Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Favorites

Another No Particular Order series, but how can I resist?

Christmas lights
Wrapped packages
Midnight on Christmas Eve
Christmas magic
Cinnamon
O Holy Night
What Child is this?
My daughter playing Carol of the Bells on the piano
Snow
Feeding the birds
Ornaments
Jingle bells
Gingerbread men
The Magi
Our Christmas tree
Laughter
Little girls in Christmas dresses
Baking
Secrets
Gatherings
Hope
Red
Poinsettias
Christmas stories (esp. The Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie DePaolo)
The Little Drummer Boy
Creativity
Twelve Days of Christmas packages
Crèches and Nativities
Candles
Stillness
Reconciliation
Christmas magic
Sausage balls
Last minute rush
Very little sleep
Home
The people we love
Immanuel—God with us.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

For weeks I have been thinking about Jesus' words: Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. I have contemplated and pondered what Jesus meant--not what the commentaries or bible study authors suggest, but what did Jesus mean?

This past week God gave me a glimpse of the reality of Jesus' words.

A couple of friends and I were having a conversation with a precious woman. It was one of those random, out-of-the blue conversations.

Unplanned. Unrehearsed.

At least by us.

I can see this woman's face clearly. Gently rounded. Lovely skin. Wounded eyes.

The woundedness in her eyes broke my heart.

In the course of the conversation we started talking about church--church in general. Then we discussed the church my friends and I are a part of. We wanted her to join us and we told her. We did so because we have found healing and love there. And this woman needs both.

She looked at us and took a deep breath. The breath was so deep her chest visibly rose. Then she spoke.

"I am not sure if I can say this without crying." She whispered. She was right. The tears pooled in her eyes. She took another deep breath. I took one with her. "I am not sure If I can live up to it."

In that moment I understood religion had required too much of her. The weight of its expectations had been too great a burden.

My heart broke.

The three of us were stunned.

What a beautiful, real admission.

Simultaneously we said, "Neither can we. No one can. That's why we have grace. Jesus' grace fills the gap."

She was stunned.

The conversation started and ended in less than thirty minutes.

It was a pinhead space of time, yet a thousand angels were dancing.

A lucid, luminous moment illuminating the sweet grace of God.

If Jesus had been talking to this woman he would have told her she was not far from the Kingdom of God. It was very near her; in fact, in her statement it actually arrived and could belong to her.

Being poor in spirit means we acknowledge that we fall short. We agree there is a lack we cannot satisfy.

Religion tells us just how far we fall short and just how much we lack.

Sadly, religion also stops there--leaving the burden pressed and biting into our shoulders--with little or no hope.

On the front doors of the church we go to there is a statement: Real Hope for Real People.

Jesus offers real hope.

Jesus said when we acknowledge the poverty of our spirit then we are blessed.

When we look at the reality of our true poverty, then ours is the kingdom of God.

And we have hope.

I want this dear woman to know the richness and lavishness of God's grace. I want her to experience him filling in the gap. I want her to feel her spirit expand with the hope He offers. I want to see the woundedness in her eyes heal.

Blessed are the poor in spirit...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Refrigerator Wisdom

The side of our fridge looks like a small dictionary exploded. We have magnetic sets of words for refrigerator poetry and such. This morning I was standing at the sink and started reading the combinations these little strips of paper and magnet made.

I am not sure of who has contributed, but I was caught by the random phrases displayed on the black metal surface. I wrote down the ones that triggered reactions and responses in my soul.

Enjoy possibilities.

Express your person.

The sunshine smile

Free of never

Our present life is from within.

Opening the truth with help

I forgive you.

Allow yourself room for laughter.

Hold her crazy, tender heart.

Every strong spirit celebrates opportunities.

Choose faith.

God’s dreams create attention.


Amazing isn’t it?

Wisdom is revealed in the oddest and most obscure places.


Enjoy possibilities. Enjoy, not endure. Enjoy, not lament. Embrace what could be.

Express your person. Make a statement; speak who you are. Let the real you manifest.

The sunshine smile. Exude energy. Brighten someone’s day. It is truly amazing what a smile can and will do—especially if the smile reaches all the way to your eyes.

Free of never. The chains of never are strong. I could never go there…I could never do that. Oh, to be free of that limitation.

Our present life is within. The true life, the essential life, is rooted in Who is in you. It is also learning to live in the NOW.

Opening the truth with help. Imagine a present at Christmas and it is so big you need help to get it open.

I forgive you. Three of the most powerful words in the human vocabulary.

Allow yourself room for laughter. Give yourself permission to laugh. Make space in your life to entertain laughter (or for laughter to entertain you).


Hold her crazy, tender heart (or his).
Holding something implies it is in your care, under your protection. Recognize the wild craziness embedded in someone’s heart—encourage it. And remember the flesh of someone’s heart is tender—be gentle.

Every strong spirit celebrates opportunities. Celebrates, not tolerates. Strong spirits do not approach opportunities with caution. They enter into them and have a party.

Choose faith. An action of the will. A decision to choose to believe even when you can’t see the whole picture. Choose to believe in the substance of those things hoped for…

God’s dreams create attention. When God dreams, he dreams big. He dreams that his people would be conformed to the image of his Son. And that God, His Son and us would be one—abiding in unity. And this unity would bring reconciliation to the world.

A set of refrigerator magnetic words.

This might be a good investment.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Smiling in the Mirror

Steve and I have this wonderful early morning breakfast routine. We wake up smiling. I know—cheesy. I can hear our pastor and my daughters right now, but it is true. We fix our yogurt and oatmeal concoctions and then sit in our room and read something together while we eat. Right now we are half-way through Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

I am amazed.

I am amazed because I didn’t always wake up smiling and didn’t eat breakfast. I read, but most of the time it was for escape certainly not for transformation. For years I often woke in dread, in apathy or in resentment. I knew I was going to have to face another day by putting on another mask. I didn’t want to look in the mirror and face who I was, who I had been, and who I was becoming. I didn’t like her.

As Donald Miller says, I was living a bad story.

God knew I was living a bad story. I certainly wasn’t living the story he had written for me. Somewhere along the way I decided I would be the novelist of my own life. Needless to say, the story I wrote would never be considered for a Pulitzer or a Newbury—more than likely I would have found my story bound in a cheap trade paperback on the red dot clearance table at Barnes & Noble.

In the fall of 2005 I had a wake-up call. I was on a trip to The Cove with one of the dearest women in my life. She had booked our trip eighteen months in advance—a year and a half of waiting and planning and anticipating. It was well worth the effort, but not in the ways I most expected.

God had placed mirrors everywhere. Every corner I turned and every hallway I ducked into there were reflecting glasses. I took a long, long look in the mirror that weekend. I faced myself. I actually made eye contact. To say I was startled would be an understatement.

That weekend God told me he wanted the pen to my story back. He held out his great merciful hand and waited patiently while I sat there fiddling with it…doodling, scribbling, erasing. Reluctantly, I finally passed it to him—keeping a grip even while I tried to place it in his fingers. Giving the pen to him meant giving him back the artistic license in my life (his in the first place). This meant giving him back the control of my story. I was living such a bad story I am not sure why I was so reluctant. Now, I understand it was because it was a story I was familiar with.

I was miserably comfortable.

Sadly, I hit the snooze button several times after that wake-up call. Groggy, disoriented and anxious, I kept thinking my life would get better. Surely if I tried really hard the miserable feelings would slowly dissipate. They did not. Actually they got worse.

I didn’t know how to wake up. I didn’t know how to move my lethargic mental, emotional and spiritual muscles to action.

Later, I would read William Young’s The Shack and he would call this The Great Sadness. Immediately I knew what Young was describing.

Then an event happened that caused the miserable comfortableness to explode. It was an expected and yet an unexpected event. I certainly wasn’t comfortable anymore, but I wasn’t miserable either. What a paradox.

Pain woke me. The struggle pierced the lethargy. My life began to tingle like your leg after you have sat in one position far too long. I had been asleep and circulation was returning to pinched limbs. This sensation can be annoying and even painful. You shake, rub and massage your limb hoping to increase the blood circulation.

Feeling somewhat like Rip Van Winkle, I realized I had missed so much of life while I was asleep.

I was awake.

God had punctured my Great Sadness.

The stagnation of my storyline was interrupted.

I understood I needed to move.

I began to walk. Three miles a day five and six times a week. I walked hard. Pushing myself. Commanding one foot in front of another.

Slowly the pain turned to a dull ache. Manageable. No longer incapacitating. Strangely I began to understand I could deal with real, direct pain easier than with miserable comfortableness.

There would be other major events.

My walking was interrupted by two fluke accidents which resulted in three broken bones.

I took inventory of my emotional health. I was anemic and malnourished.

More than once I questioned and reevaluated my faith. I sifted and sorted through the frailties and contradictions (and there were many) of the most essential part of who I am.

Reluctantly I tried to look at the relationships in my life. Many were good, strong and solid, but some were truly unhealthy: smothering, neglectful, apathetic.

My 42nd birthday was a turning point in my story. Almost two years since the wake-up call at The Cove—when I couldn’t even look in the mirror.

I have written about this in earlier entries of my blog…my daughters created a very special birthday for me that year. They were all involved in the planning, and my second daughter carried out the plans. At the end of that day I gazed in the mirror and looked the woman I saw directly in the eye. I said something to her.

“I like you. I am being challenged by the direction you are taking. I am enjoying what you are doing. I am interested in who you are. You still have work to do. You have rough edges and gravelly inner terrain, but you are making progress.”

