Sunday, May 24, 2015

When the Red and Blue Bring Greens and Golds

"Want to smell it?" he asks, stepping aside from the window.
Photo Artist: Jar (Away), Creative Commons, cc license
It's been raining for four hours, a misty, hard-to-see rain that flickers translucent in the air. Water soaks the grass, clusters and puddles atop crescent-shaped purple coral-bell leaves, and drips in steady rhythm from the canvas folded patio umbrella. Leaves hang heavy in saturation, and the backyard is awash in greens.

Daniel and I sniff the crisp air, inhaling the sweet rain scent.

Sixteen year old Morgan and I just returned from an afternoon of shopping. "I'm such a girl," Morgan laughed, excited about her shoes. In Memorial Day savings of fifty percent off at our favorite St. Paul thrift store, we took turns in the fitting rooms, waited in line for a chance to slip on capris, and scoped out a used Spiderman bicycle for Daniel.

I love the diversity of cultures and languages in that thrift store. We saw elementary-aged girls in long headscarves playing tag in the aisles, and listened to families strategize together in lovely lilting Spanish to find shoes size five-and-a-half. West African women chatted outside the dressing rooms in an accent that sounds like home to me, and Morgan and I stepped gently around a shy Hmong girl with two barrettes in her hair.

On a weekend that we remember wars past, and thank our service men and women for their courageous choice to defend and protect us, I see the beauty of that hard-won world. In a free land, people from all cultures and languages are protected and valued. We are better for having them, and it gives me glimpses of heaven.

Rain still falls and a wet cardinal somewhere chirps. Shimmering leaves drip jeweled orbs, and the array of greens is staggering.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

When Your Stakes Seem Higher

The stakes seemed higher. It's funny how that happened. Every week without a blogpost here raised the cost of words for me, and weighted each one heavier.
Photo: Martin O_ob, Creative Commons, cc license
Busyness first halted me, carrying me away from my desk and you. Days passed, weeks mounted, though, and suddenly fear crept in. I wanted the words to have beauty, to hold meaning, and to be worthy of your time. And that wrangled a finger hold around my throat. It choked my words inside me.

Simple images of grandpas and gardens, and two sons in the dirt. My dad, silver-haired, looking more and more like his dad, kneels on dew-dropped grass blades. "I forgot my knee pads," he murmurs, dipping an orange-handled shovel into a shallow channel.

We're building four raised garden beds again, in the new yard. His hair is starting to curl around the edges, "Like Uncle Kurt," my mom and I notice, and he is so much stronger since September's cancer surgeries and the ceremonial-eating of the only apple on the tree

My twenty-year old son is there for his strength and his love of the outdoors. He and his grandpa wield a borrowed yellow mallet, heavy enough to tip me over when I pass it unexpectedly at one point.

"Can I help? What can I hammer?" hopes six year old Daniel aloud.

"Hey, Daniel. Here's a spot you can hammer." John points to an upraised metal reebar tip and crouches beside his brother, and my mama heart sings.

A red cardinal crows birdeee birdeeee birdeee from the highest point of a silver balsam tree behind us, and the rising morning sun warms us. My nose runs from the cold air. A wind shakes cottonwood seeds down around us from the neighbor's tree.

"Ready for the next post, John?" my dad asks, and I snap out of reverie and jump green corduroy sneakers onto my pitch fork, preparing the soil before them.

Write what you know, right? I know about heavy squares of sod chopped and shaken to save any garden dirt; black-capped chicadees and cardinal soliloquies, and sons with grandpas wielding mallets. I know french-pressed coffee oils swirling atop hot mugs, and dirt under the nails despite three washings. I see hard-working loved ones, and smell rain-fresh brown dirt, sliced grass sod, and lilacs from the neighbor's front yard.

And the moment captured is enough. My job is to see and note.

For you? Is there anything that looms taller with each passing day? Step in, pull up the chair, take that first action. The fear will still be there, I confess, but the hidden joy that comes from doing what you were made to do will spring up and delight you. I promise.

How are you? I've missed you. Catch me up?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Of Blood Oranges, Butterflies, & Martha Stewart Gaffs

Smoke told me the oven was hot. This is what Martha Stewart moments look like at our house. Shaving up curling cold spoonfuls of cookie dough from my chilled bowl of chocolate chip and butterscotch cookies, I mold and form them into balls.

Once two buttered sheets of them are in the oven, I take a few steps into the kitchen and crouch down to peer into the butterfly box my kindergartener and I made. Two butterflies stand frailly, flexing their red, brown and orange wings, pumping them with color. Vivid red puddles spread out across white tissue paper on the cardboard floor, remnants of creation's paints. ("This is natural," the butterfly brochure assures us.)

Three cocoons wait silent, suspended, and we check them often.

"Do you think there will be a third butterfly tomorrow morning?" I ask Daniel as I kiss his face and pull the blankets up around him in bed. "Do they come out from their cocoons in the dark?" we wonder and stare off, imagining one, two, or three new butterflies the next day.

