Sunday, July 16, 2017

How Flashes Deep Within the Atom Reflect the Life We're Hungry For

I've been mulling it over -- this line I saw recently and can't remember where. 

Mulling it over while dragging sprinkler hoses across hot grass lawns, while driving kids to appointments and swim lessons, and every time I curl up beside family and friends while stretching summer long. Iced coffee cubes crash against condensed glass, dripping summer's heat across bare legs. 

"How we spend our days is how we spend our lives." 

And the audacity of it lingers in my brain this week. In moments and days that crash by, dripping lost to the ground, this claim that we can choose, can order, can decide to step fully into each moment and to control how we live our lives is brash, bold. 
Photo credit: Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker, Creative Commons cc license
I love it, and the science of atoms flashes to my mind. In a textbook years ago, I read about the wild, intricate behaviors of protons, neutrons, and electrons within an atom. 

Inside the nucleus is a flurry of activity where protons and neutrons exchange tiny particles called pions in a frenzy of energy. Electromagnetically, like charges repel each other. Protons, as positively-charged aspects of the atom, should repel each other, like same-sided magnets do. Yet, mysteriously, they don't. 

Bewildered scientists wondered for years why the protons' positive charges didn't repel each other and explode. They knew there must be a strong force holding everything together, but didn't know what. Experiments and observations hinted at the existence of this strong force, but not much was known until the 1930s and 40s, when scientists confirmed the existence and nature of this strong force, the strongest force in creation. 

Do you know what thrills me about this force? 

This strongest force in creation, this strong force that overrules normal magnetism and is stronger than gravity... this strong force in science reminds me of the Three-in-One God. Protons and neutrons are huddled so closely in the nucleus of the atom because they are giving of themselves. 

Taking part of themselves to manufacture pion particles, they give sacrificially to each other. Over and over they break off part of themselves and give to the other. In what reminds me of sacrificial love, there is a frenzy of breaking and making and giving and receiving, and breaking and making and receiving. Pions flash as gifts that last for a brief instant, then are gone. 

Giving of themselves to each other, they are wrapped intricately close. This -- the strongest force in the world-- is woven so tightly that all other natural laws of magnetism, poles, and gravity are broken, and in the center of the atom, unseen by the world, protons and neutrons give of themselves and hand off themselves as endlessly-given gifts to each other. And it's the strongest force in science. 

Want to live the life you're hungry for? This strong force, this endless breaking and making and giving... 

Who knew it was modeled in pions deep within atoms? 


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(Adapted from an archived post of mine.) 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Of Baby's Breath, Wedding Lilies, Burial Urns, and Daily Glimpses of God

It rains now. Silver staccato on burnished green leaves; the roads a wet black.

And it reminds me of those teens several weeks ago, screeching and huddling under a single umbrella. Their four adult-sized figures spilled out from under the protective rain cover, while Blake yelled good-naturedly,

"You're stealing my umbrella!" My daughter and three friends cuddled, huddled, and dashed across the food co-op's parking lot to my grey Hyundai, laughing and jumping over puddles. And you have to lean close to share one umbrella in the rain.

These last two months have been a happy maelstrom of planning, shopping, preparing for, and savored-moment-by-moment milestones. My son, my oldest, strode into a university hall in swirling black robe and flat square hat, in line with others to receive four year's worth of hard work in rolled parchment diploma. My view of him swam in teary ripples and I squeezed Mark's hand, my heart beating in joy and pride.

"We made him!" I exclaimed. "That's our son," and my husband's jaw muscles flinched in strong emotion too.

Three weeks later, my daughter strode in swirling crimson robe and flat square hat towards the stage to graduate from high school. I blinked back happy tears, squeezed Mark's hand again, and smiled giddy through proud joyful shimmers that blocked my view.

"I'm so proud of you," I whispered in her ear as we hugged on-stage, handed her diploma to her, and then walked to opposite ends of the stage.

In between, the days filled fast with ...

