Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Easiest, Almost-Not-Fair Resolution We're Dying For This Year

Blueberries swell inside vanilla cake batter, creeping higher in the square metal pan. The oven and refrigerator hiss and hum a rumbling life behind me. My family's voices lilt and lift throughout the house, readying for a New Year's Eve party out with church friends in an hour.
Photo: Mike, Creative Commons, cc license
Toppling on a pile of papers beside me, I see the dvd collection of a Bible study series by Beth Moore on First and Second Thessalonians. I've been binge-watching the last three episodes, racing to finish the messages before our church must pass them on to another group that has reserved them. In a Texan accent, Beth animatedly talks nodding-women-viewers through the last chapters of Thessalonians, and I scribble notes in my workbook, pausing to carefully spell out the occasional Greek words she displays on the screen.

And this is it, I can feel it. This hunger in my bones. If ever there was a resolution to be chased, this is it: To make consistent time to dig deeper in God's word; to sink deeper into a God who whispers his delight in us, his love for us, and his promise that he is enough; that we are made whole in him. 

In a world where men censor this fear behind mute mouths, and women whisper it in tremulous words to safe friends, the fear of Not Being Enough reigns high. Not being good enough, not being man enough or woman enough, not being the spouse or the parent you long to be -- the terms vary per person but the sentiments remain. The anxious, nagging lie sinks teeth deep into our hearts: You are not good enough. You must do more.

And we hear it, this push to Be More, to Do More, To Accomplish more. And you can, if you want to! I will cheer you on warmly. We all have goals and dreams, I agree.

But, if this anxious fearful lie has sunk its cold into your heart and spirit, sapping energy and hope, then it is not dream's vigor. It is not motivating or encouraging.

You are delighted in. You are loved, smiled at, desired, chased after, pursued, and wooed. You have a God who is running after you. Stop. Sink into his presence and his love for you. Find rest. 

This year, push aside the distractions, the voices. Grab your Bible and pen and slide into the Creator's presence. And me? I will be right there with you, pen in hand, nodding and scribbling to keep up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Dukes of Hazard Morning

 I wasn't expecting the Dukes of Hazard.
Photo: DatarkNZ, Creative Commons, cc license
On a misty, balmy Minnesota morning, we walked up and down a concrete forest of balsam and fraiser firs, inhaling the giddy pine fragrance.

"This one," Mark declared, pointing to a chubby fraisier fir in the second row of leaning trees.

Daniel and I peered closer to see if we agreed. Despite its branches still frozen high in the air, we could see a full-girthed beauty and shape to the Christmas tree he had chosen. We cheered and agreed. Mark ran into the hardware store to pay, while Daniel and I stomped around the lot, bounced dewdrops off the rows of trees, and sucked in fresh rain-wet air.

Slicing three inches off the bottom of the tree, the store clerk helped us tie the Christmas tree to the top of our small car. Suddenly, we noticed it. Due to unusual twine-wrapping skills this year, Daniel and I were locked inside the car, doors tied shut in twine. Mark was trapped outside the car.

I laughed. "You'll have to jump through the windows like the Dukes of Hazard," I said, flashing my eyebrows at him.

Without hesitating for a second, my handsome man broke into a husky first line of the song, and slid feet first into the car! I cried out with pleasant surprise, impressed and delighted at his quick wit.

"You should sing some more," I flared my eyes at him, smiling slow into his eyes. "I like your deep voice."

He grinned and put the car in gear, backing around the corner and pulling onto the road. I stopped him, leaning in for a kiss, and we joked the rest of the way home.

There's something about choosing the way we see our husbands, huh? On a weekday morning during a short break to decorate the Christmas tree before the eldest dashed off for finals week, and my daughter's high school geometry and biology coursework piled up, we get to choose. With dishes stacking high, laundry unfinished, and a workweek just minutes away, we always get to choose.

We choose how we see our men, how we respond to our kids, how we frame our days.

I wasn't expecting Dukes of Hazard, but I loved that glimpse of my man, and chose to see him that way all week. It wasn't about a television show or any actors from the eighties. It was the sudden glimpse of a quick-witted man, singing to me in a husky voice, and jumping feet-first into the car.

We get to choose what we remember and focus on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unstringing Peace from the Rush and Riots this Advent

Jazzy guitar and brass ring out Merry, merry, merry Christmas in a bluesy "Carol of the Bells" while Daniel and his cousin pull on winter gloves and stalk through crunchy snow. A red cape unfurls as he leaps down the stairs. The boys grab duct tape swords and fight invisible warriors in the snowy yard below.

Saxophone slides in mellow and I breathe in the excitement of the season. At the windowpane beside me, my tiny toddler nephew presses face close and motions to the boys outside. "Zzzzz," he intones, waving three chubby fingers.

The warriors in red and gray mount stairs, switch out boots, and return to the yard.

Whatever made us think that peace meant calm inactivity?

I grin and glance at the wet spots scattered on green carpet behind me. A six-hour stomach virus tumbled through the three little boys this weekend, and zealous lemon-sanitizer still dries in some spots on the floor. The boys' health returned, and looks like blanket forts and rosy cheeks over hot cocoa. Mittens and boots drip snow drops by the deck door.

Piano keys trip-trap scales around "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and it hits me. The peace we clamor for at Christmas doesn't come with checked-off gift lists, tiered cookie trays, or idyllic settings. Peace at Christmas is in a Who.

Two thousand years ago, our God-King stepped into a wind-swept, war-torn land, his regal cape trailing invisibly behind him. To a pregnant teen mom and a scandal-chased carpenter on a government-mandated road trip while nine-months pregnant, Peace arrived. In a violent world racked with rumors and virulent prejudices, Peace sailed in, trailing red behind him, and our lives have never been the same.
Photo: Brandy Shaul, Creative Commons, cc license
In our season of lights that need to be strung, Christmas letters awaiting yellow ink, and countdowns to Christmas, our Peace isn't locked impotent behind cardboard Advent doors. He is here. He is now. And the peace settles in.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What the Mirror Can't Tell You

The scissors snipped.

Photo: Astrid Westvang, Creative Commons, cc license
A chunk of hair slipped into the sink below, and instantly I knew. This was something best left for the ones who know: the pros who can feather and layer hair styles, not leaving a gaping column of hair, slashed off in error.

Have you ever just wanted a change? I wanted subtle face-framing layers. Studying hair styles for a few days, I found some ideas, and grabbed the scissors Tuesday night. Halfway through one side of my head, I knew, and a laughing dread slipped chuckles out of me while I stared into the mirror.

Mark walked in after I finished the second side. Seeing the seven inch-long locks of hair in the sink and my sheepish grin, he groaned and laughed with me. "What did you do?"

Shyly I flipped the hair in front, and we stared at the forlorn results in the mirror. Big brown eyes framed by two painfully-obvious haircut fails looked back, and we laughed. He hugged me, and I shook my head, giggling and pressing in deep.

There's a safety in a marriage love that is breath-taking and stalwart, that settles deep into our bones. This love, modeled first by our Creator God, seeks to love unconditionally, to see beauty in a soul that whispers, moves, breathes, and lives, unhindered by outer accouterments.

