Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pull Up a Chair With Me?

Sunlight slants sideways from the east -- left through rippled green maple leaves -- onto the black metal patio table, green canvas umbrella, and light-tufted flower plants of orange, red, and yellow. The feathery Celosia plumes are beautiful and I find my eyes drawn here often.

Cotton seeds circle and float in aimless patterns; the breeze is desultry, slight. A thumbnail-sized tan and grey moth flutters and lands on the glass deck door. A cotton seed entangles in a maple leaf's margins for a moment before it flips up and is free and gone.

I return to the Bible book of Romans, my second glass of cold sweet coffee halfway through and my green water bottle the same. Romans 8 continues from the last time I picked it up. Wow, that "the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you." That He would live in me is unfathomable sometimes.

You live in me, God? You "make your home with me"? You are Immanuel, "God with us." God who dwells, tents, lives with me, IN me. Thank you, God. You honor me with your presence.

"Yes, I found it! Zank you, God," chirps my youngest son. All six and a half years of him have just scrambled up from under the table where he found a missing Lego piece. This is the second time he has burst into thanking God for something this morning. I love it, and yet his next sentence unnerves me.

"I won! Zank you, God!" His "th's" are sometimes still "Z's" and I crack a sheepish smile at that and the fact that he has just thanked God for winning an Ipad game. I am grinning and yet wondering if a conversation is due now that God has been credited for an electronic game victory. No, I'll wait to see how the future unfolds. I'd rather he be growing and seeing gratitude in the things around him than not.

The verses in Romans continue, moving into a new thought, and I write out verses in my journal, underlining and interacting with the material. Faced with the God of the Universe's statements of residence and his connected thoughts, I am forced to take stock of my responses and actions. My pen scrambles and scrawls. Question marks top sentences, and yet my response flows back into gratitude as well.

That you live in me?! Wow. The wonder of that should never cease to amaze me.

An ethereal transparent sheath of cotton seed has snagged on a yellow tufted plant in my garden box. At times out of sight, at times undulating in the breeze,  it's all I notice now. Tremors on a still plant that dance and sway in the slight wind around it. The seed senses and responds to the air around it in a way the plant is too firmly rooted to the earth to do in kind. By the cotton seed's tremors and dance, however, I can see the air's constant currents.

It reminds me of the spirit dancing in me too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Peach Pits, Magic Acts, and What Will Thrill You

I saw them this week, all lined up just waiting. Five dried peach pits, riddled with crevices and cracks, laying flat on the soil awash in potential and wonder.
Photo: Christopher Bowns, Creative Commons cc license
Daniel puts them there, this sweet little towheaded blonde six and a half year old. Since learning of gardening and plants, he now saves the seeds from any fruit he loves and plants them in my houseplants. Five dried peach pits line the surface of my indoor banana plant now.

His wonder and magic float even farther, though.

My dad was here a few weeks ago, using slight-of-hand to vanish nickels in an old fashioned linen handkerchief and magically pound spice jars through my dining room table. Daniel was entranced and reached his own hands up to test behind his ears and behind Grandpa's ears too for the missing coins. And my heart caught with delight to see my son's wonder and belief. Belief that anything was possible, and that coins could indeed materialize from behind ears and spice jars from within tables.

I slipped away this morning, just me and my smooth-rolling gel pen and other writing materials, intent on this summer's writing project. In a local Caribou Coffee, I laid out my pens and notebooks, sipped hot fresh coffee, and started scratching ink across page.
Photo: Frederik Rubensson, Creative Commons cc license
I have been reading dozens of books on writing and am convinced that the process and discipline of learning from others, of showing up to do the work, and of continued learning and revising can bring magical results. And so this morning at a sunny coffee-shop table, I warmed up, stared off into space for a while, marshaling my thoughts; and then, with grace-filled expectations for myself, I scribbled word after word, lining them up. Words, sentences, and scrawled near-unintelligible pages coiled side by side in spiral binding. My hand cramped, and I stopped for a chocolate croissant before jumping into another timed session of writing.

I believe in wonder. I believe in lining up the creviced peach pits, lining up for work with the tools ready, and jumping in. I don't know what passions or hobbies or goals you have waiting for you, but I understand the demands, the delays, the distractions.

You can do this. Show up. Do the work. And the wonder and magic will float through.

Line by line, awash in excitement; peach pit by creviced peach pit.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

When the Red and Blue Bring Greens and Golds

"Want to smell it?" he asks, stepping aside from the window.
Photo Artist: Jar (Away), Creative Commons, cc license
It's been raining for four hours, a misty, hard-to-see rain that flickers translucent in the air. Water soaks the grass, clusters and puddles atop crescent-shaped purple coral-bell leaves, and drips in steady rhythm from the canvas folded patio umbrella. Leaves hang heavy in saturation, and the backyard is awash in greens.

