7.31.2013

glow points


One of the best parts about this summer has been the moment when my toddler, Charli realizes that dad is home from work.  The excitement bounces out of her little body as she bops up and down saying, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"  She grabs his leg, hugs him close, and kisses his cheek.  While it's fun to watch her little excitement festival and her confidence with one of her few words, it's even more fun to watch him.

He glows.

No, he's not literally glowing, home from some nuclear reactor gone bad, but his face, his posture, everything about him seems lit up in the glimmer of his best self.  It's like when someone loves us, we can't help but reflect that love back through being what we were designed to be.

Lately, I've been in a prayer brain tangle over my little bounce-excitement girl.  Her childcare provider--whom I love--is heading back to the classroom and won't be continuing her care this fall.  I'm thankful for the time we've had with her, and truly happy for this new opportunity in her life, but the unknowing leaves me unsettled.  I have a couple of leads, but my favorite prospect is a strong maybe as one of her clients is waiting until the last minute to decide whether to send her son to Kindergarten.

My prayer life is like a stuck YouTube video, repeating to the beat of, "Lord, can you please make this daycare thing work out?  Lord, can that woman's kid just look oober-ready for school today?  Lord, please make her send that child.  Oh Lord, whatever you want is fine. (That last prayer was really selfish.)  Again, Lord, Your will be done.  Lord, actually I want to make sure you know what I want so that there is no confusion with the whole thing.  Lord, are you getting annoyed with all this?  I don't want to be annoying--as that might hinder said answer to previous prayer--but please know that whatever you want is fine. . . just so you know childcare provider B is what I want, just so there's no confusion."

I know God loves me, but as I look back on the words of these prayers, I don't feel all that lovable.  I've been puzzling over that verse that tells us to Ask, Seek, Knock.  I've heard this interpreted as a need to be relentless, as it's hard to ignore an annoying child who asks, asks, and then asks again, but something about this doesn't jive with my relationship with God.  My love of people is a dim reflection, but in those relationships, I wouldn't ever ask, ask, ask for something until it was just annoying enough to get the response I wanted.

The whole thing leaves me feeling a little power-less, and while I know that's a great opportunity to lean on God, I've been using it as more of an opportunity to lean on my own worry.  I'm glad another verse grabbed my attention this week.  Perhaps a better focus has less to do with asking and more to do with presence.
 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock." (Revelation 3:20)
If I stand back from it, my trouble is small.  I need new child care.  That's it.  Yes, it does matter where she goes, but certainly tougher challenges are ahead.  No matter what today's challenge, the deeper breath comes not always in the answers we want, but in trusting a God who lays a firm foundation under and through our lives.  Like Charli, so happy to see her "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" God stands at the door, so joyful at our being just the way we are, understanding the issues we hold below the issues.  (Certainly God knows a little bit about worrying about a child's care.)  Maybe all these rough decisions, rough events, rough encounters are more like glow points.  Sure, we're all uncomfortable and fearful when they bump into our happy, but they can--if we let them--point us back at the glow source, and leave us shined-up, somehow a better version of ourself, better equipped to face the challenge that is today.

7.25.2013

clicking shoes, yellow string, chipped paint


The above cornerstone makes the intent clear of the St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska.  I just got back from a couple of days there at the board retreat for the state affiliate of the National Writing Project.  It's core value sounds like James to me, "The Best Teachers of Writing are Writers Themselves."  This organization believes that it's not enough to say it--you gotta do it!  I explored the center and even got a chance to go to morning prayer with a group of monks.  I felt a little out of place in my striped shirt and shiny earrings--in contrast to the Monk's ankle length black robes, but I somehow fit into the spirit of the words, if not the dress code.  Below are three pieces of writing from my time on the board's writing marathon.  If you've never been on one before, the goal is to write in and be inspired by a place.  If someone asks you what you're doing, you have to simply respond, "I'm a writer."  It's a bold statement that makes me nervous, but I always come back from marathons feeling refreshed, with my eyes better-tuned to my own space.  I like to approach writing marathons with an eye for God's spirit.  Our marathon took us into small town Schuyler to the courthouse and surrounding area.  Enjoy!


Clicking Shoes 
Green and white tiles remind me of my grandmother or some old church basement.  Each tile is clean, but worn-dingy from shoes squeaking today and clacking through yesterdays.  I wonder at the lines for DRIVER'S LICENSE EXAMINER, written in block letters that scream authority.  Maybe a woman sat there, like me, scared to enter new territory, scared to show what might set her apart in a world of same after same.  We both sense God's calling.  She wonders, maybe it would be simpler to just stay in the passenger seat.  Surely her mother had done so and been happy, but the tug between peace and a desire to do more looms, pulled taut.  Could she be both today?  Could she sit up straight in her chair and her own skin?  Later in life, the driver's license examiner sign screaming authority in capital letters just whispers, faded and forgotten, eclipsed by roads taken.  As her country daughter sits in those same seats somehow thinking of grandma, she easily slips her feet into the fear forged footprints.  She sits next to girl friends, who drove to volleyball camp this morning in cheap cars fueled on giggles and dad's corn payment.  They lean into the center girl, somehow the leader, all unaware of the courageous steps that marked their way, now mere echoes of shoes clicking, as sneakers squeak on green and white tiles.

