Monday, April 21, 2014

Dance Parties in the Sunset & Life's Questions at the End of Day

Photo Credit: Sarah MacMillan, Creative Commons, cc license
A bird chirrups in long unfamiliar calls outside and we clamber to discover what it is. Kneeling on the couch, we peer out the living room window, searching for a cardinal or robin, and struggling to remember which bird sounds like this. Our ornithology science class seems further away than just a few years.

Orange twilight laps pink rose onto treetops, and a horizon of tree trunks glows red. A spring breeze blows evergreens into naked lilac bushes, and tiny buds tremor in the wind. In moments, brick twilight stains the treetops, and evening's cool slips in through the open deck door. Darkness follows.

My oldest bikes south with the wind at his back, miles spinning past, and I'm relieved when he texts me later to say he has safely arrived. Meanwhile daughter and friend chalk sunset art on the black driveway, and dance bare feet on the images in an attempt to smudge and shade the colors. Youngest sleeps, husband relaxes, and my brother calls. Wrapping up in a purple afghan, I curl up on wood deck planks outside, and carry the phone with me as we talk. He shares about his back pain, and we wonder about physical therapy, before talk turns to grilling and supper recipes. Soon his chicken is done, and we say goodbye, and I remind myself to pray for his upcoming appointment this week.

A friend drops by this evening, and we update each other on our families, our wonders, our worries. Her sweatshirt is still on, and her foot stays lifted mid-step on the stairs. The conversation is short, but our eyes meet, and we share an encouraging hug. She heads home, a whiff of sunscreen still in her hair.

The evening passes quickly, and after laughter and hugs, my fifteen year old sneaks up behind me.

"Mom, will you pray for me?" She has an end-of-year oral presentation tomorrow.

 I pull my tall fifteen year old onto my lap, and lean into her cheek as we pray.

And this life? It is normal and ordinary. Brown matted grass wrapped in crimson twilight that fades to black. And this? This is community. Whether with our kids, or neighbors, siblings, or friends, we can unfold our lives, peel back the colors to share and pray, worry quiet in the soft sunset together, then dance laughing on the picture, adding dimension to what is there.

(Learning to see and count God's gifts each day, I link tonight with Ann at A Holy Experience.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Four Thousand-Year Old Code Can Tell Us if We've Fully Arrived

Photo Credit: Son Marki, Creative Commons, cc

In the pages, brave heroine Nancy Drew tapped out a Morse code message for her friends over the phone, all while talking inanely about trivial matters. The tip-tapping of her pencil on the phone receiver gave the appearance of distraction or nervousness, until studied closer. Suddenly her erratic taps spelled out a valuable message. I read spellbound, as a teen.

Codes and mysteries have always grabbed my attention so when I stumbled across a coded message from four thousand years ago, I was instantly hooked. Don Richardson in his book Eternity in their Hearts reveals an astonishing ideograph that is in the Chinese language.

Language learners in Mandarin Chinese have long loved yet wrestled with the complexity of the Chinese language. The beautiful intricate language uses a system of 214 symbols called radicals. Those radicals combine to form a staggering 30,000 to 50,000 ideographs, or word pictures!

Missionary linguists learning Mandarin suddenly noticed a wild combination of pictures in the Chinese verb "to come." Pictured in the verb "to come" is first of all the image of a man, an upside-down y shape. The man pictograph is then superimposed onto a tree. At the bottom left and right of the ideograph are two smaller lines that mean "humans." In other ideographs, those two lines mean "mankind" or "humanity." Thus the ideograph for "Come" shows humanity coming to the man on the tree. 

So the Chinese language from over 4000 years ago tells us the ultimate place we need to go, to fully arrive, to be there, to come -- Humans coming to the One on the tree. 

This Easter, how do you know if you've fully arrived? How do you know if you've "made it"? Have you gotten right with God who takes away the sins of the world? He has never left you, and is waiting right beside you.