What a strange thing to talk to myself. I carried on a conversation with a woman named Tamera. I was attempting to encourage her as if she were someone else. I was seeing myself from the outside.

I was reading the text of my own story and was intrigued.

Since that day I haven’t had to do much writing.

I gave my pen back to the Author and Finisher of my faith.

He writes a better story.

I know I am in the middle of the rising action. Lately, I have seen so much of the greater story unfold. I have been able to see transitions and connections. Sometimes the enormity and intricacy of his plot is overwhelming. In a beautiful, powerful way I am beginning to understand my story is only a brief paragraph in the greater story. I have no idea where this story is going, but He has promised me he will complete the good work He started.

He began a good story in me.

Now, because I am assured of this truth—

I wake smiling and can look in the mirror.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ripening and Fermenting

I sit at the kitchen window and stare outside at the visible square of yard and watch the rain fall. It is slanted, pushing toward the east. I can’t hear it—though I did this morning. In the early hours of darkness I heard it beating on our roof and it lulled me into sleeping too long. I know the rain is permeating the ground—saturating it. Chill and cold have arrived and with it scents have sharpened and the air has tightened.

I just moved from the kitchen to my room. The rain is still dancing on the roof, the air is chilled (only in relevancy—the temperature would be too warm for summer), and my dogs are all piled around my feet. Their snuffling, shifting, and snoring do not annoy me, but comforts me instead.

There’s a muted hammering in my breast today. I woke with urgency, a welling-up of phrases and snippets of language—of unfettered prayers beating their subtle rhythm in my spirit.

I hear Him whispering—faint and muted—like listening to the leaves fall. You expect to hear the sound as they collide with the grass and the earth, but our hearing is not quite refined enough to detect it.

I know he is speaking to me. Beckoning me closer and nearer and deeper. He isn’t playing games. He isn’t whispering so I might miss something. If he shouted his voice would just become a part of the noise in my life.

He has laid his hand on me.

I breathe deeply, trying to fill my lungs to the very bottom. I hope this physical action will open me—increase my spiritual lung capacity. I encountered the spiritual concept of ripening in a book I am reading.

Most likely I wouldn’t have considered this word or process, but we grew tomatoes this summer. Four varieties at the end of our front porch. One vine grew to be ten feet tall. I was delighted because I could pick the tomatoes straight from the vine and eat them like apples. I had a favorite—this variety looked like a mutant with bubbles and bulges. And when they grew too large their skins would split and the red flesh would be exposed. They tasted like summer.

My spirit has been ripening all through this summer season. My thin red skin is stretching and I am about to burst—and my red flesh will be revealed.

I am an old wineskin.

My God has new wine for me.

He will cause me to be a new wineskin. Soft and supple. Elasticity will provide a give in the seams.

I am fermenting.

Ripening.

Being aged.

The urgency I woke with this morning is the swelling and frothing of this new wine stretching my seams.

Come quickly, oh my God!
Come and make me new so that not one drop of wine will be spilled and wasted.
Come quickly.
Come and hold me so that when my skin splits not one seed will be lost.


He has laid his hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, to lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:5b-6

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Better Story

I was talking with my oldest daughter recently, she recommended Donald Miller’s new book: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I put my name on the list at the local library and waited.

We met her at a coffee shop one day last week and she pulled the book out of her over-sized bag and began to read out loud. I love to hear her read. She has beautiful inflection and lovely nuances in her voice—she is interpreting as she reads. Her face is animated and alive. I would have been interested simply because of her reading.

She flipped through the chapters and found snippets and one-liners with very little pause or rest—saying nothing besides Miller’s words from the page. And she would wait until we had soaked the words into our skin.

She talked about how the author wanted to live a better story, and how in turn that made her want to live a better story (you can read hers at www.ancientstillness.blogspot.com).

To live a better story--this line caught my attention.

I want to live a better story.

I got the book and my husband and I decided to read it out loud together. This morning we read the second chapter and laughed so hard we almost spewed our breakfast drinks through our nostrils (I know—graphic, but you have to understand how incredibly funny Miller is.)

As we were reading I remembered the first day my daughter talked to me about this book. She talked about living a better story. We were on the phone and I scrambled to write the phrase down on the first piece of paper that was handy.

It became a prayer.

A one sentence prayer that I have been praying ever since.

My sweet God is answering my prayers.

Yesterday, we got to be a part of the greater story—the big story. For a brief moment we got to witness how our stories wove and interwove with others and created a whole. The entire morning was in slow time. Lines in our worship seemed to be punctuated by the myriad of voices and highlighted on the screens in case we had missed them.

Lord, I want to love you from the inside out…consume me from the inside out….

Dave taught the word with a rawness and an urgency that was tangible. I was caught in the story of Gideon.

Notice that?

Caught in the story.

It is the stories that grab us. The stories hold us. The stories teach us. Jesus knew this and so he told the story of the woman with the lost coin, the prodigal son, the workers in the vineyard, and the rich man and Lazarus.

He told stories because they snag us even when we don’t want them to.

Stories linger. Stories stir.

Dave told the story of Gideon. The story is rife with this man’s excuses for not being the right man for God’s job. It is the story of his fleeces to test the calling of God. And so we were caught in the story.

I want to live a better story.

When the service was over there were some decisions to be made concerning the vision and future of the Body of Christ at our church. For a few minutes that small store-front sanctuary was filled with a tension. Not a negative one. But one that is like the underside of a sewing machine stitch. At times and in certain situations you need tension to hold things together.

Again, it was as if we were in slow time. Not slow motion, but slow time. Words were highlighted. Emotions were bared. Vision was illuminated.

I was a part of a better story. Part of something bigger and greater than myself.

Then we gathered as a body to pray for a young man who will be going into the military service in a couple of weeks.

We'll simply call him Christian.

Green. Intelligent. Guarded.

Searching.

Afraid.

The series of events that led Christian to this particular body is amazing and crazy. His story was/is so intertwined with ours.

He sat on a stool at the front. The first circle to gather around him was full of pillars--men past their primes. Yet there was was so much strength and power in that circle. Their gnarled and veined hands cupped the young man’s shoulders.

The second circle consisted of others who had invested in Christian's life. People who had prayed for him before. Those arms reached through the first circle and put their hands on him too.

We prayed.

And we became a part of the bigger story. Not just Christian's story or our story, but THE STORY.

And like Gideon and Jacob we built an altar so this young man would remember. Every prayer spoken, uttered, or breathed placed a stone in its construction.

This will be a place he can return to and remember.

This is the place Christian can go back to in his mind when life around him is frightening and lonely, and he will remember that God will never leave him or forsake him. This altar, built with weeping and soul cries, will remind him that he is loved. It will remind him that he is a part of a bigger story.

I want to live a better story.

I want my life to be filled with making altars so others can be reminded of the overwhelming, deep, powerful, gripping love of God!

Peter talked about it. He said we were living stones.

I want to live a better story.

Don’t you?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

No Longer Rejected

John 4:4-42

I am not sure how I got to the place I was. Do you know what I mean? One day you just wake up and suddenly start asking questions. Why am I here?

One morning I woke up and looked over at the man beside me…and five other faces emerged from his. How did I get to be a woman with five husbands in her history, and what in the world made me wake up beside this one that wasn’t even a husband?

Some of the reasons I can point to and say this is why. I can connect the dots and make the connections—direct cause and effect. Others I have to follow a meandering trail and still can’t quite understand.

I made some poor choices. I don’t blame others for them. They are mine—my burdens. Some things, however, were decided for me.

I am a woman; I had very few options. Very few. Women are not the most valuable commodity where I am from. Ha, it would seem that we rank just a little above the properties or the livestock a man owns. There are times I think the men would rather have the deed or the bull. How often I have been ignored by a husband in public—more than ignored—not even seen.

I wish I could tell you about my life in a manner that would make sense—or at least in a way that would help you not to scorn me, not to whisper about me while you are standing a few feet away. People didn’t know the whole truth, and because they didn’t know all the details they began to fill in their own. Rumors and conjecture and fabrications were mixed with what little they did know.

Honestly, I started questioning what was the truth was and what was a lie.

You hear something so much you start to believe it.

I am not sure I can untangle all the webs.

I do know I felt like a worn out garment with holes that could no longer be mended. Rips and tears that couldn’t be stitched back together to create some kind of whole. And I was worn out from trying. Weary from the attempt to make things right. I think that is why I woke up next to a man who wasn’t my husband. I have had five—and not one of them lasted.

Not one.

I have been rejected—often tossed aside like a water jar with too big or too many cracks to be useful anymore.

I worshipped God, but so often I felt like I was worshipping someone I did not know. Women had to remain standing far back—barred from participating fully in the worship of God. And even more so for a woman of ill-repute. I wasn’t quite sure if it was my reputation that barred me or if God was pushing me aside.

But there was some part of my heart that just wouldn’t let go. I had heard since I was a little girl that God would send the Messiah, the anointed one, a prophet greater than Moses. I had dreams of this Messiah—perhaps they were just the flighty dreams of a silly, romantic girl. I just knew the Messiah would come and explain everything to us.

He would explain the ways of God and why the Jews despised us. I just knew the Messiah would come and tell us everything. And even as I grew to be a woman, deep in my heart I held tightly to this hope. At times it was very dim. We were a despised race, considered unclean—perhaps because the color of our skin was a shade or hue different from our neighbors, the Jews. Perhaps it was because of our worship site on Mount Gerazim. I am not sure…I just know that the tensions were so great between us that the Jews considered us pagan and wouldn’t even share a cup or water skin with us. They avoided our region as if we were quarantined for leprosy.