We placed blood oranges in their box home this evening, slices of dark magenta citrus. They haven't eaten them yet, and we peek in regularly to see if they will.

There's a passage in the Bible book of Acts that I have been thinking about this week. In Acts 24-27, Paul is in prison for his religious beliefs, awaiting trial and a chance to be exonerated. Two years pass.

Two years.

One brief sentence holds two years of waiting, and Paul sat in prison, delayed.

I love that Paul knows who he is, and whose he is. He knows his God too. Describing this time later and an angelic encounter during a rough sea voyage, Paul says, "an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve..." I love that Paul hasn't walked away from his belief in God, decrying injustice or defaming the character of God. "Of the God whose I am and whom I serve."

This God to whom I belong and whom I serve....  this God whom, in fact, Paul says, "I have had God's help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike."

In the waiting, in the two years passing, in the cocoon-like silence, great things were still happening.

For you and me too. If you feel like this is an in-between time, a time of waiting, know that life is still stirring, forming, growing. Life is building for the unveiling. "I have had God's help to this very day," and so I stand here and speak.

Me too. You too, my friend.

The cookies are done and crumble hot chocolate in my mouth.

Due to a shipping error, five more butterfly cocoons hang in a clear plastic jar nearby. Butterflies grow luminous under grey silk chrysalises, and the brochure tells us to wait.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Of Lawyers, Judges, and What's On Your Back

"I wish I'd never done it," she said, describing a post-college year of late-night dance clubs, too much alcohol, and men with unfamiliar names the next morning. Regret brimmed up and over her eyelashes now, and she twisted her blonde hair absentmindedly.
Photo: David, Creative Commons, cc license
We hugged in the crowded auditorium. I knew this woman, knew her heart, and knew that her history no longer defined her. It never really had, actually.

But we are the ones who pick up and slap labels on ourselves the fastest, the hardest. I do this. You do too. God lavishes us with forgiveness, compassionate understanding, and love, while we trail behind, dragging our feet and not quite believing he means what he says.

I've been reading the biblical book of Romans, where Paul marshals his arguments like a young John Grisham. In lean hard prose, Paul strips away any credentials religious people were scrambling for to prove their morality, and he shreds any excuses the irreligious grabbed as reasons for not getting to know the God of the universe.

On equal footing before the God of the world, loved deeply by the Creator who knows their names, humankind's verdict is clear, concise.

"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace..." (Romans 3:22-24).

Whether you are ragged with regrets or worn out from scrambling to feel like a good person, we stand on equal footing before the God who loves us. In the week after Easter, we stand before a judge who says, "I've paid that price, paid the fine, paid the fee. Do you accept this gift?"

Labels are gone. Histories don't define us. They never have. The God of the world stands waiting...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Straddling True Relationships in a Busy World

Brassy coronets and high-hat-swinging percussionists ring out Benny Goodman's jazzy Trees. Crescendos echo and fall before Louis Armstrong steps up to croon Let's Fall In Love. Piano keys traipse up and down their black and white board.
Photo credit: Darwin Bell, Creative Commons, cc license
Behind me on the small desk stool, my nineteen year old folds himself up to fit on the chair. Long legs bend around bony knees, feet curled under him. His arms swing excitedly, hands gesturing, as he talks about his day and a new game he is making.

I nod, half-turned sideways to see him, while stirring at the stove. Red pumpkin curry sauce splatters and simmers next to a bubbling pot of rice. I repeat words back, striving to truly listen and focus on him, but am embarrassed to note that I've momentarily stopped listening. He nods and continues, while I slide a fork into a chunkier piece of chicken to confirm the pink is gone.

My timer dings that dinner is done, and four of us gather at a table set for five.

"Let's pray. Morgan will be here soon and John has to go to work," I suggest. My husband Mark and six year old Daniel take turns praying, and the front door clatters.

These moments with the people in our lives are so fleeting. I'm trying to do them well with God's help, but they look differently than I had originally guessed. 

Earlier, my niece and I followed three preschoolers across a backyard. The boys swung sticks, laughed in happy battles, and helped me clear dry leaves from the strawberry bed. My niece and I talked by the swings; talked by the slide; and talked in the kitchen. Wiping mashed black cookie bits from wet faces, slicing up apples, and refereeing pebble squabbles, we grinned and conversed through it all.

In these days of interruptions, how do we narrow in and let loved ones know they are truly seen? 

I'm still acquiring this, and my children can roll their eyes or share laughing stories of some of my comical failures, but here's what I'm learning. We invest in loved ones by following their eyes, by striving to truly hear, and by coming back again and again to the topics at hand. "So, tell me about this film," I asked my niece, and we laughed and resumed our focus.