Yellow String
We explore past manicured flower beds gracefully guarded by a yellow string and turn the corner to see the front of what was rock eight feet high and five wide.  The depth comes on the other side as a copper-gray placard, held in place by four bolts, three covered by flower buttons.  One flat top screw hit sits naked and bear under the words "Post Number 34, Civil War Memorial 1961-1965."  Names line up in a list so long it might not contain any one name.  A sea green cast swirls in the names with no real method, brightest green on the bottom, seemingly worn out from running over such a list of grandpas.  I squint, wanting to single out just one nome--like that would somehow honor the sacrifice, and this rock that I couldn't move if I tried.  I life in a life made possible by sacrifice, by these men. . . by Jesus. . . how might I live in any other response than to notice and say thank you for the flower beds gracefully guarded by a yellow string.  

Chipped Paint
The museum is closed.  Chipped orange paint whittles around green smudge spots.  Stubborn paint wants to get out.  I was like that, running away--sort of--from small town bully girls and the me that didn't quite fit.  Maybe I wasn't running away as much as toward bigger. . . better.  Who am I kidding?  I was running toward hunky love, now my husband who sports a beard and hair that hide his hunkiness from everyone but me.  Each time we drove back to the farm from our new city place, we could feel the quiet slip over us.  Now our mortgage sits in a small town mailbox, two down from my in-laws, in a place where the mailman will take your under-posted letter and leave you an envelope to make up the change.  I wonder at the town's lifespan.  Will my daughter know neighbors or empty houses when she comes home to visit us, wrinkled and gray?  I don't want to spend my life patching stubborn paint for nobody to see, but I do want the museum to be open.  I do want our daughter to know why we ran away and why we ran back.  To know the history, why we believe, yet wonder enough to find out for herself, and then run in joy and notice all the glory--sometimes bearded--running in the same direction.  


7.19.2013

five minute friday: belong

Seven women trek carpool cars to my house, as I straighten couch pillows just one more time. . . middle school mirror looking turned to house tidying.  Faces illumine my kitchen filled with a pot-luck patchwork feast.  Puzzle-piece dishes in artful proportion nourish laughs and kind questions that expand the eight chairs squeezed to fit the table.  Different editions of the same book wrinkle couch pillows, and I don't notice as eyes point to one another, the TV invisible.  And we're together.  And we each belong to the laughter and the conversation.  Wiping the counter and clearing silent plates, I soak in a prayer of thanks that leaves me and the dishwasher full, like normal, more blessed than I deserve.  Toothbrush in hand, middle school me looks back in the mirror.  I can't help smiling at her, with voices echoing in my ears, the type of voices that give us courage: unique, yet not so different from our own.

  Five Minute Friday

7.12.2013

trusting that God will come through tomorrow too


I said yes without thinking.  That was my first mistake.

When Michelle asked if I'd write a guest post for her blog, I naively hit the send button after keying three quick letters, y-e-s.  Maybe if I'd taken the time to write out a sentence--which probably would have stated that I've never done this before--I would have seen my enthusiasm for what it was: naive stupidity.  As soon as I lifted my finger off the enter key, it sprung up to cover my mouth as my cantaloupe eyes seemed to bust out of my head.  What have I done. . .ahhh. . .just what do you think you'll write, anyway?  Undo.  Undo!  

So, a week later with my panic lulling more like Eyore in the background than Tigger bouncing on my eardrum, I wrote a midweek blog post.  As I cleaned up the last phrases, I sat back and thought. . . I should save this one.  What if God doesn't show up the week I'm supposed to write for Michelle?

The poor theology in this question rolled its eyes and said, "You're kidding, right?"  Sure, I can say in my best sing-song, Sunday school voice that "God always shows up, God is always present. , and God is faithful," but do those words do any heavy-lifting in my actual life?  I don't want to trivialize these deep statements, but I'm starting to wonder how much I know but don't really KNOW.

. . . I'm doing my first-ever guest post over at my friend Michelle's blog today.  Will you pardon my jumping up and down and join me over there for the rest of the story?

7.11.2013

illumine


sun at eye level
walking into the morning,
I think back to lightbulbs
who get all the press
glowing attention away.
yet a field of seeded dandelions
blaze beaming through them
white on fire meet
stretched wing feathers
arch-gliding through my eye line,
then glow and jet to branch pedestal.
nature muses
as dead rocks in concrete flash
and wet tin barn roof sparkles,
no longer corroded.
hope bursts, and possibility whispers:
dull me could radiate,
fading me could shine,
tired me can beam,
walking into the morning
thankful for a Son at eye level.