I had heard talk that the Jews expected the Messiah too. At least we had that in common. We both wanted a savior to come and save us from the tyranny of our enemies.

So, I kept that hope tucked away like a chrysalis in my heart. Held it close and every once in a while I would look toward Mount Gerazim and whisper a prayer to God to please send the Messiah. I am not sure what this meant for me personally—there was just something inside that made me know that if the Messiah came life would be different.

There was also a deep fear in me. What if we Samaritans were wrong? What if we had been worshipping amiss? What if the temple in Jerusalem was the true place of worship? What if our arrogance and sin had caused us to miss this great salvation? The thought that plagued me even more was what if the reality of my life caused me to be shunned by the Messiah. How in the world could he look at a woman like me and welcome her or even use her in his kingdom?

So, I whispered my prayers—half in hope that they would be heard and answered and half in hope that they would not. I am just not sure I could have dealt with another rejection.

You know about that day. You have heard the talk. You have read the story.

I want you to know I went to the well that day a broken woman, but I left whole.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ouch

Steve and I were given gifts of unconditional generosity this week. Two of our dearest friends gave us gifts that were needed and much appreciated. Gifts given with unconditional generosity require no repayment or compensation.

Our friends gave in this spirit. They simply wanted to bless us.

Given my wiring, I began to think about how to give something back to them. How could I repay them for their generosity? I was feeling guilty. I was feeling as if I owed them something.

Awkward.

They certainly hadn’t alluded, hinted or suggested this feeling to me. Quite the contrary, I was called to the mat because our friend caught me in this train of thought. He looked me in the eye and said, “Stop it!”

How do you repay generosity? Especially the unconditional kind?

That’s the point—you don’t.

But isn’t that what we do? We try to repay so that we aren’t in debt.

How hard is it to simply say thank you? How hard is it to simply acknowledge that they met a need? How hard is it to simply show how much their kindness was appreciated?

Our friends don't want to be repaid; they just want us to continue to live life with them, continue to walk with them and continue to love them (and we do).

We behave in the same manner with God’s grace—his unconditional generosity. We try to be “good” and repay him. We don’t want to be in God’s debt. We don’t want owe him.

He doesn’t want us to repay him; he wants us to live life with him, to walk with him and to love him.

The second significant lesson this week pinched me too. Our minister paraphrased a quote, “you know how you feel about being a servant when you get treated like one.” That phrase caught my attention and I mulled and gnawed on it.

Then this week I was treated like a servant. Inwardly I didn’t respond very well. I bristled. I balked. I could feel my ire shoot up the back of my neck. I kept doing the task and then, poised in mid-action, I remembered our minister’s quote.

I did not have a servant’s attitude in that moment.

I did not have the mind of Christ.

Confound it. Dagnabit.

Both lessons had to do with pride.

Mine.

Ouch.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Man in His Element



What an incredible Labor Day weekend! We spent three days at my father and step-mother’s farm along with a great many cousins, aunts and friends.

It is a beautiful place—rolling hills, green pastures and vast sky. The farm is quiet and easy.

The front porch greets you. The cushions on the rocking chairs are well-worn, and there are extra lawn chairs in the garage. In the early mornings, steam rises from the many unmatched coffee cups. The odor of manure, hay, must and dirt tingle in your nostrils; you inhale other scents too—the sweat of horses, saddle leather, clean air and hot sunshine. The pastures bustle with machinery: tractors, hay mowers and ATVs. The barn is filled with the workings of horses: saddles, bridles, reins, but mostly the farm is alive with people.

I am drawn to this little farm. I love it most because of my family; the people who gather there create a wild and friendly clamor.

We arrived on Friday to hard, loving hugs. The rest of the evening was filled with eating, learning, riding and laughing. We stayed up late—my daughters slept in the loft of the barn with the horses, in all their smelly glory, below them. My cousin decided it would be fun to scare these girls in their lofty habitat and donned a hideous rubber mask. He tried to move stealthily through the yard to the barn, but was ambushed by all the younger kids.

Later we went to bed and my father and step-mother were talking with all the family still congregated on the front porch. Suddenly there was silence. All you could hear was the whir of the ceiling fan and the faint chirp of the crickets and insects. Steve laughed and said, “The king and queen must have gone to bed.”

We witnessed this truth all weekend. My father and step-mother’s presence permeated every place on the farm. Steve and I discussed and contemplated this truth. What do you do to become so respected and so loved and so honored?

Several situations occurred during the weekend that fleshed out the characteristics that make my dad and his wife the king and queen.

Hard work

Dependable consistency

Blunt honesty

Unpretentious realness

Strong love.

On Saturday morning Johnny shoed the horses. He wore smooth leather leggings with pockets for the tools of his trade; his voice was low, but firm. The clang of the hammer on the anvil and the shoes pierced the din. Bo, my father’s oldest horse, stood placidly allowing the farrier to clip and file his worn hooves. Dad held his lead rope and rubbed his forehead while Johnny worked. Johnny and my dad worked easily together; there was an element of trust and respect between them.

Near the barn, on its side, was the enormous tin can—the roaster that held the spit. You could hear the grating noise of the shovel against the charcoal in the roaster (this year goat was on the spit). Fathers’ voices shouted out giving instruction or correction to all the rambunctious little boys. You could hear the pop of the tabs when someone opened a can to quench their thirst. And above it all was laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

Everyone was working on a task—doing something to be ready for the crowd due to arrive later in the day; the pace was easy and slow, not lazy. No, there was way too much work for there to be laziness. Everyone (especially my dad and step-mother) worked hard right up until it was time to eat.

I was in the kitchen and Dad came in shaking his head, “Those boys are lost; I have to go help.” I was confused at first. The little boys were lost? My heart jerked; seventy acres was a lot of ground to cover. Then I realized Dad was referring to my cousins—boys in their forties. The goats were not rotating on the spit correctly. Thirty minutes later, Dad had the spit turning.

The little boys were riding horses in the round pen. Being little boys they were showing off and attempting to do far more than they were capable of (sounds like the big boys too). They were giving many jumbled signals to their mounts, Mandy and Bo. The poor horses were getting quite confused. At one point the horses stood in the pen and would not move. Dad grabbed the horses’ halters so he could talk to the boys—explaining riding rules once again. Then Dad spoke to the horses and swatted them on their flanks to move them along. The boys, however, were too antsy and excited to do what they had just been told.

Dad tolerated this for only a little while. Then he spoke, “You’re done. Time to get off. Bring them in.” The boys looked at him and for a split second they considered arguing. They quickly changed their minds; my father’s tone brooked no argument.

I was near the round pen watching my daughters learn to ride when another problem happened.

My younger brother pulled up on an ATV and informed Dad that there was a situation in the lower field.

The boys (the forty year old ones) were in the bottom field raking and bailing hay, and something had happened to the tracker and the bailer. Dad assessed the situation in the round pen and said, “I have to go see what is going on.” He hopped on an ATV and rode to the lower field. Later he returned; the situation was under control.

On our last night on the farm we watched the most incredible fireworks display. Then a corn-hole tournament commenced with lots of raucous laughter, gibing and bragging. My dad was sitting on a picnic table bench watching everyone. My step-mother came to him and sat in his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his chin in her shoulder. This man with his rough,calloused hands and often silent demeanor was so gentle and affectionate towards her. Romantic in the truest sense of the word. There was a visible intimacy born of shared experiences and life done together—side by side for over thirty years.

Obviously I watched my Dad a great deal this past weekend—he is attuned to a rhythm and cadence of a life that is almost disappearing. He isn’t quite a cowboy even though he wears a hat to keep the sun off his tender ears, he isn’t quite a farmer because he doesn’t have a yearly crop to sell at market, he isn’t quite a lawman (like Wyatt Earp—his favorite), but his word is law.

My dad would be the very first to tell you he is not perfect.

He is, however, a man in his element.

Comfortable in his skin.

At home in himself.

At peace with who he is.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Spoil It You Will

Steve, my husband, has been reading The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. (I think he feels a bit coerced into doing so because of Abby and me.) And knowing that he is reading words I have read many, many times causes me to remember a scene from Taran Wanderer.

Taran has been traveling—journeying to find himself. To see who he is. He knows not his parentage, his lineage or his heritage.

During his journey, he was trained by the artisans and craftsmen of the Free Commots. He learned to forge steel with a blacksmith, learned to weave cloth with a weaver and he learned to throw pottery with a clay shaper. He mastered all of the skills except the potter’s wheel. And this is the one skill he longed to master more than all the others, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Taran was disheartened.

Broken.

There are times I feel like Taran. I see something I want to do or be more than anything. I work and strive and lament because it just doesn’t seem to flesh out as I think it should.

What a quandary: wanting to be able to do something so well (teaching, writing, studying, loving, mothering, friending, creating), wanting to be able to use a tool so efficiently and precisely and artistically; yet, what I have longed to do doesn’t seem to have the effect I desire. Sadly I become hesitant and unsure of myself—filled with doubt and anxiety concerning my skill and gifts. I find myself so concerned and afraid that I will spoil the endeavor that sometimes I don’t do anything at all.

Annlaw Clayshaper addresses this very issue with Taran. He encouraged Taran to finish shaping the half-formed clay vessel on the wheel. Annlaw tells him to sit down and shape the clay for himself, but Taran protests and says he will spoil Annlaw’s creation.

The potter laughs and says, “Spoil it you will, surely. I’ll toss it back into the kneading trough, mix it with the other clay, and sooner or later it will serve again. It will not be lost. Indeed, nothing ever is, but comes back in one shape or another.”

