Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Fellowship

The beginning of 2009 brought a beautiful, fat little baby. And the end of the year brought an unexpected gift as well. A pink-slip for my dad propelled me into the prison with an assignment under my arm. I wanted someone to conduct a writer’s workshop collecting the stories, the snapshots, that capture the essences, that suggest connection, that demand respect for all artists. No one volunteered to carry the torch I had lit in earnest haste. So I signed up, knowing I was rusty, if not ill-prepared. I was forced to start searching for my own pen and paper, lost under diapers, grocery lists, play dough and dirty socks. I rummaged around, moving piles of excuses and crayons until I found a small story. I wrote it down, fast and honest. And it spoke to me. And told me it had friends I should meet. And next thing I knew the children were hungry and unkempt, but I was seeing them new. And they were beautiful. And soon I realized I was waking up each morning looking for the story instead of looking for the door.

I nervously carried my little heart spilled on parchment to the first class. I knew I didn’t know much, but my years going nose-to-nose with angry football coaches taught me one solid trick- ‘fake it ‘til you make it, baby”. My dad did little to allay my fears. “You can come in today. If it works, then we can talk about tomorrow. We will have to see how the guys respond.” Thanks. I feel much better. I didn’t know what to expect, and still it was unexpected. There was hospitality and finger snapping and fellowship. We all read. I was moved by the stories shared. They burned beautiful designs on my brain and I mulled them over for weeks.

I returned home to all the chores I hadn’t been doing now that I had become a writer. There was always something. But there was also stories. Waiting. Some patiently. Some not. And I knew I couldn’t show up empty handed in December. So I sat down to do the work of writing. For history. For clarity. For the fellowship.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Sis and I hosted a table at the annual Victorian Tea on Saturday. There were friends, and beautiful hand-me-down teacups, fresh flowers and some of Grandma’s clip-on earrings that perfectly set off the shiner under Sis’ left eye. As an almost five-year-old, the day was a dream come true of fanciness and time away from the siblings.

I had been asked to speak briefly on the topic of heritage and faith, and floated to the microphone with frosting and mid-afternoon caffeine underfoot. I shared about the heritage of faith poured into my soul by different people through their wise and timely words. And so I have been thinking about words. And how I use mine. And what I say. Particularly when I am talking to the children. Particularly when I am tired and angry.

Last Thursday Mister’s preschool teacher met me at the door with an excellent example of his emerging literacy. There were clearly formed letters at the top of the page and more at the bottom. The middle was a tangle of thoughts expressed through spirals and dots. As he worked he had told his teacher, “This is a letter of apology for my mom. She is very, very angry with me.”

I want to use my words wisely. Sparingly. Season them with scripture and sweeten them with grace. I also want to speak truthfully. Because what we say is important. And speaking out of turn can land us right in the middle of good, juicy gossip. As we were leaving for tea on Saturday, Mister was making plans with his dad to take a trailer load of yard waste to the dump. There is a tow hitch on the van for such a purpose. Mister calls it a ‘hooker’, clearly and accurately describing its purpose. So, as we were walking out the door I heard him say, “While the girls are at tea, Dad and I are going to drive the hooker van.”

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sorting Spiders

Like most people, arachnids do not make my heart go pitter-patter. Maybe thump-thump. However, I did not want my children running around flailing their arms and climbing onto chairs every time an eight-legged friend crossed their path. To that end, I have attempted to temper my own distaste for spiders, or at least hide it in the same way that I have my juvenile aversion to fresh tomatoes. I calmly and maturely read Be Nice To Spiders repeatedly in my best teacher voice. I point out beautiful spider webs both in the yard and in our basement, otherwise known as Spideropolis.

Mister, who is generally cautious, takes no issue with smashing spiders with his bare hands. Sometimes I discourage him from harming some of God’s beautiful creation. Other times I just look the other way and secretly feel thankful that he gets the job done. Sis has noticed the discrepancy. Yesterday she told Peanut, who was in hot pursuit of a creepy crawly that looked edible, “Little baby, some spiders we like and some we smash.”

That was the end of her explanation. And I paused to consider the lack of rules for which spiders get to stay. Is it an issue of size? Or general leg length? Color? Maybe it is really a matter of capacity. Somehow, as manager of the home, I know when too many spiders are underfoot. Or maybe it has to do with which room we find them in. Or how fast they move. Or how near they are to our beds.

And I think of the other topics of my life for which I have established fluid boundaries. Sometimes those loosey-goosey edges work just fine. But for some more serious issues, it is time I heeded the instructions for building clearly explained by Jesus himself. As the children sing: “The wise man built his house upon the rock. The wise man built his house upon the rock. The wise man built his house upon the rock and the rains came tumbling down . . . but the house on the rock stood firm.”

Just yesterday I woke to the discouraging reality that I do not have what it takes to live in the grey and hope to emerge unscathed. I cannot tour a chocolate factory and not eat chocolate. I cannot walk through the mall and not want new jeans. I cannot spend an afternoon in the sun without sunscreen and not get burned. I need real boundaries. Ones that are drawn up far from the precipice. And so I pray. For the will to build strong walls on the sturdy foundation of Christ and the desire to live safely inside them.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

Monday, April 12, 2010

Twin Strawberries

This weekend I met up with some friends for a running relay. Each person ran twice for a total of sixty or so miles through scenic trails. I was ready for some time alone to enjoy fresh air, pray and use my muscles. Earlier in the week I had come across a psalm celebrating the freedom found in following God’s path. I was ready to have the available brain space to let the words sink in.

