He who watches over you will not slumber.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Yesterday, on a gorgeous, autumn-lit afternoon, Liam and Lanie and I took a walk to the park at the end of our street. Liam has become adept at stopping at cross streets on his tricycle and waiting for me, so I let him ride a few dozen feet ahead. I can still see him and talk to him, but he isn't within reach.

Just before we turned into the park, Lanie slipped on a crack in the sidewalk and scraped her knees. I saw Liam zip into the park on his bike, then I scooped Lanie up and rounded the corner into the park, expecting to see Liam.

About 50 feet ahead of me, in the middle of the sidewalk, I saw a tricycle. An empty tricycle. I picked up my pace and looked around. No sign of Liam anywhere.

"Liam?" I called, hoping I'd hear an immediate, "Yes, Mommy?" Instead, I was met with silence.

"LIIIIAAAAMMMM!" I screamed, a primal cry from a mom who had to find her boy. A man with his headphones on was walking past, but no one else was in sight. No one who could help me find my son. My heart beat behind my eyes as the world grew silent. I could barely take a breath.

I yelled one more time - a sound he would have to hear if he was anywhere close - and suddenly I heard giggles from the bushes. "Come get me, Mommy!" More giggles. I pulled down one branch and saw his smiling eyes. "I was jus' hiding from you!" Not funny, buddy. Not funny at all. 

The episode stuck with me for the rest of the day (and hopefully with him, after some discipline). To have my heart walking outside my body, as someone has said of children, is one thing. To have my heart lost outside my body is another. The day could have turned out so differently. I took my eyes off of him for all of 10 seconds and suddenly he'd gone missing. Our neighborhood isn't exactly Pleasantville, so anything was possible.

Before bed last night, I opened my Bible to the Psalms. Liam and I have been memorizing Scripture together, and yesterday's verse was this one:

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. - Psalm 121: 2

I wanted to read that verse in context, so I kept going.

v. 3 - He will not let your foot slip -
he who watches over you will not slumber;
v. 4 - indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

I don't know about you, but sometimes when I read truths about God, they simply feel too good to be true. Too extravagant to actually believe. He never sleeps? Never turns his back from me, or from any of the goings-on of our broken world? My mind can't wrap itself around that one, but I take such solace in the piece of it I do grasp. I can try to hide in the bushes - and I have certainly tried - but I am never hidden from his ever-vigilant watch. My life - your life - is never forgotten, never turned away from.

I remember sitting in a summer class in college on the Psalms, and we were dissecting Psalm 37. Psalm 37:4 struck me because it was one of my favorite verses during my high school years:

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I'd heard a pastor once explain that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will create desires in our hearts that align with his will, and then he will fulfill those desires that he's placed in us. Makes sense, doesn't it? I spouted off that information to the class.

I'll never forget my professor's response. He said, "What if God, by his grace, gave us what we desired because he loves us? Sure, he always gives us desires that align with his will, but I don't believe that's the point of this verse. I think that view of God is too limited, too safe."

What I had believed of God had been true, but my view of him was too small. Too stingy. Too much like a business transaction: I delight myself in him, he places desires in me and then fulfills them. My view didn't account for the lavishness with which he loves me, as his child. The word "desires" can also be translated "petitions." Petitions have a deeper meaning than just a petty request. They are the deepest, prayerful yearnings of the heart.

As John Calvin wrote about this verse, "We must therefore constantly recall to our minds this truth, that it can never be well with us except in so far as God is gracious to us, so that the joy we derive from his paternal favor towards us may surpass all the pleasures of the world. To this injunction a promise is added, that, if we are satisfied in the enjoyment of God alone, he will liberally bestow upon us all that we shall desire: He will give thee the desires of thy heart. This does not imply that the godly immediately obtain whatever their fancy may suggest to them; nor would it be for their profit that God should grant them all their vain desires. The meaning simply is, that if we stay our minds wholly upon God, instead of allowing our imaginations like others to roam after idle and frivolous fancies, all other things will be bestowed upon us in due season." (John Calvin's Commentary on the Psalms)

In two days, I would have been due with the baby we lost in March. September 30th has been looming large in my mind for months, and I've hoped that I would be pregnant again by now to lessen the sting of this day. It's never taken long for us to get pregnant with any of our four pregnancies, but for whatever reason, this time it's taking longer. Perhaps another pregnancy isn't what he has for us. Maybe it's adoption. Maybe it's just waiting a while longer. But I have to tell you, I believe more than ever in a vigilant God who never slumbers nor sleeps. An omniscient God who is intimately aware of the comings and goings of my life. A gracious Father God who knows the desires of his daughter's heart and loves to lavishly bestow them. He knows we desire another baby, and we trust that in time, he may fulfill that desire. In the meantime, we pray for grace to trust him more.