I showered the next morning and arranged a quick haircut appointment, but our beauty is never limited by hair styles or clothing or jean size, women. Your beauty flows out from you in the way your laughter dances in your eyes, the way you sneeze so uniquely, and the way you treat the people in your life. You are loved and delighted in by an Artist God. And the loved ones in our lives? They strive to love as well as this God Being, who models it first to us, and then watches it trickle down to the people around us.

Into a dark six-thirty morning, my six-year old crept quietly around the bed to whisper in my ear. "Hi, Mom, I'm awake."

"Hi, buddy. You can play in your room. Dad and I are going to sleep a bit more, okay?"

The door clicked shut behind him. Mark and I moved sleepily to the center of the bed, and snuggled into spoon mode. His right arm slid under my pillow. Pulling me close, he wrapped his left arm around me. We slid aside my long hair from tickling his face, and adjusted our pillows in automatic mode. There is a rhythm that sinks deeply into loved ones, where nestling in can come without thought or much wakefulness. I slid back, feeling his chest rise and fall in slow breaths against my back. My breathing soon matched his, the warmth of his body wrapping my frame, and we dozed.

There is a safety in a love that is breath-slowing, breath-forming, and stalwart. It settles in, deep into our bones, freeing beauty, freeing us to see love and give love, modeled first to us by our God.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Backward's Glance that Will Change Your Trajectory

Miniscule snowflakes drift by sleepily today, while burly college men sprawl around our cherry wood kitchen table with my husband.

Photo: Gabriela, Creative Commons, cc license
Raucous laughter breaks out as they tease each other about the board game in front of them, and I grin quiet and shift more comfortably on my desk behind them. Scouring digital photos from last year, I select a few, inserting them into this year's Christmas letter. The photos trail beside tales, and I can't help but see it.

It's laced throughout the document, and I hear it again and again. And the words just flow it out, this truth that I know but it takes a year's worth of telling to see it so plainly. In a paragraph on page one, it's there in Times New Roman font, "We are overwhelmed by God's gracious care for us and his extravagant kindness." And somehow it's in a paragraph about demolition and destruction, and yet he amazes me with his kind care.

On page two, the line weaves throughout paragraphs about seizures and cancer but once again the lines speak a truth I had known but the seeing it in black and white still takes me by surprise. Because the audacious truth of joy and seeing God's constant love is that the circumstances might surprise us. It's there, and I can't lie. The words reflect and recite it back to me, and nodding, I agree. "That incident reminded us how precious Daniel is to us and gave us an opportunity to experience God's palpable kind love and presence in our lives as we walked the days and weeks that followed."

And those truths that we can know in our heads really do come bursting from our hearts in the hospital rooms, outside the surgical ward, and in the MRI waiting rooms. Because the truth is "While it was an emotional time for our family, we were amazed at the innumerable ways we saw God's kind gifts to us throughout the nine-day hospital stay and the weeks before and after."

Taking a break from revising the family Christmas letter, I joined my daughter in making beef lo mein for supper. College boys had trickled in and out until there was just one left, playing games at the table with my husband on his day off. This former youth group man is now in his thirties and today is his birthday. Six year old Daniel and I frosted the cake, twirling spoons with white frosting across a yellow cake.

"Can I do the sprinkles?" Daniel asked eagerly. He pinched them up a few at a time, concentrating to drop them precisely where he wanted them on the vanilla frosting. Soon, we sang Happy Birthday and gave Brandon his card. Daniel was so excited that he jumped into a version of the song early, and we hurried to catch up to him, starting a second refrain. And our love for this thirty-two year old former teen in our youth program wells up inside us, jumping off the page of our homemade black and white card.

But this love? It pales next to the love that our God has for Brandon, for us, and for you. This kind love and palpable presence leaps off the page to me this year, reading back over our family's news for the Christmas letter. And I never would have guessed that a year with words like seizure, house relocation, house demolition, and cancer could hold so much joy, and uncontainable stories of God's kindness, but it does.

And may I tell you? For we know, brothers and sisters that you are dearly loved by God, and that he has chosen you. In this Thanksgiving week of finding and giving thanks, even a cursory glance backwards will show you trails and tales of God at work in your life. You are dearly, unconditionally, loved.

(Yes, yes, you too.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

For When You Wonder if You're Seen

Photo: Cedric Lange, Creative Commons cc license
Purple and orange cream sliced the horizon in layers as twilight sank into cold winter night. I scrawled a few lines in my journal during a work lull Monday night, before clocking out for the day. Twining the black scarf around me in layers and zipping my red jacket up high, I crunched through swirling snow.

A duo of pecking fights Sunday night had left us hollow and discouraged. My heart was tired from them. Sunday night's family supper had quickly soured, and the intended bonding time wasn't. We spent the evening in different corners of the house.

Monday morning we kissed stiffly and chose to hug, trying to start fresh but still fearful of communication minefields. In my journal late Monday afternoon, I wrestled and asked hard questions.

Because what we all really want in a relationship is to be seen and found interesting. We long to be sought after. And those needs? Your needs, my needs, our men's needs? They are valid and real. And the truth is, our loves have sought us out and found us interesting. There have been times of great connection and there will be again. But in the moment, the unresolved tensions or the lack of quality time together can bring out the lonely and the missing in a heart. 

I crunched through a layer of shattered snow, skidding slightly on the ice below, praying and resolving. Asking God to help me start fresh tonight, asking his help to speak kindly, to respectfully build up, to listen better, and to see my man's heart behind his choices or words, I sucked in cold air and shoved my hands deeper into silky pockets. Rush-hour cars crackled by, and the sky turned pink and violet. Almost unconsciously, I straightened my torso, threw my shoulders back, and took deep full breaths through my nose. A hope-filled peace settled in.

Several blocks later, I stepped over a pine threshold onto a red swirled rug and walked upstairs. My husband smiled and came over. We kissed, lingering.

"Let's go out tonight," he suggested, holding me close. "Let's go right now."

We hugged longer, smiling, before I raced off to gather a few supper items for the kids. Fifteen minutes later we drove on a dark Monday night, eager for this chance to re-connect, to truly see each other, and to be seen. We talked for hours, holding hands across a booth counter still oily from drippy hamburgers, laughing and seeking each other out. Happy peace settled in.

May I encourage you today that our God sees your heart? He knows that occasional lonely and missing ache, and he longs to fill it in tangible, good-for-you ways. The God, whose very nature breathes in rhythm from within a three-in-one trinity relationship, knows you and loves you. He is at work in me and in you, bringing hope and intimacy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Burying Our Inner Critic and Censor

"The footprint of the house looks small for all the living we did here," I remarked to John, staring down into an excavated basement cavern.

Photo Credit: Terinea IT Support, Creative Commons, cc license
"I was thinking the same thing," he said, kicking a clod of dirt careening below. Mounds of soil flecked with green shingle bits slumped nearby. My mint patch grew hale and green, unchecked by the demolition.

Daniel stomped around the perimeter, stopping to smash occasional dirt chunks or peer cautiously into the hole. Just a few days ago, when first seeing the destroyed house, he gaped in surprise with all of us. Speeding by it after the intersection light flickered green, my daughter had snapped grainy cell phone photos, and we had all craned our heads to follow the pile of house as it passed through each window. Cars lined up behind us in the turn lane so we could only stare through the twilight as the pile slipped out of sight.

