Saturday, February 11, 2017

Watching You

I've watched you.

You smoothing tablecloths across MOPS tables with your kids latched on to a leg or perched on your right hip. You carrying egg bakes in one hand and round-faced, red-cheeked toddlers in the other, welcoming new moms with warm smiles.
Photo Credit:Flickr user Elvis Kennedy, under permission of Creative Commons cc license

I've watched you in church hallways, in doctor's offices, in YMCA lobbies, and in homes full of loved ones. You as you stare deep into the fridge and whip up a meal from what's there for your hungry crew. You who trade words in gentle authoritative reply to your growing willowy kids' attitude. You who smooth small foreheads and care for older parents, who help with homework, and who tame a wild home.

Sleeting ice balls pelt the dark bedroom windows one morning this week, waking us before six a.m. slumber pulled us under again.

Snow flakes fall silently later as Daniel and I sound out phonics and read stories of dogs and bugs and logs. All week, we've slipped across frozen boot-treads in the ice that look like trilobites in the driveway.

After the joy of meeting moms at Waconia MOPS January 27th, at Sauk Rapids Moms-Next on February 2nd, Woodbury Lutheran Church MOPS on February 6th, and Salem Covenant Church MOPS Friday, I relished times at home with my family too.

Daniel sniffed. Blowing his nose into a white and blue handkerchief, he pulled the math book closer. At the sunny cherrywood table, I stretched legs out and sipped hot coffee.

Oily pots stacked high in the sink behind me. Yellow curried bowls stood in cock-eyed slant, resting one on top the other, shifting dangerously atop four plates. A metal cookie sheet took up most of the counter, and silverware splayed out greasy. Whew. Life can pile up so quickly, huh?

I turned my back on the kitchen, though, lifted coffee to my lips again and rubbed Daniel's tiny shoulders.

"It's nice to be back by you, bud. I'm glad to be home."

Mom, dads, grandmas, grandpas, friends? Your presence matters.

I know the dishes and laundry are piling up. (Don't even ask about the black swimsuit bottoms that doubled as underwear this week. The skinny black bows bulged under each jean hip pocket.)

For now, snuggle in. Take a moment longer, listen a few minutes more to the complicated Lego story  by the breathless boy beside you. Stop all else. Lean in. Savor.

When the snow stopped, school was done and Daniel was playing in another room. Clearing the sink, I lifted the metal faucet and hot water swirled in steaming. Bubbles shone iridescent. Music pulsed behind me, and I scrubbed, wiped, and restored order to my counters and kitchen.

Beef stew bubbled nearby, carrots and onions tumbling past celery. Turning it to simmer, I stole up behind my man and wrapped arms around his neck. Heads touching, we stood quiet, his face warm against mine.

"Thank you, God, for these people in my life, for moments to pause and see. Thank you for the beauty of watching people in all seasons of life lift and love, smooth and savor, bend and bring order." 

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Oops, God.


Groggily walking through the kitchen, I buttered three toasts, drizzled honey, and cored apples, quartering them.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Amanda Slater, Creative Commons cc license

Strapping one blonde-haired nephew into his blue high chair, I watched the two older boys climb into their chairs, cheerfully talking. Hot toast crumbled and steamed on small white saucers, while an oatmeal stewed warm in a bowl nearby.

"Okay, let's pray," I grinned at the boys as seven a.m. darkness still hid the deck outside.

"God, thank you for this morning, for breakfast, for _____, _____, and _____," I said, naming the boys while running my hand affectionately across the two necks closest to me.

"Thank you that you hear us when we call and that you make us stout and brave-hearted," I continued, remembering a verse from yesterday. "Amen."

Conversation resumed and boys hummed happy, chewing and moving in their seats as they ate.

"Oh!"

My prayer's words suddenly hit me.

"That's not right. You make me bold and stout-hearted! Not stout. Thanks, God. You know what I mean," and I grinned at God in the dark. 

Join me in sleepy prayers, sticky tables, and real life.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

What Marbles and Ice Slip Significant into our Lives Tonight

"Every year I take one out," he says.

He describes a glass jar of marbles that hulks on a corner of his desk. He is professional, efficient, an accomplished businessman, and his words have stuck in my brain ever since.

"I set up the jar, estimated how many years an average person lives, and now every January, I take one marble out."
Photo credit: Flickr user Sally, Creative Commons, cc license

Marbles catch the light and diminish slowly in the jar on his desk, and his meaning sinks in.

"I wanted to remember how fast life flies by and to make sure to live fully."

