Thursday, May 29, 2014

To the Jennys and Jasons and All Who Chase Joy

Photo: Brenda Anderson, Creative Commons, cc license
Dear Jenny,

You would have laughed this afternoon, and I think some did. With a bundle of purple lilacs in one hand and a bulky walkman cassette player in the other, I awkwardly flipped open the machine to turn my tape over. Slipping around under the black walkman in my right hand, two extra cassettes waited their turn and, in the confusion of closing, a lilac leaf became trapped in the cassette player. Green leaves bunched harmlessly as rocky nineties ska music blared in my headphones. I strode in sweaty cool-down mode, sniffing lilacs, grinning madly, and singing along in nostalgia.

You had wanted to join me in this, you said? This novice foray into jogging consistently. I thought of you today as I ran, panting in two-stepped breathing, willing the side-ache away, and wondered which route you would choose. I penned this email to you in my head, while breathing in deeply through my nose. My delight at being outside in Minnesota's newly-arrived summer had intoxicated me, causing me to forget all traces of ordered breathing. I sucked in air, pausing to count and slow my lungs. Quickly the side twinge dissipated. So, be careful of the beauty, my friend. It may catch you off guard too.

There was nothing hip or cool about my run today, despite the flashy green and teal sneakers. Starting partway into a Couch to 5K-style fitness program, I alternated between running and walking, pony tails bouncing off bare shoulders in the summer heat, purple tank top and black athletic pants looking nothing like the stylish runners I've seen.

It didn't matter. The sun poured down, cars roared by beside me, and red-winged blackbirds flapped their wings to stay steady on swaying cattails and tipping prairie grasses.Water gleamed translucent at their feet, mirroring a wide blue sky. Brown and black birds skittered from shallow hollows in the ground around me, jumping several yards away before turning to peer one-eyed at my approach. Freshly-mowed grasses lay long and withering across the pavement, their fragrance a heady sweetness on the breeze.

And just when fatigue was settling in strong enough, the blue house appeared. At the imaginary driveway line, I swiveled, turned, and made my return. All that remained was a calm cool-down saunter the two miles back. (Cue the lilacs. Their stage-right-entrance is a block away...)

The joy poured in, and maybe it was the endorphins, but I doubt they exist on this small of a running scale. Summer's sun was brilliant, tantalizing. Singing along to nostalgic favorites, I thanked God for health, for lilacs, and for his world's beauty. Pressing purple clustered lilac blossoms against my lips, nose, and cheeks, I inhaled as long as I could, and grinned giddy in the sunlight.

Joy feels so different than a life on auto-mode. Joy stands out from complacent carpooling and humdrum habits, but I forget. There is always cause for joy, despite the gasping, the side aches, and the sweat dripping down my face. There is always cause for joy, despite the frenzied last weeks of school and the science test that looms. Joy is always a choice, despite uncertainties that rise and shimmer unbidden in the background. And I remembered this immediately after the blue driveway where I swiveled, turned, and stopped running. Stumbling in wobbly weariness, I gasped, grabbed air, and shook my head, feeling silly to have forgotten.

There was a baby name book I found years ago when I was seeking namesakes for my firstborn. The title boasted proudly, "Beyond Jennifer and Jason," and who could have known they would be so right? Joy is only found when I look beyond myself, when I see Him and his beauty, when I step wonderingly into realization of his presence and breathe fully in.

Only after the run did the sense of it fully settle in. Joy came as a result of stepping in determined perseverance, choosing to breathe and continue, breathe and continue. Joy floods in, and humble thanks.

Slipping off my shoes and guzzling from a green water bottle, Jenny, I'll close. Thanks for joining me in this, and letting me wax philosophical.

Photo: Liz West, Creative Commons, cc license

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Ambushing Joy of No Cosmic Carnival Bell

Photo: Thomas Totz, Creative Commons cc license
Banana muffins sheen from melted butter and I'm on my fourth one. Hot from the oven, they steam when opened and glisten moist on a hot muggy May afternoon. A friend has just left, our tea cups and dishes still line the counter.