"I'm too sad to cry," Daniel pronounced solemnly as we turned up Fraizier Street and away from the scene of our former home.

Having only left there three months ago, we still smiled nostalgically each time we drove past it. Quipping, "There's our old house," we'd let our eyes trace possessively the hills, four pine trees, drying sunflowers in the garden, and familiar yellow and green siding and trim.

Sunday afternoon, Daniel, John, and I were there in daylight to study the scene and say goodbye.

"Hey, I recognize that rock," John grinned as I stooped to retrieve a blue boulder from where it used to prop up the ribbed gutter behind the garage.

"I'm getting it. It's ours," I declared.

After greeting our neighbors briefly, my boys headed to the car. Darting from the vehicle suddenly, I raced to my patch of mint, still growing strong. "I need to harvest some before the snow comes tomorrow."

John shook his head and ducked his tall frame into the car.

Sweet crisp spearmint crushed in my hands as I tore it off bushes I had planted two years ago. Tall gangly stalks bounced and bobbed in the movement and the autumn wind. Yellow dust scattered.

Climbing into the car, laughing sheepishly yet oddly defiant, I dumped the mint leaves onto notebook paper in the front seat and fastened my seat belt. John put the car into reverse as he backed out of the driveway. "That's right. I had forgotten how hard this driveway was," he said, looking both ways at fast-incoming traffic. We paused.

"Look at all the gopher mounds," he laughed, shaking his head, remembering my battles.

I quietly said goodbye as we drove west on Ball Road: goodbye to the invisible yellow house, to the two yellow maples out front, the four pine trees standing guard in the west, and the dried sunflowers hanging drooped heads low in the back.

"It doesn't feel like our house anymore," six year old Daniel said. "It feels like death."

And we pulled onto Lexington Avenue and drove south. Leaning in to smell my mint, I blew unconsciously at the dust coating the leaves. Scattering instantly across the car, making John cough, dust from our house floated in the air.
My six year old's words held power and strength this week. In freedom, he sieved through his emotions, naming them as they bubbled up, and releasing them aloud. Knowing that goodbyes to people, places, and seasons is vital --and dangerous when squashed-- I am listening as he speaks and affirming his feelings. Nodding my head, I let him know that it is okay to hold both grief and joy, both nostalgia and excitement, gratitude and goodbyes. Resisting the urge to censor, educate, or reframe his feelings or expressions, I free him to put words to his emotions.

Dancing in the sunlight, yellow dust particles swirled near the car vents, with the sweet smell of mint mixing in.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Weighted Moments That May Be Passing You (& Me) By

"Will you cut my mouth?" he asks, holding out a butter knife towards his pumpkin.

We're gathered around the kitchen table, five pumpkins and five people. Slimy seeds with dangling orange pumpkins strings are being slung into a glass bowl for later, and we pass the stencil blades and tiny plastic saws around between us.

My six year old son and I brainstorm the expression he wants his pumpkin face to have, and I slice and cut features for him. Swingy jazz music plays in the background, dirty dishes stack high on one of the counters, and everything has stopped for an hour or so as we slip into family time.

"This year for Christmas, can we decorate lots of cookies?" my daughter asks, staring intently at her pumpkin face as she carves.

"Sure." We talk more of customs, and it intrigues me to know more about which holiday traditions and times together have been meaningful for them. John stretches out across the couch by now, all of us done with our pumpkins except Morgan who is painstakingly following an idea she found online.  After some thought, John brings up simple moments from his childhood, walks in preschool years, times alone with special loved ones, and it hits me.

Most of our special family moments aren't the huge scripted ones. They are the small cumulative times that build each year: an hour here dicing out pumpkin faces; a squeezed in afternoon there spreading red frosting onto chunky gingerbread men; but mostly, it's the happy moments around the dinner table before someone has to leave, or the ordinary evenings at home with a family game or movie.

I can see it now, how often my nineteen year old likes to linger in the kitchen as I wash dishes or cook supper, pulling his long legs up onto the counter or into my small desk chair, while we talk about the day before he rushes off to work. Those moments hold weighted value now tonight as I see them for what they are: precious, and building a foundation of family memories.

"Mom, is it time to light the candles now?" Daniel asks, all six years of him brimming in excitement.

(And it's not about Halloween, because we're careful about those themes, yet are thankful for times to connect with and meet our neighbors.) It's about the excitement of doing something as a family, building a memory each time we gather together. Today, it was with pumpkins, and faces, and autumn leaves. And the memories captured here are precious.

What are some things you enjoy doing with your family or friends?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Meeting Him Between the Lines

"What do you see?" I ask her, holding out two hands like an amateur photographer, framing a scene out the bedroom window.

Photo: Stephen Wong, Creative Commons, cc license
She flops closer on the bed, scooting up on her elbows and begins to stare through the window, out across the front lawn, and into the neighbor's yard across the street.

"Notice what you see. What's still? What's moving? What colors do you see? What do you hear? How does it make you feel?..." I trail off, picking up my pen to scratch words across my sheet as well.

One fourth a tree in yellow leaves flutter. 
rest is bare, crumpled. 

Pumpkin-colored crimson tree in full-splendor
backdrops my last yellow leaves
carpeting the neighbor's lawn;
a reclining scarecrow in a brown wicker chair.

The wind blows hard from the left,
leaves strain to hold on
Yellow maples flutter right.
Daniel yells in sudden angry crisis from outside my bedroom door...

Poetry in World Literature side-steps on while I comfort a sad six year old. Later, he leans on tip toe from his wooden kitchen chair to break egg shells and slide gooey bananas into our scuffed white mixer. Tactile pressure explodes and shatters white shell fragments across the counter while he practices with egg pieces in the compost.

"...Two, three," we count the flour cups, and he pours a grain dust avalanche into the bowl. We mash, mix, and stir, before pouring lumpy batter into metal muffin tins. Banana bread muffins scent an autumn kitchen, while red leaves in the backyard fly sideways in the wind.

For devotions this week, I am enjoying the ancient poetic verses from the Bible book of Proverbs. Inspired by God, several Near Eastern kings captured wisdom into brief captions, like bite-sized lessons to mull over. After an initial reading through of Proverbs chapter 12, I knew I needed more time with it. Grabbing a smooth-rolling black pen and my journal, I wrote sentence by sentence, leaving room and time to pause and write prayer responses back to the Writer God Behind the Words. 

Working my way through the chapter, I interacted with Him in each line.

..."The plans of the righteous are just, 
but the advice of the wicked is deceitful." 

Lord, you call me righteous through Jesus' blood. Are my plans your plans? Am I following your heart and desires? Help me to be so in tune with your spirit that my plans are yours, automatically just. Help my advice not be wicked or deceitful.

"The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, 
but the speech of the upright rescues them." 

Abba, may my words and my heart not be wicked. May they not be out for another's blood, or pain, or wounds. May my speech rescue myself and others. May I be upright in your sight. 

Hours after the banana bread, the World Literature, and four loads of dishes, this idea comes to mind again, and I pull out my journal and Bible to study them some more.

"...A fool shows his annoyance at first, 
but a prudent man overlooks an insult." 