His exact words are fuzzy to me now, but the image still reverberates.

Weeks, months, years trickle through our fingers and leave only memories. Our children's heads race closer to our foreheads and then flash by. Ankles flash pink skin cold in winter growth spurts, and I peek into my garage for the purple plastic bin of Daniel's next size clothes. Morgan brings home a brand new college identity card, grinning cheeky at her row of color-coordinated gel pens and bulging pack of binders.

We carve calendar dates for two graduations this spring, and both John and Morgan step into their last semesters. They each organize their rooms and start packing. Morgan dreams of college dorm-room decor and spies out small sets of kitchenware. John boxes up childhood mementos, making room for another carton of wedding supplies, and brainstorms apartments for the summer.

And your children too, are stretching taller by the week, their shoes and jeans shrinking by the month, and how do you slow down time?

Our marbles diminish so subtly, so silently, that I look and am surprised to do the math and see where I am today. You too?

Our words matter. Our minutes are priceless. As cells stretch, divide, and stretch again, the loved ones in our life grow taller, older, and seasons flash by. 

Snow melts here in Minnesota today. Last week's arctic chill now slips grated snow through my black metal patio table, shredding ice into stalactites below.

I crunch out to my compost bin this afternoon before supper, scowling at the rabbit tracks, and trying to halt their entry into my yard. I'm comfortable without a winter jacket and the snow crunches and melts underfoot.

The cold had seemed so impenetrable and now snow shrinks by the hour. Tomorrow and Thursday are supposed to be warm as well.

And the snow disappears from my deck.

"Mom, will you play a game with me?" Daniel asks, his tousled hair still standing up in the back despite each day's water.

"Sure, bud. Let's play."

Throughout the night, I sneak down to hug my two oldest kids who are cramming homework.

"I love you so much." The words fall naturally as I reach up to hug them, leaning my head against their chins.

Take a marble with me, my friends. The snow has melted even more since supper and I don't want to miss a moment.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

When Alarms Sound and You Want to Be Brave

Under a torn moon in a black sky, I push my cart. Groceries rattle against rustling paper bags.

I've been wondering this for several days now. How do we live bravely? That's my word for the year: Brave. While I don't think of myself as a fearful person, I'm realizing how often stories of great courage and realized-dreams involve pressing in and pressing further. In book after book I've read, inventions, breakthroughs, deep wilderness survival, and big accomplishments all have this choice: the decision to persevere, to keep going, to step out in trembling boldness. This belief that bold perseverance and dogged hard work can bring incredible results is exciting, transformative.

So I scribbled pen across lined paper, choosing my very first Word of the Year: Brave. I am challenging myself to step up, to take courageous steps, and to choose self-discipline bravely in the moments when I'd rather settle for easy. 
Photo Credit: Flickr user Tambako the Jaguar, Creative Commons cc license

Walking under a torn moon in a black sky, I muse quiet and push my cart, assembling words in my brain.

Wood-smoke from chimneys and charbroiled burgers scent the zero degree night. Fumbling with my fragmented car key fob, I'm hoping it'll work after I dissected it in the supermarket to figure out which round battery it uses. Dark headlights stay unlit and the car remains locked, no matter how many times I press the unlock button on the small black fob. Holding breath nervously, I use my key to unlock the door, knowing the car alarm may sound.   It does.

Loud shrills accompany my flashing headlights now, rebellious and brash. Sliding into the car, I shuffle papers in the glovebox and pull out the vehicle's owner manual. In slippery black and white striped mittens, I'm paging madly through the booklet, searching the index for words like "alarm," "disarm," and "security." The owner's manual slips and slides in my mittened hands until I sigh and whip off my right glove, still balancing the manual on my frosty car.

Forty-five minutes later, after phone calls home, random conversations with strangers in cold twilight, and warming up in Mark's rumbling gold Saturn beside me, we figured it out and arrived home. Carrying fragile frozen paper bags upstairs, we put groceries away, and marveled at the fierce cold that had set in against green pepper produce, chilled milk, and deep into our skin.

Thank you, God, for cars that run; for Mark being able to repair the key fob under warm grocery store lights; for heated vehicles; for groceries to put away; for supper on a cold night; and for steaming hot baths that erase a sunk-in cold.

Where was the brave? I'm not sure. Persevering in negative two degrees, talking to strangers, and choosing to find thanks, maybe? May I start right here with you tonight? Laugh with me about my key fob dissections and pealing car alarms. I'll open further and tell you that yesterday, I set off the smoke alarms at home while making pancakes. The worst part? This happens every time I make pancakes! I know.

