Art Journaling: We Will Not Fear

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. . . though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;  Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.  Selah.  There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.  Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.  Psalm 46:1-5, 10-11

Some Trust in Chariots

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As usual, we were running a little behind schedule.  David could not find his shoes, and Mikey did not want to wear a coat.  Finally, I herded the last of the kids out the door and to the van, where we discovered that someone had left on the interior lights.  The van would not start, despite the kids’ pleas to Goldie (the name of our van) to get going so they could go play in the gym.  I looked at my antsy kids.  Hosanna was running in circles on the front lawn, and Gabi was attempting to stand on her toes and do a pirouette in the driveway.  “Let’s get the dog and go for a walk,” I made a snap decision.

Now, we live in a metropolitan area that is not exactly suited for walking with four young kids and a not-so-obedient dog.  There are several businesses on our own street, which means a steady stream of dangerous traffic.  Still, I was determined to exterminate the cabin fever and so we forged ahead.  Despite the dog almost darting out into traffic a few times and Hosanna loudly and mightily resisting her hand being held by her big sister, we managed to traverse the more perilous streets of the neighborhood before coming to the “nature trail” behind our local Wal-mart.  By “nature trail,” I mean a skinny asphalt trail with random trees planted on one side and a stunning view of the backside of Wal-mart on the other.  It didn’t matter – now I didn’t have to be on high alert for traffic and could enjoy our walk a little more.  The kids ran ahead of me, squealing with delight at each new stick find and giggling at the antics of the dog.  The trail looped around to the front entrance of Wal-mart.  The kids begged to go inside and “just look at the toys for one minute, promise.”  I was secretly relieved that we had the dog with us, thus eliminating a long stay in the Lego aisle as the kids examined the newest sets.  Reluctantly, the kids followed as I led them back to the neighborhood behind Wal-mart.

Just as we were starting to climb the ramp to the sidewalks beyond, I became aware of flashing lights and police sirens everywhere.  A police car pulled right up next to us, and the officer driving shouted something at me.  Confused and admittedly a little freaked out, I couldn’t understand what he was saying.  He pulled out a megaphone. “Ma’am, you can’t go back that way!  You ‘re going to have to turn around and go back to the store.”  What?  “But this is the only way we can walk home!” I protested.  ” Ma’am, that way is not safe.  A man shot someone and is somewhere back there with a gun.  Please go back to the store.”  I nodded and directed the kids to turn around.

The kids heard the words man shot someone and gun and panicked.  “Mom, I’m scared!  What if the guy with the gun is right here in the parking lot?  What will we do?  How are we going to get home?”  I heard the fear in their voices and almost automatically said, “It’s okay, I’m here.  Mom will take care of you and keep you safe.”  Because that’s what we moms do, right?  Whether it’s a boogie man in their closet or a very tall slide at the playground, we reassure our kids that we are there to help them and protect them in any way we can.  But if that man with the gun appeared right now in front of us, there would be nothing I could do to protect my kids.  In that moment, I realized that I didn’t want my kids looking to me for safety and protection.  I wanted them to put their trust and their safety in the arms of their Heavenly Father.

I gathered my kids in a circle and wrapped my arms tightly around them. I looked into their frightened faces and spoke the truth.  “I don’t know where the man with the gun is.  I’m not sure how we are going to get home yet.”  I chose my words carefully. “Let’s talk to God, right now.”  There, in the parking lot of the Wal-mart, I began praying for God’s protection on our little family and on the other people around us.  David hesitated and then joined in, asking God to help the police find the bad guy.  Gabi chimed in next, openly sharing that she was scared and that she didn’t want to be scared and would God please help her to stop being afraid?  A sense of calm enveloped us as we hurried back to the Wal-mart entrance.  We were told to go inside, dog and all, and of course the kids immediately headed to the toy section.  While they were occupied with the latest toys and games, I waited.  What was I waiting for – we certainly would not be able to walk home.  That was out of the question.  Maybe Christ could come get us – except the van wasn’t working.  I decided to call my mother-in-law, who within minutes of my call jumped in her van and headed out to rescue us.  When she pulled up to the store, the kids piled in, excitedly telling their grandma all about the man with the gun.  We drove past the neighborhood that we had just been walking in hours earlier and saw dozens of police cars blocking every entrance, red and blue flashing lights illuminating the area.  I thanked God that we had not been there at a different time, a time when perhaps things may not have ended so well.

