Saturday, September 29, 2012

Of Football and Family

Ocher leaves flit across lawns and scrape streets. Homecoming teens flaunted crimson and black school colors, and students of all sizes bravely decked cheeks with ebony under-eye sun glares. High school parade floats careened down narrow suburban streets to lawn-chaired spectators. Tootsie rolls, suckers and tough gum wads crashed to the ground, causing gentle riots.

On the stove at home, a harvest stew simmered. Out of town relatives were imminent, and our final touches of house cleaning made the home gleam.

This morning, twelve of us maneuvered coffee mugs and cereal bowls, wash-cloths and toy tug-of-wars. Arbor vitae and hybrid poplar tree research mixed conversation with the latest Toby Mac lyrics. We're a houseful of tumbling preschool boys, tall sprawling teens cradling guitars and homework-filled laptops, and conversations over coffee.

Want a healthy hearty stew recipe for the weekend? Simmer a pot of this...

In a crockpot for four hours on high, cook:
-a roast
-minced garlic
-a large cut onion

Chop, then sauté in a large soup pan:
-8-10 large carrots
-a stalk of celery
- about 14 potatoes
-a rutabaga

Shred or cut up the roast into bite-sized pieces. Pour the meat, and fragrant onions, garlic and juices into large soup pot.

Add about four quarts of water, as well as salt, pepper, a dried hot pepper, and crumbled herbe de Provence. Boil until vegetables are tender, and then simmer 'til supper time.

What does the weekend look like near you?

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Celestial Slant on Cowboys

In a grove of glossy dark evergreens at the bottom of a ravine, red, brown and white horses congregated and side-stepped on the rocky ground. 

Like a scene from a wrangling cowboy western, a man astride a red horse leaned low to listen. Galloping in from the north, south, east and west, his reconnaissance men on a mission returned with reports for his ears. Despite reports of rest and calm, the ranger fell back into his saddle and sighed, “Lord Almighty, how long will you…?”

 I have been working my way through the ancient words in the Old Testament of the Bible, trying to see them from fresh eyes and asking the Writer to teach me anew each time. This celestial slant on cowboys and rangers from the book of Zechariah is what accompanies my morning coffee today. I munch graham crackers and refill my coffee cup numerous times, poring through these verses. This scene catches my attention.

The wranglers straddle their horses in a myrtle/evergreen ravine, while their ranger breathes hard through dusty nose and face. “How long, Almighty God…?” and the cowboys wait. 

In a surprisingly nonchalant manner, the very next sentence introduces a new character to the scene, and answers the ranger’s questions.

 “So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me,” explains Zechariah.

Wow. Even wrangling cowboy angels can speak wonderingly to the God of the universe? Even wrangling cowboy angels can ask, “How long, God?” And even wrangling cowboy angels benefit from a God who steps into westerns and dusty rocky ravines to speak kind and comforting words to those who need to hear it. 

No setting is too far off the radar. No canyon, mountain, jungle, or soccer mom van is too remote a location for him to walk into the scene and speak kindness and comfort to honest questions and sighs. 

So, whether you are astride a horse or a golden Saturn, he hears you, he loves you, he knows what you are thinking this morning, and he’ll stride into your scene with words for you to hear. 

My goal this morning is to listen, to thank him for those words, and then to turn and speak words of kindness and comfort to my kids, spouse, neighbors and friends, to the people God has put around me. 

Linking with Ann, Laura, and Duane, I am thankful for wrangling cowboy angels and a God who strides into any scene to reply.

What has our Scene-striding God spoken to you lately?

Photo credits to Microsoft

Friday, September 21, 2012

Of Gardens and Churches

Falling silently and nearly invisible, the rain soaks deep into the grass. Slow, steady, unchanging. 

The effect at first is almost negligible. What good could come from this small amount? But subtly quietly, it continues. Water seeps into brittle grass, bounces off grey weathered deck planks, and into freshly dug raspberry beds. The soil blackens slightly, softening. 

For the first time last night in this new group, we circled on couches with other couples, while our children ranged free outside and nearby. Ice cream puddled in styrofoam bowls over brownie and peanuts, and conversations were tentative. We’re joining a new small group, and feeling hesitant, careful. Guarding our calendar and family time is the main focus, not wanting to be too busy, but there’s more, I know. Coming out of a painful church split these last few years, I am still in a quiet phase, carefully choosing my words, trying to be spirit-led in my words and attitudes, and silently recovering emotionally. 

