s arrival, anticipating that immediately upon her return from the hospital, she would somehow mobilize herself into playmate action. Much to his dismay, she lay around, cooing and googling for weeks and months before his dream came true. Even then, as Alix grew older, she would refuse to play with him, and Nick would get angry. Most big brothers can’t ditch their younger siblings quickly enough. Not Nick!
Nick’s love for games and jokes began early, beginning with his surprise late arrival. We’ve endured homemade “knock knock jokes”, library joke books as well as the book presently gracing the bathroom shelf. It never fails that even now, when that young man comes home from college, he comes out of the lavatory with a joke on his lips. Groans and moans ensuing from those dumb jokes don’t stop that kid. As a young teen, Nick antagonized his baby sister Maddie incessantly while proclaiming that he “didn’t do anything.” He’d continue to provoke her by silently invading her space knowing she’d scream and we’d chastise her unaware of his sneakiness.
Nick struggled with being a good sport when playing games. After losing, he would throw board pieces and pout, but he caught on quickly that no one would play with him if he didn’t grasp that universal concept that everyone wins and loses sometimes. That doesn’t mean he isn’t competitive; he just doesn’t stomp his feet and pound his fist anymore! He thrives on activity whether cajoling Maddie to play basketball with him or begging the family to play Electronic Banking Monopoly. One summer, Nick organized a hiking expedition in the woods behind some property we own. We traipsed along trails brushing past tree branches overhanging the path and climbed huge limestone rocks, scraping our knees and arms as we navigated to the top. Hours later, we dragged ourselves home, wounded and tick infested, swearing we’d never listen to Nick’s bright ideas again!
For years, prior to April Fool’s Day, Nick would search for practical jokes to play on us. One year, Nick wrapped saran wrap over the opening of my shampoo and conditioner. Another time, Nick offering to prepare Alix’ breakfast should’ve clued her in that something was amiss; however, with her blond roots, she remained oblivious. When she tasted her cereal, discovering it was mixed with a blend of flour and water, she scrunched her face at Nick, “What is this?!” Yep, it’s best to be on your guard on the 1st of April when Nick is present.
Nick is all about details. It’s wise not to ask him how he enjoyed a particular movie because he will then describe it play-by-play. Asking him a simple question will lead to recounting additional information and stories he feels are necessary to convey a complete answer. If Alix is “just the facts, ma’am” and Maddie is “embellish and dramatize all the events,” Nick is “clarify and spell out every detail.” Extremely conscientious as a teen, Nick checked in frequently, cataloging specifics, carefully relaying material he felt we should be aware of. As a case in point, one evening after Tony and I had gone to bed, Nick felt it important upon his return from work to knock on our bedroom door to inform us that he had brought home Chick-Fil-A sandwich leftovers. Tony responded, “Gee, thanks Nick for letting us know!” While Nick’s major in the minutiae gives us a good laugh occasionally, I certainly can’t chortle too loudly. For, Nick and I are two peas in a pod in pontificating the particulars as well as prying information. We both desire to be in the know as well as setting the stage for the story that follows. Everyone else is screaming, “Get to the point!”
Responsible firstborn, Nick has always protected and kept an eye on his two sisters. He was the voice for Alix for many years, because she was too shy to speak up. And, with 10 years between he and Maddie, he took care of her like a parent, making sure she didn’t run into the middle of a street and keeping track of her when we were occupied. He assumed the task as naturally as a bee gravitates to honey. And, while he loves to joke and pester, Nick doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. Easy going, kind, gentle, dependable…all describe this 6’2” young man. In keeping with what mom says of my younger brother, “He’s such a nice boy!”
And yet, for all these positive traits, Nick definitely knows how to argue a point to the death. Determined to have the last word in a conversation even if it’s muttering something under his breath as he stomps out of the room, Nick loves to be right. Learning that some topics and discussions don’t have to be a hill to die on is an ongoing process for Nick. Still, this stand firm mentality carried him through tough teen years and gave him the ability to make wise choices.
This resolve also caused him to make these declarations, “I will not have a girlfriend until college” and “I will not go to prom in high school.” Wrong on both counts! Nick became friends with a girl who liked hanging out with him. Everyone knew she liked him, but naïve Nick! Part way into their junior year, Nick told me he was going to ask her to be his girlfriend. When he asked her to the prom, Nick had to recant his previous pronouncements. Fast forward four and a half years and Nick is engaged to this same girl, the only woman he’s ever dated. Next year, that joke-telling, jovial, gentle son of mine will join his life to a lovely lady who has made him a better Nick.
He’s a prankster with a huge heart, and at twenty one, still sports a smile as big as the sea!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Storage Secrets

