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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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Coaxing Friendship Between Siblings

There were days when I wasn't sure of it myself: this brave notion we were telling them.

"It's true," I had insisted. "Friends may come and go, but family is always there. Brothers and sisters can be really close friends."

They had stood there scowling. He was mad that she had crumbled his Lego creations by mistake, and she was hurt that he had laughed at her.

"MOM! John told me to be quiet!"

"MOM! Morgan is bugging me. Tell her to go away."

The battles raged. Pink tutu-ed Morgan had stomped her foot, sticking out a hip with all the attitude a skinny six-year old can muster, and John had rolled his brown eyes in droll ten-year old nonchalance.

Once, in a story that has become legend at our house, Morgan had thrown her tiny five-year old arms backwards, lowered her head in charging rhino-fashion, and barrelled across the room to tackle her big brother. Snaking out a long arm, John had held her off with laughing glee.

I had felt my patience slipping down to hide among the Legos on the floor.

"Hey, you guys can being really close friends someday, but we've got to work on this now..." my voice had trailed off. Mediation took time, and each person had wanted to explain their side.

Besides lots of prayer, and this repeated refrain of someday you can be really close friends, there is one other thing I'm so glad we got into the habit of doing as a family. And it started unexpectedly as newlywed marriage advice.

"No matter how mad you are right now, tell me five things you like about him," my newly-married friends and I would badger each other in those early years. Sputtering and sighing, my female friends and I would hem and haw, before softening and speaking aloud several things we loved about our men.

Overwhelmed one day during a sibling battle between my two children, surrounded by Lego blocks, stuffed animal bears, and Barbies in various stages of disrobing, I had tried it on my kids.

"John, Morgan, some day you two are going to be really close friends. John, you're going to want Morgan's advice on girls, on relationships, and maybe on fashion. Morgan, you're going to want John's perspective on guys, on relationships and life, and you will want his big brother input. So before we leave this conversation: John, what are three things you like about your sister? Morgan, what are three things you like about your brother?"

Their eyes had flashed fiercely at me, their eyebrows declaring to the neighborhood the ridiculousness of my notion. Stuck, though, they had paused, grumbled for a moment, and then quietly reflected.

"Morgan, I like how you..." John's voice had been gruff but soft, and I had watched Morgan's shoulders relax as her brother had spoken aloud the good he saw in her. She had followed, in a small high-pitched voice. "John, I like..." and I had seen the anger melt from my son.

They flounced away to their separate rooms that day, still slightly angry, but the bluster had faded. I had thanked God, prayed hard for them, and looked forward to the days ahead.
And now eleven years later, I am so proud of them. John is a towering twenty-year old, and Morgan is a willowy sixteen years old. Purposefully looking for ways to connect with each other, they head out for ice cream some afternoons, play computer games together, and stay up late into the night laughing and talking. They are close friends, dear to each others' heart, and thankful for the other person's input into their lives, friends, and heart issues.

We still sometimes hear angry roars downstairs, but they are short-lived. John and Morgan know how to apologize and how to work for reconciliation. And that truth? We're convinced of it, and I thank my God for how he can weave friendship between siblings.
I wish I could remember who to thank for the idea of having kids do that too.

As my youngest son watches his older siblings now, it gets to start anew. What has helped you and your siblings build closeness? What have you found helps your kids build closeness in their siblings? 

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Your Bedouin Invitation

There are suitcases straddling the couch and sleeping bags coiled beside them.
Photo: Charles Roffey, Creative Commons, cc license
Photo: Kashfi Halford, Creative Commons, cc license
"Do you think it'll be cold?" I ask, grabbing a blue plaid shirt. There are replies from across the house. "We can always layer more, I guess."
Phone calls come and go from teens, parents, leaders, and the camp speaker as Mark and I finish a board game with Daniel and take turns packing.

Sixty-six of us are driving three hours northwest of here this weekend for a youth group fall retreat. There is a van crammed with food, a bus filled to capacity with students eleven to nineteen years old, several other vehicles, and a slew of cheerful leaders looking forward to connecting with our teens. I can't wait.

In a lull of packing and details, I grab my Bible and journal and curl up beside the kitchen table. In between the cell texts and checklists, I want to meet with God. I'm reminded of a story in the Old Testament during the ancient time of Moses and the Israelites. The nomadic group of two million former slaves were fleeing their old life in Egypt and encountering the God of their ancestors, who was wooing them in Red Sea crossings, food from the sky, glowing firewalls, and other miracles.

The Jewish desert tribes were learning about their Creator, and remembering how to worship and follow him. At the edge of the campground, Moses did something fascinating. Setting up a tent, he called it the Tent of Meeting, saying that anyone wanting to talk with God could enter.

What grabs my attention today is that the text doesn't tell us if people went into the tent. I imagine -- I hope-- they did, but it doesn't tell us. I know that on other days, the desert Jewish bedouins pleaded with Moses, "YOU go inquire of God," and they hung back.  

My prayer this weekend is that we would meet with the God of the world in life-changing ways.  I know that we can create the setting and make the plans, but encountering God is something that happens when we are willing to step in.

Like the Bedouin outside the desert Tent of Meeting, Lord, I want to step into intentional times of meeting with you, of worshiping you, of getting to know you, and of hearing from you. I want that for myself, for my teens and leaders at camp, and for my online sisters and brothers here too. 

