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.