Thursday, July 10, 2014

Grace Under Fire

The last few weeks we've had house guests in town.  The last few weeks have also been the hottest weeks of the year thus far.  It's been 90 plus degrees outside, and about 85 degrees inside our home.  We are one of "those people" who don't have central air conditioning in our home.  This alone would not be so bad, as I'm finding there are quite a lot of "those people."  Unfortunately, we also find ourselves in the smaller category of "those people" who have windows from the 1950's that open with this special crank that looks like it's from medieval times, and the windows only open halfway, making them incompatible with window unit air conditioners.  So, we are quite without air conditioning.  Okay, okay, my husband will make me be totally honest and admit that he has attempted to install a portable air conditioner into our home that vents out the hot air through the mail slot.  This means that whenever someone comes to our front door, they are blasted with a tornado of hot, oppressive air that continues to blow in their face until someone answers the door.  Also, said portable air conditioner only works approximately half of the time.  So, we are quite without air conditioning. 
Naked and angry.

We have tried other methods of cooling the home, as well, such as setting frozen water bottles in front of box fans, opening and closing the windows at strategic times of the day, running through the sprinklers, and trying to lay very still.  The children are usually naked and angry.  We have all been on edge.  I've been referring to our home as a "fiery hell" more often than is necessary, because saying "fiery hell" makes me feel a little like I'm cussing, which makes me feel a little bit better. 

There was a particularly hot day last week when the heat had apparently loosened all of my children's bowels, and all three of them pooped continuously throughout the day, some poop contained, and some not at all contained.  I put the kids down for a nap in the afternoon, but of course it was too hot to sleep, and Abel cried unceasingly for what I swear was only 15 minutes, and I checked on him at least three times during that time-span.  Did I mention we had guests in town?  Well, one guest found the crying to be too much to handle (understandably; you have to be conditioned to tolerate these things) and he left the house, popping back in to let me know that it sounded like we were beating a kid in here, as Abel's window was open (see paragraph 2, where I mention strategic opening and closing of windows) allowing all the neighborhood to hear his screams.  I went back to check on Abel one last time, and found that my passionate, expressive child had thrown himself into the side of his crib in his despair, and had busted his lip.  His mouth, clothing, and sheets were spotted with blood.  Meanwhile, we still had guests in the living room, and I was trying to maintain the illusion that my family was not insane, but I was beginning to believe that we were, in fact, insane.  After I snuck the bloody laundry out of the bedroom and into the washing machine so as not to feed the previously mentioned suspicion that we are an abusive family, I collapsed on the living room floor in exhaustion, letting my now-free children crawl all over me, one of which took her full milk cup and brilliantly figured out how to pop the lid off, pouring the entire contents into my hair. 

And I gave up. 

I excused myself from my one remaining guest, who was looking on in an mixture of pity, horror and disgust, and I went to my room, thinking to myself, "She is right.  I am pitiful, horrible, and disgusting.  These things don't happen to normal people.  Normal people don't end up with MILK on their heads." 

When I was in third grade, everyone ate lunch in the "cafetorium," a word that simply meant there was a stage in our cafeteria.  The garbage cans for dumping the remains of your lunch were set up in front of the stage, so that a double line could be formed, with students dumping their lunch from above, in a line that walked across the stage, and from below, in a line on the ground in front of the garbage cans.  I was in the latter line one day, innocently dumping my tray, when I felt a deluge of sticky wetness cascade over my head and down my back.  The girl on top of the stage had accidentally missed the garbage can and dumped her milk on my head (lunch monitors, could the possibility of this happening not have been foreseen?).  As I, half blinded, made my way to the office for a clean change of clothes, kids were giggling.  The target of ridicule was not the girl who had clumsily missed the garbage can, but it was me, the innocent victim, the girl who had ended up with milk on her head.  And I thought to myself, "they're right.  Normal people don't end up with milk on their heads." 


Bad days, people.  Hot, sticky, nasty, bad days full of public, embarrasing moments, and the private conviction that these things don't happen to the best of us, the prettiest of us, the wealthiest of us, and that we must have done something to bring it upon ourselves, because normal people don't have these days, normal people don't end up with milk on their heads. 

I was at the park with a friend of mine and our kids the other day, and we stared as a remarkably stylish group of moms had a sweet little picnic with their stylish children.  My friend laughed as she told me that she always wishes she could be part of a Stylish Moms Club.  I looked at them, looked at us, and thought to myself that we were much more practical in our raggedy shorts and T-shirts, because every one of those moms was eventually going to get crapped on, barfed on, spit on, or peed on, and they were just going to have more expensive outfits to get the stains out of.  But we all have people like that, don't we, a group of people we would love to be a part of,  a "club" we'd love to belong to because we secretly believe the members of that club are above it all.  I know I do. 

Well, I'm going to do what I always did when I was little and there was a club I was excluded from: start a new club.  Because what is so wrong about getting milk spilled on your head, or wearing ratty shorts, or sweating in your un-air-conditioned home, or getting all of your children's bodily fluids ejected onto you in one day?  Maybe people in the Normal Club don't get milk spilled on their heads, but who wants to be normal anyway? 

Recently, during another hard day with the kids, a family member told me, "you are still in the midst of being prepared for something BIG, Hannah - and I bet it includes multi-tasking!"  Prophetic, powerful words from a lady who probably doesn't see herself as a prophet at all.  And she is so right, because God never wastes a moment.  He uses every season, every accident, every failure as a training ground to prepare us for higher ground.  What if I stopped looking at the hard days as tough luck, and started looking at them as purposeful challenges that God is using to train me for something great?  Much easier said than done, I know.  Which of you,  after realizing the wipe you were using fell through and that you just wiped your kid's butt with your actual hand, is going to stop and say, "I was chosen for this moment.  God will use this experience to make me great."  But who's to say he won't?  I think God is big enough to make even the smallest, ugliest, stupidest moments into something big, and beautiful, and extraordinary. 

So, welcome to my new club.  Everyone is welcome: rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, clean or dirty - doesn't matter, because God tends to turn all of that stuff backwards and upside-down, anyway.  May God give all of us Club Members the ability to see our lives through eyes of grace.  Through redemptive lenses.  May we see our poverty as wealth, our ugliness as beauty, our filth as purity, our insignificance as greatness.  May he give us grace under fire as we remember that it's his fire that refines us. 

And as I return to the literal fire of my 85 degree home, may he remind me that even this fire has an extraordinary purpose.