Preschooling at home.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Homeschooling is one of the three things I said I'd never do. But here we are. The almost four-year-old in my house is a bona fide preschooler (how?!) and is itching to read. We've always read dozens of books each day together, but now, he's starting to sound out words on his own. It's incredible to watch his little mind stretch and grow.

He and Lanie spend two mornings a week at a Bible study that's structured like preschool. Between that, church activities, and play dates with friends, they have plenty of social interaction throughout the week. But I've found that on their days home, I crave a little more structure with Liam. Because each of our days is so different (my work schedule changes from week to week), it's been nice to be intentional about school time - which really just feels like quality time. 

Through a friend's recommendation, we landed on The Peaceful Preschool curriculum and it's been a perfect fit for us. Liam looks forward to the mix of literature, projects, art, and memorization. I highly recommend it. It's even giving me the itch to consider homeschooling Liam for kindergarten, depending on our school options when that time comes. But don't tell 12-year-old Whitney I told you so... she wouldn't exactly know what to do.

True comfort

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

During the long evening hours at work, this image often comes to mind: my littlest in the comforts of our home, helping prepare for a family birthday dinner. It's the culmination of some of my favorite bits of motherhood and of life: my tiny shadow trailing my every step, watching as I carefully place each plate and napkin and hopefully letting the memory seep into her heart like it does mine. It's in our home that we enjoy the good gifts of the Father, like beeswax candles and grilled corn and clean cotton sheets and laughter. The most mundane and most important moments of our lives happen inside these walls.

There are nights at the hospital when I wish this - my home - could be the backdrop of all my hours, a place I never had to drive away from. Many days, I justify working by remembering that I'm earning much needed money for our family and I'm serving the weakest of the weak, and thereby serving Jesus. 

The other day, I had a young patient who was severely autistic, but you could tell that his mind processed much more than he could communicate. I'm sure he felt trapped inside his own body. He passed away a few nights ago and my very first thought was, "Freedom! What freedom!" He's walking and talking and moving his limbs on command and glorifying God with every step. It made me wonder if Heaven is even sweeter for those who have endured the confines of a body riddled with disease on earth. 

In a much smaller way, you know how a hot shower feels even more luxurious if your toes are bone cold? How you just melt under the comfort? In a similar way, when I walk into the doors of my home after peeling off layers of hospital grime and into the embraces of my family, into the lavish gift of a full fridge, a cup of hot tea, the sound of worship music... it's even richer than if I'd been here all along. The contrast makes me even more grateful. 

Comfort is my drug of choice. I'm always seeking it, and I'm always left wanting. Aren't we all? But the truth is, we will never find lasting comfort apart from Jesus. We will always be searching for it in our stuff, our people, our paychecks. And we will always come up short. The stuff breaks. The people fail us. The paycheck is spent on car repairs and water bills. 

But in Christ, he promises to give us living water so we will never thirst again. There is nothing outside him that we need. He is our perfect righteousness, our perfect peace, our only hope for true rest. The Savior endured the most unimaginable discomfort - separation from his Father - in order to spare us from eternal separation from God and to bring us into his perfect comfort. He surely didn't have to do this. But in his mercy and his grace, he chose us to share with him the eternal inheritance we never deserved. This is what I hope my children can someday grasp in the temporary comforts surrounding them in our home: I pray they see Jesus. 

Weekend at Washington

Sunday, September 4, 2016

For weeks, we'd planned to spend a sunny Labor Day weekend with our dear friends in their hometown of Washington, NC. And then Hurricane Hermine decided to blow through. So instead of taking the boat out onto the river or spending the day in the hammock, we resorted to other things. Simpler joys. Walking out onto the pier as it drizzled rain. Slow lunches on the screened-in porch. Chocolate ice cream in downtown Washington. 

Our friends, the Watsons, have been true friends since the moment we landed in Raleigh. They have loved us lavishly with their time, their incredible cooking, their wisdom. So to be in their hometown, staying with their family, was a privilege in and of itself. We certainly hope to be back one day soon, maybe when the sun decides to shine.

Dear Dad

Thursday, August 18, 2016

If you're a long-time reader of Elm Street Life, you've probably noticed that blogging has been very sparse since I went back to work as a nurse. Admittedly, my life is pretty full these days. Besides being a wife and mom, I'm away at the hospital for 25-30 hours every week caring for patients. Still, I've made excuses for long enough not to blog. I miss this space. I miss making space: space to chronicle, to reflect, to wrestle. Whether or not anyone reads this blog, I need to be writing. 

