8.02.2016

We Will Find Her


The more I start to feel like I understand the Holy Spirit, the more the Holy Spirit is beyond my understanding. And yet, we are promised that if we seek the Holy Spirit, we will find Her.  Ask. Seek. Knock--and things get opened up.

Sitting alongside other little kids at short tables surrounded by cinder block walls and paper posters of Jesus, I learned many things in Sunday School.  There and in Confirmation I learned that the Holy Spirit is the third person of God: God's spirit dwelling in us, counseling us, being with us, but how has this head understanding put its feet on the ground in my life?  

I can look back and feel in certain instances that the Holy Spirit was working through me, but can I say any of them were for sure?  The Holy Spirit is the part of my faith that I feel most certain about and least certain about all at the same time.   

For me the Holy Spirit is this sense that your actions and thoughts are aligning with something deeper.  One of the times in my life when this became tangible was when I was a camp counselor.  After the whirlwind weeks, we would load campers and sleeping bags into vans and cars and trucks, and find ourselves in an open field of freedom knowing that we were once again college-aged young adults who no longer had children under our charge.  Woohoo!

Shortly after this unchaining (if you'll forgive the comparison), we would gather for prayer.  With sun-tanned ankles hiding sock-lines beneath and friend-o (friendship bracelets) circling our arms, we would stand in a circle hand in hand.  

During this time we shared prayer concerns, and one by one random people would pipe in saying, "I've got that one," or "I'll pray for that one."  This tired circle of different experiences, backgrounds, races, and college majors, would then pray for each other.  Something about it felt strong in a way I haven't experienced in regular life, like there was a deep and Holy Spirit dwelling in it.  

In that circle I realized many of the people I'd been working closely with were dealing with complicated life behind their smiles as they hiked and sang and cleaned breakfast dishes.  How had I not known?

One of my supervisors joked that being a camp counselor equips and ruins you for the rest of life.  The experience of living and working in community reminds me that the Holy Spirit works through us, through our words, through our hands helping the needs we see and praying for those we can't.  The more we try to understand the Holy Spirit, the closer we come, and yet the more we throw up our hands and just try to love the mystery.  

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  (John 20:21-22, NLT)​

Today's Thanks:
Baking my Dad's Birthday Cake
Unpacking bags from the best trip
Morning cuddles with little ones 
Snow boots splashing in puddles (we don't have rain boots around here)
Your turn . . . 

7.25.2016

Thankful for Mountains. . . and It’s not about the Bike (Guest Post by Cindi McNair)

Photo from http://www.movingmountainsformultiplemyeloma.com


I open one eye and blink towards the blue illuminated numbers showing 5:50 AM.  With a stretch, I roll over and slip one foot on the floor, gently sliding out of bed.  I dress in the dark, tip-toe past my husband, and quietly close the bedroom door behind me.  Next, I creep past the dog in his kennel, (who doesn’t miss a thing), giving me a quiet whimper-yawn as I sneak out the front door to my bike locked up on the front porch.  It feels like it must be nearly 80 degrees and the humidity seems 90% as I swing my leg over my bike and roll down the driveway to begin my ride.  Still sleepy, and with a yawn, I whisper “Thank you God” as I get myself ready to bike some hills, pump my legs and get my heart racing for 6-7 miles of bike trails.

They say it takes the benefits of regular exercise 6-8 weeks to appear, and the investment in your health will be invaluable.  I do feel stronger, and my husband even says I move like I’m stronger, as I’ve been doing this now for over 6 weeks now. Thank you God.  A lot of people would be looking at this as terrific progress in creating a healthy habit of morning exercise, but to be honest, I am counting the days until I can quit!  Walking and yoga are much more my style for sure.  


