Friday, February 28, 2014

What Every Comparing-Prone Woman Needs to Know

This lovely woman's photo found here by Dan Hutcheson, Creative Commons, cc

I can see it now. The twelve men hunkered down around a small Middle Eastern table, knees brushing up against each other, carefully trying to edge their muddy feet away from the clothing around them.

Similar to Mardi Gras or the Super Bowl, the city was flooded with people in for the big event of the Passover. Rented rooms, hotels, and banquet halls were going fast, and this leased room didn't appear to have come with a hostess.

With no one there to handout the typical Hospitality Welcome package of a wet towel to clean up from the day's travels, each man had strode in, stood awkwardly by the door for a moment, and then crouched down at the table. Even the marvels of Roman engineering couldn't halt the dust and mud that accumulated after just minutes of treading on the busy roads outside.

Striving to look nonchalant, the twelve men skipped the traditional step of washing off the day's dirt, and stooped low to eat. Scooping fragrant garlic hummus and eggplant mousaka into folds of brown pita bread, they laughed and ate, pausing to pop oiled olives into their mouths.

Mid-meal, their teacher stopped eating, brushed some crumbs from his face, and stood up.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was around his waist. (John 13:3-5)

I am struck each time I read this by the word "so." Grammatically and linguistically, the two parts of that sentence are linked and clearly connected. Knowing who he was, and where he was going, compelled Jesus to serve. Knowing who he was and his purpose freed him to set aside any needs to prove he was the best, the highest, the most acclaimed. Knowing who he was freed him to serve in humble joyful love.

In my day to day life, when I remember who I am in Jesus and what my purpose in life is, I am freed to humbly serve others. When I remember who God says I am, I don't need to be threatened by others' successes or failures, nor do I need to compare myself, worrying that I am falling short. 

Knowing who we are in God's eyes and why we are here, we can then pause and love others in humble joy. And our true audience? He's watching and smiling. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

She's Smarter Than Me

 We were sitting there side by side, and tension was mounting.

Long dark hair fell across her face and her eyes flashed. Wiping furious tears from her cheek, she grit her teeth, and I watched jaw muscles flex and clench.

A homework assignment was aggravating her, and confusion masqueraded as fury. After several exasperated sighs, she suddenly stood up, shoving her chair back.

"Mom! Can I go do some devotions?!"

"Right now?" I wondered, "Don't we have a lot to do?"

"Mom, I just need some time with God. I need to do this."

Bleakness stood out against pale cheekbones. My daughter froze mid-bolt, pleading with her eyes.

I paused.

"...Sure, go ahead. Let's meet again in twenty minutes?" My words were barely out, and she was off, her door shutting behind her, a pink room disappearing from sight.

My daughter? She's smarter than me. She knows Who to run to, where to turn, when life feels raw.  Because for me, I sometimes take too long to pause life and grab my Bible and journal. I often try to soldier on, with a bad mood firmly entrenched. Grumbling under my breath, quietly seething, or secretly dissolving into sadness before finally realizing my need --and it's Source-- I can leave casualties around me. 

My daughter? She was smarter than me this week.

And that brings joy too.

(Photo Credit: Harry Rowed, Creative Commons, cc licensing)

Friday, February 21, 2014

What Your Neighbor is Trying to Tell You

The wind blew gales all night, buffeting the house, and we snuggled deeper under beds' blankets.

In dark twilight six am, five year old Daniel knocks on our door, and it's my turn to get up with him. We lumber sleepy-eyed out to the couch, dodging Legos, to curl up in silence. Heavy snow drags branches heavy, and we marvel that they haven't snapped. Tree branch fingertips trail the tops of deep snowbanks against the fence, and the wind blows hard. Sculpted snow whips eroded silver dust into the air, as orange flashing snow-plows roar down dark side streets. Half a moon hangs dimly in the sky.