The town in which I was raised our family relocated like nomadic gypsies. While we lived in the same small berg for 14 years, we moved five times, an average of 2.8 years in each abode. We didn’t allow much time to let the grass grow before we set our sights on new digs. I’m not certain the reasons behind all these moves from one end of town to the other. I don’t think we were run out of neighborhoods for too many dandelions or breaking a noise ordinance. We displayed our washing machine in the house, not the front porch, like a redneck might. It’s not like my parents had 17 annoying children harassing the neighbors, either. Three is a pretty normal number, and we definitely were quite angelic. So, why we moved from house to house, I don’t really know unless my dad has gypsy roots. This hopping around like rabbits resulted in purging possessions frequently, although I prefer the term “simplify” much better since the former sounds too much like something we do in a toilet.
In any case, I’ve learned to simplify along the way since for many years, I too carried this gypsy gene in my veins. Until this last house in which I’ve resided for the last 11 years, I had relocated 15 times in 15 years, a measly year in each place. Goodness, a year is only enough time to move in, unpack and begin looking for a new dwelling! I felt like a squirrel scrambling up one tree, unloading a few acorns, only to set his sights on the next tree, looking for that place to call home. I didn’t have time to become a packrat or a collector of Precious Moments or Lladro. An itinerant lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to piling up possessions like Adele collecting awards at the Grammy’s.  
So, now that I’ve managed to settle down in one domicile for almost an eternity, I’ve stockpiled, stuffed and stored belongings that otherwise would have been eliminated in one of my 40,000 moves. Four overflowing bookshelves, an army of toys and ancient relics from the past threatened a coup. Thus, I embarked on a journey to eradicate unnecessary items seeking to bully us from our dwelling. My first stop, the basement storage, which hosted not only Christmas décor, but also those important artifacts from yesteryear that neither hubby nor I could bear to part with. It goes without saying that I keep a few sentimental items from the kids’ baby years, not to mention those valuable high school year books with such meaningful comments as “stay sweet” and “wish’d I could’ve spent more time with you” from friends that I haven’t talked to in 30 years.
I’m not quite sure why the man of the house complains about my growing mountain of books while he clings to Accounting and Calculus textbooks from ancient times. Surely, combs with teeth missing don’t pack sentimental value. And, why does he continue to save ski maps of Aspen and Vale from 1982? What causes us to cling to these articles that sit uselessly in the dark?  It’s like those clothes I simply can’t discard because I might wear them—someday.  Lest I place all the blame on my poor partner, why on earth do I keep research papers from college or high school unless I need to spark a bonfire? Do I really want to show my daughter my piano evaluation that displays my hapless grade on practicing and dynamics (the very things she struggles with)?  I might not be a packrat in the truest sense of the word, but what objects do I keep hidden away…just.in.case—like the two indoor water fountains that we might display someday, or the million tote bags tucked away, or the tent we’ve never used (nor will we, if I have any say). The list is endless…
And so, I simplified the storage. I emptied boxes like my 20-year-old son eats cereal. Forty-old-combs and thirty-year-old maps disappeared, and the “we might use them someday” fountains recycled. The tent was miraculously saved for “one of those years”. The storage closet, now condensed and compact like a smart car, whereas before, navigating that room was like a soldier tiptoeing across a mine field. Boxes precariously positioned and items haphazardly strewn about endangered anyone entering the room.
Cleaning out unnecessary items is cathartic. Especially for the soul. What menacing matters jeopardize my heart? What clutters my conscience? Am I hiding, harboring or hanging onto something like a child refusing to unclench her favorite blanket or stuffed animal to be washed? Do I really think I can keep anything secret from the One who sees all?

“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” Psalm 90:8

So often I convince myself that if no one else knows about my anger simmering like soup, God is oblivious to it as well. Then, I read words about God creating me in the secret place, and I remember nothing is hidden from my Creator.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”  Psalm 139:15-16
He, who created me, is intimately familiar with everything that makes me tick. As I ponder this verse, I comprehend how strangely comforting this truth is. The God of the Universe knows me—the terrible thoughts, the shady secrets, the awful attitudes—and loves me in spite of what lurks in my heart. While others might recoil, Jesus embraces me. He exposes my sin in the light of His presence and invites me to experience His forgiveness, like the woman caught in the act of adultery. Her sin uncovered and accusers gone, Jesus forgives and summons her to live differently—to expunge damaging deeds done in the dark.
And so, He calls all of us to walk in the light, to eradicate concealed cargo that we grip tightly to. As we let go, our hearts can be filled with His goodness and grace. Just as our storage compartments are expunged of unnecessary clutter, so our hearts are freed from those secret sins which weigh us down.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”           Psalm 139:23-24