My dad and I jumped on shovel edges this week, rocked garden pitchforks, and swung fearsome yellow mallets, erecting four raised garden beds and a raspberry trough. Side by side for three days, we pulled sod, shook dirt, and blackened our hands and feet. At one point, in my folly, I shoveled-jumped in sandals, slipping and slicing my foot open on the sharp shovel edge. Pain and blood flowed to the surface, and I hobbled inside. Later, cleaned up, bandaged, and wearing safer shoes, I returned to the hard ground and work. Gripping the handle, I jumped high again, cutting into the clay ground, creating room for new life. 

This morning, rain falls silently and unceasingly, seeping into the hard ground. The changes are minimal, but noticeable over time. The ground is softening.

Linking with Imperfect Prose, and Scribing the Journey. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Confessions of a Robbed Robin Hood

At an abandoned gas station across the street, they loitered. Cheeky round things, peeking through the foliage, blushed in the sun.

While land battles were waged through pocket picket signs on yards and election-year newspaper articles about possible big box super stores, these coy ones loitered, blossomed, and hung out silent in a forgotten corner.

Knowing they were unclaimed and the land long-forsaken, I bounced happily across the street, assuming they were mine.  What abandoned gas station cares about apples on a small lone tree? In an area that may soon be demolished for a parking lot, who was planning on these pommes?

Throughout the summer, I popped over for a juicy green apple, thrilled to have "my own" tree finally. Seeing landfall apples neglected on the ground confirmed my conclusion. These could be mine, I sighed happily.

 Hearing of the wonders and necessity of frost on apples, I restrained myself for a number of weeks.  This morning in the brisk morning air, needing an apple for my Korean Bulgogi lunch, I skipped across the street to my apple tree.

They were gone. High branches, low branches, even the windfall apples had been scooped up. Empty leaves and silent swaying branches stared back at me.

The mystery remains, and makes me blush slightly. Had local neighbors watched in amusement and awkward worry as I justified my Robin Hood moments of taking apples from a faceless parking lot and gas station conglomerate? Or had passing vehicles harkened upon my find, and profited too? Worst, had the business tycoons been notified of their rakish unaware rogue?

Blushing in Minnesota, and apple-less... I humbly join Ann in counting gifts:

-for ill-gotten apples, apparently
-for blushing acknowledgement of guilt
-for an afternoon of building raised garden beds with my dad and husband
-sunshine dripping cold off September leaves
-crisp morning air rushing in windows, cuddled blankets with four year old
-fresh cookies and coffee hot
-for his help in choosing peace, calm, kindness and the resulting joy and unity that brings!

Good evening, you. I am glad you are here. What was your day like today? What gifts are you counting as thanks today? Have any weekend confessions to laugh at with me too?

Photo credits to Microsoft clip art.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Multi-tasking Moms and Stirred Up Spirits

Hissing, bubbling coffee percolates nearby, steam rising from the black appliance top. An airplane drones sleepily overhead as cool breezes pour through my open windows. 

Morning forays into facebook earlier had alerted me to further uprisings in the Middle East. Clicking to BBC world news, I read and prayed, scrolling pages. 

Wiping kitchen counters, slicing cucumbers, and planning an apple cobbler, I prayed for the Middle East, coordinated school, and washed dishes. Daughter draws manga art behind me now, preschooler alternates between being a puppy and waving swords, and teen son recovers from an aggressive 24-hour virus he caught at his daycare job. We wash hands often now, count the hours and wait to see if it has infected our home as well. 

Sipping fresh-brewed coffee, I ponder newly-found words and concepts in the ancient biblical book Haggai. In that setting, God-followers had started strong with some rebuilding work, but after long opposition, they had stopped, assuming it was not the right time. Several years later, God spoke to them saying that now was the time to focus on his rebuilding efforts. He told them to be strong, to give careful thought to their ways, and he said that he would be with them. Lastly—and I love this—the ancient text writes, “So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel, and the spirit of ____ and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on (Sept. 21, 520 BC).” 

Our spirits can be stirred up by any number of things, some wrongly, some well. It can lead to good actions or poor actions, as we see so often in the news. This morning, as a multi-tasking mom, sipping coffee and God’s word, I want to be stirred up by His spirit for His purposes.