7.08.2013

blessed be The Tie that binds


Yesterday's sermon was on the adultery commandment. (Insert twiddling thumbs, whistling, and averted eyes.)  Yipp-ee.  Lovely, I thought as I scanned the bulletin for ANY other scripture texts for my "Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday" blog post.

Not a topic I'm jazzed to write about.

I am excited to celebrate our five-year anniversary this month.  So, even though I'd rather avoid this topic, it's certainly one that matters.  When church people talk about marriage, they often use the word covenant.  My Dictionary.com search on this term was less than encouraging.  Words like "binding" and "compact" might have newlyweds wondering what they signed up for.

Ben Afleck got some bad press for saying "marriage is work" during his Academy Award acceptance speech, but some stood in solidarity, acknowledging the truth in the statement.  This 4th of July weekend marked four days of togetherness for my hubby and me, no childcare, no working--no "marriage is work" type stuff--just family time dotted with fireworks and lots of coleslaw.

How could I screw that up, right?

Well, by the time Sunday rolled around, I was tired and one comment really got under my skin.  Before I knew it, I was all spun up, mad over a little thing.  I'm not prone to anger, but the car ride to church had my mind swimming in a stew of not-so-churchy thoughts.  After praying for guidance and some sort of anger exit ramp, I remembered advice I heard years ago:

"You can either practice being right, or you can practice being kind."

I would like to say this phrase beamed me back to marital bliss.  It didn't.  I was still steamed, silently practicing phrases that I was sure would have me bouncing in the middle of the marriage spat ring with arms lifted in victory, toward roaring applause.  Even though my heart didn't feel quiet, and I really wanted to sling some of those zingers, I bit my tongue.  When we got home, I did some yard work to clear the flowerbeds and my head.

Many wouldn't put this in a blog post about "adultery," but faithfulness is woven together through a tapestry of ordinary days.  Yesterday was no different.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a feminist--not biting my tongue from mis-reading the "wives submit to your husbands" verse--but no matter male or female, in our covenant, I'm thankful for prayer when I know I'm actively screwing up something that Christ held in high esteem.  He described marriage as a vision of God's relationship with the church.  When I chew on that for a minute, my grumbling about some little comment seems just that, little.  Even though I didn't mean it at the time, I begrudgingly repeated the words of St. Francis's prayer, "I ask that I might seek more to understand than to be understood."

As I turned out the lights and headed for bed that evening, I had a tangible sense of peace.  I have no clue how I got un-mad. . . or maybe I have an inkling.  Christians call it the peace that passes understanding.  And that's just it; I don't understand it.  I don't get how God finds a way to leave my heart and marriage with peace after such an angry day.  Like most things God's given, I don't deserve it.  All I can do is lie back, close my eyes, and give thanks, singing that old hymn with new emphasis, blessed be The Tie that binds.

7.05.2013

five minute friday: beautiful

Her little head can't quite keep with the pace as the firework blasts up and up and up.  Her eyes settle on the splash of color contrasting the black sky.  Not looking quite happy or scared, she reclines right past my elbow into awe.  She looks more like one working a math problem than a kiddo pursuing giggles and delight.  Tucked into my lawn chair arm, she snuggles closer as pops and whizzes dot sky.  "Oooh" she croons, a little too late, but still in context.  Applause greets the last fuse sending one skyward, and I look toward the dad proudly holding his board of firework debris.  He's sweaty, but soak-smiling in the applause from family and his kids.  Neighbor skies continue to light up as I look down to notice my own little one's face, pale with energy drained out in sleep.  She snoozes through the noise, but I'm not surprised after today's living.  Like a magnet, she's the one holding me--stronger than all the clamoring beauty, as her quiet face reflects each color splash.  Together we breathe quiet as her little chest keeps a slow cadence under the world running around us.

Five Minute Friday

7.03.2013

just one step


Worlds of Fun was Worlds of Not-Fun for me as a kid.  A bit of a chicken, the roller-coasters terrified me and left me green.  I knew this, but not going along with friends, who always ran to get in line, was even scarier.  So I went, got scared, rode the rides, felt like crap inside, and put on my best middle school I'm-just-like-everybody-else face.

Trips to Worlds of Fun made my heart ache.  A friend of mine just sent me a note card that reads, "Do something every day that makes your heart sing."  The words and graphics were so nice I framed it, but walking by it repeatedly, the sentence seems slightly sinister.  I love having DONE something that makes my heart sing--but DOING something that makes my heart sing always comes with a snarky friend who wasn't invited: fear.

