Monthly Archives: May 2011

Fears, Futures, and Nephews

Driving down M-50, the first small stretch of road on the way to my house from my sister’s, I was listening to Nolan and Jackson play the “No” game.  Since “no” is Jack’s current favorite word, he repeated it…over and over again…each time in a different pitch or tone. And, to Nolan’s delight, sometimes he’d work in a funny face or even a spitting noise.  The boys laughed, clapped their hands, and kicked their stumpy feet in the backseat for nearly an hour before the lulling sounds of the road put them to sleep.

I was excited for the experience of caring for two children for a week, and even more excited that I was finally getting to “pay back” Sara for all of the time, love, and energy that she has poured into the life of my son.  And deep down, I was testing myself as a mother of two kids.  I tried not to have any high expectations considering age 1.5 is pretty unpredictable, but I couldn’t help but look forward to dual wagon rides, bubble baths, and ravioli dinners.  I wanted to challenge myself, stretch my comfort zone of motherhood, and see how it felt with two munchkins under my care.

Needless to say (and despite the several good photo ops I found), things went South very quickly; and instead of getting the burst of confidence I was looking for, I again found myself in a foggy place, a state of being that is tired, cranky, confused and full of self-doubt.  This version of myself is not one I’d recommend interacting with.  We had set up Nolan’s Pack’nPlay in the basement. And from previous experience, we knew that he could sleep pretty well just about anywhere.  So when we heard screaming and talking from his monitor at 4:55 a.m. the first morning, we were shocked. And that morning set the dragging pace for three days of exhaustion.  Nolan was up most mornings before 5 a.m. and spent his days here in horrible pain from the molars that were breaking his gums open.  He was fussy, sometimes inconsolable, and as tired as can be.  Nothing seemed to help, until Sara came to his little rescue several days earlier than planned.

Although I was frustrated and sad, I tried to not let my security as a mom unravel.  Funny how progress with one weakness can quickly become undone.  I’ve felt for quite some time (longer than Nolan has even been alive) that I’ve gained a great deal of security in my identity as a mother, in all of it’s complex implications and job descriptions.  But as I lay in my bed, watching the clock slowly switch from 4:55 to 4:56 in the morning, I wanted to throw the monitor out the window and go to sleep.  It’s no secret that everyone in my family struggles with sleep, rest, and everything that affects the relationship between the two.  When we sleep, we can run the world. When we don’t, we barely remember our own names.  And on most nights, we don’t have a clue which direction the night could go.  Thankfully, I’ve been consistently rested the last several weeks…even months.  But it only took a few days of little-to-no sleep to bring out the zombie-like person that tiredness creates in me.

I was short-tempered, unmotivated, irrational, emotional.  I was delusional, impulsive, angry, and depressed.  I couldn’t believe the effects of sleeplessness in my life.  Jackson didn’t sleep through the night until he was one, and this experience brought me back to a dark, chaotic part of my life. And it made me frightened that I could never care for another infant or survive another stage of life of chronic tiredness. I was consumed with fear.  And thankfully, I can now see just how irrational my fears really are.

There are babies popping up all over the place these days.  I have so many friends whose tummies have been blooming.  One, in fact, is past her due date and I’m watching Facebook posts like it’s the lottery!  Another friend had her baby a few days ago. And another has been beautifully caring for a newborn son for over a month. I ran into an old friend this weekend who informed me of her pregnancy. It seems like babies are encircling my life. And every time I interact with these amazing friends and their nearly-perfect babes, I can’t help but consider what it’d be like to be at the starting line again.  I get so inspired and excited, thinking about the baby gurgles and uncontrolled newborn kicks and twitches.  But, as I experienced with Nolan, I quickly grow fearful of the exhaustion.  And, as fear tends to do, it devours my excitement and joy.

I’m so thankful for the growing families that are in my life and for all of the babies that have miraculously been given breath. I am so greatly inspired by the moms I know, especially with multiple children.  I love to observe their short-cuts and tricks that make life more manageable. I love to watch their families adapt to a new addition. And I love to pray for and dream about an addition to the Bishop family someday…perhaps soon, perhaps quite a ways away.  I am putting my fear in it’s place: under my feet. I know expansion will happen at the right time, with the right child who God already knows. For now, I’m pretty satisfied with the two boys that live under our roof:

And, teething or not, I’m so thankful for this little man and for our exhausting, brief, yet love-filled time together:

Here’s to trusting God with our fears, our futures, and the infants that surround us.

