Monday, December 17, 2012

Bucket Filling

My son's preschool teacher shared a precious book with us a little over a month ago: Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.  Ever since then, bucket-filling has consumed our common vocabulary.

Lily, my three-year-old, will give me a peck on the cheek and whisper, "that filled your bucket, Mommy."  Gunnar, the almost-five-year-old in the house, will pick up his toys without asking and ask, "did I fill your bucket, Mommy?!?"  (The unequivocal answer is YES!)

Here's a picture of the two little munchkin's, because I can't resist:

The conversation goes both ways.  Both kids make sure to tell me what I can do to fill their buckets.  (If you're a parent, or if you've ever been around a kid at all, you can probably imagine how these conversations go....)

Yesterday, the four of us were having a rare moment at home alone together (Justin has been traveling like crazy for work).  We were giggling and laughing and generally bucket-filling.  In the midst of it all, Gunnar said in his loudest, most dramatic voice,

"My bucket is a GOLIATH-SIZED bucket!"

Justin and I belly-laughed at that.  He hit the nail on the head (as usual...I seriously think that kid's prophetic; he is so insightful).  Sometimes it does seem like we are pouring into a black hole.  He needs and wants and needs and wants....

Yes, this is sort of a toddler thing, but it's also a Gunnar thing.  Especially when his dad is suddenly en absentia after being home almost non-stop for seven months (thanks to unemployment).  The transition has been really hard on the little guy, so his neediness has been at an all-time high.  It's easy to feel overwhelmed, and like nothing I do is ever good enough.

But, today, after yesterday's pronouncement, I had a revelation: It's not the big things; it's the little things that make the difference.

In other words, I don't have to create this huge, over-the-top gesture to fill my son's rather large bucket.  In fact, when I try to pull that off, it inevitably backfires (either because I'm so stressed from the effort or because, quite simply, it's not what he wants...or needs).

No, I need to do the little things.  Consistently.  Every day.  And if I'm consistent enough, his bucket will never be empty.

I think this is how God calls us to live, and, large bucket or small, how we're all made.  We all need consistent, small acts of love, all the time.  The big gestures are wonderful, of course, but it's the small moments that make the biggest difference.

I'm thankful that God graciously gave me that insight today, lest I get overwhelmed with ol' Goliath.  And I'm thankful He gave it to me during Advent, the season of (among other things) giving (also known as: bucket-filling).  I want to work on my consistency in the small things, the daily acts, and now's as good a time as ever to start.*

Linking up with the community at Soli Deo Gloria today, but before I go, one last note....

*I couldn't leave this post without relating a quick story.  I started chatting with the newby at my local Starbucks today.  She told me that, when she was training in Seattle, someone had paid for the person behind them in the drive-thru.  "Cool," I thought.  She went on: "yea, it was cool, but what was even cooler was that the chain literally went on for something-like twenty cars!"

That blew me away.  The power of the little things.  You never know what impact your one, small act will make!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Digging Down the Layers

I'm not a patient person.  Maybe some of you are, but I, my friends, am not.  Most definitely.

I've known this about myself for a while.  I knew it when I got married, nearly seven years ago.  But during that first year of marriage, that was the year I actively began to pray about it.

I know, I know, some of you are laughing right now.  You're thinking back to your first year of marriage and empathizing.  Marriage is an adjustment, to say the least.  But that's not why I began to pray for patience (although the marriage-adjustment-thing certainly helped me remember to pray consistently!).

I began to intentionally ask God to turn me into a patient person when I realized I married a slow mover.

Do you know any slow movers?  Or, better yet, do you know any fast movers?  I, until a few years ago, was most definitely a fast mover.  And I couldn't have married a slower mover if I tried.

Let me give you some examples:

I would wake up on a typical day (prior to my transformation from fast to medium-slow), and my mind would fly ninety-nine miles per hour.  My to-do list would be outlined and categorized before my feet hit the floor.  By eight a.m. I would have completed quiet time (check), breakfast (check), dishes (check), laundry (check), letting the dogs out (check), scrolling through the morning news (check), checking and responding to emails (check), dressing for work (check), all while watching the latest, greatest morning show (have to keep up with social stuff - check).  My husband, bless him, would still be asleep.

I would talk so fast that he would literally ask me to slow down so that he could understand me.  He would talk so slowly that I would literally tap my foot while I waited for him to get his thoughts out.

If he asked me a question, I would have the answer before he had the second word out of his mouth, and I often interrupted him (I know, annoying).  If I asked him a question, I would have to suffer through at least one full minute of silence while I waited for him to formulate his response.  (You should have seen could probably see the steam coming from my ears as I tried, unsuccessfully, to be patient.  It drove me crazy to have to wait!)

