Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day Confessions and a Shared Video Devotional

They careened up in two black vans. Car doors popped open and shut, and they emerged with masks and glittering gold balloons.

And it worried me for a moment, me in my comfy black yoga pants that I've been wearing all week, and my hair not fully combed this morning. Sipping coffee and on the phone to my brother, I was relaxed and slightly worried that the visitors were for me on an early weekend morning during quarantine lock-down. 

Two moms in pink and blue masks clicked open the trunks of their vans, propping them up, while four or five elementary-aged daughters gripped deflating gold metallic balloons and pulled their jackets tighter around them against the cold spring air.

A third vehicle, a grey minivan, drove up to join them, slowed slightly, looking for a clandestine place to park, and then drove further up the road.

Laughing and whispering, the women crossed our grass lawn, glanced towards our neighbor's house to the right, and disappeared out of view from the window. 

On a Mother's Day weekend that looks different for everyone, want to grab some hot coffee or tea with me, or a cold guava kombucha and join me for a video devotional? 
Hi from my sunny living room, trying to catch a non-ridiculous talking smile. (Video attached below)
(I was honored to guest speak online at Farmington Bible Baptist Church with Deanna and Pastor Judd Weniger this weekend, and they gave me permission to share this with you as well.) 

Happy Mother's Day, my friend.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Wood and Marble Spaces to Inhale in Deeply

The woman in front of us had coughed and squirmed, her face red as she tried to hold in quiet wheezes. Poor lady. I had wanted to tap her shoulder and assure her it was all right. This March 7th afternoon in Minneapolis basilica grandeur comes to my mind now, two weeks later.

Two weeks since then and the world has dramatically changed.

Two weeks ago, though, on March 7th, hundreds of us had crowded into St. Mary's Basilica for a free Minnesota Sinfonia concert, featuring world-renowned violinist Ilya Kaler. His renditions of Antonin Dvorak's Romance stirred our spirits, swirling through the giant marble-carved cathedral to hang majestic in the air.

An hour had passed in quiet peace and beauty. We listened in silent rapture. Attentive to each rise and fall of the instruments, caught up in the cascading crescendos and rivulets of song, we stopped only to applaud or to shift positions on the wooden benches polished by generations before us.

Celebrating my Mom's birthday that March 7th weekend, my Mom, sister, and I, and a friend of ours relished the symphony concert, then walked in crisp sunset down grand avenues in nearby St. Paul, where tall historical houses rose high against pink and grey sky. Bronze lions stalked an entryway and the moon tangled in a tree.

With newly-fledged precautions to reports of Corona Virus overseas, it still seemed so far off on that March 7th Saturday. We stood in line at Cafe Latte, ordering colorful salads, crusty mini baguettes, and tall luscious cheesecakes. Carefully washing our hands, using napkins to grab bread rolls and utensils seemed safe and ahead of our times, a "wise but early precaution," we wondered silently.
We had leaned in for the birthday photograph, our friend producing kazoos and pink birthday napkins from her purse. Blowing horn kazoos, we sang happy birthday to my Mom.

Two weeks later and the world has now drastically changed.

In between news headlines and aching prayer for people around the world, I grabbed my keys and kids. Daniel and my niece grabbed their sweatshirts and we headed to the wild.

We needed the beauty of lofty grandeur and the majestic sight of trees.

Driving to our favorite woods, we raced to the fallen tree.

"It's still here!" Daniel yelled excitedly, jumping into descriptive narrative to his cousin.

The silence and sound of trees sighing sank deeply into my psyche. Finding a warm log and a tree to lean against, I sat and closed my eyes. Oak trees rose regally. The winds ebbed and flowed. Leaves scuttled and whirred quiet percussion. Bird calls rang in cascading crescendos.

Time passed in quiet peace and beauty. In raptured silence I listened, attentive to each rise and fall of the instruments, caught up in the cascading crescendos and rivulets of song, stopping only to smile or shift positions on the wooden tree trunk.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Of Sicilians and Songs

Buried high inside a wooden cupboard, we find it.

"Alley" by Carl Campbell, Creative Commons cc license 

A dusty cardboard box with black marker states "Tapes for Car Trips."  And the music for our family's road trips stands shoulder to shoulder, encased in black plastic cassette tapes labeled with my Dad's handwriting. Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, Dan Fogelberg and Bruce Cockburn. I'm not sure where all the Petra albums are, but here too are the Moody Blues and two cassettes marked simply, "Harmonica and Guitar, rock and blues."

Later in the day, Bruce Cockburn's husky Canadian vocals and fine guitar-playing swell through my kitchen, and the memories flood back, joy shining in.

Music is powerful.

We see it in tambourine-shaking Sicilians stepping out onto apartment balconies, stacked high to the sky. Cream-colored high rises stretch tall and the Italian men and women lean out, belt it loud, and call out new verses to each other. While quarantines fall tighter, death rates rise, and brave hospital staff around the world battle to save lives, we see beauty rise even higher.

Sicilians lean over balconies and sing to each other, keeping time with tambourines, accordions, and recording mobile phones.

I call over my husband, daughter, son and niece and hit replay on the short social media video clip of the Italians singing. Voices find their harmony, and I can see multiple instruments. Joyful, hope-filled tears rise to my eyes, and I hug my daughter. "It's happy tears," I explain to my son.

