Thursday, February 28, 2013

Praying in Four-Four Time

A sagging snowman curtsies in the sun as I pass, and a clanging flagpole rope whips in four-four time in the wind. Spring sidles up beside me, slipping in and out of the clouds this week.

Mismatched mitten-hands shoved into red jacket pockets several times this week, as I crunched in Minnesota snow and whispered prayer.

Monday morning, I joined MOPS women from a metro suburb at round tables decorated in Tahitian sand and shells. We nibbled scrumptious white chocolate and berry scones, and murmured in surprise over bacon-topped mini French toast muffins. In laughter and in shared moments of quiet understanding, we spoke of our marriages, and urged each other on in loving our men and being their outspoken fans. Hours later, I shoved mismatched mittened-hands into pockets deep, and walked towards the car. "Thank you, Abba, for great times of getting to know these new women, and for chances to speak of you and the adventures of marriage." Prayer looked like praise and joy puddling out.

Tuesday night, five families unfold from minivans wide, and climb our icy cement steps. Inside, we line up curries, chicken stir fry, and pad Thai in a buffet line, and stomp up the kids from downstairs. Clamoring loud and crowding round, toddlers and teens mingle with moms and dads from small group as we fall quiet and thank God for food. Prayer looked like toddler hands, grinning moms, rice on the floor already, and hungry smacking lips. Then dishes clatter, and we're on the hunt for spoons and cups.

Hands shoved into pockets deep this week, I walked through wet streets again, whispering prayer and lifting up friends of mine. Prayer looked like silent reflection, somber possibilities, and a waiting game.

A sagging snowman curtsies in the sun, and a clanging flagpole rope whips in four-four time. Spring sidles up beside me, slipping in and out of clouds this week, and prayer follows on the wind.

I appreciate you being here with me today, friend, and would be honored to shove hands in pockets deep and pray with you too this week. What's on your mind? (Those in email are welcome to join the discussion by clicking here.) 

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose

Photo credit to Microsoft.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Priest and the Hundred Dollar Bill

I know, it's an odd beginning.

Before the priest, before the hundred dollar bill, before the camp weekend, he was simply one of our new teens -- a shorter, round-faced, sweet middle school boy. He came to youth group on Wednesday nights, the friend and neighbor of some teens. Brown hair, dimpled face with a mischievous smile, and a respectful attitude, TJ* seemed like a Southern boy transported to our snowy Minnesota suburb.

He joined us for youth group lessons and football games on the church lawn. In between Bible lessons and dodgeball matches, God gave us a love for this new teen, and we prayed often for him, and our other youth group kids.

One cold October weekend, our junior high piled into an orange and grey school bus and trundled three hours north to a weekend retreat. Two nights into the retreat, our thirty-some students were bundled in with four hundred teens from across Minnesota and Wisconsin in a rustic, metal-heater-gushing lodge. As the man on stage spoke of God's huge love for us, and asked us to bow our heads, I saw a stirring from our long wooden benches. TJ --shorter, middle school TJ, in a room full of middle school and high school peers,with his head up determinedly-- was bravely walking down the orange carpeted aisle. Alone in a room full of strangers, before the youth speaker had fully finished his invitation to come, TJ was coming.

Guitarists and vocalists sang quietly on stage, "It's your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance" and I wiped happy tears from my cheeks. Excitement and joy coursed through me, as I caught my husband's eye and nodded to TJ. A smile broke across his face too, and we closed eyes to thank our amazing Creator who loves us, and calls us, and desires relationship with us.

TJ continued to grow, spiritually and physically. Suddenly a summer later, it seemed, he towered over us, a stocky football player. Hanging around before and after youth group, he asked great questions, spoke of reading his Bible, and leaked joy from his face and smiles.

"I'm talking to my family's priest too," he told us one night. In our youth group, teens came from a variety of community churches and we welcomed them all. "He gave me a book to read," TJ said. "In it I found a hundred dollar bill!"

"Wow! What did you do?" I asked him, wondering about the situation.

"I told the priest and tried to give it back," he responded, "but he said I could have it."

Shaking my head, I grinned at this example of honesty from my teen. One hundred dollars is a lot of money for any of us.

"What do you think you'll do with the hundred dollars?"

"I don't know," he mused, and we talked of other things.

A week or two later, the sight of a blackened house on a familiar street rocked our town. Midnight flames scorched and ruined the family's home. Neighbors with one of our church members, we soon learned details of the occupant kids' ages and needs.

Calling our youth group families, we asked the teens to bring any extra toys or clothing on Wednesday night to share with this family. The generosity of our students astounded us. Bags and bags of animals, toys, dolls, and clothing were carted into our youth area.Towels, shampoos, and soaps arrived, and our piles grew taller.

After talking it over, and praying aloud for the unknown family whose home had burned down, our students decided to drop off the items anonymously, simply giving the credit to God's huge love. In scrawled marker and color crayons, we shared this.

And TJ? He quietly came up to us and opened his wallet. "I'd like them to have this," he said. In his hands was the hundred dollar bill.

Spilled joy. Spilled generosity.

