Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Sports Cars and Physics Can Teach Our Families

Photo credit: Maciek, Creative Commons, cc
Sizzling Latino music rumbas through a sunny south-facing living room. Creamy light bounces dazzlingly off white sculpted snow drifts outside to dribble across red pillows and dented couch cushions inside. Wind-carved ledges hang off the roof, drape the deck, and swoop grandly through our yard. Swing-set chains disappear unexpectedly into snow drifts, the seats hidden below.
Photo credit: Carl Wycoff, Creative Commons, cc
My teen age daughter swipes long side bangs off her face, clipping them back, as we calculate physics at the table. Acceleration is calculated by subtracting the initial velocity from the final velocity, divided by time. We lean closer to read the problem about a sports car that speeds from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3 seconds, and I notice how tall she is, my lanky daughter. Fifteen years old looks good on her. We groan despondently at the subject, but grudgingly fill in the equation. Velocity flies by going east for the sports car, and into the future for this woman beside me.

How do you nurture and build memories with your kids on a daily basis? In between dishes, laundry, and physics problems, we sculpt our days at blinding speeds. Dentist trips, part-time jobs, and family activities carve swaths through our weeks, and I don't want it to erode away.

We laughed as we punched numbers in the calculator about initial and final velocity, my daughter and I. It wasn't the math-filled science. We found humor in odd places, and giggled together. Stopping to hug between subjects, we grabbed her notebooks and sprawled across my bed to read her math lecture together. All too soon, the talk of fully simplifying algebraic fractions trailed off, and she disappeared downstairs.

Walking back into the main rooms, a To-Do list spirals long in my mind, toys scatter my floor, and dirty dishes lean hazardously on my counter.

"Mom, play Uno with me?" my petite five year old asks softly. Shiny red Spiderman decals curl off his shirt. Tiny shoulders wait expectantly.

Snow spirals glitteringly away out the window behind him, as the wind swipes more of it. An afternoon sun slants shadows long across my carpet, climbing further up the red pillows.

He waits still, eyeing the black cards on the floor.

"Sure, bud, let's play some Uno."

And the snow drifts high on my deck, resisting the wind.

Monday, January 27, 2014

To the Peach Pie God

Photo credit to Curtis Palmer, Creative Commons, cc
The news from the big box company who wants to move in across the road from us and the pertinent land owner strikes fear in us. We look at cold hard facts and know that we can no longer stay in this home, but the realization leaves me heartsick and tight-chested. We worked for years to get this property, and have sunk in deep roots in the year and a half we've been here. I stare out the windows at my raspberry, strawberry, and rhubarb beds frozen under snowdrifts, and wonder if I'll have time to safely export them with me. Tulip and daffodil bulbs lie within reach of future bulldozing easements, locked from me in frozen earth.

A deadline decision looms just a week away, so we crunch numbers, scrunch foreheads, and seek wise counsel. And in between the inevitable, the fear, and the worrying grief, we hug long, and whisper truth to ourselves, to each other, and to our children.

"God is good, he can be trusted. He has always taken care of us, even lavishly, generously caring for us. He is the Peach Pie God, sending us a peach pie through teens when we were discouraged about youth ministry years ago. He is the Ball Road bliss home God, the marriage-redeeming God, the garden-creating God, the children-giving God, the Scene-striding God who knows the words to sustain the weary." 

At church yesterday, we admitted each apprehension our hearts threw out, and assured ourselves with truths of who God says he is. And yet, grief is allowed, and we God-followers are allowed to ache and say, "This is hard." In rawness, I stood to sing, and God sent lyrics for me. Tears fell as I sang,

"...Even when I'm caught in the middle of the storms of this life,
 I won't turn back I know you are near, 
And I will fear no evil, for my God is with me, 
And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear, whom then shall I fear?
Oh no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm,
Oh no, you never let go, in every high and every low
oh no you never let go, Lord you never let go of me

And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
and there will be an end to these troubles but until that day comes, 
still I praise you, still I will praise you..." (Matt Redman, "You Never Let Go")

The next song's lyrics said,

"...Troubles surround me, chaos abounding, 
my soul will rest in you, 
I will not fear the war, I will not fear the storm, 
my help is on the way, my help is on the way

Oh my God, he will not delay, my refuge and strength always, 
I will not fear, his promise is true,
my God will come through always.

...I lift my eyes up, my help comes from the Lord ..."(Kristian Stanfill's "Always")

I clenched my jaw against crying, wiped silent tears, and continued my conversation with God in song,

"Nothing formed against me shall stand, 
you hold the whole world in your hand
I'm standing firm in your promises,
you are faithful, you are faithful, you are faithful.

...I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind,
the God of angel armies is always by my side..." (Chris Tomlin, "Whom Shall I Fear?")