 

for Josh and Kristi…

Right now, there are two young boys in my house sleeping, cozying with their blankies and hopefully dreaming of things so sweet that my adulthood can’t even fathom.**  Nolan James Gilding is here for the week, a much-deserved treat for my sister who has watched Jackson for me (in addition to her 3 kids) several times.  Last week, I wrapped up my teaching gig, graded 140 research papers, got my graduate degree program ready to launch on July 11, played keys for worship at church on Sunday, and also snuck in some pretty amazing times with friends.  I could not have kept my head above water last week if my gracious sister had not taken care of my son, toting him around on errands in the minivan as if he was one of her own. And this wasn’t her first time coming to my rescue.  While Josh and I were puddle-jumping from here to France, Jack waddled around 492 Tilton Drive with the Gilding family, hardly noticing we ever left.  To say I owed my sister this would be a laughable understatement.

So…I’ll be spending the week ahead breaking up fights over dinosaurs and trucks and the backyard swing. I’ll be chasing two children who need diaper changes and trying to coordinate two nap schedules. Compared to most of my overwhelmingly amazing mother-friends, this won’t be that hard. In fact, I can hear some of them saying “Bec! Get a grip. I do that everyday!” It will certainly be an adjustment for me, but I can’t stop smiling just thinking about the quality time the Bishop family will have with Nolan Gilding to ourselves. I’m so thankful I can give my sister a small window of time to breathe more deeply, savor a few minutes to herself.***

One of the greatest gifts that my sister’s babysitting allowed for this week was an evening with two of our most favorite people: Josh Zoerhof and soon-to-be-Mrs.-Josh-Zoerhof, Kristi Cummings.  I can’t say enough about these two people.  Sometimes the greatest of friendships, the “please-be-there-on-my-deathbed” friendships, are the kinds that take blood, sweat, and tears to make them work.   And it’s always worth every ounce of exerted effort.  But sometimes…friendships come into your life so effortlessly and naturally and hardly take any effort whatsoever.  And there are a million variables that affect these distinctions.  But, usually it’s nearly inexplicable why some friendships are just easier than others. They just are. And Josh and Kristi are the types of friends for us that, for whatever reason, it feels simple, beautiful, easy, and wonderfully refreshing to be around them. Each and every time.

Josh and Josh (yep…the Joshes) go way back.  We sometimes go back there ourselves, prying into their high school memories of video games and slumber parties. (What do boys call those?) They’ve got history that is deep, but it also veered off-course during and post-college. Still, they can do the “Do you remember…?”s almost as well as my own high school best friend, Jeremy, and I can.  It’s such a gift when people knew an old you, they know the new you, and they still see the same person in both.

Kristi and I knew of each other in college, but the first time we hung out with the Joshes, there was instant, female-friendship chemistry.  Girls are strange that way, but we have the sixth and seventh senses for friends; even though we may LOVE a lot of people, we really only feel fully comfortable, alive, and accepted with a few. When I was young, I remember watching Anne of Green Gables, thinking Anne’s relationship with Diana was precious and sacred. It was everything I wanted in a friendship (although I never wanted to express it quite as dramatically). I remember learning the word “kindred” for the first time because I had to ask why Anne always called herself and Diana “kindred spirits”.  Kristi is my Diana, the steadiness to my Anne-like whirlwindedness.  She is faithful, loving, sincere, careful. She is the greatest listener. The kind of listener where she may as well be talking because her intentional silence says so much. When we are together with Josh and Josh, it feels like there is a cosmic alignment that takes place, and everyone is better.

Really, though, what’s happening is nothing short of miraculous.  If we followed all of our journeys, tracing all of the mistakes and risks that brought us to my living room in 2011, there would be no doubt in my mind that we were meant by God to be here. Together.  Living our lives, encouraging one another, supporting our relationships, soothing our fears, challenging our weaknesses, exposing our pain, sharing our fears and huge insecurities, and…of course…playing intensely competitive card games.  It’s truly the way I believe Christians are supposed to be doing life together, and I’m so grateful to be in this close group of friends, growing more in the Lord each and every time we are together.

I’m so thankful for my time with them this week, for my sister who made it possible. I’m thankful for all of the wonderful little accomplishments of the last six weeks that I can quietly celebrate. And I’m so thankful that I have a nephew who I can begin and end my day with, snuggling close to his cheeks and pretending…for a brief moment…that he’s all mine.