  • ...Morgan's graduation party errands. "Three hundred cups? What do you think? How many cups do people go through on hot days?" and I estimated how many gallons of lemonade to make.
  • ...John's wedding errands and decisions. My husband cleared his throat, "So, after the ring bearer and the flower girl enter the room, we'll have the ushers close the doors. When the kids get to the stage and are seated, Melanie will change the music to Canon in D. Danielle will rise, and, Kate, you can enter with your Dad whenever you are ready."
  • ...And slipped in between white wedding lilies, and dotted baby's breath in stone jar centerpieces for Morgan's graduation party, my Dad and I planned his funerals and telephoned crematoriums. We talked of death certificates, estimating how many copies we would need, and asked about medical examiners. 
Then, hanging up the phones, my dad and I rejoined Mom on their back patio and listened to the birds, the tinkling water fountain, and the wind in the trees overhead. My Mom, sister, Dad and I carved out frequent times together, not wanting to miss a moment. We fished by the Mississippi River, took prodigious video recordings of Mom and Dad together, attended outside concerts at parks, and sat long in contented silences too. 
On June 10th, my firstborn dimpled and bit lips in emotional joy, clenching his jaw just like his dad in overwhelming delight at watching his bride enter the church sanctuary. All eyes on the bride, my eyes were on him. The groom's breath-taking anticipation flushed him tall on toes, shoulders back, jaw flexing, eyes red, and mouth ever-biting and swallowing in disbelief and proud joy. 
I turned at last to beam at my beautiful new daughter-in-law and to watch my son and my new daughter step onto the carpeted stage. Beside my pastor-husband, they spoke tremulous words of promise, and joy cracked their voices. We wiped happy tears, my parents and parents-in-law beside me in the front right pew, and I savored every single second, thanking God for these moments together, and for every single day. 
And you and me today? We can see glimpses of this gorgeous Creator God everywhere we look... 
  • Him holding the umbrella in life's storms saying, "Scooch in to stay dry" and laughing as we run together in the rain. 
  • We see this God in proud parent moments of squeezed hands and leaning in to say, "We are so proud of you!" 
  • I see him in savored family moments and in the gift of each time together. 
  • And we can see our Groom God as he watches in delight and jaw-clenching joy. 
 I've missed you. Thanks for peeking in. How are you? Catch me up in the comments below? 

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Best Way to Radiate Beauty This Prom Season

We walked into the shop and both gasped. Crystal and glass chandeliers hung dotted throughout the store, and jewelry and scarves of every color clustered in carefully-coordinated corners. Morgan headed over to the white silver section of accessories, seeking a studded silver headband. Fake rhinestones sparkled against her dark hair.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Janine, Creative Commons, cc license
After selecting a headband, she considered earrings with an artist's eye. Dangling different pairs from her ears she solicited the sales associate's advice, wondering if something was too big or fancy.

"It's prom!" the associate laughed, "You're never too bedazzled."

The sales clerk pointed to various earrings and then let Morgan decide. My daughter held up oblong jeweled orbs and cascading light-catching pieces. The jewelry radiated and sparkled at her neck. And I could see it, how they caught and reflected the light, shining out brilliantly.

It reminded me of the words I had read this morning. Scrambling to corral my wriggly second grader and keep his mind on math problems then, I had pulled my Bible closer. Turning to some verses that my mom had mentioned recently, I had read them quietly to myself, letting their beauty soak in.

"The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trust-worthy, making wise the simple." 

Who doesn't need that? I had thought as I had gently lassoed a boy's imagination back.

"Okay, focus in," I had murmured to my home-schooled son. "What is 27 plus 85?"

God's words continued and I had traced them with my eyes.

"The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes." 

There it was!

Back in the jewelry and accessories store with my tall daughter, we had browsed counters, looking for earrings to match her elegant thrift store prom dress. She fingered pairs of earrings and deliberated.

I saw it, though. That no matter which earrings she chose to dangle against her neck this weekend, that she already radiated light. God's words that she had selected and soaked in earlier already reflected out the light and beauty within her.

What's the best way to be radiant? Want to catch and reflect the light most beautifully? Join me in the best beauty regiment ever. Spend time in these ancient words that revive the soul, make wise the simple, give joy to the heart, and give light to the eyes.


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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Your Best Witness Protection Plan

"I've been part of two shop-lifting experiences," she told me this week, leaning across the coffee-shop table. Her blue eyes were wide in astonishment.

"You witnessed them?" I clarified for anyone eavesdropping.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Fourbyfourblazer, Creative Commons cc license
"Yes," she continued, telling me of brazen behavior by two bootlegging rogues.

"What did the store owners do? What did the police say?" My questions tumbled out.

"I just told them what I saw," she said, stopping to sip her peppermint tea. "We were glad the manager went out cautiously. What if the man had had a gun?"

We shook our heads.

At a recent women's weekend retreat I walked into a beautiful cedar-sided lodge. Silver-haired and white-haired grandmas chuckled, checked in, and carried their luggage into rooms stacked two-stories-high. Suddenly, an inexplicable shyness crept into me. What could my paltry forty-two year old frame try to teach wise grandmas?

"Just tell what you've seen. That's all I've ever asked you to do," I felt God whisper inside me.

Calm coiled and crept deep. My breathing lengthened. That's right, I smiled. This has never been about me, I reminded myself.

"God, this is for you," I spoke in audible soft words as I stepped across pine cone-strewn sand and under towering evergreens. The lake glimmered turquoise below the hill. I made up songs, singing them in breathy tunes, grinning crazy to myself.

