Monday, January 25, 2016

Parenting Adult Kids: Navigating Life Alongside Them

He said it straight up, this truth I had been feeling deep down too.

Sitting in chairs pulled up close enough for our legs and knees to touch, we sat across from each other for maximum eye contact. And the prolonged eye contact had been stacking up, my neck tingling deliciously, our eyes flashing at each other, and his voice husky and flirting. We had been alternating between laughter and serious conversations that assessed and reviewed our relationship.
Photo: Flickr user Seif Alaya, Creative Commons cc license
Suddenly my husband's eyes turned reflective and his voice signaled a new paragraph, away from the marriage retreat material.

"You know, you need to be careful with the way you...," and he described an interaction between me and our seventeen year old daughter.

"You're right. I was thinking that late last night too," I agreed, and we sat silent in a conference room filled with twelve to thirteen murmuring couples.

"I'll talk with her and apologize for coming off so intense," I mused. Mark and I grinned, flashing eyes at each other again, and he made a joke, raising his eyebrows at me. I shifted my legs closer to him and we read the next marriage discussion question aloud. Peace and determination settled deep into heart crevices inside me.

Traversing life's many choices with our adult and near-adult children is something I'm learning as I go. Standing up on tip-toes to hug my almost-twenty-one year old son and my willowy high school daughter, I can sense this deepening gap between us. Not that we aren't close! We're very close, but parenting looks different here. 

"I get to be a groomsman," my twenty-year old son tells me, grinning. "There'll be two weddings that day!" he laughs, holding up a wedding invitation that just came in the mail.

Meanwhile, Morgan researches colleges, gobbling up class descriptions online like me in a chocolate store, and we debate the pros and cons of transfer credits and build-your-own-majors.

"Hey, Morgan." I strung words together distractedly as we pulled onto Highway 35W south this morning. "I'm sorry I came across so intense the other day. I am on your side and we'll research this together. Sound good?"

Windshield wipers scraped grey frost to the sides of the car and I could see it from the corner of my eye. Her smile was soft, warm. "Thanks, Mom."

Parenting tall young men and women is a joy and privilege. It's a constant chance for me to learn and grow as well. Side by side, my husband and I are laughing, learning, and praying as we go.

What are you thinking about this week? 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wanting to Live Wide-hearted in a World of Headlines

Under the shade of a rippling tarp, Dominican Republic partners and Office of Environment officials talked about mangrove reforestation, explaining the work we would do. I wiped sweat off my cheeks and glanced over at Mary.
Photo Courtesy Anh Brown
Twelve days earlier she had called me, conspiratorial laughter in her voice. "How would you like to fly with me to the Dominican Republic for a few days?" she asked. "And is your passport current?"

As a travel agent, Mary had been invited to see and give feedback on the land portion of a brand new kind of travel by Fathom Impact Travel, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines. Paying for her (and a qualifying friend) to fly to the DR, Fathom wanted her to experience four impact projects: reforestation, water purification, conversational English, and cement-floor-laying, all working alongside Dominican partner organizations. Because I lead frequent humanitarian/missions trips, Mary knew I would qualify for the experience too.

Asking a few questions, I heard my excitement bubbling and spilling over. "Yes! When?"
Photo Courtesy of Fathom Travel and Mary Krueger
Photo Courtesy of Anh Brown
Twelve days later, we were standing in muddy sneakers in a mangrove national forest, learning how deep to plant new mangrove trees and guzzling water under a gorgeous blue sky. After reforestation, we met friends in conversational English. The next day we worked hard making ceramic and liquid silver clay water filters, and by Friday, we were here, walking alongside Laoris as a slight breeze blew.
Photo Courtesy of Lorena Vargas-Bella
"I'm proud to show you my community," she said. Laoris smiled at us and guided us down winding dirt roads beside vivid green, pink, and blue painted homes. Crimson flowers blazed from behind metal gates and along narrow landscaped borders.

I stumbled on a stone in the path and on her name, somehow adding a "t." Laoris was gracious, patient, correcting my Spanish with a trilling rolled "r."

Arriving at a green cement block home with corrogated metal zinc roofs, we were introduced to Francesca, a petite great-grandmother and her daughter Marianne. Partnering with Dominican NGO Entraina, our team of Americans, Brits, Peruvians, Canadians, and Dominicans worked alongside local cement layers to pour out Francesca's first-ever cement floor.

