Friday, June 29, 2012

I Don't Know You But... Enlisted for a Stranger

Walking last night in my new neighborhood, I smiled at passing cars, picked up trash, and spied out the woods and pond across the street, hearing red-winged blackbirds colareeee to each other from among the cattails. Dust quickly coated my toes a gritty grey, and a speeding pick-up truck sucked birch saplings after it, and rattled a glassy green energy drink bottle among the pebbles. I grabbed the tiny glass bottle, seeing beauty in its potential, a vase in the making. 

Orange and black butterfly wings frozen in death nestled between common plantain broad leaves. An array of curled, wrinkled pages suddenly grabbed my attention. Scattered across the grassy ditch fluttered fragments of an entire Bible. Samuel, Kings, Psalms, the pages were sandy and crimped from days in the sun and rain, but the words were still legible. 

How did it get here? Did it fly out a car window? Did a bicyclist throw it away from winding wooded paths? Was someone curious, worried, fearful, angry?

I gathered words, lifted fragile wrinkled pages, assembling a thick stack. Cradling a frozen-in-time butterfly beauty in one hand, and a timeless manuscript and glassy green bottle in the other hand, I walked. 

“Pray,” the Creator said. “Pray blessings on the former holder of this Bible. Now. Here. Pray.”

“Abba, you know and love this person. Whether it was lost or thrown, I pray they would remember words read here. May the truth there haunt their mind, and whisper to them now. May they see people of You to be kind, loving, true, and different. May they feel your deep love for them and see you in a new way. May they hear you whispering your love for them, calling their names. May they hunger for you and your words. Please provide them with a new Bible.” 

In Africa, my parents told of a Muslim man who had had dreams of Jesus (Isa). Wanting desperately to know whether the Allah of the Koran or the Jesus (Isa) of the Bible was the true God, he prayed to both, asking them to show him. "If Allah is God, then get me a Koran," he said to no human aloud. "If Jesus (Isa) is God, then get me a Bible." He told no-one of his quest and waited. Sitting down beside his tree at lunch-time, he found a Bible. His journey for truth continued.

In my own melodramatic manner, I walked my muggy street last night,  praying for a stranger, knowing that God is big, and he is good. He knows their story and the intertwining threads being woven. I simply obey him and pray when he tells me to. Nearing the end of my road, I turned around to start home. A crimson sun dipped low on the horizon, exploding pink and tangerine across the sky.

Hi friends. I appreciate you here. Have you had a time when you felt God telling you to pray for something or someone?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Love It, Like It, or Back on the Rack?

Shiny black swimsuits draped from hangers on each finger. Thirteen of them, to be precise. With a $10 promotional gift card that came in the mail, and needing a replacement bottom for my swimsuit, I hit the clearance racks. 

It was my husband’s idea. When your man notices that your swimsuit bottom is too frayed and suggests you go shopping, you know you’ve waited too long! I agreed and raced off to the store. 

Piped in music joined me in the carpeted cubicle, as swimsuit after swimsuit took its turn in front of the mirror. The store had cleverly arranged three hooks across the dressing room walls with the captions “Love it,” Like It” and –far to the right—one that simply said,“Back on the Rack.” After trying on several of the swimsuit bottoms, I thought they should have added a fourth hook, reading, “Wow, that’s an unattractive place to put elastic leg bands!” What a humbling and hilarious adventure swimsuit hunting is, huh? 

Moving swimsuits from the Maybe/Like It category to the Love It slot, or throwing them on the “Back on the Rack” hook, I narrowed the options. Finally, trying on again the options in the Like it and Love it Category, I chose a winner. 

Today God whispers to me that I treat my spiritual life like a swimsuit hunt some days. Some attitudes and thoughts that I pick up are obvious “Back on the Rack” choices. Others attitudes, actions and thoughts border the line, though, and I find myself holding onto them in the Maybe pile. I know, God, that it’s not quite something you love, but perhaps it’s a maybe? I hem and haw to him. Items pile up on the Like It hook, some sin, some fine, but none of them Love Its. 