But I am in training, getting ready for my personal “Super Bowl” if you will, because in less than a month I will be hiking the Inca Trail up Machu Picchu in Peru with a team of 20 people, most of whom I’ve never met.  So I’m doing my best to get this bod in shape, as the better shape I’m in, the more I will enjoy the trek up 11,000 feet in the Andes Mts. to one of the most incredible places on earth.  The hike is quite a reach for me.  I’m not a hiker (haven’t hiked in 30 years since high school!) and I’m really not a biker.  (Not since college when I peddled around 40 hours a week as a Bike Cop…ok, Bike Patrol is the right language, for two summers.)


But this is like a victory lap I am excited to be working toward.  See I am a survivor, and this year I am celebrating a big victory.  And as I pondered a way to celebrate, or give back, and be thankful, I became aware of an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for Multiple Myeloma (a blood cancer) through a program called Moving Mountains for Myelmona (MM4MM), through Takeda Oncology. As I learned about the opportunity, it seemed surreal that I could hike one of the most celebrated places on earth to benefit others with cancer!  The team consists of multiple myeloma patients, caregivers, doctors, nurses and researchers who have come together to raise funds and awareness for research.  


Ten years ago this October I had a stem cell transplant for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, with the life expectancy at the time of 5-7 years. I remember making the decision to take on this hike (and certainly jump out of my box) in January, being able to raise funds and awareness as I trained for the journey.  It wasn’t really about the hike or about the mountain or even about this beautiful place, but rather a way to celebrate these 10 amazing and remarkable years of LIVING.  Thank you God! Since then I’ve been climbing my own “mountain”, every day, one step after another, just keeping on, keeping on.  Working through remission, and relapse, and chemo drugs, pushing through the physical burdens to take another breath and appreciate the gift of every day's “view”.  


So as I train and climb my mountain, I have so much to be thankful for, EVERY DAY.  Having cancer allows me to live my life with intention, to not let the little things in life de-rail me (most days!) from what’s important.  My gratitude builds as I train for my climb.  And I’m counting the days to getting back to walking and yoga!  Thank you God!


(What wisdom, awesome Cindi.  Thank you.  You can contribute and/or check out my friend's story here, and find Moving Mountains for Multiple Myeloma on Facebook. #MovingMtns4MM)







7.19.2016

Summer Notes: Coneflowers and Cattails



I opened the FaceTime Ap on my phone to see my sister, now a mother for the first time.  Her face was aglow, her shirt a soft cotton, plaid, her elbow curled around her little person.  A girl.  She turned the camera over to linger on little fingers.

Thank you, little Ellie, for joining us.   For being a light.  We've been waiting for you, loving you.  Your parents are two strong people with so much love ready.  Their farm will be a fantastic world to explore.  I don't know how to be an aunt, but I don't know how to do most of the things I do, so we'll be okay.  I'm so glad you're here.

***

I clicked on a video link anxious about what I might see.  I watched a man die at age 32, the age I am, and it didn't feel numb or far away.  I looked up his name, wanting to remember it.  Philando Castille.  I don't know what to do with this hurt.  But I see it.  Reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates with my book club has had me thinking, and this video leaves this white girl from Nebraska unsure of what to say.  My gratitude is to Diamond Reynolds, Philando's girlfriend, for helping me see at least in part, so that I might have more courage with my words.

***

I stood in a line of bridesmaids and turned my neck to see his face, my best guy friend.  I saw the anxiousness, the anticipation, his shoulders just a little bit higher, held up with the love that was waiting after this day filled with expectations.  As she moved through that wooden archway, so alive in her white lace, smiling that smile that looks just as gorgeous in her workout gear, sparkling all the way to the grass, his face softened, shoulders set down in a thankfulness so deep we were all in it.

You've always been top notch husband material--although a little short and well-shaven for my taste--the most obvious not-yet-father-father in the world.  That time helped you realize her when you met her.  To see you so thankful makes me thankful.  Cool how that works.

