Easter is over – now what?

IMG_5142I always imagine the day after all of Jesus’ friends discovered that he was alive to be a little, well, weird.

I mean really, what do you do with that?

One of your best friends, a person you’ve admired and followed and tried really hard to be like, dies a horrible death. You’re shocked. Numb. Scared something similar might happen to you, given the political climate.

And then, a few days later, he’s standing in front of you.

Your mouth goes dry, agape. You hug, but you still don’t know how to believe the truth of what you’re holding. And then you’re sitting down on a mountainside, having supper and saying things like, hey Jesus, will you pass the cheese?

***

Lent is over. Easter is finished. I’ve been reminded. I’ve remembered. I’ve worked really hard at giving up my anger to be more like Jesus. And meanwhile, my candy jar is full of leftover jelly beans and I need to stain treat and wash the little white dresses all my girls wore on Sunday.

I spent yesterday unpacking from our trip home to South Dakota. (By unpacking, I mean I managed to put the suitcases and bags in the rooms they were supposed to go, and then took the girls outside.) We played on the hill in our front yard, my daughter running up and down, laughing and singing her bright voice into the sun-drenched morning.

But I had this nagging thought. I couldn’t remember what actually happened next in Jesus’ story. Death. Resurrection. But then what?

So this morning I pulled down my Greek comparison Bible, and I paged through to the end of the books where Jesus’ friends recounted what had happened.

“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.”  Matthew 28:16

“And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. And while they still could not believe it for joy and were marveling, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” And they gave Him a piece of broiled fish.”  Luke 24:38-42

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and surely, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

“After the Lord Jesus has spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” Mark 16:19 & 20

Words from my high school confirmation-type class came flooding back. Ascension. Great Commission. Words that probably didn’t mean much to the people left standing on the mountain.

I imagine someone digging a front toe into the dirt. Another brushing off lunch crumbs. All of them wondering what to do next.

Somehow, the ordinary act of living didn’t feel like enough.

Jesus had said to go and make disciples, but Jesus was gone. How was that going to work? I can hear them questioning one another, ears still processing the phrase “teach them to observe all that I commanded you.”

***

Two thousand years later, I’m still processing it too. What do I do when the hype of a religious holiday is over? Has it changed me at all? What do I do next?

For me, it’s continuing on my journey of giving up anger. There is still work to be done. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully uproot my anger, or if it will continue to be a part of my character that needs constant pruning.

I do know that eventually, Jesus’ friends figured out that the best way to do what He asked them to do was to tell His story. And like any memory, it became more real, more full, more brimming with truth and meaning at every telling.

It wasn’t a once a year sermon preached from a pulpit or a stage. It was God and man. A meal shared with friends. The thread of a story piecing together every day’s living.

Love.

 

The year I ruined Valentine’s Day

I didn’t mean to be a jerk on the holiday of love. It just, well, it happened.

It was never destined to be a frosted, heart shaped sort of day at my house. The girls were needy, and I was empty. I slogged through the morning edgy and dry. And then the radio announcer would make a comment, or I’d see my Google search covered in hearts, and something in my brain would cackle that I was supposed to be celebrating my loves.

Vday card 2014We tried. Honest. I took a cute picture of the twins for the grandparents, and made a card on a fun site called Fotor. And when the girls went down for their tiny afternoon nap and Ellis woke up early, we baked cookies. Unfortunately the activity lasted for seven minutes, at the end of which Ellis and I both consumed an unhealthy amount of cookie dough and my kitchen became a shrine to measuring cups and spilled flour.

Meanwhile, my Love with a capital L was in the throes of tonsillitis. He came back from the doctor’s office with a new prescription, a jug of orange juice, and barely enough energy to make it up the stairs before collapsing into bed.

I knew our plans of dinner with friends and snowshoeing were out.  Along with them went my fast-waning patience. The girls cried. The house vomited princess dresses and Mr. Potato Head pieces.

And I wanted nothing to do with this messy, imperfect side of love.

Love was easy in a new dress and candlelight. It readily accepted the flowers and blushed gracefully at the card with its polished sentiments.

Love at 4:17 in the afternoon was grueling. It had unwashed hair and flushed cheeks. It ran out of tolerance as I packed the girls in the van, dropped them off at church’s childcare, and spent the next three hours alone.

***

A few days earlier, it had been my birthday.

If I’m allowed to admit it, I LOVE birthdays. Particularly mine. Because something happens on my birthday that I have a really hard time doing on any other day of the year.

I give myself permission.

Flashback Atlanta 2008, roomie bday breakfast

Flashback Atlanta 2008: roomie birthday breakfast

Let me explain. During college, my roommates and I started this tradition of crazy celebration. The day started with Bruegger’s bagels and bright red strawberries, coffee, coffee, coffee. It ended with the four of us around a restaurant table of really, really good food.

My celebration wasn’t just reserved for mornings and evenings though. One year I ditched class and spent my birthday wandering through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The next year I planned my way through IKEA. I bought myself cupcakes from Lund’s, buttercream icing piled high. I never, ever, worked.

Slowly, things changed. My roomies all got married and the bagel tradition fell by the wayside. I stopped taking the day off. I realized, in true I’m-a-grownup-now-fashion, that the expectation of celebration needed to be consistent with life’s current circumstances.

