Wednesday, July 31, 2013

When You're at an Impasse in a Decision

We're stuck, my man and I.

At an impasse, and we circle to it again and again these last four days. At the coffee-shop over my dark French roast, in the car on our way home from an errand, and whispered in the dark at night before bed.

We have a decision to make that will affect not only the next two weeks, but probably the next few months as well. We hesitate because we are on opposite sides of the issue and can't find a middle ground. He is wise and logical, and I'm looking at this in a more emotive light, I know, and yet the stakes feel high. 

So we dance and parry, and gently ask questions. Probing quietly, we listen for the person's heart behind their choice, and seek to see their side.

This is a newer skill for us, I admit. Much more prone to fall into passionate "discussions," we are striving to do this better. Tools straight from the premarital counseling material that we teach to newly-engaged couples are, nonetheless, still hard to implement some days. It's hard not getting your way sometimes.

Three things have helped us in past decision-making dilemmas:

1.) Listen to the why behind their decision. Listen without interrupting and with openness.
2.) Speak calmly, respectfully, and kindly when it's your turn. Assertively share your thoughts.
3.) Remind yourself that their heart is good, and that their motives are usually for your benefit.

But today? It's still hard. My poor man and I long to say yes to the other person, long to thrill each other with a yes, but can't quite release what worries us from the other position. So we hug, and pray, and hope that time helps.

What helps you those days? What system of decision-making do you and your loved ones employ?

Photo credit. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Walls, Writing,and What You were Made For

It's the original walls. This home, built thirteen years ago by Russian hands. This home in which we're the third owners, third occupants. (Photos above not of my home. See credits below)

Foreclosed and bank-owned when we found it, knee high in thistles and clover, we know very little about this house's past owners. Intriguing clues surface at unexpected moments: the splatter of dusty rice pellets in crevices behind the stove and a solitary chopstick (giving us instant kinship with them-- us with our curries and African sauces, and at-least-weekly rice meals); mail addressed to Vietnamese or Thai names; and rumors of Russian families with lots of young men who liked bonfires under the moated stone tree.

A year into living here now, the house feels like home; the yard is brimming with rhubarb, flowers and produce; and lawn mower patterns trace square mazes of olive green grass clippings. Several walls have original paintwork still, though--a concession to time limits and energy. Sitting in Daniel's room this evening, I stare at the walls, seeing old staples high up in the wall from holding another family's posters.

Who lived here, I wonder? What was on these walls? Where did they put their bed, their dresser? Was it a child like our Lego-tinkling boy beside me, or someone else? Relatively clean, the walls still boast the plaster I swiped on some months ago to flatten and hide chips and dents on the surface. Original paintwork looks back at me, as I stare silently at the walls, picturing the clamoring sounds, stories, relationships, and lives of the two families here before us.

It feels surreal yet intimate, and I fall quiet. Plastic Legos shuffle and clank beside me, and stories  fill my mind.

I've been reading books on writing this month, and just turned the last page on a book tonight that leaves me eager to buy my own copy so I can mark it up with pencil underlinings and notes. (Two books are making their way to me already through warehouses and book fulfillment lists.) The authors speak of hard work, and daily determination to sit down at a desk and simply write. It recharges and inspires me, so I request a turn at the family computer, brew a pot of decaf coffee, and wrestle my five year old to bed. An hour later, the keyboard is mine, the coffee is just slightly scalded, and silence descends on my dimly-lit dining room. Black computer keys clatter inside as semi trucks rev by outside, and a small boy drifts off to sleep.

I don't know about you. I don't know what passions and skills God has grown deep inside of you, but for me, words --both spoken and written-- are music to me. Others' words weave me in, pull me along, slip me away, and inspire me. And mine? They form, haltingly, awkwardly, but unceasingly and I desire to have them reflect truth, reflect Him, and be for his glory.

So, for you tonight, my friend? Be encouraged. God has placed skills, passions, and dreams inside you, on purpose. He crafted and created you. Don't doubt it. Don't give up, and DO "fan into flame" the gifts he put inside you. You were made to bring glory to him. Practice your art. Persist at and hone that skill. Then run to hang it on his huge, cosmic fridge. "Abba, Daddy, look what I made for you!" in childlike naivety and wonder.

Linking with Ann tonight whose writing and love for her Abba make me thankful too. 

What are your passions or art? How are you honing it this week? 

 Photo credit #1 and photo credit #2. "Finestre Sulla Valle" 1969 by Contini Emilio.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Not Lost In Translation

Latin samba drums thunder from my computer speakers, and we dance, jumping around the living room. My five year old Daniel leaps joyfully beside me, tiny shoulders bouncing rhythmically, legs stomping the beat. We grab hands, shimmy to the beat, and swirl.

Jetlag whirls off, this third day back from our missions trip, and it's time to move. We dance, laughter spiraling off us, as we swoop up dirty laundry, and carry used dishes to the kitchen. Steaming sudsy water pours into the sink, frothing high to hide the old.

Returning from a short-term senior high missions trip to northern France, joy and nostalgia spill from us. In a former textile industry city, those factories stand tall and empty now, and high rise apartments tower beside them. In a city brimming with North African and Arab immigrants, beautiful Nubian cheekbones, dark eyes, and curly hair mark a city that is nearly eighty percent Muslim. Muslim calls to prayer, hallah butchers, and robed men on their way to prayers swirled around us. And during this month of Ramadan, devout men and women avoid food and water in daylight hours, and state that their normal five daily prayers are solely for God in this month. "All the rest of the months, our prayers count for us" (to have the good outweigh the bad), "but this month, our prayers are just for God himself as worship." We smiled, he and I, this papa at a soccer field, and our conversation flowed.