This year on New Year's eve, my husband was outside the bar with the task of lighting off fireworks when we were counting down the seconds to 2016 with knee-tapping tunes played by my favorite music choosers the world.  Instead of lamenting the fact that Ralph was outside, I stood back and saw you and your bride-to-be, living slow as the room danced around you with party blowers and silly glasses.  It sounds odd (and maybe a little creepy) to say that to watch you two kiss that night was one of my favorite moments this year, but it was and is.  As the year turned, I saw both of you shining, knowing that 2016 would hold such joy.  To be around a love like that is to be filled up.  So glad to see you two as one.  Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

***

We emerged from the movie, my two little ones and me.  The popcorn bucket had been too big, but we ate it all.  We headed to potty before our ride home, and the bathroom was quiet, empty after this summer matinee.  Charli asked that I notice how she could reach the sink now, how she could see her own eyes in the mirror.  

"Remember when I was three momma, and how I couldn't see, and see how I can see now."

I do. 

And she turned around grinning and grabbed my hands and started laughing for no real reason, and started jumping up and down.  And I forgot myself and jumped too, and we laughed so loud and so long, and for once I didn't stop when I started to wonder what someone else might think if they came in and saw us.  I was too busy swimming in this gift of momma love--her last summer before preschool--so thankful for time together after a year that so often felt apart.

“And now we welcome the new year,
full of things that have never been.” - Rilke

Today's Thanks:
Coneflowers and Cattails and Electric Purple Wild Flax
Huge Walnuts
Quarts of New Pickles on a Purple Dishtowel
Her first Pencil Box - Pink Princesses of Course
Cheers to 8 Years of Marriage and 33 Years of life!

6.19.2016

Notes from a Year of Learning


So, at the end of last year, I was set up to be a church youth director.  Life happens.  That didn't work out.  What did work out was me signing on to teach eighth grade an hour-long commute from home.

In many ways this has been the longest year of my life, both in miles and moments.

While it has been long, it has also been good.  Deeply good.  No, I am not teaching there next year.  Much to my life-long farmer father's chagrin, I will have yet another new job.  Yet he always supports me no matter what.

I have taken a little rest from posting here, giving myself time to heal up a bit.  As things wind up--before the new begins--we are gifted with a shining time to give and receive gratitude.  So after this year of learning, here goes:

Thank you to my green geometric curtains, for being the first thing I put up in my classroom.  Even when everything looked hard, you were a welcome change from the white cinderblock walls.  As I took you down on the last day, we were both a little worn, but both still here.

Thank you to Audible and my Podcast App, for being my carpool lifesaver.  Many audiobooks and myriad podcasts later, it's been a year of good reading.

Thank you unique eighth grade interests for teaching me about guitars, dabbing, Jon Cena and so many video memes (Doge, Smells like meat, and others).  I didn't know these things were so critical to my knowledge base.  I get more cultural allusions than I ever would have hoped for without you.

Thank you seventh period study hall for talking with me about politics, helping me to see things in new ways and helping me learn to listen.

Thank you eighth grade students for being my educational professors.  With all the learning I've done about education, there is still so much I don't know after this year.  No matter how hard we try, we can not "research based best practice" this animal into submission.  Submission, after all, isn't the goal.  Learning is.  And learning is alive.  There is an artfulness to teaching.  Alongside my questions, some things I do know.  I know we need to 1) take care of one another and 2) keep asking what is best for the kids.  By kids, I don't mean achievement scores; I mean the multi-faceted human beings who are the key part of this.  Their unique interests and passions are not the problem that deters my lesson, but the secret sauce that brings the classroom to life.  And yes, the test scores have their place, but I want the central piece to be our shared curiosity.  Humans want to learn if we keep asking, keep digging up patience, and keep searching for connection.  When I wondered, I tried to ask, and with a few filtered exceptions, the student answers were honest and heartfelt, showing passion for their life and learning.  Thank you for daring school and me to be real.

Thank you eighth grade journal writers, for your words.  I wish that I could help all those hurts that don't go away at the end of the year. Thank you for your doodles and real questions, and connections to books written so long ago, and for your ability to write contrast instead of black and white simplicity that it seems the world wants us to see.  Thank you for making grading fun and alive, even when a large stack of composition notebooks seemed to glare at me.  Half way through the pile your words always reminded why I teach.

