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.

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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.


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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.


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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.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

From Bleachers, to Balls, to Bibles (What's a Word-Loving Mama to Do?)


Silver metal bleachers shine in the sun, and tap hollow staccatos with each step. Moms and dads in sunglasses call kids closer, and one mom races to scoop a preschooler down from his high perch.

"That's not safe," she says, slipping her hands under a flower-eye-patched blonde boy's arm pits, his head and shoulders leaning ponderously over the high chain link fence.

Green turfed soccer field lies fifteen feet below us. Fifty-sixty students, from six years old to high school, are being divided by ages and then led off to different corners of the field, their soccer balls tucked under an arm or dribbled alongside. Daniel's sleeveless navy and red shirt gets further away, and I can just make out his whitening brown head and red zebra striped soccer ball. His shoulders look relaxed and I take my leave.


Nodding and smiling at strangers, I trip down metal steps, catching myself awkwardly, thankfully, in a flash. A slight breeze rattles and clanks the flag pole, and the sunlight feels warm, happy, on my face. 



Dew-dripped grass sparkles, and then turns soggy, heavy, in the ditch from the weekend's rains. Tall maple and oak trees throw shade across the lot. Two rows of silver SUVs and minivans look like a row of round metal beetle butts, and I grin to myself.

Twisting my car's ignition floods the car with a rasping pirate's summary of a blockade battle. They reload muskets and stack cutlasses before I can click pause to save the story for when my son is in the car with me. Louis's Treasure Island freezes mid-battle.

My loud muffler rumbles accompaniment past university buildings, a radio tower, and nursing homes, before coughing to silence in a small coffee shop lot. Hot coffee, and a smooth rolling pen. A Bible and note paper.


Three tall Franke black and chrome machines burr six canisters of coffee beans. Grinding, pulsing and the rhythmic thump, thump, thump of an espresso tamper being knocked out are soothing music to the right of me. Hot sunshine bathes square honey-colored tables in heat, and I shed green jacket, and soon uncoil long brown scarf, pushing up sleeves.

Hi, God, thank you for sunshine, for spring's beauty, for this time away. Please teach me? Unzipping red Bible case, I slide coffee cup over, and pull open God's word.

Just this last Saturday? My daughter and I in opposite corners of the house had been reading our Bibles and talking to God, scrawling pens across journals. Not long after, Morgan had raced up the stairs to find me.

"Can I tell you what I learned?!" she had asked, air still catching up in her lungs from excitement and the two flights of stairs.

"Sure!"

She spoke of olive trees, the details bubbling out of her, and spiritual analogies from time in God's word leaking all over.

"Wait! I've been reading about a tree in God's word too," I said. "Look!"

"What?! Me too!" Morgan exclaimed. Pointing to our journals and to God's word, we had chattered and spoken over each other.

"Wow, thanks, God," we'd both said aloud in stereo timing, and then we had laughed self-consciously.

Today in a bustling coffee shop, I grin again, remembering, and pull my Bible closer, curious to see what God will do today.

"Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power..." 

I copy the verses across lined paper, grinning at God.  "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." 




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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Shopkeeper's Secret (and It Impacts You)


"'I'm here for my rose,' she'd say."

Mary stopped speaking and pushed her red hair behind an ear.

"Each week she came in, this sweet retired school teacher. ...There were photos everywhere in her home of her kids. School kids would come back year after year to visit her, even when they were married and grown. They'd send her Christmas cards with family photos, and Char would add the photos to her walls. Her walls were covered with photographs. She loved her students and loved being part of their lives as they grew up."

Mary stopped to run a hand across her face. Hot chlorine-scented steam surrounded us at the public pool. We paused to glance at the swimmers in nearby lessons, and then returned to talking.

"When her husband was dying, he set it up: one peach rose for her. Every Tuesday Char would come to the flower shop where I worked."
Photo Credit: Flickr user Adam Jones, Creative Commons cc license

'I'm here for my rose!' she said.

"She and her husband were Christians and had married later when they were in their forties or so," Mary continued.

"He grew roses, and they had met over that. At his home he grew bush after bush of peach roses. They were his favorite colored rose. He always said he didn't know why he would grow any other flower."

Mary chuckled and shrugged.

"And that's what he arranged for her to receive every week after he died: one peach rose. She came in every week, and everyone in our shop knew her."

