Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Dukes of Hazard Morning

 I wasn't expecting the Dukes of Hazard.
Photo: DatarkNZ, Creative Commons, cc license
On a misty, balmy Minnesota morning, we walked up and down a concrete forest of balsam and fraiser firs, inhaling the giddy pine fragrance.

"This one," Mark declared, pointing to a chubby fraisier fir in the second row of leaning trees.

Daniel and I peered closer to see if we agreed. Despite its branches still frozen high in the air, we could see a full-girthed beauty and shape to the Christmas tree he had chosen. We cheered and agreed. Mark ran into the hardware store to pay, while Daniel and I stomped around the lot, bounced dewdrops off the rows of trees, and sucked in fresh rain-wet air.

Slicing three inches off the bottom of the tree, the store clerk helped us tie the Christmas tree to the top of our small car. Suddenly, we noticed it. Due to unusual twine-wrapping skills this year, Daniel and I were locked inside the car, doors tied shut in twine. Mark was trapped outside the car.

I laughed. "You'll have to jump through the windows like the Dukes of Hazard," I said, flashing my eyebrows at him.

Without hesitating for a second, my handsome man broke into a husky first line of the song, and slid feet first into the car! I cried out with pleasant surprise, impressed and delighted at his quick wit.

"You should sing some more," I flared my eyes at him, smiling slow into his eyes. "I like your deep voice."

He grinned and put the car in gear, backing around the corner and pulling onto the road. I stopped him, leaning in for a kiss, and we joked the rest of the way home.

There's something about choosing the way we see our husbands, huh? On a weekday morning during a short break to decorate the Christmas tree before the eldest dashed off for finals week, and my daughter's high school geometry and biology coursework piled up, we get to choose. With dishes stacking high, laundry unfinished, and a workweek just minutes away, we always get to choose.

We choose how we see our men, how we respond to our kids, how we frame our days.

I wasn't expecting Dukes of Hazard, but I loved that glimpse of my man, and chose to see him that way all week. It wasn't about a television show or any actors from the eighties. It was the sudden glimpse of a quick-witted man, singing to me in a husky voice, and jumping feet-first into the car.

We get to choose what we remember and focus on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unstringing Peace from the Rush and Riots this Advent

Jazzy guitar and brass ring out Merry, merry, merry Christmas in a bluesy "Carol of the Bells" while Daniel and his cousin pull on winter gloves and stalk through crunchy snow. A red cape unfurls as he leaps down the stairs. The boys grab duct tape swords and fight invisible warriors in the snowy yard below.

Saxophone slides in mellow and I breathe in the excitement of the season. At the windowpane beside me, my tiny toddler nephew presses face close and motions to the boys outside. "Zzzzz," he intones, waving three chubby fingers.

The warriors in red and gray mount stairs, switch out boots, and return to the yard.

Whatever made us think that peace meant calm inactivity?

I grin and glance at the wet spots scattered on green carpet behind me. A six-hour stomach virus tumbled through the three little boys this weekend, and zealous lemon-sanitizer still dries in some spots on the floor. The boys' health returned, and looks like blanket forts and rosy cheeks over hot cocoa. Mittens and boots drip snow drops by the deck door.

Piano keys trip-trap scales around "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and it hits me. The peace we clamor for at Christmas doesn't come with checked-off gift lists, tiered cookie trays, or idyllic settings. Peace at Christmas is in a Who.

Two thousand years ago, our God-King stepped into a wind-swept, war-torn land, his regal cape trailing invisibly behind him. To a pregnant teen mom and a scandal-chased carpenter on a government-mandated road trip while nine-months pregnant, Peace arrived. In a violent world racked with rumors and virulent prejudices, Peace sailed in, trailing red behind him, and our lives have never been the same.
Photo: Brandy Shaul, Creative Commons, cc license
In our season of lights that need to be strung, Christmas letters awaiting yellow ink, and countdowns to Christmas, our Peace isn't locked impotent behind cardboard Advent doors. He is here. He is now. And the peace settles in.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What the Mirror Can't Tell You

The scissors snipped.

Photo: Astrid Westvang, Creative Commons, cc license
A chunk of hair slipped into the sink below, and instantly I knew. This was something best left for the ones who know: the pros who can feather and layer hair styles, not leaving a gaping column of hair, slashed off in error.

