Thursday, August 29, 2013

Restoring Romance in a Rushed and Running World

He grabbed my hand as we jaywalked through the parking lot and climbed up cement steps to the history center. On wooden benches, in folding chairs, and across picnic blankets, the crowd swelled and continued to grow. We spread out our picnic sheet, laughing at the too-stereotypical red gingham material, and laid out an easy picnic supper from the grocery store. Asian chicken pea-pod salad and a roast beef baguette sandwich paired well with a mango coconut water for me, and a juice for him.
 Gold twilight warmed the St. Paul basilica behind us, and cast shadows across our legs and supper, as the first of the music started. Appalachian violins, fiddles, and clogging dancers stamped and scratched out the rhythms, in sing-song line-dancing chorus, during this week's Nine Nights of Music free summer concerts.

Evening fell on the St. Paul skyline, dancers grabbed partners and dosei-doed, and I stretched out barefoot toes from a red sheet to cool green grass, and sighed contentedly.

"Look," Mark pointed to a white haired man in rolled blue jeans and a cuffed white t-shirt clasping hands with a jitter-bugging female partner. They moved in comfortable grace, familiar with each other's thoughts and movements. In dance after dance, they swayed in elegant ballroom moves, or rocked in easy rhythms.

Mark and I intertwined fingers and sat back, followed them with our eyes in the swirling mass of dancers, and leaned heads close in the deepening dusk.

With the busyness of life, and a son in college, we are always on the lookout for easy frugal date ideas. This picnic supper at a local free concert series was fun, romantic, and simple to do. Rekindling the flame in our marriages needn't be expensive or exhausting, and is so worth it.

What are your most recent easy, simple date ideas? 

For more ideas, check out:
-Adding Steam and Romance to Our Marriages this Summer
-Romance in the Moment to Moment (Plus free date ideas...)
-Sneaking Romance into the Work Week
-Rekindling Romance a Moment at a Time

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Forgotten Arts in a Sweltering Underbelly Week

Chip bags crinkle and closet doors squeak as family members grab evening snacks behind me. Condensation coats my narrow glass, puddling on the desk below, and ninety-degree weather hangs heavy on the twilight.

"Watch the trees," my friend advised me earlier this week. "When the leaves go belly-side up,there's a storm coming." Peeking out my windows tonight, I catch sight of a few maple leaf bellies, but most are demure, hidden.

In a week of ninety-degree weather and one hundred percent humidity, we have moved college boys onto campus, and carried couches up and down flights of stairs, and in and out of a shiny black pick-up. Different friends graciously shared a couch, a pick-up, and their strength on a sweaty night.

Dropping off some college textbooks yesterday, I stepped into my son's new home on campus. Bunk-beds, dressers, and three desks crowd a brown and white dorm room, and on his desk, I see it. Familiar writing catches my eye. Propped up in the center of his desk, my son has a handwritten card and note from his little sister. Sloped writing speaks out a promise from the Bible for him, and a nearby card speaks of love and pride in him, and thanks him for being a brother that she looks up to, learns from, and misses already. On a desk with few papers on it, these stand out. 

The Huffington Post, in an article entitled U.S. Postal Service Survey Reveals Personal Letters at a Record Low, noted that for a "typical American household these days, nearly two months will pass before a personal letter shows up" in the mail. In addition to the increasing rarity of handwritten notes in a world of email and texts, Kentucky wonders about The Lost Art of Writing Thank You Notes, and CBS Minnesota's television channel asks Good Question: Are Hand-Written Thank You Notes Extinct?

Similar articles continue to catch my attention this year, convincing me further that my mom was right. Growing up, my parents gave us construction paper, crayons, pencils and notebook paper, with instructions on how to write thank you notes. We labored over them, our hands cramping up at times until we stopped to shake them out, and then resumed. Christmas or classical music played in early January as we wrote to grandparents, friends and families about the presents they gave us. Lively music flowed in early May as we sent out birthday present thank you's. My parents' reasoning was persuasive: if someone took the time to send you a note, give a gift, or extend kindness in some way, then our time was just as meaningful to spend on telling them thank you.

It stuck, and affects my parenting. At my house now, after Christmas and birthdays, or graduations, we pull out cards, slide out pens, and set the mood. Scrawled writing, shaky from disuse, and mounting lines of prose climb up the page, but gratitude seeps out more--and studies show that joy does too. This discipline of joy and thanks-- to my Maker, to the people in my life-- I desire it and strive for it.

So, tonight, as humidity and ninety-degree weather reminds me of this week's couches and moves, I pour another glass of ice water, pull out my basket of cards, and scrawl messy up the page, muscles still shaky from disuse. "Dear..."