"When it rains, the dirt floors flood and become soggy, creating health hazards," Entraina and Fathom staff explained. "We work with community partners to see who can most benefit from these floors," adding that they hire local masons and professionals who supervise and guide the Impact volunteers' efforts as cement mixers, bucket-carriers, etc. Dominican experts leveled cement, taught us the recipe proportions for mixing sand, cement powder, and water, and troweled what we brought them.

Lining up assembly-style, I took my place with my teammates. Straddling an inner doorway and wiggling my sneakers into the grey gravel, busted concrete, and sand for stability, I reached out for a slippery bucket of wet cement. We crouched with straight backs and bent knees to safely transport the heavy buckets and our talk swirled in Spanish and English as we passed pails, turned faces to the new friends on both sides, and sailed across cultural divides. 

"This is from my great-granddaughter," Francesca said, pointing to a paper drawing of a poem nailed to the wall behind us. Words about a mama's love and her full-hearted acts of family service curled up a page and shimmied around a red-marker heart. I paused to read the words, understanding some, and getting soft-spoken interpretations from Laoris at times beside me.

Francesca grinned widely, a toothy grin dimpling up both sides of her face, silver hair pulled back into a ponytail. "This is my son, Jose," she said, pointing to a man who had just walked in. He reached out for a bucket of cement, heaving it up and over to the room's floor behind him. "It's his daughter," Francesca explained, and Jose pulled out his phone, scrolling to a photograph of his daughter.

Over and over on this four day trip, this is where we found ourselves... pulling open our hearts, sharing about loved ones, and diving into deep conversations about life, family, communities, and intentional impact-full living. Over rice and beans seasoned Creole-style, or on jostling buses through coffee plantations, across language books in laps inside neatly-swept dirt yards overlooking mountain sea-scapes, and on wifi hotel lobby steps, we leaned over and opened wide our lives. 

Dominicans', Canadians', Brits', Peruvians', and Americans' faces swim in my mind now, their names and stories apart of me. I smile in thinking of them, and have left parts of me as well through the time and conversations we had. 

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How to Jump into a Week that is Rumbling By

Blueberry and banana puree cling to the side of the glass. We've been blending and drinking fruit smoothies multiple times a week, it seems. Mark's trying to get healthier and knows this is one way to raise his fruit serving count. Jumping at any opportunity for vitamin C this week, I've chimed in often: "Me too, please? Can I have some?" He nods and slides a few more chunks of frozen mango and berries into his glass to thaw.
Photo: Flickr user Miriam, Creative Commons, cc license
In the aftermath of Christmas break, we have crawled sluggish and sleepy into this new week. School started Monday. Today while Morgan slipped downstairs after breakfast to resume her eleventh grade classes, I started a pot of water to boil and negotiated five additional minutes from Daniel.

"We'll start school in five minutes, okay, bud? I want to make coffee first."

He is the luckiest first grader in the world. He is more than happy to go back to building Lego creations while his mom grinds Sumatra beans, rinses out old grounds, and swipes the last grains of coffee gravel into the glass french press. The round metal teapot whistles in urgent rising crescendo.

Setting a timer for four minutes, I leave the french press plunger upraised, suspended as water and coffee grounds mingle. Pulling up a chair, I call Daniel over, push back the orchid pot, and scrawl dates across workbook margins. We scrape chairs and pencils, scooting closer, and Daniel works sums across the page.

Rising to plunge, press, and pour brown amber, I return with a full steaming cup of coffee and a small thermos. Helping Daniel with a question, I then grab my Bible and we lapse into quiet reading. He hums and swings legs under his chair beside me or bursts into home-made jokes, and I grin and guide him into the next section of his school. As he reads and circles short vowel words and spellings, I pick up my own pencil and scrawl notes in the margin of my Bible.

A nagging cough has sapped my energy and crossed lines through all my well-intentioned To-Do lists. I've been gathering strength in bursts to accomplish the necessary tasks throughout the last two weeks, but have been thankful to sneak away to quiet corners whenever I can.

Tipping up the fuchsia and grey thermos, I pour more coffee into my cup. Tiny splatters dot the dining room table and steam rises from my mug. Taking a deep sip and sliding my Bible closer, I feel the warmth sink in. "And God is able to to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work," 2 Corinthians 9:8 says.

One thing at a time. Start slowly, Jen. Coffee. Family. God's word, and the morning rumbles on.

Hello, my friend. How was your Christmas break? Are you feeling sleepy and slow-moving as you jump into this week too?