So this year, when my birthday started with my toddler announcing (in her best outside voice), “MOM IT’S NOT DARK OUTSIDE ANYMORE. GET UP!”, I decided to institute a new phrase into my day.

So what? It’s my birthday.

I repeated it, even though the words felt dumb. Yes. This would work.

No one drowned!

Birthday swim day – no one drowned!

The twins were jabbering and cooing in the next room already, so I gathered my girls, made some sort of elephant herding maneuver down the stairs, and settled into the kitchen to make French toast. (The nearest bagel shop is probably 37 miles away.)

And when Ellis spilled syrup all over the floor, I said to myself, So what? It’s my birthday.

When we were half an hour late meeting Jules and crew for our swimming play date and the van was out of gas… So what? It’s my birthday.

When we ate lunch out and both babies started to scream and wanted to eat at the same time?

So what. It’s my birthday.

***

I’m not uptight. I think I just get tangled up in the difference of how things should be versus how they are. (Wait, still? Didn’t we talk about expectations, ahem, a year or so ago?) I guess some character follies just keep coming back up, whack-a-mole style.

That’s a problem. I stink at whack-a-mole, and seeing life in terms of should means I’m using someone else’s measuring stick. When that happens, the results are bound to be different.

Seeing life as it is and accepting it as such means I throw out the measuring stick. It means I stop getting upset when something turns out differently than I expected. It means I give myself and the world around me permission to be imperfect. Not unkind, just imperfect.

In that permission, love can survive. It might be messy. It might have snot stains and markers on its pants. But permissive love doesn’t keep track of what went awry – it simply acknowledges that when things don’t go as planned, when the babies cry and the knight in shining armor is in bed with a fever, it’s not the end of the world.

That love says, “So what”, and then goes on with a certain steadiness. Circumstance may prune it down some days, but the results are always a branching (LM Montgomery) that will, eventually, bloom bright.

Present when I need it most

It starts at 3:23 am, a hungry cry.

And then another, 4:08.

7:07 welcomes a broken chunk of window lattice, and Ellis rapping on the window. Followed by an exclamation. “Mama, I’m poopy.”

7:11, a glance in the mirror when no glance should have been taken, hair three days bedraggled, face a tired shade of pale.

Ellis asks me at 7:14 if I am crabby. I do not lie.

There is snow on the ground and the floors are chilly, so I attempt to build a fire at 7:34.

At 7:40, there is no longer a fire.

I am in the middle of a soggy bowl of Special K when the hunger chorus erupts from upstairs at 7:45.

8:30 – Diaper time for all three girls.

At 8:52, the twins are asleep in their swings. (And as a quick aside, one of the best pieces of advice someone gave me about living with twins was to never to put anything off. If the time is available to do something, it behooves you to make the most of it. So when my girls sleep, it’s the perfect time to get my toddler outside in the morning.)

I cajole Ellis into her snowsuit, boots, hat, and mittens.  We venture outside to let the chickens out, collect eggs, and generally burn off steam.

I am away from the clock at this point, but I know we have at least an hour or so of solid sleep time. Ellis needs to play outside as much as I need to go straight back to bed. She wins. Until suddenly the world is tragic, and the only way she can fight off her frustration is to flop face first into the snow when I’m trying to get her to walk. And then something happens.

I break. Every single frustrating minute from the morning pile-drives my patience and I have to fight back against the weight of it. So I yell. I yell at my daughter to stop laying in the snow so we can walk down the driveway. She yells back, and we both stand there, snorting steam into the winter air. I imagine we look like rams, heads lowered, ready to clash again at any moment.

I turn away, staring down the length of the snow-covered driveway. I feel a thousand miles away from anyone.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

The verse from Proverbs 15 comes from out of nowhere, slips in the door without knocking, stands in front of me.

It is another confrontation. But this one I know how to handle.

I pick my little girl up off the ground, and then I get down on my knees in the snow. Her blue eyes are crystalline with tears. I apologize for my yelling, tell her I love her. The wind blows around us and I feel it pushing away the heat of my anger.

Happy now

Happy now

My daughter looks at me, wiping her nose on the back of her mitten, and says, I sorry too mama. I happy now. I laugh. Happy now is her code for everything’s okay. I’m ready to move on.

And just like that, it IS okay. We walk down the rest of the driveway, check the mailbox, come back to play on the play set, and journey off to go pick another bunch of wild grapes growing on our corn crib. They are incredibly sweet after the frost.

I grew up in the church, so I’m familiar with the phrase “the word of God is living and active”. I also get that it sounds a little fake, or maybe just too evangelical, but hear me out. Because I haven’t ever felt a bible verse be more present and real than in that moment, in the snow, having a face-off with my toddler.

The verse became more than a platitude. It became truth – real, actionable, truth. Anger put a sudden halt on my discipline, but Forgiveness let me walk hand in hand with my daughter.

I don’t have a lot of time for quiet, introspective Bible reading these days. I think God knows. I think He also understands, and in the moments when I’m almost ready to crumble, He carefully places a verse in my palms.

Then He waits for me to do something with it. Because it’s not enough just to know truth.Truth needs to be practiced, moment by moment, mess by mess, until it’s meaning emerges.

Living. Active. Present when I need it most.