Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Balancing Work and Home: Making Every Moment Count

Stepping outdoors, the heat hit my face, and I sucked in air greedily. One of my favorite scents is the fragrance of hot wet soil and asphalt steaming in the sun after a rain. Sand ripples, eroded by flash rain, strata-ed the edges of the road, and a red fire hydrant gleamed newly-polished from the storm.

I inhaled deeply as I walked, my work bag swinging on one shoulder. For a moment, I rustled in my bag for the phone, then stopped. Resisting the impulse to call or text, I instead stretched my shoulders, dropping and squaring them into a yoga pose, and breathed in deeply.

"Be here, Jen. Pause, breathe in. See God's beauty..."

I found my walk changing, and my focus following. Smiling, I debriefed from the day, grinning vaguely at passing cars and unseen neighbors, reviewing the week's duties. Water droplets glimmered deep within silvery spruce branches. A new song tickled the edges of my brain and I sang quietly under my breath. "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other, and for everyone else..."

Sloshing through a muddy stretch, I wiped it off, grabbed my mail, and stepped inside, eager to see my family and kiss them.Thankful for my family, thankful for my job.

Hi, friend. I love hearing from you. What has your day been like? How do you transition from an outside job to home? (Those in email can click here to comment.) 

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Photo credits: #1: "Nighttime in the Rain" by Debbie Lewis; #2: Street image courtesy of HinFrance ; #3: "Broad Street Rain" by Rick Reinert.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Adding Steam & Romance to our Marriages this Summer

As summer steams up and children are off familiar school schedules, it's easy to simply fall into the role of Kid Chauffeur and Activities Coordinator. For my husband and I, though, summer is also a chance for more romance. He jokes wryly that his homeschooling wife suddenly gives him more attention once school is done for the year. Poor guy. While I'm still working on that, we've been loving the freedom of summer too!

When our two teens are home, we appreciate their willingness to babysit while we race away for an occasional afternoon sushi lunch, coffee date out, or cool twilight bike ride. Now that my teens are back volunteering at camp, free babysitting options are more limited. Keeping four-year old Daniel at his normal early bedtime, though, gives us several hours in the evening for at-home date-nights. Board and card games crowd our dining room table right now and I'm taking a break from making a killer Star Wars deck -- well, trying. My man usually wins, but he hears love in quality time and recreational companionship, so I've been culling Bobo Fett and Darth Vader cards. In the games, we get competitive, our eyes dance across the table from each other, and romance kindles.

Curling entwined on the couch, we've picked up C.S. Lewis's book, The Great Divorce, a thought-provoking allegory. Other nights we've loyally (okay, fanatically) clicked our way through multiple episodes of Netflix television series.

This quest for a passionate vibrant marriage isn't just for the school year, for weekends, or for when the kids grow up. For our marriages to be joyful, fulfilling friendships and connected partnerships, instead of just roommates-in-passing, we've got to be intentional.

So, besides the flirty pair of short-shorts I only wear at home for him, and the colognes he wears that instantly grab my attention and make me want to kiss him, we strive to carve out time for each other, to forgive repeatedly, to communicate kindly and respectfully, to laugh, pray and hug often.

And my secret weapon? This practice I've become convinced of? It's the verses that run through my mind, running in my head like memories. Truth nuggets with the power to shape, transform, and renew me --and the people around me. My verse for the last two weeks is phenomenal, and my mom gets credit for using it first. Perfect for marriages, it is nonetheless great to pray in any relationship: for family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances.

"May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other, 
and for everyone else,
just as ours does for you. 

May he strengthen your hearts
so that
you will be blameless and holy
in the presence of our God and Father
when the Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."  (I Thessalonians 3:12, 13)

So, want to add some steam and romance to your marriage this summer? In addition to sending off your older kids for camp or coordinated sleepovers for occasional sound-proof romantic nights, sidle over to your man. Be intentional. Speak love in a language he understands. Plan some romance, and grab these verses with me.

Photo credit: Microsoft clip art

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How Not to Lose this Summer that's Slipping By

Under a massive blue sky, mammoth cotton clouds slide shadows across the deck and my pink skin. Motorcycles hum, birds sing, and a hot wind buffets sweaty skin.

How do you make a summer stretch long? In between the jobs, park play dates, garage sale fundraisers, summer camp carpools, and youth missions trip details, how does a family make sure to savor and slow down?

He splashes happily on slick wood slats now, smacking a soaking wet towel against deck floorboards, physics and fun combined. "Mom, can I have some more water please? I dumped it all out." Wet Spiderman underwear on a skinny four year old body battles shadows on the deck, as I run cool water into the metal bowl again.

In between the jobs, the games, and the phone calls, will you take time with me this summer to slow down? Slit and nibble hot spinach leaves from a sandy garden. Dance angry on gopher mounds with me. Plot mole murders. Grill burgers, transplant raspberries, invite friends over for home-made iced tea, and slip into swimsuits, hidden away on the deck, to nap under cottony clouds.

How do you slow down time? F. Diane Barth, a licensed clinical social worker, in her article "Can We Slow Down Time?" references neuropsychologists to state that "our brains are wired not only to recognize increments of time but also to have a certain kind of elasticity around how long any particular experience seems to last."

So how do we slow down time, and feel more relaxed this summer? Here are four things that help me.

1.) Intentionally carve out time to relax. Don't fill the calendar too full, and say no to some events.

2.) Make sure to do something every day that brings you joy. Whether it is gardening, biking, sunbathing, writing, reading, or having a friend over, commit to plan that into your days and weeks.

3.) Be fully present in every event. Don't dash from one event to the next, but slow yourself to see the people beside you. Pause, listen, and be there. (This is hard for me some days.)

