Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If You're Waiting & Wondering Where the Excitement Is

Photo: Ted McGrath, Creative Commons, cc license
Sliced onions sting my eyes, and a salty scent of "pork eggroll in a bowl" rests heavy in the kitchen. Flecks of shredded carrot scatter my youngest's plate and the table where he sat. Lego noises and boy sounds echo in the living room.

Spring in Minnesota looks like red-winged blackbirds and rust-colored robins swooping in to join the black-capped chickadees and blue jays at the feeders. Snow's sandy residue leaves grass lawns matted and pebbly, but more and more green strands of slender grass slip through. The air is fresh, warmer, and Midwesterners bounce expectantly out of doors, trailing dog leashes, running gear, and even the occasional shorts and sandals in defiant glee and shivers.

I've been reading Holley Gerth's book, You Were Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to all God Has For You, and just received Jeff Goins' hot-off-the-press book, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. Pencil in hand, I've been underlining Gerth's book and making plans for this summer, determined to zealously protect disciplined chunks of the day to work on this new book project when my school duties are done.

And throughout this week a Bible verse has grabbed me in a way I've never seen before. I was familiar with the first sentence in that paragraph and the next sentence there too, but had never put them together. In Second Timothy 1:6-7, I read For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you... and the next sentence adds a curious twist, For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. 

There are topics and things that excite you, I'm sure of it. If we could grab hot coffee and sit around my scuffed, map-laminated cherry-wood kitchen table to talk, I know that we would get to them. Those topics that make your eyes shine and flash, and your voice raise in pitch excitedly; those passions, dreams, and favorite hobbies that make you come alive. It might be an innovative idea you have for work, or your plans for a summer garden, your secret dream to adopt, your love for decorating on a budget, or your love of writing and learning. And I know that God has shaped you uniquely. Anything that brings him glory and makes you come alive is something he carved deep inside of you. He invites you to use that, to dream excitedly about those possibilities, and to step out obediently into using those gifts, talents, and passions for him.

Whatever it is, God invites you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you. And, knowing our many hindrances, he answers the very next words from our mouths: For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.

For me today, this means to set a plan to start writing three-five days a week this summer (if not now), and it means I need to go talk to one of my teens and his mom who are hurting.

For you today? What's he telling you? Nothing else will bring such joy than stepping into whatever he has next for you. And I'd love to cheer you on from the side.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

When Scrunched Up Faces Reveal Secret Fears

She is laughing so hard that the sound ricochets up the steps.

(Not my daughter.)   Photo Credit:Alpha Chen, Creative Commons, cc license
"Oh no," she giggles in surprise and glee, "oh no." And the squealed laughter and mirth bubble up from deep within her. My daughter's laughter is known for being unrestrainable, uncontainable, and loud. Her delight is infectious, and her laughs and guffaws fill a room.

Silence now shuffles across the downstairs and glides noiselessly upstairs to where my husband and I are working. Computer keys tap staccato and night falls navy twilight through the deck door glass. Two firs loom tall, mirrored in glassy reflections of a yellow lit-kitchen behind me.

Taped to the wooden pantry door is a curling paper of names. Names of scientists, surgeons, musicians, artists, political leaders, and actors mingle near journalists and writers. Names like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, John Lennon, Woodrow Wilson, George Washington, Walt Disney, Agatha Christie, Orlando Bloom, Cher, Greg Louganis, and Henry Ford are just a few. Famous People with the Gift of Dyslexia, the article caption reads, and I've taped it there as an encouragement for my family. My teens scoff slightly at the term "gift" and wonder some days if that is true. Dyslexia runs in our family, and we have only just recently been learning more about it, and finding ways to use the strengths that come with it to offset the challenges that it brings as well. For those on a spectrum of dyslexia, it just means their brain took a different route for reading.

As a mom who is learning more about this --both the advantages and the challenges of dyslexia-- I ache at times with the hurt and uncertainty I see ripple across my loved one's faces. Even though research is showing that people with dyslexia problem-solve better, remember details of stories longer, and can think outside the box in wildly creative ways, it doesn't change the anxiety that can sometimes spring up.

These facts and my words bring no comfort some days, and I watch it crumple across their faces, or scrunch up behind deep brown eyes that pool in hurt or scowl in protective anger. Their fear that they are not enough, not capable, not smart hurts my heart and wakes me up some nights.