This afternoon, listening to my niece wash dishes behind me and my youngest play Legos before me, I scribbled lines in my journal and pulled my Bible closer to me on the kitchen table. A glossy plastic-covered map beneath my books showed me the Middle East and Asia, but all the verses I read pointed in towards me.

Reading of another one's healing, some verses hit me about my own life. I switched some pronouns and read, "By faith in the name of Jesus, this [woman] whom you see and know was made strong!" The next line continued, "It is Jesus's name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to [her], as you can all see."

I've been marking time, paying attention to date markers to track how God is healing areas in my life. Head and heart wounds, traps of thinking that have wrapped and twisted me some days have been slowly unwinding. Days following days of retraining my mind, of rejecting the lies we can all too easily whisper to ourselves and believe. Month slipping after quiet month, and most traces have all but disappeared.

It surprises me now, how thoroughly joy crept in. Healing, hope, and peace have ambushed us, and we are no longer the same.

And the humbling shrug-the-shoulders, can-take-no-credit-for-it-part? It's cryptically there in Acts 3:16, "It is Jesus's name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing." The result is never truly about how much faith we can muster up. The result is not about rallying enough faith to ring some cosmic carnival bell, signaling Enough. The God-Man kindly, gently hands down the faith to us, giving us what we need to believe. And He... He is enough.

It surprises me now, how thoroughly joy crept in. And for you, my friend? He is enough for you too, whatever your story, your calendar marks, your wonders. He is enough, and he is handing down faith for you too.

(I'm so glad to have you here. Please feel free to share or forward this post on to others. You are welcome too to sign up on my website's top right corner to receive these posts by email, if you do not already.) 

Friday, May 23, 2014

To the Ugly and Small-God-Praying Folk Like Me

Photo: M. H. Anbinder, Creative Commons, cc license
Every day he went to the Gate Beautiful. And I don't know if he felt beautiful, but I know that he pulled his withered legs closer to him on the braided mat and he stared out. At the passing people who didn't see him, at the passing people who tried not to see him, he stared blankly and made his speech. Under towering columns, he lay low, and he begged for small coins.

Coming to his corner, Peter and John, nimble-footed fishermen accustomed to rolling waves as well as dusty Roman-occupied lands, saw him there. He who may not have felt beautiful under the Archway named for Beauty.

And he, who wasn't used to being seen, was suddenly seen. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Peter said, "Look at us!" and the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

I am reminded of this historical account and I play it over and over this afternoon as I chop thick rose and green striped stalks of rhubarb, layering them under sliced peaches and ripe strawberries for a summer dessert.

At a recent art exposition, I stood entranced beside a table in the back center of the crowded room. The artist stood there silent and proud with nothing to prove as I paged through his two or three sketchbooks and I was mesmerized. In the styling of Da Vinci or Michalangelo, this artist dated his pages and then filled them with moments captured in time: weary-looking women hunched over coffee cups, ball-capped men dozing on bus benches, and fragments of familiar faces appearing regularly through the pages, here they are lounging on a couch, here they flick a cigarette and glance at him. Ordinary moments frozen in pencil and time. The commonplace is suddenly intimate and beautiful, stolen peeks into lives and stories.

"I've never seen an ugly person," he says, this artist at whose table I've lingered. In response to my delight at his drawings, he states it again, "I don't believe anyone is ugly. And I don't mean this as a cliche," he laughs. "Everyone is interesting in their own way. It's just attitudes that are ugly." I nod in happy agreeing.

His characters are lined in thought, in age, in shadows, and he starts into a story. "I came across this man who had warts and growths all across his skin, even tapering out to claws on his hands," he explained, "and I couldn't look away. It was so unique, beautiful in its own way. I could have drawn him for hours."