This is the whispering I am hearing from the Spirit these days; I keep getting the Holy Spirit nudge (as our pastor describes it). And I find myself hesitating—protesting that I am going to spoil it.

And my Potter, mine, chuckles at me too.

“Ah, Tamera, spoil it you will. Surely. But I will toss it back into the kneading trough, mix it with the other clay, and sooner or later it will serve again. It will not be lost. Indeed, nothing ever is…because I work all things to the good of those who love me and are called according to my purpose. I can and will redeem what you spoil and what the locusts have eaten.”

Spoil it I will.

But just because I might spoil it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

I experience spiritual amnesia often. I forget that every time I listen and heed the Spirit’s nudge, every time I attempt something that requires faith, my “skill and craftsmanship” are increased—even if it is a poorly shaped clay vessel that must be tossed back into the clay trough; nothing has been wasted. I will have learned what not to do. I will have felt the clay in my hands. I will have invested time and effort.

The hesitation comes because the Spirit asks me to do something and I am very afraid I will spoil it; but it also comes because I am afraid my efforts will be compared to someone else’s and will be found lacking.
Ha, spoil it I will.

Lacking? Most likely.

Once I understand this, once I accept this—then, ah then, I can get over myself.

Spoiling doesn't negate the usability. Even if my efforts have to be thrown back into the kneading trough they can still be used. They will come back in one form or another—they will not be lost.

My efforts will be redeemed and used because I hand them over and say, “This is all I have. This is all my skill, this is all my ability, and this is all I have.”

Then my Potter will smile and chuckle and throw the clay back on the wheel.

No Particular Order II

A couple of years ago I followed the leading of my oldest daughter and published a list of things I wanted to do or accomplish. I have reread my list several times lately. Pondering, wondering and wandering. I am re-listing.

Here is the new list in No Particular Order.

Continue to hold hands
Sleep on a beach
Be a tool of healing
Continue to laugh—deeper and deeper
Run on the Cliffs of Mohr
Continue to speak my second language fluently
Walk three miles a day again
Ride a horse with confidence
Pray at the Wailing Wall
Hold and kiss my grandchildren (someday)
Tell the truth
Pray unceasingly
Spend the night in a castle
Publish a book—a good book
Be real
Create more art
Be transparent
Love my husband—more
Pick strawberries
Touch someone
Go on a pilgrimage with a few
Walk a prayer labyrinth
Practice righteousness
Stay in a lighthouse
See the Pacific Ocean
Take risks
Spend a whole day in utter silence
Cry at my daughters’ weddings
Study more
Make a difference
Avoid staleness and stagnancy
Love my neighbor
Sleep in a tent
Teach, teach, teach
Live life with my dearest friends
Be more consistent
Walk on the edge
Guard the shepherd’s back

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ancient Mother

An afternoon stroll
Walking, meandering
Spiraling inward.

A silent pull
Centering, pivoting
A woman’s curiosity.

Tree of Life
Welcoming, expanding
Fruit to feed immortality.

Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
Prohibiting, restricting
Forbidden fruit—Elohim’s stipulation.

Out of the foliage
Slithering, sliding
Draped in glittering, scaly skin.

His target—a direct creation
Fashioned, sculpted
The last stroke of Elohim’s handiwork.

Former bright, shining one of the Hosts
Coaxing, enticing
Aware she could maneuver places he could not.

The subtle and deadly assault begins
Spitting doubts, hissing lies
He tempts the influential one.

The fork-tongued serpent contests
Wending, winding
Vaporous poison is emitted.

The helpmeet is restless
shifting, veering
She examines the fruit.

Did Elohim really say?”


The Genesis writer is an incredible storyteller and has caught us in the plot now. The writer informs us the woman saw that the fruit was good.

Good for three reasons:

She (remember she has not been named yet) sees that this fruit is good for food. Of course it was. God proclaimed all things good at the end of his Creation. It wasn’t the fruit that was evil. However, just because something seems good for food and is edible does not mean we should ingest it.

She sees that this fruit (probably not the traditional apple) is lovely to behold. Unblemished. Aesthetically pleasing. We are drawn to all things beautiful—we long for things that have the stamp of purity and loveliness about them. But not everything is as it seems to the eye.

She saw (inferred, discerned) that the fruit was good for gaining wisdom. Her intellect was stirred and her curiosity heightened. But gaining wisdom is a far cry from “being like God”.

She began to covet. She began to want what she thought she could not have. She began to desire the forbidden.

And the mental dance commenced.

What was the Lord God hiding? What was he withholding? What had he been denying Adam and her? Why was God forbidding them to eat good, lovely, and stimulating fruit?

The snake begins to writhe; the subtlety turns to accusation. He is twisting the truth of God. He is baiting the trap. He wants the woman snared quickly, long before the cool of the day.

“You will not die. You will simply become like God,” he hissed.

The serpent told a warped version of the truth.

The woman is beguiled.

Deceived.

She seizes the opportunity. She thinks only of gain and covets to be like Lord-God; however, we must remember she was already like Him. She had been made in his image.

She eats.

And she turns to Adam and persuades him to take a bite.

What would our Ancient Mother say to us now?
If she could speak to us—what would she advise?

On this side of the garden, this side of history, what would she counsel?

She has received some hard repercussions through history. She has been blamed, accused, avoided, scorned, reviled and hated.

But she is our mother. When Adam named her (after the Fall), he named her Eve—Mother of all Living.

We are her living.

As our mother she has lessons for us to learn from her poor choices. She has principles for us to glean from her undiscerning decisions.

She would want us to pay attention regardless of our ages or the seasons of our lives.

Why?

Our mother lost many things that fateful day:

Her innocence. She experienced shame.

Her influence. Rarely would Adam heed her counsel now.

Her relationships. Fault lines, canyons and mountains now existed in her relationships.

Her immortality. Death was now inevitable. .

The serpent still slithers.

The methods and weapons he used in the garden are still in his arsenal today, and he has had thousands upon thousands of years to hone them.

Our Ancient Mother is whispering, “Don’t be deceived, my children.”

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Transparency

Heavenly Father,

Flood our shadowed souls with your brilliant light.

Today may we begin to understand that you call us to be a transparent people.

Unmasked and unveiled.

You do not call us to exploit and exhibit every detail of our lives. You call us to disclose and show them to you.

When we bring our dark details before you,
when our shadows are opened to you,
when they are admitted into your presence you dispel the darkness.

Transparency begins with you. No matter what we bring to you, your love and faithfulness never changes. With and through you we gain the security and confidence to be transparent with others. When our security is rooted in your abounding, grace-filled love we can begin to be who we really are. We begin to live out our purpose because you have seen us and loved us.

Enable us, Father, to be courageous enough to face our shadows. When we try to hide we create more darkness. We put up blinds and curtains in an attempt to close out others. We don't want them to see our shadows. In doing this we block out part of the light. Then we have to try and create light inside. We turn on lamps and light candles--but they are never quite enough. They never produce the kind of light that floods in when we bare our windows--pull back the curtains and raise the blinds.

It is our nature now to hide. We have been hiding since the Garden of Eden--following Adam and Eve's example. Hiding because we are exposed and ashamed. We attempt to cover ourselves. We attempt to cover our shame.

Our attempts are inadequate.

Like Adam and Eve you call out to us. You ask us to come out of hiding into the light. You did not leave Adam and Eve naked. You did not leave them with their shame uncovered. No, you covered them. You enveloped them in the garments of grace.

Transparency is not revealing everything to everyone. Transparency is coming out of hiding and allowing You to cover and clothe our naked shame.

You will call us out of hiding. You will ask us to come out of the shadows. To stand exposed for a brief moment before you. Then you will cover us.

Help us, God. We are afraid. We are frightened of transparency. We are afraid of disclosure. We are afraid of removing our masks. We are afraid of being unveiled. We don't want others to see us naked. But that is not what you ask of us. Only before you must we stand naked.

Unveil us, Almighty God. then clothe us with the garments of your grace so that we might go out among others who are hurting and ashamed. Cover us, so we might bring others to you to be clothed and covered.

Unmask us, Heavenly Father. Make us transparent. Give us the strength and courage to open our blinds and curtains so others might see what you are doing in us and be encouraged.

And in our transparency may you be glorified and lifted high for all to see.

Amen and amen.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Blind Spot

“It’s a test.”

My co-worker’s eyebrows lifted with utter assurance when she said this statement to me. Later I thought of watching television as a child. Always on Saturday morning in the middle of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids the TV screen would change and a man’s nasally voice would state, “This is a test. This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test.”

On June 1st my daughter traveled across the equator. She traveled a distance of over 5,000 miles to serve for almost two months in a Hospital of Hope near Cochabamba, Bolivia. During those two months we communicated a couple of times a week through Skype, Facebook and Gmail. During the entire length of her stay I rarely ever worried or was concerned about her safety. (Though I learned later there was reason to be.)

At noon this past Sunday she was scheduled to fly out of Bolivia and arrive in Kentucky in the early afternoon on Monday. After Saturday morning all communication was gone.

On Sunday I began to think about all of her connections and layovers. Every time slot was crucial. If she missed one connector then she would miss another one. I thought that most likely she was traveling alone. And her phone was turned off.

Monday morning my heart was uneasy. Scenarios began to parade around in my head. I was concerned. I talked with her father (he was going to pick her up at the airport); I asked him to contact me as soon as he touched her. I was teaching a creative writing class and kept my phone close to me—with the volume turned as loud as possible.

Friends were praying.

This is when my co-worker said, “It’s a test.”