Hi, thank YOU too, for being here, for reading and sharing your life. Thank you for the quiet solidarity of knowing you are here, whether you comment or not. And for you who slip comments in from time to time, thank you for that. I love hearing from you.

Linking with Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.

Photo credit #1 from

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Three-Tiered Living-- It's Worth it

She drives up wearing pink oval sunglasses, blonde hair pulled into a loose pony tail. Jumping out of the car, N* ambles up, greeting us, and nodding warmly at the younger teen she is picking up. Taller with shorter; a woman in her twenties with a teen in high school, they are headed out on a mentoring/friend date.

I've watched this twenty-something woman grow up. Peering over piles of sticky pancakes when she was in middle school, we talked about the Psalms, and life, and friendships. Perched on tall coffee stools in high school, we had laughed and talked about boys, friendships, family, and our faith.

"Will you mentor me?" she asked once early on, and I was honored, humbled, and ill-equipped. I sought out books on mentoring, and we met regularly, opening up our lives, sharing prayer requests, and talking about what we were learning.

Years passed. N* graduated from high school, from college, and married a Jesus-loving man-- whom we had talked about and prayed for. (I think about our coffee dates now and smile at how God answers prayer.)

This summer she moved back to the region, my dear former youth group girl, now an adult female friend. Sitting in my backyard, we picked at stubby grass and laughed, opening up our lives. We shared what we had been learning, grinned at God's provision, and ended in quiet voices. "Can we pray about this....?"

"Oh, I'm doing a Bible study with K*," she said smiling while preparing to leave, mentioning one of my youth group girls. Brown-haired K*, with twinkling eyes and a determined attitude like her mama, she and I have had coffee dates too, talking about life, friends, families and faith. I see strength and compassion in her, and she is intentional about reaching out to her younger brothers and sisters.

Ahh, this full circle life! This pouring out of life from one person to the next. It is a beautiful thing, and one that brings life and joy. Learning from each other, young and old, we get to pull back the curtain on our lives, growing and praying together, in this three-tiered life. 

And the cycle doesn't stop with us three women. In my early years of parenting, I listened to N's mom in Bible studies, watching how she parented, and feeling relieved by her honesty and humanness; and I learn from K's mom too. N and all of my former teens-- now adults in their twenties and thirties, with their own jobs, homes, and families-- teach and inspire me often. And this current batch of teens in youth group, full of energy and enthusiasm? They teach me too.

And together, we learn and grow, pouring out and into each other. Beside me, I see them swivel to pour into others' lives as well, and it makes me smile.

Who is someone who poured into you when you were younger? 

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Photo credit #1
Photo credit #2

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What to Bring to College with You (& Maybe With Us Each Day too?)

White terry dish-cloths lie haphazardly across orange dish soap, green scratch pads, and his very first "sauce pan" to make pasta and eggs.

"Have I taught you how to boil noodles?" I ask.

We choose four white plates ("Wide enough to hold lots of food, Mom"), two large red-rimmed bowls deep enough to hold steaming Ramen soup packets, and then nestled silverware for four. In between calls to a roommate's family to see about shower curtains, we choose a matching bath mat, and marvel at how cheap the cans of Comet bath scrubbing powder are. We deliberate glassware and finger pizza cutters, laughingly.

Most of all, though, as he leaves for college, I want him to carry with him-- I want all my students to pack with them!-- these truths:

1.) Your worth and identity in Christ is already built, and is forged in who you are in him. You are loved, chased, pursued, created with purpose and imbued with passions and skills. Your joy and fulfillment will blow you away when you are leaning into him, breathing him in. You have immeasurable value, not because of your grades or anything you have done. You can't earn God by your actions, but he has paid everything to buy you life in him. He calls you dearly-loved, the apple of his eye, and he delights in you.

2.) And you know what? He says that about the people around you too. So often, they don't know it. Walking blindly and silently, or blusteringly loud, they may not know their value and worth, nor the One who made them. Stop and really see them --look deep into their eyes and smile--knowing how God sees them. Hear them: their stories, their fears, their dreams, and love them with his clean, caring love.

 3.) True freedom spills past university doors. It's so much more than the unbridled ease of bedtimes, mealtimes, class-times, free time, and the days being yours. True freedom splashes wild and big throughout your entire life. This freedom flows from knowing whose you are, and that all of life is an adventure of running full-tilt with your Maker. Throw your hands wide, grab each moment in strong hands, and live! 

How has your week gone? What do you wish you had known your first year of college, or in your first years after high school? 

(Found this post helpful? Please feel free to forward this on to any friends and family who may find it helpful too. Feel free to pin, tweet, or forward this post.)

Photo credit #1 to
Photo credit #2 to DakDillon Photography.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What Your Body May Be Trying to Tell You

 I find myself on edge and the grief hovers.