Because whether loved ones in our lives approach reading differently, or see the world uniquely in other ways, the results are the same. We get to stand beside them, and point them to the truths. "You are strong, capable, talented, determined, and intelligent -- yes, intelligent! You are so valuable and loved. And you are created by an Artist God who loves you and has great plans for you-- for your joy and for his glory."

Her laughter has died down now, and it must be a quieter part of the show. She is one of the many loved ones in my life that I am so lucky to know. Her love of life and her zeal rise up around her, and her hard work to teach herself drawing and Mandarin Chinese impress and amaze me.

The two tall firs have disappeared into velvety blackness now, and the sound of computer keys grows still. Hidden by the night, the trees continue growing silently.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What You Have That We Don't

It's not that I was ignoring him.
Photo: Anne Ostsee, Creative Commons, cc license
I looked up as he said my name, and I smiled and nodded.

"Mom? See the sunrise? Look." My six year old Daniel pointed out the dining room deck window.

"Yeah, I see it! So pretty, huh?" I grinned and looked back down at my notes. Violet and coral stained a navy blue morning sky, outlining naked spring trees against the horizon.

"No, Mom. LOOK! See?" and Daniel tapped my arm, pointing again out through the glass door to the sunrise he could see from the far end of the table.

From two chairs away, I glanced again outside, and nodded at him. "Yep, I see it. It's pretty."

Suddenly, I understood. He wanted me to come see the sunrise from his perspective. Moving three feet down the table, I stood beside him, and peered out at the morning sky. And the contrast was striking! 

Sharp tangerines and purples sliced open the sky in vivid, brilliant color. From this angle, the sunrise wasn't demure or quiet, but a raucous riot of hues. Oranges, purples, magentas, and pinks shot from behind our neighbor's garage roof, streaking up the sky.

Daniel was right. The view from his side of the dining room table was extraordinary, and I had almost missed it.
Photo Credit: Set Apart Conference twitter feed
This last weekend, eight hundred-or-so women came together for the thirty-third annual Set Apart Conference, hosted by the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. For two days, we spent time together in worship, time together learning from keynote speakers Kelly Minter and Alecia Williamson Garcia, and learning from workshops speakers, (where I was honored to speak too). What I encountered again and again reminds me of Daniel's sunrises...

We all have vantage points to see God at work in our lives, and the views can be spectacular. We are missing out on the fullest picture, though, until we take the time to step into another's angle of sight. Seeing their stories of God at work, hearing your tales of God artistically weaving life events, opens us up to vivid displays.

Your job? My job? To speak out our stories, describing the beauty of God at work from our vantage point, and then to walk around the tables to learn from each other, to see what majesty He has splashed across your angles of the sky too. He is an always-painting Artist-God after all.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

From White-Capped Mountainous Men

Ahh, I have missed being here with you!

Photo credit to my cousin, Naomi W.
Sipping dark roast coffee in my favorite brown and navy mug, I'm pulled up close to my roll top wooden desk and smiling as I think of you.
  • You: my online community of bloggers in these growing friendships across the nation and across the world; or
  • You: this group of almost 500 of you who have signed up to receive these blog posts by email; or 
  • You: friends, family, and acquaintances from women's retreats, conferences, and MOPS groups who stop in here from my facebook page; and
  •  You: the quiet readers online who smile, and nod, and I know we are sharing a common experience at times too...
I am so thankful for you and humbled by you being here. Thank you.
 I flew out to Washington state last week to honor my grandma at her celebration of life service in Yakima. Touching down at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, I craned my head for glimpses of mountains.

The weekend flashed by in vivid moments with relatives:
  • My mom and cousin delighted at the chance to buy dozens of roses for the occasion. Fragrant crimson, peach, coral, honeyed-yellows, pinks, and white roses dotted the church dining room
  • Long talks with my brother and sister curled up around his gas stove, wrapped in warm blankets
  • Tucking up legs under us on a couch, or standing and swaying with the motions of passing people, my cousins and I got re-acquainted, and I got to meet old family friends and relatives too.
  • My grandpa moved to tears as we hugged, and later hearing his wavering but strong voice as he sang a Hebrew blessing from the Old Testament over his extended family. 
I sing that in silence for you too, my friends, this weekend.

The Lord bless you
and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
 and be gracious to you; 
the Lord turn his face towards you 
and give you peace        (from the Bible book of Numbers, chapter 6).

And as craggy white-capped Mount Rainier towered across the airport, looming larger than I could believe, my brother's car pulled away from the curb, and I strode into the airport that Sunday afternoon. My grandpa's voice and words still linger.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"I See Past the Teeth," She Said

"God, is there any way...?" and my prayer slipped out as snow crackled and crunched under the car tires.