Sunshine soon dries a foggy twilight, and yellows and blues highlight snowy trees. After lunch, my husband and I pull on black snowpants, red stocking caps, and wind up in long scarves. While he tackles thigh-high snowdrifts in the driveway, Daniel and I laugh and fall through hip-high snow, sinking trapped into white quicksand. Laughter echoes off yellow houses as we tumble and fall.

"Mom!" he yells, panicked. "Help, get me." Hip-high snow for me is chin-high on him, and he is sensing his peril. I crouch down, pulling him onto my back, and we hike monkey-style through a white backyard.

Arriving winded in the front of the house, I deposit Daniel to safety and join my man, who is shoveling up front. He stops heaving snow to draw my attention to something.

"Look, see the sides of the driveway? Someone snow-blowed our driveway. See?" Tall angled edges outline our driveway, trace around our cars, and weave a path to our garage, hints of a straight-edged snowblower.

Humbled, amazed, and delightfully touched, we are hit with the realization of how much work they did, and how much work they saved us. Even the end of our driveway had been freed from the city snowplows who normally throw up giant walls of snow, blocking us in. Wow.

We smile and look over at their yard, wanting to thank them. With no one in sight, we pull our caps down lower against the stinging wind, and jab our shovels into remaining thigh-high piles of snow. Galing winds throw the snow back into our faces, sculpting drifts anew beside us, and wicking away shiny sweat and melted snow from our faces. Bending low, we dig and throw snow, dig and throw, bodies aching quickly.

An hour later, in the warmth of the house, I pack up fresh chocolate chip cookies into a plastic bag, write out a note of thanks for their gift of Vietnamese egg rolls earlier and for the snow-blowing gift, using cut and paste from an online translating program to put my words into Vietnamese.

Friendship and community can be spoken through smiles, egg rolls, hand gestures, sweet milky cardamom tea, chocolate chip cookies, and snow-blowing surprises.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Intersecting Plot Lines

Photo credit: Daniel Ansel Tingcungco, Flickr, Creative Commons, cc

It's the tiny clues that hit my subconscious. Triggers of another plotline weaving briefly through mine.

A dark-haired man drives his car around a curve and, in the sixty seconds I see him, he's banging both hands on the steering wheel, and bouncing his body against the seat. Is he angry? Upset? Or dancing vehemently to his favorite song? Snowbanks and buildings hide him from sight.

Two therapists confer beside me about a nameless female client who is battling substance abuse. They role-play questions that will prompt further disclosure, and the older therapist passes on advice to the younger one.

"Has she hit on you yet?" he asks, sipping coffee from a white mug.

"...No? Good, good, that means you're projecting the right..." and the conversation flows on beside me.

Bobbed blonde and brunette nurses behind me share resources for dementia and scannable online time cards.

"Jerry Fisher" swipes a black ipad at the table beside me and leaves a phone message with his name and number. The world suddenly seems so public and open.

Male teen swishes boy bangs to the side, shifting binders and books more securely into his arm as he crosses the street, talking to brunette girl beside him.

Black shirted Native American art pairs with green and brown camo pants. A three-day beard contours up an angular masculine face, topped by a black fleece hat. He strides into view, then disappears.

Redhead in violet jacket unfolds bulging manilla folders from a stroke association fabric bag. "May I sit here?" she asks Jerry Fisher, still on the phone. Surprised, he nods silent assent and taps the table. "Rachel" on the coffee-cup studies her notes and starts leaving her own phone messages, while Jerry gives his phone number to invisible answering machines.

Stories intersect. Grey clouds climb higher and winter temperatures mount. Snow melts sloshy and car after car pulls into the coffee shop: each car a different story; each indoor square table-top a new tale. Plotlines mingle with each lidded cup. 

And then, just like that, silver Sentras, grey Corollas, and red Ford Focuses pull away, and the stories stream away, trailing in the distance.  

Your story and mine? The Writer knows them too, and is weaving those plot lines. 

(Thankful for a story-writing God.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Shhh, They're Playing Your Song!

