Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Thunders at Skeleton Head

Thunder breaks without warning at 4 am last night, like two semi trucks crashing and tumbling on the street outside our window. Startled awake, I lie in the dark and revel in the milder rumbles and lightning that follow.

I wonder if this is what the earthquake sounded like to the startled Romans and Jews that dark afternoon when Jesus died. Already, the solar eclipse or miraculous dark that flooded in at noon was extraordinary. But the earthquake that shook the Skeleton Head mound where wooden crosses lined up, tore the temple's curtain in two, and helped gravely graveyard tombs grind open, releasing the newly-alive, must have been horrifying and memorable. Did the earthquake sound like loud thunder overhead? Like a high impact crash of two semi trucks outside?

The first of Minnesota spring storms starts at dawn, before the light. Water sinks into deeply entombed snowbanks. Rain falls heavy, washing away a winter's salt and sand, soaking into a cold earth. The ground thaws slowly, rain puddling into mini ponds. Mountains of snow whittle by the hour, and the brown remnants of last summer's glory dissolve away.

An hour later, my family stirs and we meet to stare out rain-speckled windows. In the brightening day, water glistens everywhere. My daughter pads across the damp deck to peer closer.

"Mom, I see green grass!"

Later today, the sun climbs high, and Minnesotans everywhere embrace the vibrant fifty degree weather, smiling at strangers, walking dogs, and watching the snow melt. And within the soggy dead undergrowth, life pulses, building momentum for its entrance.

Happy Easter, friend.

My four year old and I pore over his picture Bible today, telling the historical account, tracing the timeline of events, and wondering at the love Jesus has to endure that pain for us. And within the soggy dead undergrowth, life pulses, building momentum for its entrance.

Photo credit to Microsoft.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Underneath the Mom Hat... It Stirs

The sun sinks behind the bustling farm supply store to my right, and pink twilight stains treetops outside my deck window. A moment more and the pink is gone, with navy clouds tangling in the trees.

Kenny G's sax trills, and quiet settles over my home. Four-year old sleeps, my teens have disappeared downstairs, and I steal moments.

The stillness seeps in. Once the clamor of dishes and bedtimes pass, we all -- moms and women everywhere -- grab something and sink deep into cushions, quiet, and calm.

For me, tonight, it's a smooth-rolling gel pen and paper to scroll across. Writing wells from deep within, an outlet for me.

What is it for you tonight? What speaks quiet rejuvenation for you?

Carved from an Artist's hands, we all have subtle ways we create--perhaps without even knowing it. I know people who spill art by slicing and dicing savory dishes; by baking hot bread for family; by snipping and stitching fabric or wielding hot glue guns; by freezing beauty through 35 millimeter film and pixels. Others create with splashes of vivid pigment; swirls of oil on canvas; precision pen and inks; or breathtakingly tender moments on a couch with preschoolers and stories that kidnap imaginations. Artists weave words; stamp cards; graphic design; lilt melodies; run with graceful abandon; bring life from gardens deep; and lovingly build up the people near them.

Whatever art stirs in you, friend, steal moments to meet it. 

Ignore the dirty dishes, the scattered toys, the disheveled bedroom for a few minutes. Stop. Quiet yourself. Look up to the Artist who made you, and then create art: on paper, canvas, sheet music, in your home, and in the people around you.

I love hearing from you. What speaks quiet rejuvenation to you today? What art stirs in you? (Those in email can click here to join the conversation.)

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience to thank the Artist, and with Emily in a Dare to Love Yourself.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

People-Watching in Ancient Israel (And Seeing Myself)

Photographer Itamar Grinberg, Courtesy of Israel Tourism

Photographer Dana Friedlander, Courtesy of Israel Tourism

On a sleepy snowy morning this week, I cuddled under my covers for the last ten minutes of sleep. My husband had just slipped off to work, and my teens showered and dressed on their own. Cracking open the bedroom door, my four year old said, "Mom?...Dad said I can get you if I need you."

"Sure, Daniel, what do you need?"

"Nuffing, just come!"

Five minutes into his time alone, he missed me, craving relationship, companionship, closeness.

Fresh into reading the New Testament again now --after years of tracing my way slowly through the Old Testament, trying to read it with fresh eyes as if I had never seen it before -- I am once again asking the Author to bring his word alive to me. Abba, open my eyes, help me to see you in a new way, teach me.

Pulling my hot tea close, I grab a pen, my journal, and crack open the New Testament, eager to meet this God-Man Messiah I have been reading ancient parchments about for years. Jesus, teach me who you are, show me you anew.

I find myself people-watching in ancient Israel. 
  • People are amazed after hearing the Carpenter's Son speak for hours. Instead of racing home for food and a nap, they follow him. Large crowds walk behind him, eager to hear what he'll say next. 
  • This God-Man stands out from the other teachers and leaders the people are used to hearing, and he speaks with authority.
  • The infectious, the ill, the needy follow him. "Jesus, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean."
And suddenly five minutes into being alone here in snowy Minnesota with my tea, I have missed him --this Carpenter's Son-- and crave relationship, companionship, closeness. Crowds follow him, amazed by him, craving closeness with him.

