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.

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.  

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

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?


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.

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 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.

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