Saturday, October 5, 2019

Dance Parties and the Dean

"Rhythm 'n' Blues Portraits" by Chiara Tovazzi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

It was after the dance party.

After I had shown him black and white television footage of timeless classic dance songs, and I had danced wildly around the green carpeted living room. He had curled up in a black and white zebra blanket while I showed him The Token's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the Beach Boys' "Surfing U.S.A." and The Temptations' "My Girl." He had grinned weakly, and bobbed a small foot occasionally. Queuing up grainy black and white video footage of the Beetles singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand," we had watched and grinned at the screaming, star-struck girls in the crowd. I sang along and clicked the next song.

"This is Chubby Checkers teaching a popular dance back then called 'The Twist,'" I told him. Laughing and weaving, I had tried it out, spinning around in black exercise pants and a yellow college t-shirt.

Daniel had grinned, his face looking pale. On day two of feeling ill, he was weaker than yesterday, and nausea had added to his symptoms. Sore throat, chills, intermittent fevers, runny nose, and aching shaky legs... the last part sounds like the beginning of a fifties song, doesn't it? Poor guy.

This morning we cancelled an afternoon play date with a moved-away neighbor friend, and had settled in for a cozy rainy sick day. He laid around the house most of the day, my sweet eleven year old, moaning and faint. Coughs and weak sighs expressed his heart. I poured coffee and curled up beside him in comfort, running my fingers across his forehead, or curling the hair at the back of his head.

Mid-afternoon, the house was silent. Daniel slept in a blanket nest on the living room floor, and I sat quietly nearby, reading and studying. Scratching pen across paper, I wrote out portions of an ancient psalm from the Bible, its words filling me.

"Oh how I love your law! 
I meditate on it all day long," Psalm 119:97 had said.

Well, I want this, God, I had written it to him, writing the verses out again this time as prayers, saying, I want this to be me, I want this to be my attitude. The psalm continued, pointing out the source for wisdom, insight, and understanding, and I wrote each verse out in prayer and excitement.

And then a line caught me, and it swelled my heart. In tender love, God declared it boldly. In a world abounding in podcasts and experts and coaches for hire on every website, God tucked this truth into his word. "I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me," Psalm 119:102 said.

You yourself have taught me? God is the one teaching me? He is my teacher? And suddenly it seemed so intimate, so bold, so audacious and wild to think that I had access to the God of the World. Like a college dean who offered daily appointments for me, the image struck me in a new way. With my computer email inbox overflowing with experts clamoring for me to buy their courses, to sign up for their online lessons, to buy their latest books, we have a God -- the God-- who says he teaches me. He teaches you. The intimacy of it hasn't worn off yet. The God of the Universe is my teacher, and his heart is gentle, encouraging, and it helps me to not depart from his law, he says.

Half an hour later, my pen still scribbling in joyful journal prayer, Daniel stirred and woke up.

"Hey bud."

After the dance party and the simple supper that he was too weak to eat much of, we sat together on the green carpet floor. He was swirled in his zebra blanket, and we stared outside at the fast-flying clouds. The rain slowed. Grey clouds moved on, and the sun slipped in and out from behind the storm.

I traced his forehead and cocked my head, trying to remember any and every worship song I knew. I sang and sang, wanting Daniel to know his source of strength, this foundation of God's love that is never shaken, and this God who walks beside us always.

Running low on choruses, I picked up the refrain of "Jesus Loves Me," and he startled me. In a quiet whisper, Daniel sang along, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak, but he is strong." Daniel's tiny cheek moved as he sang from his spot on my lap, small mouth moving as his face lay half hidden on my leg. "Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so."

His voice trailed off, his eyes still shut, and he lay there quietly, waiting for the next song. I chose one he knew, and we both sang along.

In sickness, we can still sing. How I love your words, God, your presence, your truth. They teach us, give us wisdom, and help us make wise choices. They sustain us in the storms, and in the sickness we can still sing. 



If you are not receiving my posts yet by email, welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Be part of any special invitations and don't miss a post! 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

"I Smell my Brother in the House"


I like how he said it. Right between math problems and sitting beside the open window, he said it.