The needy follow him. And I see myself there, echoing these words. "Lord, if you are willing..."

And the God-Man never tires, never gets "peopled-out." He reaches out a hand, says "I'm willing!" and touches us.

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sneaking Romance into the Work Week

Photo Credit

Last night, we maneuvered city streets, wove in and out of rush-hour traffic, and held creased paper map outstretched. "The parking ramp should be right here, on Chicago and Lake Street." Yellow awnings flapped cheerily in the winter breeze, and snow melted into slush. After a u-turn and my man's skilled stick-shifting, we slipped into a dark cement stall.

Inside the global market, vendors with Middle Eastern hummus and gyros stood beside Vietnamese bubble teas, Chinese kungpao chicken, Asian curries, Swedish biscuits and lingonberry jams. Mexican salsa verdes and corn husk tamales lined side alleys, while an American diner inside boasted cheeseburgers and "the best fries in town." Hand in hand, my husband and I meandered the halls, trying not to get lost in the rows of stalls and shops. A wooden giraffe towered over me near a Ghanian stall selling spotted goat horn rings. In the next shop, veiled Somali women leaned regally across counters, elegant and robed, their golden jewelry wares dangling from shop walls.

Photo Credit
In the center of the market,the ceiling broke away into sunny glass skylights. On a stage, musicians gathered, unpeeling and unfolding conga drums, baritone saxes, flutes, and guitars from their protective wraps. Nathanael and Friends, the 5:30-6:30 pm set, were three African-American men whose smiles split faces.We shook hands, talked of sound systems, drums, and the drummer's Marine tour of duty overseas. As they built up audience participation, we played "Guess that artist" to a Doobie Brothers' song from my past, and Marco was called up to drum with them for a song.

Photo Credit
Shoulders touching, we bent over sesame chicken, and slurped a cold chai bubble tea. Resting back against our chairs, we bobbed in time to folk rock. Pink-clad Latina pequenas danced nearby, while a proud grandma smiled and tugged their clothing straight. Nine to fivers headed home, weary from the day, nodding heads to the beat as they crossed the marketplace. Moms grabbed an easy supper for Cars Two-toting preschool boys, and a produce cashier danced in time, drumming against his right thigh to the beat, oranges stacked high beside him.

"Celebrate good times, come on!" belted the trio, whaling away on the sax, drum and guitar.

Man and I leaned over the last sips of bubble tea, kissed, and picked up our purchases. Injera bread, hummus, and guava nectar were for another day, another date. Holding hands, we walked out of the market and across the street, into normal.

Rekindling the romance in our marriages can be done on a shoe string, on a Thursday. The sun set across Minneapolis, staining pink against leafless trees and stark red branches. We grinned, held hands, catching glances across the stick shift and traffic. "That was fun," we breathed, steam brushing up against frosted windows. Traffic whirred by. We fell silent, relaxed and happy in the twilight.

Pink-stained trees dipped into snowbanks, and we chose romance.

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Of Grimy Hands and Potter's Wheels

Photo Credit

Slippery hands grasp hard. Rosy earthen clay spins, turning on the potter wheel.

"Look at how resistant the clay is to being centered," she says, standing on tip toe and leaning hard into, onto, the clay. Silvery hair tucks into a short bob, with stray curls hanging wispy at the neck. Dark navy blue pants press against a wobbly table, while a turquoise long-sleeved shirt is rolled high on the arms.

"You cannot make a decent vessel until the clay is centered," she states, breathing slightly with the exertion of aiming the spinning clay towards center. "I'm always using water. I never put my hands on the clay without using water."

"The speed is very important." Her right foot holds pedal firm.With a steady, sure hand, she opens up the clay then, pinching, shaping, molding. "The clay has to submit to the potter or it won't make a piece. I'm at the mercy of the clay, if it behaves or not sometimes."

"The anticipation that the potter has as she does the arduous work of digging up the clay (in ancient days), working it with strong hands, and envisioning what she has planned for it... The artist has a design already." Pink lips smile under sparkling azure eyes.

"The artist knows the limitation of the clay," she mused, leaning over her clay, gently molding, pushing, fingering. "If a piece is too soft, it will collapse." She slices off a lip of pink clay, dipping the tendril into water, grabbing more clay, and practising surgery to meld it on thicker and more sturdily to the vase's mouth.

We watch as Judith holds steady, experienced hands against the pliable clay, spinning and smoothing it, shaping and molding it. Pink edges rise higher, curving out sensuously into a delicate vase neck.