Back in Middle Eastern Bible times, Peter and John have captured the sitting man's attention, and he turns expectant. Underneath the Gate Beautiful, he awaits a token coin or two.

"I don't have any money," Peter began, "but what I have I'll give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk." Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and jumping and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Tapping my screen to hear this audio text read again and again aloud to me as I mix in sugar, flour and baking soda, I hear these words repeated and it hits me.

"What I have ... I'll give you." To the people sitting hopeless under signposts flashing gaudy hope, to the people feeling lonely under facebook statuses blatant in aloof anger, and to silent hovering teens with screaming eyes.

"What I have, I'll give you!" And it may be to cry out to the God who does the miraculous. He can and does still heal. True stories echo in my ears from sources I trust and believe, and I've seen God do that too, in astonishing answers to prayer from small private rooms.

And suddenly, I have to stop mixing. Running to my room, I kneel and pray, feeling slightly silly next to a mountainous pile of clean laundry in my room in the dark on a hot summer afternoon. But He's brought a name to my mind, so I stumble words, cry laughing in the dark, and burst into praise about how big our God is, swiping tears and laughing in shy love to Him. I pray for healing for this friend, feeling at once weak in faith and yet incredulous with excitement to the God who says, Ask me. So I do, and I confess that all too often I have labeled God in a tiny box and prayed pitifully-small safe prayers. I wipe tears and smile silly still, admitting that I too easily forget, am too prone to miss his wonders, and too easily distracted to notice his answers to prayer. His love is towering, and I kneel low beside the bed, and he whispers beauty to my heart. It is liberating, exuberant.

After a while, I slip back into the kitchen, resume the audio play, and wipe up the rhubarb and strawberry spills from the counter.

What you have, what you can freely give, may be different for each person. Some friends need you to walk boldly into God's throne room, and say, "Abba Dad, remember Peter and John's experiences with the man at the gate? You tell us to ask, so here I am..."

Other friends simply need us to tell them they are beautiful, and not alone, and that they have value. They need us to speak words of emotional healing, or to spend tell-tale time with them that translates into relationship in language they hear. Type a private message to the one needing to know they are seen, or text a note to a friend who needs you.

"What I have, I'll give you. May I introduce you to the God who crafted and made you, who calls you by name?"

And this God who slips up beside us too, as we huddle at the Gate Beautiful on those days when we wonder too, says, Look at me. Turning, we look, expecting small things, and He does the miraculous. 

The story of the man at the Gate Beautiful? It ends with a simple line, "For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old." And for some reason, that hits me too tonight.

Monday, May 19, 2014

What Captain America and Superman Knew But We're Still Learning

Right after a tall red-faced Star Wars Darth Maul glowered down at me and growled, I jumped, and you would have too, to see his teeth bared at such close range.
Photo Credit: The Conmunity, Creative Commons, cc license
In a crowded comic book convention this weekend, my daughter and I passed countless Supermen, Captain America's, Doctor Who characters, and Star Trek klingons. Children and grownups sported long red capes, strode confidently in calf-high boots, and twirled plastic battle axes while shopping for comic book paraphernalia.

While I flipped over books to check printing companies and asked authors about their publishing journeys, my daughter was the real reason we were here. With a shy confidence, she turned pages in artists' portfolios, asking them questions on art techniques and leaping at the chance to show them her own sketches.

"I brought them with," she replied quickly when an anime artist suggested she show her work to people in the industry. "Can I show you?" Pulling off her blue backpack, she pulled out a manilla folder with her favorite sketches inside. She stood silent as two different artists flipped carefully through her work, pausing at some pieces to comment and linger.

For hours afterward, she skipped excitedly from the feedback they gave and from the intoxication of being surrounded by artists who love to draw and capture art in pens, pencil, and paints.

"I need to stop and draw," she declared at one point partway through the conference. "This just inspires me, and I need to draw." We scrounged up two chairs at the back of a loud panel room where contestants in costumes waited for their turn at the microphone. Morgan balanced her art pad on her lap, already tracing orbs onto the page, early starts of human anatomy.

