Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Blessed and Broken.

The Sea of Galilee (photo by Sara Simmons)

Sunday morning, my friend Chrissy and I sat in the prayer circle at Religious Ed with our first graders sharing our favorite Bible stories together.  Prayer Circle with Chrissy and our kiddos is the highlight of my week.  First. Graders.  Are.  Amazing. I was so humbled by how much some of these little ones knew as we talked about the Word.  After we went around the circle and shared some of the awesome things that God has done for His people, I asked them if any one of them had heard MY favorite bible story, the story of the Loaves and the Fishes. 
"Ohhhhh, Ohhhh!!" one enthusiastic little sweetheart declared.  "That's when a little boy gave Jesus a few pieces of bread and some fish and Jesus fed five thousand people with it with big baskets of food leftover!!"  Other little first graders nodded their heads enthusiastically if they had heard the story, others sat there with eyes wide in awe. 
"God can do miracles!"  I said.  "Isn't that awesome!??"  We all agreed that it was, indeed, awesome.  Thank you, God.

I've always been fascinated with the story of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, but it wasn't until last year that it started to take on an even more special meaning to me.  I was reading the phenomenal book, Jesus, a Pilgrimage, by one of my favorite authors and spiritual thinkers, James Martin, SJ.  This book is a travel memoir, a history lesson, a spiritual text and so much more.  It is lighthearted and funny and well-researched and profoundly wise.   It took me nearly a year to read it but it was a year well spent.  So well spent, in fact, that I circled right back and started reading it again.  The narratives shared in this story of Fr. Martin's pilgrimage to the Holy Land broke open the Gospel in a new way to me.  I felt like I was falling in love with Jesus all over again as I reflected on his life with new eyes and new ears.   There were some pages where I had to just close the book and spend a few days pondering some knowledge bomb that Fr. Martin had just dropped, and his reflection on the miracle of the loaves and fishes was one of those times:

"God can take any small offering that we make- a kind word, a brief visit to a hospital, a quick apology, a short thank-you note or e-mail, a smile- and multiply it."

"All we need to do is bring what little we have, generously and unashamedly.  At Tabgha, the disciples seemed embarrassed that there was not enough food for the crowd and were about to send everyone away hungry.  But Jesus knew whatever there is, God can make more of it.  But first we are asked to offer our loaves and fishes, no matter how inadequate they may seem.  Only then can God accomplish the kind of true miracle that occurred at Tabgha."

Oh, how these words soothed my soul.

How often do I feel like I am not enough? 

Well, at least once a day now, usually sometime either right before or right after three of my four little buddies get on or off the bus.  Everyone needs me during those times, individually and specifically and desperately and for completely different reasons.  There's so much to hear and say and do and listen to and sort out about feelings and hunger and sadness over something that happened at recess and pride/worry over graded papers and stress over homework and JUST ONE OF ME for all of it.  And along with the influx of need comes a torrent of backpacks and papers and lunchboxes and shoes and gravel from the playground and Pokemon cards collected from the bus.   Also, activities and dinner and homework and reading and showers and brushing teeth and cleaning up AFTER dinner!  It's so intense that one evening last week I flopped on the bed at about 6:30 PM, only to have Paul prod me and say, "JEN!!  C'MON!  We still have like two hours to go!!  DON'T GIVE UP ON ME NOW!"   I laughed and dragged myself up off of the bed, but this is no joke.  These school days have got me like whoa.  Don't get me wrong, being a parent of littles was also very intense.  However, that intensity happened in small bursts throughout the day- hungry baby needing milk, crying toddler needing a hug, preschooler that needed to poop. . .ALL RIGHT NOW!!  And then they all napped.  Repeat cycle.  But those days that felt like I had lived four separate days in one have given way to days where much of my responsibilities as a mother to these souls has been mostly concentrated into a four-hour period from 4-8 PM.  You know the expression, "You can't pour from an empty cup?"  While my kids are at school, I feel the need for way more than trying to fill my cup- I need to dig a well.  If there is no deep well of peace from which these thirsty little souls to draw it's going to get crazy up in here.  Yet the ability of my boys to draw from the well so much between 4 and 4:15 has me in need of more than just a deeper well. . .I need a miracle.

Thank God I know the Source of those.

The not-enoughness often crashes over me in the times where I am just spread to thin.  Between working and cooking and cleaning and shopping and volunteering and wanting to be a good mom and wife and relative and friend and community member, I'm not always sure if I can meet all of the expectations I have placed upon myself.  Like trying to get the last bit of Smart Balance to make it over four pieces of toast in the morning because I forgot to buy more at the store, I can often feel like there's a little bit for everyone but there's just not enough of me to go around to fool anyone.  When I'm divided four ways and spread out as far as I can go, can I really cover it all?  I feel like I'm always dropping balls.  Actually, I don't feel that, I KNOW that. . .who neglects to change the sheets frequently enough, forgets to bring the church offering envelope, forgets school picture day, forgets to sign the homework sheet, forgets to put the laundry in the dryer, forgets to turn the crock pot on, loses a bill at the bottom of the pile, lets the gas light in the van turn on and forgets to make it to the station until the little mile indicator reads single digits.  Oh, yeah, THAT'S ME!!! I forget all of those things.  The thinner I spread myself the less attention to detail I can provide.  And when I lose the details, I think I'm failing.


