A New Kind of Summer

I promised myself that this summer would be one of those lazy, hazy summers.  The kind of summer when afternoons are spent on the front porch swing shelling or peeling whatever is in season and watching the bluebirds and hummingbirds flit from pasture fence to feeder.  A summer, I told myself, that we would read at least one of the Little Housebooks under the canopy of the poplar tree in the backyard while sipping homemade lemonade or iced mint tea. 
It’s mid- June and the closest we’ve come to shelling anything on the front porch is a handful of peanuts as we dart out the door.  I managed to brew the iced tea and toss in mint from my weed-herb garden (weeds or herbs, depends on the angle from which one views the garden), but the tea sat on the counter for days, a casualty, forgotten, eventually unsuitable for sipping.
Obstacles continue to obstruct my plan to fulfill a dreamy, gentle Secret Garden-like summer full of adventure and excitement.  The phone call from my great aunt made me reckon with my misguided plans.
My great aunt suffers from severe loneliness.  We moved her to a local assisted living facility some twenty minutes away so that including her in family activities would be possible.  If I were to document her turbulent, tortuous life, it would fill the pages of a novel as thick as War and Peace.  Abandoned, abused, emotionally broken, and left alone except for a handful of nieces and great nieces. 
The other day, she figured out how to use her cell phone to call and ask if I would take her shopping. She was ready to use the humble gift card given to her for her birthday. She needed a pair of slippers.  A simple pair of slippers is all that she requested.  I could hear the loneliness in her voice.  How could I fit an evening outing in my day with my already packed schedule?  My day looked this: Camp Polliwog in the morning for the six year old, American Girl book club at 1pm for the thirteen year old (and we are hosting this month so that means thematically related crafts, snacks, games…look out Pintrest), and Bible study this evening, oh, dinner for the family.  Dinner needed to be somewhat of a decent culinary experience considering that we had an out of town guest visiting so forget the fallback position of “every man for himself with leftovers.” 
My dear aunt, the same woman who barely had enough food to feed herself yet when I was a financially strapped college student, she would secretly, or so she thought, leave a box of food at the threshold of my apartment.  These covert drop-offs knitted us together because she knew about doing without.  
This is the woman, who as I dropped her off at her job on my way to class, insisted on buying me a coffee as a humble token of thanks as she gratefully tolerated the winter morning ride in my unheated, radio-less, floorboard rusted, backfiring 1978 VW bug.
To this day, some thirty years later, our outings always include a cup of coffee.

How could I refuse her simple request? I hang up committed to a shopping excursion, which means that I ax Bible study. As I rearrange my schedule, I realize that taking my great aunt out is still like going to Bible study except that I won’t be studying God’s Word but applying it.  
Shortly before leaving to pick up my aunt, I received a weather alert text for the area: FLASH FLOOD WARNING, all evening.  Maybe I can push this trip back? I called my aunt to suggest that maybe we could go another night. Before the words rolled from my tongue, she mentioned that she was sitting in the chair by the door, her purse packed, and waiting for me.
I think about Jesus coming upon the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus, who at that point had little time left on earth and much to accomplish in what time was left, noticed the despair in this woman.  He set aside his need for food and drink and the woman became a priority.  For those few moments at the well, she was the only person that mattered. Throughout the book of John,  we see glimpses of numerous one-on-one encounters with Jesus: Nathanael, Nicodemus, Martha, the blind man, Peter, and the invalid man.  The King of the universe desires to spend one-on-one time with his children.