And you have this too. It may not be with pencils and Japanese anime forms, but there is something you do that brings you such joy that you hunger for it. Siphon you away from it for long enough and it compels you to scavenge a place and a time to dive in.

What is it that calls to you? What hobby, talent, skill, or passion rumbles quietly underneath as you work your jobs, make supper, and drive from errand to errand? What do you look forward to today and this week?

Beware, my friend, because the television will call, and the tiredness seeps in, and it is always too easy to mutter slowly, "I'll do it tomorrow."

Don't put it off. Don't listen to the excuses, to the tired voice lulling you to easy comforts. Start now. Warm up your favorite drink, pull up your chair, and begin.

Because most likely, that thing that calls you, excites you, and is lingering silently there beneath the surface is something amazing, given to you by the Master Artist himself. Don't put it off, don't sink into the couch with another rerun episode. Pull out the paints, or the sketch pad, or your dremel tools. Click on that latest article or book piece you've started, and begin. It hums in you, pulling you.

And we are eager to see it. Even better, your Artist God is watching, smiling, and flipping through your portfolio.

(Linking with Ann in thanks. For those from Living Faith Church, stopping by for the immediate gratification post, please find that here. Thanks. All are welcome!)

Friday, May 16, 2014

In the Aftermath of Mach Two Speed

Photo: Adikos, Creative Common, cc license
 "Learn from my mistakes," she wrote vulnerably. "I wish someone had shared this with me years ago."

I dished up a slice of sour cream lemon pie and poured the last marginally-hot dregs of coffee into my yellow and brown striped mug. Setting them beside the Ipad screenshot of a "Couch-to-5K" jogging plan wasn't incongruous to me.

It was the jogging that was hard. Getting back into running after a year of not looked different than I thought it would. Determined at first to just practice mind over matter, to simply tie up shoes and make myself run the prescribed amount twice a week had some surprise setbacks mixed in with success at smaller goals. After a week of rain, some offset schedules, and a discouraging half-run in the mist, though, I returned home Monday afternoon soaking wet and disappointed.

My sister's email arrived early Tuesday morning, with no knowledge of Monday night's run.

"Learn from my mistakes," she'd said and gone on to speak of injuries. "Our bodies need time to ease into running in order for the ligaments, tendons, and joints to get into shape. I never realized that before. ...Running can be enjoyed for years and years if you get into it wisely."

She attached a schedule interspersed with running and walking, growing incrementally over six weeks. It was wise and true, and I find myself pulling up the email again today and looking for similar running plans.

My husband and a teaching colleague from church have been working on a three-sermon-series on the effects of an immediate-gratification society. In a world with instant internet searches, fast food drive through's, microwaves, no-wait theme park lines, on-demand products, and quick-fixes to most problems, we have been conditioned for speed and efficiency. And I love the ease of these modern conveniences.

If immediate gratification is the notion that anything can and should be had now, and that waiting is unnecessary, tiny questions begin to gnaw at me. What dangers lie in unconsciously applying this concept to other areas of life? More important than the effects of immediate gratification in my exercise life,  

How might the expectations of immediate gratification:
- affect my relationships?
- affect my approach to sin struggles
- affect my character?  

How does this expectation of immediacy impact my interactions with God? 

Resisting the desire for a tidy wrap up, I'm going to instead let the questions hang in the air here with us, and go lace up my sneakers.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Tattoo Every Parent Needs

Photo: Meena Kadri, Creative Commons, cc license
Photo: Yulya Balaeva, Creative Commons, cc license
She's got it tattooed right up her arm, this mom friend I know. You can see it curving up through rust-colored vines.

And I think of it this morning as I plunge hands into scalding hot dish water, and slide in the yolk-encrusted plates and swirled red and yellow congealed ketchup and mustard. Smells emanate from a mysterious bowl until a molding tomato slips into the dishwater.

