Thursday, December 29, 2011

French Ink on Skin

His muscular hands have always been beautiful to me.

In my first year of college, we were just getting to know each other, and learning to trust. Love was a fledgling word, afraid to be voiced aloud. It shimmered instead through our eyes, wonderingly. We determined that once said, it should mean commitment --not a word to be bantered with.

So the word grew inside.

We conversed for hours, a group of us on the third floor student center. People wandered away, left for their dorm rooms, and still he and I talked.

My third culture kid heart still dreamt in French, missed the Alps, and reminisced about West African food. He was from Duluth – with stories of blizzard snowstorms hiding cars for three days, and frost capable of freezing your eyelashes shut.


We spoke of futures, wondering if they would meld, and I sketched French phrases on his hand. “Suis-je la tienne? Es-tu le mien?” (Am I yours? Are you mine?) French ink asking the questions I wondered. Could someone really love and commit to someone else for life? Was it safe to trust and hope?

These penned phrases came to mind again recently when I read some verses in Isaiah.

One will say, 'I belong to the Lord’… still another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s.’

Later, God vows, ...I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Study notes say that the word "engraved" here means "carved into." The Creator has carved our names onto his hands.

The rolled parchment of Isaiah was written in the 700s BC. Jump ahead three hundred years later to a carpenter with strong, calloused hands striding along cobbled Roman roads. In a room crowded with people and a table spread with Middle Eastern fare, he laid his hands wide. "See the carvings in my hand?" he asked. Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.

I belong to Him. It's written on my hand, and carved into His.

And the college man? He types here beside me, and together we learn daily how to love each other like our Creator loves us.

What about you? What helps you remember whose you are? What have you been reading or pondering lately?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mary and Joseph Took the Bus


Merry Christmas Eve! I hope you are having a wonderful weekend, relaxing and celebrating the Giver.

Today was a relaxing family day, savoring Christmas, Jesus' coming, and each other. We had an indoor picnic around the Christmas tree for supper, enjoying the sparkling lights in near darkness, and reminiscing about special memories from years past.

Later, hot baked chunky gingerbread cake men marched across our plates, slathered in orange frosting. (Many family members decided they did not like the strong orange frosting, so future gingerbread men were eaten au naturel.)



Preschooler Daniel and I assembled a paper nativity scene, while his siblings and dad networked computers and conspired together. In Daniel's hands, Mary and Joseph exclaimed over their new baby, putting him to bed, then walked around the stable for a while, greeted and rode the donkey, wrestled with baby Jesus, and moved around a chicken. Eventually, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and all the animals piled into a sturdy orange bus, and drove away. Makes sense. Wouldn't that have made the true escape to Egypt so much easier thousands of years ago too?! The family has dodged a few green plastic army men since then too, and marched across our couch.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Espresso Machine Between the Eyes

Recently, my sister and I met in a Scandinavian bakery on a snowy night. Huge snowflakes covered our cars within minutes, and I laughed as I tried to catch snowflakes on my tongue while walking in. Partway through the night, fearful shrieks and a hissing noise cut through the calm cafe. The espresso machine was malfunctioning dangerously and two female baristas scrambled to turn off the machine and get out of the way. Mixed coffee drinks were off the menu until a repairman could arrive.

That image returned to my mind this week as I was studying Isaiah. (You, my reader friends, know that we have been talking about Isaiah often, including here, here, and here as it leaks onto the blog from my time in God's word these last few months.) Anyway, Isaiah 43:7 delineates, "Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made," and verses 21-24 continue that thought with "...the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise."

"YET, you have not called upon me, O Jacob,
           you have not wearied yourself for me, O Israel.
           You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings,
                           nor honored me with your sacrifices.

I have not burdened you with grain offerings,
          nor wearied you with demands for incense.

You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me,
                or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices.

BUT you have burdened me with your sins,
          and wearied me with your offenses."

Wow... I circled and reviewed the verses, scrawling quickly across my journal. The mirror poetry and words were powerful to me.

Along with the Jewish nation, God formed us so we could proclaim his praise. 
But, very often, I/ we?
        we don't fulfil our purpose.
        We don't call on him.
        We don't weary ourselves for him.
        We don't bring him sacrifices of our time, energy, or money as praise for him.
        We haven't honored him with our tithes, when we do give.

He says HE hasn't placed burdensome or wearisome demands on us -- his creations.

He says we/I haven't made an effort to spend time connecting with him in prayer (calamus is linked with incense and prayer), or lavished on him the best part of my time, energy, resources, as extravagant praise to him.

Rather, we -- I --burdened him with my sins, and
                          wearied him with my offenses.

Wow! Where do you go when a gentle God lays it on the line like this? What's next when he so boldly, plainly lays it bare?

We malfunctioned. We did not deliver. We are a broken product.

Silence. Sadness. A still quiet. He's right. My pen stopped writing and I sat in silence. He's right.

What words are next? His mouth opens and the very next verse spills out like water in the desert.

"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more" (vs. 25).

Forgiveness, grace, and a restoration that humbles me.

The repairman has come and gone, and I am working properly now. I will proclaim his praises. Thank you, God.

This journal and Bible time may have just been for me this week. But it hit me, and I pray that God uses it mightily in your life too. Humbly, sitting quietly and happily proclaiming his praise, I'm your Jennifer. I'd love to hear what is on your brain this week, or how I can pray with you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Did Tigers Eat Your Food?