4.) Breathe deeply and slowly. It is scientifically-proven to slow down our muscles, heart rates, and emotions.

My four-year old? He's in from the deck now. Plastic spoons, a metal bowl, and crumpled wet clothes are the only reminders from the deck that he was there.The puddles and splashes have evaporated and dried already in the time it took to write this and run him a warm bath. He plays happily now in his room, and the afternoon turns to suppertime.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Midsummer's Conversation

The words came together in a way I had never seen before. In between the sentences and the miracles, a quiet storyline unfolded before me.

There had been a macabre seven-veils-style of dancing in a Roman court, culminating in erotic shimmies, and a request for a head on a platter. Grisly details finalized the deal.

Some miles away, followers of John the Baptist spilled the news to Jesus about his cousin's death. "When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place."

We expect a time of grieving, a chance to be still and mourn. Instead, "Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns."

Ever needed to be alone or desired downtime? Ever needed time to grieve?

"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached..." 

I love this. A man in the throes of grief himself still senses others' pain. Then, instead of hurrying away, he stops, spends hours with them, listening, hearing the deeper issues, and healing their sicknesses and wounds.

"As evening approached...," we come face to face with one of his familiar miracles. And we encounter a logical polite retreat option for Jesus. "Well, it's late," his disciples subtly hint to him,suggesting he send the people home. This could have been his out, on a day of grief and weariness for him. No one would have faulted him. 

"They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat," Jesus replies instead, starting the miracle account. Bringing the small loaves and fish that had been recovered, Jesus looked up at heaven, smiled at his Father, thanking him for food and life, and broke the bread.

Bounty and nourishment flowed. 

Everyone ate and was satiated. Men, women, and children received what they needed from him. One of Jesus' largest miracles took place in a day of grief and weariness, when he was trying to get away to solitude. 

As the leftovers were being picked up and placed into baskets, Jesus "immediately made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray alone..."

I love that Jesus' miracles and compassion happened here on a day of weariness and grief, when Jesus was really just needing some time away. In his grief though, he saw their needs, was filled with compassion, and invested in them for several hours. Then, when everyone was healed and full, he said goodbye, walked up the mountainside, and continued his conversation with the Father.

As moms, dads, friends, grandparents, or people in ministry, this encourages and teaches me. Lord, make me like you, to see other people's needs, regardless of my own energy levels that day, and to have compassion, moved into action. And the truly exciting thing? We have that same Holy Spirit in us, moving and empowering us to love like Jesus did.

Then afterwards, slipping away, we can continue our conversations. "Where were we, God?" 

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose

Photo credit

Thursday, June 6, 2013

And What Do You Buy God?

Five or six nickels and dimes line up precariously on the white pine bed railing, as my four-year old and I shove toys into piles in his room.

Sitting cross-legged, I sort toys and bag up giveaways. "Daniel, I found another one!" He races over to pluck the coin from my hand, and carries it triumphantly up the ladder to his bed railing.

My brother flew home this week, my eldest son walked the stage in flowing red robes on Tuesday night, and we celebrated his graduation party on Saturday. Throughout the week leading up to it, our family cleaned, painted, and landscaped like madmen. And my silly prayer to God all week? Lord, please let the tulips keep their petals and beauty until after the party. I wanted the guests to have that splash of color in the yard, and even more so, I longed for my horticulturalist brother to enjoy them with me.

Graduation party day came, and my vibrant red, purple and yellow tulips were still there. Nodding in rain, blown by the wind, they were still there -- weeks past their duration date-- still there when my brother drove up to see them.

The party went wonderfully, the food multiplied, the hard rain held off, and we delighted to linger long with people over ice cream sundaes and hot coffee on a cloudy day. Conversations flowed, grass-stained teens played volleyball for hours, and we had a wonderful time.

And the tulips? They held their color, waving in the wind.

Five or six nickels and dimes line up precariously on the white pine bed railing. Surrounded by Legos, cheetahs, and valiant plastic green army men, I sort toys into piles, and sit in Daniel's room, listening to him. He tells me of games he plays, and battles his cheetahs have been in, and he occasionally hands me toys to sort. I listen and clean; listen and love him; listen and bring order to the disarray.

And the joy in him wells up. This time with him, this one-on-one listening, this listening to the smallest details of his life, fills up his love bank and bursts him wide open.

"You beautiful, Mom! I love you." And we work some more. I work quietly behind the scenes, restoring order and beauty to spilled toys, spilled out bits from a busy life that hadn't yet been dealt with.

Love spills into him, and over him, falling out around him, and he breaks into happy leaping.

"Mom, I buy you something?" he asks suddenly, touching his six or seven coins lined up on the bed. These were his coins that he was saving in the ceramic blue and white pig. Coins he was saving to buy a Lego set.

"Mom, I buy you something?"

"Wow, Daniel, that's really sweet and generous of you. I'm okay for right now, but maybe later, okay? Thank you!" I stammer and affirm him.

I get this. This desire to give back to the One who sits in my disarray and listens, to the One who spills love to me with simple gestures, like tulips bobbing in the wind. The love spills up and over, and I burst into wondering what I can give back to Him. And the nickels and dimes line up precariously on my white pine railing.

"Thank you, God! Thank you for so much. I buy you something?" And the line it slips out my mouth in quiet humor to my God all weekend now, a shared joke between me and the Godhead. His letters tell me that a life of worship and obedience is what speaks love to Him right back, and so I gather my heart and leap into worship. 

Hi friend! I've missed you. What has this last week been like for you? How are ways you speak love back to God? (Those in email can click here to join the discussion.)

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

Coins photo credit.