Thank you to my amazing bearded hubby for helping out SO much this year as I often came home a zombie, like a used-up rubber band stretched one too many times.  With a one and three-year-old in the evenings, the long days were even longer.  You were and are a gem.

Thank you to my #1 babysitter (Grandma) for taking such good care of my kiddos each day.  If every mom had the peace of mind I feel while dropping their kids off, we'd have a lot fewer stressed-out mommas.

Thank you Ashland for giving me grace as I worked there only a year.  I could have been met with snarkiness easily, but each and every one of you were pure grace in wishing me well.

Thank you God for sending me down this road of calling.  I thought I knew how this would all play out as I looked up at the blue sky after signing up to be a youth director.  You, like always, had something more creative in mind in this curriculum of awe and wonder that you have me traversing.  I have learned a lot about how calling works, and it's not an upward ascent.  My favorite things each day are almost always an unplanned surprise; this year was no different.  I could not have predicted or planned the student who wouldn't write on day one, who wrote me and wrote me and wrote me things toward the end of the year, opening up a floodgate of sometimes troubling words hidden for so long.  Thank you for the responsibility of shepherding this young one for a season.  May there be new caring adults in the next leg of the journey.  Thank you also for the ones who never wrote, no matter my tricks.  May my seeds grow into something later, for someone else to harvest.

These kids.  I keep coming back to this motley crew of eighth graders who were so alive.  Some days I wanted to run out the door, but at the end of the day, they were each a litmus test that reminded me to be present and honest and fair and kind, always willing to give it to me straight when I was not being present or honest or fair or kind.  A middle schooler is a lot like a toddler, always wearing their heart on their sleeve.  These young people understand justice in a way we adults should listen to.  It is their superpower.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Through a really challenging year, I have been softened around the edges.  I am more easy going.  I am more willing to listen.  I am different.  I am also sterner, more willing to state my piece.  These things that are so hard, these things we wish to change, they are doing something with us, if we would just breathe into them, listen to the Goodness shining beneath, hold dear to that which we hold most dear and take the next step.  We will make it there too, and it will not be what we planned.  We will be better, if not a little more worn like my green geometric curtains.  They are folded in a pile, taking some time to rest this summer, waiting for what's next.

"What the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Today's Thanks:
Bright green apples in a white bowl
Teacup from a teacher friend
Ollie saying,  "I love you momma," before anything else today
A pink tin watering can
My pack loaded for hiking
Your turn. . . 

6.13.2016

Living the In-Between


It feels like this week has lasted fifteen days.  

I am writing this near the end of the school year, and my students are writing their names on my marker board during study hall, all wound-up after state and unit testing.   It is ten minutes to the bell, and I don't have the energy to remind them one more time to sit down.  These last days of school can seem like non-days, almost like a hoop to jump through before the real living begins with summer vacation.


As long as it is "today," we are living a day that matters.  Today is a day to encourage someone.  Today will be etched in eternity.  This can be hard to remember as we anticipate weddings, new babies, grandchildren, retirement, events, or the end of the school year.  But these days of waiting, these in-between days matter too.  

In these days that seem like mere check-off's on the to-do list of life, I can be tempted to rush things, to jump from one activity to the next.  With that attitude we can miss it, we have the total capacity to turn away from living our own life if we aren't mindful.  Maybe you're with it today, feeling God's presence and call in your life.  Maybe you're a step off the path, or maybe you're so far away you've forgotten what your path was even supposed to look like.  No matter where your choices have taken you, God is here to.  God was here, and God will be here.  We might miss it, but God won't miss us.  

So live today, this one, not some far off day in the future when you're finally rich enough, or free-scheduled enough, or good enough, or graduated enough, but live here right here, right now when you are already enough in the eyes of God.  Each day we are presented with opportunities for good, with moments where we can encourage others.  What would it look like to slow down enough to notice? 