My mind was a frantic mess. One minute I was calm, reasonable and logical. The next I was fretting. Every time I was anxious I attempted to immediately let her go back into the hands of the Father. My daughter belonged to him. I kept trying to remind myself of this truth.

I had entered a blind spot.

I couldn’t see or hear Katherine.

Twenty-four hours of silence.

I didn’t know whether she had made her connectors or how long her layovers were.

My phone rang during class—ten minutes before her flight was due to land—her father said, “I have her!”

“How does she look?” I asked.

“Beautiful!”

I stopped in the middle of my class and took a few moments of silence. I needed to pray and thank my Father.

Later that night we were all sitting around a table on the porch listening to Katherine’s stories. She began to tell us about everything that happened when she left Bolivia. (Remember my concerns from earlier in the day.)

She went to church; she planned to leave quietly from there to catch her first flight. When she got up to leave the congregation realized she was leaving for the United States. They dismissed church and most of them went with her to the airport. A tradition had been started earlier in the summer—the remaining volunteers would go to the airport to see the others off and to pray for their return trip. When the group circled to pray for Katherine the entire airport lobby was filled.

And she had another volunteer traveling with her for part of the trip.

When they got to their next connection, two missionary families met them at the airport. They ate lunch together and stayed with the girls for the entire duration of the layover including the two hour delay! At last she boarded the plane for Miami and was able to make her connector for home despite the two hour delay.

While Katherine was sharing, I began to cry.

All I could hear was the Lord’s voice:

Tamera, I am in control. Nothing is beyond me. I took care of Katherine—better than you even imagined. You must learn to trust me in the blind spots. Trust me with the places you can’t see. Trust me when you are thrust into the darkness and your vision is gone and your hearing is impaired. Know that I am good and faithful. Let this experience be a reminder for you to trust me.

This was a test.

Only a test.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

William

For we walk by faith, not by sight. II Corinthians 5:7

Jesus said, “When he [the shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. John 10:4

Recently William came to see me.

I glanced up as he was approaching the counter.

“Hey, William!”

“Hello, Tamera. How are you today?” he responded quickly. (I broke into a smile; he is one of my favorites.)

We chatted for a couple more minutes. He and his wife wished me a great day. As he walked away I was very aware I had just experienced something quite extraordinary.

William cannot see. Glasses do not aid him. Laser surgery will not help him. There is no cure.

William is blind.

William recognizes me by my voice. I only have to speak a few words, and he discerns who I am. Even though I am invisible to him, he knows me. He has memorized the sound of my voice. He knows its accent, dialect, and its cadence. Often he will even recognize my voice on the phone.

Sadly, William is blind. Someday he shall see, but in this here and in this now he is blind.

William, however, has honed his other senses. His hearing is acute, keen, sensitive, and very discerning.

It has to be.

Sometimes William will walk places alone—with only his cane and his shadowy, murky vision to aid him. He can do this because his hearing has been honed. He hears what most of us miss. He hears the layers of sound and the meshed symphony of noise and is able to quickly discern and select what he needs to hear.

William is only concerned about the immediate space around him—the reach of his cane. In the radius of his cane he listens and discerns voices, activities, instructions, dangers, warnings and greetings. He registers sounds far beyond him, but he doesn't attempt to navigate the corner that is twenty feet ahead of him. William takes one step at a time.

For now, in this world, I am blind. My Father is invisible to me. I cannot see his form; I cannot see his figure.

But I can hear his voice. I can recognize and select his voice from the chaos and din around me. It is possible.

William has learned to walk by faith.

I want to be like William.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Mercies

Good Morning.

Thank you, Father, that your mercies are new every morning.

They are inexhaustible.
They are fresh.
They do not have to be portioned or rationed.

Your mercies are like the little boy's fish and loaves. There will be some left over when everyone is full.

Your mercies extend to the cracks, niches, and corners of me that I have forgotten.

Your mercies are not dependent on me. Glory!

Your mercies penetrate the cemented parts of my heart.

Your mercies are like oil poured out and it moves along the rivets and ruts of me and softens as it runs.

I am anointed by your mercy.

I am a recipient this morning of your unending, unfathomable mercies.

I don't understand this kind of mercy.

Thank you.

Even now I can feel them soaking into the crusty edges of my attitude.
Even now I can feel your mercies anointing my weakened heart.
Even now I can feel your mercies soothing the rough places of my soul.

I need to go and gather my baskets.
There will be leftovers today.

ButI won't need them.

You will send me fresh mercies in the morning.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Phenomenal Women

Phenomenal Women

What a summer!

On June 1st my second daughter traveled over 5500 miles to Bolivia. She is spending her summer working in a Hospital of Hope. This morning my oldest daughter flew to a major city to work in inner city missions work through the July 4th weekend. And Monday my two youngest daughters will travel to my Alma Mater for a week-long teen convention.

My daughters. I have written about them before; I have talked about them frequently. They are incredible women. Actually they are phenomenal women.

Recently I discovered Maya Angelou’s piece Phenomenal Woman. Then shortly after I stumbled across a random CD of Ruthie Foster. Foster recorded Maya’s poetry as a song, and it has played quite loudly in my car many times since. (Luckily when I sing the car is empty!) I saw and heard my daughters in its voice.

(If you would like to read the poem, follow this link: www.poemhunter.com/poem/phenomenal-woman/ )

My heavenly Father has transformed, conformed, and formed incredibly phenomenal women in my four daughters. I see his handiwork and fingerprints all over them and it expands my heart. They are such wonderful, lovely and gracious blends of their father and me—but, and even more, they are all unique.

Phenomenal is defined as something or someone who is highly extraordinary. Very early on the girls’ father and I strove (and still do) to instill independence and strength and compassion in our daughters (there are times when I laugh and think we might be guilty of overkill).

We wanted them to be phenomenal—extraordinary.

Maya speaks of the “inner mystery of a woman and that it is to be found in the arch of her back, the sun of her smile, the grace of her style, the fire of her eyes, and the flash of her teeth.”

So today I was thinking about my daughters. And on the back of my eyelids, clips and movies were rolling—power points of each of them. For a split second I could see the sun of Anna’s smile, the flash of Katherine’s teeth, the fire of Abby’s eyes, the arch of Olivia’s back.

I am blessed. Utterly blessed.

This week, Katherine will pull a Bolivian child into her arms and make him not only smile, but laugh. And she will splint a broken leg with cardboard. This week, Anna will hand food to a homeless woman and look her in the eye. And Anna will never forget her face. This week Olivia and Abby will attend a conference, but more importantly they will participate and be involved in a community. They will laugh, cry, encourage, and pray with this community and begin to learn what it means to be an integral part of God’s Body.

And Momma?

Momma will pray.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Assembly

Gather your people,
Oh, Almighty God.
Assemble your Body,
Oh, Mighty King.

Please speak to us:
Extend your invitation throughout the expanse of our land
and to the edge of its borders.
Let the winds be your messengers
and draw your people—
And let us have ears to hear.

You have summoned us by name.
Calling and rousing us from afar—
our terrestrial, spiritual, and emotional positions
have not hindered or impeded you.

We have been named the called out ones.
Call us out, O God,
And gather us together to become the assembly of the saints

We can feel the rise and draw of your Spirit.

You are settling us according to your purpose.
You are arranging us according to the gifts you allotted.
You are placing us on the invisible battlefields of your choosing.
You are positioning us in obscure arenas.
You are establishing us in seemingly insignificant theatres.

We wait with Christ’s Ecclesia for your instructions.
We are at attention.
We stand at ready.

While we wait:
Raise in us a revived spirit of worship.
Instill in us a renewed mind of unity.
Tender in us a refreshed heart of teachableness.

Assemble us and transform your Body, Oh Lord!


Psalm 149:1 (NIV)

Say What You Need to Say

I went to bed and woke up with this deep sense of urgency to write—this longing and yearning to translate the inner language of my soul. Yet I know not where to begin.

I tell my students that the writing well must be primed. Sometimes you have to stand and pump the handle many times before the water begins to trickle from the spigot. Yesterday, I told the class you must write every day in order to keep your writing muscles strong and toned. (I am mixing metaphors, sorry). I haven’t followed my own instructions, and my muscles have weakened. It doesn’t take long for them to atrophy or for the pump handle to become rusty.

In class a student shared that he had a hundred ideas about what to write, but didn’t know where to begin. I am not sure where to begin either. I have made notes for months, but the stories have remained unwritten. Ideas have floated without anchors; they have waited patiently to be moored on the screen.

I must simply prime the pump.


One day at work one of our lovely, regular patrons came in to pick up her books. She stood and chatted with us, and I noticed a locket she was wearing. It was a large gold locket just a little bigger than a silver dollar. The locket was inscribed, but the printing was far too small to be just simply a date or a mere sentiment.

I asked questions.

The locket was a gift from her husband. He had recently passed away, and I was afraid I was invading a sensitive place, but she kept sharing. Her husband had written her a love letter, and to ensure its preservation he had it engraved on this locket that she now wore around her neck.

As she shared her story she held the locket in her hand and rubbed her thumb over its front and back—a gesture, I am sure, she wasn’t aware of and repeated often.

She smiled and said, “We were married for 52 years, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I miss him terribly.” There was no self-pity, no despondency, and no regret in her voice. Just matter-of-fact statements. She picked up her bag of reading materials and walked away.

I was left in tears.

How often do we voice our love to those we hold the closest and dearest? How often do we take the time to ensure that they will know this even if we are gone? What measures do we take to make sure they have some token, some symbol, and some memento so that they might remember?

This precious lady was so pleased to share her story, and in sharing she kept her own memories alive. In telling me the story of her locket she was able to relive and remember all the circumstances and events surrounding this gift.

