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?