Roller coasters are fun.  As an adult I enjoy them, but as a kid they left me short of breath and squirmy.  Pushing through the fear brought me to some heart-singing thrills.  Writing is that way for me.  I love having written, but sitting down to write can feel similar to a roller-coaster car clicking up and up and up a steep incline.  Past experience tells me that there's joy on the other side, but even with more and more practice, it's still tough to push through that fear that says with a hand on its hip, "You don't really have anything to say.  Who do you think you are any way?  No one is going to read this."  

In San Antonio last week I set my mind to doing something.  I knew it would be worthwhile, but it the day leading up to it felt like a drive to Worlds of Fun.  Standing by the above work of art, I wondered if I'd be able to push myself through the fear.  Feeling a little melodramatic, I paused in front of the door, and emboldened I walked through.  Somehow taking that simple step gave me courage.  The door seemed to say, "That wasn't so tough, now was it?"  I thought, if I can just will myself to take that step, I can do this thing that scares me.  The Bible says "fear not" 365 times, one for each and every day of the year.  

There is even one for today.  

You can look your fear square in the face, name it Wanda (or whatever), and tell it to get the heck out of your way.  Scram.  Go on, git!  That fear you're actually starting to like, it's lying to you.  Your words, your art, your conversations, your whatever-you-feel-called-to-do-that's-good-in-this life--it matters.  Take the courage God's offering.  You're equipped.  You can do that thing.  And you're right, it will make a difference--maybe for just one, but that's enough.  You don't have to manufacture the courage.  God is handing it too you.

Take it.

Take courage.  Then, take that next little step.  You don't have to see where the path leads.

Soon, you'll turn around in a place that's cooler than you expected, and looking back you'll know that the crossroads of fear and courage were where the magic of your life really happened.

7.01.2013

textbook of a life


I never talk to people on planes.  So, I'm not sure why--in my invigor-zausted state--I struck up a conversation on my flight home after four days at the ISTE conference in San Antonio.  I hadn't given the guy in my row a second thought, other than noticing his blue polo.  It wasn't until he grabbed his conference magazine that I noticed him.  "How was your conference?" I blurted.

It turned out he was a tech coordinator, a father of five, who was--like me--ready to be home.  After talking shop for awhile and lamenting our similar challenges in the teckie teaching space, the mention of his Mormon mission bubbled up in the conversation.  This was the point where my outsides didn't match my insides.  Outside I was nodding, making normal conversation.  Inside I was wiggling.  My curiosity was tempered with a knowledge that faith conversations can be hard to navigate.  

Instead of following my gut instinct--to check out of the conversation and into my book--I asked some honest questions.  I don't know if I expected oxygen masks to drop at the thought of inter-faith dialogue, but as the fasten seat belt sign blinked off, signaling the end of the flight, we shook hands as I grabbed my carry-on, feeling thankful for where our words had taken us.

No, I'm not moving to Temple Square, but I wonder--am I too comfortable in my little faith silo?  Why did entering this conversation freak me out?  I keep reading the word pluralistic to describe the diversifying geography of belief and in the U.S.  You don't have to walk far to find someone who views the world differently.  Grace is required to engage in these conversations, but it's more than possible--it can be a blessing to find the beauty in the way that someone else practices his or her faith.
  
I don't want other faiths to paralyze me, scare me, or throw me into a relativistic "I'm right, you're right, everything is allright" sing-song faith.  The deep questions can bring us together--even if the world wants our answers to drive us apart. 

Looking back on the conversation, I know that this man and I practice our faith in different places--physically and theologically--but as we sat on that plane, we were just two teckie people, ready to get home to our kiddos.  When we reached those teeter-totter places in the conversation, whan what's been said leaves one vulnerable as the other doesn't agree, God gave us the creative grace to continue the conversation all the way to our destination.

I went to San Antonio to learn about education and technology.  And I did.  My brain felt full by like 9:30 each day, but as I unpack both my bag and my notes today, I'm glad that I also learned about the Mormon faith, through the textbook of a life flying in the same direction as me.


"There was a woman across the court, and she had dreams and inner convictions which were just as real as mine and which did not include me. . . she was real, and so, therefore was everybody else in the world.  And so, therefore, was I. . . I did more than exist.  I was.  That afternoon when I went to the park I looked at everybody I passed on the street, full of wonder at their realness." - Madeline L'Engle

Photo Notes:  
- Top Left City-Scape: View from The Tower of the Americas.
- Quote Marker: The Alamo
- Steak House: Restaurant in the small art community, La Velita.  The owner gave me a glass of ice water for free on a hot day.
- Fuscha at the top right: Tree flower petals that dotted the sidewalks.
- Red Spiral: Gift to San Antonio from Mexico signifying friendship.
- Zoltar Video Game: Repeatedly said, "What are you waiting for?"