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.

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.