Whew, yep, I'm the first one so often, God. Help me, forgive me. You used the word 'prudent' here instead of 'wise'. Prudent has a longer term outlook, right? Wise, cautious, long-term-focus for better results? Help me overlook insults and use long-term judgment.

And while I'm safe at a desk eating a banana muffin for the moment, I know how easily I fall into the first category instead of the latter. There is more wisdom in this chapter that I need to mine. 

Photo: Ryan Guill, Creative Commons, cc license
Grab a muffin with me, and your Bible and journal? Where are you reading? Want to write back prayers to the Writer God Behind the Words, and have him draft and shape us into living poetry?

Monday, October 20, 2014

When Our Lives Don't Fit the Pretty Analogies

I imagine you're heard the rock and sand analogy too? It's the story we hear from self-help books and spiritual retreats about ordering our lives and prioritizing what's really important. And the way it goes is this: a woman is handed five or six stone boulders and a pile of sand.
Photo: Ted Scodras, Creative Commons, cc license
The rocks represent important pieces or roles in her life: her marriage, kids, spirituality, sense of community, and the list goes on. The sand is everything else that trickles in to take up a day: laundry, dishes, meals, soccer-trips, grocery-runs, etc. Pouring the sand into a glass bowl first, she puzzles and struggles to slide all five or six prioritized life boulders in so they'll fit into her already very-full life. Half-full of sand, the boulders cannot all fit into the bowl.

Then, in a flipped upside order, the solution is displayed for us to see. Dumping out the failed attempts, the bowl starts empty, clean. Placing in first the prioritized boulders, a woman's life is ordered, it would seem. All rocks nestle neatly in the bottom of the bowl, awaiting the sand that is to sift in, sloshing into hollow crevices and holes, around the important rock roles.

I've used this analogy and explained this, but it's falling short for me today. The truth is, our boulders are big and take up a lot of space some days. Is anyone else feeling that way? The older my kids get, the larger their boulders seem some nights. Forming a tenth-grade daughter, raising a college-age man, and introducing a kindergartener to letters and phonics seem more than a day's worth of boulders and it wakes me up some nights, when insomnia tiptoes in. My building-a-marriage rock is special and vital to me too, and it swells to fill the whole bowl some days.

A six year old Spiderman-masked-boy dances and sings beside me as I type, his boulder knocking and tumbling against my glass bowl, knocking out others, spitting sand to the side.

I'm figuring something out, friends, about the bowl and the rocks and the flying-out sand... I don't think our lives can be boiled down perfectly to fit into these glass bowls. I'm learning to take turns juggling each boulder, focusing time on each aspect of my life that has deep value.

Yes, the sand still fits, and yes, it comes in last. But those boulders? I'm still not fitting them all in smoothly each day to my satisfaction. Instead, I'm pausing and giving each its moment in my hand.

A red-bandit six-year old runs in to ask for help reaching his plastic silver sword high above the kitchen cupboards. Pushing the keyboard aside, I stretch for his sword, and then stare full into his brown eyes. We smile, talk, and I know his rock needs more time. Soon.

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I disappeared into our room. Locking the doors, we pulled the curtains, turned on the fan, and snuggled in for time together. For a lazy hour or two, it was just him and me. Time trailed and twisted timid toe shyly as we ignored the world and turned inward for a while.

My daughter and I worked on her Biology and World Geography homework together this morning as sunshine spilled into the kitchen and I sipped hot coffee before work. We planned a future shopping date while adjusting microscope lenses, and the time passed too quickly.

How do we order our days and weeks, pouring the necessary time and energy into our kids' lives, into our marriages, and into the things that really matter to us? How do we live without regrets in a week that is frantic and paced?

 My boulders? Your boulders? They may not fit easily into glass bowl analogies or into daily check-lists, but -- with intentionality and God's help-- we can keep them central in the busyness of life.

They may just not all be in the bowl at the same time, and that's okay.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I Never Expected to See in My Daughter's Homework Today

"I'll let you hold the broom, Mom," she smirked as we strode across the parking lot. A deep white bucket in one hand, I crossed the blacktop, balancing a long-handled home-made ladle in the other. Tenth grade Morgan stepped primly beside me, laughing and pretending to ignore me.
Photo: Bill Benzon, Creative Commons cc license
We exchanged smiles, and hoisted our items for a better grip. She carried her biology notebook, a mechanical pencil, and a plastic box of colored pencils. I watched the plastic soup ladle we had taped to the end of the kitchen broom bounce at every dip in the dirt path.

"This'll be fun," I convinced her, cocking my eyebrows at her.

Disappearing down a side path by the library, behind the community gardens, and into the woods, we slipped into a sunlit forest.

"I remember this path from when I was younger," Morgan noticed. "It seems so much smaller now. It's about the same for you, though, I bet, since you're still short," she quipped, smiling at me.

Several minutes later we rounded the corner to our spot. Straddling the sandy path was a small green algae pond, cattails dipping in the breeze.

Starting a two-week-long biology micro-organisms experiment, we labeled glass jars, and splashed in water from the deepest layer of the pond. Seaweed and green slime dangled from the black handle and slopped into our jars. After collecting all the water, Morgan and I arranged plastic bags on the wet path to sit on while she annotated her specimens.

Cirrus clouds raced by overhead. Yellow aspen leaves quaked and shimmered. Tiny willows leaned low. Flecks of green plant growth floated on quiet swamp water, and I closed my eyes in the warm autumn sunshine. A distant dog barked, and Morgan's colored pencils clanked for a moment in between hues.

The experiment? We are to feed four jars of invisible life, letting them grow in tin-foiled darkness, and observe them under a microscope after three to five days. The jars sloshed as we walked back to the car, green algae and black muck floating on top. Invisible potential simmers just under the surface. Not knowing what's growing there, we'll wait and see.

The last four weeks have raced by in a blur of hospital days for my dad's cancer surgery and the resulting recovery period, youth group retreats, school, and a lovely women's retreat, amid the unpacking from our move. What I have loved seeing, though, is the life that rises to the surface from murky waters below. Despite fears of major surgeries and sobering statistics, our family saw God's sweet kindnesses every day. Sipping coffee from styrofoam cups in waiting rooms that grew familiar, we recorded moment after moment of God's kind gifts to us, and it moved us. Life that simmered up from the darkness.

Typing here in quiet twilight, I can still see Morgan's teasing eyes and raised eyebrows as she joked and walked confidently through the trees. And it brings me to silent gratitude. Our God who molds sons and daughters, who sculpts moms and dads, parenting us all, has made a daughter and it is beautiful to see. Life has simmered up from the surface below, and I can but stand and watch.

Our God is growing things invisibly deep inside of us. He is at work in our kids, our families, our marriages, ourselves.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

When We Stop Seeing the Tape

Coffee and the morning sunshine rush my senses, illuminate the laminated map on my kitchen table, and highlight a few of last night's crumbs. I've been soaking in the words from the Biblical book of Nehemiah these last few months, returning to them again and again as I review for this weekend's women's retreat.
Photo: Chris Devers, Creative Commons, cc license
Yesterday I zipped up my youngest son's jacket and we drove to my sister's house. Working on an overwhelming list of home projects, she was lining up helpers all week. In between minor Lego squabbles between cousins, we prepped her kitchen for painting. Tearing green painter's tape into strips, I carefully hid wooden counter tops from the oncoming paint.