That evening, my aunt needed to feel that she was the only person in the world that mattered; however, I can’t offer a constant measure of importance like her heavenly Father.  From a life of sadness and heart wrenching disappointment, she knows that all too well.  As we traversed the country roads passing miles of storm drenched cornfields, a rainbow stamped the summer sky with a promise of grace.  During our brief evening together, my aunt experienced a small dose of sacrificial love; the woman who has spent the majority of her life deprived of earthly love.
My way too busy life, which tends to constrict and suffocate relationships, almost thwarted an opportunity to minister to my aunt and be ministered by her.  In reality, the storm made me work harder to serve my aunt through the giving of my time. It was exactly what I needed: to be under the Refiner’s fire, to be in the clutches of the Potter who mercifully kneads my defects into a shape suitable for his purposes.
The summer is still young, so I vow to lessen my busyness in order to have that front porch swinging, tea sipping, afternoon reading, relationship building season.  The Secret Garden-like summer isn’t all together lost, just redirected.
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“At that moment a very good thing was happening to her.  Four good things had happened to her, in fact, since she came to Misselthwaite Manor.  She had felt as if she had understood a robin and that he had understood her; she had run in the wind until her blood had grown warm; she had been healthily hungry for the first time in her life; and she had found out what it was to be sorry for someone.”  
      Mary Lennox, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

There’s No Perfect Formula

The line to get a book signed by the authors wrapped around the convention hall like shoestring licorice.  People stood in line, seriously, for hours clutching their book and waiting some more.  The celebrity authors offered sessions on topics pertaining to parenting, family, and finances.  I missed the boat on those sessions which required advance registration and an additional, though nominal fee, attached to the registration fee. So I sipped my convention coffee and wondered, while watching the line get longer, what could this celebrity family offer in their book that God didn’t already cover in his book?
I suppose that could be said about last year’s key note speaker, Ted Tripp, who drew a full house into his sessions on parenting.  Not really. Tripp shepherded us into God’s word to discover and affirm God’s ideas about parenting.  He spoke of real life parenting and the perils which accompany the monumental undertaking. Tripp shared personal stories from his parenting journey and the mistakes he made along the way.  
It’s sad but true; we want to follow a formulaic path for parenting, marriage, devotions, finances, and the list goes on.  I am guilty for wanting to take the easy way out.  Just give me a formula to follow, step by step, that guarantees spiritually devoted kids, a healthy marriage, and financial security.   
I gallantly strode by the line to the celebrity family and on to another session.  That day, out of rebellion perhaps mixed with a tad of self- preservation, I attended a talk given by a not so famous mom but what she said did not come from the pages of her book but from the depths of her heart: “Glean from people, don’t follow them.” 
 A simple, yet profound statement.  In other words, don’t become a Christian groupie.  If I buy the book, follow the steps, watch the show, dress the part, all will be well.  Not so. 
If I follow a movement or a family or an individual, I risk losing my dependency and intimacy with Jesus in exchange for the false, golden formula.  Interestingly, the Israelites wanted the same quick fix.
I know my weakness all too well.  I need to remember that the Christian life isn’t like a recipe in the cookbook of life. 
My Christian life doesn’t get the benefit of editing before airing on national TV.  In my house, the cameraman would record me losing it with a kid and expressing disappointment through unloving words or a scene with my husband when I choose to be selfish, self-centered, manipulative…It’s ugly because at that moment my heart is wretched. Eventually God takes my wicked, twisted heart and bends it to reach his.  He takes his crook and pulls me back into his fold like he has done many other times. 
In my unedited, raw display of real life, the camera guy would then view the climatic process of restoration and reconciliation too. 
So why was the conference room I attended only half-filled while the room where the celebrity parents spoke was full to brim with live- stream overflow seating full as well?  Did the celebrity parents really have the secret formula to a happy Christian life, successful parenting, and a thriving marriage? 
What I gleaned from NOT attending the talk given by the Christian celebrity family:

  •  God wants my family to draw near to him to find the plan he has for us.

    •  There is no perfect family.

    •  I own the book with the True formula for life; in fact, we own several copies, in     numerous translations. This book of truth contains answers to marriage, parenting, devotions, how to dress, how to educate children, what kind of music to listen to, how many children to bear, etc.

    •  Life is about relationships with: our Savior, our kids, our spouse, our friends, our church community, our enemies, and the friendless.

    •  God’s formula for my family includes grace and not condemnation.

    •  Glean from people, don’t follow them.