 

Love you, Sara.

Love you, Nolan.

and I’m celebrating you guys tonight, Josh and Kristi.

 

**Who are we kidding? Jackson, if he’s dreaming, is probably experiencing some combination of a dinosaur chase and a wild safari. And Nolan is probably dreaming of a huge plate of pancakes.  Still, I’d like to think that they’re talking to Jesus.

***Again, who are we kidding? She’s a mom. And she’s my sister. With the exception of time for a new haircut, she’s going to be running errands and cleaning her house so meticulously, the dust bunnies will be categorized.

Beyond the Weeds

Today, I did the unthinkable.

Instead of using our very “green” push-mower, I tip-toed over to my neighbor’s house to borrow their gas-guzzling, smoke-puffing mower.  With all the hustle and bustle of these last weeks, and the quick “hi”s and “bye”s that have seemed to replace most of my conversations with Josh…our lawn was frightfully neglected.  The refreshing Spring rain we’ve been getting also resulted in a reason for our weeds to stand proudly at a foot tall.  I pulled in after a long day (my LAST day) of teaching and took one look at the yard. Knowing Josh wasn’t going to be home until at least midnight, I was learning to pull the string on my neighbor’s mower before I even changed out of my nice, ironed school clothes. A little, ruthless bug of determination bites me quite frequently, and this was no exception. I was going to get the lawn mowed. No matter what.

Last night, Josh and I purchased flowers and ivy-like plants for the window boxes and were filling them with nutrient-enriched soil at 9 p.m.  (It didn’t seem quite so crazy since it was still light out). Lately I’ve really been determined to get my hands dirty and make things grow.  I haven’t had one successful season of nurturing, watering, and caring for plants that have resulted in actual blossoming.  So, I put it on myself to make it happen this year. If I can keep one man and one little boy fed, watered, and alive inside my house, the least I can do is care for a few growing plants in my front yard.

I happily and proudly pushed the spitty, smoky mower in perfect parallel lines across the front lawn. Afterwards, I even watered and hung the red hanging baskets to accent the red door.  By the time I was done, I felt like my house had a halo around it, glowing with warmth and nearly inviting people in.

I’ve always loved the Cape Cod style of our house, and I love it even more with blooming flowers adding such aesthetics to an already lovely, cozy home.  Years before this house was ours, I’d admired it on long runs in college up and down Columbia Avenue.  I’d noticed it many times, and even said to myself, “If I were to live there, I’d paint the door red.”

Feeling pretty proud of our home and of my solo yard work abilities, I decided to take on the much larger back yard and relieve Josh from his mowing responsibilities all together. I picked up some stones, tossed aside some sticks, and got busy walking behind the mower down the long, straight rows of grass. I even noticed how beautiful our tree was looking, with buds and pink flowers unfolding on every branch.

And even though Josh wants to get rid of this centered circle of stones in our yard, I couldn’t help but notice the loveliness of the bird bath and even the beauty of the yellow flowers.

I felt a sense of wonder, belonging, and pride as I surveyed the territory of my lawn. But I think every homeowner has a secret area that doesn’t exude pride.  I rounded the mower to finish off the final stretch of grass, and I was stunned. I’d honestly forgotten that this was still on my property:

The remains of a long-lost garden that once held hopes of home-grown tomatoes and squash.  Now, it’s the most hideous, embarrassing part of our home and…thankfully…it hides well behind our garage.  I even looked closer and noticed this addition:

Misplaced sticks and debris. At least the weeds were expected to be there!

It didn’t take long for the pride about the front yard to be deflated.  I realized that, in many ways, my yard work is only as good as my worst and weediest spots.  But, I started to think that if my yard were my life, I seem to have some people (myself included) that only see this neglected garden patch.  Therefore, I could spend a lot of time pointing fingers at the weeds, even blaming Josh, and obsessing about how we could let something so potentially fruitful get so out of control. I could try to perfect this garden, start over, dig deep…make every stem and leaf on my property perfect. But that would take a lot more time, energy, and resources than I have available right now.  And I’m not willing to go into emotional debt trying to prune the perfect garden and create a falsified image that I have it all together.

I don’t.

