Today we must return our friend, Kondo, to the library.  I share a departing thought from the end of her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Through this process [of tidying] people come to know contentment.  After tidying, many clients tell me that their worldly desires have decreased.  Whereas in the past, no matter how many clothes they had, they were never satisfied and always wanted something new to wear, once they selected and kept only those things that they really loved, they felt that they had everything they needed.

We amass material things for the same reason that we eat – to satisfy a craving.  Buying on impulse and eating and drinking to excess are attempts to alleviate stress. (197)

Planting. Watering. Observing. Growing. Praying.

“Mommy’s home!” The kids shouted and crowded at the window.  As soon as mommy opened the door they yelled, “Did you get any books for us?”  Mommy had just returned from the library, and yes, she happened to get four books.  One for each.

The one for Micaela was Crosby Bonsall’s, The Day I Had To Play With My Sister.  A first level, ‘I Can Read’ book.  Micaela accepted it with rapture.  She gathered Annie and Emeth around her on the sixth step, and to our great surprise, she read the entire book to them.  Afterwards she brought the book to the piano, placed it on the music stand, and plucked out a simple melody while setting the text of this book to music.

This was incredible to watch.  The absorption of information, gathered through thousands of question and answer sessions, over the past several years, between child and parent.  Information assimilated, sorted, made sense of, built upon.  And finally, the fruit of this little child’s hard work ripens, allowing her to make sense of the English language.

It was joyful to see the fruit of Rachel’s patience and labor as a mother and teacher, reflected in the joy of Micaela’s voice as she read this book.  It was a sweet satisfaction.  A confirmation that we are not completely off track with our alternative approach to education.

Of course, our approach is not the only way.  It is not the Right Way.  It is simply our way.  The way that we feel best suits the needs of our children.  Will it work for all of them?  I don’t know.  But we will take it one at a time.

*        *        *

Micaela has been sitting down at the piano, multiple times a day, to pluck out melodies that we have been singing to her for years.  This, too, is incredible to watch and hear.  I don’t think we have a genius on our hands.  It’s more that I believe God has given every child the capacity to learn the things that interest them.

She is exploring the keyboard, just as she is exploring language.  She is adding chords, experimenting with rhythm and the pedal.  She has already written a short tune that ascends up the keyboard.  Chords in the left, melody in the right.

Emeth, on the other hand, is not interested in music at all.  The other day he said to Rachel and me, “I don’t really like playing music.”  I was so glad he felt free to express that to us.  (Especially since his father is a musician!)  He’s more visual and hands on.  He likes to build and draw, and pays much attention to the details in his world.  He is drawn to books where there is a lot going on in the illustrations, such as Town & Country, by Alice Provensen.  He loves to ask questions about what is happening, and what the people are doing.  While Micaela is interested in music and language, Emeth is drawn to that which he can touch and see.

In some ways, Emeth is a mystery, despite his simple interests in wood and paper.  He has a difficult time expressing his wants and needs.  I wonder if this partly because he feels squeezed out by the strong personalities of his sisters.  I do struggle to give each of my children the time they deserve.  The time they need.  Simply because their are four of them, and there is much to do in a day.  I think, though, Emeth needs that time more than the others right now.

It’s an exciting process trying to figure out what interests each of them.  What makes their little minds tick, and what moves their hearts.  To discern how they are different than one another.  To observe what is important to one and not to the other.

Annie is a free spirit, and mostly Emeth’s opposite and rival right now.  We are still trying to figure her out.  She has a very unique sense of humor, and is fairly good at playing by herself, when given the opportunity.  She seems fairly independent already.  She is a fireball.  She doesn’t beat around the bush.  Instead, she tears it up.

*        *        *

Vitalia, has finally learned to crawl at sixteen months.  Yes, some children learn to walk by nine months.  But not our Talia.  She started out very calm and peaceful.  We joked that we should’ve named her Shalom, and not Vitalia (life) Joy.  She observed and took in her world for twelve months.  Then found her voice.  She can yell louder than the other three.

She seems the type to take it slow, and to learn at her own pace.  She does not let us force anything on her, and she knows what she wants.  (Her wants and needs are fairly simple at this point, which makes it easy, perhaps.)  For example, when she doesn’t want any more of a particular food, she lowers her head in the direction of the spoon to make it clear that spoon will not make it into her mouth.  And if you continue to try, she’ll swat it out of your hand (if she makes contact).

She is coming into her name though.  (Interestingly, they all seem to be doing this.)  Talia is so vibrant and expressive, lively and joyful.  She has more facial expressions than she knows what to do with.  She can go from happy, to skeptical, to angry, to laughing with the slightest change in her brow and lip.  She, too, has a sense of humor, and knows how to get us all laughing.

I wonder what they will all be like in a year.

*        *        *

Lord, help us to know ourselves and our children.  To know how you hardwired us, to know our needs, and to express those needs to one another.  Help us to care for one another in a way that is meaningful to each.  Fill us with your Spirit, and help us to love, not just when we are lovely, but when it feels impossible.  When we make a mess, and when we ourselves are a mess.  Amen.