And maybe Courage is to sit up and share our stories, whatever they may be today. I created a simple black and white chart for myself for the year. In each small box I am jotting a word or two to remember ways I chose brave self-discipline when I'd rather have settled for easy. I am happy to share this simple chart with you too. Feel free to download and share this chart with others.

What about you? Do you choose Words of the Year, or New Year's Resolutions? Have any special January traditions? 

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Surprising Thing about God's Christmas List

Nutmeg-flecked eggnog rises in sweet slow-moving waves to my tongue. I smile with closed-lips and mull it around my mouth. On this last day of December, our Christmas tree still sparkles red, green, orange, pink, despite olive green rigor mortis setting in.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Anne, Creative Commons, cc license
You probably saw glimpses of it this Christmas too? The delight that breaks across faces in smiles and gleeful laughter. It hovered in my eight year old's eyes this first year that he remembers choosing and giving gifts of battered candy bars from his Halloween stash.

"Dad will like this candy, right?" he had asked earlier, with pensive eyebrows raised, wrapping paper poised.

"Dad'll love anything you give to him, bud," I assured him.

And then on Christmas morning, Daniel and his brother passed out the presents, reading Daniel's handwritten recipients.

"Mmmm, thank you, Daniel," Mark grinned to him, and Daniel sighed happily.

This week, a grey charcoal plastic bag arrived by mail. Twenty-one year old John snatched it up eagerly after work.

"Morgan! Come see your present," he yelled to his sister downstairs.

Squeals and shrieks followed. Morgan bounced up steps and stood with arms out, wearing a t-shirt specially ordered for her. "They're my favorite characters," she said, pointing them out to us.

And this desire to study loved ones, to wonder about and seek out gifts that will please them and be for their joy is what captures me this week, because I saw it in God too. 

The words caught me as I traced finger across Bible pages and smooth-rolling gel pen across my journal. Words in the Bible book of Hebrews describe the Godhead pausing to study his people, reflecting on the best gifts to give them, and then moving with joy and delight.

The image stopped me, and my pen stalled as well. Could it be? Did God stop and reflect when choosing gifts for us in the same way that we wrestled and reflected on the presents we wanted to give loved ones around us?

I re-read it, seeing the words, "distributed according to his will." Will: having to do with desire, having an opinion, reflected in something you wish, rather than not wish; connected with "This is what I choose, want, decide, desire." According to his will, the Holy Spirit looked at us, knew us, and chose what presents to give us -- for our delight and his glory. 

I underlined it and pulled my journal nearer to reflect on it and talk with my God. "You are alive and active, God-Spirit, and you willed, desired, wanted to, had opinions about which gifts you gave me. Thank you! Help me continue to hone and use them for your glory, for others' good, and in humble joy each time." 

God has thought about you and deliberately chosen gifts for you. As 2017 strides in, join me in remembering and reflecting on what this means for you and me, will you?

And the delight that crosses his face every time we enjoy our gifts, it must be brilliant! 

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Finding Joy When You're Fighting to Stay Afloat

Photo Credit: Carolyn Pinke
He's singing and the echoes bounce off shower walls, YMCA tiles, and slip under door number three to us in the family locker room outside. Daniel's happiness slides out and over, a cacophony of joy in a bathroom of strangers. The door cracks and he appears, hair wet swirls on his forehead and standing tall in the back. His face is flushed from hot water after a cold swim lesson, and he slips small toes into grey camouflage snowboots, humming cheerfully.

"I was thinking about God," he tells me, shifting his balled up red towel and damp swimsuit to me as he plunges arms into bunched up blue jacket sleeves. "He's the king of kings, God of gods. He made everything --galaxies!"

"He is! He's so cool. The one true God, huh?" I open the door of the locker room and we head past the basketball court where Daniel peers through glass walls to see if his friend is there. "How were front scoops?" I ask, knowing this was a hard swim technique we had prayed about just an hour earlier.

He grins wide and talks, adjusting his jeans waist as he walks, and skipping occasionally.

I grin. "Yay, thank you, God. He helped you. He's always listening and helping us through things, huh? You worked hard and persevered too. I'm proud of you, bud."

Holding hands, we walk across a dark parking lot, alert for red taillights.

"Whooo, it's cold," he shudders, pulling his hood up, and we drive home looking at the Christmas lights and talking.

Happy December, friend. Wherever you are today, know that your Abba God sees you, hears you, and knows your thoughts. Talk to him and watch him join you in those lanes, swirling you through the face-in-the-water-front-scoops of your own stories. You are loved and delighted in. Then burst into ricocheting praise to him in whatever shower stall or room you're in.