Photo Credit: Paulo Vicente, Creative Commons, cc
It's jarring and unexpected. Beer advertisements jangle loudly across my Kenny G saxophone instrumentals every five seconds. The latest in internet viruses seems to be this one, attacking online radio stations with incessant invisible advertisements. More than just the occasional advertisement between songs, these ads soon play nearly non-stop, blocking out all music.

As I look into tackling this computer issue, it strikes me how often our lives are like this too, though. Our Creator woos us, serenading us with songs of love. Too often, our focus is pulled off him. Others' voices, songs, and noises pop up, and soon his song is buried under chaos.

Want to clear away the noise with me tonight? Take a moment to pause life, turn off other distractions, quiet your mind, and listen to the original Singer. He's singing to you tonight.

"The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love
He will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephaniah 3:17)

Shhh, they're playing your song...

Happy Valentine's weekend, friend. Know that you are loved, pursued, and delighted in, by the Lover of your soul. He's playing your song...

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Love that Leaves Us Breathless

Photo: Flickr User: Daniela Silicz, Creative Commons, cc

There is a woman I know. Blonde hair hangs short on her neck as she races up and down stairs a million times a day, laughing breathlessly at the pedometer she wore for a week to count the steps. Steps that swept in love through peanut butter and jelly toast to a daughter with special needs, steps that answered worried calls from a child who wants to know she's near. My blonde haired friend kneads bread, measures gluten-free alternatives, and makes suppers from scratch, because that speaks love to her family's health. She hikes steps countless times a day, and her love for family tumbles over.

There is a woman I know. Brown curls tease the sides of her face whether she is cracking jokes or sharing about hard days. Wrapping arms round her kids, they pray "in Jesus' big and strong name," bringing all things to him. And on those hard days, when child mental health anxieties flail tiny limbs against a mother's safe body, this woman cushions in silent weeping love. In between occasional childhood angst, laughter rolls across a kitchen that smells deliciously of egg rolls and home made plum sauce, and her entryway screams welcome. I see love spilling across burnished hardwood floors and scattered shoes.

There is a woman I know.

She looks like you.

I see you. I know the way you care for your family on the days that you are tired. I see it in your kids' faces and their zipped up jackets when we pass in the hall or meet in a store. Scrounging creatively for meals after a tiring day, you still have homework to inquire about, spelling words to glance at, and the mystery of three mismatched socks on the floor.

I see you. The way you work to care for your man, striving to see him --really see him!--to love him, to learn his needs, to want the best marriage, even on the hard days. I see you.

Our God sees you too. You are loved, delighted in, prized. His very name means breath, pneuma, and his love for you tumbles over, spilling out, filling us with life.

There is a woman I know. She looks like you, and her love leaves others breathless.

(and counting with Ann at A Holy Experience...)

Friday, February 7, 2014

What God Never Assumes About You

Photo: Flickr User Tripu, Creative Common, cc
 Pool waters sparkle against grey stone. Always the gentleman, he stoops low to ask.

"Do you want to get well?" 

That was the question. And in fact, it really was the issue wasn't it? Because for as much as we gripe and complain about whatever is broken in our day, in our situation, in us, or in a relationship...

...that is always the question. "Do you want to get well?"

Pool waters sparkled against grey stone, as Jesus approached the man with the atrophied legs. He never assumes, this godhead. Because the man hadn't asked Jesus for healing, didn't even seem to know who was standing there before him.

All the man saw were the hurdles -- those obstacles blocking him from healing, from wholeness, from a different life --keeping him back.

Always the gentleman, Jesus stooped low and asked, "Do you want to get well?"

"Sir," said the invalid, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." 

Then Jesus said to him, " Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. 

"Do you want to get well, Jen? ...Of your bad attitudes, your tension and concerns? Do you want to get well, Jen, from this thing here?"

Yes, please. Yes, thank you.

"Do you want to get well?"