Sound and tech crews in the back flashed a pre-determined verse on the screen, and God whispered back,
      "Look to the Lord and his strength;
       seek his face always" (I Chronicles 16:11).

I don't know what your weekend has been like, or what you are going through, but our God loves you and is faithful. He has words he wants to tell you. Would you ask him, friend? Speak your worries, your wonders, your fears and excitements. Then sit back and wait. He wants to answer you, and will: through a song on the radio, through his words in the Bible, through a friend, a sermon, or an online note. You are loved.

I'd love to hear what you are thinking today, friends.

(And linking to count gifts with Ann. For his trust-worthy heart and for his whispers through song.)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Heat Up Any Frosted Marriage

Photo Credit: Sami Ben Garbia, Creative Commons cc
Arctic chills coat the lower corner of the window with ice and send cold drafts into me. I shiver in my green long sleeves, wishing I had a sweater with me. Bob Marley sings through the coffee shop speakers, and a three-person business meeting continues at the table behind me. Hot coffee scalds my mouth futilely as I huddle my shoulders and tuck hands between my knees to warm up.

Arctic chills can slip into marriage relationships just as suddenly. Lingering resentments, feelings of loneliness or not being appreciated, and even just long hours at work can grow frost in any relationship. Men and women from all ages approach me after speaking engagements to share their hearts. If this is you, you are not alone. Any marriage can be thawed out with God's help and gentle intentionality. 

Knowing that chills can creep in from unkind comments, unresolved issues, and harsh unapologetic attitudes, our de-thaw remedies begin there.

My husband and I recently found ourselves needing to un-thaw momentarily too. Climbing into the car after work one day, I kissed him for the surprise pick up. Gentle silence fell, though, in the wake of something we needed to talk about. Intentionally choosing soft hearts, we tried to speak respectfully, to ask clarifying questions, and to offer humble reconciliation. Sometimes, it takes our feelings longer to catch up. We've learned that when we choose to invest in the relationship and to meet each other's needs despite our moods, joy dividends pay off.

That evening, we took turns caring for our family and each other. Mark cooked dinner while I helped Morgan with homework, and connected with Daniel in Uno. Behind us, Mark stirred red curry soups of ginger and lime. After supper, while Morgan and Daniel watched a show together, I worked quietly on some writing deadlines, trying to be done early. Daniel crawled up on my lap throughout that time too, missing me from my afternoon at work. I paused writing to snuggle and tickle my five year old.

After putting Daniel to bed, I revised and finished my writing project, still not quite satisfied with it, but settling for now. I looked at Mark and we left our computers to sit on the couch. Intentionally entwining our legs and chests, we watched a few British comedies together, the closeness and laughter melting and bonding us naturally.

We chose to bond, moving in for quiet kisses. Then, with a glance between us, I ran a quick bath, while he cleared away supper. We met in our room and locked the door. Later, happy, breathless and completely relaxed, we fell asleep.

The next morning, we hugged happy for the day, lingered in kisses before his work, and prayed together. Joy dividends, with God's help and our intentionality, had paid off. I would love to say that we remember this every time, but I'm just thankful for each time God teaches us this, and whispers patiently, "Choose this. Choose obedience to me in any relationship, Jen. It brings joy."

Monday, January 20, 2014

He Came in from the Woods and He Said It Straight Up

He came in from the woods and he said it straight up.

It was evident he knew who he was. 

It wasn't his family name, or his dad's career. It wasn't a past accomplishment he'd been hanging onto with fingers tight.

He just came in from the woods and the wild, and he said it straight up.

To the ones still wondering. To the ones still scrambling and scraping and building their names. To the ones still sweating and posturing.

He knew who he was.

His papa must have whispered it in his ears as a boy. The story of how his dad's name had been called, assigned to a task by the tumbling of dice and stones. It was his turn, a one-time chance. His dad had beamed, soberly dressing with care, straightening shirt lines, pressing away wrinkles on his way to work. 

Had he seen to everything? Was all in place? wondered his dad, lips set, heart beating quickly.

And then there was the door. Jewish priests entered here only twice a year. Stepping inside, he busied himself with the incense at the altar. Prayers of his people, the fire burned, raising the fragrance high. 

Suddenly an angel stood at the altar, calling him by name, "Zechariah." Telling of a coming child, the angel spoke of this man who would turn people's hearts to God. "His name will be John.

Decades later, he came in from the woods and he said it straight up, to the ones who were wondering and scrambling, still building their names.

"I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'"

And his certainty strikes me. Whether from his parents' accounts of his origins, or from continued conversations with his Creator, John knew who he was. Striding back into civilization after years in the wilderness, he knew who he was when people asked him, and he knew what God's word said about his role.