Smiling and learning about God from a wet-headed eight year old, I remain,

your sister and friend, Jennifer. What are you learning and reading about lately?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

God is Not a Cosmic Chastity Belt

Tiny ice balls pelt the windshield and bounce off the car. Sidewalks and roads glisten slick. Three-to-four inches of heavy snow loom in grey clouds overhead, and evening traffic snakes red along the highways and frontage roads. Sirens and ricocheting blue lights careen down dark streets.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Paola Kizette Cimenti, Creative Commons cc license
In this last post in our series, Let's Talk about Sex, I turn words inward towards my former twenty-year old self and to all my single friends, no matter their ages. All this talk of snow reminds me of the confused messages I've heard -- and sometimes accidentally implied in youth lessons. God is not a cosmic chastity belt. He is not a frowning father shaking his head, trying to keep his kids'  bodies snow-pure, as if sex or sexuality shocked him. God is not scandalized and disgusted by sex. Rather he is the inventor of nerves and neurons, of sensations and senses. He holds the patent on pleasure and neural pathways, on endorphins and oxytocin baths.

God's guidelines on sex are not archaic restrictions to stop our fun. Rather his desire is for our good, and his boundaries are for our safety. Throughout history, God has been the hero stepping in to say, "Enough!" at each new horrific warping of sexuality that the evil one and a cruel world wrought: Child-sex trafficking -- not okay. Incest or abuse, not okay. Destitute men or women forced into a lifestyle of prostitution -- not their fault and God advocates for their rescues. Single moms or dads raising kids on their own -- God cares for them and knows how hard they work. His perfect plan is a shared load, raising children in community. Spouses divorced cruelly, unfairly, for no reason, left as paupers with no financial or social support in society -- God calls foul and sets up parameters for their protection and care.

In my twenties, I wrestled with forgiving myself for physical forays and failures, and I see that in many of my teens' or former teens' eyes now. Girls across restaurant tables who have said, "I'm afraid they'll look at me differently now they know I've had sex." 

"No!," I urge. "God's love is unconditional, and he is so forgiving. Everyone wrestles with sin at times. No one is perfect. If you've had a chance to ask God to forgive you, it's gone. God says, 'he is faithful to forgive and to cleanse us from any unrighteousness.' You can start fresh right now, a new day, a new start, saying, 'God, from now on, I wanna try to do things your way.' God's love is so big."

With the teens and twenty-somethings in my life, we talk about how hard the physical can be. We talk about how God's ways of saying, 'Not yet. Just wait until marriage' are for our good. We pull out the statistics on co-habiting and how it drastically increases one's odds of divorce. Looking around at the prevalence of divorce and eroded marriages around us, I reason, if we really love this guy/girl, let's give this relationship the best odds and chances we can, right? We talk as well about how much this choosing to delay sexual play until marriage is about growing habits of self-control for later in life too, not just now. There will be weekend business trips for you or your spouse someday. As you practice being able to walk away from temptation now, you are building that habit for later in life. With the large number of affairs happening around us, don't we owe this to ourselves, to practice this habit and build it in each other?

My worry with the snow analogies, with junior high abstinence pledge cards, and with the hyper-focus on technical virginity, is the danger that we'll miss the bigger picture. Yes, I want to honor God with my sexual choices before and after marriage. Yes, God talks about saving sex for marriage. Indeed he talks bluntly and cheerfully about a wide range of sex topics impacting single and married people. He does this not because he is uptight and shocked, but because he created, invented, and made sex. As the inventor of it and us, he knows how it best works, and what brings the most joy and benefit.

God is not your cosmic chastity belt. Instead, he holds the instruction manual and keys to a fabulous invention he patented. In our desire to protect young people from the pains and fall-out associated with sex outside of marriage, and after generations of muddled, awkward, inadequate "birds and bees" conversations, we have left them thinking sex was dirty or something to be ashamed of. And dozens of newly-weds have since wrestled with the fallout of changing their attitudes of "Sex-No!" to "Sex Now."

It's complicated, yeah? I agree, but the good news is that we can start over. Look deep and see all that God has to say about sex and marriage. The Bible drips with it. In marriage, sex is a delightful gift. So to my single friends trying to live out their Jesus-life convictions, it's not "Sex -- No!" It's "Sex, Not Yet..." and I'm cheering you on from the side and available to talk anytime.

(If you missed the first, second, and third article in this series, Let's Talk about Sex, feel free to click on the links and join us.)

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