Friday, July 18, 2014

Kindle Instant Intimacy and Passion with the One You Love

Photo: Philip Edmondson, Creative Commons, cc license
He catches me in the bottom stairwell, pulling me close.

And we all have this, the need to be seen, pursued.

He wraps his arms around my waist, drawing me to him, and I lean against his brown t-shirt, resting on his chest and shoulders, breathing in deeply.

"I should go," I murmur after a moment, hearing voices and feet running around on the floor above us.

His arms hold me still, and we linger.

He will be gone soon with plans until late at night, I realize, and so I put aside my To-Do List, my sense of obligation to the people upstairs, and my rushing.

There is no other place I need to be right now, and why step away from this? 

We stand in a silent stairwell, hugging and kissing, while noises clatter on upstairs. In a moment or two life continues, and we smile and step away, joining the conversations and commotion upstairs.

Romance and intimacy can be kindled in glances, in stolen kisses, in lingered hugs good bye. I can easily forget and think that passion requires grand gestures or weekends away at bed and breakfast nooks. While date nights are valuable to every marriage, the smaller, day to day moments are really what create closeness and bonding.

Want to kindle a flame in your relationship? Stop what you're doing the next time your spouse enters the room, stride over to him or her, and hug for an extended period of time. You know that moment when we normally assume a hug is over and we pull away? Resist. Stay longer, lean against them, and breathe in their scent.

He was right, my man.

Linger, breathe, and feel the melting start.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Community is Worth It and Why You and I Need It

Photo: Young Rok Chang, Creative Commons, cc license
Cris-crossed pale skin marked out where the young girl's swimsuit straps normally lay. Tiny caramel-colored shoulders and back hunched shivering inside the church in a black funeral dress. The summer tan on that small girl several rows up from me just bellowed out the contrast of this sudden funeral. Friday attendees slid quietly into wooden pews, and a row of us lined up in solidarity. Community in that moment looked like singing along to worship songs that spoke of heaven and that clung to the promise that God never lets go "through the calm and through the storm." Community was wiping tears, hugging tightly, and grinning over stories of potbellied baby pigs and tractors, before going back for seconds on the delicious green jello dessert and the home-made sweet pickle slices.

Sunday morning, peeking out across the church audience during a song, I spied two former youth group girls from years ago. Connecting after the church service, we hugged, smiled, and tried to cram several months' or years' worth of information into a morning conversation. Community was remembering stories, names, details, and being thrilled to see each other again. We laughed and wished for more time, and a coffee date still needs to be planned.

Sunday night I watched women of all ages compete in blind-folded diapering contests on two mannequin babies at a baby shower. Gentle, white-haired Marilyn groaned good-naturedly and tried to get out of the second-round of competition by diapering slowly. The younger and older women around us shrieked laughter to see this surprise streak of rebellion in her. Marie and I raced valiantly, but Marie won by a split second. Bible study women from the last year, accustomed to digging in deep to the Bible and to each others' lives, arranged lemon bars and marshmallow brownie bite desserts on their laps as Melissa balanced Gail's bifocals on her nose and held the Bible out at arm's length to read her devotional. Community was women laughing together, passing wrapped baby gifts, and nodding in agreement as Melissa read of God's perfect love that is strong enough to kick out fear, and of this God-King who chases us and loves us, no matter where we go. 

"I've never been in a church where I felt so much like I belonged, as I do here," she said, the young pregnant mom, curly hair winding around her freckled face. We nodded, glad that she felt welcomed and safe in our church, but we saw too that this was a bigger thing. Women in this Bible study came from several different churches so Alicia's feelings pointed to something greater.

Community. We need it, we desire it, and, I'm learning, it's something we have to fight for, and invest in. Can I confess to you that many days my extrovert-introvert mixed personality needs to be reminded to step outside and to invest in people? Some days the allure of a quiet book, a television series, or the valid tasks that need to be done around me pull harder than choosing people. And while we all need down time, the truth is we all need community too.

Because the truth is, I am a better person for having known Julie and Nellie, Mihaela, Marie, Marilyn, Becky, and so many more. I learn from them and from their stories, and we have the privilege of being in various communities together.

