and brake in small pieces the rocks before the Lord,
but the Lord was not in the wind:
and after the wind an earthquake;
but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
and after the earthquake a fire;
but the Lord was not in the fire:
and after the fire a still small voice."
- I Kings
The twins were active four year old preschoolers when we moved into the cottage. Once the original house on a large piece of property in "the country", the only remnant of its homesteader status was that it still sat on almost a half acre in the middle of our sweet historic village nestled in the middle of urban sprawl. Our modest cottage was surrounded by mini mansions and rambling ranches on postage stamp lots.
This little farmhouse was as close to "home" as we could find on this latest move from "the land of light and space" to a Midwest metropolis where nothing felt familiar. I couldn't find a grocery store that had the same feel as our small organic market "back home" and our older daughter has gone through every ballet school in the city and still wasn't comfortable in her slippers. Every day I felt as if I slogged from one necessary task to another with a headache knocking (no...banging) at the door of my thoughts begging me to just give up and crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.
About this same time the girls were finding their own way of coping with the move. The preschool that served the University community where we had come from was only a block from our home and the drive took less than three minutes...door to door. If they had to go potty when we left the back door of the school they were home before the need was urgent. If they were hungry or thirsty as they waved goodbye to Miss Zorina (really...it was perfect name for this wonderfully magical preschool teacher...sigh) they had snacks in hand and their thirsts quenched before they could say "John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith".
Our move had increased the door to door travel from two minutes and twenty seconds to twenty minutes if we fortunate enough to hit all (and only) green lights. By the time we arrived at the back drive and I had parked the car, they were ready to explode out of the Jeep and into the back door of the mudroom that led to the kitchen. I would be left to gather backpacks, shoes, wrinkled art projects and by the time I jostled it all into the kitchen they were at the counter with sippy cups in hand, banging them on the counter next to the refrigerator screaming "We're thirsty....we want juice"....not once, or twice, or even six times, but in a constant stream of urgency.
I would drop the gear I had dragged from the car onto the kitchen floor and soothingly say, "Okay girls, okay calm down and I'll get you juice" in my own constant stream of yogi-like calm with a silent underscore of "oh please just be quiet my head hurts so badly I can't think". I felt bad. I felt bad that we had moved them to this place where they were not close to preschool, where they were thirsty and starving by the time we got home, where it was cold and I felt lonely.....heck, I just felt bad all around.
One day after about two months of our little song and dance at full volume by the refrigerator door, I was at the end of my rope with the pain in my head....and my heart. All morning long I had prayed for some relief from the discomfort. I had tried to quiet the endless loop of "This pain is screaming so loudly I cannot think" praying with affirmations of God's all-presence as the only source of my thoughts, but I was still in battling pain mode when I picked the girls up from preschool. The ride home was typical and our arrival at the house was what I had come to rely on as our new "routine". By the time I made it into the kitchen like a beast of burden layered in backpacks and sweaters, shoes and sundry construction paper-based projects...there they were next to the refrigerator screaming "I want juice...I'm so thirsty...I want juice."
I stood there like a pack horse and thought, "Why don't they just open the refrigerator door and get their own darned juice? Then, on the wings of my morning of prayer I heard whisper from somewhere deep and knowing within me, "Ahhh, but don't you see, they are screaming because they know they don't have the authority to do what they are demanding that you do for them! If they thought they had power or authority they'd just DO IT! They are screaming at you because they want you to give them the permission they know they need." Well, once I realized that I was the grownup in authority in this little scene I said, very calmly, "Girls, you can have juice when you put your backpacks on the hooks, your shoes in the mudroom and your sweaters in your room." They looked at eachother, put down their cups and ran off to do their chores coming back to the kitchen where I stood waiting with the juice pitcher in hand.
The screaming in my head stopped with as little drama when I realized that it was only screaming because it had no authority to do what it was threatening. It had been telling me for months (and using my voice, in my head, to do it) "I am in so much pain that I cannot think", but I had been thinking all along. It was using pain to scream its suggestion because it couldn't actually make me stop thinking. When I realized that it really hadn't ever been able to accomplish it's threat I stopped listening. Whether it had said you can't think, or you can't love...I always could...in some way. I started focusing on what I could (and was) doing...rather than what it was suggesting I couldn't do.
Over the course of the next few weeks the girls would occasionally try to revert to running in the house and screaming, sippy cups in hand, banging on the counter next to the refrigerator, for juice. But I knew, they knew, who was in charge. I could calmly say, "First we put our backpacks away...." until one day I realized they hadn't even tried to scream for a long time.
Screaming, pain, fear, dissatisfaction are the "out of control" tactics used when someone or something knows it has no authority. Kindness, honesty, peace, goodness, love don't need to scream to accomplish their goals, their plans...they just quietly, and with authority, go about being loving, good, peaceful, kind.
The little cottage, that for the first few month was a retreat from the reality of our move, became the very center of a wonderful neighborhood, church and school community full of new friends and activities for us all. And the new preschool, I cried when our twins graduated into first grade and left the "Pooh school" behind. Miss Zorina's shoes were magically filled and overflowing by Mrs. Warner, Mrs. Howard, Mrs. Lines... And our older daughter turned her ballet slippers in for volleyball kneepads and went to national with her team four years later.
You don't have to be alarmed when something is jumping up and down and screaming for your attention, whether it comes in the guise of a fear that shakes the ground you walk on, or pain that swirls within or without ripping through your life - cold and biting like the wind in December, or the fire of dissatisfaction that would try to lick at your heels and devour your peace...these "voices" are only threatening to do something it needs you to consent to...remember it's only trying to engage you because it can't accomplish a thing on its own...and it feels helpless..because it is.
"Breathe through the pulses of desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm."
- J. G. Whittier