How do you know if you've fully arrived? How do you know if you've "made it"? Have you come to the One on the tree? 

Happy Easter, friends.

Linking with Emily too. 

(Not an affiliate link.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

This Transforms How I See Easter

 Can you picture them?
Photo Credit: JD Lasica, Creative Commons, cc
Sweet little six year old Middle Eastern boys pouring down the cobbled stone Roman streets of a remote occupied town. Young Jewish boys in Jesus' time all attended Bet Sefer at the local synagogue. Six to ten years old attended this Bet Sefer, which means House of Books or House of Knowledge, five days a week, Monday through Friday. Local temple leaders would teach them about the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, and the boys would soon have memorized all of Genesis through Deuteronomy!
Photo Credit: David Jones, Creative Commons, cc
Ten through fourteen year old teens, growing taller, broader, and with their voices just starting to change, would then proceed to Bet Talmud studies at the temple, where they would study the rest of the Old Testament books. Those showing promise would continue, soon memorizing all of the Hebrew scriptures from Joshua through Malachi, including the Psalms, by the age of thirteen or fourteen years old! Many Jewish seminaries continue this memorization feat today, I'm told, in an article called "Covered in the Dust." 

By age twelve to fourteen years old, while still in the Bet Talmud, young Jewish males were learning the art of question and answering that marked an educated and intelligent person. Practicing with Torah teachers and temple leaders, they responded, fielded, and replied to the questions thrown at them. This casts new light on the story of Jesus as a twelve year old boy in the temple with the religious leaders where he is "sitting with the teachers. He was listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at how much he understood. They also were amazed at his answers.
Photo Credit: Ho John Lee, Creative Commons, cc

Jesus grew up, became a rabbi himself, and invested in his disciples for three intense years. One of the teaching tools that rabbis would do with their students, I've just learned, is to start saying a line from a Bible passage, knowing that his audience would immediately be able to recognize the next lines. Since almost all Jewish males had memorized Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, there were many passages to use. Jesus often started his lessons that way, or he simply said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago..." and then continued with his teaching. The Hebrew audiences of his day would have instantly recognized most of his Old Testament references and tracked along with him in the rest of the chapter.

What hits me this week as we remember Jesus on the cross is something he said...

While hanging on the cross, undergoing excruciating agony, Jesus started the first line of a chapter. Educated Hebrew audiences of his day would have instantly recognized the words, and known the reference. They would have been able to recite the next words and lines, as easily as many of us know pop songs. Jesus' gasped sentence on the cross would have set in motion for them the rest of the chapter.


To transform your Easter week, and add fresh poignancy to Jesus' death on the cross, read through to the end of Psalm 22 in that purple link above, or on your own. There are powerful, amazing treasures all throughout that chapter. (I don't want to spoil one sliver of it for you.)


Thursday, April 10, 2014

What You Didn't Know You Knew

(Photo Credit: Juan Pablo Gonzales, Creative Commons, cc license)

Six white crocuses bend and sway in the strong April breeze. We shiver and pull on sweatshirts inside the house, but can't bear to shut the windows on this sixty-degrees-in-the-sun-day. Spring has invaded Minnesota and pasty Minnesotans everywhere throw windows wide, strap on sandals, and pull out last year's shorts. And the brisk breeze lies about the warmth but none of us care. Donning a blue sweater, I curl up at the computer desk.

I've just spent thirty minutes combing IRS websites, FASA college loan pages, and working my way through automated phone services. And apparently, in this several week session between taxes and transcript stage, we do not exist. Automated messages are at their limits, and phone calls end unsatisfactorily. So, I laugh, shrug, and update my son's school.

And in this lull, my five year old and I curl up on the couch with his favorite fleece blanket. Wrapping warm against the crisp spring wind, I set him on my lap, and turn library pages. After books, we mix ice cream malts, and lick Cookies and Cream off the back of a spoon.