Cast your bread upon the waters

Jesus is, “…the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6a)  “…all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col.1:16b-17)

While knowing these truths about Jesus (or rather, that he is the truth), I still attempt to quantify him.  To store him neatly on the shelf, to pull out at my convenience.  To reduce him to logic, and his acts to formula, as though I could fully understand him and his ways with my limited mind.

But I cannot plumb the depths of Jesus Christ.  He is mystery, yet simple enough for a child to love.  He is unfathomable, yet near.  He is full of blinding light, yet bids us to look on him and be saved.  He is the word that lit up Mount Sinai with lightning, and whose thunders made the Israelites tremble, and he is the Word become flesh, saving us from our sins.

He is the center of all things.  Like the hub of a bike wheel, holding up and supporting all of the spokes that radiate out from it.  He is like the sun, shining his light into the darkest corners of the universe; the darkest places of our hearts.  Wherever we hide, his light remains, and if we only peek our eyes out and follow the light, we would see him.

I’m not quite sure where all that just came from, or why I’m writing about the mystery of Jesus when I intended to quote further from a book on tidying my home.  Maybe it’s this.  I find it fascinating when Truth is affirmed through experience, even if it is the religious experience of someone who (as far as I can tell) is not a follower of Jesus.

Jesus seemed to turn our natural understanding of things on its head.  Take the simple idea of provision.  His words are simple and clear on the matter.  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal…. Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  (Matt 6:19, 25)

My natural tendency is to hoard.  The thing about hoarding, which I’m still trying to understand, is that it doesn’t lead to more peace, security and comfort.  For me, it leads to distraction, discontentment, anxiety, and insecurity.  Hoarding feeds my desire to hoard, to stock up against the future, and this desire is never satisfied.

King Solomon put it more succinctly.  “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1)  The first several times I read this, I did not understand it.  But I think the following verse sheds some light on it.  “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” (v. 2)

In other words, give freely, and it will come back to you.  Do not hold on to the things that are so dear to you.  Let them go, and you will find them returning to you just when you need them.  Give freely, for you do not know when you will lose them to disaster anyway.

In Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she affirms this truth, but from a  non-Biblical perspective.  She says,

Everything you own wants to be of use to you.  Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service.  Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy… and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now…  A piece of clothing might come back as a new and beautiful outfit, or it may reappear as information or a new connection.  I promise you: whatever you let go will come back in exactly the same amount… (p. 193)

This reminded me of Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38.

…give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

Jesus can even speak through a book on tidying my home.  I guess he has a sense of humor, too.

A table in the wilderness

Can God spread a table in the wilderness?

– The Israelites, Psalm 78:19

We read this Psalm last week and this question has been playing on repeat in my mind ever since.  There are many times that my work environment feels like an empty, sterile wilderness.  The white, ceramic tile in the bathroom.  The dead stillness out on the cubicle floor.  The baking pavement that I walk during my breaks to remind myself that I’m real.  That I’m alive.

What is so interesting about this question is that, immediately after, the questioner acknowledges God’s provision, as though God would only go so far to meet them in the wilderness. “He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.  Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”  I do the same thing, I suppose, in acknowledging God’s goodness to me in all other areas of my life, but doubting that he can bring rich, lush pastures to grow in my 9 – 5.  “The soil’s too barren, Lord!  It will remain like this forever.  You aren’t that good of a gardener!”

So what are my choices today?  1) Quit my job, 2) look for another job, 3) complain, 4) rejoice always; give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:16); give thanks always and for everything (Eph 5:20).

Okay, so the answer seems obvious.  But this is how my brain works.  I need to think through each one logically (and prayerfully) before the day gets started, otherwise I’ll be tossed to and fro by the wind and waves.

Option 1, quit.  I’ve already been through this.  The short answer is: don’t do it.  It’s not worth it.

Option 2, look for another job.  This is a viable option, but tends to leave me more restless than before.  My options are limited based on my experience.  And honestly, I don’t know where to begin ‘looking’.  Throwing my resume into the black-hole of the Internet has never proved fruitful.  Looking for Another Job is too broad to give any focus.  The fact is, I don’t like the career path I’m in.  And that’s okay.  I’m not alone.  Most people don’t.  My responsibility is clear, though: God gives us our meat and veggies through the labor of my hands and mind, whether I like it or not.  (That said, if any of my three readers has any suggestions or thoughts about this, I’m listening.)

Option 3, complain.  I’ve tried it, and it leaves me not only restless, but angry.  There isn’t much more to say.

Option 4, rejoice and give thanks.  Can I trust this is a good and loving command from my Father?  That he knows what I need better than I do?

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? (Debut. 10:12-13 ESV)

Father, help me to just thank you today for that which I don’t feel thankful for.  Do a simple miracle in my heart.  Make me lie down in green pastures.  Amen.