And you? You have potential for community all around you. The neighbor across the street, the young mom who sits three rows up from you in church, or the somber-faced guy at the gym playing basketball each week, and the older widow you know. You are missing out, and I don't want you to, and they are missing out on not having known you yet.

So, put down the book with me, and turn off Netflix too, please? Can we encourage each other today to step outside and engage? The loss is too great not to. You are a better you, with them around you, and I am a better me because of them around me. 

Besides, you can't imagine the hilarity of seeing women battle it out in blindfolds and diapers.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How to Never Have to Prove Yourself Again

Photo: Leigh Righton, Creative Commons, cc license
I'm sipping French pressed coffee and munching on red licorice, a breakfast of champions. In my ear a computer customer service agent talks me through steps to establish my identity for an annual renewal program. It's convoluted and frightening, the blue screens circling endlessly, dead-ending on the same screen each time.

And what is it about proving our identities that lands us in this same cycle? I see it in marriages, in sibling-parent relationships, and in boyfriend-girlfriend cycles. Too often we fall into loops of behavior or relating to each other that dead ends, bringing us back to the same blue ending. 

And I see it often, how we use words and facial expressions to send messages, but how frequently they are decoded wrongly and misunderstood. It can cause laughter, or raised eyebrows, raised voices, hurt, and frustration. Do you see it too?

I see it in my home sometimes also, sadly, and we're working on that. My man and I are carving our way through this new season. Choosing daily to try gentle tones, respectful voices, and affirming yet assertive communication, it is harder than it would seem, and we crash miserably in some conversations.

Sunday, while splashing dishes in the sink and planning our day, words sliced and cut in ignorance. We stood, recoiling, wondering how to retrace, recapture, restore. Water slid from the faucet and all was quiet. Fiery minds struggled for words, God's spirit whispered balm to both of us, and we raced through memory rooms for any psychological tools we could find.

A timed departure halted further forays, and we retreated, replaying sentences in our minds, striving to say them better, flushed faces still hot.

The temptation in that moment was to turn inward, replaying the hurt, and rekindling the fire. My battle (perhaps yours too, friend?) is to stop, remember who I really am, and to respond. Because my identity doesn't need to be fought for, proven, or carved out. It has been established, created, and sculpted by a Master Artist. I simply need to remember it, and live clothed in it.

Several hour later, my man and I sidled close in the kitchen, toes touching across the linoleum. Strapping on psychology tools and the Creator's guidance, we spoke again, expressing ourselves, re-stating some things, extending apologies and gentle grace.

And the cycle stopped, the blue screen disappeared, and life was well again, at least in real life.

(My computer problems still exist. Aiye! Pray?) 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What You May Not Know You're Telling Us

Photo: Chad Cooper, Creative Commons, cc license
Photo: Yen-Cheng Li, Creative Commons, cc license
When I peered out last night, they caught me by surprise. Standing crowded together, they stared to the right, fascinated by something in the west. I laughed and wondered what I was missing; and how did they know to all turn and watch?

In the jumbled garden beds, a crowd of sunflowers stands tall in a jungle of weeds. Strays from last year's structured vegetable gardens, the sunflowers are not yet fully grown. Their flowered faces are small, more like sleepy full-lashed cyclops, and last night they stood in silent vigil after a setting sun.

I laughed yesterday at the sight of them. This morning, I stepped out to study them again. In perfect precision, they had changed during the night, and now they all faced east. Heavy-lidded tiny eyes following the light. Yesterday, peering into evening's twilight, they remained still, staring at where they had last seen the sun's face. Waiting, quiet in the night, they stood. Until this morning, and how do they know? These stray wild flowers on a cloudy grey morning, how do they see the sun's face when I have yet to? How do they know to turn to the light, to turn to the place where they know they'll see his face? How do they know to wait? 

And I see that in you, and in other dear friends, this ability to follow the Light. I see you, standing... some in meticulously-ordered sites and the watching for the sun is easy, ordered, expected. You know where he'll appear because he did yesterday and the day before, and you stand and you wait, knowing the light will come. Other friends, we've talked, and you share it raw and honest over coffee cups or cyber space that the waiting is hard, this life is jumbled, disordered, and not as structured as you had planned. The days are cloudy, and you don't quite see his face yet, but you remember where you saw him last and so you stare and wait, convinced that since you saw him here last, this is where you'll wait, watching, until you see him again.