"God, you're so good! Thank you...." I stammered in wooed, whipped love for him, naming his gifts and making up lyrics as I went, singing a love song for this God who weaves tri-color sunsets, stretches pine trees tall, and who tells me again and again, "Just say what you've seen."

In our comparing-prone world, we can forget it so fast, huh? I can. And then the truth comes crashing back. I am loved, delighted in, enough, sufficient in Jesus, and absolutely free. Loved unconditionally by the God of the universe, I am free. The weightlessness of that bubbles up tall most days, stretching my shoulders wide in joy. Later, and throughout that weekend, we got to pour over God's words together and watch him move and teach all of us. I was thrilled and thankful to be a part of that.

I saw it this Sunday morning and my giggles shook the bench. My husband glanced at me, and shook his head grinning. I pointed, and he smiled too, but my mirth was evidently greater. I sang and laughed, switching from one verse to another, giggling harder as I sang.

Because caught up in the joyful song, two little girls in the front row of church were tossing their baby dolls into the air. Blond plastic braids flying wide in the air, the dolls arched up, froze for a second and then curved earthward again. Their owners caught them, swung their legs in joy, and catapulted their dolls again.

The song* sang about freedom and joy and new life, and I felt a bit like soaring as well.

"Oh your grace so free 
Washes over me
You have made me new
Now life begins with you 
It's your endless love
Pouring down on us
You have made us new
Now life begins with you...

Free, free, forever we're free..."

Throwing dolls in the air seemed like a perfect response to me too. I giggled and kept singing, my face wide from smiling. Because our best witness protection plan is to rest safe in who we are in God, and to just say what we've seen.

* "Death Was Arrested" by Coker, Smith, Kersh, & Ballztglier. 

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Cowlicks and Warriors Would Tell You about Living Well

The fir tree has a cowlick. Spouting out from conical symmetry is a two-foot-long branch, and I want to snip it each time I see it, but it's twenty feet up and in my neighbor's yard. The branch points north to my neighbor's front yard where at night Orion the Warrior is tangled in a tree.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Erica Franck, Creative Commons cc license
One month into my Dad's stage IV terminal cancer diagnosis, and I find myself scrolling websites, scrawling notes at doctors' appointments, and counting calendar months. Chest tight some mornings, I pull my Bible closer while Daniel sits beside me untangling addition problems, and I wonder about subtractions.

Yesterday we took a break from math and phonics to refill bird feeders. Charcoal-colored sunflower seeds spilled dusty from the bag, whooshing against my fingers on cold metal frame. I sliced old juicy oranges into halves for the orioles. Crushed citrus a fragrance on my skin. Daniel and I placed vivid orange slices between lines of drizzled seeds on the deck railing, then slipped back inside to watch the birds come. Black-capped chickadees soared tremulously close, skittish but hopeful.

And I remember it, recounting the ways that God has tenderly laid bread crumb trails of hope and wonder for me this spring, long before I even knew I would need them. I line them up in my mind, and shake my head in gentle wonder. He is so good. In January, I stepped out and chose my very first Word of the Year --Brave --thinking I meant it to be moving more boldly into my writing and speaking ministries. God knew of Dad's impending cancer, though, and kindly tucked the word inside me. Earlier, in November Mark and I co-taught a sermon at our church, stating that joyful thanks-giving is always possible, even in the darkest nights. We mentioned our daughter's young cancer scare when she was five years old, and other crises over the years. Meanwhile my Dad's cancer grew in silence. The breadcrumbs continue in my mind, and I see it clearly, God's loving trail for me.

Pulling my Bible nearer, I pause to answer Daniel's math question before sinking deeper into God's words. "I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand," his book tells me, and I lean into that.

"Mom, I listened to Grandpa's song a lot yesterday," my tall twenty-one year old said quietly to me. Jeremy Camp's song "Reckless" has become my dad's mantra these months. He air drums away to it, nodding his head.

"Can we play it again?" my Dad says softly. "I'm not afraid to die. I know where I'm going," he smiles. Jeremy Camp sings about wanting to love and live recklessly, boldly, because of Jesus's love for us.

"I want to die well," my Dad says, thinking of a Henri Nouwen quote. He and Mom have been sharing their stories of God's rescues and passionate love all the more boldly now to the people they meet.

Outside my window, I can see it, the fir tree with a cowlick. Beyond the Warrior Orion hangs the Big Dipper constellation.

"If you're ever lost and need to find north," my Dad had taught me, "follow the mouth of the Big Dipper. It will pour out into the North Star."

And now it changes how I see the cowlick. It's directing me to a poured out life that always points me home.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Living Two-Handed and Two-Faced

"Where's the video on college dorms?" she asked.