How can we come into our lives today, into these spaces and see?  How can we turn back?  My sense is that when I go looking for the good, it finds me, usually in an unexpected place.  Even now in this crazy study hall I not only see rambunctious students, but I notice the beautiful mess on my marker board.  It was really so boring just minutes ago. 

"This is the day. . . " - Psalm 118:24
Today's Thanks:
Looking back on an old draft
A fun weekend with girlfriends
Coneflowers in bloom
Spinach and artichoke dip
Your turn. . . 

5.29.2016

A Carol Joy Nebraska Summer

I sit on the crackling dirt,
my flip flop spurs up dust on top,
like powdered sugar
just holding the black below, muddy.

It's still.

Crickets chirp left,
then right.
Thunder flashes in the west-
My chin turns quick.

Last year's corn stocks begin to fade beneath white circle clover flowers.

The northwest sunset paints lava red with lavender brushstrokes
I try to take it in
But can't
So I breathe thanks
once
and again.

Two mosquitoes (who weren't here yesterday) buzz in my ear,
cracking the perfection, and yet part of it somehow.
I slap my upper arm left,
then right.
And it's time to go in for the night.

A semi hums in the distance, and I taste a Carol Joy Holling summer just starting.

Up above my head. . .
I hear singing in the air
and taste Kool-Aid in my cuppie,
tinged with leftover sno cone.
Squish s'more between my lips, crisp marshmallow toasted hollow, melting chocolate stars
as nervous new friends bounce down the hill
with flashlights and toothbrushes
and questions. . .

And I feel alive
and close to Something Deeper,
then
and now
in Love once again.
Nebraska summer.


Today's Thanks:
Newly commissioned camp counselors
A home-run ball retrieved by a friend
Grilled pork chops with perfect crisp edges
Toddler grins with twinkle eyes
Your turn. . . 

5.16.2016

Face-Down, In Need of Forgiveness

The voice that came out of my mouth did not seem to be my own.

"YOU AND YOU ARE OUT OF HERE!  FOLLOW ME," I bellowed as I flung the classroom door open, leaving my students in my churning anger wake.

As I tromped down the hallway toward the office, leading these two young men to their doom, I had a moment of clarity.  Thank goodness the boys were behind me and couldn't see me almost giggle.

What was I doing?  I wondered, as I led them down the hallway and dropped them off with the principal.  Now, don't get me wrong, I do think that my middle school students can behave with a certain level of maturity, but I knew that my tantrum wasn't really going to fix anything.  And in the searing moment of my thirst-quenching anger, I didn't even recognize myself.

In my attempts to get this class back on track, I had come up empty one too many times, so I grasped for control the only remaining way I knew how.  I yelled and threw my hands up, asserting my volume and "power" with toddler-like finality.  Anyone who disagreed could just get out.

I might have giggled in embarrassment on the walk to the office, but I cried in shame on the drive home from work.  How could I have let things get so out of control?  Didn't I know better?

Apparently on this day, I didn't.  And at the end of the day I needed forgiveness for stepping into the easier path that I knew to be wrong.

It's hard to remember in these moments, when we're face-down in a pile of the mess that we've made, that the failure we feel is not the failure we are.  Quite the opposite.  This turning, this repentance is a sign of the deep goodness within all of us, this "made in the image of God" part of us that can't be eclipsed by our bad behavior.

In these moments when I want to dissolve in a puddle, the turning gives me hope for the loving mystery that I cannot, no matter how hard I try, understand.  These face-down moments, while terrible, are also weirdly comforting.  I am reminded, yet again, that it is not my job to have everything together, to never screw up.  God's got that covered.  And for that, I say thanks.

"I will tell of the LORD's unfailing love.  I will praise the LORD for all he has done." (Isaiah 63:7)
Today's Thanks:
Catching a free T-Shirt at the Husker baseball game
Scheduling summer activities
A stack of pink books that somehow look like art
T-Ball giggles