Lord, give me wisdom to discern, and the desire to send things back on the rack. 

(The swimsuit, by the way? I got it for only $4.99 after clearance and the promotion card. Don’t you love a good deal!) 

I love hearing from you. If you are reading this via email you can click here to leave a comment. What’s the best deal you got recently? Or, if you are feeling braver, what are some things on your Like It hook that you know you need to send Back on the Rack?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Twilight Romance

A summery twilight spills sharp sunlight on my new neighbor’s trees – the green hues popping vividly against the blue sky behind. Inside, I type on a make-shift computer desk of two coffee tables and a bookshelf. Preschooler fights bedtime behind me, and the teens are off to camp. Caramel-, mocha- and chocolate milk-colored paint chips march along the wall behind my couch, waiting for inspiration. Jazzy vocals from Pandora get my shoulders bouncing and jivin’. Partially-unpacked boxes stack in corners, and newly-found Legos mound in a corner. 

The beauty of fluttering leaves and sun-dripped trees never ceases to captivate me. Am I too easy to please? Creator God, your art amazes me. “You steal my heart and you take my breath away… How could I stand here and not be moved by you?” 

Take a second to watch the video clip below of a drama done by our senior high mime team a few years ago to Lifehouse’s “Everything” song that I quoted above. You are being romanced, friend…  

Share this with friends and family. 

…You calm the storms and you give me rest
You hold me in your hands
You won't let me fall
You steal my heart and you take my breath away
Would you take me in, take me deeper now
And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this
Cause you're all I want, you're all I need
You're everything, everything
You're all I want
You're all I need
You're everything, everything
You're all I want
You're all I need
You're everything, everything
You're all I want
You're all I need
Everything, everything

And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this… 
 Linking with Ann and Shanda.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Army Descends

They came in droves. 

Cars pulled up on the grass at the side of the road, or turned into an abandoned gas station across the street. Moms with kids, dads with sons, single college students, and teens on bikes. In ninety-degree weather with sweat beading across faces and arms, they marched up and down the Uhaul ramp, carrying cardboard boxes and bed-frames. I stood in the center of the garage, scanning the boxes for black permanent marker codes, and directing traffic. “Master bedroom? Upstairs, on the kitchen and dining floor, please.” “School books? Garage for now, thanks.” 

In the kitchen a crew plungered our plugged up sink, scoured counters, and scraped old grease off cabinets with razors. In the bathrooms, they shined our faucets and scrubbed shower walls. Teens vacuumed the stained carpets in preparation for a carpet contractor from church, and other students wiped windows with rag socks, or perched on dressers to reach ceiling fans. 

“I’ll take Daniel to the park,” said another friend, whisking my preschooler away to swim and slide with minis. 

Earlier than scheduled the Uhaul was unloaded, and more friends dropped by with sloppy joes to feed an army. The army ate. Sprawled in the grass in the shade from the deck, we caught the breeze and refueled. Sweat glistened, and water bottle carcasses lined up in ecological nightmares. 

 “Do you have supper plans for tomorrow?” another friend asked. “I’ll bring tacos.” 

“We have dressers and desks for you, if you are interested,” said a father and sons. Other friends held onto and stored a loft bed set for one of our kids for ten months, and offered us a t.v. 

That night, we fell asleep on drying carpet, in our new home, overwhelmed at God’s extravagant care for us, and the humbling, amazing love of his system – the church body. Without the constraints of a church building’s walls, Jesus-followers from all corners of our lives came together and showered love on us. 

We are still humbled, stunned, and thankful to our God for his care. 

I am amazed at the way God's people can come together in love.

What about you? When have you felt tangible community? When have you not?