And at the kitchen table with my Bible, journal, and pen, it can start now. I confess that all too often I see the invitation and yet walk away, assuming I'll come back later. Not today. Right now, I'm stepping in, choosing quiet, and slipping into the tent. Join me?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shoved and Elbowed by God

Photo: Raul Lierberwirth, Creative Commons, cc license
Drying my hands on my pants, I stepped around the corner. Sitting outside the church sanctuary on hallway benches, a young couple leaned close. Smiling and bending down to hug them, I talked briefly, already hearing the first song playing.
Photo: Theen Moy, Creative Commons, cc license
My friend's eyes were tired, her answers perfunctory although warm, and I saw her young husband stroke her arm. I touched their shoulders again in love, raved about how cute their round-faced baby was, and strode away.

Seven-year old Daniel skipped beside me, gripping his Sunday School papers, while we shook the ushers' hands and stepped into the dimly-lit worship center. It was crowded but we found three seats, knowing Mark would join us shortly. Pushing my hair back, I stood and joined the singing.

"Go back," I felt God say.

"Now? I just got here. Leave worship?"

"Go back. Go now," God shoved me mentally.

"Daniel, I'll be right back. Stay here, okay?" I could see my friend Daisy just two chairs away and knew Mark would be there any minute.

"Okay, Mom," Daniel said, his forty-nine inches so short in the dark room.

In the hallway, her husband was alone as I approached.

"Is she in the bathroom?" I guessed, heading that way.

"No, she went out to the car."

I spun around and bounced downstairs. He called out the car make and model but Honda-something was unfamiliar to me anyway. I walked the parking aisles, looking for a head in a car.

"Lord, help," I asked.

Three passes later, I found her and knocked on the car window, crawling inside. Her eyes were red and she swiped a sweatshirt hand across her cute freckled cheeks.

"Hi, God loves you so much, do you know that? He told me to come back. He knew," I said softly.

We talked and opened up our lives together. Worship in the parking lot looked like praying, raw talks, and reminding ourselves of God's heart.

Thanks, God, that you are perceptive and tender, and that you are good at nudging me hard some days.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

In between the Doorbell and the Cheetah Print

"Mark, would you mind carrying the heavy basket of laundry to the bedroom, please?"
It seemed counter-productive to lug away the pile of unfolded clean clothes without finishing them, but I knew that people would be arriving shortly and I wanted the crumpled jeans, rumpled shirts, cheetah print underwear out of the living room.

Stacking mismatched mugs and clanking glasses, I put away the clean dishes and started another load. Slippery salmon-smelling plates clattered as I slid the bottom drawer back into the machine and poured in soft detergent soap. I lit a candle, flung wide the windows, and quickly swept the wood plank floor.

Borrowed books and paper piles lined my desk, covered the dining room cut-out windowsill, and stood tall in several corners of the room. I grinned and nodded. Lego warriors, gold ninjas, and minuscule plastic swords lined the wide living room window mantle, and sunshine stroked yellow light onto long green plantain-leafed houseplants.

"I'm not going to have the house perfectly clean," I told Mark. "On purpose. I want people to feel welcomed and safe, at ease in a lived-in home. I know too many people who have been afraid to invite people over because they thought their homes needed to be perfect. I want to break that image."

Shoes still rampaged and queued up in messy rows in the mud room. Curls of dust glowed in the edges of some stairs, but I pulled up sultry jazz saxophone music and ran faucet water up to the silvery tea kettle's brim.

Calling three newer women at our church and three longer-established women from the church, I left quick texts or breezy messages about a casual spontaneous coffee time at my house. And I had no agenda except to create a place for women to connect, to feel safe, and to build relationships.

This spontaneous adventure in open-door living is special to me, because I've seen life unfold over bulging couches, from within green metal patio chairs, and atop flimsy cotton picnic cloths flung across deep green grass. The beauty of relationships and conversations that bud, unfurl, and spread wide delights me, and satisfies holes and hungers deep inside others' lives too. 

While I would still prefer to have the pink panties and the toppling piles of socks put away before you arrive, I am freeing myself to rest on the days when they are not. It's not perfectly clean, but you are perfectly welcome.

The doorbell rang this afternoon, and I threw open the door. Wind whistled and whined, barreling past the house in a flurry of red and yellow leaves. I poured hot coffee while my new friend swirled and stirred cocoa powder.

Welcome. You are loved. You are enough. You are delighted in by our Abba Dad God. Sighing, I sank into the peace and grace as deeply as my guest did.

Monday, October 5, 2015

What the Engagement Books Never Tell You

Our words hung in the air, awkward and heavy. With anger and hurt on both sides, there was no easy fix.
Photo: Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons, cc license
"I have to go. Morgan needs to get to class."

The drive is quiet, somber; a respectful honor in the silence.

Beside a sunny library window, I text words of apology and await his. I journal and rant for several pages before asking God to soften me, to soften my husband, and to bring peace. Help me, God, to choose my words, to use them well, to seek appropriate times for deeper discussions, and to do them honoringly? Erase my anger and his.

We bought a new bed several years ago, my husband and I. Constructed with a layer of memory-foam on top, the bed is designed to conform to your body, offering optimum support. Two years later, we see now that the mattress tells a story of who sleeps where. Here is his side, here is mine, and in between a raised ridge where weight and time don't dwell there as long.

He pulls me near in these cool autumn nights, and in the still-dark mornings, into this middle ground on the bed. And I grin and nestle closer, feeling his chest strong against my back. We move in sleepy familiarity into the spoon-cuddle mode. He moves forward, pulling me next to him, and I wriggle backwards, dipping under his chin. While I pull my long hair high on the pillow, he slides the edge of the pillowcase across my neck, hiding any ticklish hairs, and we sigh. Our breathing slows, matches inhalation lengths, exhaling together.

And perhaps this is how a marriage lasts long? Pushing down any walls that creep between us, asking God's help to soften our hearts, and curling up in syncopated breathing.