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Under Your Pile of Hats, I See It

Sitting side by side at the kitchen table, we are surrounded by slivers of blue, green, and black construction paper.
Photo of Neptune and moon Triton, NASA Solar System Exploration, Creative Commons cc license
"Here, this will be the volcano," I say, taping a grey three-dimensional cone onto a round blue sphere. "This is the ice lava. Wow, a volcano that erupts liquid nitrogen that freezes anything it touches! Can you imagine?!" and I act it out to Daniel as we attach tiny blue strips of paper to the inside of the volcano. "What a cool God!"

My seven year old grins at me, eyes wide, his haircut growing out in spiky tufts. He swings his legs excitedly under the table and picks up more paper.

"Mom, can we do some more?" he asks, his small red and black scissors poised in mid-cut.

Pausing for a moment, I waver. Because in the throes of efficiency, I had already switched hats. My Homework-Helper Mom hat was already off, my hand raised to don the Lunch-Coralling hat. Next up was Bill-Paying Mom, and Dish-Washing Mom. Homework-Helping-Mom was due again soon when 11th-grade Morgan and I would study Algebra 2.

(Don't ask about Dusting Hat. She hasn't been seen in weeks. Laundry-Folding-Mom works Saturdays, after Mark and the kids bring up toppling baskets of clean laundry. Who am I kidding? Laundry-Folding Mom just needs to tackle the growing mound of clean clothes that have been on the side couch all week, occasionally carried away and hidden in the bedroom when guests show up.)

My hats and To-Do lists are already lined up in my mind when Daniel asks it: "Mom, can we do this some more?"

Splashy colored paper, two scissors, and several glue sticks line the cherrywood kitchen table. South-facing window sunlight warms the dining room. Five flower buds swell slowly on the new green orchid branch.

"Sure, bud. That sounds nice," I say, sitting back down again. I pick up a scissors and start cutting.

"Did you know that Neptune has at least 27 moons? This icy-volcano is on the moon called Triton. Isn't God amazing?"

We pass glue sticks in silence and cut into green, blue, and red paper, the sunshine spreading warmth across my shoulders.

Our Creator God who invents ice-forming volcanic lava wears the hats of Creator, Father, Sustainer, Provider, Encourager, Savior, and Rescuer-King. In striking strength and beauty, he dons them all effortlessly.

I know you have a stack of hats, my friend. I see moms and dads who swipe on and off hats that read Provider, Meal-Maker, Child-Chauffeur, Band-Aid-Applier, Bedtime-Enforcer, Drink-Getting,  Bill-Paying, Present-Wrapper, and Homework-Helping mom or dad.

God leans in and pulls you into a deep hug. He sees you and delights in you. You are loved. You are enough in Him, and you are held and sustained by Him. Merry Christmas! We celebrate our Rescuing King wrapped in baby clothes.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Of Oil Swirls and the Painter's Canvases

Remnants of Korean Steak Wraps spread sesame oil and soy sauce in brown swirls beside romaine lettuce leaves on two plates still on the table. Minced garlic and ginger hang fragrant in the air.
Photo: Megan Myers, Creative Commons cc license
My husband's voice slips out from seven year old Daniel's bedroom, reading a bedtime story aloud. Daniel sniffs and coughs, reaching for his handkerchief, a re-purposed cloth napkin.

"Mom, what makes colds go away fast?" he asked wearily a few minutes ago. 

"Sleep, buddy. Lots of sleep. Let's have you go to bed early, okay?"

He's brushing his teeth now, and a sentence from my daughter's AP Drawing class has been running through my mind this evening.

"Create an entrance to the picture for the eyes to travel to the subject," states her Art Principles handout. "The eye should travel in a circuit from the subject to the secondary subjects before leaving the painting. Do not place an obstacle in the picture which prevents the eye from going beyond it." 

And it's funny to have an art concept speak wisdom into my life, but I can sense a deeper truth from it in relation to my walk with God. This concept that I want the observer's eye to scroll right to the subject is something that reverberates truth in me. I desire for people glancing in my life to find their eyes directed to the beauty of Jesus. 

So, Morgan's art principle is on repeat in my brain, and I find myself reviewing all aspects of my life. In my attitudes, am I pointing viewers to the beauty and transformative power of my God? In my stories and the words that I choose to describe my life, my marriage, my family, and my sin struggles, am I pointing to God's restorative grace and his unstoppable love?