"I smell John in the house. I smell my brother."

I stopped, smiled and took in a deep breath, wondering what my twenty-four year old smelled like to my eleven year old.

Familiar fragrances of french press coffee, wooden pencil and rubber eraser were all I detected, none of which epitomized John to me.

"Really? What does John smell like?" I asked.

Sun caught in Daniel's tousled blonde hair as he shrugged small shoulders. "I don't know." He looked up from his math page and glanced towards the stairway where John and others were playing games downstairs. "I smell John," he declared happily, pleased with the observation.



Recently he sat beside me in church, this tall lanky man-son. His wife not with him that day, he had wandered over to our row and joined me. Both of us smiled up at his Dad who was drumming in front. I grinned happy, hugged him, and picked up my book bag to slide further down the row, making room for him.

Partway through the singing, I heard it. His voice, grown up, fully his, lifted in worship to his God, and I teared up to hear my voice singing beside his. Eyes closed, arms raised, he sang out love to His Creator, and my mama heart swelled. I know of no greater joy than that my kids know You, God, I had whispered it quiet to my God. Tears welled and I blinked them away, before trusting my voice to sing again.


And our church has been studying it during the Sunday morning adult Bible study time over coffee each week. ... This idea of Loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then loving our neighbors (all of humanity) as ourselves. We've been wrestling with what does that really look like? How do we do that? And what are all the practical aspects that ripple out from there? We've barely touched the surface, I know.

Tonight I mull it over, Daniel's recollection of knowing his brother's scent, and my joy at singing beside my eldest son. This joy of knowing God, loving Him, should mark us so much that it radiates out from us, rippling out from us in voice and spirit, so that we are known and recognized by how it changes us. Our very essences, our heart, soul, mind and strength should be marked, changed, by knowing Him.

I'm still curious about that over here, and mulling it over, swishing it around in my head. What do people notice when they see me? How can I respond with love and respect to the people around me? Am I marked by a different fragrance?

Rain falls lightly tonight. Red and yellow celosia flowers tip and bow to the side, heavy with rain. Buckets and bowls scattered across my deck collect the rain and pool it. Night's twilight is fresh, clean, smelling like autumn rain.

And maybe that's the answer? What we take in is what we can reflect and refract out.

If you are not receiving my posts by email yet, welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Be part of any special invitations and don't miss a post!

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Rockets, September, and How to Successfully Soar This Year

At first it just looked like an empty field.

Two dogs and a couple walked the corner of a barren soccer field. There were no rockets in sight. 

"Hmm, I thought it was here," I murmured to Daniel, checking my phone and the address again. "I'll call Mark to get Art's number." 

And then, just as the call was finishing, we saw them. Far in the distance to the right rippled a couple tent awnings, with some men and boys lined up. 

Daniel and I grabbed lawn chairs and water bottles and began the long hike. 

Grandpas, fathers, young men and boys crouched around tables, totes and truck beds. A towering spiny ridge of twelve metal spokes took center stage. Males lined up rockets in various sizes, colors, and shapes, sliding the rocket bodies down spindles, and attaching them to the electrical firing mechanisms.


Daniel joined them, walking up in pride and excitement, uncertain of how it all worked. New-acquaintance Mr. Neal graciously taught him how to thread the rocket down the take-off rod before attaching two metal clips to each fuse wire. 

That's where your power comes from, he taught us. The new rocket model motor, for all its fiery potential, was nothing without the spark. 

Daniel checked the connections and stepped back. 

"Range closed," the leader rang out, and the twelve or fifteen of us walked back behind the safety line. Mr. Neal moved behind the electrical control box, teaching Daniel how to arm and fire his rocket for when his turn came. 

One by one each rocket's name, creator and motor type was announced, before the launch sequence began. Five, four, three, two, one! 

Squealing whooshes and whizzes, rumbles and pops surprised us. We exclaimed and followed the flight paths of each rocket, losing them for a bit in the afternoon sunlight and blue sky. 

