Monday, October 5, 2015

What the Engagement Books Never Tell You

Our words hung in the air, awkward and heavy. With anger and hurt on both sides, there was no easy fix.
Photo: Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons, cc license
"I have to go. Morgan needs to get to class."

The drive is quiet, somber; a respectful honor in the silence.

Beside a sunny library window, I text words of apology and await his. I journal and rant for several pages before asking God to soften me, to soften my husband, and to bring peace. Help me, God, to choose my words, to use them well, to seek appropriate times for deeper discussions, and to do them honoringly? Erase my anger and his.

We bought a new bed several years ago, my husband and I. Constructed with a layer of memory-foam on top, the bed is designed to conform to your body, offering optimum support. Two years later, we see now that the mattress tells a story of who sleeps where. Here is his side, here is mine, and in between a raised ridge where weight and time don't dwell there as long.

He pulls me near in these cool autumn nights, and in the still-dark mornings, into this middle ground on the bed. And I grin and nestle closer, feeling his chest strong against my back. We move in sleepy familiarity into the spoon-cuddle mode. He moves forward, pulling me next to him, and I wriggle backwards, dipping under his chin. While I pull my long hair high on the pillow, he slides the edge of the pillowcase across my neck, hiding any ticklish hairs, and we sigh. Our breathing slows, matches inhalation lengths, exhaling together.

And perhaps this is how a marriage lasts long? Pushing down any walls that creep between us, asking God's help to soften our hearts, and curling up in syncopated breathing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Those Life Adventures You're Excited For -- Guess Who's In the Wings?

Fifty cents for a refill of the house coffee after hugging Amy and Tasha goodbye and I'm back at Coffee Talk. Sitting at an outside round glass-topped table on the front porch, the table trembles as I write and the 9:20 am sun is just cresting a tall pine tree to my left. Cars, trucks, and Harley Davidson motorcycles rumble and roar their way past, and inside the coffee shop, tourists and locals mingle and shake out newspapers.
When we bought our coffee earlier, a pink-shirted blonde-haired woman left her companion at a table and slipped behind the counter, washing her hands.

"Are you sure it's okay with you?" she asked the white-haired barista-owner as he handed Tasha her mocha.

"Sure," he said, and she cashed Tasha's ten dollars, handing back change. They bantered more as I handed over my twenty and ordered a tall house coffee.

"Helping on your day off?" I asked.

"No, I'm his sister," she smiled. "I just step over from my table when it looks like he can use a hand."

Back at my table alone now for a leisurely devotion time, I scribble in warm sunshine, steadying the table with my left hand. A light breeze flips my Bible pages, and a vivid yellow Daytona car parked on the road behind me contrasts beautifully with the tall white steeple behind it. Six blackbirds -- no, ten-- soar and arc in the clear blue sky above the steepled cross.

A ripple of peace and renewal loosens my shoulders and tickles my neck. A night of tenting and wood smoke fire beneath a forest of yellow trees, and dozens of timed group photos beside the fast-flowing glassy brown St. Croix River has blanketed rest deep within me. I can feel it in my long breaths, deep sighs, and sunshine-warmed shoulders and back as I work.
Thank you, God, for your beauty! For miles of curving roads in the Wisconsin Interstate State Park campground, for tall grey bluffs and craggy cliff faces, and for spongy green moss against a backdrop of brown and yellow leaves. Thank you for red-tufted mushrooms caps and rope-harnessed lithe rock climbers who make me want to exercise too.

Thank you for close friends to struggle to start campfires with, and to sip cool drinks around glowing embers deep into the night, our stomachs full of tinfoil-roasted chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, and peppers. Thank you for sticky marshmallows right before bed and sleepy conversations until 11:30 when we could no longer fight tiredness. Thank you for cozy sleeping bags, and more padded mats each year for our forty-one-year old bodies, and for a deep night's sleep inside a green and orange tent; for clear stars in a dark night, a full white moon; and the desultory drops of dew from the trees this morning and crackling chipmunks in the brush.
Thank you for your word open to 1 Corinthians 12, and the sun on my face, warm enough for a t-shirt in late September. "Now about spiritual gifts..." you begin, and you talk about giving us talents, skills, passions. "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."

Thank you that you are a God who steps in, saying, "Let's work side by side. You don't mind, do you?" And we get to stand shoulder to shoulder in life's adventures.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Beating Burn-Out and Burning Long

It floods and crashes, this wall of raindrops thundering and crescendo-ing around us. This is the second sheet of water this afternoon, long roaring showers that drift in my open windows, batter the leaves, and rush in tiny tsunamis down the side of the road.
Photo: DeShaun Craddock, Creative Commons, cc license
Water soaks into the green lawn, and pools in puddles, reminding me of where I need to extend my gutters. And I breathe it in, this heady scent of rain, soil, and wet leaves.