Mary paused to check on her grand-children in the pool, and I breathed it in, this act of love throughout the ages.

What a great way to show love, I thought, wriggling my bare toes on the wet tiled floor. Cheeks red with heat, I pushed shirt sleeves higher up my arms and leaned back in my bench. What did a gesture like that cost, I wondered.

And I loved the foresight of this flower-loving, wife-loving man to set up a fund that weekly supplied his bride with the reminder that he loved her, that he had thought of her, long after he had gone.

It reminds me of Easter, actually. This costly act of love that ripples back throughout the years, weekly reminders of our God's love for us. Jesus endured a Roman torture death to show the world how much he loved it. Our humanity-loving Creator chose to die so that he could give us life.

His love takes my breath away.

And he invites us into a relationship with him, boldly saying, "I have come that they may have Life and have it abundantly."

Too often, I think, I grow complacent, lazy, and forget to be grateful. I forget to stand up smiling, eager, thankful.

So I stand up today, and speak it out in grateful love. "I'm here for this New Life.  ...He already purchased it for me."


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Sunday, March 3, 2019

When God Pulled the Fire Alarm

Just one glance at the text sent my heart racing.

Alarm bells were blaring at our house, but we were half a nation away.

On a special once-every-ten-years-vacation to sunny Florida with my husband's family, we were still rubbing aloe vera salve onto our sun-burned skin when a neighbor in snowy Minnesota contacted us.







"Your neighbors are hearing a loud beeping noise coming from your house. Do you know what it could be?" she asked, the text glowing grey and green in the dark night.

My heart raced. "Mark!"

In hurried conversation, we thought of friends we could ask to drive to our snow-dumped home at night and to wade through six-inch high drifts of snow in our unplowed driveway to check out the sounds.

Minutes later, our son's father-in-law in Minnesota grabbed boots and mittens and drove his cold car over crackly iced roads to our house.

In another time zone, in dark humid Florida, I curled up legs onto our borrowed bed, and listened to my husband's side of the conversation. He spoke door codes through the phone, and soon after, we could hear the alarms pealing over the phone lines, across the nation, and into our dark quiet room.

Entering cautiously, our friend sniffed the air, testing for smoke, for carbon monoxide, for anything amiss. The sound drew him into our son's bedroom. After locating the ceiling-mounted fire alarm and noting the expired battery, our friend Jay disabled the alarm until we could return to repair it.

And it was then that God blew us away!

In the silence that followed, Jay noticed the creeping chill. Frost blew from his mouth. Indoors? Feeling abnormally cold, he checked the thermostat. A blank grey screen lay where the numbers should have been, and the men spoke in concerned voices across the phone lines.

A blank thermostat confirmed the chill. A malfunctioning thermostat meant a malfunctioning furnace. A malfunctioning furnace meant frozen and burst water pipes were imminent.

I bounced impatiently on the bed in Florida while our friend in Minnesota headed downstairs to the furnace room. Mark and Jay talked about screw drivers and batteries and hard-wired boxes that should have worked, and they problem-solved.

And we saw it, how God had set off a fire alarm in the bedroom that was perfectly-placed to grab our neighbor's attention so we could halt the freeze before it burst our pipes and flooded our home.

Our creative God pulled the fire alarm, and I grin to think of it.

"Okay, it's thirty-nine degrees," Jay said, breathing into the phone as he wielded a screw driver in one hand and a phone in the other.

Twenty minutes later, Mark hung up the phone after we had thanked our friend again and again for driving to our house on a dark cold Minnesota night. In a month of record-snows and cold temperatures in Minnesota, our sweet God pulled the fire alarm and saved our home.

We declared it again and again, marveling at what he had done. Thank you, God, we breathed in grateful joy.

Brushing teeth and slipping into bed, we stared at our packed suitcases for the next day's flight home. Thinking of a gently-warming house, and fearful cats who would be relaxing after the alarms had stopped, Mark and I stretched arms under pillows and pulled the blankets higher.

"Let's thank God again," I murmured, wiggling my toes and leaning back against Mark's chest. His voice rumbled behind my head, and I felt my shoulder sink deeper into the pillow.

"What a creative God he is!" I smiled sleepily, and closed my eyes.

Hi friend, how are you? What are you thankful for today?

Do you live near Minneapolis, MN? I will be speaking at the Set Apart Conference 2019 in St. Paul this Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9th. Come find me and say hi! 

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