Linking with Emily and friends at Imperfect Prose.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Working Wonders for You

"...Be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things.."   (Hosea 2:21a)

"...And you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you..."   (Hosea 2:26b)

Join Ann, Michelle and I today to stop, see and count God's gifts! Surely you have done great things, oh Lord, my God.

-today we load up the Uhaul truck, tomorrow we sign papers to close the houses and we unload.
-heavy, thick rain sinking deep into long grassy lawns
-hot coffee in my favorite cup
-my teens playing and packing below
-preschool son exclaiming when I walk into a room and hugging my knees before I can even get to his level
-friends coming various shifts to help carry boxes
-Your word, open before me.

"Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God!"    (Hosea 2:23a)

"...for the open pastures are becoming green..."  (excerpt from Hosea 2:22).

Count with me, friend?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Winds of Change: Easing Preschooler Anxieties

Sprinklers scatter rainbowed droplets, fruit juice popsicles melt into sticky purple smiles, and school-age children are home in force. Play dates, park days, and soccer van trips easily fill the week. 

Preschoolers often find themselves in a sea of unaccustomed activity in June.The euphoria of having their school-age siblings around all day, every day, suddenly burns off and can leave preschool children giddy, unsure of this new system, and acting out.  

These anxieties may be triggered in preschoolers for any number of reasons: a new baby or adopted siblings coming soon; an upcoming move; starting a new daycare or daily schedule; and more.

For our family, my soon-to-be four year old has journeyed with us through home stagings and immaculate moments, to us selling our home, and talking about a new place. Now boxes line the hallways, rooms get emptier, and we speak often of moving to a new house. 

Despite his excitement, there are still days when anxieties sneak through and manifest in acting out. One afternoon, he snapped. Crying, flailing his limbs, and then waving a sword spatula, he attacked one of the packing boxes in the living room. Poor guy. Getting down to eye level, I hugged him, rubbed his back, and we talked.

Whatever your three, four, or five year old is processing, the start of summer can be a common time for emotional meltdowns. 

Here are three things that help us ease preschool anxieties:

1.) Give them visuals. So many of a person’s fears are rooted in the unknown: unknown territory of having the siblings home all day and no normal schedules; unknown territory of a drastic move, etc. Help your preschooler visualize the changes by talking through what it may look like. Check out library books that help them visualize other characters walking through similar changes. We read through The Berenstain Bears’ Big Move many times these last two weeks, watching Brother Bear bring up many of Daniel’s unknowns. 

2.) Give them words. As Daniel first started seeing special possessions disappear into boxes, and seeing our rooms empty, I said aloud, “This feels weird, huh?” His older siblings and I talked aloud beside him of how it will feel sad to move away from this house too, and that that’s okay. We’ve lived here for a long time. Other days, rage filled him as his sister chose not to play with him, or let him use her toys. Squeezing his fists, face flushed red, he roared. I knelt beside him.“Are you frustrated?” I asked. It’s okay to say, “I’m angry! I’m frustrated!” 

3.) Give them permission. Emotions are natural and necessary. Give your preschooler permission to feel and articulate his/her emotions. “Does it feel weird to have your brother and sister home all day? We’ll still have special times together too.” Or “Does it feel weird to think about moving?” and “Are you angry about your sister saying 'No, thanks' to the fort idea? It’s okay. You can be angry. Let me know when you want to talk.” 

 Life presents many opportunities for change, and anxiety is normal. Use these moments to model and teach your preschooler valuable methods of coping. Help them visualize the unknowns, learn to articulate their emotions, and give them permission to feel and process these. Invaluable skills for us all, huh? 

A summer rain fell heavy all day today. It smells wonderfully fresh and cool outside. Our windows are flung wide, and my preschooler drives tiny cars across Barbie boxes. The carpet is strewn with toys and packed up boxes. 

What has your day been like today? What lays in view around you right now? 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

...That is the Question...