And it's made me smile, remembering my own strips of blue painter's tape that gathered dust on my kitchen counters for over a year. Because sometimes if we leave the tape there long enough, the project gets forgotten. Soon enough, the blue tape strips receded out of my attention and I rarely saw them. I wiped up crumbs from the toaster near the blue tape. I screwed back in an electric wall socket plate above one blue strip. Occasionally, the tape grabbed my attention and I muttered, "Oh, I need to finish painting this!" Yet, days passed, and other projects crept in. When we moved out of that house last month, I finally tore the blue tape off the counters, that corner still unpainted.

In the book of Nehemiah, he is surrounded by people who have stopped seeing the tape. Accustomed to broken home lives, broken communities, broken cities and relationships, they assume that this is the way it is. This must just be how life is. And they stand in the rubble.

We can do that too. After several years or several decades, we tend to evaluate the broken and hurting situations around us as "This is just the way life is" or "That's just the way things are between us." I hear us, friends, saying things like, "He's always been this way, Jen" or "We've been battling this all our lives," or "This is just who I am." And we stand in the rubble.

Nehemiah is an amazing true account of a man whom God called to stand up from the rubble, to stand up in the rubble, and to fight. Fight for your husbands, your wives, your sons, daughters, grandkids, friends, family, and communities. Then Nehemiah delivered the zinger: Don't be afraid. Our God is fighting for us!

Hi friends. I have missed meeting you here like this. You may be a silent reader from email, or from rss feed, or from other places online, but I appreciate these times of sitting down face to face across our computer screens. I bring myself here to you, sipping coffee, opening up, and whispering quietly here with you. Thank you for listening in, and for going on this God-adventure together.

The rubble in your own life... do you see it? Look for the dusty blue painter's tape in the far corners. See it? Let's tackle it together, in our own lives, in our kids' lives, in our deepest selves. God has been gently pointing out those areas in my life too, and I nod. The most exciting thing? The rubble doesn't need to stay that way! Our God is fighting for us.

(If you live near the St. Cloud, MN area and are interested in attending the "Living Life on Purpose" women's retreat, please contact Avon Community Church right away. I don't know if they still have room for registrations, but you are welcome to try. I love meeting you all. Pray with us for God to do amazing things this weekend, will you too?) 

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Blocks You from Living Full and Regret-Free

"Should we tell them what the meat is?" she asked me and I could hear the smile in her voice over the phone.

"No, let's wait until later in the meal," I decided. "They'll be more open to it."

The next day we scavenged chairs from all corners of my house and seated seven of us around the scratched cherry wood kitchen table. We prayed, then took turns scooping steaming rice onto our plates. Mom reached for our dishes and carefully ladled a savory meat sauce over the rice, pressing her spoon lower into the pot for more gravy. Garlic and herbs slow-cooked the meat into fall-off-the-bone tenderness, and we asked for seconds, extracting occasional tiny bones from our food.

"It's good!" my husband and kids agreed. "What is it?" Knowing my family, they were open to any news.

"Squirrel. Dad has five of them in the freezer," Mom said, and my family nodded their heads in little surprise.

"Those squirrels stole almost every apple off my tree," Dad said. "I'm down to just one apple left.  I've killed seven squirrels so far," he said, adjusting to a more comfortable position in the chair and smoothing out his napkin.

 I saw my parents again this weekend, my mom cutting my dad's hair. Him with a towel around his shoulders, silvery hair combed straight above his ears and my mom leaning in.

"Don't move," she warned, stretching the blades wide.

I leaned back against their cushioned kitchen chairs, watching them. Outside curved glass windows, my parents' backyard was a haven of landscaped flowers, ferns, and birds at the feeder. An occasional squirrel raced across the fence near the apple tree bobbing in the breeze, its lone apple bundled in a guarded plastic bag.

Finished with Dad's haircut, Mom wiped up slivers of glinting hair from the table and carefully folded the towel off Dad's shoulders, trapping loose hairs inside.

"Let's eat that apple now!" she decided suddenly. "Let's not wait until frost. Dad should eat his apple now..." she trailed off, and we finished the sentence in our minds.

I swallowed back misting tears and grabbed my video camera.

"...This is the first apple from our tree," my mom stated, giving the date and more information. My video-record light blinked red until she ended, and the wind blew sun-tossed leaves across the yard. Autumn's reds and yellows rained on us, then danced across the lawn. 

And I know you have this too... moments that need to be captured and savored, moments that need to be frozen in time. Because whether you have parents who are ill, kindergartners stepping freshly off the yellow bus each day, or taller loved ones walking into the front entryway each night with their briefcases, purses, or heavy backpacks, we all have moments that are slipping away. 

And our challenge? Our mission is to embrace them, to see them, and to fully step in. Step away from whatever you're working on and look deeply into the eyes of the ones you're with. See them, lean in to inhale their scent, and hug them tightly. Fully present in each moment, I want to look up from facebook, put aside my To Do list, and forget the busy. I want to savor and seize each moment.

Is there anyone you need to call? Any conversations you need to have? Someone you need to pause and truly see? Because the truth is, we all have the same moments, the same chances, the same twenty-four hours. And I don't want any regrets.

Say what needs to be said, my friends. Stop and savor life, and the ones around you. Live life fully, deeply, and in the splendored colors of fall. Don't wait.

Crimson and yellow climb up the trees around me, ricocheting off the blue sky. September's heat burns brilliantly, while autumn slips in quiet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What We Are Drawn To in Uncertain Times

"There's something about a man or woman who has loved God for a long time that is peaceful," she said aloud.
Photo: Ed Yourdon, Creative Commons, cc license
We were stabbing forks into slippery red cherry tomatoes and coaxing precarious bites of spinach salad into our mouths in the hospital cafeteria.

She told me again. "My friend Art, he just commented on how peaceful it was to be around older people who had walked with God for a long time. 'There is a peace about them, a gentleness that just shines out from them. You want to be near them,' he told me. He enjoys spending time with my parents," my mom said, wiping her mouth.

She smiled, and lifted a fork with green olives and grated carrots from the salad into her mouth. I tried, and failed, to get crumbled goat cheese onto my fork.

Her bite finished, my mom spoke again. "He's right. I watch my mom and dad together. He holds her hand, helping her down hallways now, and patiently explains each time she forgets and asks a question again. There IS a peace and gentle kindness about them." She paused and chose another bite, pushing food around her plate unconsciously.

I watched her. This black-haired, blue-eyed Irish mom of mine who just returned from seeing her parents on the west coast, arriving straight from the airport to the hospital here where her husband awaited scary prognoses. And I saw it in her.

Mixed in with the uncertainty and the risk of painful loss was a peace that came from years of walking with her Creator. This peace didn't negate the valid fears, but it simmered and rode the waves, a constant in all change.

In hospital room 4550, four shuttered windows revealed city lights turning on outside and reflecting off the rain. We rubbed our hands with the sanitizing foam found everywhere, and walked inside. My dad sat upright in bed, his navy-striped gown tied in the back, revealing the colorful tattoo on his shoulder.

"Hello, handsome man!" grinned my mom, rubbing his shoulder and bending over to brush back silvery hair from his forehead.