It's been a dry month. Tomato plants are yellow bones with drooping withered fruits. Today's rains soak deep into the ground and run racing in channels down the streets.

Back in the kitchen, I scrub hardened egg off saucers, rub dried tea stains off mugs, and catch a glimpse of the flickering candle on the counter. Green mounded edges curve towards the light on a candle that needs to be glowing for several hours. For best results, keep candle burning for six hours at a time, the label says, and I've seen it. How the hardened candle needs to be in the light, next to the fire, and kept simmering there for best results. How it's the heat and the light over time that burns the candle for the longest use and most even life. Otherwise, the label explains, the candle will burn unevenly and flare hotter deep within, but leaving the outside cold and unaffected. Soon, the candle would be burnt out inside, with the exterior useless, no longer able to reach the flame.

And it reminds me of me. Because any task can be worship, and my desire is to meditate long on God's word --his light and heat -- to stay soft, useful, moldable. The verse that's been flickering through my heart this week has become a mantra the last few days. I whisper it to myself on tired mornings, speak it out as prayer in bleak moments, and singsong it as joyful song.

"The Lord gives strength to his people; he blesses his people with peace." I've seen that this week, and asked him for that, sinking deep into its truth. Our Creator God spills out barrels and gallons of his strength and sends crashing waves of his peace despite storms.

I can still see the rain outside my kitchen window. It's simmered to a warm mist, and the world is washed by it. My green candle burns long, its edges curving inward. I dry my hands and, with even pressure, gently slide the top wax towards the heat. It glimmers and glows, and it feels like worship.
Photo: Michelle Muirhead, Creative Commons, cc license

Friday, September 18, 2015

Creating a Home in Life's Chaos

Standing in line on a Minneapolis street in 2006, we started crying. Wiping tears off our cheeks, we laughed self-consciously.

"It doesn't feel right to be here without Mom, Dad and Jeremy, huh?" I said. My sister nodded.
Photo: Carolyn Pinke
Fifteen years earlier in war-torn West Africa, our family of five lived in a green concrete house. Under towering mango and papaya trees, our corrugated zinc roof roared raindrop music in the daily tropical storms. Red dirt circled our house, clung to our feet, and spiraled off military jeep tires as they passed. Militia and rebel groups increased on both sides and BBC radio broadcasted growing concerns. Soon atrocities and the American embassy required our evacuation to neighboring Ivory Coast.
Photo: Carolyn Pinke
By kerosene lantern light, my mom poured rattling popcorn kernels into a metal pan. Dad shuffled plastic cassette tapes beside our battery-powered stereo, clicking one into play. Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn's guitar thrums and throaty voice swelled into familiar verses and choruses. Hot popcorn sizzled and exploded, a salty nut smell hitting my senses...

Follow me over to Emily's site for the rest of the story, please? 

I'm honored to be guest-posting there during the release of her newest book, Making it Home: Finding my Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose. Her writing and heart are beautiful.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Korean Octopus, and You, and Me

"Whoa, octopus! Let's get some."

He's peering in past a frosted glass window to a ten-inch package of purple tentacled octopus legs coiled tightly, their suction cups pointed out at us. In an international Asian grocery store with green tea popsicles and dried mango slices, I love that seven year old Daniel is brave and eager to try new things.
Photo: J. Griffin Stewart, Creative Commons, cc license
"We'll see," I murmur, "I don't know how to cook them yet."

Twenty minutes later in the deli section, we see it, and my husband and I grin to each other. "Daniel, remember how you wanted to eat octopus? They have it here. We'll get some!"

He cheers and skips happily as we edge closer to the counter. Soon we are crowded around a small square table, the three of us sharing a monstrous bowl of soup and nibbling steaming octopus dumplings. He slurps beside us, wrestling with his chop sticks on the miles of ramen noodles, and the beauty of this moment etches itself onto my heart. Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, and our European blend of German, English, Irish, and Czech whirl and pass in this busy, jumping restaurant, a gorgeous mix of cultures and languages. And I love that I can sip spicy Japanese soup, sample Korean octopus dumplings, and pass tall elegant veiled Somali women on the sidewalk outside.

We finish our meal, wipe up our spills, and carry the dishes to a back corner. Paying for the groceries, we drag a metal cart holding our fifty pound bag of rice to the car, and turn towards home. In the car, the Minneapolis skyline dips and whirs past, and the beauty of cultures reminds me of heaven.

Daniel surprised me recently. Sitting on the couch beside me, he said, "I have a Korean friend."

"Yeah, you do," I agreed, thinking of his cousin and several friends from church. "That's cool, huh?"

"I'm a little Korean too," he stated matter-of-factly.

"Really?" I asked, curious to see where this was going, looking at my son's summer-highlighted caramel hair, brown eyes, and peach face.

"Yeah, I have the shirt."