"When I am afraid, I will trust in you," I sing, while putting away the malt powder. And there isn't really any fear there, but the words spring to mind anyway. Daniel looks up to catch my eye, a smile spreading across his face. He joins in singing, and I grin as we sing it again, adding jaunty shoulder bounces.

"Oh! Can we do my thing, Mom?"

And at first I don't know what he's talking about. "Oh, your Awana verse? Sure."

He runs to his room, returning with an orange puffy-painted fabric bag. Daniel reaches his tiny hand into the bottom of the bag and pulls out a creased book.

"I'm here," he points to the open page. We read his verse for the week. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1). Adding hand motions, we singsong our way through it several times, and speak of stars and planets. I pull out his splashy children's Bible with riotous colors across the pages.

A minute or so later, we saunter away to other pursuits, and I'm struck by a fact. There is nothing I can tell you, nothing I can teach my kids, that is of more importance than God's word. Nothing else is solid, unmovable. Nothing else is stalwart, unshakeable. And those truths that we commit to song, to memory, are what will return to hum in our hearts. 

Because, friends, what we know that we know that we know is only this: God's words are life, and truth, and they last forever. And those words spring to mind at the oddest times. Slivers of a phrase tickle my conscious (...abounding in love...) and I type it into a word search to satisfy my need to know. (You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Psalm 86:5). Ahh, that's where it is. Abounding in love, and I grin at the pencil lines I've drawn in bouncing jumps beside the verse to help me remember.

Another verse slips in my brain, and I hum it quietly under breath. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. And I'm still learning what a heart on pilgrimage looks like in today's world, but recognizing that we're on a journey with God is step one, I'm sure. It leaves me hungry to know him more.

And fresh air blows strong throughout my house today.

(Linking with Emily.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spies, Mercenaries, and You and I

Photo Credit: Tim Pierce, Creative Commons, cc
My husband and I have been watching spy shows lately. Explosions ricochet and cars burst into flame while two or three trained personnel rescue children from kidnappers or free communities from violent drug cartels. And no matter the crisis, the loyal friendship between these heroes never ceases to capture my attention. Without hesitating, they charge into danger to protect each other.

In my Bible reading today, I walked into a tense, pulse-racing battle scene too. Mercenaries infiltrated a quiet night, friends betrayed each other for money, and men held their weapons out with taut arms. Jesus alone stood calm.

And I noticed the smaller print in my study notes below, drawing my attention to a repetitious part of the transcribed dialogue there. Jesus asked the mercenaries and soldiers the same question two times.

"Who is it that you want?"

"Jesus of Nazarus," they replied.

He asked them again, "Who is it that you want?"

"Jesus of Nazarus," they confirmed.

"You have me. Let these men go."

Hmmm. Our Warrior-God, aware of his coming torture and execution, is nonetheless thinking of his friends' safety. Not bargaining for himself, he stoically, carefully, guarantees their safety.

You're here for me, right? Then let these men go free.

And my courageous hero complex? He woos me anew.

Are you looking for someone who will love you unconditionally, who will see the good in you, who will fight for you, and who wants the best for you? The God of the Universe loves you fiercely, passionately. He is the warrior standing up saying, "Take me, let them go" for his friends in the dark night, knowing that death is coming. And he is the God who died for you. For me. 

(Linking too with Ann at A Holy Experience...)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How God Made a Daughter

 She waylays him with a hug.

"Dad, when do you have to leave tonight?"

At the news that worship practice had been called off, she dances excitedly beside him, jumping, squealing and persuading him with her smiles. "Want to watch a show with me?"

He grins, groans, and affectionately agrees.

Minutes later, they are at the couch, typing in the coordinates for an online Japanese animated film, and waiting for the movie to buffer.

"Want to make me some food?" he jokes, expecting a glass of milk.

"Sure, some noodles?" she offers.

"Wow, really?" My husband is thrilled, and we make eye contact and laugh.