Have you ever just wanted a change? I wanted subtle face-framing layers. Studying hair styles for a few days, I found some ideas, and grabbed the scissors Tuesday night. Halfway through one side of my head, I knew, and a laughing dread slipped chuckles out of me while I stared into the mirror.

Mark walked in after I finished the second side. Seeing the seven inch-long locks of hair in the sink and my sheepish grin, he groaned and laughed with me. "What did you do?"

Shyly I flipped the hair in front, and we stared at the forlorn results in the mirror. Big brown eyes framed by two painfully-obvious haircut fails looked back, and we laughed. He hugged me, and I shook my head, giggling and pressing in deep.

There's a safety in a marriage love that is breath-taking and stalwart, that settles deep into our bones. This love, modeled first by our Creator God, seeks to love unconditionally, to see beauty in a soul that whispers, moves, breathes, and lives, unhindered by outer accouterments.

I showered the next morning and arranged a quick haircut appointment, but our beauty is never limited by hair styles or clothing or jean size, women. Your beauty flows out from you in the way your laughter dances in your eyes, the way you sneeze so uniquely, and the way you treat the people in your life. You are loved and delighted in by an Artist God. And the loved ones in our lives? They strive to love as well as this God Being, who models it first to us, and then watches it trickle down to the people around us.

Into a dark six-thirty morning, my six-year old crept quietly around the bed to whisper in my ear. "Hi, Mom, I'm awake."

"Hi, buddy. You can play in your room. Dad and I are going to sleep a bit more, okay?"

The door clicked shut behind him. Mark and I moved sleepily to the center of the bed, and snuggled into spoon mode. His right arm slid under my pillow. Pulling me close, he wrapped his left arm around me. We slid aside my long hair from tickling his face, and adjusted our pillows in automatic mode. There is a rhythm that sinks deeply into loved ones, where nestling in can come without thought or much wakefulness. I slid back, feeling his chest rise and fall in slow breaths against my back. My breathing soon matched his, the warmth of his body wrapping my frame, and we dozed.

There is a safety in a love that is breath-slowing, breath-forming, and stalwart. It settles in, deep into our bones, freeing beauty, freeing us to see love and give love, modeled first to us by our God.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Backward's Glance that Will Change Your Trajectory

Miniscule snowflakes drift by sleepily today, while burly college men sprawl around our cherry wood kitchen table with my husband.

Photo: Gabriela, Creative Commons, cc license
Raucous laughter breaks out as they tease each other about the board game in front of them, and I grin quiet and shift more comfortably on my desk behind them. Scouring digital photos from last year, I select a few, inserting them into this year's Christmas letter. The photos trail beside tales, and I can't help but see it.

It's laced throughout the document, and I hear it again and again. And the words just flow it out, this truth that I know but it takes a year's worth of telling to see it so plainly. In a paragraph on page one, it's there in Times New Roman font, "We are overwhelmed by God's gracious care for us and his extravagant kindness." And somehow it's in a paragraph about demolition and destruction, and yet he amazes me with his kind care.

On page two, the line weaves throughout paragraphs about seizures and cancer but once again the lines speak a truth I had known but the seeing it in black and white still takes me by surprise. Because the audacious truth of joy and seeing God's constant love is that the circumstances might surprise us. It's there, and I can't lie. The words reflect and recite it back to me, and nodding, I agree. "That incident reminded us how precious Daniel is to us and gave us an opportunity to experience God's palpable kind love and presence in our lives as we walked the days and weeks that followed."

And those truths that we can know in our heads really do come bursting from our hearts in the hospital rooms, outside the surgical ward, and in the MRI waiting rooms. Because the truth is "While it was an emotional time for our family, we were amazed at the innumerable ways we saw God's kind gifts to us throughout the nine-day hospital stay and the weeks before and after."

Taking a break from revising the family Christmas letter, I joined my daughter in making beef lo mein for supper. College boys had trickled in and out until there was just one left, playing games at the table with my husband on his day off. This former youth group man is now in his thirties and today is his birthday. Six year old Daniel and I frosted the cake, twirling spoons with white frosting across a yellow cake.