She sat down and pulled out her slim blue Bible, creased on the edges. Opening it, she read silently, smiling at parts. My dad and I had read from Luke together earlier. "I love the gospels," he told me. "They are my favorite parts of the Bible right now."

There is a Peace that flows from men and women who have walked with God for a long time. I see it, and it draws me nearer. He draws me nearer too, actually, this One whose name is peace.

So, it's pancreatic cancer, friends. It was caught early and is only stage one, but it's scary. Sometime in the next few days, my dad will undergo a serious surgery for this and I'll join them often in the hospital. Join us in prayer, will you, please? Thank you, friends.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hidden in You Beneath the Hubbub and Silence

Photo: Marian Beck, Creative Commons, cc license
Green nubby sedum buds have turned fuscia and pink lavender, these knobby plant-blossoms more akin to cauliflower than petals. They've announced autumn on hot summery days and it's only now that I see and believe them.

Cool September rains fell all morning and a crisp wind bends green maple leaves and tall silvery firs now, clanging into my metal wind-chimes on their way. One sliver of a far off maple turns brazen in orange brick hues, ahead of her time on a tree where all else flutters green in the breeze. The constant hiss of autumn wind and tinkling copper wind-chimes sink a school-time giddiness into me. I find myself staring out the window again and smile, sipping re-heated coffee.

This has been the week of rasping electric pencil sharpeners, and splatters of blue and red paints on the table, the wall, and the paper maps as we swish in the four oceans and seven continents in kindergarten flair. My youngest, Daniel, circles items in groups of twos or threes for his math, while my tenth grader meets geometry. Our eldest, John, buys his own backpack, lines up newly-purchased highlighters, and carpools rides to college for his sophomore year.

In the quiet now, I grab some space, reheat the coffee, and settle in to study and learn. There is a verse in Acts from several chapters ago that has been ringing and clamoring in my mind since. It starts with an unintentional joke, and I laugh quietly at Paul, and trace a smiley face in the margin. It's not his fault, poor Saul/Paul. He is bold, passionate, articulate. Life automatically gets riled up around him. In the early Christian church in Jerusalem and throughout the Roman Empire's colonies, eddies of pulsing activity swirled and crashed around Paul. Wherever he went, action waves rippled out from him: miraculous healings, convincing persuasive arguments to crowds of people, and thousands deciding to follow the Jesus Way of life. Dangerous currents welled up around him too. Death threats from furious Jews and Jewish temple leaders resulted in a need to evacuate. Roman and Greek followers of Jesus sensed the rising tide, and hustled Paul off to his hometown of Tarsus, Spain. I picture this hot-blooded Latino Paul -- Pablo?-- arriving home and seeing God do amazing things in Spain as well.

What makes me smirk, though, and where I traced a smiley face penciled-in joke next to the verses is the next line, "Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace."

Peace. Quiet.

Sometimes, we judge the success of our ministries or churches, our dreams, families, or goals by the amount of excitement and activity generated by them, by the number of hits, the pages written, the accolades or recognition, or the number of leads.

And if so, then we may be lulled into thinking that nothing is happening or being accomplished during the quiet, or in the lulls. Does an absence of wild hubub mean an absence of movement?

I love the verse that comes next in the story. Paul, the well-known one, the accomplished orator, the passionate, things-get-done-when-he's-around-kind of guy is gone, and quiet has fallen. Into that calmness God states, "It [the church] was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit; it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord." 

The church had been growing in numbers earlier too, during Paul's time in the church. Now with him gone, in a time where life may look quiet and calm with little activity, stirring and pulsating still exist. Life is moving, growing, changing. Behind the scenes, steady and unchanging, the God of the Universe is working. He hasn't stopped or waned. 

Quietly, steadily, unceasingly, He works, weaves, and orchestrates. And his work? Here, it is to strengthen and encourage the Church. Invisible hands pull in strength, hope, joy, change, and transformations, and he braids them in behind the scenes.

Whatever God has made and placed you in that is of Him... he is working on invisibly. Your marriage, your children's lives, hearts, minds, and spirits... the God of the Universe who knows the stars by name is silently, unhaltingly, arranging details behind what we can see. 

Whatever God has made and placed in you in that is of Him... he is working on invisibly. Those dreams, goals, desires to do something? That secret hope to use your art for him, or to use your skills for him in that way? He sees those and is working tirelessly to strengthen and encourage those good things -- things that he was the one who dreamed up first anyway!

Your relationships with relatives, friends, neighbors, and the people you meet on the city bus? Your reactions and responses to people at work, in the grocery store, or in the carpool lane in the morning? Our attitudes when no one sees us? He is working behind the scenes to strengthen and encourage you (and me!) and to use what's in us for his glory.

The wind continues to blow long and hard outside my window, tossing the branches in wild array. Lulls come and go, and the trees still grow. Invisible, imperceptible, life tremors and pulses beneath the surface. They grow. And I love that our God says he is doing the very same in us, in our lives.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

You, With Your Foot in Two Worlds

 "So are you ready to let me go yet?" he asks, grinning with a soft cheekiness as he sits on the cement steps of his home.
Photo: Justin Spencer, Creative Commons, cc license
"No! I'm proposing surgery and insurance, and things like that," I reply, throwing back a glance at him, and rounding to my side of the car. "I love you, Dad," I say, slipping a silver key into my golden Saturn. Looking back for one last wave, I freeze the image of him in my mind, and pull away from the curb, racing home to put my six year old to bed.

I drive numbly, mechanically, replaying the sentence in my mind and counting the days until his next appointment.

A giant chalk white moon stands sentinel over the twilight sky. Full, ample, perfectly round, it hangs heavy in a blue-grey city evening. Tall apartment highrises, depression-era flour mills, and green-shuttered glass factories crouch on a Minneapolis city skyline. Trees chase the moon and, behind me, explosions of violet and tangerine encompass the sinking sun. Fiery orange and reds glare against green highway signs, obliterating mile markers and exits on the highway.

My dad has just returned from helping his uncle out of the hospital and back into a memory care unit. He helped Uncle Al settle back into the room, slide out of the wheelchair, and eat sliced peaches and a pumpkin pie cobbler. Together they maneuvered the remote control buttons of Al's new reclining chair before my dad left for home. Half an hour later, my uncle calls my dad, having forgotten about the day.

"Can I come see you tonight?" I had asked my dad, three hours ago. He agreed, and I hurried to throw a supper together for my family before racing out the door.

"Kah, kah," I knock in African fashion at their house. At the door, I see my mom's sandals and smile. "It makes me miss her to see her shoes," I yell out to my dad. She's gone temporarily, and we miss her already.

I slide a plastic carton of cherry tomatoes across the kitchen table, and slice up a crimson purple plum for us to share. He's already laid two plates, and set out tea cups. We drink green tea with roasted brown rice, and catch up from the week. All too soon, the hour is past and I need to race home to put my son to bed.

He says it then, the sentence that has lodged in my throat, in my mind, since. The sentence I have already been whispering to myself and to my husband in the dark of night. "Am I ready to lose my dad already?" NO.

And I know that you face this situation too, many of you. With a foot in both worlds, you care for older relatives and younger ones. You care for ailing grandparents, or older parents, and children of all ages. I hear you talk of it over coffee, at conferences, online, or through prayer chain emails.