Japanese-synthesized music lilts in the background, and I munch almonds beside a cup of reheated coffee. My tousle-headed preschooler is in bed, and the older kids help at our church’s summer Vacation Bible School program. 

Last night panic gripped my chest. I had been researching part time jobs and considering one especially. This one would require an intensive full-time training period, lasting over six months. My motivation was the resulting flexible part-time schedule with numerous days home with my family, but the process to get there suddenly seemed daunting. 

The excitement had dissipated and apprehension constricted my chest. Could we do this? Was it wise for our family? Would the end justify the crazy period to get there? 

Later that night, I lay entwined in my husband’s arms on the couch. He talked, his mouth against the back of my head. He wasn’t sure what to think either, but he murmured calm into my mind. We hugged in silence.

I ran the idea and its pros and cons past some friends over a night of games and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. Late at night, fingers twisting the frayed couch threads, I whispered the idea over the phone to my sister, and she practiced newly-acquired counseling techniques with me, asking questions and waiting. 

Today, sunshine and a cool sixty-four degree breeze buffeted me gently as I walked the neighborhood circle, greeting neighbors, and guiding my three year old on his blue bicycle. Training wheels scratched the road on alternate sides, and he drove in mild diagonal lines across the street. I weaved with him, gently nudging the wheel towards safety and watching for oncoming traffic. His red duct-taped helmet hung low over his eyes, and he squinted into the setting sun. I knew the path, and he was happy to simply bike beside me.  

Boxes line the hallways and stack high in our garage now. Our eleven month process to sell our home, find a new one, and prepare to move is almost over. In seven days we close on our new home and drive away from this current one. We’ve seen our God’s extravagant hand so clearly through this, and it speaks calm to my mind now. 

My almonds are gone, the coffee cools, and the music plays on. Thank you, Abba. I’m happy to simply bike beside you too. You weave beside me, nudging me into safety and you know the path we’re on. 

Linking with Ann, Michelle, Shanda, and Emily. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hosea, a Hooker, and God's Love for You

Talk about a potential for ministry burn-out!  

In the ancient Middle East between 792-753 BC, the Creator called Hosea into ministry with an unusual assignment. Marry an unfaithful woman. Know that she will repeatedly cheat on you, and lapse into prostitution. But love her and invest in her anyway.
As the ultimate Teacher, God enjoys using object lessons to grab his learners’ attention with wild, unconventional methods. Throughout time, he has asked his prophets to dig holes through solid city walls, to break jars, to bury twigs, to tie themselves up for a period of time, and to even run around with no pants on. He’s a wild God, isn’t he?

Each of those assignments had a vivid point to make, showing God’s power, love, and plans for his people, despite hard times. Hosea’s assignment was no different. 

“My people’s hearts keep wandering away from me,” the Creator confided to Hosea. “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land… She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil, who lavished on her the silver and gold.” 

“She went after her lovers, but me she forgot.” 

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her,” mused the heartsick Creator. “I will make the valley… a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth.” 

You are being wooed. You are being allured. The Creator longs for relationship with you.

Whatever your past, whatever your history with him, he longs for relationship with you. He chases after you. He is heartsick for you, and he is a God of reconciliation. 

Need a door of new hope? Want to sing like in the early days? He is calling you into the desert and speaking tenderly to you…

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Suburbia & Shootings

“Smell! Do you smell that?” 

We were standing at the open deck door, our toes hanging over the white edge. He sniffed fiercely, his tiny shoulders rising with the effort.  

“Rain! Doesn’t it smell good?” 

The wind blew droplets into our faces and we inhaled the moist earthy scent of rain. Hints of hot wet asphalt mixed with the fresh promise of clean. When water started puddling onto our dining room floor, I grinned and closed the door for a while. An evening of rain soaked the silent suburban streets. 

This morning I drink coffee soberly and ponder street-side shootings. A new friend of mine mourns her twenty-six year old step-daughter at a funeral right now. 