The home-made beef lo mein she has learned to make is a new hit at our house, and we eat it several times a week now, it seems. Tucked away in my corner at the computer desk, I sip orange zinger tea, watch the snow fall, and join them in this relaxed evening at home.

Snow falls quickly, cascading into grey twilight to stack all night to a depth of eight to twelve inches, forecasters say. For now, though, patches of spring grass stand resolute under the onslaught, and a plate of beef lo mein has just arrived.

I watch my husband and our teen daughter laugh, talk, and scoop noodles, companionably, and I see it in her. The way she carries herself, how she throws back her head and laughs freely, and in her peaceful calm as she curls legs up onto the couch, settling in for the movie. This is a girl who knows she is loved. With the pure safe love of a dad, a mom, and her God, this woman-child is loved and treasured.

And the beauty of it falls glorious.

And we are broken, and human, and flawed parents, but somehow, somewhere, God brought beauty anyway, and it humbles and thrills me.

She's yours, God. You did it, and you only. Thank you. And I offer it to you as praise, and am honored to love other teens in my care too.

(And linking quietly to Emily at Imperfect Prose too...)

Monday, March 31, 2014

What Your Names Say About You

Both photo credits to Stephanie Conrad, Flickr. Thank you for the treat of these photos!

It was the summer of a deep golden tan from hours at the blue chipped tile pool. A hundred years earlier, a homesick Brit had crafted a stone castle in America that perfectly matched his homeland. There was a tall curved ivy-wrapped clock tower, with hands that chimed away the hours too quickly. Two-story squash courts and an old carriage house stood across the circle from the full-blown castle, a three-story edifice that captured my imagination. There were two ramparted turrets, with balconies facing out, and two giant fireplaces that you could walk inside. Musty basements caverned wide and unending, with one or two rooms we called "dungeons." Were there bars on those windows? I can no longer remember.

Waist-high stone walls chased the driveway all the way down a long curving hill, and a massive blue globe adorned the entrance. Tucked away in the forest, sunken mossy garden structures crumbled into stone boulders and sank into the undergrowth. I used to hitch myself on top the pebbly foundations, and carefully walk, balancing one foot in front of the other, pacing through the forgotten city and reciting poetry to myself.

It was the summer of late-night hide and seek games, all-day volleyball on the grass before jumping into the pool, and hours with teen friends my age who lived on this castle hill too. We built bonfires, drank gallons of ice tea from the community dining hall between the two fireplaces, and hiked early morning treks into wooded glens.

A spring twilight here in the present bleeds rose across the sky, and tangerine streaks smudge the horizon, trailing navy and the image throws me back to this high school summer oasis. I can picture the turreted castle, the clock tower, and summer days that stretched deliciously long.

I was Jeni then, petite brunette with sun-bleached orange highlights from a Sun-In spray gone wrong. Time passed, and my name changed to Jen. College and my twenties swirled and blurred. Later, copying my sister and cousin who were choosing more professional monikers, I picked up my full name, shyly trying it out and tasting it on my lips as I said it to new acquaintances: Jennifer.

There are still people who know me as Jeni/Jenny, Jen, and Jennifer, and I'm still that person. The names we use tap into shared histories, don't they? I'm sure you can think of one or two names that people have for you, pet names that speak of a shared story, or shared timelines.

In my Bible reading this week, I've been mulling over watching Jesus pray. Eavesdropping into his private conversations in the upper room, I peek into how he prays for himself, how he prays for his close eleven friends/teammates, and how he prays for future people who will love him.

I've been curious to see what he would ask, what he would say... and I discovered something new tonight. In John 17 verses 11 and 25, Jesus brings up two new names of God that appear nowhere else in the New Testament, study notes say. Intrigued? I was too.

What names of God the Father would he use? What new names did he choose as he was baring his heart to the Father before going to his death in the next scenes?

"Holy Father" and "Righteous Father."

Wow. Our names for each other-- and for God-- show our history with them.

(And counting gifts with Ann at A Holy Experience, thankful for his names.)