Like Father, like son

Despite our best efforts, things still make it into our home that we are less than thrilled about.  Our children brought home a fist-full of dollar store goodies from a birthday party the other night.  One such gift was a 3-D dinosaur puzzle.  Punch the pieces out of the wood.  Put them together.  Bam!  There’s your dino, resurrected from millions of years ago.

With toys like this, that seem to be a great idea until you actually get one into a kid’s hands, mom and dad need to stay integrally involved.  First, there’s the ceremonial removal of the shrink-wrap.  Then the virtually impossible punching out of the pieces without breaking them in the process.  Then figuring out how the thing actually fits together, as there were no instructions.  Ages 4+.  Way to make me feel stupid.

Once Rachel figured it out (she has more patience than I with stuff like this), each child asked us to take it apart for them.  Take it apart?!  What do you mean?  I just put it together!  No!  But they wouldn’t have it.  They wanted it un-done, so they could do it themselves.

By the third re-assembly, the manufactured pressed wood was already stripping apart, and the sticker picture of the dino was peeling back.   This was a one shot deal.  Sorry, kiddos.  But of course, they insisted on forcing it together, no matter how difficult it got.  I admire their persistence.

The next morning, Emeth was up first.  “Where’s my dinosaur?” he wanted to know.  Rache and I agreed to not throw them out just yet, and to let them suck a few days of enjoyment out of them before they fell to shreds.

“Daddy, can you help me put my dinosaur together?”  He then proceeded to have me assemble the dinosaur several different ways, while I attempted to cook breakfast.  Rachel and I looked at one another.  My eyes said, “I can’t do this anymore!  I hate cheap toys!  Who’s twisted and sadistic idea was this to create emotional torture toys for parents!”

*        *        *

In the evening, while preparing dinner, Emeth and Caela were playing upstairs.  Emeth began to laugh and cry simultaneously.  He shouted my name in a desperate, more urgent tone than usual.  I knew something must be up, so I darted upstairs, three at a time.  “I peed my pants!” he cried.  The evidence was clear.

“Go downstairs right now,” I said with a shaking, slightly raised voice.  He left, and I picked Annie’s blanket up and threw it as hard as I could against the wall.  Something silent, that wouldn’t make much noise.  “That was dumb, but peeing on the floor was dumber,” I thought.  “He knows better than this!”

It was already 6:30 pm, and I had barely started meal prep.  (Rachel was busy with Talia.)  I was angry that my plans continued to get waylaid.  Dinner would be late.  Bedtime later.  Daddy more tired and more irritable.

I got some clothes for Emeth and went downstairs.  “You need to take a bath,” I told him.  He hates baths, so maybe I was trying to punish him for something that was just childish.  But this time he happily complied.  Insult to injury.  Coals on my head.  He was happy as a bee in pollen.  “No harm done, dad.  It’s just pee.”

*        *        *

While getting the kids ready for bed, Rachel went downstairs to get the laundry.  When she came back, she said, “Jos, can you come here, please?”  Her voice was tense and shaking.  I followed her to the kitchen, not knowing whether I was in trouble, or whether someone had died.

“Everything in the laundry is completely red!”  The way she said it, I imagined that some small, suicidal creature had crawled into the dryer just before she closed it, and shed its battered blood on everything, in one last ditch effort to leave its mark on the world.  “One of them must have had a red dinosaur crayon in their pocket!”  She articulately emphasized every word.

“Let me see,” I said.  Sure enough, splotches of crayon on everything.  Even on the two new (thrift store) dresses she picked up the day before.  Even my undies.

*        *        *

When I saw Emeth and Rache struggling with dinosaurs and ruined clothing, I responded with frustration in the former, and attempted words of comfort in the latter.  Sometimes things happen that seem like a big deal in the moment.  Like the pee.  It was extremely frustrating to me.  But it seemed like no big deal to Emeth, and he was over it in minutes.  (The red clothing took longer.)

When I saw Emeth struggling with his dino assembly, I thought, “Is this what I’m like at times?  That I can’t see past my immediate circumstances?  Complaining about inconsequential things?  What does God think of me in such moments?  Does he have compassion, saying, ‘My dear child, I have so much more for you.  Let it go and rest in my arms.'”

With the clothing, Rache wondered if God was punishing her for loving her new dresses too much.  I understand why she was feeling this way.  We had just taken a whole van load to the thrift store, and she’s always struggled to find comfortable clothing.  It was like a double blow, getting rid of mistaken purchases, then having your good purchases taken away from you.

What does God think of our raw responses in each of these moments?  Is he a God who delights to punish us, and teach us a lesson?  Or is he gently reminding us, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)  What did the child among us do?  He peed on the floor, made his daddy clean it up, then rested in the love of his father.  He knew I would not banish him from the house, or withhold his supper.  He knew I still loved him.  “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11)

Yes, I’d like to be more like that.  A father who delights to give good gifts to my children.  A child who delights to receive good gifts from my Father.