That night, as I tucked the kids into bed, Gabi stared at me anxiously and asked if the police had caught the bad guy yet.  She kept looking at her bedroom window and admitted that she was afraid that he might come to our house.  I told her that I understood her fear, but that we just had to put our trust in God and in His protection.  Because that’s what it’s all about.  My kids can trust in their mom and dad.  They can trust in their grandparents.  They can trust in locked doors and in the police and in loaded guns.  But all of those things will eventually fail them.  Only God is worthy of complete trust.  When we trust in Him completely, He will direct our paths.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.  Be still and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:1-3, 10a

Be Calm and Burble On

DSC_0122A few months ago, we acquired a new resident for our aquarium. I named our little African dwarf frog Sir Hops-a-Lot, and he provided quite a bit more entertainment than the fish that just swam in circles all day.  My daughter and I did a little research and found that African dwarf frogs are very social.  This discovery led to the purchase of another African dwarf frog, Sir Spotty, to be a companion to our first one.

Not long after both frogs joined our household, I noticed a peculiar thing about Sir Spotty that caused me to panic a little.  He was floating near the surface of the water with his arms and legs spread out, totally motionless.  I thought he was dead, but to be sure, I knocked against the glass several times until he shifted slightly, as if startled out of daydreaming.  The next day I caught Sir Hops-a-Lot doing something very similar.  He was closer to the bottom of the tank with one foot rested on a plant and the rest of his body suspended in the water, swaying gently with the current of the tank.  “Please don’t be dead,” I thought to myself.  We had just had several of our fish go belly up in the last few days, and I wanted to think that we were not aquatic animal killers.  Sir Hops-a-Lot stayed in that position for over an hour before darting up to the top of the tank for a little air.

I decided to do a little more research on African dwarf frogs to see if this was a normal occurrence for them.  In doing so, I read that African dwarf frogs in captivity often participate in what is commonly called “burbling.”  A frog in a burbling position is effectively zoning out for a while, giving his body a rest from constant swimming or hiding.  You might say that he is in a meditative state of sorts.  This information was a great relief, although I admit to still knocking on the tank occasionally when they look particularly dead.

One recent morning, I was sitting at the dining room table, reading a bit of Scripture and journaling in my notebook.  I looked up to see that Sir Spotty was burbling again, and I noted how still and peaceful he looked.  It reminded me of a verse in Psalms – “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)  Curious, and because the kids somehow were still miraculously asleep in their rooms, I looked up “Bible verses about being still” and was surprised to find so many on that topic.  I was drawn to the passage in Lamentations 3, where Jeremiah famously talks about the Lord’s mercies being new every morning and about the greatness of God’s faithfulness.  A little further down, Jeremiah proclaims: “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.  It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”  In the margin of my Bible, some years ago, I had written “I must HOPE~SEEK~WAIT on Him!”

I tried to remember the last time I had truly been still.  When had I I last sought out God with no other distractions and then waited for His answer?  Four noisy kids now demanding breakfast and clean underwear and morning hugs answered that question all too clearly.  Being still and listening for God’s voice had disappeared a long time ago and had been replaced by grocery lists and overflowing laundry baskets and scraped knees.  Even when I got up early enough to meet with God before the kids woke up, my mind was still distracted with to-do lists and the busyness of life.  Too many a prayer was interrupted by a seemingly greater need of one of the kids.  Too many a Scripture reading was halted by the chaos of life.

I realized that I needed to make time again to just be still.  In my Scripture reading just this morning, Moses tells the Hebrew people to stop being afraid of the Egyptian army in hot pursuit.  He encourages them to “stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD.”  He basically tells them to be quiet and let the LORD do the fighting for them.  How often am I missing out on God doing some great things in my life because I won’t be quiet?  Perhaps, to drive the point further home, what peace and contentment could the Lord bring if I would stop checking Facebook/emails/cell phone games/latest TV show so frequently?

It has been quite the challenge to learn to be still, to turn off the constantly humming “mommy thoughts”, and to realize that I do not have to be constantly entertained or busy all the time.  Every day is a struggle.  I ask God to please take away the distracting thoughts and try to focus on one time a day that I can just make like a frog and burble.  It’s usually after the kids go to bed (I mean sleep, because well we all know that “going to bed” doesn’t necessarily mean quiet kids!).

And in the midst of the most chaotic days, I give myself a little grace.  If “being still” doesn’t happen today, it will tomorrow. And I’ve always got my burbling frog friends around to remind me.