Why am I writing about this today?  Because, today, strangely enough, none of these things bother me at all.  I am far less productive and move much more slowly than he does.  (Funny what having a debilitating illness does to a might slow you down, but at least it gives you perspective!)  I barely think about how different we he takes a slower pace than I do.  That's because he doesn't - not anymore.  I've changed.  I'm much more 'his pace' - in thought, word, and deed.  In fact, in many ways, I'm a slower mover than him (and I love this pace, by the way!).

So what made me remember how it used to be?

I had a moment.  You know, one of those moments.  It was with my daughter.  I can't even remember the details right now, but I know it happened some time last week.  I know I was ridiculously impatient, and I know it hurt her. 

I also know that nothing - nothing - is worth the look on her face when she felt hurt by my impatience.  Whatever I was in a hurry for - getting some errand done or answering a phone call or whatever - it wasn't worth it.

As I felt the pang of the fruit of my impatience, I thought to myself: "oh no, here I go again; and I thought I had come so far."

Then God gave me a picture.  He showed me a shovel digging deeper, deeper into the very soil that is my foundation...the place where seeds are planted and nurtured and grown. 

For the most part the soil was rich and fertile, but it had a few hard spots that had to be broken up.  It had a few rocks that needed to be removed.  It had a few leftover roots and weeds, all broken and dead, that needed to be hauled away.

"We're digging down the layers," He said, reminding me that transformation is a process.  Think of it as a digging process or a round-the-mountain process - whichever picture helps you the most.  Either way, transformation involves revisiting.  Going back to a place you've been before does not mean you've failed, moved backwards.  It does mean you've made progress - enough progress to make it around the mountain back to the same spot, only you're a little higher this time, or, a little deeper.

Either way, you've come a long way.

Linking up with my SDG girls.  Go ahead, take a look and see what this awesome community is all about!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent, Endings & My Book

Last Sunday one of our Bishops came to visit.  She was there to preside over baptisms, confirmations, and receptions.  She also had the privilege of preaching on the first Sunday of Advent.

(For those of you who are unfamiliar, Advent is the first season in the Church year.  The first Sunday is like New Year's Day in the Episcopal Church.  The focus of Advent is Jesus' coming birth, of course, but it is more than that.  It's about hope, and expectation, and longings fulfilled.  At its core, Advent is about the goodness of God to His people, about the fact that He loved us so much, He sent His only Son to live among us (John 3:16).)

I'm going to be honest here - I only half-listened to the sermon.  My husband and I are more-than-normal exhausted.  It took everything we had to drag ourselves to church.  We did it for the kids.  (I'm just being honest.)  It's not that we don't value church - we do.  But we also value sleep.

So there I was, sitting in the pew, trying to stay awake and pay attention.  Phrases kept drifting in and out of my conscious mind.  Something about beginnings and endings and intentionality and living in faith.

At some point, her point began to register with me.  She was talking about the chosen readings for the day, in particular the Gospel reading from Luke.  It's a pretty bleak passage with which to start Advent.  I mean, you'd expect to hear some shiny, happy passage about babies and angels, right?  Not so, she said.  In Advent, in the Church, in this journey called faith, we often start at the ending, rather than the beginning, for it is when we know the ending before we start that we can keep the faith after we begin.

In other words, it's in the assurance of things hoped for where we find the faith to continue walking daily, even when the path seems dark and the journey wearisome.  Knowing the end of the story gives us the grace to live intentionally today.  And tomorrow.  And the next day.

As I sat and listened to Bishop Harrison, I nodded and registered and silently agreed, knowing I would gnaw internally on her words for a while until they revealed some deeper flavor, some nugget of wisdom for which my tired brain searched.

And today, I got a taste of how God might use her words to impact my life.  Not in some major, deeply meaningful way, like I expected.  Nope.  That's not always how God works.  Sometimes He's profoundly practical.

Today, as I sat down to my novel, I heard Him say, "begin at the end."

I tried to make it more complicated than it needed to be.  I perked up in my chair and began praying, asking God to explain the deeper meaning behind His words.  I was looking for some wise insight, something profound.  It quickly became clear to me that He was being literal.  I simply needed to begin writing the last chapter of my book.

I hope you're smiling here, because I was.  Isn't it awesome that we serve a god like that?  A god who cares about the very mundane details of our processes?  I'm in danger of getting stuck in my writing process.  He knows that.  So He encourages me.  Tangibly.  Practically.  I have a place to go now - to the end.  Something I never would have thought to do.

But I'll bet you that, as I write the end before I have finished the beginning, the middle will be all that much more rich for it.

So are there places in your life where you need to be reminded of the ending, the hope to which you cling, the point toward which you navigate?  Are there places where you need to simply let Him speak practically, specifically and "chill out" a little on the deeper meaning of things?

Linking up with Soli Deo Gloria today. 

(P.S.  For more info on Advent, including some ideas for ways to celebrate, click here.)