Tuesday, January 27, 2015

To the Women and Daughters Beside You and Me

"This was Anja?" 

Photo: Andrew Iverson, Creative Commons, cc license
Bouncing jaunty shoulders to big band swing, her blonde curl ringlets dipped and swayed too. In a crowd of several hundred, we gaped in surprise and shook heads in mirthful laughter. Our reserved Finnish high schooler had a larger-than-life dramatic side of her that we didn't often see. The show-choir dance piece ended with thirty synchronized bows and our two rows of moms and daughters clapped, grinned, and cheered.

Before the show, four carloads of us met for a Mexican supper, dragging restaurant tables closer, shaping a long line of friends. Moms and daughters, young and older, pulled up chairs, and dipped salty tortilla chips into fresh red salsa. Laughter ricocheted loudly in our corner of the dark restaurant, and moms shushed an end table of teens while the waiter leaned in close to hear our order.

And throughout the evening, an elementary girl wrapped arms close with a middle school girl. Senior high girls smiled and pulled in the younger girls, talking with them across the tables, and dragging them into group photos. Twenty-year olds mingled in with forty-year olds, whispering and giggling throughout the night, and the beauty of it was priceless. 

In between the Broadway hits and the jazzy big band songs, one girl on stage caught my attention. She wasn't one of my youth group girls that I knew or had met, but she was someone. And we all are, huh? She is someone's daughter, someone's friend, someone's sister, and the sight of her made me tear up. Dancing with great talent in a blue sequined dress, her sunken cheeks and bone-thin legs and arms sent warning lights off in my brain. With her inherent soulful inner beauty never in question, this young teen was either recovering from ravaging illness or she was in the deep throes of anorexia. My youth worker's heart ached to  know how I could help, and I wanted to assure her that she was strong, and that her beauty was never trapped to a dress size, and that there was hope and help. She danced determinedly across the stage, mincing steps on legs that seemed too narrow to support her, and I choked back tears. "You have always been lovely and capable, brimming with potential, you --this young sister/daughter that I do not know. How can we come alongside and help?" I whispered silently, uselessly. Knowing my only choice was to pray, I tapped my toes to the rhythm, cheered the teams on, and prayed for this girl, and all the teens on stage.

My role? Your role? To model and tell the girls and women around us of their value, their beauty, and the strength and potential that has been imprinted in them by their Creator. We bear the stamped-in seal of the Star-Breather, the Galaxy-Spinner, and the Light-Bringer. Over grilled steak tacos in the restaurants, and when cheering on big band singers, while leaning over to speak with twenty-somethings, sixteen-year olds, and everyone in between, we get to invest in each other, and talk about our amazing God who loves, and creates, and spins works of art.

Hi friends. Join me in this endeavor? It is such an honor and joy that we get to invest in and treasure these relationships around us.

Hey, if you think about it, would you pray with me about some upcoming speaking engagements? I am honored to speak at some MOPS groups and women's conferences on Feb. 5th, Feb. 18th, March 6 & 7th, and March 19th? I am honored, and love this chance to spend time praying for these women beforehand too. Thank you. How can I pray for you? (Those in email can click here to comment.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Promise that'll Change Your Week

Hijacking my attention, I no longer heard his voice as the speaker continued, my thoughts captive by a sentence underlined in stubby pencil on the page.
Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes, Creative Commons cc, license
Sitting on blue upholstered interlocking chairs this Sunday, I read and re-read the verse: God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Later, minced lemongrass, ginger root, and garlic cloves bubble to the surface of a light green Vietnamese soup. A lemony onion and garlic fragrance hangs heavy in the kitchen air. My hands in hot soapy sink water, I smile at the scent of ginger coconut soup and keep an eye on the timer as I scrub plates and pots with my matted green scrubby. Faded used tea leaves drift to the surface of my dish water, skirt around a soap sud, and swirl in tiny eddies.