Pulling into the dentist lot, I pocketed my keys, locked the door, and shifted black knit mittens higher up my wrists. A winter wind howled and whipped up snow in swirls around me. In the lobby a gas fireplace radiated tantalizing heat and the free hot coffee tempted me to sully my freshly-brushed teeth.
Photo: Eric Wienke, Creative Commons, cc license
"I have a coupon here for a cleaning," I said as I checked in. A plastic-tufted flower pen rode cheerily across my pages as I noted personal information.

Several minutes later in a reclining dentist chair, I gagged on cardboard x-ray pieces, and apologized to the dental hygienist. In between putting cardboard into my mouth, we talked and got to know each other more. As she side-danced in and out of the room for the xrays and I wriggled my toes in frantic attempts to distract my gag reflex, we found more in common.

Twenty minutes later, my jaw propped open and her face near mine as she worked patiently, graciously, on my mouth, I thanked her. In between water rinsings and removal, I repeated it.

"Thank you for your work on me. I appreciate it. You must see some scary things," I laughed sheepishly. She had spent extra time on my mouth, I knew, and her generosity was meaningful.

"You know, I see past the teeth," she said, her brown eyes the only thing I could see behind her green mask.

I see past the teeth. Her statement stuck with me and its beautiful meaning has curled up and taken residence in my mind this weekend. Because we all have situations where we could merely see the teeth, merely see the task before us, and forget the person behind it. I see past the teeth. 

Whatever your job, whatever your volunteer position, whatever your role in your family or friend community, this deeper awareness of the people you are really showing love to and serving should bubble up. I see past the teeth.

Crumpled between my hands in the reclining chair was a wadded tissue paper. Bringing it out off and on, I smiled and brushed away splashed water from my cheeks and chin. The hygienist's metal scraping tool pricked and poked, and I curled up my toes several times, and tried to focus on a spot behind her head on the ceiling. Distracting my mind, I reviewed a speech, worked on a verse, and intentionally relaxed my shoulders.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"I'm fine. Thank you for your work on me today. I appreciate it," I grinned, swiping my right cheek again. "I think God used you to answer my prayer this morning."

Monday, February 9, 2015

It's All About WHO You Know? (When Our Kids Lead the Way)

Photo Credit: Rudolf Vlcek, Creative Commons, cc license
 "I'll pray, Mom," he chirps, my six and a half year old standing on the frayed sewing bench that is my desk chair.

"Thanks, Daniel. I would love that. Morgan, John, will you pray with us too?"


They lope over good-naturedly. My broad-shouldered son looms tall over me -- they both do, actually. Nineteen year old John is a replica of his dad, and willowy sixteen year old Morgan leans over to grab my hand. I squeeze her palm on the right of me, grasp John's fingers firmly on the left, and smile to hear my six year old talk to the Creator of Galaxies.

Daniel asks God to "Help Mom with her lesson, and to be safe, to not die, and to make good choices." He thanks God for taking care of us, for the family, and for our house. I strive to remember every word, and even now fall short of explaining the sweetness and naturalness of his conversation with the World-Spinner.

Morgan pulls her long brown hair to the side, and prays next.

"Dad," she says calmly, and my heart is startled yet happy to hear her address the God of the Universe with such intimacy. "Dad, be with Mom as she talks today. Speak through her. Be with the women she'll be speaking to..." Morgan's voice continues.

And in between the words with the afternoon sun pouring spring's heat through our dining room window, we stand huddled around my desk. This place where I wrangle words, craft sentences, and seek God's face, soaking amazed in his delight for me -- this crammed kitchen corner at my desk is where we stand humble in God's presence and my children stride boldly, comfortably, into God's presence. And I am undone, overjoyed, and utterly thrilled to see this glimpse into their relationship with Jesus.

If nothing else comes of this day then to have been prayed for by these kids, it will have been worth it, I reason happily, and then marshal my thoughts again as John's masculine voice steps in.

"God..." he begins, and my lips crack in thankful gratitude, mouthing silent to my God, "Thank you, God."

Friends? We who are moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas... we have the honor of walking into the throne room of the Most High God. And striding in beside us, or in front of us, or trailing in behind us, are the ones who are watching, learning, teaching. We get to converse with the God of the world! It is intimate, awe-inspiring, and a wonderful privilege.

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.)