I have watched my parents stand with feet planted in two worlds too, helping older and younger relatives and friends around them. And tonight I feel my own feet sliding tentatively wider, tip-toeing uncertainly into that larger world, and words fall short.

I followed that moon on the drive home, that impossibly large milk-white moon. Clarity and closeness etched its surface in stark relief, with edges and craters, and dark holes falling into a moon dry sea. In front of me was the moon, my car trailing an evening highway, curving into quiet darkness. Behind me orange, crimson, violet, and gray exploded across the night sky, curling crispy cirrus clouds up.

One lone trail of black smoke carved a jet stream through gold light, tracing an airplane's flight straight down. An erratic route for an airplane, it seemed, and I swerved slightly in my lane, craning my head backwards, pondering its downward trajectory. A police car shot by, sirens blaring, and the car in front of me forced my eyes to the road before me.

The mysterious black plume of smoke flamed white and gold in the sunset, and my road curved away.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Other Woman in my Marriage

Elbows deep in a crumpled cardboard box, sitting on the wooden floor in my kitchen, I hear him. Coming up behind me, he ropes his arms around me, and nuzzles my neck. His two day-old beard and mustache scratch my skin, raising a chill down my lower back.

Surrounded by moving boxes towering high and a To-Do list just as tall, I waver.

And this is me, I recognize. This task-driven, productivity-focused woman is the one who wakes up in the morning, sees the jobs at hand, and plunges in.

But an unpacked or immaculate home is nothing without passionate loving relationships inside. A crossed-off To-Do list for a cross family solves nothing. So I'm reminding myself to set aside the lists to concentrate on the loved ones in my life. Sometimes this means a card game over coffee with my six year old and Lego battles that extend across the couch, or longer conversations with my teens about social media dilemmas.

I confess that I'm bad at this some days. Crossed-off items and a clean kitchen seem more outwardly productive than built relationships over the long run. But the payoff of a swept floor versus a sweet family connection is incomparable.

Sitting beside a cavernous cardboard box filled with random kitchen items and the guts of a spilled-out telephone drawer, I hesitate.

"It can wait," I realize and stand.

My husband and I arrange a kids' video for our little one before disappearing behind a locked door. Pulling shut the curtains and turning on the fan, we step in, fully seeing each other, smiling and leaning in.

The other woman in my marriage-- this other personality side of me-- is the fun one, the passionate and people-person one. She is the balance to my driven half.

There is a verse I have been scribbling across scratch paper, taping to my walls, and scrawling across my journal this last year or so. It rings in lyric prayer to me, and it comes to mind this morning.

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 our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones  (1 Thessalonians 3:12,13).

He is doing it, I see, this God-head whose very Being reflects an interwoven, inter-connected ability to wrangle work and relationships harmoniously. The God of the universe is working in me, in my marriage and family, rekindling flames, making our love increase and overflow. And He gets all the credit.

This same God sees you, sees your loved ones, and can do the unimaginable. Ready?

* Photo credit: Neal Sanche, Creative Commons, cc license.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Thing To Know on a Day (or Month) of Firsts

 Ahh, this feels good, sitting down to tap fingers on keys. There have been a variety of firsts these last few days.

First night to sleep in the new home on Thursday.

First shower in the new place -- nope, sorry, it wasn't Friday morning. I left grungy and ready for a morning of cleaning the old house and returning the Uhaul truck.

(Don't even ask about the toothbrush. You won't want to know. Apparently, toothbrushes and deodorant will be the items left behind at the old house when moving, in case you wanted to know.  ...Um, Friday evening, if you were wondering.)

First time I brewed coffee in this new house, after ransacking cupboards and boxes to find the beans, the grinder, and the glass French Press.

First sunrises, first sunsets. First time to fully watch where the sun traces shadows and light across the backyard, and calculating where we'll put the raised garden bed frames, still caked with black dirt from our last house's yard.

"Are you excited?" one of my youth group girls asked me, as I drove her to the other house to retrieve her green backpack.

"Well, we like this new house and are thankful to God for it, but we love the old house too. When we moved into the old house we thought we would be there for years, so we settled in, creating memories, dreaming of the future, making plans.

It's like stopping a book, halfway through," I grinned at Michael, glancing over at her as I shifted up in gears on the quiet road. A fellow book lover and artist, she gets this.

"Now I'm in a new book, and it's a great book, but it feels odd to have stopped reading the other book, only halfway through." Our two years in the other house felt like introductory chapters, with the plot just starting to pull together.

"This will be a great book too, I know," I said, smiling at Michael as we pulled into the driveway, "but we're feeling mixed emotions and some sadness too at saying goodbye."

Wednesday morning and afternoon, my parents and close friend Shari and I dug up raspberry, strawberry, and rhubarb plants from the old house. We hoisted out withered-looking ferns, white shasta daisies, and yellow-budded flowers. Fingering through moist soil, we combed and fretted out innocuous gnarled bulbs of tulips, crocuses, and tall purple alliums. Hauling buckets of dirt and plants into our vehicles, we drove them to the new house. Before any tables or couches saw the inside of the new house, we spent the day slicing into soil and grass, burying roots and fragile wisps of life, anticipating their future beauty.

Along the side of a grey metal shed now stand eight crinkly-leaved raspberry plants. Three rhubarb shrubs lean awkwardly nearby. Each day we soak their roots in water, knowing this stage is tremulous.

In our mind, though, we know what they look like full-grown. We have seen them in good health, resplendently red and green, giant leaves like elephant ears, crowded and abundant. We have seen these plants in their glory, rooted deep in the earth, watered and soaking in the Light, and we know what's coming.

The days pass, our excitement mounts as we settle into this new home, and the sun has just risen, arcing a few hours ago over the maple and fir trees to my left. Those raspberries and shasta daisies? Their leaves are unfurling in the Light, roots sinking lower.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

And It's In You Too...

Photo: Martin Beek, Creative Commons, cc license
Photo: Rodney Campbell, Creative Commons, cc license
Yellow, black, and white goldfinches flit and dart about the sunflowers. In the mad jungle of ragtag red, orange, and yellow sunflowers, a crowd of goldfinches has moved in. With circus precision, the finches hang upside down, bobbing on the gangly stalks, thrusting hungry beaks into the flower. Limbless, their beaks strip petals, tear away the center fluff, and burrow for each seed. In tireless one-by-one fashion they duck and pull, duck and pull. A tiger tangerine and black butterfly saunters past, catching my attention out the window, and the splashes of color and audacious life woo me.

In the last two weeks I am finding myself drawn into, walking alongside, and wrestling with several authors, as I read their books. In Micha Boyett's Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer, I imagined myself picking up a coffee mug and sidling into her San Francisco flat or standing with her on California playgrounds as she studied the essence of prayer and delved into Benedictine monk disciplines. Micha pondered intimacy with God, wondering how to best walk face-to-face with God through the laundry piles, dirty dishes, and toddler tantrums of a mother's life. She asks bare naked questions to the Creator about her worth and her desire to live a grand life for God, and what that ultimately looks like. Her discoveries ring with calm peace and freedom that move me into my next book.