Perhaps we have things to learn about starting projects–like a vegetable garden–at a time where we can realistically invest in its flourishing.  But, even if my vegetable garden were full and plump, I believe my outdoor wooden swing would still be decaying, my weeds would still be a foot tall every so often, and the random bush by my compost pile would still look like we need a “No Trespassing” sign next to it alongside a yard art cut out of Bugs Bunny.

(Again…so grateful my garage hides this).

For now, I hope people see my front yard and want to plant flowers of their own.  I hope they want to come in and say hello, maybe even over tea and crumpets.  I hope when they find out my vegetable garden is long dead and the bush by my compost pile is beyond overgrown, they won’t hold it against me. I hope these dying, unmaintained, still-in-the-process parts of me–although very real–are not all they see. Because, I can assure you, there is so much more to me.

My Happiness Project

My mom got me a Barnes and Noble gift card for Mother’s Day. It was even worth $100.  And, surprisingly–but perhaps not shockingly–I purchased this for myself ($30):

Believe it or not, buying a new cookbook is like buying a new kitchen. The possibilities seem endless, the education is priceless, and the “What do I make for dinner?” headaches might simmer for a while. (I’ve tried many strategies to combat these headaches. Online menu planning = I’m too spontaneous for that to really work. And I kind of like this about myself. E-mealz subscription = the food…at best…got a B-. My own menu planning = I seem to be too impaired to shop according to a list without forgetting just ONE little ingredient! But I keep workin’ on it).

And then I purchased this for Jackson ($15):

And then I decided to give the rest of the gift card over to my husband who not only asked for the “leftover” money, but who also, I believe, deserves and enjoys the rewards of book-purchasing more than I do.  I did, however, spend some solitary time browsing Fiction and Literature, trying to piece together a summer reading list aside from the Education textbook reading I’ll be beginning with my graduate program on July 11. One book I highly considered was this:

I almost bought it. But I didn’t have enough time to sample-read a chapter, and I couldn’t find enough info in the reviews and bios about the writer herself.  She seems adorable. I’m sure she has a lot of wonderful things to say. And I’ll probably read the book in the next months. But I couldn’t bring myself to buy this book without a closer look at what information/advice is being offered here.  I don’t want to buy a poorly-written or morally misguided self-help book about finding your true person. Perhaps this book is far from it. But, I’m actually more concerned about the moral posture and spiritual perspective of a writer who is going to coach me on happiness than I thought I would be. Maybe being closer to Jesus makes me more skeptical of this type of advice.

Still, I’m interested in this type of advice nonetheless.  Because I’m always trying to be happy.  Well, actually…if I really think about it, I can be happy on my own pretty well, but it often doesn’t lead to contentment. And therein lies the problem that soaks up much of my energy…

I stopped to think about it, and I think I’ve found many things that make me happy. In fact, in many ways, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been! I love the outlets that I’ve explored these past few years, and I’ve found a rhythm (albeit an often offbeat rhythm) of using my creativity in a variety of ways. And it makes me happy. I’m happy when I’m sewing, especially when I’m creating pieces for a precious store downtown Holland where my crafts are proudly displayed.  (That second piece–the purpose and acknowledgement–is a component that drives my ambition and creativity, but that often interrupts the flow of happiness.) I’m happy when I’m cooking and when I’ve created a freezer full of vegetable purees.  I’m happy because I have tangible results, and because it always presents a conquerable challenge, and because I end up nurturing my family.  I’m happy when I carve out time with friends.  I have so many people in my life right now that fill my cup so full, it’s as if happiness exploded all over the walls.  I’m happy when I’m teaching, but happier when I pick up Jackson and get the monkey-wrapped-around-a-tree hug.  I’m happy when I’m browsing music artists, downloading new inspirations and then plunking out the notes on the piano. I’m happy thinking about tomorrow: all the possibilities, challenges, and surprises that a new day presents.

So why…if all of these happy moments and experiences fill my life…could I ultimately be so discontent?

Well, I know the reason.  There are still…STILL…parts of my life that are unsurrendered.  And I have an Enemy that tells me lies every single day about my identity and my purpose.  And until I allow God to fully transform me, I will be stuck in this rut of discontentment for the rest of my life.  But I don’t think that will happen.  I think as I continue to admit this and knead this issue, Satan’s hold on me will continue to grow weaker and weaker.  Every time I speak the Truth, the chain links that keep in bondage break, one by one.