And it gets me over and over again. This amazing Creator who spills lavish love and joy into us, and splashes out to others. 

We love working with teens. They amaze us, teach us, and humble us. Think of us tonight, friends? We're headed to an all-night Lock In with our junior high. Pray for energy, stamina, and great times of connecting with our teens.

Linking too with Imperfect Prose

Photo courtesy of Microsoft clip art.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sign Language Theology

Creamy banana mash glistens from his dimpled cheeks and soft forehead, as he catches my eye.

Zealously signing "More, more," he pumps plump two-year-old hands together, while clenching a half-eaten banana.

In delight, I kiss the top of my new nephew's blond head and happily hand him bits of red pear. My scuffed cherry table-top shines with sticky fruit residue, and I am charmed by big eyes and dimpled fists signing, "More more."

In a red highchair with fruit, my nephew's actions are innocent and cute, but I'm struck today by how much that looks like me.

In a landscape strewn with sweet gifts of life, family, marriage and friends, I am struck by how often I sign "More, more" to my Abba Daddy. Clutching what he's given me in one hand, I sometimes forget and think I need more.

"Don't be deceived, my brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Heavenly Lights who does not change like shifting shadows."

I'm slow to learn some days, clutching gifts in one hand and signing "more." I'm so thankful for a patient Father of Heavenly Lights, who loves me, delights in me, and trains me.

What is he teaching you this week?

I love hearing from you, friends, and doing life with you. Those receiving these posts by email can click here to join the discussion, if they'd like.

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Radical Choices After "I Do"

Photo credit to Josiah Mackenzie

It wasn't a proud moment.

Huddling under blankets, I squeezed my eyes against the closet light, and buried further into muffled quiet. He dressed, searched for matching socks, and I grumbled at the interruptions to my nap.

Soon, my man turned off the light and left the room. Grabbing my last twenty minutes of sleep, I burrowed deep into sheets and pillow. Kitchen noises, microwave door slams, and cabinet clatters grated on me. Then there was silence and a blissful few moments of sleep, before the alarm woke me.

Padding out to the kitchen I saw a note on the table next to a tall glass. "I love you. Here is some chai to wake you up. You may need to reheat it." White whipped topping swirled with grated nutmeg above creamy chai tea.

Embarrassment at my inner grumblings mixed with shame, and I apologized to God for my attitude. Grabbing my phone, I texted my husband just as his worship practice was starting, "You're a nice man! Thanks for the note and the chai."

"You are my love, my life, the best friend I know," he responded.

I was wooed, romanced, and thrilled. Dashing off a quick reply to him since he had to start drumming, I then turned to my chai and my Bible.

Choices. We all make them.

My husband chose to be kind to me, despite my sleepy grumbles. I was humbled, touched, and different for the rest of the day.

Choosing to look for good in each other, choosing to respond in gentle humility, choosing joy and life over selfish grumblings, choosing kingdom life...

We have been choosing to pray together every morning, my husband and I. While we had always known the benefits of that, this is a new consistency and new intentionality for us. Pausing life, ignoring the kids for a moment, and before one of us heads out the door, we hug, lean close, and step into the throne room. Foreheads or cheeks touching, we pray with soft voices for each other. Naming battles, praying blessings, choosing this radical other way of Kingdom life. A life that is so counter-intuitive some days --gentleness, other-focused, patient -- that it involves a conscious retraining of our mind and actions. 

And it is so good. We see Jesus in the softness, in the gentle, in the serving.

"You and Mark seem... different," said a friend yesterday who knows us well, nodding her head and smiling. I thanked her, talked of God, and shared my brokenness.

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience and Emily at Imperfect Prose

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Coffee Break With the Stars

Courtesy of HubbleSite

Photo Link

It's not fresh, this rain puddle-y mug of coffee. But I'm feeling frugal and tired, so I slide last night's forgotten zucchini out of the microwave and slip in this mug to reheat old coffee. It's acrid from too much time on the hot burner and slightly stale, but I'm craving a jolt of caffeine.

In between hours at work, and time at home watching a Ronald Regan documentary or bent over metric conversion tables, I pull my Bible close, craving time with Him. I ponder words from the oldest New Testament letter (this letter from Jesus' half brother James to his Jerusalem church and beyond).

"Don't be deceived, my brothers," he says. 

I pause again now, the coffee too stale for me to finish. Ugh. I shudder, and pour myself some orange juice. Tangy sweetness washes away acrid staleness.

"Don't be deceived, my brothers," James says, tying this thought in with the sentences above. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

Refreshing words rinse staleness from my mind. The Father of heavenly lights. Hubble space images of spiraling galaxies, twisting green nebulas, and hulking red stars  fill my mind.

"Lord of the Star-fields, Ancient of Days, Universe-maker, here's a song in your praise," croons Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn in my memory.

Father of heavenly lights, dropping every good and perfect gift from above. He Who Does Not Change Like Shifting Shadows.

"Lord of the Star-fields, 
Ancient of Days, 
here's a song in your praise."

The Father of heavenly lights rinses staleness from me.

Linking with Imperfect Prose and A Holy Experience