And I laughed to remember that his cousin and his friends had all received the same soccer jersey he had from a recent missions trip. And apparently having identical shirts from overseas makes him Korean.

I hugged him and thought about heaven where the Bible says we will have people from every language and people group around the Creator's throne, and I can't wait. You and me? We're part of an international family. It is beautiful, vibrant, and requires action some days too. 

I have the shirt.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Call on Line Two

It started last Monday night, but I didn't have the courage to say anything until Tuesday. Well, Wednesday, honestly, if you count non-husband people. Because I whispered it to him Tuesday morning, the shy awkward news about an embarrassing uncomfortable pain.
Photo: Flavia, Flickr user
And you don't want to know. Just nod and murmur comforting noises and we'll leave it at that. Tuesday I grabbed my cell phone and money and headed to the store for medicine. Then I grimaced, moaned, and tried not to aggravate it.

By Wednesday, the pain was worse and I wrestled courage with both hands and stumbled over the words with my children and on the phone to my mom.

"Oh, by the time you're my age, you won't be embarrassed about anything," she laughed and clucked sympathetically. She discussed home remedies, and I listened and nodded. 

"I've decided to pray," I blurted out. "There are so many people with chronic pain or who are suffering more seriously than this." I could picture friends whose relatives were in hospice and ones who lived with daily pain. "I've been using the pangs as reminders to pray," I stopped, then added with a sad laugh. "I've prayed a lot today."

And I did. In between flinches and hobbled walking sessions, I gritted teeth and thanked God that this pain was rare for me, bringing names to my lips of friends, families, and people I knew in pain. Although my ailment was trivial in comparison, I rested in the truth that our Abba Dad God looked with sympathy and love on each of us.
Photo: Deb Nystrom, Flickr user
Photo: Matt 0983, Flickr user
On Friday, my mom, sister, and I walked through the Minnesota State Fair, sniffing buttery corn on the cob, crispy chocolate chip cookies, braised turkey legs, and deep fried pronto pups. I wriggled toes in twinges of discomfort and thanked God for the people I saw and whose names rolled through my mind. "Thanks for these reminders to pray. Thank you that it's getting better too," I grinned at God.

My cell phone vibrated and rang, and Mark's first words flattened my chest. Terse quick sentences, then I raised eyes to my worried sister and mom.

"Daniel may have just had a seizure. I have to go." State Fair traffic flooded and ebbed around us, and my heart hammered, flushing cheeks red.

"Can we pray for you?" my sister asked, wondering if I had a minute. Leaning three heads in close, my mom and sister wrapped arms around me and I fought to follow their words. They talked to the God of the world and I remembered to breathe.

And this chance we have to say another's name aloud to the One who knows us intimately and has never stopped thinking of us is priceless, and it circles happily, unfazed. It's me who forgets in the moment to moment... about God, about friends and families in need, and I need reminders to pray, reminders to think of others, and it's a privilege to stride into God's throne room with a friend's name on our lips. "God?" and he nods, smiling, never at a loss.

Daniel is feeling fine now. (My silly ailments are improved too.) And I type, breathe, grate zucchini, put away clean dishes, and brainstorm supper, whispering names of friends and family who are in pain, thankful that our God has never forgotten. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On their First Days Back to School

Photo: cx33000, Flickr user, Creative Commons cc license
An imperceptible noise wakes me and I turn. Red digital numbers gleam 6:44 am and I am grateful, Thanks for waking me up, God. I slip quietly out of bed, wanting to hug and pray for John on his first day back to school.

Yellow kitchen light washes streaks across a dark living room carpet, and I can hear John around the corner.

"Hi," I grin sleepily and hug him, my eyes still creased against the brightness. Tall, broad-shouldered, my twenty year old is packing a lunch. Bagging baby carrots, a ham and wheat sandwich, and looking around for chips, he already has a plastic container of yesterday's fried rice.

"I'll be at school all day today," he says, closing the bread bag.

"There are apples," I murmur.

While he is gathering his lunch, I pray aloud for him, asking God to give him safety in rush hour roads, energy and excitement for his college classes, connections with his professors, and a good year of learning. He stops and smiles, "Mmm, thanks, Mom."

We hug and move to the front stairway entry where he loads his backpack.

"Oh hey, here is a red notebook for you!" I scramble away for a moment, returning with a simple single subject notebook, a traditional gift for my kids each year when they used to journal often. "It's your favorite color."

"Thanks," he grins, flipping it open. "Um..." and he shows me. An assembly error has stapled all the pages upside down. We laugh, and John grabs his bag.

"Have a great day," I say, sitting small on the steps above him. "I'm proud of you for getting up early for your classes, for getting a lunch, and being so organized. You got this! You can do this."

"Thanks, Mom," he says, and he opens his heart up more on his way out the door, and I am so thankful for this morning of seeing him off.

Thanks, God, for waking me up. What a gift.