I am hoping that for a brief moment she felt him near. Perhaps for a small increment of time she was able to see him and hear his voice reading the words etched on the face of the disk she wore around her neck.

I have the feeling the words were not eloquent—I am sure they were not Shakespearian or Browning sonnets, but they were his words and his declaration of love for her.

Often we don’t say something to someone for fear of our words being inadequate or concern for their lack of eloquency. We hesitate because we don’t want to be misunderstood or we are concerned we won’t be understood at all. These are not adequate or acceptable reasons for silence.

The heart has a way of learning how to translate and interpret.

This precious woman had translated her husband’s words. They have been a solace and a balm in his absence.

John Mayer sings, “Say what you need to say.”

As I held that locket in my hand—I realized this wonderful woman’s husband had said what he needed to say.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tell the Story

When Olivia was eight, she was a tiny dancer, and one of her first performances was Happy Feet. She was a tiny little thing, yet quite indignant that she had to lie on the floor with her ballet feet up in the air.

I am not sure we realized how prophetic this dance and song would be for her. Each year, each performance made her physically stronger, enabled her to mature as a dancer, and fed her passion to express herself through the art of dance.

Her family has been at every performance, and for the most part our eyes and attention have been mostly for her. Our eyes have been riveted to her—her smile infectious, her enthusiasm contagious, her energy transferred. We dance through her. I, her mother who has no rhythm and no tempo, can dance if just for a brief few moments through her.

Before each performance we have a deep conversation: dance your best, dance as if no one is watching, dance as if you aren’t being evaluated, dance from your heart.

Also during this period before the performance she zones and becomes tunnel-visioned. She can only see what is directly linked to the performance; everything else is forgotten or stored away until it is over.

This performance is based on the parable of the Ten Virgins found in Matthew 25 1-13. Perhaps you know the story.

Ten young women are preparing for the wedding week of their friend. They are waiting for the bridegroom, waiting for him to arrive, waiting for him to escort them to the festivities. But they must be ready; they must be prepared. All ten take lamps filled with oil. All have thought about what they needed in the moment, but only five take extra oil to fuel their lamps if the wait is longer than anticipated. Only five think about the wee hours of the morning.

The glorious bridegroom arrives. They all jump up ready to follow. All. Did you notice—all? But a problem surfaces: five of the young girls discover their lamps’ oil supply has been depleted in the long night. They panic. They turn to their friends, their companions, and plead with them to share their oil. There will be no sharing. There is neither enough time nor enough oil. The wise virgins go with the bridegroom and the foolish are left. For lack of preparation they miss the wedding celebration. For a lack of vision they miss the wedding banquet.

This parable breaks my heart. I vacillate between anger and pity. Between angst and urgency.

Tonight my daughter will dance the role of a foolish virgin. She volunteered for this role. Why? At first I thought it was because she thought it would be more fun to play one of the bad girls of the Bible. Given her incredible bent and propensity toward theater, I am sure this was part of her decision. But this was not the whole reason.

Her instructor, a beautiful woman, told the dancers in dress rehearsal that she wanted them to tell a story—more than technical perfection she wanted them to interpret the roles and the music for the audience.

Olivia will be the words tonight of the story. That is what dancing becomes—the words of the music. The words of the story.

Tonight Olivia will interpret the heart and the mind of one of the foolish virgins. And as the bridegroom comes and gathers Olivia's wise companions, how will she feel? How will she feel to be left behind? How will I feel to watch my daughter realize the consequences of her lack of preparation?

How will I see myself in this parable? If Olivia and all of her company tell the story tonight, if they dance in a way that draws all of us in, then these are the questions we will have to ask.

Am I prepared? Am I ready? Have I filled my own lamp and brought extra oil in case the wait is longer than I anticipated? Am I waiting and prepared for the glorious appearing of my Bridegroom?

Tell the story tonight, beautiful Olivia.

Remember you are anything but foolish.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Happily Ever After: A Lesson and a Tribute

This was her second marriage.
This was his third.
They both had a history.
They both carried a lot of baggage.
He was several years older than her.
The odds were stacked against them.
Statistics implied that this marriage would end in divorce also.
People (including family) didn’t think it would last.

I am sure at one time they both dreamed of the perfect life. They wanted the fairy tale. No doubt they longed for the happily ever after.

As a little girl, as a starry-eyed teenager, as a young college student, as a green wife, as a new mother, as a divorced woman—I had a vision of what happily ever after looked like. I am not sure I ever articulated my definitions or expectations, perhaps not even with myself. I just knew there was a space within me that longed for the fairy tale.

Naively? Of course.

My definitions were naïve. They were unrealistic and based on culturally sentimental (secular and Christian) demands that were temporary and transient.

One of my long time favorite movies is Ever After with Drew Barrymore. This film is a retelling of the age old tale of Cinderella. A few wild twists and great character development add much interest to this formulaic plot. (Leonardo Da Vinci even appears; how he ends up in France, I am not quite sure).

My favorite quote from this movie is made by Cinderella’s great-granddaughter, the Grande Dame. She is relating the ‘real version’ of the story to the Grimm brothers. The movie ends with her words.

“And, while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they lived.”

The point is that they lived.

We get so caught up with the happily ever after and whatever that entails at any given moment, in any given situation. We have allowed Hollywood and the Disney-fied versions to color and tinge this life state for us. We have traded something real for something air-brushed, compiled, and fabricated. We have traded the illusion of love for the Spirit-defined love of 1st Corinthians 13.

The happily ever after of this culture is rooted on appearance and physicality. Often it is based on what you have to offer rather than who you are. Frequently the happily-ever-after demands an arbitrary standard that does not and cannot exist.

I am rehabilitating my definition and expectations of happily ever after because over the years I have missed the point.

Remember the couple at the beginning of this post?

They will be married thirty-two years in October.

Let that sink in.

They have beaten the odds. They have defied the statistics. And they ignored the whispers and the negative talk. They determined their own definition of happily ever after. They wanted to live.

I asked them what advice they would give? What is their secret?

I got a two sentence answer.

Two sentences.

“Take care of each other.”

“Do things with each other; do what the other likes to do.”

I have observed them and their relationship. I have watched closely.

They live their philosophy.

“And, while they have lived happily ever after, the point, friends, is that they lived.”

I know this to be true.

This couple is my dad and my step-mother.

Their thirty-two years have not been necessarily the stuff of fairy-tales.

They have had more than their share of struggles and problems. They have endured the censure of family, they have struggled financially, they have lost all sets of parents, they have lost siblings. They have had to deal with an estranged daughter, they have had to cope with the horrible disease of MS ( they do physical therapy together every night), they have had to deal with horrible horse riding accidents (one was thrown from a horse and was in ICU for days).

Yet, their marriage has endured. They are admired, respected, and loved by many.

I love them both—

The day of my second wedding, my father took my face in his hands. He looked me in the eye (his were misted and so were mine) and he said to me, “Take care of each other. Enjoy each other, do things together.”

What an incredible redefining of happily ever after.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Overflow

Jesus said, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40, NIV).

I read my daughter’s blog this week.

She is a prolific and profound writer.

(Visit her blog @ www.ancientstillness.blogspot.com, and when you do read: The Rock’s Cry).

Her refrain of “holy, holy, holy” has reverberated in my thoughts all week.


I cannot keep quiet. I can not be silent. My heart is too full, and Jesus also said that out of the overflow of the heart does the mouth speak.”(Luke 6:45, NIV)

My heart is speaking.

Not long ago the jar of me was empty—
dry as dust.
Moisture did not cling to my earthen walls;
it was absorbed too quickly.
Drought had shriveled my soul.
I was dying of thirst.
I had forgotten the taste of fresh water.
With David I thought my tongue would stick to the roof of my mouth.
I had continued to return to a well gone dry,
to a shallow, stagnant cistern.

I had been strapped to the back of a heaving, lumbering camel, and I was wandering through the desert.

This was a dire and urgent sojourn.

I was meandering in circles in this vast, unyielding place.

I wasn’t aware that if you didn’t have a focal point in this harsh place—that no matter how straight of a path you tried to walk—your path would ever circle. Your dominant leg would lead you; my right leg led me clockwise rather than straight.

But my Father heard my cries.
He heard my silent voice.
He told me to look up.

And I did.

I didn’t understand that my path was starting to straighten.
I just simply kept looking up instead of in,
Out to him instead of inward toward myself.

I could smell the water before I actually saw it.
I could feel the moisture in the air on my parched skin.
I could hear the faint gurgle of the springs.

I found myself on the edge of an oasis.
I was too amazed to remind myself I could go into the interior—I was too enthralled with the abundance of what was available on the periphery.

So, I pitched my tent and camped there for a while. (I didn’t even bother to tether my camel. He would come back if I needed him.)

Rehydrating

Replenishing

Restoring

Renewing

Refreshing

Refilling

One morning I woke and found I was full.

Full.

And that would have been enough.

But, you see, our God isn’t just about enough. He extends generosity with abundance and bounty. He causes people to fill up and spill over. He creates excessive overflow. He gives with lavishness and extravagance. His goal is to bring his people to a point of more than enough.

My God brought me deep into his oasis—I have been brought into his place of plenty.

It is a place of water, and light, and of palm trees.

I understand the beauty and value of this place of overflow because I have experienced seasons of drought.

Oh! How I want others to know this vast richness of his grace.
How I long for the overflow to rush over those near me.

I am on holy ground.
My shoes need to be removed.
I need to be facedown.

My heart is speaking.
I cannot be silent.

