Last weekend I drove to the beach with my little sister. She’s having a baby in December. We talked about labor and delivery and nursing and new moms and new dads. We talked about my daughters. We covered conferences, horse camp, mean girls and Christmas programs. When we got to the beach we joined over sixty women from our church in a ladies retreat. The topic was the Fruit of the Spirit.
If you grew up going to Sunday School you know that The Fruit of the Spirit is a common topic for kids. We spent time as children coloring grapes and oranges and bananas and labeling them with the nine character qualities listed in Galatians 4:22 – 23. We never colored in Apples. Apples have a bad rap in pop culture – they are always associated with the forbidden fruit that started the whole mess of sin and disease and death. Honestly though, I doubt it was an apple. They are too good for you. Also the climate in the middle east isn’t great for apples. Although our apples in Rwanda are doing amazing… But I digress.
All sixty women spent three days eating, talking, playing games, telling stories and learning. We heard speakers elaborate on each of the nine attributes of the fruit of the Spirit. For the record they are; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I cried. Several times.
I cried when I listened to my dear friend Nicole talk about her husband’s fight with cancer and the Joy that only God gives. (You can read her blog at http://shougmama.wordpress.com/). I listened in hushed awe as Jacquee told us how her Grandfather exemplified Peace during his last days. Susan’s recovery from a stroke God used to grow in her Patience. I felt convicted and cried with Linda as she walked us through Kindness and Self Control. I cried my way through Faithfulness and stories of my grandmother. I hate crying in front of crowds. I really must start talking in public about things I don’t care about! Or take more Kleenex. I watched and cried as Jennifer portrayed what it looks like to submit with Gentleness. Karen explained goodness and guess what- I cried. Sunday morning Barb explained how Love is the embodiment of all the attributes. I sat with a loved one and we cried.
I always come home from ladies’ retreat tired, emotionally stretched and ready to makes some changes. This time I came back with some friends who promise to hold me accountable. I ran this week once. I read my Bible. I practiced piano with my daughter and I didn’t snap her head off. I did snap and bicker with my spouse. I overslept. I worried. I failed. But I learned something at retreat. The Fruit of the Spirit isn’t about what I do or not to do. It’s about allowing what God already did affect my heart. Out of that grows fruit. And tears.
My sister and I drove home together from retreat. We talked about the lessons of the fruit. We talked about this new baby that is coming in December. I want to learn the lessons at retreat so he sees consistency in his aunt with what she teaches him in Sunday School. What did you learn?
We had quite a Christmas. We found out Christmas Eve that my sister-in-law is having a baby in April. A little girl. I love nieces and nephews. How fun to have cousins the same age. On that side of the family we’re pairing them up nicely. On my side, my daughter is still the only grandchild.
Then Christmas morning we announced we were having a baby via all forms of communication; text, email, video, phone and t-shirt. All day long we received notes of good cheer. We have a video of the whole event. My daughter and I keep watching it again. I keep crying. It’s the joy that is overflowing.
My sister spun into gift overdrive and wrapped up a baby quilt for our new little one. It’s a sock monkey quilt. She bought it several years ago at one of our Rwanda fundraisers. It’s darling. I remember when she bought it. It was a silent auction. She kept going back and biding the quilt up. She passed her budget and kept bidding. When she won we cheered. I assumed she bought it to save for her own baby. When I opened the gift and saw the red and blue and brown quilt blocks laying there I cried.
I spent the entire month of December stressing about my baby sister for two primary reasons. The first is that I knew she wants to have a baby too and I really didn’t want to hurt her on Christmas by announcing happy news while they were still waiting. It’s hard to balance joy and tears. Celebration and patience. The second reason is that as her older sister, I’ve worried and coddled and cared and cheered and babied her for her entire life. It’s habit.
I have a secret. I didn’t need to worry. God loves my baby sister more than I do. He has an amazing plan for her life. And in this particular case, His plan is joy overflowing. I have something in common with the angels who announced the birth of Jesus Christ. I’m heralding good news of great joy.
Michelle and Ben are having a baby. She’s due in August.
Last week I was surprised by the joy of August. I was standing by the sink eating a peach. The peach had been picked the day before ripe from the tree. The juice was running down my chin and arm. It tasted fabulous. All of a sudden it felt like August was embodied in that peach; summer so packed full of simple pleasures that it was running over.
This August I’ve loved going for a run and grabbing blackberries off the bushes outside our house while I stretch. The kettle corn at the fair tasted sweeter this year. I thoroughly enjoyed that darkness doesn’t come until its time for bed. I loved Portland to Coast; bonding with girlfriends in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. I loved swimming with my family. My husband made an incredible saffron shrimp and rice dinner. We had lettuce wraps again. A friend made fried green tomatoes. My daughter went to the dentist and didn’t have any cavities. Little pleasures. Running over.
My daughter and I read Black Beauty together. It took us most of the month to finish. We both cried at the end. She said “poor little guy. I’m so glad he ended up happy”. I feel a little bit like the horse. I think partly it’s been such a great month because all the depressant effects of INH medicine have worn off. I feel like I shook off some lead weights and ended up happy. Woo Hoo. Yea for August.
The whole family took a drive today. An hour south on the freeway to visit my aunt and uncle. I walked into their house and grinned at all my aunt’s Christmas decorations. My daughter was enthralled. My aunt has stuffed Christmas animals everywhere. They sing. They dance. A couple of penguins twirl about. There are two dogs that flap their ears in time to Jingle Bells. There was glitter and ribbons and tinsel and presents. My four-year old danced with the penguins and repeatedly pushed each button. At several points there were competing songs going on in the menagerie. Slightly loud but tons of fun. I looked in my Grandmother’s old bedroom. She died on New Years Day last year. I promptly burst into tears.
Ever notice that Christmas is like an amplifier? Everyone works hard to have a perfect time, but sometimes in the midst of joy, sorrow feels sharper. The first Christmas was no different. I can’t imagine that spending the night in a barn watching his fiance’ give birth was exactly what Joseph had in mind. Mary was clearly in pain due to childbirth but also I imagine she was relieving some difficult conversations with friends and family about her baby. Jesus was feeling His first moments away from the glory of heaven in a fragile and helpless position. Painful. Lonely.
There were angels and choirs and visitors and gifts and promises and hope. Jesus, fully God and fully man, also knew even at that time what the end of the story was about. Redemption, peace, great joy.
Our society doesn’t know how to deal with sadness very well. Sometimes I think the best thing to do is accept it, have a good cry and get back to the party. John Piper, in the book Taste and See talks about how to deal with times of commingle joy and sadness in a section called “The simultaneous sound of laughter and weeping”. I loved this line;
My prayer for myself and all of you is that our weeping might be deep but not prolonged. And while it lasts let us weep with those who weep. And when joy comes in the morning let us rejoice with those who rejoice.
That first Christmas had to be overwhelming. I think Mary had the right approach to the balance of grief and amazement. The Bible says in Luke 2:19 that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”.
Today, my family cried with me, gave me a big hug and then we opened presents. My daughter got a new doll that giggles whenever she is moved. We named her Pearl, my grandmother’s middle name. The doll didn’t quit giggling. Her young owner thought it was hilarious. Pretty soon the whole table was joining in. I was crying again but this time from laughing so hard. It was a great day. Lots to ponder.
Filed under Books, Family