My first leg was 6.2 miles. The initial stretch was a steady incline through the trees and the rest was a gradual decent on wide, smooth dirt. I had intended to run at a pace that I would be comfortable with but found myself out of sorts as I was continually passed by other runners. And they weren’t just the scrawny cross-country kids you see hunching around with bags of Doritos at the starting line. The people passing me were mostly women my age or older. Some much older. Some much, much older. Needless to say, what tattered scrap of ego, left around from years in college athletics, found its way into the bloodstream and I lengthened my stride. I continued to get passed, and found myself distracted by vain folly.

Somewhere in mile five, as I was shuffling down the road, for reasons still unknown to me, I tripped, rolling my ankle and catching my downhill momentum on my knee and two palms. No multi-stage stumble; the kind where an outside chance remains that the person may right themselves. No. I just fell. And I fell fast. Without any grace. For half a second I stared at the dirt in front of my nose, quickly scrambled to my feet and looked around for witnesses. Then I started running again. Slowly at first. A few pity sniffles escaped. Then I worked my way back up to speed and eventually finished.

This afternoon I rolled up my pant leg to show the big kids the twin strawberries on my left knee. They inspected with sympathy and admiration. Falling is regular fare in their world. But Mister had questions.
“Did the other girls fall?”
“Did you have to get up and keep going?”
“Were you looking backwards with your head and not looking where you were going?”

No, the other girls didn’t fall. Yes, I did have to get up and keep going. No, I was not looking backwards. But I fell all the same. Sometimes that is just how it goes. But we get up. Check for damage. Have a little cry. And get back to the business for which God has made us. Still running. Still on the path. With hearts set free, even if our knees are bloody.

“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

Friday, April 9, 2010

Holding Hands

We like holding hands. We hold hands to cross the parking lot. We hold hands to make it down steep stretches of grass at the park. The big kids sometimes have to hold hands and sit on the couch when they have been fighting. Holding hands allows two grown-ups to swing a preschooler down the sidewalk.

On Sunday I saw someone I know to be healing from a long divorce holding hands with another someone I did not recognize. Their hands betrayed a budding romance. I casually passed, but smiled a deep smile at their backs and whispered a blessing. Holding hands is significant.

Some family friends recently and suddenly lost their mom. I was powerless to bring real comfort. The only thing I could do was pray. And so I did. I prayed over a vision of their family scooped up in God’s great hands and held close to his beating heart. And every time I thought of them, I pictured them there. Safe and warm. Free to grieve and heal and remember.

In times like those we wonder. If God is real. If he is good. If he remembers us. And since he knows we are feeble and faint he describes his relationship with us in tangible terms we can understand. So the prophet Isaiah says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”

And so we hold hands. With our heavenly father and with each other.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kenny Dewitt

This morning I was brainstorming with some friends about an upcoming event. Ideas were being traded around the room and I was in the event-planning zone. As we stood to go, someone summarized. “I think this and that will work great. My only concern is, can he do it?”

“Kenny Dewitt,” I thought. “Who is that? I don’t remember hearing that name. Is he a person of importance? Will he complain? Why are we concerned about what he thinks?” I thank the fates I didn’t share my confusion and after an embarrassing amount of time passed, I realized my error. Then I wanted to giggle, but that would have involved exposing my ignorance and simplistic sense of humor. So I kept to myself.

Throughout the day I kept coming back to Kenny. And his important theological question. The question that rests at the heart of believers and skeptics alike. Can He do it? Is God big enough? Is he able? When we look around do we see evidence of his hand or we inclined to be embarrassed on his behalf that he over promised and under delivered? Then again, is looking around good practice? Can we see, truly see, with our eyes enough of the cosmic landscape to seat ourselves at judge? These are important questions. Ones that have preoccupied thinkers throughout the ages.

So I do not attempt to answer. But only to say, as I have learned from a friend who is walking a hard road, “God is good.” And he can be trusted.

“You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.” Psalm 119:68

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


My kids watch this video regularly. Very regularly. Or at least they used to watch it. Now when they hear the music they line up against the fireplace in a Pavlovian trance and wait for Haile and Tyson to signal the start of the race. Then they run up and down the hall, wilding swinging their arms, faces set in the seriousness of competition. They smile when Haile smiles. They pat each other on the back. They love it.

And so do I. It is so fun to have an Ethiopian hero ready at the click of a mouse. Haile Gebreselassie, famed Olympian and exceedingly nice guy, has become a part of our household culture and a personification of speed and character. In the hall, at the park, on a walk: it is always the same. “Look at me! I’m Haile!”

Catching his breath and resting his hands on his knees, Mister, always ends a showcase of speed with, “Haile is fast like me.” To add to the fun, Jason and I randomly met Haile at a roadside cafĂ© in the state where my son was born and took a picture to prove it. So, Haile, along with being fast and friendly, has his arm around dad in Mister’s special book. And is part of his story. And another reason to be proud of his beginnings.

Monday, April 5, 2010


My glasses have been missing for a week and a half. I am fairly certain Peanut swiped them and put them in the trashcan for safe keeping. This educated guess is supported by loads of empirical evidence. Like Legos in my desk drawer. Measuring cups in the bathtub. Shoes filled with crayons. And the indisputable fact that I find her howling, her left hand holding down the lid of the trashcan with her right hand trapped inside. Six or seven times a day.

Life without glasses has been fuzzy and frustrating. Headaches arriving before breakfast to stay the day through. I squint. I hold papers close to my nose. I misinterpret information. I avoid the details and fine print. At every turn I am aware of my lack of vision.

And facing my dim reflection I offer a prayer of thanks for the word of God and truth that brings light and clarity. I am grateful for the promise of Christ to offer sight to the blind. I can manage without glasses. But things are not entirely clear. Life with lenses is much, much better. These tired eyes see things new when looking through some proper specs. Just as the edges of my daily life and shadows on the horizon come into focus with the word of God.

“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Psalm 19:8