Holy

Holy

Holy

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Free-Write

Often in my writing classes I ask my students to free-write. I give them a topic and set a time limit. Most of the rules of writing are suspended for this time frame. They don’t have to worry about punctuation, grammar or spelling. When I call time they can only finish the last sentence they were writing.

This morning I am free-writing. And I have a time limit. Bear with me.


Last night I was served at an elegant café by my daughter.
Last night I waited for the arrival of all my girls.
Last night I wore a tiara with an amethyst-like stone.
Last night I wore multiple strands of colored beads.
Last night I drank wine with my daughters.
Last night I was shot with silly string.
Last night I tried to dance.
Last night I packed my suitcase.
Last night I was content.
Last night I laughed, but I didn’t cry. Unbelievable.
Last night I said good night because tomorrow would be Someday.

This morning I woke.
This morning I prayed.
This morning I rejoiced.
This morning I wrote.
This morning is Someday.
This morning I enter a new season.

My free-writing time is over.

I have to finish the last sentence:

This morning I am getting married.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

17 Minutes

Ireland has been calling my name. She whispers and beckons to the soul of me to come and dance on her shores and cliffs and green pastures. She has for years. Recently I was doing some research concerning the thin and sacred places in Ireland and was intrigued with Newgrange.

Newgrange is a burial mound in Ireland. The mound is quite large and under the great pile of earth there is a 60 foot corridor; this corridor leads from the front entrance to the inner cruciform chamber. Every year on the Winter Solstice, when the sun begins to rise, the rays laser through the mound's roof box. Slowly the corridor is lit and then the whole inner chamber.

For seventeen minutes there is light in the utter darkness of winter.

The waiting list to experience this event is years long, and the participants are chosen through a lottery.


Heavenly Father,

Paul says that because of Jesus we have access to your throne, and we can come boldly. I am coming boldly. I want something. I want something for your people.

Give us 17 minutes.

Come. Come.

Shine your light down through the dark corridors of our inner beings. Rise on us and may your favor laser through even the smallest of apertures. Send your warm and illuminating light coursing along the narrow hallways to infiltrate the dark, dusty, closed places in us.

Let your light inch down our 60ft corridors—corridors we have often closed off and hidden or denied access to others and to you. May your light heat up the cold stone of our hearts and spirits. May you warm the gritty stones of who we are.

Don’t stop, Lord, until your light penetrates and illuminates our entire inner sanctuary. The most inward places of us…where all that we hold dear and all that we fear resides.

For seventeen minutes, in this winter of ours, would you help us to see your light?

Then we will have hope--a hope that shows us that the darkness of winter will soon be over. The season of hidden-ness and slumber and lethargy will soon give way to the light and rebirth of spring.

For seventeen minutes, Lord, however that translates—let us be your Newgrange. Let us wait with great anticipation for your light to reach our inner chambers.

Thank you that we do not have to enter our name on a waiting list. Thank you that we do not have to pray for the luck of the draw of the lottery.

17 minutes.

Actually I want more.

But for now 17 minutes is enough.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Mark or to Dance?

Steve and I had our last dance lesson last night. My daughters gave me two for Christmas, and we enjoyed them so much we signed up for four more. Not because we were naturals, mind you, but because we were having a great deal of fun. We laughed a lot with each other. I am not sure our instructor knew quite what to do with us. Anyway, during our last lesson I was doing a great deal of thinking about how dance parallels life. Of course I can't think really hard and do something else equally hard at the same time. So, I stepped on Steve's toes often and I got out of step, but that is okay because my lesson last night wasn't about the Rumba, the Foxtrot, or the Waltz.

How often I get distracted and forget the manna of His Word. I feel as if I have been to a feast, and in reality I have only enjoyed the appetizer, or I am one of the dogs under the table and devouring the crumbs. I understand the woman's words to Jesus...I understand that the crumbs of God are more filling and life-giving than a banquet of the world's vanity cakes (Little House on Plum Creek).

God doesn't want us to be sustained by crumbs. He wants us to sit down at the table and sup with him. He wants us to dine...to eat the bread and drink the wine of his word with Him.

While eating and drinking this morning, I have been amazed by the boldness of Paul. When I read the prayer of Ephesians 3:14ff I have to shake my head. Oh, to be that bold. To ask for something that big.

I think in many ways I have been afraid to ask for the power of God to be fully manifested in my life. I don't know if I am afraid that my prayers won't be answered, or that they will.

What would it be like to be filled to the measure of the fullness of God? What would it be like to have the power that raised Jesus from the dead at work in us? What could and would God do with a group of people given to this kind of praying, thinking, and living?

I think we have seen it. We are a fruit of this kind of living. Somewhere our history links with the Apostles. Somewhere in our spiritual lineage we can be traced back to the ones who walked with Jesus or who were visited by him (Paul). Because they believed, because they asked him to work in them boldly--we stand as spiritual heirs with Jesus.

But we can talk and discuss this fact all we want...the reality is will we allow God to live it in us? Will we allow him to be dangerous in our lives? Will we get bold enough to start asking him for things that will have effect in his kingdom? Will we start actually fighting in the battle or will we continue putting the stratagems on paper and playing through the theories like we would move chess pieces in our minds?

As you read in the introduction, the theme of my life right now seems to be about dancing. Every metaphor and analogy begins with this choreography that started way back when I danced in the rain (see the archives).

And then, this morning, I remembered Olivia.

There are times in the dance studio that my daughter, Olivia, will "mark" her dances. This means she will walk through the choreography in her mind with barely any movement. This is good for visualization, but eventually she must dance. Eventually those marked movements must be become full and extended with height and length and power.

It is good to learn to mark life.

But eventually we will need the power to dance this life out...to extend and expand all the choreography.

Jesus didn't just mark life. He danced it. And his choreography was crazy. Radical. Wild. Untamed. Powerful. Beautiful. Frightening. Lovely.

Paul came along and entered in full synchronicity with Jesus. He marked it once, and then he danced.

I don't want to just simply "mark" life anymore.

I want to dance.

BOLDLY

Monday, February 9, 2009

Dancing on the Edge of Beautiful

Acts 3:1-10

Holding fast to the wonderful tradition of prayer at three in the afternoon, Peter and John were on their way to the temple. How many times had they passed this way before? How often in the sojourns with Jesus had they passed through this particular gate?

Other days may have been forgotten, but they would not forget this particular day. Peter and John would not forget their encounter with the long-time resident of the gate Beautiful.

Daily this man had been carried to the steps and laid there to beg—to plead for alms as people entered the court. Familiarity was his enemy. His face was so common he was easily ignored and over-looked. But he had learned. He had become bold in his crippled state.

On this day he shouted out to Peter and John. He did not know and did not understand that the life he knew was about to change. The life he had become accustomed to was to be transformed.

He asked for his usual. His words were rote and stale. Repeated over and over until they had no meaning and no emphasis. He asked for coins to buy the paltry bread so he might beg again the next day.

From his stony pallet he cried out to Peter and John as they passed by him. He waited to see if they had a generous or stingy spirit. He waited to see if they even noticed before he attempted to garner the next person’s attention.

Often people didn’t even see him. He was invisible—a part of the daily ornamentation of the temple. Even when the Pharisees deigned to drop a trickle of money into his hands, they never looked him in the eye. They did not see him.

But on this day, the men stopped before him. They squatted level to his half-way erect body. They looked and saw his face rather than his maimed and crooked legs. Not only did they look, but they spoke to him.

“Look at us!” Pay attention to us, too. Just as the others were guilty of not seeing him, he did not see or remember the contributors either.

He looked at them with expectancy. He waited for a lecture or a spotlight on their generosity.

He didn’t receive either.

Peter and John didn’t give him what he expected. Peter and John didn‘t give him the token offering for a beggar.

Instead they held out their hands and pulled him up to his feet. And as they did they were explaining that they didn’t have a temporary solution, but they would give him what they did have.

As they lifted him—Luke, our beloved physician—tells us that the man’s feet and ankles became strong. They could hold his weight. In that moment another miracle occurred.

I have had a broken ankle. When you haven’t walked on your own feet in a while, you don’t just take off walking again. Your mind has to remember and you must have body and muscle recall.

This man had been crippled since birth—he had never walked. Never propelled himself forward in the toddler waddle, never graduated to the fast three year trot. But in this instant at the Gate Beautiful, this man—this beggar—stood on strong feet and walked for the first time in his life.

Don't miss this double miracle.

Luke tells us “he jumped to his feet…and went with [Peter and John] into the temple courts (had he never been inside before?) walking, jumping, and praising God.”

Miracles dancing on the edge of Beautiful.

I have been temporarily crippled. I have been in a place where I have felt like this beggar –sitting on cold, stone steps in a throng of people.

Invisible, unseen, ignored, tolerated.

And no wonder, it is hard for people to look a crippled beggar in the eye. They can’t make eye contact either because of their own issues or because of the beggar’s victim attitude and demeanor or both. (Who knows which happens first?)

I became a crippled beggar partially because of my own choices.

My ankles and feet were weak because I had forgotten to stand and walk on my own. I was crippled because I couldn’t see past my stony perch, and I had developed a crippled victim attitude in my heart and demeanor.

I am not sure where it started or exactly what caused this attitude. I am not sure how much I contributed to my own self-pity or how much circumstances determined and fed it. I do know it was a combination of both.

But somewhere and at some point I was shaken out of my depressed slumber, and I woke up and found myself on my stony ledge.

Precarious position.

Frightening perch.