We clicked computer screens until the welcome week college video started playing. Smiling faces toured the university campus, music pulsed, and Morgan and I watched footage of dorm room move-ins and bunk bed assembly. Joy welled in me, and I thumped her back.

"I'm so excited for you!"

"Me too!"

Her long ponytail trailed her back and we sat in chairs pulled close to my desk. Music throbbed and the short film ended. We laughed to see that we were both wiping away excited tears.
Photo Credit: Flickr user COD Newsroom, Creative Commons, cc license

"I think it's the video," she stated.

"Well, I'm just so happy for you," I exclaimed.

She stood up, her enrollment deposit paid, the move-in date now written on our calendar. Bouncing downstairs, she was gone and the kitchen was silent.

I've been learning this week the dual truth that joy and grief can be simultaneous. Nine days ago, sad family news stopped my world. Since then we have walked numbly to doctors' offices, pens scrawling notes in solemn vigil. We have scrolled medical websites, estimated timelines, and stared silently into space.

And he said it once, a wise friend of ours, "We rejoice with those who rejoice and we mourn with those who mourn, and sometimes we do it back to back."

I am learning this week what it is to hold grief in one hand while navigating life with the other. In wanting to live transparently, I have been sharing our family news in occasional prayer emails and to friends in person, crying against their shoulders. But I also see the need to interact and to be present with sensitivity to a variety of settings. At Wednesday night youth group, junior high teens bounced energy as we played zany games of Pictionary Telephone and Four on a Couch. Their joy was evident and legitimate. Seeing their sweet faces that are so loved by God and us, I looked deep into their eyes and chose to be present, to be there, to be playful with them.

And we can hold grief and zany laughter in one body. I am learning this surreal and complicated reality: that joy and grief can co-habitate and that I hold them in honest hands before me.

I can mourn. I can rejoice. And I'm trying to honestly, transparently, let myself hold them in two hands, in two faces, back to back.
Photo Credit: Flickr user johnjodeery, Creative Commons, cc license

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Watching You

I've watched you.

You smoothing tablecloths across MOPS tables with your kids latched on to a leg or perched on your right hip. You carrying egg bakes in one hand and round-faced, red-cheeked toddlers in the other, welcoming new moms with warm smiles.
Photo Credit:Flickr user Elvis Kennedy, under permission of Creative Commons cc license

I've watched you in church hallways, in doctor's offices, in YMCA lobbies, and in homes full of loved ones. You as you stare deep into the fridge and whip up a meal from what's there for your hungry crew. You who trade words in gentle authoritative reply to your growing willowy kids' attitude. You who smooth small foreheads and care for older parents, who help with homework, and who tame a wild home.

Sleeting ice balls pelt the dark bedroom windows one morning this week, waking us before six a.m. slumber pulled us under again.

Snow flakes fall silently later as Daniel and I sound out phonics and read stories of dogs and bugs and logs. All week, we've slipped across frozen boot-treads in the ice that look like trilobites in the driveway.

After the joy of meeting moms at Waconia MOPS January 27th, at Sauk Rapids Moms-Next on February 2nd, Woodbury Lutheran Church MOPS on February 6th, and Salem Covenant Church MOPS Friday, I relished times at home with my family too.

Daniel sniffed. Blowing his nose into a white and blue handkerchief, he pulled the math book closer. At the sunny cherrywood table, I stretched legs out and sipped hot coffee.

Oily pots stacked high in the sink behind me. Yellow curried bowls stood in cock-eyed slant, resting one on top the other, shifting dangerously atop four plates. A metal cookie sheet took up most of the counter, and silverware splayed out greasy. Whew. Life can pile up so quickly, huh?

I turned my back on the kitchen, though, lifted coffee to my lips again and rubbed Daniel's tiny shoulders.

"It's nice to be back by you, bud. I'm glad to be home."

Mom, dads, grandmas, grandpas, friends? Your presence matters.

I know the dishes and laundry are piling up. (Don't even ask about the black swimsuit bottoms that doubled as underwear this week. The skinny black bows bulged under each jean hip pocket.)

For now, snuggle in. Take a moment longer, listen a few minutes more to the complicated Lego story  by the breathless boy beside you. Stop all else. Lean in. Savor.

When the snow stopped, school was done and Daniel was playing in another room. Clearing the sink, I lifted the metal faucet and hot water swirled in steaming. Bubbles shone iridescent. Music pulsed behind me, and I scrubbed, wiped, and restored order to my counters and kitchen.

Beef stew bubbled nearby, carrots and onions tumbling past celery. Turning it to simmer, I stole up behind my man and wrapped arms around his neck. Heads touching, we stood quiet, his face warm against mine.

"Thank you, God, for these people in my life, for moments to pause and see. Thank you for the beauty of watching people in all seasons of life lift and love, smooth and savor, bend and bring order." 

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