For several years I have dreamed about hosting a neighborhood open house, and wondered about the best way to make that happen. This month, after praying about it for a while and talking with my husband, we just planned it. I hand-delivered invitations last week to the ten or so houses in our circle. Last night I made two batches of apple crisp, and draped the kitchen table with a vibrant red cloth and some decorations. This morning I brewed coffee, and plugged in the crockpot with hot apple cider.

Holding hands, Mark and I prayed together in the sunny living room, and then we relaxed in the clean calm house. Jazz played in the background, Mark relaxed on the computer, and we wondered if anyone would have time to stop by on this busy Christmas shopping day. Half an hour later, we were thrilled to welcome some neighbors into our home. We drank coffee for hours and talked of life, pets, family and recipes. My children strolled in and out of the living room, joining us for conversations. Second and third cups of coffee were poured and we all talked some more. It was a smaller turnout due to the holidays, but it was wonderful. What lovely people our neighbors are! Thank you, God, for that chance to enjoy them in a sunny warm home.

Tonight my daughter romps with fifteen or sixteen girls her age for her 13th birthday party. We are having a Clue mystery themed costume party, along with cake and a movie. Watch for girls in fluffy pink boas or Sherlock Holmes hats, and ballerinas and models to traipse up our steps tonight.

Three year old Daniel prayed for dinner last night.
Thank you all of us not gone.
Thank you all of us not broke. 
Thank you a [for] food.
Thank you tigers not eat our food. 
Thank you all of that,
M'amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Forested Parking Lots and Crowded Adventures


They barely fit into the five seater Saturn now. Long legs, broad shoulders and gangly arms elbow gently into each other, as my teens settle in comfortably. Their preschool brother is close by in a generational blue tufted car seat. 

This Saturday, I was squirming excitedly in the front seat, and they were tucked in snugly in the back seat as we drove off to get our Christmas tree.  It’s tradition to race through the tiny lot of a local family owned hardware store, deciding upon the perfect tree.  It takes imagination to see past the sparse sides, and the occasional mangled lower branches to see a tree’s potential. This one? That one? Our family paced the tree aisles, sniffing the pine sap, and fingering the fir needles. 

A black felt hat fell over my toddler’s eyes, as he ambled through the parking lot forest with us, curious about this adventure.  We took some cheesy family photos in the lot beside our chosen tree, already imagining its true beauty.  A battered hand written sign over the exit urged us to cut off the bottom two or three inches of the tree so it could soak up sufficient water to stay fresh all season. 

My husband and oldest son stood on either side of our car securing our tree to the top with twine. Their sizes and frames are so similar now. 

At home, while the tree warmed up and the preschooler napped, I twisted green wire around cinnamon scented pinecones for a natural tree ornament. The smells of pine and cinnamon filled the house. 

 Later, Christmas carols serenaded us while our family of five circled the colored lights, suspended pine cones and cinnamon sticks, and wrapped the tree in tiaras of wooden red balls. 

God has whispered to me this week since …

…of fragrance. Am I softly exuding an aroma that is pleasing and points to the Source?
  For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (2 Corinthians 2:15) 

of the Artist’s ability to see past my sparse sides and mangled edges to the true beauty and potential that I can be once he entwines me with His light and beauty. 

…of having my hard impervious edges cut off so I can soak up life-giving Water each day, so I’ll stay alive and vibrant. 

What about you? Floating fragrance, disguised potential, or a need to soak up fresh daily water… what is God most whispering to you today?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ambushed!


December sneaks up on me, I admit. I savor the vivid autumn colors of October and November, sniffing appreciatively the crisp fall air, scented with wood fires and red leaves. Thanksgiving pumpkins and pies have barely faded for me when Christmas hits. Suddenly all the stores and radios are counting down the days until Christmas, decorative lights and wreaths spring up overnight in my neighborhood, and my firm intentions to stay calm for the Christmas season are in jeopardy. 

My family intentionally chooses to slow down over the month of December, saying no to as many second-best things as we can. I relieve some of the school burden, and we attempt to slow down on some days to savor getting a tree, to relax around the Christmas lights, and to recount the Story to each other. 

This year, I was hit by how much of the Christmas story is really about waiting. 

Young pregnant Mary hears the news that she is pregnant with the God-Man. She waits and grows rounder, wondering, imagining, and breaking out into amazing Scripture-filled prayer songs. Nine months pass. Waiting…

Gentle Joseph receives the news that will look to the world like shame, disgrace, and betrayal. His engaged girl is pregnant. He waits, endures the scorn, waits for what may never be fully explained to the watching public, and chooses to believe in the unseen, to trust the angel messenger. Waiting…

The wise star-followers from the east, in their day to day science, uncover wild and strange constellations, uncharted celestial orbits. They calculate, discern, and then pack up. The sojourners travel for what may have been months or years, in that quiet monotonous passage of time on long road trips. Waiting…

The God-Man arrives, small, wrinkly and wet in a dark hay-filled cave stable. He wails, nurses, sleeps, and grows at normal human speed. Heaven waits in anticipation. The universe stands in the balance, unaware of and waiting for redemption. 

I confess that my Christmases have lost their sense of waiting. My lingering autumn dance that then tumbles me into the second week of December catches me by surprise almost yearly. But this year, I am stopping, savoring, and deeply pondering the waiting. 

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5) 

“…while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13)

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart; and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)  

“The creation waits in eager anticipation…” (Romans 8:19) 

“So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)

What about you? What helps you slow down, savor, and wait this season? I’d love to hear from you.