Daniel and I sniff the crisp air, inhaling the sweet rain scent.

Sixteen year old Morgan and I just returned from an afternoon of shopping. "I'm such a girl," Morgan laughed, excited about her shoes. In Memorial Day savings of fifty percent off at our favorite St. Paul thrift store, we took turns in the fitting rooms, waited in line for a chance to slip on capris, and scoped out a used Spiderman bicycle for Daniel.

I love the diversity of cultures and languages in that thrift store. We saw elementary-aged girls in long headscarves playing tag in the aisles, and listened to families strategize together in lovely lilting Spanish to find shoes size five-and-a-half. West African women chatted outside the dressing rooms in an accent that sounds like home to me, and Morgan and I stepped gently around a shy Hmong girl with two barrettes in her hair.

On a weekend that we remember wars past, and thank our service men and women for their courageous choice to defend and protect us, I see the beauty of that hard-won world. In a free land, people from all cultures and languages are protected and valued. We are better for having them, and it gives me glimpses of heaven.

Rain still falls and a wet cardinal somewhere chirps. Shimmering leaves drip jeweled orbs, and the array of greens is staggering.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Your Stakes Seem Higher

The stakes seemed higher. It's funny how that happened. Every week without a blogpost here raised the cost of words for me, and weighted each one heavier.
Photo: Martin O_ob, Creative Commons, cc license
Busyness first halted me, carrying me away from my desk and you. Days passed, weeks mounted, though, and suddenly fear crept in. I wanted the words to have beauty, to hold meaning, and to be worthy of your time. And that wrangled a finger hold around my throat. It choked my words inside me.

Simple images of grandpas and gardens, and two sons in the dirt. My dad, silver-haired, looking more and more like his dad, kneels on dew-dropped grass blades. "I forgot my knee pads," he murmurs, dipping an orange-handled shovel into a shallow channel.

We're building four raised garden beds again, in the new yard. His hair is starting to curl around the edges, "Like Uncle Kurt," my mom and I notice, and he is so much stronger since September's cancer surgeries and the ceremonial-eating of the only apple on the tree

My twenty-year old son is there for his strength and his love of the outdoors. He and his grandpa wield a borrowed yellow mallet, heavy enough to tip me over when I pass it unexpectedly at one point.

"Can I help? What can I hammer?" hopes six year old Daniel aloud.

"Hey, Daniel. Here's a spot you can hammer." John points to an upraised metal reebar tip and crouches beside his brother, and my mama heart sings.

A red cardinal crows birdeee birdeeee birdeee from the highest point of a silver balsam tree behind us, and the rising morning sun warms us. My nose runs from the cold air. A wind shakes cottonwood seeds down around us from the neighbor's tree.

"Ready for the next post, John?" my dad asks, and I snap out of reverie and jump green corduroy sneakers onto my pitch fork, preparing the soil before them.

Write what you know, right? I know about heavy squares of sod chopped and shaken to save any garden dirt; black-capped chicadees and cardinal soliloquies, and sons with grandpas wielding mallets. I know french-pressed coffee oils swirling atop hot mugs, and dirt under the nails despite three washings. I see hard-working loved ones, and smell rain-fresh brown dirt, sliced grass sod, and lilacs from the neighbor's front yard.

And the moment captured is enough. My job is to see and note.

For you? Is there anything that looms taller with each passing day? Step in, pull up the chair, take that first action. The fear will still be there, I confess, but the hidden joy that comes from doing what you were made to do will spring up and delight you. I promise.

How are you? I've missed you. Catch me up?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Of Blood Oranges, Butterflies, & Martha Stewart Gaffs

Smoke told me the oven was hot. This is what Martha Stewart moments look like at our house. Shaving up curling cold spoonfuls of cookie dough from my chilled bowl of chocolate chip and butterscotch cookies, I mold and form them into balls.

Once two buttered sheets of them are in the oven, I take a few steps into the kitchen and crouch down to peer into the butterfly box my kindergartener and I made. Two butterflies stand frailly, flexing their red, brown and orange wings, pumping them with color. Vivid red puddles spread out across white tissue paper on the cardboard floor, remnants of creation's paints. ("This is natural," the butterfly brochure assures us.)

Three cocoons wait silent, suspended, and we check them often.

"Do you think there will be a third butterfly tomorrow morning?" I ask Daniel as I kiss his face and pull the blankets up around him in bed. "Do they come out from their cocoons in the dark?" we wonder and stare off, imagining one, two, or three new butterflies the next day.

We placed blood oranges in their box home this evening, slices of dark magenta citrus. They haven't eaten them yet, and we peek in regularly to see if they will.