Sunday's verse bubbles in my mind again, a frequent occurrence this week, it seems. God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. The verse, it comforts, it teaches, it strengthens me. I hear it simmer in my head in work settings this week, and smile to find it rise unbidden from my lips on a phone call with my mom who is in a hospice room for my grandma. The promise swirls and eddies in my mind while I tutor geometry homework with my daughter, dice cilantro for soup, and slice into juicy lemons.

The verse speaks hope deep within me during a tremulous conversation with a loved one, and my lips trace its truth in quiet trust. God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything (from the Bible book of 1 John 3).

Rinsing my hands of the floating tea leaves from the sink, I step over to the stove and stir a swirling pot of minced lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and onion Vietnamese soup, and the truth -- it simmers up in me too, smelling sweetly.

Hi friends, I appreciate you. What have you been reading, learning, or thinking about lately? 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What God Would Whisper to You Under the Table

We're learning about "Cuh Cuh cookies" and "Cuh Cuh carving" with the consonant C today, my six year old and I. Reviewing some kindergarten phonics rules, we huddle at the end of the map-topped cherry-wood table, him laboriously tracing C's and D's with pencil in stubby fingers, and me sipping coffee and cheering him on.
Photo Credit: Kim, Creative Commons, cc license
After our jumping alphabet memorization game, Daniel races to fetch his Piglet and Pooh Bear pillow and we crawl under the dining room table. Lying on our backs with our toes outstretched, he giggles about us reading a book in our wolf "duh duh den." I hold the tall picture book high, blood racing to my shoulders as the book wavers in my hands and I choke up over gruff characters' hearts changing with continued exposure to gentle, compassionate God-loving women and children. Daniel listens and scans the beautifully-illustrated pages, seeing the woodcarver's calloused hands dolloping off unnecessary corners here and smoothing out rough edges there.

Later I pull a tall wooden chair over to our counter stacked with dirty dishes, clearing elbow room and sliding out the white ceramic mixer. Consulting a scuffed and mottled recipe, I collect baking soda, salt, and vanilla, while Daniel races excitedly to retrieve the softened butter.

"Want to get the eggs?" I ask, trying not to wince as he carries them triumphantly across the kitchen. He selects an egg, taps it expertly on the side of the metal bowl, and pours wet yolk and white into the mix.

We measure sugars, flour, and soda, before pouring in chocolate chips. The mixer whirrs and spins. Daniel backs away in safe caution, hands in the air. Clacking the mixer settings to off, I hoist up the metal arm, and give him a chunk of sweet dough. "Want a bite?" He grins, eyes wide in delight, and we smack sweet cookie dough on the roofs of our mouths.

Family members slip upstairs, sniffing the air as cookies bake and leaning in conspiratorially towards the cookie batter, before disappearing again with a bite-full.

I have been reading in the Bible section of Ephesians the last few weeks, and the character of God oozes through. Despite the author Paul's long winding sentences that make me stop, repeat aloud key phrases, and wrestle through to deeper comprehension, the attractive beauty of who this God is amazes me. The Creator and World Builder describes his actions towards the people of earth with words like "he chose us" and "in love," "with his pleasure and will." The World-Maker reveals his heart for us in verbs like "lavished on us," "made known to us" and describes his actions as in "his good pleasure." God calls himself "father" and speaks of "adoption" and sons and daughters in a family.

Chocolate chip cookies still balance on a warped metal cookie sheet atop my dusty white toaster now. We grab them as we walk past, admitting that we are well beyond the three or four-cookie count. 

Sprinkled throughout my memories this evening of snuggling with my six year old to read a picture book under the dining room table and the cookies we lavished in extravagant amounts to our family of five, is an image that forms of our World-Builder. This God who says, It is my pleasure and joy to adopt you, to lavish my love and grace on you, and to call you my own.
Photo Credit: Steamboatwillie33, Creative Commons, cc license

Friday, January 9, 2015

When Paris, America, and Worlds Collide

He's standing at the window, staring out through falling snow and I can see the worry biting deep into his lip. Shoulders hunched, he leans forehead against the cold third-story glass and peers across the street and down the block. Rising blue and silver in winter twilight, the French high school gazes back at him with darkened window rooms.

