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.)

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.