During dappled sunlit blackberry-forages in the woods with friends and the welcome distraction of iced tea conversations, my thoughts and feelings are put on hold. But in the silences and lulls that follow, I pull up world news footage and read with horror of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, of burning churches and massacres in Nigeria and Egypt, and of polio epidemics raging across Somalia while the Doctors without Borders evacuate from escalating violence against them. I swipe computer screens, scrolling through story after story, my angst mounting.

Fidgeting I flip into Netflix to watch a comedian; set out supper for my youngest; absentmindedly interact with him; and wonder at the heaviness of my heart. Turning on sentimental music, I wash dishes, my limbs heavy and numb.

Peter Scazzero, in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, states, "The problem, however, is that we can't reflect and respond thoughtfully to our feelings if we don't know what they are. So much of our true selves are buried--sadness, rage, anger, tenderness, joy, happiness, fear, depression. Yet God designed our bodies to respond physiologically to those in the world around us.

"God speaks to us through a knot in the stomach, muscle tension, trembling and shaking, the release of adrenaline into our blood stream, headaches, and a suddenly elevated heart rate. God may be screaming at us through our physical body while we look for (and prefer) a more 'spiritual' signal. The reality is that often our bodies know what our feelings are before our minds" (Scazzero, 71).

It's grief, this sadness.

BBC correspondents recounting grim details of blood-stained mosques, grainy photos of UN convoy trucks, and curt embassy evacuation warnings bring back my own history of a civil war in Liberia, West Africa. I remember hastily-packed luggage, last-minute airplane details, and the many things we left behind. I know too the feeling of wondering if you will ever return. So these stories grab my mind, and my heart goes out to families in this situation around the world.

Grief wells up, and my limbs are heavy.

Perhaps you too have some misunderstood or misplaced grief? Grief can result from a number of factors: death or loss of someone close to you, a stressful situation, job change, loss of a dream, illnesses, family moves, and more.

"Turning towards our pain is counter-intuitive," Scazzero notes, and yet "transition into adulthood requires that we mature through our defense mechanisms [to] honestly look at what is true" (141). He lists common defense mechanisms: denial (or selective forgetting), minimizing, blaming others, blaming ourselves, rationalizing, intellectualizing, distracting, and becoming hostile.

"In our culture, addiction has become the most common way to deal with pain. We watch television incessantly. We keep busy, running from one activity to another. We work seventy hours a week, indulge... overeat, drink... -- anything to help us avoid the pain" (Scazzero, 139).

So, tonight, I'm listening. I'm stopping the activity, the fidgeting, the distractions, the running from.

Looking inside, admitting it to myself, I name it. This is grief. This is sadness and loss.

And, with God, we don't need to mince words. I'm stepping in, friend.

Photo Credit #1 to Autumn Evertide.
Photo credit #2 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

What Teens are Saying about the Bible

He raises his hand vigorously, vaulting himself slightly off the floor in excitement.

At a youth group open forum night, the crumpled paper question asked, "How much time should you spend reading the Bible?" and my eldest let others speak for a bit, and then jumped into the fray as well.

"We were built for relationship." He's passionate, excited, talking confidently.

"And we need to eat food to live." Laughter ripples across the youth area, as teens nod, relate, and know how much this man likes to eat too.

He continues unfazed, and grinning. "And we need water to live. And, I believe, we need a relationship with God to really truly live."

"There's no set time that someone needs to read their Bible, but--"  John's friend beside him interjects ideas, and they stumble words beside each other, these two teens who bring their Bibles and grab hot drinks at nearby coffee shops some mornings together.

"I want this time in God's word to be like a hunger for me. Like I need it to live, but it doesn't always feel that way to me," John admits freely. "Sometimes it's boring, but I find that the more I make myself do it every day like a discipline, the more it becomes like food or a need to me."

"Because it's a letter from God to us." His red Bible cover is faded and worn, with a lifeguarding cross on the front. John flips his Bible open with intimate familiarity, and settles back against the wall to listen, as others add to the discussion.

Sitting on the floor across the room from him, I'm proud of him. I love that he is excited about God's word. It's something that God has grown in him over the years, and something we've prayed for in him.

And I'm convicted too. Tonight John teaches me. In the busyness of life, I haven't grabbed my Bible yet today, and I need to.

So, wanting this to be like food to me, like a hunger pain or need, please excuse me while I pick up my Bible, my journal, and slip away.

Where have you been reading from this week? (Those in email can join the discussion here.)