It looks different than I thought it would, this desire to connect and bond with the people in our lives, but it's worth it. And the relationships are priceless.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If You're Waiting & Wondering Where the Excitement Is

Photo: Ted McGrath, Creative Commons, cc license
Sliced onions sting my eyes, and a salty scent of "pork eggroll in a bowl" rests heavy in the kitchen. Flecks of shredded carrot scatter my youngest's plate and the table where he sat. Lego noises and boy sounds echo in the living room.

Spring in Minnesota looks like red-winged blackbirds and rust-colored robins swooping in to join the black-capped chickadees and blue jays at the feeders. Snow's sandy residue leaves grass lawns matted and pebbly, but more and more green strands of slender grass slip through. The air is fresh, warmer, and Midwesterners bounce expectantly out of doors, trailing dog leashes, running gear, and even the occasional shorts and sandals in defiant glee and shivers.

I've been reading Holley Gerth's book, You Were Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to all God Has For You, and just received Jeff Goins' hot-off-the-press book, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. Pencil in hand, I've been underlining Gerth's book and making plans for this summer, determined to zealously protect disciplined chunks of the day to work on this new book project when my school duties are done.

And throughout this week a Bible verse has grabbed me in a way I've never seen before. I was familiar with the first sentence in that paragraph and the next sentence there too, but had never put them together. In Second Timothy 1:6-7, I read For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you... and the next sentence adds a curious twist, For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. 

There are topics and things that excite you, I'm sure of it. If we could grab hot coffee and sit around my scuffed, map-laminated cherry-wood kitchen table to talk, I know that we would get to them. Those topics that make your eyes shine and flash, and your voice raise in pitch excitedly; those passions, dreams, and favorite hobbies that make you come alive. It might be an innovative idea you have for work, or your plans for a summer garden, your secret dream to adopt, your love for decorating on a budget, or your love of writing and learning. And I know that God has shaped you uniquely. Anything that brings him glory and makes you come alive is something he carved deep inside of you. He invites you to use that, to dream excitedly about those possibilities, and to step out obediently into using those gifts, talents, and passions for him.

Whatever it is, God invites you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you. And, knowing our many hindrances, he answers the very next words from our mouths: For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.

For me today, this means to set a plan to start writing three-five days a week this summer (if not now), and it means I need to go talk to one of my teens and his mom who are hurting.

For you today? What's he telling you? Nothing else will bring such joy than stepping into whatever he has next for you. And I'd love to cheer you on from the side.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

When Scrunched Up Faces Reveal Secret Fears

She is laughing so hard that the sound ricochets up the steps.

(Not my daughter.)   Photo Credit:Alpha Chen, Creative Commons, cc license
"Oh no," she giggles in surprise and glee, "oh no." And the squealed laughter and mirth bubble up from deep within her. My daughter's laughter is known for being unrestrainable, uncontainable, and loud. Her delight is infectious, and her laughs and guffaws fill a room.

Silence now shuffles across the downstairs and glides noiselessly upstairs to where my husband and I are working. Computer keys tap staccato and night falls navy twilight through the deck door glass. Two firs loom tall, mirrored in glassy reflections of a yellow lit-kitchen behind me.

Taped to the wooden pantry door is a curling paper of names. Names of scientists, surgeons, musicians, artists, political leaders, and actors mingle near journalists and writers. Names like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, John Lennon, Woodrow Wilson, George Washington, Walt Disney, Agatha Christie, Orlando Bloom, Cher, Greg Louganis, and Henry Ford are just a few. Famous People with the Gift of Dyslexia, the article caption reads, and I've taped it there as an encouragement for my family. My teens scoff slightly at the term "gift" and wonder some days if that is true. Dyslexia runs in our family, and we have only just recently been learning more about it, and finding ways to use the strengths that come with it to offset the challenges that it brings as well. For those on a spectrum of dyslexia, it just means their brain took a different route for reading.

As a mom who is learning more about this --both the advantages and the challenges of dyslexia-- I ache at times with the hurt and uncertainty I see ripple across my loved one's faces. Even though research is showing that people with dyslexia problem-solve better, remember details of stories longer, and can think outside the box in wildly creative ways, it doesn't change the anxiety that can sometimes spring up.

These facts and my words bring no comfort some days, and I watch it crumple across their faces, or scrunch up behind deep brown eyes that pool in hurt or scowl in protective anger. Their fear that they are not enough, not capable, not smart hurts my heart and wakes me up some nights.

Because whether loved ones in our lives approach reading differently, or see the world uniquely in other ways, the results are the same. We get to stand beside them, and point them to the truths. "You are strong, capable, talented, determined, and intelligent -- yes, intelligent! You are so valuable and loved. And you are created by an Artist God who loves you and has great plans for you-- for your joy and for his glory."

Her laughter has died down now, and it must be a quieter part of the show. She is one of the many loved ones in my life that I am so lucky to know. Her love of life and her zeal rise up around her, and her hard work to teach herself drawing and Mandarin Chinese impress and amaze me.

The two tall firs have disappeared into velvety blackness now, and the sound of computer keys grows still. Hidden by the night, the trees continue growing silently.