"Can I do the sprinkles?" Daniel asked eagerly. He pinched them up a few at a time, concentrating to drop them precisely where he wanted them on the vanilla frosting. Soon, we sang Happy Birthday and gave Brandon his card. Daniel was so excited that he jumped into a version of the song early, and we hurried to catch up to him, starting a second refrain. And our love for this thirty-two year old former teen in our youth program wells up inside us, jumping off the page of our homemade black and white card.

But this love? It pales next to the love that our God has for Brandon, for us, and for you. This kind love and palpable presence leaps off the page to me this year, reading back over our family's news for the Christmas letter. And I never would have guessed that a year with words like seizure, house relocation, house demolition, and cancer could hold so much joy, and uncontainable stories of God's kindness, but it does.

And may I tell you? For we know, brothers and sisters that you are dearly loved by God, and that he has chosen you. In this Thanksgiving week of finding and giving thanks, even a cursory glance backwards will show you trails and tales of God at work in your life. You are dearly, unconditionally, loved.

(Yes, yes, you too.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

For When You Wonder if You're Seen

Photo: Cedric Lange, Creative Commons cc license
Purple and orange cream sliced the horizon in layers as twilight sank into cold winter night. I scrawled a few lines in my journal during a work lull Monday night, before clocking out for the day. Twining the black scarf around me in layers and zipping my red jacket up high, I crunched through swirling snow.

A duo of pecking fights Sunday night had left us hollow and discouraged. My heart was tired from them. Sunday night's family supper had quickly soured, and the intended bonding time wasn't. We spent the evening in different corners of the house.

Monday morning we kissed stiffly and chose to hug, trying to start fresh but still fearful of communication minefields. In my journal late Monday afternoon, I wrestled and asked hard questions.

Because what we all really want in a relationship is to be seen and found interesting. We long to be sought after. And those needs? Your needs, my needs, our men's needs? They are valid and real. And the truth is, our loves have sought us out and found us interesting. There have been times of great connection and there will be again. But in the moment, the unresolved tensions or the lack of quality time together can bring out the lonely and the missing in a heart. 

I crunched through a layer of shattered snow, skidding slightly on the ice below, praying and resolving. Asking God to help me start fresh tonight, asking his help to speak kindly, to respectfully build up, to listen better, and to see my man's heart behind his choices or words, I sucked in cold air and shoved my hands deeper into silky pockets. Rush-hour cars crackled by, and the sky turned pink and violet. Almost unconsciously, I straightened my torso, threw my shoulders back, and took deep full breaths through my nose. A hope-filled peace settled in.

Several blocks later, I stepped over a pine threshold onto a red swirled rug and walked upstairs. My husband smiled and came over. We kissed, lingering.

"Let's go out tonight," he suggested, holding me close. "Let's go right now."

We hugged longer, smiling, before I raced off to gather a few supper items for the kids. Fifteen minutes later we drove on a dark Monday night, eager for this chance to re-connect, to truly see each other, and to be seen. We talked for hours, holding hands across a booth counter still oily from drippy hamburgers, laughing and seeking each other out. Happy peace settled in.

May I encourage you today that our God sees your heart? He knows that occasional lonely and missing ache, and he longs to fill it in tangible, good-for-you ways. The God, whose very nature breathes in rhythm from within a three-in-one trinity relationship, knows you and loves you. He is at work in me and in you, bringing hope and intimacy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Burying Our Inner Critic and Censor

"The footprint of the house looks small for all the living we did here," I remarked to John, staring down into an excavated basement cavern.

Photo Credit: Terinea IT Support, Creative Commons, cc license
"I was thinking the same thing," he said, kicking a clod of dirt careening below. Mounds of soil flecked with green shingle bits slumped nearby. My mint patch grew hale and green, unchecked by the demolition.

Daniel stomped around the perimeter, stopping to smash occasional dirt chunks or peer cautiously into the hole. Just a few days ago, when first seeing the destroyed house, he gaped in surprise with all of us. Speeding by it after the intersection light flickered green, my daughter had snapped grainy cell phone photos, and we had all craned our heads to follow the pile of house as it passed through each window. Cars lined up behind us in the turn lane so we could only stare through the twilight as the pile slipped out of sight.

"I'm too sad to cry," Daniel pronounced solemnly as we turned up Fraizier Street and away from the scene of our former home.

Having only left there three months ago, we still smiled nostalgically each time we drove past it. Quipping, "There's our old house," we'd let our eyes trace possessively the hills, four pine trees, drying sunflowers in the garden, and familiar yellow and green siding and trim.

