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Monday, September 22, 2014

"You Do Not Have To Be Good"

"Mama, can I ask you something?”

“Yes… what?” I answered my oldest son. His question begged for a spot in my mind that was unraveling the complex schedule of the day as I drove down the winding country road to school, late again.

 “Why did that orchid have to break on my birthday? Why did it have to happen and make me feel so sad…on my birthday?” repeated my now nine-year-old boy.

The question felt like a valuable nugget, just tossed to me, about how my child perceives life. Little things that break, like orchids—they matter a lot. ‘And how is it that he cares so much?’ I wondered.
On his birthday, he cried quietly, but hard, sinking down into a little ball in his room because a tiny piece of his orchid broke off. He said it was his fault. He said he had been careless.

If he feels this bad, all on his own, over the fracture of an orchid stem, then imagine how he feels when an adult tells him that he IS careless. ‘Must remember this, and must remember to share this with husband,’ I thought.

So often it seems like it doesn’t bother him one bit that he leaves messes everywhere he goes.  Breaks, loses, or forgets things. Spills food in the car, crushes books, homework, video cases under his feet. Leaves paths of chaos and dirt in every room he travels across. We remind him to be more careful over and over and over again. The messes keep coming. It dawns on me that he really is trying hard and that he knows he is careless. He doesn’t want to be that way.

After all, he was crying over an orchid breaking.

“I don’t know why the orchid had to break.” I answered.

“But Mama, God is in charge of everything, right? So then he wanted it to break?” He stretched his voice for a truth, an answer.

“I don’t know for sure if God wanted it to break, but I know everything good comes from God.” I replied, thinking it through myself…” maybe he wants you to learn something,” I wondered out loud.

“He wants me to learn that things I love die? It is awful that things have to hurt and then die,” he sighs.

We are traveling over a bridge now and I see a golden glow over the water on the pond with two elegant swans cuddling in their wings. Life appears to be overflowing at this moment.

“Maybe God wants you to think about life, just the way you are doing. He wants you to care…” I pause.

I recall the first line of a Mary Oliver poem called Dream Work that I am writing about for my class…
”You do not have to be good,” I say out loud. I feel relief.

Then I finished the idea for him and for me, and maybe Mary would agree with me…

“You (and that orchid and every living thing) have all that you need inside of you. You have God. Even when you break, you have Him. You do not have to be good...God is good for you.”

I pulled in to the school parking lot and turned around to catch his smile, to love him even more than ever, as he ran off, backpack crooked, hair rumpled, ready for another day of life.

Friday, September 12, 2014

May Our Stories Bear Fruit

Copyright Amy Aves Challenger 2012

Silence. I have left my three kids at school, and for the first time (I'm actually on day 10) in almost nine years they are without me for seven hours a day. Air…it strikes me as a great gift that I have been missing, as it eases into my chest. I slow down my pace enough to smile and chat with another mom. I’ve got nowhere important to be, and no one hollering for my attention. No one is asking for help, for a hug or showing me a new kind of acorn. I feel an eerie draft from imaginary doors swinging closed behind me, as though an extremely long chapter of my story just ended.  Am I mourning or celebrating?  And this next chapter is the beginning of—what?

If I peek back through that door slowly swinging shut, I heavily admit to myself that I cannot go back a chapter. But I can still catch a picture of the miracles... babies held up high in delivery rooms while I wept, and later their warm little bodies folded across mine as I slept. I can make out images of the doctors consulted, the special diets prepared, the hours of therapy, the millions of techniques tried, the miles of tears, the stacks of parenting books, the diapers changed, the sleepless nights, the tantrums soothed, the loneliness endured, the teacher meetings, the accomplishments celebrated, the amazing people who helped plow the path to where my family is today. I see the guilt accepted, the mistakes admitted, I see the hearts embraced, and the love that grew to enormous watermelon-sized fruit… huge love, delicious, but often pressing me down flat beneath it. With every tear and kiss and kind word the fruit grew. Oh, how bountiful this life, this earth.

So now back to what?

If I’m in an optimistic mood, I think God is opening the doors for me-- again. In this chapter, I might get to take all the dirty, painful, beautiful stuff of parenthood (so far) and put it to work. I might get to write a book, create new products, paint, illustrate— serve the homeless…but who knows? One thing I’ve learned from parenthood is that I do not get to write the next chapter! If I lean in, God gently nudges me to where I need to go. If I turn away, then God just picks me up and tosses me there. My family and I end up where we're supposed to be, anyway, despite our strong wills.

I know three parents who have passed on in the past two months from cancer. They all left behind fairly young children… When did they realize that their chapter in this world was coming to a close? What was their final chapter like? During their last moments here, did they get a glimpse of their whole story from beginning to end? Did it all make sense and could they taste the fruit of their stories? I keep thinking of them. And probably because of them, I am stretching a little farther to hear God, squinting a bit harder to see Him, asking him more often, more firmly than ever…What now, God?

Today I’m praying for the open heart and quiet mind to allow the uncertain chapters of my days to be shaped and transformed by the will of my creator, to bear fruit sweet enough to share with millions, and strong enough to endure all the challenges that I know still lie ahead.