The sunflowers amaze and delight me, moving me to laughter and joy on a day with both grey thunderous rain and splashing sunlight. I watch the way they follow him, the way they follow the light despite the changing weather. Their faces keep time with the movements of the sun and their eyes never waver, following his light.

I see it in you, friends, in the times we've talked. And for others of you whom I'm still getting to know, I can sense it. That others see this in you too. How your face hovers waiting, and how your very being turns towards Him, and points me in His direction too. You point us to His light, my friends.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friendships that Linger over Lunch & Whisper in the Darkness

I pulled in behind her grey minivan, Shari stepping out from the driver's seat, arranging tin foil across a tiny platter of chocolate-dipped cookies.

"I didn't want to be the first one here," she laughed, and we walked up the driveway together.

Hugging our hostess, we stepped into two hours of conversation, camaraderie, and community. History piled high behind us as we poured countless glasses of raspberry iced tea and passed around a plate of sliced cucumbers, green peppers, and rich red tomatoes beside a ranch dipping sauce. 

Stretching across the rectangular wooden table, the five of us served each other from the bowl of Italian pasta salad and held out photographs of recent trips and a friend's baby grand-daughter. New parent eyes gleamed dewy in the close up photo of a young mom and dad with a pink-faced newborn. At the table, we lingered long at that photo, tracing their sweet faces and knowing that feeling of treasuring love.

My blonde-haired friend gracefully gathered plates around us as conversations ebbed and flowed, while our hostess brought out brownies.

"I have this coffee drink," she smiled, bring out a carton of cold sweetened mocha. We swirled the drink before pouring, sipping, and exclaiming.

We cheered each others' successes, sheepishly admitted areas we were working on, and laughed in safe affection. All too soon, it was time to go. I gathered my bag, hugged my friends, and slipped out early for an obligation.

Last night, something woke me and I lay in the dark. My mind whirred and clicked, gaining momentum, planning To Do lists, before it sidled over to tease and tangle out the quiet worries. "What if...?" and possibilities loomed.

God whispered silent in the night, cuing me to bedrock. I agreed, nodding quiet and taking a deep breath.

How did that verse go? I wondered. Something like, I will not concern myself with things too lofty for me to understand...but I have stilled and quieted my soul...

Other verses slipped in, old favorites, and I said them to myself, lying motionless on the bed, I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.

Wriggling my toes against the sheets, I gently stretched my legs, careful not to wake Mark. Breathing in and out, I spoke truth to myself.

And today as I pull my Bible close, those verses ring loudly again to me and leap off the page, repetitious truth that constructs a base for me. And suddenly I see the full context of those verses,

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too lofty for me to understand
But I have calmed and quieted myself;
I am like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child I am content (Psalm 131:1b-2).

The last verse in a section I was studying clinched it, " their shepherd and carry them forever (Psalm 28:9b).

Our times with dear friends are gifts, and God's whispers in the dark are gifts, both from a God who carries us, calms us, and quiets us, like an infant in its parent's arms.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Is It For You?

This post is part of the Atlas Girl Blog Tour which I am delighted to be a part of along with hundreds of other bloggers. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE.
It still does it to me, the smell of popcorn. It reminds me of home.

Home wasn't a zip code, a particular house, or the number of years in a place for me. Those changed and there were many.

Rural American bullfrogs bellowed from the cowponds, and I climbed high into a green apple tree. Corn fields rippled for miles, tall honey-colored grasses swayed, and lawn mowers droned sleepy in the distance.

In another setting, mango trees swayed high above our cement block house, while tropical rains hammered and crashed on our metal zinc roofs in a way that still leaves me nostalgic. Rice bubbled over coal pot fires, and neighbors chopped sugar cane stalks, throwing a chunk to the monkey pet nearby.

You know it too. That smell, sight, or sound that reminds you of home. Because no matter what state or country we were in, my mom and dad made it home with a few simple touches. Scrounging up batteries or electricity, they slipped in some family-favorite musicians and suddenly music slid through the house. Familiar refrains from Bruce Cockburn, Kansas, Pink Floyd, Phil Keaggy, and Michael Card peeked around corners, explored new houses, and traipsed over our luggage to each of our family of five. Instantly, our shoulders relaxed and we stretched out our legs.