I know. One busy weekend away and the dishes mount to high heaven.

The Mother's Day herbs and flowers sit jaunty on the table still, as I deliberate which pot to plant them in, and soap bubbles rise up to cover this batch of dishes.

Because after the accolades or not, the happy Mother's Day or not, the next day still has dirty dishes and garbage to take out. And I always have a choice. Am I doing this for them, for their thanks? If that's the case, then any accidental non-recognition has the power to sap me of joy, or only-temporarily infuse me with it.

I think of her tattoo this morning, after a weekend where I was gone all day Saturday for work, my husband was gone all day Saturday, and my teen babysat her little brother for hours, while college-boy crammed for exams. If my audience is them, then I am controlled by oscillating emotions.

My scruffy green dishrag swipes softened egg yolk from a plate and it slides off with ease now, after time in the water. Setting it on the rinse side of my sink, I stare out the window, think of the Chicago airport, and feel around in the sink for another dirty plate.

"Where are you from?" the ball-capped guy asked me, after I shrugged my shoulders at the TSA security delay causing us all to merge lanes. We stood there, barefoot at security, our belongings in plastic bins, attempting to merge two lines of people down to one.

"Minnesota," I smiled.

"I knew you weren't from here," he quipped. I had run into nothing but pleasant people in my short day in Chicago, but his inference was interesting.

Lifting my water faucet at home this morning, I trail hot water over shining dishes and set them aside to dry. I picture my friend's tattoo, and smile.

Her tattoo? The Greek word doulos trails wispy around her delicate freckled wrist.

"I wanted a reminder of who I'm doing all this for each day," she explained quietly, shyly. "The diapering, the dishes, cleaning, you know? It means bondservant to Jesus."

Bondservant is the Greek word for a servant who has chosen to stay on with the family even though they could be released. Their freedom has been secured yet, out of love, they choose to stay on with their master permanently. It implies respect, loyalty, deep feeling. Standing next to a wooden door post, a special earring would be driven through the servant's ear, publicly marking the difference.

"I wanted a daily reminder of who I am really serving each day," she tells me, softly tracing the tattoo with her fingers.

The dishes are done, and I step over to crush some rosemary leaves between my fingers, releasing the tantalizing aroma into my kitchen. My family's gifts are beautiful and thoughtful to me, and I love serving them. I know how prone I am to grumble on some days, though. Remind me then, will you, who I'm really serving? My desire is for that joy and kindness to mark me fragrantly.

(Linking too with Ann.)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Can You Picture When It Switched For You?

 I remember when it switched.

You had always been my comfort-Mom, the one I called upstairs late at night when my middle school friends and I had scared ourselves with sleepover ghost stories. Sara's tales of a come-alive puppet proved too much for us that summer, and suddenly my five-foot tall rag doll Jenny was terrifying. We could almost see it sitting up and slipping nearer, so we yelled as loud as we could-- Amy, Sara and I-- hoping you could hear us downstairs and across the house. You came, prayed with us, laughed at our foolishness, and probably scolded us some too, but you took the doll and our fear away with you.

Dad was our protector, you were comfort, and all was well with the world. It's not that you two were perfect, but you loved us, you loved God, and you lived authentically before us.

Minnesota corn fields turned to Pennsylvanian's green rolling hills, and then to Liberia's lush African wetlands. Some months into our new home there, it happened.

You and I had been taking long hikes across town to the open air market and back each day, sloshing through mud puddles where the dirt squished up over our flipflops and between our toes, or swirling up cyclones of red dust in the dry season. We carried heavy plastic bags of groceries home each day, and guzzled down water they sold in tiny plastic baggies. In our green cement block house with no electricity, refrigeration wasn't an option, so any perishable foods had to be bought and eaten each day. We feasted on juicy mangoes, creamy avocados, fresh glinting-scaled fish that slapped in dead motion against my legs as we walked, and pineapples.