Who are you? Who am I? What does God say about us? 

(Photo credit here.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fighting Back Against Family Sick Days

Quiet rasping snores from my five year old at the table caught my attention. His yogurt sat untouched beside him, blonde tousled head resting on a green-striped right arm, while his feet curled into chair rungs below him. A moment later, his body startled awake and I carried him, protesting, to bed.

For two days, our family has slouched glassy-eyed on the couch, watching reruns of The Cosby Show and Phineas and Ferb. Fevers and hacking coughs have united us. We fill each others' water bottles, sanitize and hand off the thermometer, and apportion the couch syrup between us. Taking turns, we make quick easy food or see to other needs, before returning weakly to the couch. My five year old has become a junkie, asking me for the "blue stuff" every few hours, his chewable grape-flavored fever-buster. A flushed camaraderie grows between the four of us as we layer legs across blankets on the couch, and click from one episode to the next.

John calls us from college, his voice a matching gravel to ours, and we compare symptoms, calculating potential end dates for him. "I'm drinking lots of water, Mom, and trying to sleep a lot," he says raspy over the phone.

I woke up this morning feeling better than the past few days, and kicked into gear. After two days of paltry buttered bread slices, raisins, and yogurt, we were ready for something else. Topping off Morgan's water bottle, giving Mark a chance to nap, and snuggling with Daniel, I swigged from my own green water bottle, and scoured the fridge and cupboards for meal ideas for the day.

What helps on family sick days? Wanting an assortment of easy, healthy food in reach is always our biggest lament when everyone is weak on the couch. Knowing my energy supply might be fleeting, I quickly sliced an array of carrots, purple cabbage, celery, green pepper, and mushrooms, and set the platter on the couch next to my two kids. (I know. Those aren't necessarily our first choices either, but it was all that was left in the fridge. The apples, bananas, and oranges had been eaten earlier in the week.) Selecting the rapid button on our white box, I whirred the bread machine to a start. Fresh bread would make lunch easier, I reasoned.

As cartoons streamed from the living room tv nearby, I watched my kids nibble vegetables, and peeled and diced gnarled-limb garden parsnips, a wrinkled but still sweet rutabaga, and added them to minced garlic and onion for a slow cooked meat stew for supper. Sprinkling in oregano, rosemary, and two bay leaves, I cinched on the lid, wiped off counters, and added to my compost bucket, excited about next year's dirt I was making.

I'm thankful to be feeling much better and see the end in sight for us all. There are fewer of us on the couch now, and more times when we head off on temporary tasks or adventures around the house. Blue pill junkie? He's cracking jokes, beating me in Uno, and downstairs playing video games now. Daughter has picked up her art sketch pad again, and Mark is relaxing with a game now too. The fragrance of hot fresh bread wafts through the house as I type to you. Have a great week!

Has illness hit your home this month? What helps your family through it?

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Song that Will Blow You Away & Change How You See Everything

Image Source: © Subbotina |

At a table with shiny olive oil spills, amid scattered bread crumbs and wrinkled Mediterranean olives, they would have pushed back their wine cups and straightened to sing.

And we've all had that -- a moment when familiar lyrics suddenly have deeper personal meaning to us, and it leaves us breathless.

I can imagine it in his voice, choked up at times as the words speak the tumult in his heart. An annual tradition, it was always this song after the sacred feast, and Jewish people everywhere were singing it tonight. But this evening, the words shook him, expressing his own feelings and thoughts so clearly: the fear and angst, the jubilation and determination, and the wild purpose of it all. 

Tucked into a familiar Bible passage about the Last Supper of Jesus, we read that Jesus and his disciples, upon finishing the Passover meal, sang a hymn and then left for the Garden of Gethsemane.

This was the night that had been culminating for the past thirty years or so. The week where he wept over Jerusalem, saying, "If only you had known what would bring you peace!" This was the night where his friend Judas would betray him to death row, and to unimaginable pain. This was the day that had been in the works for millennia.

Tiny study notes at the bottom of my page reveal that the hymn they sang was Psalm 115-118. Turning to that section, I read it, was blown away, and alternated between crying in my kitchen and yelling, "Wow, God! Wow!"

Where could we turn in our next hard stage? Where do you go when life is hard? What helps you when you're worried, afraid, and in pain? What gives you purpose?

Picture Jesus at the table, just hours before his death, saying these words in a husky choked up voice.

(This is so worth it. Take a minute or two with the above link, and read those verses aloud, or consider clicking the audio link there and letting his words wash over you.)

Can you imagine him singing this that night? Can you imagine?!

Wow! Wow.

(and linking, always linking with Ann at A Holy Experience to count gifts. This...)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Um, There's Someone Behind You...

