Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Straddling True Relationships in a Busy World

Brassy coronets and high-hat-swinging percussionists ring out Benny Goodman's jazzy Trees. Crescendos echo and fall before Louis Armstrong steps up to croon Let's Fall In Love. Piano keys traipse up and down their black and white board.
Photo credit: Darwin Bell, Creative Commons, cc license
Behind me on the small desk stool, my nineteen year old folds himself up to fit on the chair. Long legs bend around bony knees, feet curled under him. His arms swing excitedly, hands gesturing, as he talks about his day and a new game he is making.

I nod, half-turned sideways to see him, while stirring at the stove. Red pumpkin curry sauce splatters and simmers next to a bubbling pot of rice. I repeat words back, striving to truly listen and focus on him, but am embarrassed to note that I've momentarily stopped listening. He nods and continues, while I slide a fork into a chunkier piece of chicken to confirm the pink is gone.

My timer dings that dinner is done, and four of us gather at a table set for five.

"Let's pray. Morgan will be here soon and John has to go to work," I suggest. My husband Mark and six year old Daniel take turns praying, and the front door clatters.

These moments with the people in our lives are so fleeting. I'm trying to do them well with God's help, but they look differently than I had originally guessed. 

Earlier, my niece and I followed three preschoolers across a backyard. The boys swung sticks, laughed in happy battles, and helped me clear dry leaves from the strawberry bed. My niece and I talked by the swings; talked by the slide; and talked in the kitchen. Wiping mashed black cookie bits from wet faces, slicing up apples, and refereeing pebble squabbles, we grinned and conversed through it all.

In these days of interruptions, how do we narrow in and let loved ones know they are truly seen? 

I'm still acquiring this, and my children can roll their eyes or share laughing stories of some of my comical failures, but here's what I'm learning. We invest in loved ones by following their eyes, by striving to truly hear, and by coming back again and again to the topics at hand. "So, tell me about this film," I asked my niece, and we laughed and resumed our focus.

It looks different than I thought it would, this desire to connect and bond with the people in our lives, but it's worth it. And the relationships are priceless.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

If You're Waiting & Wondering Where the Excitement Is

Photo: Ted McGrath, Creative Commons, cc license
Sliced onions sting my eyes, and a salty scent of "pork eggroll in a bowl" rests heavy in the kitchen. Flecks of shredded carrot scatter my youngest's plate and the table where he sat. Lego noises and boy sounds echo in the living room.

Spring in Minnesota looks like red-winged blackbirds and rust-colored robins swooping in to join the black-capped chickadees and blue jays at the feeders. Snow's sandy residue leaves grass lawns matted and pebbly, but more and more green strands of slender grass slip through. The air is fresh, warmer, and Midwesterners bounce expectantly out of doors, trailing dog leashes, running gear, and even the occasional shorts and sandals in defiant glee and shivers.

I've been reading Holley Gerth's book, You Were Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to all God Has For You, and just received Jeff Goins' hot-off-the-press book, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. Pencil in hand, I've been underlining Gerth's book and making plans for this summer, determined to zealously protect disciplined chunks of the day to work on this new book project when my school duties are done.

And throughout this week a Bible verse has grabbed me in a way I've never seen before. I was familiar with the first sentence in that paragraph and the next sentence there too, but had never put them together. In Second Timothy 1:6-7, I read For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you... and the next sentence adds a curious twist, For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. 

There are topics and things that excite you, I'm sure of it. If we could grab hot coffee and sit around my scuffed, map-laminated cherry-wood kitchen table to talk, I know that we would get to them. Those topics that make your eyes shine and flash, and your voice raise in pitch excitedly; those passions, dreams, and favorite hobbies that make you come alive. It might be an innovative idea you have for work, or your plans for a summer garden, your secret dream to adopt, your love for decorating on a budget, or your love of writing and learning. And I know that God has shaped you uniquely. Anything that brings him glory and makes you come alive is something he carved deep inside of you. He invites you to use that, to dream excitedly about those possibilities, and to step out obediently into using those gifts, talents, and passions for him.

Whatever it is, God invites you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you. And, knowing our many hindrances, he answers the very next words from our mouths: For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.

For me today, this means to set a plan to start writing three-five days a week this summer (if not now), and it means I need to go talk to one of my teens and his mom who are hurting.

For you today? What's he telling you? Nothing else will bring such joy than stepping into whatever he has next for you. And I'd love to cheer you on from the side.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

When Scrunched Up Faces Reveal Secret Fears

She is laughing so hard that the sound ricochets up the steps.

(Not my daughter.)   Photo Credit:Alpha Chen, Creative Commons, cc license
"Oh no," she giggles in surprise and glee, "oh no." And the squealed laughter and mirth bubble up from deep within her. My daughter's laughter is known for being unrestrainable, uncontainable, and loud. Her delight is infectious, and her laughs and guffaws fill a room.

Silence now shuffles across the downstairs and glides noiselessly upstairs to where my husband and I are working. Computer keys tap staccato and night falls navy twilight through the deck door glass. Two firs loom tall, mirrored in glassy reflections of a yellow lit-kitchen behind me.

Taped to the wooden pantry door is a curling paper of names. Names of scientists, surgeons, musicians, artists, political leaders, and actors mingle near journalists and writers. Names like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, John Lennon, Woodrow Wilson, George Washington, Walt Disney, Agatha Christie, Orlando Bloom, Cher, Greg Louganis, and Henry Ford are just a few. Famous People with the Gift of Dyslexia, the article caption reads, and I've taped it there as an encouragement for my family. My teens scoff slightly at the term "gift" and wonder some days if that is true. Dyslexia runs in our family, and we have only just recently been learning more about it, and finding ways to use the strengths that come with it to offset the challenges that it brings as well. For those on a spectrum of dyslexia, it just means their brain took a different route for reading.

As a mom who is learning more about this --both the advantages and the challenges of dyslexia-- I ache at times with the hurt and uncertainty I see ripple across my loved one's faces. Even though research is showing that people with dyslexia problem-solve better, remember details of stories longer, and can think outside the box in wildly creative ways, it doesn't change the anxiety that can sometimes spring up.

These facts and my words bring no comfort some days, and I watch it crumple across their faces, or scrunch up behind deep brown eyes that pool in hurt or scowl in protective anger. Their fear that they are not enough, not capable, not smart hurts my heart and wakes me up some nights.

Because whether loved ones in our lives approach reading differently, or see the world uniquely in other ways, the results are the same. We get to stand beside them, and point them to the truths. "You are strong, capable, talented, determined, and intelligent -- yes, intelligent! You are so valuable and loved. And you are created by an Artist God who loves you and has great plans for you-- for your joy and for his glory."

Her laughter has died down now, and it must be a quieter part of the show. She is one of the many loved ones in my life that I am so lucky to know. Her love of life and her zeal rise up around her, and her hard work to teach herself drawing and Mandarin Chinese impress and amaze me.

The two tall firs have disappeared into velvety blackness now, and the sound of computer keys grows still. Hidden by the night, the trees continue growing silently.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What You Have That We Don't

It's not that I was ignoring him.
Photo: Anne Ostsee, Creative Commons, cc license
I looked up as he said my name, and I smiled and nodded.

"Mom? See the sunrise? Look." My six year old Daniel pointed out the dining room deck window.

"Yeah, I see it! So pretty, huh?" I grinned and looked back down at my notes. Violet and coral stained a navy blue morning sky, outlining naked spring trees against the horizon.

"No, Mom. LOOK! See?" and Daniel tapped my arm, pointing again out through the glass door to the sunrise he could see from the far end of the table.

From two chairs away, I glanced again outside, and nodded at him. "Yep, I see it. It's pretty."

Suddenly, I understood. He wanted me to come see the sunrise from his perspective. Moving three feet down the table, I stood beside him, and peered out at the morning sky. And the contrast was striking! 

Sharp tangerines and purples sliced open the sky in vivid, brilliant color. From this angle, the sunrise wasn't demure or quiet, but a raucous riot of hues. Oranges, purples, magentas, and pinks shot from behind our neighbor's garage roof, streaking up the sky.

Daniel was right. The view from his side of the dining room table was extraordinary, and I had almost missed it.
Photo Credit: Set Apart Conference twitter feed
This last weekend, eight hundred-or-so women came together for the thirty-third annual Set Apart Conference, hosted by the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. For two days, we spent time together in worship, time together learning from keynote speakers Kelly Minter and Alecia Williamson Garcia, and learning from workshops speakers, (where I was honored to speak too). What I encountered again and again reminds me of Daniel's sunrises...

We all have vantage points to see God at work in our lives, and the views can be spectacular. We are missing out on the fullest picture, though, until we take the time to step into another's angle of sight. Seeing their stories of God at work, hearing your tales of God artistically weaving life events, opens us up to vivid displays.

Your job? My job? To speak out our stories, describing the beauty of God at work from our vantage point, and then to walk around the tables to learn from each other, to see what majesty He has splashed across your angles of the sky too. He is an always-painting Artist-God after all.