Suddenly, Judith halts and picks up a sharp surgical-looking scalpel. "Often air bubbles arrive in the clay. The bubbles aren't visible, aren't noticeable to the eye, but the master potter can feel them under his hands as he molds and handles the clay. To ignore the bubbles and leave them intact, allowing the piece to be kiln-fired would be disastrous. The item would shatter in the extreme heat, and be destroyed."

With firm precision, our potter gashes the sharp knife into soft clay where she had noted the abnormality. "It must be caught and fixed now."

Quoting Blackaby from his work "Experiencing God," she said, "When you come to know God by experience, you will be convinced of his love. When you are convinced of his love, you can believe him and trust him."

Wiping grimy hands on a muddy towel, she pauses and shares with trembling hands of her husband's new journey into Parkinson's and a recent blinding in one eye. "We have been learning to trust in new ways now," she laughs, moving again to touch the clay.

"But you see, I love clay so much. And any artist who loves the clay can't keep her hands off it, always grabbing it, molding it, shaping it, seeing the beauty that she already imagines for it."

Pausing, she grabs a knife to prick an unseen bubble, then the wheel whirls again, as pink clay spins beneath smooth, strong hands.

(Potter: Judith Storkamp from Northwestern College's Set Apart Conference March 8, 9, 2013 along with keynotes Ann Voskamp, Liz Curtis Higgs, and many more workshops presenters.) 

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience, I thank God for lessons in clay and humble red-handed women. 


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hypocrisy and French Onion Soup

Photo Credit to

"Why are so many Christians hypocrites?" she* asked. "Not you or your sister and parents, but so many others," she muttered, staring at the sandwich in front of her. "Pretending perfect, they go to church, but we all see it."

Snow flies past the window and onto the slushy sidewalks outside Panera Bread. Inside in cozy heat, we sit at tiny tables, eating french onion soup and creamy avocado-topped sandwiches.

Just two years apart in age, we had grown up together, and learned about Jesus from the same people. In the past fifteen years, however, we had walked different directions with the Jesus-question. That never stopped our friendship, though, and our talks continued, over coffee, over the phone, and over sandwiches.

"Well, I think we all wrestle with it," I admit, wiping crumbs off the table and thinking hard.

"Now, you remember that going to church doesn't make you a Christian, right? Or that being a good person doesn't get you into heaven? But I think that most of the time we humans fall into the concept of trying to earn our way --keeping track of the good and bad we do and comparing ourselves to others. Even though the Bible is clear that none of us can earn our way to God and that this new relationship with God is only a gift from him (open to anyone) -- still, I think we too often forget. Falling back into the trap of trying to do good or look good, and trying to disregard the junk in our life, we're really just trying to convince ourselves. So, for me..." I pause.

She listens, while I swirl my glass, obviously still in thought.

"I'm trying to remember that my being a follower of Jesus doesn't mean that I have to be perfect. In fact, it means admitting with God that I'm not-- saying sorry for my junk and thanking him that his plan works. This freedom of not having to earn my way is liberating, and should free me to talk honestly about the things I wrestle with. Admitting my junk, being the first to bring it up, and saying sorry (to God, to others) is freeing. Knowing that Jesus loves me deeply and unconditionally brings such joy!"

"So when you see hypocrisy, it's often because people don't know about God's system and are trying to earn it on their own; or that we've forgotten and think we have to flash our good and deny or hide away our bad, instead of just honestly handing it to God and saying sorry."

She nods and I shut up, knowing it's my turn to listen. Clearing her throat, she shifts position in her chair, and responds. Nodding, hearing, I swallow soup and see from her side of the table.

Snow continues to fall outside, and we laugh and talk, cracking jokes before falling serious again. It's safe and humble, as we talk.

*Details changed for privacy. 

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Scary Privilege: How We as Moms Set the Tone

This Saturday, it fell apart.

"Why is it that the day before a Youth Sunday, everything somehow goes so badly?" my husband asked, sliding a hand through his hair in exasperation. "It never fails."

Toddlers dissolved into tears; teens argued; but mostly it was me. I argued, raged, and dissolved into tears. In an embarrassing grocery store incident, a stranger snapped at us -- I responded-- then he apologized and gently hoisted kitty litter into our cart. My daughter and I flushed an embarrassed crimson and bagged rapidly, wanting just to be away from watching eyes. Stacking blueberries and lettuce heads, I heard his soft apology, and offered an embarrassed one of my own.

Changing my default of discontent to doxology, described by Ann Voskamp, author of "One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are," is not easy to master. I can so easily fall into complaining, whining, or indignant behavior.

At home, surrounded by a bounty of groceries and a wealth of old resentment and impatience, my family and I stopped, apologized, and started over. Choosing to see good in the day, in each other, in the gifts from our Creator, we stopped, apologized and started over. 

Peace settled slowly into our home, joy creeping in. 

Oh friend, can you relate? Have you noticed a direct co-relation between your mood and your family's moods some days? What helps you and your family in those times? (Those in email can click here to join the conversation.)

Linking with Ann and Emily.