Achieving peak trajectory, they hung mid-air for a moment before hurtling towards earth. Free-falling rockets tumbled and dropped at fast rates as we watched and murmured, exclaiming or laughing at each one's story. Tiny parachutes burst out in oranges, yellows, pinks, or red, while other rockets tore in two and raced towards the ground, crashing hard. 

One by one down the line, rockets of all shapes and sizes had their turn. Most crackled and soared high, but several remained silent, motionless on the launch floor as the controller flicked their ignition buttons with no response.

Welp, connection error, the rocket controller concluded and moved on to other rockets. 

And I felt it, this truth from rocket falls and rocket launches. If I'm not connected to time in God's word, to the powerful life and joy and meaning that flows from him, then I'm just stuck silent on the launch pad. My only sizzle and life flows from the Creator of this rotating globe, and everything else is just a dressed-up rocket with no juice to go. 

And I've heard it, that Martin Luther used to say that he was too busy NOT to pray, indeed ordering his busiest days to schedule in extra time to pray. That has resonated strongly in me this week. Pouring coffee, grabbing journal, Bible and pen, I scratch To Do lists alongside writing out a Bible psalm each morning, and I feel it soak God's vitality and purpose deep in me. 

As September sidles up beside us, and the schedules shift, join me in this? Let's check to make sure our connections are clipped in. Are you linked to the Source? Getting juiced up? 

That's where our Power comes from, friend. 

May your times savoring God's presence bring you joy, life, and centered-focus in this busy season. May he be your soul's rest and renewal, your slowed-down moments, before you hurtle high. 

Smiling with you, cheering you on too, and praying for you, 

Jennifer 


If you are not receiving my posts yet by email, welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Be part of any special invitations and don't miss a post! 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Signs We Wish We'd Made (& A Great Way to Go Deeper this Year)

Sandy summer shoes scuffed behind me. A hallway-away a locker clanged shut and echoed across tiled floors. On the right a faculty bathroom was available and I slipped in, closing the door behind me. I stared at the signs and then laughed, thankful for its warnings.

And isn't that the truth? In addition to wanting to successfully secure some privacy in a bustling public hallway, can you relate to this warning in other areas of your life? "This doesn't work." "Use this."

Those tape scrawls have stuck in my head since, making me laugh and shake my head. Because I can think of so many times when I wish I had had those messages taped into my life too. "This doesn't work, Jen." This will cause you heartache, or unnecessary stress. "This doesn't work, Jen. Use this instead."

We are counting summer's days and trying to savor every moment. You too? Recently my husband, son and I drove to an outdoor concert in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the days leading up to that night, I had raved to my eleven-year old son how much fun we would have and what a treat it would be to unzip our red picnic backpack and lay out a feast on a blanket. Hours before leaving, however, we couldn't find the special backpack anywhere. Daniel and I upended closets and emptied every shelf we could think of. I had vague memories of loaning it out to someone, but couldn't remember who, and suddenly my blonde-haired Daniel wasn't the only disappointed one. When I couldn't find the green blanket either, I started to unravel.

And while I know this says volumes about my closet-organizing skills, it also says more about my heart. Why was I letting minor details of a backpack and blanket upend the joy of this special family evening? God grinned and whispered calm and gentle grace to my heart.

I stepped over the piles of overturned blankets and sleeping bags (those became the next day's challenge and victory!) and stepped into peace. Joy isn't bound by possessions, but by being God's.


We carried our picnic in plastic and cloth bags, and it tasted just as good. Folding chairs and a fuzzy brown blanket completed our supplies and we hopped in the car, headed to the city skyline and a night away together.







In a few weeks, I start my third year of teaching Village School of the Bible's Cover to Cover Bible survey class. Registration is happening now. If you'd like to jump into studying the Bible with me this year, I'd love to have you join us. We'll read the whole Bible in a year, have great group discussions, and build a close community of people who are being transformed by God's word day by day. (Feel free to watch Steve's story of his encounters in this class.)