But, as I continue to wrestle with the discontentment that is often the underbelly of my  life, I’m so grateful…SO grateful…for my ability to find and entertain happiness.  In a sense, our entire lives become our individual Happiness projects.  Some people simply experiment irresponsibly. Others, like me, struggle to define happiness, peace, and their complicated relationship with one another.

I’m looking forward to reading the book, but I’m feeling pretty darn relieved that, for the most part, I know how to be happy. And I’ll continue to work on the more important Project for me:

Peace.

A Time for Tulips

The tulips that line my curb are just now opening their little green heads.  The cinnamon smell of carnival wagons and the buttery smell of popcorn stands are filling the air of our town.  The big-bulb lights are flashing and the out-of-tune music echos from static-y speakers. Tulip Time is here.

The past two nights, I got to see the alumni Dutch dancers perform, listening to the klompen noises of the wooden shoes slapping the road.  I absolutely love this festival, especially since I’m married to a true Dutchman.  I love the flowery costumes, the lace hats, the bonnets.  I love the blocked roads and the parades that fill them.  I always appreciated Tulip Time in the past, but it gets more and more fun each year as Jackson gets older.  The carnival sites amaze him.  It’s like he’s been whisked away to another planet–his ideal place where colors, pictures, and lights are everywhere and eating greasy food is mandatory.  The town transforms into almost a fictional place.  And I love walking through this fantasy…with bouquets of cotton candy, tourists wearing cameras around their necks, rows and rows of perfectly upright tulips, people in Dutch costumes blending in with everyone else…and somehow, smiles are more contagious this week than any other.

It is particularly uplifting for me to be around such whimsical fun because this past week drained the life out of me.  I’ve been confronted this week with age-old issues that still rear their ugly head in my life, and all I want to do is take a long, deep stare at myself in the mirror and ask one question to the person staring back at me: WHY???!!!  Maturity can be painful, and for me, part of really growing is being able to see the errors of my ways in the past.  It’s amazing how our greatest qualities can also be used against us and become one of our biggest obstacles.  On my best day, I’m a person who loves to make other people happy.  I love entertaining, nurturing, providing, rescuing, and pleasing.  I have one love language; it’s the only one I speak: Acts of Service.  I understand love as action, and I want to see results from my loving someone.  I want my actions to result in someone’s happiness in very tangible ways.

The other side of this heavy coin is my ability to take this too far.  I always thought I could give endlessly and eventually…someday…my giving, helping, and serving would rescue and heal any brokenness in my relationships with others.   I feel like I’ve given my friends some wise advice over the years, but when it comes to this issue in my life, I’ve built my house on wet sand.  Today might be considered a “breakthrough” because I’m going to stop building the same house, in the same spot, expecting it to stand victoriously.  Instead, I’m going to survey the damage and allow the waves of time, prayer, and forgiveness to take the broken pieces far out to sea.

The truth is, some relationships just cannot work.  That is, they can’t work unless true humility and total awareness play fundamental roles in healing and transformation.  And because of pride and sin (especially the kinds disguised as other things…), this is so difficult for human beings to accomplish on this side of heaven.  So, today I’m letting go of a tight grip, releasing my fingers from the hammer that keeps pounding nails into old, wet wood.  There is so much freedom in acknowledging that I’ve done all I can do; there’s so much sorrow in letting the potential drift away; there’s so much humility in admitting my own foolishness; but there’s so much dignity in realizing that God’s opinion of me is the only one that counts.

I debated even putting words to these thoughts, but I realized I’m probably not alone here.  I think most of us are in one destructive pattern or another.  Some of us spend our entire lives trying to building our houses on sand, wondering why our plans and blueprints just aren’t coming along.  Maybe it’s because we’re actually getting in our own way.  Maybe it’s because we’re not nearly as self-aware as we think we are.  Maybe it’s because the lessons that we teach our children in simplified form…share with others, stay away from those who hurt you, say you’re sorry…are actually lessons we need to keep reminding ourselves of throughout our entire life.

As I walk through the parades this week, carrying my son in his Dutch costume, I’m grateful I can see the world a little bit more clearly because I can see myself more clearly.  I’ll have more energy because I’m not swinging that old hammer anymore.  I can breathe the air at the top of the Ferris Wheel in more deeply, and feel a huge sense of relief.  I’m so grateful for fresh starts, for God’s grace, and for amazing friends to eat elephant ears with.  And just like my closed green tulips, I feel like I might just be able to start blossoming.