I met my friend three weeks ago at a wooded women’s retreat. Seven women from the inner-city joined seven or eight of us from the suburbs. Together we shared stories and photos of our children. We talked about our marriages, opening wide, being accountable, and looking into God’s word for guidance. We prayed, sang, laughed and ate together. In a large screened-in cabin, we swatted bugs, peeked over bunk beds to hear each other, and laughed at late-night tirades. 

My friend spoke of her upcoming wedding at the end of this month, and paged through wedding magazines. Her daughters were to be part of the ceremony. 

This last week, though, an armed assailant walked into their home, shot her daughter, and left. No one knows why or whom. Neighborhood vigils, grief-stricken parents, and news anchor bits culminate in today’s funeral. 

I’m too new and didn’t have all the information right away so I’m here at home, praying for her, aching with her, and feeling uncomfortably quiet in my safe suburban home. 

I traced down her phone number, and corrected the wrong email address I had for her. Soon, I hope to go and sit with her, hugging her, and aching quietly beside her. 

Will you join me in praying for my friend Christina? Thanks. How can I pray for you this week? 

Linking with Imperfect Prose...

Monday, June 4, 2012

When You Wonder if He Hears You

It’s a striking image.

 A stately government official in his mid-eighties, perhaps with distinguished silvery hair, standing on the banks of a large river, dressed in flowing Middle Eastern robes.

His colleagues and lower-ranking staff have suddenly fled and hid themselves in the long grasses, terrorized by a presence they can’t see or explain. An angel that only he can see speaks with him.

“Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.”

There had been a delay – a wild, unimaginable delay that needs a separate blog-post on another day just to ponder it—but a delay, nonetheless. In Daniel’s timeline, he waited three weeks for a response and for peace. He was worried, anxious, and spent extended time in prayer.

Then, beside a rushing water, that answer came. “Don’t be afraid, since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard…”

Wow. Where are you in life right now?

Is this a rushing water kind of day where God is speaking to you loudly, even if no one around is hearing him? They may still be noticing that something is different around you, though.

Or are you in a quiet anguish-filled silence of waiting and listening, wondering what God is going to say next? He hears you, friend. No matter what the delays feel like, he hears you and is working on your behalf.

Meanwhile, back at the river bank, our stately gentleman is amazed and terror-stricken at this uncommon method of hearing God speak too. The angel strengthens him by a touch on the shoulder, lifting him up, gently encouraging him to talk and ask questions, and the words, “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed. Peace! Be strong now, be strong.”

Daily, I want to set my mind to gain understanding and to be humbled before my God.

Daily, I want to remember the huge grandeur of my God who sends the angels to do his bidding, who orchestrates world leaders and history, and who whispers, “Don’t be afraid....Your words were heard... Peace, be strong now, be strong.”

“Your words were heard. Peace…” 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer Barbecues and Family Times

I sip hot coffee while barbecue smoke seeps deliciously in through my open deck door. Marco sings along to a plaintive song on Pandora, monitoring the sizzling grill outside in between chopping jalapenos for colorful pico de gallo.

Orange and brown afghan fort walls flap outside on the front lawn, while my daughter and preschool son sprawl across the grass, trying bird calls. A squabble erupts and fades away. Blanket walls tumble and stretch tall again.

Family days feel brief and precious now.

School years start with notebooks stacked high in September, and months that seem to stretch long, full of promise and plans. Suddenly June is here. Notebooks swell with maturing scrawls and math sums; and plastic binders burst with history and literature.

High schooler cleans his room, finishes homework on the Vietnam war, American Literature, and Algebra II, then bikes away to see friends. Our times with him are sweet as well, centering around bike rides, speed scrabble games, late-night talks, and laughter. College beckons in a year.

In between hopping up to mince mounded Vidalia onions and lay out plates, I join you here and type. Now the fire outside burns lower, roasted meat lingers savory on my tongue, and marshmallows call to me.

How are you savoring family and friends this weekend?