Photo: Peter Gutierrez, Creative Commons, cc license
"Hey," I slip up to him and rub my brother's back. "I'm sorry. I know it's scary. It'll be okay, though."

My words trail off, because nothing can fully unwind the twisting stomach knot of walking into a new school. Four moves in four years brought its own adventures and challenges, but this last move for my shy brother had sapped him. That winter 1991, he was tired of goodbyes and heart-weary at the work of starting new friendships.

We stand silent in his corner of the three-bedroom apartment our family shared that year in a snowy mountain hamlet of France, and my stomach churns and aches for my little brother. Freckles sprinkle against an anxious face, brown hair parted center, curling wispy and boyish mischief on the sides.

"Can I pray with you?" I wonder quiet, and he nods. Our words are calm, at ease talking to the unseen God who knows our names, our hearts, our lives, and who wasn't lost in the trans-Atlantic flights. The Creator speaks French, English, African Koinyeka and Dioula languages, and every breath's spoken word.

This memory has crept in to me this week, remembering that ache and the wrenching twisted stomach and, while my brother's story no longer winds nervous at a European window, I know that you and I have others that creep easily into our minds, curling up a tummy quiet. 

You and I, we have stories of our own, and stories that belong to family and friends close to us. Stories that are not ours to share publicly, but we can still lean heads into window panes beside them, stare down into the swirling snow below and whisper, "You are not alone. I see it too, and I am here." 

You are not alone. Your loved ones are not alone, France is not alone, and we hold an awesome privilege in our hands. We can stride into the throne room of the International God, and mouth our loved ones' names. He knows. He loves them even more than us, and he is still working.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Easiest, Almost-Not-Fair Resolution We're Dying For This Year

Blueberries swell inside vanilla cake batter, creeping higher in the square metal pan. The oven and refrigerator hiss and hum a rumbling life behind me. My family's voices lilt and lift throughout the house, readying for a New Year's Eve party out with church friends in an hour.
Photo: Mike, Creative Commons, cc license
Toppling on a pile of papers beside me, I see the dvd collection of a Bible study series by Beth Moore on First and Second Thessalonians. I've been binge-watching the last three episodes, racing to finish the messages before our church must pass them on to another group that has reserved them. In a Texan accent, Beth animatedly talks nodding-women-viewers through the last chapters of Thessalonians, and I scribble notes in my workbook, pausing to carefully spell out the occasional Greek words she displays on the screen.

And this is it, I can feel it. This hunger in my bones. If ever there was a resolution to be chased, this is it: To make consistent time to dig deeper in God's word; to sink deeper into a God who whispers his delight in us, his love for us, and his promise that he is enough; that we are made whole in him. 

In a world where men censor this fear behind mute mouths, and women whisper it in tremulous words to safe friends, the fear of Not Being Enough reigns high. Not being good enough, not being man enough or woman enough, not being the spouse or the parent you long to be -- the terms vary per person but the sentiments remain. The anxious, nagging lie sinks teeth deep into our hearts: You are not good enough. You must do more.

And we hear it, this push to Be More, to Do More, To Accomplish more. And you can, if you want to! I will cheer you on warmly. We all have goals and dreams, I agree.

But, if this anxious fearful lie has sunk its cold into your heart and spirit, sapping energy and hope, then it is not dream's vigor. It is not motivating or encouraging.

You are delighted in. You are loved, smiled at, desired, chased after, pursued, and wooed. You have a God who is running after you. Stop. Sink into his presence and his love for you. Find rest. 

This year, push aside the distractions, the voices. Grab your Bible and pen and slide into the Creator's presence. And me? I will be right there with you, pen in hand, nodding and scribbling to keep up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Dukes of Hazard Morning

 I wasn't expecting the Dukes of Hazard.
Photo: DatarkNZ, Creative Commons, cc license
On a misty, balmy Minnesota morning, we walked up and down a concrete forest of balsam and fraiser firs, inhaling the giddy pine fragrance.