Emily P. Freeman's book A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live is one I am only halfway through. She tiptoes into life's passions with gentle questions, finally stripping aside any excuses, apprehensions, or hesitations from the full life God wants us to live in him. This Artist God who created crackling fire and ice, who calls the stars out by name each night, and who spins galaxies in motion, holding all things together --This is the Artist God who designed us, who crafted and molded us in unique ways, and whose perfect plan is to see us experimenting with and using the skills and passions he placed in us for his glory. And the art that splashes out of us in a million little ways isn't really about us. It is his glory and beauty reflected, refracted, and ricocheting out of us, in a million darkness-shattering ways. Emily intrigues me, calling out gentle tears. She declares that art isn't only swirled paint on canvas, or words curling up a page -- although it can be-- art is whatever brings us most fully alive and what is screaming to come out of us, the image-bearers of the Artist God.

Emily whispers, "As a fellow image bearer, I want to whisper wake up words into your spirit, where your life is joined with God's. Wake up to the life of Christ within you and see how he wants to come out. Wake up to your unique calling and live out the truth of who Christ is and who you are in him. Uncover the art you were born to make. Release the art you were made to live" (Freeman, 36).

"...You were designed to reflect the glory of God" and you were "made in the image of God for a purpose" (Freeman, 36, 37).

Yellow and black goldfinches zip past my window, alighting on the caramel and crimson flowers. There are only two of them now, bold males in black capped heads who pause to see my movements in the glass above them. The flowers sway in silence for a moment. Their art drips from them, decadent colors on tiny plum-sized birds. God's extravagance seems almost wasteful, and yet it refreshes and inspires me. Our Cosmic Artist paints with limitless colors, creating in endless ways, urging us to follow suit.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The First Time I Ever Prayed THAT Before Vacation

His long toes and foot stretched out slowly from the backseat of the car to settle on my armrest.

"Is this okay, Mom?" John asked. Reflected in my sun-visor, his broad shoulders spilled past his third of the backseat, brushing against my daughter's. His leg slid up to the front seat's armrest, flexing out stiffness.

"No problem, John." I kissed the top of his foot.

The five of us bounced across the western half of the United States in our blue Oldsmobile on an eleven-day road trip to see relatives in Washington state. We passed crumbling wooden barns whose caving in was silent and imperceptible. Grasses and trees grew tangled through vacant windows and floorboards and, in a blink, the scene was gone. Wind turbines stood tall on hilltops, capturing the air around them in precise, non-hurried arms. Silver oil rigs bent low, faces to the soil, bobbing and drinking greedily. My daughter snapped photographs out the window of North Dakota's green foothills and up its winding caramel and navy-colored badlands. Placards boasted "the world's largest buffalo" and red and green rivers snaked among the bison.

Montana's disproportionate horizon screamed for attention. In a rancher's world with rattlesnakes and miles of brown sandy land between towns, the sky took center stage. Five-sixths of the world was sky, a massive blue ocean of air where wispy cirrus clouds curled and sketched before hiding away behind stony ranges. Clumped white cumulus clouds came next, throwing grey shadows onto the land around us. The highway carved through and over, around and under. My daughter snapped and clicked the camera feature of her dad's phone.

"Isn't there a silent option for the camera?" wondered my son, as his sister leaned across all angles of the car to capture the beauty she saw.

In Idaho and Washington, my six year old noticed his ears. "There's something wrong with my ears," he said.

"Oh, that's called popping. It's because we're driving up the mountains. Pretend you are swallowing food, or drink lots of water. It will help," I advised, swiveling to look over my left shoulder at him.
"Daniel, isn't God cool to make mountains? Wow, he's a good artist." We nodded together, my six year old and I, and the phrase appeared often in his meal and bedtime prayers that week. He thanked God for mountains and oceans, memories of splashing waves soon his most poignant.

Wet fog and mist clung to the bottom of ever-growing mountains, and we swallowed and gasped at the beauty.

We arrived eventually, of course, at my aunt and uncle's home, pulling into their yellow dirt driveway and crunching pebbles with our tires. Fresh peaches grew from their tree in the backyard, and the Yakima sun poured desert heat onto us as we hugged and exclaimed, getting re-acquainted again. The wooden screen door clapped shut behind us as we lugged suitcases and backpacks into the cool interior, and our voices disappeared inside.

And the prayer I uttered before leaving on this trip? The prayer I whispered on winding roads, and after late-nights... God, please make us delightful to each other and a delight to be around. Help us be kind, patient, and humble. Help us reflect you, your love filling us and coming out from us. 

Our Artist God coated mountains in greens, tans, and silvery blues, directed ocean tides, and granted that small prayer too. We pulled into our Minnesota driveway, eleven days later, after sixteen- and twelve-hour days of driving, still liking each other and thankful for the trip.

Hello, friends. I have missed you, and this time here with you. Thank you for your patience as I have been packing boxes, preparing for a move, and racing across country on a road-trip. 

How has your August been going? What adventures or savored moments are you collecting and holding onto carefully? Have you ever prayed any odd prayers before trips? 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Slowing Summer Down & Speeding Up What Matters

Photo: Ron Doke, Creative Commons, cc license

Photo: Dennis Larsen, Creative Commons, cc license
Throaty Bryan Adams'-style singing drifts over from the church nearby. Flashy classic, sport, and muscle cars line up in rows, hoods propped open, motors gleaming at an annual summer car show. Live music streams past the aroma of grilled hot dogs, steaming metal in the sun, and aerosol spray cans.

"Soo, I sorta did my hair," my nineteen year old son texts me in droll nonchalance. I grin and ask for photos, already picturing red, green and blue dye on a temporary spiked hairdo from last year's car show.

My husband straps on sandals and holds the door open for our six year old. The door blows shut behind them as they walk to church too.

I'm grabbing my green water bottle and jumping into time with you, friends. The counter behind me is lined with half-done dishes, crimson watermelon slices in a bag, and last night's coffee press.

Can you smell the campfire? Wood smoke still emanates from my skin, hair, and clothing. Pony tails hang down my shoulders to rest on my chest, and can you feel it here with me? This slipping away of summer?

Thirty of us teens and adults piled up bikes in a friend's driveway and dropped sleeping bags in the yard for yesterday's Bike and Camp youth event. Bike riding, backyard volleyball, and cooking over a fire brings people together. Tin foil-wrapped packets of potatoes, carrots, and onions smoldered beside ground hamburger, and night fell before we pulled out the marshmallows and chocolate.

"Lord, give me a great love for these teens and for these people in my life," I asked him at one point, slipping quiet under a variegated green maple.

He does, and we all show love in different ways. Whether extrovert or introvert, no matter our personality styles, we slide into familiar ways of relating to the people around us. Some friends love the people around them by scraping eggs on a heavy skillet over smoking fires. Others shake dice in a cup game for hours, bluffing with a smirk; or start up dozens of conversations.

On top of blue trampolines while bouncing and ducking, or on wooden picnic benches beside the blueberry crumble bars, these one on one times with others are what God uses most often to grow deeper love within me for people. I love those chances to see into people's eyes, to hear their stories, and to get beyond the noise and busyness into greater depth.

Sunshine filters through fern-like branches outside now, and my husband and youngest son have returned. Noise commences. Highway hums whine into the distance, dissipating quickly, and a cardinal trills nearby.

Summer slips by, and our moments with the people in our lives flit by too. Grab today with me?