Wow, our African friends worked hard. We joined them, living with them, beside them, and jumping full-blast into their way of doing life. Squatting between our knees, we rubbed sloshing clothes in buckets by hand, hanging them dripping from clotheslines. You kneeled beside coal pots, blowing red embers to flicker into flame, and you cooked new African dishes each day over steaming metal pots.

At night, our family of five sprawled happy and relaxed under mango trees and in hammocks, listening to neighbors toss jokes between cement block porches and an orchestra of crickets. We loved our life there, but the learning curve was sharp as we struggled to catch up to our strong hard-working African friends.

After months of drawing water from the well, walking miles to and from the market, and the endless loads of laundry by hand, malaria slipped in quiet one night. And that's when it switched.

You were feverish and pale, shaking with chills under as many blankets as we could find in our African home of one hundred degree weather. Tie-dyed sheets flushed crimson and shook under your shivering frail body. Nauseated, dehydrated, and weak, you pulled your sheets to your chin, and I peeked in worried.

It's not that you were ever invincible, but I unwittingly thought you were, and then suddenly you were dangerously ill, and the world stopped.

I brought you water, urged you to drink, and tried to make you laugh. In the kitchen, I reminded my siblings to continue their school, and then numbly chopped potato greens, diced onions, and tried not to burn the rice. Time slowed.

I remember when it switched. And this friendship now, this relationship, is sweeter because of it.

Moms and dads of all ages, we can and should still be comfort to our kids, but when it changes and they get to comfort us as well, that is a good thing too. As sisters, brothers, friends together, we continue. 
Happy Mother's Day, Mom, to the mom who still comforts me, and yet who lets me comfort and pray for her too. I enjoy doing life together.

(And I am blessed to have a dear sweet mother-in-law as well, whom I enjoy doing life together too. You will get to meet her in another blogpost.)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

You Are Sooo Close

Photo Credit: Benson Kua, Creative Commons, cc license

A lovely foreign-accented dark-haired woman with pale complexion and red lipstick clips words with a heavy tongue beside me, while an American businessman converses with her. They mention churches, the Basilica, nieces dancing in Hopkins, and a local pontoon party.

I've finished my Sunday School lesson outline and refilled my coffee. It scalds my tongue, and I spill two drops of golden tan onto my page.

I wonder about this morning's blogpost I need to write and stretch my legs that, miraculously, are not as sore as they could be after yesterday's run. Successfully getting back into jogging, I ran one and a half miles without stopping Friday afternoon. Saturday and Sunday, I groaned and clutched my legs in pain but proud accomplishment sustained me.

Yesterday (Monday) I forced myself to run again, knowing the second time is always the hardest. Making yourself set out down that marked path when the memory of agonizing weariness is so fresh and your legs are still sore from the last run is the hardest time to run. No endorphins ever set in, and my run looked more like a limping pitiful jog, but I did it. My husband's cell phone I was using as my music player had a battery line in the red, warning of only ten percent life left. I willed and prayed it to last to my mile and a half marker, a blue house that seemed absurdly far away.

Cars passed me going north and south, and far-off hollow hammer falls echoed across the valley. Mountains of black dirt behind an orange plastic construction fence hinted at future retail areas, and a blue porta-potty boasted "Fresh Air" across its walls. I panted and willed myself to keep going.

Green-glinting mallard duck and his demure brown mate floated on a vast rain pond, mirroring a massive blue sky. I wheezed and tried to train my arms to circle in tight arcs and not flail wildly.

The blue house loomed far out of sight and I felt my resolve flagging. Breathe. Don't stop. Breathe. Don't stop. Breathe. At least to the next driveway, at least to the next driveway. And the words became a mantra in and out of my double-rhythmed breathing. Don't stop. To the next driveway. 

Intersection lights blinked far down the road and I knew the blue house should be appearing soon.