"There are videos of Chinese people shouting to each other from their homes too," Morgan says, her voice close to my ear as we all lean in to watch the clip again. "They're yelling encouragement to each other," she clarifies as my eyebrows raise.

"Where is it?" I ask and she shrugs.

"Online, you'll find it," she grins and heads downstairs.

And that's just it, huh?

As the headlines cycle, and the numbers rise, we battle it together. Together with Italy, Iran, China, and almost every other country, we can stand together.

We can stand up and lean out. We can look for ways to stand tall and to belt it out, these songs of solidarity and soul.

I hit print and watch a second sheet of paper head to our printer downstairs. "Hi, we're your neighbors at.... As Corona Virus heats up, we wanted you to know that we're here and we can try to help if you need it..."

I admit, I'm not quite sure how to do this. In a time of protective measures to guard those of lower immune systems, I don't think knocking on neighbors' doors may be the best step. So I'll pray and brainstorm how to get it to them.

For you and me today? God is big and good, and he walks beside us. He sings songs of love to his world, and I want to do that better too.

Singing beside you, my friend, and praying for the people battling hard things in our world today.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Of Cancers and Suicide and Where to Find Joy that Sustains

In noisy bustling houses, we've poured more coffee and settled in close.
Photo Credit: Ell Brown, Creative Commons cc license

In a sunken living room last night at a friend's house, I pushed my grey footstool closer and we talked of kids, of this last year, and of the future. Pulling photographs from her purse, she showed me her son's senior pictures. We pored through eight or nine of them. His tousled blond hair caught the sunlight, and we debated which shot best captured him. Our talk moved on and, in between hope for the future, we voiced the hard things too. She laughed and ran hands through her hair, fatigue written between her eyes. I nodded and stretched out toes, arching ankles in a physical therapy habit from a decade ago after a sprained ankle. Hours later, after jokes, games and countless trips to the snack table, a church party crowd of us cheered in the New Year. Glittery plastic and streamer-lined kuzuus shrilled as children danced and bounced around us in a cacophony of noise.

Earlier on Christmas Eve, we brewed more coffee, laughed at the short intervals between meals, and slid up chairs around the dining room table. My tall twenty-four year old son and my gentle dark-haired daughter-in-law joined us. Newly-twenty-one year old daughter Morgan flopped onto the black couch beside Kate, and the young women grinned and worked on their art alongside each other: Morgan with digital pen and Kate with a crochet hook and soft yarn. My blue-eyed Irish Mom, my husband and I, and our two sons sorted playing cards into suits and calculated. My youngest, eleven year old Daniel, vacillated freely between clasping soft new toys, assembling plastic building pieces, and joining us at the table for games.

I watch them, my growing kids, and my heart swells with love so much it hurts and thrills me. These four that we get to call ours now -- they bring such joy. We delight to spend time with them, we love that they like to hang out here, and we are always honored when they ask to talk.

And I hear it, in my suddenly choked up throat in Sunday singing this week, how the joy and sorrow can be intertwined so deeply. Who ever said that life was simple or easy? Joys don't negate sorrows. Joyful hearts don't preclude the hard things in life. Standing, mouthing worship lyrics this past Sunday, I spoke them to Abba God, because the hards were crashing in.

Faces and names rose up in my mind, my heart sad with them. An acquaintance's suicide on Christmas day, her present from me still unwrapped and ready; her texts still lit in my phone. We waited her arrival in vain. Another friend watches handfuls of her blonde hair fall out from chemotherapy, her small children and husband looking on. Other family friends watch brain cancer steal away their dad's personality, saying small goodbyes each day now, even though he is still there.

In the row at church, I swallowed and talked honest to God. Choosing to worship You doesn't mean that life is easy. Choosing to thank you and to see the joy doesn't mean that life is blissful and pain-free.

And at home with journal and Bible, I stretch toes, twist ankles in habit therapy, and write out your words too. Seeking you out, speaking out the hard, naming the many good, stating again and again that you are good, that your character and promises are enough, that you are faithful to sustain, to be There, to walk with us through the hard, to carry my friends through their pain and yuck and sorrow... this is my therapy to untighten the hard, to loosen the tough, to move into the pain.

Joy is still there too. I watch blankets of snow drop silence and beauty, coating trees in white wonder. Slim black-capped chickadees and charcoal dark-eyed juncos dive-bomb red cranberries in the snow on my deck. I write out your words, seek You, and lean into the habits you've been teaching me, reminding my heart. You are trustworthy, you are good, you are here, you walk with us. Your heart can be trusted and you sustain and fortress your people.

And it slips joy in.

Hey, is reading the Bible more consistently one of your New Year's resolutions? Join me Monday nights, starting Jan. 6th, as we dive into the New Testament in my Cover to Cover Bible study group. Registration closes this week, so sign up now. It is open to all, and Village Schools of the Bible offers financial aid too. 

Join me? I can't wait to dig into the fast-paced true accounts of Jesus' life and death here and to watch the exciting urgent action of the early church growing, fleeing Roman emperors, and building lives centered on the truths and joys that surmount everything. 

If you are not receiving my posts by email yet,welcome. Simply enter your email address in the box under my bio at the top right of the page. Be part of any special invitations and don't miss a post!