Then do the actions that show that. Stop, get up, walk in that way.

At once the man was cured.

This God who slippped politely up to the man at the pool of Bethesda is the same God who asks us. "Do you want to get well?"

At our response, he will reach in, take our faltering, paralyzed situations, and make them well. He is the God who can grow atrophied muscles, hearts, and relationships. He is the God who transforms brokenness into wholeness. 

"Do you want to get well?"

Monday, February 3, 2014

What Sex Unlocks in Marriage

Photo Credit: Maria Rosaria Sannino, Creative Commons, cc

It's a little bit like showing up to school with no pants on.

You've had that dream too, I'm sure. On a rushed morning getting ready for school, you dash out the door with your backpack and bag lunch. Not until you step out past the long line of orange school buses do you feel the wind on your thighs and realize that you've forgotten to put on your pants. Heart-thumping wildly, we all dash ourselves awake at this moment, our pulses racing as we sit up in a dark room.

I am honored to speak at an upcoming event this week, and love that they chose the "Ovens vs. Microwaves: Issues of Sexuality in Marriage" session of mine. It is one of my favorite workshops. Talking candidly about sex is a bit like showing up to school with no pants on. Yet it's a topic that we Christians need to talk about more often.

Whenever we fall into the notion that "good girls don't talk about sex or sexuality" we have forgotten how bluntly and unblushingly our God talks about sex. Sex was God's idea. He invented it, and us, intentionally sculpting in bundles of nerves throughout our bodies. Nerves that are not needed for the purposes of procreation, but are essential for pleasure.

In Hebrews 13:4, God declares, "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled." The Greek word for bed here is koite, which in Latin is coitio meaning sex. Thus God says in Hebrews here that "Marriage is honorable in all, and the sex undefiled."

In the Biblical book of Song of Solomon, a play with two main characters, a Beloved and her Lover describe in tantalizing detail their desire for each other. On their wedding night at the consummation, a third voice enters the fray, saying quietly, smilingly, "Eat, o friends and drink; drink your fill, o lovers." Bible scholars wonder if this is their Creator telling them to enjoy what he has invented for them.

Gary Thomas, in his article entitled "The Power of a Pure Passion," explores some wild discoveries about sex and marriage, after new research on the chemical interactions of our brain, including the chemical oxytocin: 
The past decade has led to an explosion of understanding about the chemical interactions of our brains, and many insights about love and marriage have become more readily apparent. For starters, that wonderfully transcendent, carry-me-away feeling of infatuation will not last more than about 24 to 33 months. This sudden affection is intense, but it’s a “sprinter,” not a marathoner; it has no endurance, and will begin to fade about the time that most couples come home from their honeymoon.
As the inventor of our brains, our Creator knows this, so He also designed a follow-up act that literally renews a couple’s affection: sexual intimacy. Here’s how it works. At any given time, the female brain contains up to ten times more oxytocin than the male brain. Oxytocin is the bonding chemical that creates feelings of affection and empathy. You want to know why women tend to be more invested in close relationships than men? Oxytocin is one of the reasons.
There’s only one time in human experience when the husband’s level of oxytocin begins to approach that of his wife’s: immediately following an act of sexual intimacy. A man’s brain literally re-bonds with his spouse, making him, at that moment, more committed to his family, more satisfied with his wife, more invested in his home. Wives, why do your husbands want sex with you so often (whether they know this is the reason or not)? It’s because they never feel closer to you than immediately following that encounter.
Need some oxytocin? Does your man?

Take a moment to look across the room at him. Study his broad shoulders and that strong back. Close your eyes and remember his cologne, or sneak up to him and sniff his neck. Feel your lips on his skin. Think about some of the things you love about him emotionally and physically. Then disappear, and know that God is saying, "Have fun. I made this for you."

Hi friends. I love you stopping in. What do you think? What's an aspect of marriage that Christians don't talk enough about? 

(And linking with Ann to count gifts-- thankful for God's invention here today.)