Sunday afternoon, Daniel, John, and I were there in daylight to study the scene and say goodbye.

"Hey, I recognize that rock," John grinned as I stooped to retrieve a blue boulder from where it used to prop up the ribbed gutter behind the garage.

"I'm getting it. It's ours," I declared.

After greeting our neighbors briefly, my boys headed to the car. Darting from the vehicle suddenly, I raced to my patch of mint, still growing strong. "I need to harvest some before the snow comes tomorrow."

John shook his head and ducked his tall frame into the car.

Sweet crisp spearmint crushed in my hands as I tore it off bushes I had planted two years ago. Tall gangly stalks bounced and bobbed in the movement and the autumn wind. Yellow dust scattered.

Climbing into the car, laughing sheepishly yet oddly defiant, I dumped the mint leaves onto notebook paper in the front seat and fastened my seat belt. John put the car into reverse as he backed out of the driveway. "That's right. I had forgotten how hard this driveway was," he said, looking both ways at fast-incoming traffic. We paused.

"Look at all the gopher mounds," he laughed, shaking his head, remembering my battles.

I quietly said goodbye as we drove west on Ball Road: goodbye to the invisible yellow house, to the two yellow maples out front, the four pine trees standing guard in the west, and the dried sunflowers hanging drooped heads low in the back.

"It doesn't feel like our house anymore," six year old Daniel said. "It feels like death."

And we pulled onto Lexington Avenue and drove south. Leaning in to smell my mint, I blew unconsciously at the dust coating the leaves. Scattering instantly across the car, making John cough, dust from our house floated in the air.
My six year old's words held power and strength this week. In freedom, he sieved through his emotions, naming them as they bubbled up, and releasing them aloud. Knowing that goodbyes to people, places, and seasons is vital --and dangerous when squashed-- I am listening as he speaks and affirming his feelings. Nodding my head, I let him know that it is okay to hold both grief and joy, both nostalgia and excitement, gratitude and goodbyes. Resisting the urge to censor, educate, or reframe his feelings or expressions, I free him to put words to his emotions.

Dancing in the sunlight, yellow dust particles swirled near the car vents, with the sweet smell of mint mixing in.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Weighted Moments That May Be Passing You (& Me) By

"Will you cut my mouth?" he asks, holding out a butter knife towards his pumpkin.

We're gathered around the kitchen table, five pumpkins and five people. Slimy seeds with dangling orange pumpkins strings are being slung into a glass bowl for later, and we pass the stencil blades and tiny plastic saws around between us.

My six year old son and I brainstorm the expression he wants his pumpkin face to have, and I slice and cut features for him. Swingy jazz music plays in the background, dirty dishes stack high on one of the counters, and everything has stopped for an hour or so as we slip into family time.

"This year for Christmas, can we decorate lots of cookies?" my daughter asks, staring intently at her pumpkin face as she carves.

"Sure." We talk more of customs, and it intrigues me to know more about which holiday traditions and times together have been meaningful for them. John stretches out across the couch by now, all of us done with our pumpkins except Morgan who is painstakingly following an idea she found online.  After some thought, John brings up simple moments from his childhood, walks in preschool years, times alone with special loved ones, and it hits me.

Most of our special family moments aren't the huge scripted ones. They are the small cumulative times that build each year: an hour here dicing out pumpkin faces; a squeezed in afternoon there spreading red frosting onto chunky gingerbread men; but mostly, it's the happy moments around the dinner table before someone has to leave, or the ordinary evenings at home with a family game or movie.

I can see it now, how often my nineteen year old likes to linger in the kitchen as I wash dishes or cook supper, pulling his long legs up onto the counter or into my small desk chair, while we talk about the day before he rushes off to work. Those moments hold weighted value now tonight as I see them for what they are: precious, and building a foundation of family memories.

"Mom, is it time to light the candles now?" Daniel asks, all six years of him brimming in excitement.

(And it's not about Halloween, because we're careful about those themes, yet are thankful for times to connect with and meet our neighbors.) It's about the excitement of doing something as a family, building a memory each time we gather together. Today, it was with pumpkins, and faces, and autumn leaves. And the memories captured here are precious.

What are some things you enjoy doing with your family or friends?