You're so close now, Jen. Don't stop. Breathe, don't stop. Breathe, don't stop. Breathe. My legs screamed, my breathing was labored, and my arms flailed unchecked, but the blue house appeared. The driveway line was so close. I pounded step in front of step on the asphalt stubbornly, until the line came. At the obscure chosen mark, I was spent and limp, spinning a triumphant 180 degrees. Everything in me grabbed air and rejoiced at not running, as I walked weakly back down the path. Gasping, wheezing, I sucked air and tried not to collapse in view of passing cars. Step, step, breathe. 

Smile. Accomplished.

My chest and breathing slowed, the valley extended wide, expansive under a blue May sky, and the spiritual and metaphorical implications hit me.

Whatever you're persevering towards (raising kids, a book contract, marriage growth, an art piece, sin victories), keep going. You're so close. Don't stop. Breathe. Don't stop. Breathe. You are so close...

(Linking too with gentle Ann in thanks.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How Flashes Deep With an Atom Reflect the Life We're Searching For

"Oh, I forgot to tell you! As I was driving to come get you just now, John, something fell off the car."

Both kids looked at me in surprise.

"Fell off the car?"

"Yes, I felt something tumble off the bottom of the car and, looking back in my rearview mirror, I saw something roll away."

The kids laughed, exclaimed, and followed me to the door. John was already looking for his flipflops.

"Do you want to go find the part for me?" I asked, grinning at him, describing the spot just up the road where I had turned onto the highway. He grunted happily at finding his sandals in the jumble of winter boots and shoes, and opened the door. 

"Here's where it fell off from," he stated proudly as soon as we were outside, peering under the back of the car. Where the muffler should have been was a gap, leading from an open pipe. John sauntered off comfortably in the blue twilight, my laughter following him.

In my daughter's ninth grade science book this week we have been reading about the wild intricate behaviors of proton, neutrons, and electrons within an atom. Inside the nucleus is a flurry of activity where protons and neutrons exchange tiny particles called pions in a frenzy of energy. Electromagnetically, like charges repel each other. Protons, as positively-charged aspects of the atom, should repel each other, like same-sided magnets do. Yet, mysteriously, they don't.

Bewildered scientists wondered for years why the protons' positive charges didn't repel each other and explode. They knew there must be a strong force holding everything together, but didn't know what it was. Experiments and observations hinted at the existence of this strong force, but not much was known of it until the 1930s and 40s. Eventually scientists confirmed the existence and nature of this strong force, the strongest force in creation.

And my daughter and I at the couch are reading the textbook, underlining key parts, and giggling about this knowledge, as we try to illustrate and act it out. And do you know what thrills me about this force?

This strongest force in all creation, this strong force that overrules normal magnetism and is stronger than gravity... this strong force in science reminds me of the Trinity. Protons and neutrons are huddled so closely in the nucleus of the atom because they are giving of themselves. Taking part of themselves to manufacture pion particles, they give sacrificially to each other. Over and over they break off part of themselves, and give to the other. In what reminds me of sacrificial love, there is a frenzy of breaking and making and giving and receiving, and breaking and making and giving and receiving. Pions flash as gifts that last for a brief instant then are gone.

Giving of themselves to each other, they are wrapped intricately close. This-- the strongest force in creation-- is woven so tightly that all other natural laws of magnetism, poles, and gravity are broken, and in the center of the atom, unseen by the world, protons and neutrons give of themselves and hand off themselves as endlessly-given gifts to each other. And it's the strongest force in science.

We get glimpses of that other-focused giving, in our families and friendships at times. I grin as my son strides back in the house, depositing an angular muffler on our front step, and it reminds me of this endless giving we see in this science, and in our God.

I see it in you as you love and care for the people in your lives. I see it in moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, relatives, friends and neighbors. This strong force. This breaking and making and giving...

Who knew it was modeled in pions buried deep within the atoms?

(Photo Credit: Mufflers: Michael Ash, Creative Commons,cc license.
Photo Credit: Atom: Argonne National Lab, Creative Commons, cc license.)

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.