If you, like me, need reminders some days of "This doesn't work. Use this," you are safe and welcome here. For those reading from emails or blogs, I'd love to have you comment here and tell me what God has been teaching you lately.

If you are not receiving my posts by email yet, welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Be part of any special invitations and don't miss a post. 


Sunday, July 21, 2019

God Speaks Russian

We stood, seven people in a circle, holding hands at the top of our stairs. Chic bobbed hair Svetlana, gentle-eyed Sergei, blue-eyed Marco, and I, with our kids interspersed beside us: soft-spoken family clown Daniel with his deep compassionate heart, and sweet blonde Nadia and Julia, with their big smiles and husky Russian accents. We prayed in English and they prayed in Russian, for loved ones we had been thinking about, for our families, and for ministries and our interactions with people. Russian words tumbled and lilted melodiously from their lips and we listened in quiet wonder. At amen, we broke up and took turns giving strong hugs good bye to this family that Mark had met twenty years earlier, but that Daniel and I had just met ten days ago.

In a week over daily coffee and in between their schedules away, our families opened up our lives. Pointing to the world map on our table, we exchanged stories, spoke of kids and histories, and discovered how much our beliefs pointed us to a common home in Jesus. Compatriots in Jesus, and co-wanderers on this earth, we soon felt like brothers and sisters.

Sveta stirred and bubbled up healthy brown kasha cereal several mornings. Mark flipped cheesy omelets and broiled savory gouda cheeseburgers outside on the grill. And in between the strawberry kale salads and the frequent French Press coffee, our families opened up our hearts.

"I'm going to miss them, Mom," Daniel said tearfully as he crawled into his lofted bed.

"Me too." I kissed his forehead. "Wasn't it cool to hear them praying? God speaks Russian."

Daniel grinned, eyes wide as he considered that, and his world widened.

At swim lessons at the YMCA this week, I slid onto a bench near Daniel's swim lane. Two women in long dresses and head veils smiled at me, eyes glancing shyly away.

"As salaam alaikum," I greeted them. Peace to you.

In a loud humid pool room, we leaned heads closer and smiled, pointing to which kids were ours. With hands, words, and facial expressions, we shared how many kids we had and their ages. Our eyes flashed warmth and we agreed that kids were a treasure, a gift from God. In a bustling room, our kids came and went, small bodies dripping with chlorine water. Droplets beaded and glistened on wet curls and glowing faces.

And just like that, it was time to go. Nodding heads in honoring kindness, we walked away.

I love that our God speaks Arabic too.

As we strive to love God and to love others, our lives become fluent in speaking welcome in any language. I want that for me, and I want that for you too, my friend. And I firmly believe this: a pulled-wide life, a pulled-wide heart, is the best way to see Jesus and his joy-filled life.


If you are not receiving my posts by email yet, welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Don't miss a post and be part of any special offers too! 

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Holding Summer's Light as the Sky Turns to Grey


Huge rain rushes in from yesterday's ninety-degree heat. A grey storm outside turns the sky green. Hot French Press coffee and an Indie band crooning in multi-part harmony set a reflective tone.

Halfway through this new journal, the stitching threads line the notebook crease, a straight hem through paper. Halfway through the summer, the season's longest day of light on June 21st, with sunlight's last whispers hinting still at ten pm, already nine days ago.

(My mom had called me that night, giggling and determined to outlast the light.

"I worked in my yard, and I can still see!  I'm siting on my front step and some neighbors are out too. I always want to be out here on this longest day of the year, out until the very last light fades."

I had peered outside through the dark and pictured her out there, knees curled in deep twilight.)

Halfway through the summer, and yet I feel like summer has just started. My hopes and Project To Do lists for the summer stretch long, and I sit now, scrawling pen, re-evaluating, and trying to hold summer like pool water in scooped hands.

Two friends of ours crafted Caring Bridge sites this summer as cancer clobbered them. One of them, a young dad and husband, died last week. His funeral is today. The other friend awaits clinical photon light trials to target tumors in his brain, and the rest of us take deep breaths and try to wrap our brains around this hard new story for each of them and their families.