Rekindle a flame in your walk with God with any of these other posts too:
- "Naked Trees Scrape the Horizon" 
- "Smoldering Brown Eyes and a Neck that Smells Like Toothpaste"
- "People-Watching in Ancient Israel (& Seeing Myself)"

(Photo credit)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Don't Let Fear of Looking Foolish Stop You

 Glassy highrise buildings slipped past, mirroring the sky. Parallel-parking beside joggers and bicyclists at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, we piled out of the car, carrying roller blades, a folded stroller, and a brown paper bag of hot bagels.
 On our last days of vacation-- this segment of the "stay-cation"--we were all intentionally making family memories and savoring these last few days of normal. The last few weeks of having John here with us before he moved to college. The last few weeks of summer, and the last few days of relaxed family time. Strolling past the rose gardens, we joked and sniffed occasional buds, noticing how fast the weeds grew here too. Groundskeepers in tan shirts gouged out fast-growing weeds and scrambled to keep up with passing time.
 After the cherubim fountain and the spitting turtle fountain, my broad-shouldered college-bound John raced across the grass to climb a tree, charmed by its low-hanging branch. Mark handed five-year old Daniel up, entrusting him to John, and swung up after them.

"Wow, Dad! I didn't know you could climb trees!" my daughter cried.

"What? I'm not that old. I can climb trees," Mark asserted (several times that day).

 My daughter joined him, swinging up with a bit of help, and perching beside them.

"C'mon, Mom, let's all go up!"

 For all my talk of loving to climb trees, it had still been a long time since I had swung up into one this size. Jumping up, my hands only slipped off the smooth bark again.

"I'm too short. My hands can't get a grip." I laughed and complained. They urged me, good-naturedly teasing me and trying to spite me into success. Laughing, jumping, and falling, I stood barefoot in the grass looking up at them.

"My shirt will gap open! Sorry, it's not a good tree-climbing shirt." I worried.

"John, don't look for a sec," Mark advised. Handing Daniel to the kids, he jumped down, and hoisted me up. I scrambled ungracefully to his shoulders, scooted up from there, and grabbed on to the branch, shrieking and giggling. My oldest nearly fell off the tree in silent laughter.

Finally, we were all there, six feet off the ground, grabbing onto the weathered bark of the branch. Wrapping ankles together for balance, I reassured Daniel that we were fine, and Mark set up the camera for our family photo.

Happy August 12th to you, friend! Kids around the nation start school this week, others start in a few weeks, and my son moves onto his college campus soon.

Savor today. Savor your family and friends. Climb trees, look silly, laugh hard, and build family memories. What crazy or fun thing have you done this week? I love hearing from you.

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Best Parenting Advice This Week

This notion that restarts are always available, that second chances are never out of supply? It is revolutionary.

A friend of mine (details changed for privacy) adopted a young boy from Eastern Europe, and he arrived in the United States, wrapped in institutionalized ideas. Chestnut hair framed serious eyes, and tremulous smiles broke out like timid prisoners on parole in his first months home. He had been raised in silent rooms, with televisions blaring, and orphanage nannies forcing order in harsh strictness. Medicines had been doled out to active kids, lulling them quiet, and infractions resulted in lingering shame and punishment. Impulsive disobedience labeled and followed you for the rest of the day.

But in the United States here, amid rolling corn fields and winding rivers, his adoptive family are teaching him new habits and realities. "There are always second chances," his mom says. In rooms off to the side, quiet peace talks and reconcilitory missions take place surrounded by green walls and children's toys. He said/she said sibling play-by-plays are rehashed and resolved, and they emerge, wiping tears and smiling. After a quick hug, the children race away, eager to resume imaginative play.

This young man from Eastern Europe just picked up a brand new kitten. Three or four lines of text outlined his family contract. "I will feed my kitty, care for my kitty, clean up after my kitty..." topped the page, with room for a child's laboriously-printed signature and date. He painted the cat's home, chose soft towels for its bed, and meticulously painted the kitten's name outside the wooden cat house. Tiny wet paw prints dotted his sweatshirt the first few days after the kitten's arrival, and he was with the kitten all day. Occasionally wandering into an off-limits area of the home, the kitten had to be rescued and redirected, but the hugs and caresses never stopped.

And the cat? It knew it was home, even by that first evening.

Watching this family-- and this brave, compassionate young man with a husky Eastern European accent still-- I am reminded. These restarts, these second chances? They are never out of supply. I'm thankful for an Abba God who models that to me daily, and for families around me who practice that with their children. It is revolutionary.

Hi, you. :) Sorry for my delay in posting. What's the best parenting advice you have been convinced of lately? (Those in email can click here to join the conversation. I love hearing from you.)

Photo credit #1: Copyright to the World Bank. Photographer Scott Wallace.
Photo Credit #2:  Copyright to the World Bank. Photographer Yuri Metchitov.