"This one," Mark declared, pointing to a chubby fraisier fir in the second row of leaning trees.

Daniel and I peered closer to see if we agreed. Despite its branches still frozen high in the air, we could see a full-girthed beauty and shape to the Christmas tree he had chosen. We cheered and agreed. Mark ran into the hardware store to pay, while Daniel and I stomped around the lot, bounced dewdrops off the rows of trees, and sucked in fresh rain-wet air.

Slicing three inches off the bottom of the tree, the store clerk helped us tie the Christmas tree to the top of our small car. Suddenly, we noticed it. Due to unusual twine-wrapping skills this year, Daniel and I were locked inside the car, doors tied shut in twine. Mark was trapped outside the car.

I laughed. "You'll have to jump through the windows like the Dukes of Hazard," I said, flashing my eyebrows at him.

Without hesitating for a second, my handsome man broke into a husky first line of the song, and slid feet first into the car! I cried out with pleasant surprise, impressed and delighted at his quick wit.

"You should sing some more," I flared my eyes at him, smiling slow into his eyes. "I like your deep voice."

He grinned and put the car in gear, backing around the corner and pulling onto the road. I stopped him, leaning in for a kiss, and we joked the rest of the way home.

There's something about choosing the way we see our husbands, huh? On a weekday morning during a short break to decorate the Christmas tree before the eldest dashed off for finals week, and my daughter's high school geometry and biology coursework piled up, we get to choose. With dishes stacking high, laundry unfinished, and a workweek just minutes away, we always get to choose.

We choose how we see our men, how we respond to our kids, how we frame our days.

I wasn't expecting Dukes of Hazard, but I loved that glimpse of my man, and chose to see him that way all week. It wasn't about a television show or any actors from the eighties. It was the sudden glimpse of a quick-witted man, singing to me in a husky voice, and jumping feet-first into the car.

We get to choose what we remember and focus on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unstringing Peace from the Rush and Riots this Advent

Jazzy guitar and brass ring out Merry, merry, merry Christmas in a bluesy "Carol of the Bells" while Daniel and his cousin pull on winter gloves and stalk through crunchy snow. A red cape unfurls as he leaps down the stairs. The boys grab duct tape swords and fight invisible warriors in the snowy yard below.

Saxophone slides in mellow and I breathe in the excitement of the season. At the windowpane beside me, my tiny toddler nephew presses face close and motions to the boys outside. "Zzzzz," he intones, waving three chubby fingers.

The warriors in red and gray mount stairs, switch out boots, and return to the yard.

Whatever made us think that peace meant calm inactivity?

I grin and glance at the wet spots scattered on green carpet behind me. A six-hour stomach virus tumbled through the three little boys this weekend, and zealous lemon-sanitizer still dries in some spots on the floor. The boys' health returned, and looks like blanket forts and rosy cheeks over hot cocoa. Mittens and boots drip snow drops by the deck door.

Piano keys trip-trap scales around "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and it hits me. The peace we clamor for at Christmas doesn't come with checked-off gift lists, tiered cookie trays, or idyllic settings. Peace at Christmas is in a Who.

Two thousand years ago, our God-King stepped into a wind-swept, war-torn land, his regal cape trailing invisibly behind him. To a pregnant teen mom and a scandal-chased carpenter on a government-mandated road trip while nine-months pregnant, Peace arrived. In a violent world racked with rumors and virulent prejudices, Peace sailed in, trailing red behind him, and our lives have never been the same.
Photo: Brandy Shaul, Creative Commons, cc license
In our season of lights that need to be strung, Christmas letters awaiting yellow ink, and countdowns to Christmas, our Peace isn't locked impotent behind cardboard Advent doors. He is here. He is now. And the peace settles in.