Good news.
We're not called to be butter. 
We're called to be BREAD.  We're food for the world.  Jesus asked us to be like him and give ourselves to his Father.  If we offer ourselves to God, he's going to make us PLENTY.  He is the God of miracles. He promised, and James Martin said this is true, so, you know, I'm going with that.

So, this has been my goal ever since reading his reflection on the scripture.  Can I offer myself to God fully. . .can I give him all of my loaves and fishes and not hold any back?  The little boy in the story didn't keep anything in his pocket for himself, he handed it all to Jesus.  How tempting it is to give just as much time or energy or effort as I feel like giving to my family and keep some back for my own needs.  But if I trust fully, and keep my heart right with God's, he can take whatever feeble offerings I can give and make them enough to feed the people we both love.  I just have to give it my all.  He'll bless and break it and make it enough with leftover to spare.

Last Monday was "one of those days."  My three older boys got off the bus, just in time to drop backpacks and get in the van for Daniel's piano class.  Except that when they got off the bus, two of them were crying, for completely different reasons, and one was hanging his head for being the source of the tears.  Uh-oh.  I couldn't figure out how to get them all across the street, let alone how to get them in the van in one piece.  How can I unwrap and attend to all of these hearts and get to class on time when there is just one of me?  Josh was sobbing hysterically. (his seat got moved on the bus)  Phil was sulking. (he was unkind to Daniel and a friend called him out) Daniel was crying. (the center of his world, Philip, had hurt his feelings)  Noah was. . .well, just being loud (because, why not??) Before I lost my ever-loving mind, I took a deep breath.  This was a bless-it-and-break-it moment.

"God, I'm giving it to you.  I don't know what I am going to do but make it enough for all of these people.  You're super creative."

And, He is.  We made it to piano (in time!!) and I left a still sobbing Joshy in the car while I ran Daniel up to the door.  Somehow I managed to calm Joshy down on the way home and convince him that the front of the bus was going to be amazing and he was going to make new friends up there. (he already has)  By the time we got home, he was ready to hug it out in the kitchen and ran off with Noah to play Hot Wheels.  Phil had run up to his room, and this was the heart that really needed work.  I breathed deeply as I climbed the stairs.  I unlocked his bedroom door with the handy key located on the door frame and found him in his bed, huddled under the covers, crying.

"I hate my life."
"Well, I find that insulting because I basically, like GAVE you your life, you know."  I teased.
He snuggled down deeper under his pillow to escape me.
I asked a few questions about the bus but he wouldn't talk.  I could tell this was going to be a tough one.  My introverted sweetheart had been trying to be a "cool guy" on the bus at the expense of his little brother.  He knew he had done wrong.  But the chances of getting him to talk about it at this point were low, and I looked at the clock nervously, time was ticking until piano class pickup.  I heard a fight breaking out over some cars in the family room.  There just wasn't enough of me, enough time, the right words.

I closed my eyes. "Bless it and break it, God.  Send your Holy Spirit because I sure do need it."

And somehow, in that next 15 minutes, a transformation occurred.  It was kairos, God-time, as I got Phil to slowly unfold.  We talked about kindness and love and family and brothers being forever and feelings just being for a little while.  He relaxed to the point where I could tell he no longer "hated his life."  So I seized the God-given opportunity to give him a hug.

"Listen, buddy, I am giving you this hug," and I squeezed him SO TIGHT.  "And I want you to save it for 30 years.  Because someday you are going to have a little boy and he's going to get in a fight with his brother on the bus and you are going to need to say these same words I just said to you and give him this big hug and you can tell him it's from both of us."

Phil smiled.  I could tell by the sparkle in his eye that he was imagining himself in thirty years with kids.

"Maybe you'll even name one of them Daniel."  I said with a wink.
"Yeah, there's like a 50% chance I would name one of them Daniel."
"Oh, that's good.  I bet they will love their Uncle Daniel, too.  He's so fun.  And their Uncle Josh.  And silly Uncle Noah."
Phil giggled.
"And you guys can all come over to my house on Sunday and I'll cook you dinner.  All your favorites" (as long as it's still chicken nuggets) ;)
Phil liked this idea. 
"Now, before you go to bed tonight, please find a way to make it right with Daniel, OK?"

It took all the way until bedtime, but Phil looked across the room at D and offered him a sincere apology.  Daniel accepted it in his true Sunny D fashion- he'd already forgiven Phil and was so excited to just move on.  I turned off the big light and left them there reading third grade chapter books in the glow of their small lamp:  their blonde heads peeking out of their matching beds in the semi-darkness. 

Whew.  I couldn't have done that by myself.  I turned and offered a prayer of gratitude.  "Thank you, God.  Thank you."

God, take all that I am
All that I have
Use it for what you need.
Bless it and break it.
Make it enough.
Make it abundant.
It's all yours.

God can do miracles.  Isn't that awesome!??  Thank you, God.