Just like a painter or a sculptor chooses what to paint, where to highlight, and what to bring the eye to, I choose how I perceive and receive my world and attitudes. This color-swirled, majestic canvas of our lives is a gift and masterpiece still being finished by the Master Artist. I desire to have each curving Van Gogh-like flourish draw the eyes to our Artist God.

It reminds me of a verse I've been thinking about this week from my Bible reading in 2 Corinthians chapter 6. Paul is writing a letter to some believers and he says, "We put no stumbling block in anyone's path so that our ministry will not be discredited."

It reminds me of the art principle about placing no obstacle in the picture which prevents the eye from moving on. Then Paul racks up a seventeen-item list about all the ways he and his co-workers are striving to make right choices, but he ends with this thought: "We have spoken freely to you and opened wide our hearts to you."

And I think this is the way we draw the viewer's eyes to the Subject each time. We speak freely, striving honestly to have clean hands but admitting when we've stumbled, and we point always to the beautiful work of the Artist God in us. He gets all the credit. 

And we open wide our hearts to you. Thank you, friend, for this online or email friendship, for this pointing to the Artist God together. I appreciate you and would love to get to know you more.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

One Fraction of a Moment is All We Get to Decide...

And you can say what you want, but it all comes down to one split second....

One fraction of a moment is all you get to decide. Speak or not? Respond harshly or not? Rise up defensively or seek reconciliation? Click or don't click?
Photo: David Melchor Diaz, Creative Commons, cc license
Despite our values, our faith, our hard-fought-for beliefs, it can all boil down to one split second. Do I obey God here or not?

This week our house has been a hill of skirmishes. Battles bloodied, hearts gashed, words tearing.

In between the beautiful and warm moments have been the heart-aching, sharp-tongued ones too. How can our hearts and mouths encompass so much emotion?

In several relationships, we've been scrambling up hills, muddy-kneed, chiseled-hearted to fight anew for us, for each other. Each inch of victory is chosen, prayed for, and battled towards with deliberately-soft hearts, humble spirits, and apologies-in-hand. "I'm sorry."

"Me too."

"Can we start over?"

And lost ground is gained one word at a time. 

It all comes down to a split second. One fraction of a moment is all we get to decide.

Do I obey here or not?

After several days of choosing wrongly, this afternoon when the moment came, I paused, weighed my options, wavered, and then obeyed.

Joy came. I walked away, turned on rocking music, and the joy of obedience crashed in hard.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Your Bold Audacious Hope

"I wonder if he's still here," I told Morgan as we ducked our heads low, dodging rainfall across the parking lot. Inside Dunn Brothers, an espresso machine hissed and whirred, while baristas tamp-tamped old coffee grounds from metal filters.
Photo: Petteri Sulonen, Creative Commons, cc license
"No, he's gone," I noticed, seeing someone else at the table where my dad and I had sat twenty minutes earlier. "We had such a nice time," I exclaimed as Morgan carried her blueberry muffin upstairs to the loft. "I like my dad."

Spreading books and notebooks across our customary round table in the corner, Morgan filled in rows of boxes with Chinese characters for the words: mom, dad, brother, and sister. I sat in thought for a moment.

My dad and I are similar: loving foreign cultures, languages, coffee, and learning. He had slid a bag of Turkish coffee across the table to me earlier, knowing my cache was gone.

 "Thanks, Dad. What do I owe you?"

"No, it's my gift to you."

"Are you sure? I can pay you back."

"No, no, it's my gift," he said, and our talk turned to other matters.

An hour and a half later as I left to pick up Morgan from her class, my dad had sat back down at our booth in conversation with the Spanish gentleman beside him. They were discussing the man's Portuguese language book there on the table and talking about cities in Brazil.

Indoors again now with Morgan, I cup hands around my tall refill of Colombian dark roast coffee, shivering from the damp walk in through the rain. Morgan and I tear off chunky sugar-topped bites of her blueberry muffin, and I pull my Bible near. Silence slips in and God's word sinks verses deep into my heart and mind. Paul's writing to the Corinthian church describes the new way of doing life through a ministry of the Spirit of God. This new life through Jesus gives humans a restored relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

"Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold."

"...And we.... are being transformed into [God's] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart."

As you and I spend time with our Heavenly Dad, he is transforming us to look like him. And in these ministries he has gifted us with --  be it your marriage, your family, your job, your writing, speaking, teaching, your Art, your passion, your ministry-- you can be very bold! Have hope and do not lose heart.

"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart."

The espresso machine whirs and hisses again, and the sky is grey and cool. But you? You're looking more and more like your Dad. Be bold. 

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