Hi, you. What multi-tasking projects are you working on today? Where are you reading lately, and what is God stirring up in your spirit? (From email, click here to join in.) 

(Did you see Cabinart's blue coffee cup print framed there? Check out this California artist's site.) 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Of Fires and Friendships: And How Do You Be a Good Friend?

After following orange detour signs around winding silo-topped farms and rolled up bales of hay, the state park road dropped down a hill and along a glassy river. Camp sites sprinkled both sides of the road and we crunched into gravely sites. 

Later, wrapped in cool autumn night, we folded marinated chicken, red onions and peppers into tin foil, and dropped them in the embers. As night fell cooler and supper steamed, we unwrapped our lives, opening wide. Fire flickered on halves of faces as we shared struggles, worries, joys, and God’s transformations. Silence soaked up our fire for a few moments as we sat under more stars than I had seen for years and listened to campground noises. Then filling our cups again, we laughed and talked some more. 

Various seasons of life have made me deeply grateful for friendships, near and far. Some friends I see weekly, others every few months, or even once every few years; and some friends are wrapped in family skin or siblings’ wedding ties; nonetheless I am deeply grateful to them all. 

As an old friend of mine ponders friendships, and various ones near me reminisce about days gone by, here is my vow. I choose to be a good friend, regardless of circumstances and locations, by…

  • Choosing to listen often, and speak when needed.

  • Choosing to love you unconditionally.

  • Choosing to be transparent and vulnerable.

Deep caring friendships in today’s world can be elusive. I am blessed to have them, and work hard at being a good friend in return. What do you feel are the top two or three traits of good friendship? What trait do you wrestle with being yourself?
 P.S. I love getting to know you guys. Do you want to grab a photo of yourself that expresses something you enjoy, post it with a small description, and then copy my site's link into your blog post? We can hop into a show-and-tell time together. :) I love camping and being in the woods. Even just a short walk outside causes me to breathe deeper, stretch my shoulders high, and smile, connecting deeper with God. 

Tag! Those in email, click here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Six Essentials of a Great Youth Program

Summer heat pours through a September window, and my student bends head over her math notebook. Legos tinkle in the distance as preschooler relishes rest time. 

Our youth group switches back to school hours tonight, so sixth graders through eighth graders will separate from the ninth through twelfth graders. Youth pastor husband and I love our youth group teens, and savor having our own kids in the program too. After more than eighteen years of youth ministry, we have settled on several vital components for a great youth program. Through conversations with friends or family over the years too who were pleased with something they saw, or who were dissatisfied with features they desired in a youth program, we have noticed common factors.

Looking for a great youth ministry program for your kids, grandkids, nieces or nephews? Or are you in youth ministry and striving to make it phenomenal? 

Here are six essentials of a great youth program: 

  1. Jesus and the Bible are seen as the source of truth, joy and purpose in life. Lessons are derived from there, and clear salvation messages are taught regularly. 
  2. There is a clear vision and philosophy of youth ministry that reaches out to and teaches both those who are curious about who Jesus is, as well as to those who have chosen to follow and serve him, taking them further in their life-changing walks with him.
  3. Youth leaders recognize that their job is to love, connect with, model Jesus to, and mentor the teens, and don’t fall into being peers. Authority and approachability are paired carefully, humbly, and lovingly. (It’s a hard line, needing God’s help and input from other leaders.)
  4. Missions trips and service projects are interspersed with fun social connecting times, and rich learning times in God’s word, all seen as an extension of loving God, worshiping him, joyfully being his hands and feet, and with a humble desire for others to meet Jesus,  our source of rescue too. 
  5. Events are never seen as required or babysitting; always a privilege to be there. This frees up both the teens and the leaders to jump in, connect, and participate in; lovingly responding with correction when needed. 
  6. Youth leaders tap into God's agape love for their teens and the ministry, knowing they can't do it on their own.

As a youth pastor’s wife, and a mom of two teens, these are pivotal foundations for us, on both sides of the youth ministry coin. We haven’t perfected these either, but they are what we strive for as youth leaders, and what we look for in youth ministry as parents.

What about you? What stood out to you in youth ministry when you were a teen? What do you look for now in a youth program for your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews?

 In ministry? What is the hardest aspect for you? Or what is your list of non-negotiables? 

I appreciate these conversations with you. Thanks. To comment from email, click here.

Photo credit: Microsoft clip art