Mom popped popcorn, shaking kernels at the bottom of any large pot she found, fiercely holding down the lid, as corn rattled in the oil and exploded. She shook her hips and torso in an attempt to give every kernel a chance at the heat and oil; we watched my dad watch her and smile or steal up for a kiss.

And suddenly, we were home.

 My blogging friend, Emily T. Wierenga, award-winning journalist and author of 4 books, has released her first memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. I was honored to read a sneak preview of the first two chapters before it was released, and now I am scarfing down my newly-arrived full-length copy of the book, and enjoying it. You can grab a copy here. All proceeds go to Lulu Tree in Africa. #Atlasgirl

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Where to Turn When Life Tumbles and Scrawls Red

Photo: StudioTempura, Creative Commons, cc license
It was the red crayon scribbled against his tiny head of summer blonde hair that got me.

I tried to make light of it. "Let's color purple on Morgan's head when we get home," I grinned conspiratorially to my five year old son, winking at him.

Red crayon marked in detailed measurements where the brain wave imaging scanners would be placed. Glenn, the electrode-attaching technician at the epilepsy center, picked up another long wire, detangling it from the rest, and affixed it with clear glue to my son's head.

"See this?" he asked Daniel, "This is gecko tape, made just like gecko toes, to stick to things without pulling hair afterwards." He laid a piece of light blue tape on the back of my son's hand, and spread its pair across an electrode.

Soon twenty-five wires rose spider-webbed and -orbed from my son's head. Daniel clutched a small brown bear, looking tiny on a long white hospital bed. His blue and black sweatshirt was a soothing blanket about his chest. I adjusted a pillow and lay down beside him for the hour-long test. Lights flashed, blinked, and strobed into his face. Soon, the lights went off, and he could curl up carefully and try to sleep.

"It is actually perfect if he falls asleep," Glenn said, tapping keys into his computer and telling me about his son, daughter, and this career. I listened, responded, and then we fell into silence as I snuggled up against my tiny young son. The medical technician watched the screen capture brain waves in irregular waves and frequencies, and I stared at my son's chest, rising in short breaths. Daniel slept, and my eyes caressed his cheek, his long eye lashes, and his pointed lips.

The seizure this Tuesday morning took us by surprise. Nothing like that had ever happened to him or us before, and I raced down the steps after him. He lay crumpled on the ground face-down, until I turned him over. Glassy-eyed and lock-jawed, with stiff arms, he stared past me eerily, and I called for help. Later as he came out of it, our chests grew tight as we searched the internet for similar symptoms, and called his doctor.

On the way to the EEG, Daniel and I talked alone in the car. He was examining the dry body of a dead bee we had found, as it tipped and slid across a random dirty plate we found on the car floor. We examined the fuzzy yellow and black body, while I warned him to steer clear of the stinger, and we talked about what a cool Creator our God is.

"Mom, why did God make bees to have stingers?" he asked as the freeway sped by.

"You know, bees only need stingers to defend themselves and their home," I mused aloud. "I bet when God first made them, they didn't need to have stingers. There wasn't any death or sickness or sad things then. The bees didn't need to defend themselves or their homes. It was only later, when Adam and Eve were tricked by the evil one, ate from that one tree, and brought sin into the world that things changed. I bet bees got their stingers after that," I said.

Daniel smiled and sighed happily. "I love God!" he exclaimed. We talked about how cool heaven is going to be one day, and the great thing that God loves us so much, and is right here with us.

"And you know what? God has cool plans for you to do while you're here," I stated.

The highway coiled around a castle-like cathedral, leaned against some museums and parking ramps, before pulling docilely into a pay lot. I pushed a button, grabbed my ticket, and we drove in.

That night friends and family called, and one or two set up meals. Our family of five hugged each other close, unwrapped ominous-looking bulky new medicines, and read instructions with tight-chests. Throughout that night and the next day, (and as we now await Friday's MRI), our Creator whispered a song in my head, ancient lyrics that spoke calm into my fearful mind.

"When I am afraid, I will trust in you" and "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you, O God, are with me."

And the Creator of the bumble-bee has plans for my wee summer blonde one, and for us, and for you, my friend. His heart can be trusted.