My husband and I, with our youngest, spent this last week at a Bible camp in northern Minnesota as daily seminar leaders. Two hundred high school students played vertical nine square, popping balls over their heads. They paddled boats, pelted each other in water fights, and pulled out wooden benches each day as speakers pulled open God's word. I joined other speakers in teaching and praying for these teens to know how loved they are by God, and to know his great plans and purposes for them. We spoke of the dangers that could harden in their lives, entangling and tripping them up, and we urged them to see the adventures God has for them and the joys of doing life his way, even when life was hard.








My ten year old son stood at his cabin window the first night, hearing high schoolers run and squeal in late-night games.

"Mom, it's still light out. Can I stay up?"

And I knew how the week would stretch out, late nights piling up fast, and how hours in the sun and sand would wipe him out.

"No, it's time to sleep, my boy. Tomorrow's another day. There will be so many fun things to do this week." I kissed him, tousling his summer blonde hair. Tiny curls swept up his forehead.

He slid under his sheet and blanket, pulling a tiny cheetah closer. I pulled curtains shut, the light already fading to grey.


If you are not receiving my posts by email yet, welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Don't miss a post and be part of any special offers too! 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Of Dragons and Gauntlets


He walked in with an orange bearded dragon on his shoulder. The college-student stood at the coffee shop counter, ordering a pastry and a drink, and his lizard perched beside him.

Minutes later as he prepared to leave, two women in yoga pants and headbands approached him, their phones out.

"Is he real? Can we take a picture with you?"

I stood up, grabbing my phone too and idling closer.

The blonde-haired student assured us the reptile was real and handed him over to the woman in fleece.

"Oh? Me to hold him?" she asked shyly, "Will he bite?"

Persuaded, she let him place the two foot-long orange spiked lizard in her hands, the tail trailing up to her elbow.

He was a therapy lizard named Ivan, we learned. "He was brown when I got him, and only an inch and a half long."

We exclaimed at the change, staring at the jeweled orange bearded dragon on the woman's arm. "He's my emotional support animal," the man explained. "I chose him because colleges will let me keep him in the dorms."

"Can I pet him?" I asked.

He agreed readily and I stroked the small dragon's dry back, long tail, and spiny sides. "Hi baby, you're beautiful," I crooned to the bearded lizard.

"Many people choose soft and cuddly for emotional support animals, but I like his rough back," the young man said, retrieving him from the turquoise woman, gently detangling a curved rear toe-nail from her sleeve and stroking the dragon's back.

We listened and gushed, loving this chance to learn and experience. Thanking him, the women left and I did too. The young man was gracious, friendly, generous with his time and story. Pausing to balance the dragon, pastry and drink, he grabbed his keys and walked out the door.

"What a nice young man," the navy shirted woman told her companion as she pulled out her green wooden chair again, beside her laptop.

I agreed silently, sitting at my own nearby table, and pulling out Bible and pen.

And I love how his brave transparency calls us to courageous conversations too. Turning pages to my next passage in the Bible, I see it -- how God continues the conversation.

"O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you...
Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; 
Keep watch over the door of my lips. 
Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds..." (Psalm 141:1,3-4a)

The verses continue, talking of the traps and bad choices we can fall into, and I remember bold words from an earlier lesson in Genesis 4. In Genesis chapter 4:6-7, God speaks it bluntly, throwing the gauntlet down before Cain. "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

I don't know the traps around you, but I know our God. He is whispering them to you even now, and to me too.

I think of the dragon owner's brave transparency and write bold words in my journal, examining these verses, talking to God, and listening long. I love that our God whispers back in the lull after the heavy truth hits.  "...For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13).

And we can sense it: what God is warning us about, what he is pointing to, and the choice is before us. I love that he gives us the will -- the motivation, the desire to obey. What a loving, humble, gentle God he is!

I choose You, God. I choose your face and your warnings. I choose to move away, to side-step the traps, to keep watch over my lips, mouth, eyes, actions, and life.

If you are not receiving these posts by email yet, welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Don't miss a post and be part of any special offers too!