Muslims can pray for dreams of God and for him to reveal himself to them during this time of Ramadan. Respectfully not eating or drinking outside near Muslims, we greeted the people around us, and entered into conversations, wishing them "Bonne Ramadan," and I prayed for dreams of God, prayed for revelations of himself.

The normal French reserve melted away at each conversation and encounter, and the questions came, "Why are you here?"

"We're here with some French and Algerian friends, working beside them at their church at 140 Boulevard de Rheims. We're here because we love God and want to tell you that God loves you deeply. Jesus loves you."

Respectful conversations followed then, about Submission to God (the definition of Muslim), and we spoke of lives submitted to God and worshiping him, and about Isa (Jesus) who saves us, and the People of the Book, what the Koran calls Christians.

"I've never met Christians like you," several of them said, in surprise. On plastic green turf fields, we told stories of changed lives, of joy, hope, softened hearts, marriages and lives, and it's all about Him, and their eyes looked different, as they listened and asked questions, falling quiet at times. We listened and asked questions too, and spoke again of our God who says, "If you seek me with all of your heart, you will find me." This God who offered a sacrifice for us to know him, and of a Papa God who waits at the side of the road for a glimpse of us--his wandering kids-- and then dashes into the street to embrace us. And the delight spills out.

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Boats, Beans, and a Summer Hunt for Crazy Joy

It wasn't at the fire pit that I felt him most. Glowing embers spelled out his name amidst laughing families, playful Family Camp counselors, and sticky fingers waving blackened marshmallows. The unmistakable scent of bug spray wafted off us all, and a spectacular red sun slipped into the lake. I felt him, and loved him, but there wasn't time to talk much then.

Later in a room of women, I was honored to be able to speak twice, and we opened our Bibles across sun-kissed summer legs, scratched at mosquito bites, and unfolded our lives a bit. I felt him there, and grinned quietly to him, loving him. It, feeling like worship to be able to speak his words with others, and to spill wide my own life.

In the garden this afternoon, I kneel on warm straw, and lift verdant jungles of bush bean leaves and pea-pod vines, seeking produce. Delicious hot July sun soaks into my coral tee-shirt, and I burst into words with him there. Crunching velvety green beans still warm from the earth, the joy oozes from me, and I talk to my Creator God aloud, alone, in a yard. Dappled leaves applaud in trees overhead, winds swirl my hair so much that I can barely hunt for beans, and I laugh in crazy joy.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the one who takes refuge in you" (Psalm 34:8).

"...[Your] praise will always be on my lips" (Psalm 34:1b).

Some of us are heading to Europe on a missions trip this week. Join me in praying for this time, will you? Thank you. We are praying that His crazy love and joy will grow deep within us and spill out to everyone near us. And we go to learn, to work alongside a French-Algerian church there, our family in Christ.

How can I pray for you this week? What helps well up His joy in you?

Friday, July 5, 2013

How Do You Ignite a Love for Family?

It was the lightning bugs and the laughter last night. That's what stands out the most. 

In between are glimpses of grandparents arriving, of jostling elbows in the kitchen as we rinsed black dirt from tiny fresh garden beets, stirred spiral garlic pasta around green peas, and frosted a birthday cake. Seven of us crowded around our scuffed cherry wood table. As steam rose from dishes in the center, we held hands and prayed for our nation, soldiers and leaders, and for countries around the world in upheaval right now.

After lunch, four-year old Daniel could barely contain his excitement as we inflated five colorful balloons, and marched three of his Lego Star Wars characters across cream cheese frosting.

"I couldn't find the candles, sorry. But, hey, try to blow down this Lego guy." One of three remained from my decorated march. Mark groaned and laughed at my improvisation. We sang Happy birthday, and Daniel sang along in full seriousness.

We combined the Fourth of July with Daniel's birthday, a few days early, while his brother and sister were here on a short break from working at camp.

"Daniel, my present to you is all of my Legos," she said, as comprehension and amazement slowly spread across his face. In the box was a childhood's worth of Legos. My tall lanky daughter's Legos. "Many of these I bought with my own money," she told Daniel proudly. He stared in wonder.

We passed our day in rounds of food, it seemed. Birthday cake, chips and salsa, gallons of Grandpa's home-made popcorn, tall iced teas floating overly-zealous amounts of crushed mint leaves from my garden, and creamy cold Vietnamese coffee drinks. Three generations of family interspersed stories, questions, and a series of Rook, Osha, and Cribbage games.

The dark arrived with whizzing firecrackers and distant firework rumbles. Too tired from the busy week to fight traffic for a parking spot somewhere, we had chosen to watch a family movie instead. As fireworks thundered, though, we slipped out to the back deck. Crimson and aquamarine bursts rippled across the sky, hidden slightly by the trees and gas station across the street. Lightning bugs danced across our lawn for the first time, delighting us and bringing back memories of childhood. Daniel slept, my parents joined us on the deck for a few minutes, but mostly it was just the four of us: my husband, son, daughter and I. Four adult-sized figures swatted mosquitoes, wrapped arms around each other, laughing in easy camaraderie at our squeals of delight. Fireworks splashed the sky from two or three directions, as nearby towns celebrated, and we watched them in joy on our deck. We're  thankful for this new home -- a year later-- and thankful for so much.

The last of the creamy sweet Vietnamese coffee condenses in the glass beside me now today, while lawn mowers hum in the distance.

I love hearing from you. What has your last week been like? What helps you rekindle a love for family? 

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience.