Monday, February 29, 2016

Of Parties, Time Capsules, and Choosing Your Trajectory

The party was tonight. It was the Dougan Leap Year Doughnut Party.

Peering into the doughnut case this afternoon, we nabbed two glazed ones, two white frosted sprinkled ones, and one filled with raspberry jelly. On the way home, Morgan and I laughed and talked, with me purposefully reigning in my own expectations.
Photo: Christine Rondeau, Creative Commons, cc license
Upstairs around the dining room table, the five of us clambered into chairs. Two plastic cases of strawberries and blueberries sprawled open invitingly, and the five doughnuts gleamed beneath a translucent panel in the cardboard box.

Cracking jokes and tossing berries into our mouths, we stopped to pray, and then we began. Two slim paper envelopes held our attention, and I slid my finger under the seals, drawing out multiple sheets of paper.

"Morgan, here's yours from 2008. John, yours."

"Look at how small our writing was then!"

"I only wrote three lines!" another exclaimed. "Here's a drawing I did," she pointed, laughing.

"Who wants to read theirs first?" I asked.

One by one, we took turns reading our handwriting from eight years ago. In childish print, we heard echos of their younger voices pour off the page.

"Here are your 2012 letters," I said, handing across folded handwritten sheets of paper. "For Morgan only" one of them read in green ink pen. They reached out eagerly, unfolding longer notes written from themselves just four years earlier, and silence dropped in the dining room. Daniel shuffled uneasily.

"Where's mine?" he asked.

"You were only three years old then, but here is a photo of you from then," I replied, unwrapping the accompanying photos, creased from four years in an envelope.

I confess I've been looking forward to this day for years and months! Unwrapping paper, we got to unwrap our lives from eight and four years ago. In time capsule format, we peeked back into who we were four years ago, seeing how we've changed and how we've stayed the same. 

Taking turns, my kids read their letters aloud, their younger selves asking their older selves questions about what life is like now, casting imaginative questions from the past. "Do you have your own car? Are you living in your own house?" a twelve year old John asked his twenty year old self, and we laughed at what a third year college student's life really looks like.

And then my favorite part began: a reflective silence fell as everybody grabbed pens and sheets of paper. Writing from 2016, they talked to their 2020 self, presenting life from this angle and wondering about life four years in the future.

Scribbling messy black words across blue lined paper, I wrote my own letter, summing up the last four years, and speculating about the next four. And it couldn't fail to hit me. My choices now affect who I am then, and my mood turned more introspective as I continued to write. 

Who are you now? Who do you want to be in 2020? And those answers start your trajectories... 

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

When You Really Want to Read Past the Christian Jargon

"It would be okay if I got a shot today," he announced this morning, hopping on one leg and peering at me with his head cocked sideways.
Above Photo: David K, Creative Commons cc license
"Oh! Well, good job. I don't think you'll need a shot today, though. It's just a dentist check up," I assured him.
Daniel shrugged and resumed playing, "But I could," he said. His fears had dissolved since last week.

Lemon juice and coconut mix with garlic, fresh ginger, and onion to hang fragrant in the air now from tonight's Vietnamese Lemon Soup, and the onions still prick my eyes. Bath splashes and seven year old boy noises emanate from the bathroom, and my seventeen year old is downstairs typing away on high school homework papers. Last week was a different story.

"I don't want a shot!" he had begged, and it made sense. None of us really like getting shots. I held his hand, tried to talk him through it, and his big sister had chimed in. "Want me to go first, Daniel? It goes by really fast!"

Swinging his hand as we stepped over grey and white snowbanks and crusty plates of ice, I had tried to squeeze comfort through my skin to his.

"Can I pray with you, bud?" He had nodded and I prayed, talking aloud across the parking lot. Although peace slipped in then and he had calmed, anxiety still flared up throughout the visit, especially when the nurse brought in a silver tray of vaccines.

Two minutes after we had persuaded him to climb up on the brown leather seat, where he had squeezed my hand and tried to negotiate a release, he suddenly stopped, confused.

"It's done," the nurse said, and we exchanged conspiratorial winks.

"OH! Already? That wasn't too bad. Morgan, that wasn't too bad. It was fast!" He slipped off the high bench and rubbed his fingers over the round green camouflage sticker.

And the picture seeps into me now... I have been reading Galatians chapter five and six this week, wondering what it looks like to "live in the Spirit,"wanting to see practically how that's done. I really wanted to get past the Christian jargon to the details of what this revolutionary new way of living can look like. Sometimes I get tripped up. A later line in the chapter caught my attention, though, and gave me an image I've been mulling over all week.

"...Let us get in step with the Spirit." Get in step with. An image flashes in my mind of my husband walking hand in hand with me. Inevitably there is a moment when he skip-steps a pace or two to get his legs into rhythm with mine, until we're walking, lefts together, rights together, in steady cadence.
"Let us get in step with the Spirit" and I picture my seven year old's fears, my hand in his, and our striding into peril together, the words on my mouth speaking comfort, truth, strength, and direction for him.

And I can look back and see God at work in my life, striding along, guiding me over obstacles and perils, breathing his truths that bring comfort, strength, direction, and relationship with him. 

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Your Tell Says About You (and Me)

A dear one in my life stutters when she's nervous and I get it. I look her deep in the eyes, still all my outward movement, and patiently wait. I want my steady focus to assure her I'm listening, because I completely understand.
Photo: LeBrvn, Creative Commons, cc license
When I was younger, my words poured out stumbling and halting in other ways. Spilling sentences in breathless, breakneck speeds, I raced through my thoughts, gasping air in gulps. Slamming words and phrases into each other, I peered anxiously at my listeners, dumping my words and watching their nonverbal signs.

"Jeni, slow down. Take a breath," my parents would say. "Enunciate."

And I didn't figure it out until decades later, learning to speak in measured rates and digging underneath the surface for the why. In middle school insecurity, I was afraid my listener would leave. Rushing my impressions and opinions, I tumbled words in junior high hallways, in church youth group rooms, and on yellow school buses.

Talking fast was my give-away tell, but you probably have one too. I see teens who stand with hunched shoulders beside shorter friends, worried they'll stand out or look different; and I see how others preface their thoughts with humor -- only their eyes giving them away.

Coming off two weeks of speaking engagements, truths from Bible lessons and marriage sessions ring loudest in my own ears, and they make me smile. From the God who leans into biblical King Solomon's dark bedroom on a quiet night two weeks after a public prayer, I read his intimate words: "I heard your prayer, Solomon..."

Whether Valentine's day falls for you in an aftermath of red-hearts and chocolates, or with heart-aches and hungers, I read God's words engraved immortal. I hear you. I see you. When your voice is turned towards me, when you cry out for me, I will hear you and turn to you. Your words do not fall to the ground unheeded. They do not clatter and crash.

Take a breath, dear one. Stand tall, dear friend. Say what's on your heart, my friend, and let it match your eyes. He's listening. 

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