With that said, the original intent of this site was to chronicle the life of our family. Under that heading, my dad celebrated a big birthday this summer and the best gift I could think to give him was one he'd given me time and time again: a handwritten letter on a piece of yellow legal pad paper. I wanted to share what I wrote here to remember these words years from now, but also for you to catch a glimpse of the man I get to call Dad. 

Dad and me on my 12th birthday, with the letter he wrote me for the occasion
Dear Dad, 

It's your birthday, and it's a big one. As I've pondered the thirty years I've gotten to spend with you so far, I see a clear theme in your life. From the time you were a tiny little guy wielding a not-so-tiny accordion, it was apparent that you were talented. Gifted, even. Grandma tells me you were smart as a whip, and I believe her. Since then, you've spent your ministry and career behind the piano, and thousands have marveled at your gift. You've produced countless records, you've played at Carnegie Hall, you've won a Grammy. You've had a musical career that most only dream of.

But there's something rare and beautiful about how you've chosen to steward your gift. You easily could have gloried in your own abilities to make yourself great, but you've chosen to use them to lift others up and make them great instead. The definition of accompaniment is this: "a musical part that supports or partners a solo instrument, voice, or group; something that acts as a complement to something else." As an accompanist, you allow singers to excel, giving them complete freedom because you'll be there to back up every note. As my dad, you've done the very same thing. You've provided accompaniment to my dreams, nudging me into the spotlight and doing everything in your power to make sure I shine. 

One of my favorite things about you is that you're a dreamer. Beyond that, you've never made me feel silly for any of my dreams. Instead, you've done everything in your power and with your words to make those dreams a reality. 

When I was seven years old, I saw an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood where Mr. Rogers interviews a drummer. For a fleeting moment, I set out to be a drummer myself. When I told you about it and asked if we could go to the music store, you didn't even flinch. You just hopped in the car and took me to Sam's for a pair of drum sticks and a practice pad. 

When I was thirteen, I took up an interest in photography and desperately wanted to take pictures at a graveyard when the sun rose. You woke up at the crack of dawn (literally) to chase me around the wet, dewy, falling down graves in search of that perfectly backlit shot. 

At age sixteen, you handed me the keys to the car. You also handed me some exorbitant cell phone bills, but I won't go there. Most of what I remember from this time, though, was running track and cross country. Throughout all of those years, I can't remember a single race you missed despite your busy travel schedule. As we'd line up on the starting line, my stomach full of butterflies and my head full of doubts, I'd sift through the crowd with my eyes until I found you. Your face was always glowing... and the race hadn't even started! Your steadying presence was all I needed to be ready to run.

At age eighteen, you and Mom drove me to Waco, Texas and dropped me off at my dorm. I'm sure you probably thought, "Couldn't you have picked somewhere a tad closer to home?" but you never said it. You supported every change-of-major and even a change-of-school and wrote every check without ever making me feel unworthy of the sacrifice.

At twenty two, you walked me down a candle-lit aisle to forever with the love of my life. You didn't just relinquish me to his care with a trite, "Leave and cleave!" You welcomed Shawn into our family. Just the other day, Shawn was commenting on how easy and supportive you are to work with as you produce his first album, and once again, I marveled at how rare and how wonderful your relationship with your son-in-law is. 

At age twenty six, just hours after Liam was born, you flew in from being out of town and walked into the room with a smile I'd never seen before: a smile reserved for a grandson. Seeing you hold my most important little dream in your arms for the first time... I'll never forget it. 

At age thirty, just the other day, I'd worked a string of difficult shifts at the hospital as a nurse and had written about it on my blog. The next day, you called me simply to say you'd read it with Mom and you were so proud of me and the way I lean on the Lord in those stretching moments. Those words would have meant a lot coming from a friend. They would've meant more coming from my husband. But for the little girl's heart that still beats inside my chest, they meant most coming from my dad. 

I've been far from a perfect daughter (Hello, tattoo! Hello, complete disregard of curfews!). But the way you've forgiven quickly and fully, the way you've fueled my dreams, the way you've cherished me and cared tenderly for me for 30 years is just a glimpse of how my heavenly Father must see me, and that brings me to my knees. You are steady as a rock, and have been a firm foundation for my waves of emotions. I never hear you complain, even after days of difficult travel. 

You've given me countless priceless gifts: your clear blue eyes, the love of a well-crafted letter on yellow legal pad paper, and the example of what it means to faithfully follow Jesus. I have a much clearer picture of who He is because of who you are, and I'm thankful that one day, we'll see Him with unveiled faces, together. 

I love you, Dad. Happy birthday!
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