Photo Credit to Thierry Gregorius 

Rigor mortis drapes fingertips long on our Christmas tree still sparkling beside me. Fragrant pine needles wafted long after December 25th so I didn't have the heart to throw it away then. Now the scent has passed, though, and it's time. 

Alongside strong French coffee this week, I've been following a tale of death and starting over. In familiar biblical accounts in Luke, we see Jesus dying on the cross, a dark cave tomb blasted with light and an empty slab where a body should be.

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" angels ask with a smile to wondering women.

And along a winding country road, seven miles outside the city, Jesus appears to two men and starts a conversation.

It always begins with a conversation. The Godhead shows up humbly, unobtrusively. To the men, he appeared beside them as they walked, and asked them what they were talking about.

Beside you, too, today, as you shuffle papers in the office, or fold laundry and orchestrate a home, and while you tap keys on your computer...

He walks quietly up beside us, wonders what we are thinking, listens, and then begins to talk.

And the old, the dead, the browning stiffness is gone, replaced with a burning sense of wonder.

"Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him..."

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" they raved. And suddenly, any road weariness is lifted and they leave their supper behind, drop all thoughts of sleep, and retrace their seven mile hike back into town.

This God, he's always making things new, bringing life to the dead, and desiring to reveal himself to us in a way that makes our hearts burn within us. God, help me see you walking here beside me, eager to open my mind to understand your word.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Martians Home for Dinner

Photo courtesy of NASA
Vivaldi traipses scales in violins and lutes tonight while a deep white frost encases the glass on our front door.

Record-breaking arctic windchills blast the Midwest, and Minnesotans everywhere huddle indoors today, after jump-starting frozen autos and avoiding the wind. Car dashboards blink temperatures in the negative, and tv news anchors compare our weather to the conditions on Mars.

Bursting through the doors earlier with bulging grocery bags, my husband and I dodged hungry kids, and handed them fruit and vegetable starters, in between fierce hugs. "I missed you!" I exclaimed. They grabbed vibrant red strawberries, a croissant, and some pearly mushrooms.

Rinsing red lettuce leaves, I drained them in a colander, while slicing open buttery croissants. Turkey slices there made a sandwich, and I tossed tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, and shredded carrots onto the torn lettuce for a salad.

After having been gone for much of the day at work and then the grocery store, I see that the dirty dishes still stack high, so we are creative with finding clean plates. Conversation flows easily, quickly, as we catch up on the day.

"How was your school today?" I asked my daughter, kissing her head. We laughed and talked, while my sons disappeared to play games together downstairs.

Some days pass too quickly, and time with our kids is fleeting, huh? Today is one of those days, so excuse me, please? I'm going to pour myself another glass of mango-carrot juice and spend some time with my children. First, my eldest and I are going to search for discount used college books online, and then my two eldest kids and I are going to curl up on the couch to watch a show together.

How do you like to slow down your day and enjoy loved ones? What do you think you'll do tonight? I love hearing from you, friends. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

He Asked Me With His Eyes

Photographed by Steve Bingham, Old Man
 He stood between snowbanks on the passenger side of my car. Stopped at a red light, I read his cardboard sign, and studied the man holding it. A soft grey beard hung to his neck, and a woolen Russian hat wrapped around his ears and head.

The gentleman's eyes sought confirmation for the nonverbal cues in the car ahead of me. Moving forward, he approached their passenger window, and shook hands with the person there, nodding his head politely.

He saw me watching, and asked me with his eyes if he should come over. The light turned green. Awkwardly, clumsily, I pulled over to the side of the road, and said yes with my eyes.

Pulling a bag of Chinese steamed buns from my purse, I stretched to the passenger door. I was too short, and couldn't reach the window or the door. The gentleman stood politely outside my window, while I struggled to reach it for him. Seeing my inability, he reached for the handle, and opened my car.

A flash of panic revealed to me how vulnerable I suddenly was if his motives were ignoble. A gun in his pocket and I would be hostage in an instant. My purse lay on the seat between us, and our eyes met.

"Here, they're sweet jam buns. They're good." I proferred the bag.

The light changed from red to green again, and I reached uselessly for the passenger door, as cars lined up behind me, waiting.

There was no time for conversation, no time for more explanations, or a "God bless you." The exchange was too fast, and left me feeling sad for a missed opportunity.

Smiling a gracious thank you, he shut the door for me, and stepped back onto the snowbank. Slipping my bag of guava jam buns into his jacket, he stood tall, and tucked his hands into pockets.

There is a vulnerability in our asking, and a vulnerability in our offering help, too, I'm finding. Two humans meet on equal footing, and clumsily, respectfully, speak with their eyes. 

(Linking too with Emily and gang at Imperfect Prose.