There's a passage in the Bible book of Acts that I have been thinking about this week. In Acts 24-27, Paul is in prison for his religious beliefs, awaiting trial and a chance to be exonerated. Two years pass.

Two years.

One brief sentence holds two years of waiting, and Paul sat in prison, delayed.

I love that Paul knows who he is, and whose he is. He knows his God too. Describing this time later and an angelic encounter during a rough sea voyage, Paul says, "an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve..." I love that Paul hasn't walked away from his belief in God, decrying injustice or defaming the character of God. "Of the God whose I am and whom I serve."

This God to whom I belong and whom I serve....  this God whom, in fact, Paul says, "I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike."

In the waiting, in the two years passing, in the cocoon-like silence, great things were still happening.

For you and me too. If you feel like this is an in-between time, a time of waiting, know that life is still stirring, forming, growing. Life is building for the unveiling. "I have had God's help to this very day," and so I stand here and speak.

Me too. You too, my friend.

The cookies are done and crumble hot chocolate in my mouth.

Due to a shipping error, five more butterfly cocoons hang in a clear plastic jar nearby. Butterflies grow luminous under grey silk chrysalises, and the brochure tells us to wait.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Of Lawyers, Judges, and What's On Your Back

"I wish I'd never done it," she said, describing a post-college year of late-night dance clubs, too much alcohol, and men with unfamiliar names the next morning. Regret brimmed up and over her eyelashes now, and she twisted her blonde hair absentmindedly.
Photo: David, Creative Commons, cc license
We hugged in the crowded auditorium. I knew this woman, knew her heart, and knew that her history no longer defined her. It never really had, actually.

But we are the ones who pick up and slap labels on ourselves the fastest, the hardest. I do this. You do too. God lavishes us with forgiveness, compassionate understanding, and love, while we trail behind, dragging our feet and not quite believing he means what he says.

I've been reading the biblical book of Romans, where Paul marshals his arguments like a young John Grisham. In lean hard prose, Paul strips away any credentials religious people were scrambling for to prove their morality, and he shreds any excuses the irreligious grabbed as reasons for not getting to know the God of the universe.

On equal footing before the God of the world, loved deeply by the Creator who knows their names, humankind's verdict is clear, concise.

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace..." (Romans 3:22-24).

Whether you are ragged with regrets or worn out from scrambling to feel like a good person, we stand on equal footing before the God who loves us. In the week after Easter, we stand before a judge who says, "I've paid that price, paid the fine, paid the fee. Do you accept this gift?"

Labels are gone. Histories don't define us. They never have. The God of the world stands waiting...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Straddling True Relationships in a Busy World

Brassy coronets and high-hat-swinging percussionists ring out Benny Goodman's jazzy Trees. Crescendos echo and fall before Louis Armstrong steps up to croon Let's Fall In Love. Piano keys traipse up and down their black and white board.
Photo credit: Darwin Bell, Creative Commons, cc license
Behind me on the small desk stool, my nineteen year old folds himself up to fit on the chair. Long legs bend around bony knees, feet curled under him. His arms swing excitedly, hands gesturing, as he talks about his day and a new game he is making.

I nod, half-turned sideways to see him, while stirring at the stove. Red pumpkin curry sauce splatters and simmers next to a bubbling pot of rice. I repeat words back, striving to truly listen and focus on him, but am embarrassed to note that I've momentarily stopped listening. He nods and continues, while I slide a fork into a chunkier piece of chicken to confirm the pink is gone.

My timer dings that dinner is done, and four of us gather at a table set for five.

"Let's pray. Morgan will be here soon and John has to go to work," I suggest. My husband Mark and six year old Daniel take turns praying, and the front door clatters.

These moments with the people in our lives are so fleeting. I'm trying to do them well with God's help, but they look differently than I had originally guessed. 

Earlier, my niece and I followed three preschoolers across a backyard. The boys swung sticks, laughed in happy battles, and helped me clear dry leaves from the strawberry bed. My niece and I talked by the swings; talked by the slide; and talked in the kitchen. Wiping mashed black cookie bits from wet faces, slicing up apples, and refereeing pebble squabbles, we grinned and conversed through it all.

In these days of interruptions, how do we narrow in and let loved ones know they are truly seen? 

I'm still acquiring this, and my children can roll their eyes or share laughing stories of some of my comical failures, but here's what I'm learning. We invest in loved ones by following their eyes, by striving to truly hear, and by coming back again and again to the topics at hand. "So, tell me about this film," I asked my niece, and we laughed and resumed our focus.

It looks different than I thought it would, this desire to connect and bond with the people in our lives, but it's worth it. And the relationships are priceless.