I didn’t recognize myself. I tried to ignore the identity of this pathetic beggar woman I had become. I was appalled because I realized I had created some of my own crippled ness. I was also unbearably sad and trying desperately trying to find a remnant of who I remembered being.

Finally, I began to give way to the strong urge to cry out—and I began to shout for help. I became quite bold.

There were times I cried in no recognizable language. There were times I cried and was not even cognizant of doing so.

He sent help. He sent aid. He allowed me room to turn and pivot so I could leave that ledge I had been teetering on.

Funny thing, I was given not what I thought I wanted, but what I actually needed.

Like the man at the Gate Beautiful, I had to learn to ask for what I needed. I had to learn to look up. And I had to be willing to let go of everything I thought I knew, and allow him to pull me to my weak feet.

It took me a while to learn to walk again. I had to be very careful not to favor the weak parts of me. I had to take a risk and stand and put weight on my atrophied limbs.

I didn’t stop being a beggar immediately. Unlike my friend with Peter and John, my healing wasn’t immediate and sudden. Bones are often easily mended with time, rest, and good medical attention. I have dealt with broken bones.

Broken perspectives and warped attitudes are not as easily or quickly mended.

When I did begin to cry out I did not understand how much my life was going to change. When I began to shout from my beggar’s pallet I had no idea how much or how drastically my life was going to transform.

God didn’t give me what I expected. He didn’t give me the temporary token offering for a beggar.

He pulled me to my feet and made me walk.

And it hurt.

But he helped me to keep walking and now there’s tone in my muscles again.

I rarely sit on those stony steps any more. Sometimes I catch myself easing myself down there...

but (remember the Divine Conjunction?)

For all of you who are reading my words, I want you to know I have discarded my beggar’s rags. My face and hands have been washed and my hair has been combed.

These days you can find me dancing on the edge of beautiful

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sap

Today I wrote in the last two pages of my 2008 journal. I meant to finish it before the new year began, but I kept getting side-tracked. Or rather my writing found voice in other venues: blogs, emails, cards, and notes.

When I pulled this journal out this morning I realized several pages have been torn out—simply because this journal was handy and someone needed a piece of paper. This bothered me. I wondered what would have been written on those pages had they remained. I stopped wondering and simply wrote on the pages that remained.


Winter is here. We are in its clutch. The temperatures have dropped to single digits. There is a light crust of powdery snow skiffed on our sidewalk. The house is dry. The furnace grumbles and heaves as it attempts to keep out the cold. The dogs don’t want to stay outside very long. Zoe-girl comes to the back door barking insistently to come back in the house. Coats, hats, scarves, gloves and boots litter the house. Dark circles of moisture puddle at the front door.

Recently my daughter posted her own thoughts about winter. We both struggle.

We are in winter. Light is low; the brilliance is dimmed and shrouded. And it is only mid-January.

January and February are hard months for me. The holidays are over and the bitterness of winter has settled down among us. I find it is very hard to keep the creeping shadows at bay.

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant man. The connections and insights and wisdom in his writing were extraordinary—birthed from a mind leaning in toward the things of God. I often think about Narnia: forever winter, but never Christmas. This is a stark portrayal of the absence of hope.

Lewis recognized what happens to us when our hope has been reduced or depleted.

We cannot live long or well without hope. We are too frail. Too fragile. Too brittle.

Many equate hope with a wistful dream. Misty and ethereal. Vaporous. This kind of hope is like a fog that dissipates when the sun rises; or like a child’s soap bubble that bursts with the slightest touch. We speak of this hope as if it is an entity which will easily vanish and melt away if we are not careful.

But real hope, the hope Job, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul and John talk about has a different substance. They are not talking of pensive longing. Their hope was not a flimsy thing. Their hope had its foundation firmly knotted in the character and promises of God. It was not a thread, but a rope tied to the waist of God.

There is an assurance in their hope—not just a hopeful longing—but a reality that is just not visible yet. Their ropes had been tested. They knew that if their rope did break then the arm of God would reach down for them. And his arm is never too short.

This winter is a little different for me. I still feel the shroud of its dark shadows. I still struggle with the lack of brilliant light. And the gray still bothers me, but this year there is a new hope.

I can feel this ancient hope—like a sugar maple must feel the sap as it begins to rise through its trunks and branches.

I feel the sap being held in reserve at the core of me.

And when the right temperatures come, when we get a short reprieve from the relentless cold—a glimpse of spring—and then it turns cold again, this is when the sap will run.

We don’t see this sap unless we tap into the tree. Unless we bore a hole into the bark, it is invisible to us.

I know it will not be forever winter.

I have tied my hope to the waist of God.

I feel the sap.

Monday, January 12, 2009

No Surprises

For Christmas my oldest daughter bought me a new journal. She usually does.

Perhaps it is because she knows I need a place to record (in my own handwriting) what is going on inside me. Perhaps it is because she understands my need for the texture and the tangible quality of paper. Perhaps it is because she knows I like books and in giving me a journal she helps me to create one of my own.

I don’t have to tell her what kind. She knows. She has paid close attention through the years. Black, spiral- bound with college-ruled sheets.

Close to Christmas she called me from the bookstore and asked if I wanted a large or small journal this year. (I usually get a small one). We laughed and talked about Christmas not having any surprises—this would be the year of knowing what you were getting; the year of knowing what was going to be inside the box.

I knew I was getting a journal from her, so I didn’t purchase one. I waited. And sure enough on Christmas morning I opened her package and found my large, black, spiral-bound, college-ruled journal. I said thank you and then put it away until I would need it. (I had to finish the last few pages of the other one first).

My daughter said no surprises.

But she fooled me.

She didn’t tell me that there was something else.

Last week I was thinking about the new year that was before me. I don’t make resolutions anymore. I don’t make promises, but I do keep a journal. So, I went to get my new journal because I wanted to feel the weight, length, and width of its pages.

Then I found my surprise.

When I opened the cover the first page was not white, not blank, and not empty.

My daughter had written on the first page—in blue ink was a paragraph inscribed in her sweet, distinctive handwriting. I stood poised in front of the window for light, and I read her words.

Suddenly the Christmas that was to have no surprises had one of the greatest ones of all. Her note to me was one of the best gifts I have ever received.

I was alone, but (to no one’s surprise) I cried.

Her words set the tone for my new year.

Because of my daughter’s invocation and benediction this blank new year was now infused with hope.

She didn’t know this was what she was offering to me.

Or did she?(She is incredibly wise.)

In a few days I will start using this journal. I will fill it with words, illustrations, quotes, verses and whatever else moves my being. I don’t know how long it will last. Could be a month, could be six months; I don’t know. Never do.

But I do know that I will often return to her note for me. I will reread it and savor every word.

She said it was a Christmas with no surprises.

She was wrong.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Two Men and a Baby

" ... learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart..." (Matthew 11:29)

Recently I was privy to something rare and lovely.

We had friends over for dinner, and they brought their children. It was their son's first birthday, and we had a mini birthday party for him.

I loved the company of our friends: rich, encouraging, funny. But it was the interaction between the two men and the baby that captured and held my attention.

Mama was holding Lee in front of her on the kitchen table. His little legs were bowed and pointed toward the center facing the rest of us. All attention was on this little boy. Four adults (and all the others who found their way in or through the kitchen) were watching him.

But he was guileless.

Even with all the attention focused on him he remained innocent and unaffected.

Lee was simply delighted that he was making us happy. He would stretch out his little arms and then shake them in utter delight. Chortling and laughing in precious belly giggles. He would reach for the men at the table and crawl into their arms. He would investigate their mouths, eyes, and glasses. And he would give them enormous open-mouthed kisses.

At one point his Mama broke up a chocolate chip cookie and put the pieces in front of him. One by one the pieces disappeared into his tiny, cherub mouth. Several times he turned so he could better see who he was with, and then he would settle back against their chest. His little face was just alight with joy. He would clap for himself, and then look to see if his antics made us laugh. If they did, then he would do it again. So pleased was he, so delighted.

Interestingly enough, the men were unaware they were being watched also. They played with our little boy with unabashed enthusiasm. Silly noises and facial expressions and all. And to Lee's utter delight they would mimic him.

Both men at the table were giants (in more ways than one). And yet the gentleness and tenderness they lavished on this little boy was something to behold. I watched our little birthday boy, but I watched the men even more. His Daddy would look him right in the face and exclaim, " I love you, Lee."

Lee understood. It was quite apparent he had been told this many times before.

I understood.


In Baby Lee I saw why Jesus told us to be like little children.

Guilelessness and innocence are not prevalent in our society.Instead we are taught the craft of scheming and manipulation. And our innocence is robbed or hastily given very early. Sophistication is pursued and naivete is shunned.

In the giant men I saw why Jesus said learn from him.

Gentleness and tenderness are not valuable commodities in our society. Not in women, but especially not in men. These attributes are viewed as weaknesses--hammer blows to the masculine identity. Incongruent with the definition of a man's man. These traits are not desired and certainly not cultivated or encouraged. Often they are discouraged and the slightest growth of either is quickly uprooted.

Yet, Jesus was both.

He was so often tender with those he encountered: the Widow of Nain, the woman caught in adultery, Jarius and his daughter, with the children brought to him for blessing, the demoniacs, Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala.

But Jesus did not apologize, excuse, hide or justify his behavior.

Jesus was a strong, gentle man. True gentleness and real tenderness have tensile strength.

Jesus was guileless and innocent, and he was very much a powerful man. (Think about Baby Lee. He ruled the kitchen that night.)

For many these traits seem to be oxymorons. How very sad.

The Men and the Baby were both emulating Jesus.

We should take notes.