Graduation

I stumbled into a longboard leaning against the garbage can this morning. I had come in through the side door — from my walk in the sun-drenched morning, into the dark, cluttered garage — and my squinting eyes didn’t adjust to the change quickly enough. I winced as the board nicked my shin, then rolled and tumbled to the floor. Memorable.

May 31, 2014 was also a day to remember.

B-speaking gradIt was a “eyes squinting in the brightness of all that God has done” kind of day. Our first born, completing homeschool high school, coming to the other side of his recent health challenges, standing proudly with his peers in his graduation. Tears flowed and laughter spilled out of big smiles etched by years of growth and trial and error.

Here are my words to him that day… my looking back and remembering.

 

So, Benjamin – as “son of the right hand” – steady, loyal, adept at learning – you and I have invested hours and hours of our brief lives into your education. We’ve sat on the couch and wrestled with phonics – and now you can read whatever you set your mind to – from CS Lewis, to The Economist. We’ve walked through the woods – and now you can tell a cardinal’s cheep cheep from a mourning dove’s coo coo. We’ve worked through long division – and now you can recognize patterns and figure complicated equations. And we’ve waited in hospital rooms for doctor’s answers, answers we haven’t liked and didn’t ask for – and now you know something about suffering and unanswered prayer.

And who could have guessed that one week in the Rocky Mountains learning about Austrian Economics would set you heart on fire and give you a passion through which you will change the world? …well God.

God saw all that you were becoming as I fumbled around with how to teach you history and math. The Father saw the man He is calling you to be and never let go. Even when I begged Him to “let me be done homeschooling,” He loved you and had this work to carry to completion. I know you know you’re not done learning and growing and becoming, that this is just a respite in your journey of embracing all that the Father knows. But this is a moment I will cherish, and be forever grateful that I got to stand here with you.

B and us - Grad

So, maybe my sharing this moment of reflection will encourage you to pause, reflect, and acknowledge all the Lord has done on your behalf. The insignificant moments of everyday stack up, and eventually become weeks, and then years. God is working, and building, and shaping, even when it feels like all we are doing is stumbling around in the darkness.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.     Philippians 2:12-13

Redbuds

My redbud tree is blooming.

Redbud 1It does every year at this time. As the days grow longer, the grass greener, the wind warmer, I see magenta-pink little buds dotting the brittle gray branches. And I’m comforted by the rhythm of seasons.

The dramatic seasonal changes in Indiana have taught me much about living and dying … and coming back to life. Spring, especially, reveals that the grave is not the end.

And bare branches blooming have taught me that no matter how bleak the winter, life stirs just below the surface.

Redbud 2 The change in seasons marches with regularity, like a predictable timepiece — not enough to set a watch by, but surely enough to develop a certain level of expectation. And somehow all the players in nature follow the plan — the robins, the grass, the buds — they all follow the score like a finely-tuned orchestra poised to strike the first note.

Somehow, I’ve also come to expect that when I make plans that seem to line up with what God is doing in and around me, they should unfold predictably — like I expect them to. Evidently, God doesn’t have the same expectation.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. (Is. 40:28)

Until recently, I assumed my plans and dreams were God’s plans and dreams for me — only that God’s were bigger and better (of course) because he has a better perspective. I didn’t think God’s plans for me would include grief and disappointment and darkness. So much winter.

Turns out, God’s plans are completely different than mine. Unsearchable, unquantifiable, unpredictable. Turns out, he’s asking me to know that he is still good even in the middle of night.

Oh redbud tree, teach me to bloom when my bark is stark and stretched from harsh winter freezes. Teach me to respond to the Son even when everything around me is fragile and dormant. And redbud tree, teach me to dance in the music of life rather than become entangled in the cords of death.

You’ve shown me life like that, redbud. You and Jesus. Yes, Jesus has shown me how to live that way, too.

Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. (Heb. 12:2-3)

Redbud 3

I Am From

This entry is long overdue. I wrote it in October, but somehow didn’t see fit to share it in this venue till now. It speaks of my childhood roots, which somehow seem fresher to me right now, since we are preparing to move to another state and say goodbye to a place that’s become dear to us. But those thoughts are for another post…

 

I am from a walnut-stained upright piano and dutiful students playing minuets, and fugues, and concertos, and my mother’s gentle prodding to “do it again; this time with more feeling,” and I sit at the kitchen table, the center of our home, and anticipate every note to be played, those songs etching their way into my memory.

I am from the green stucco house on Janine Drive and creamy white shutters standing sentinel on either side of the picture windows that look out front. A bed of pink geraniums lines the street, and avocado and lemon trees shade the back. Running between the driveways, a boxwood hedge grows thick and entangled. The liquid amber tree my dad planted when we moved in the summer of my 2nd grade year stands straight and tall. I see those limbs, the branches bearing scarlet and orange leaves every fall, and I realize that we grew up together, that tree and me.

1st ChristianI am from Joanie and John, the soprano and bass who found love in the choir Grandfather Gene directed… and from Grandmother Betty who knew they belonged together even before they did. I am from The First Christian Church of Whittier and Thursday night choir practice and Sunday morning donut runs after Sunday school. The backlit cross hanging over the baptistery and the stained-glass windows in the balcony point me to a faith in the One who calls us to His light.

I am from mom’s hugs and dad’s backrubs – strong hands each with a touch all their own – and Rummy Cue played late into the night while camping in the desert. I am from Peazle-Weazel stories and leprechaun hunts in the orange orchard, and “Jesus, tender shepherd hear me” ushering me to sleep every night just like it did for my Daddy. Little sister and I sing along with the Carpenters or Donny and Marie while our record player spins and skips, or harmonize to show-tunes in the back of the station wagon. Melodies and rhythms and rhymes so fill our days and nights, we hardly know a time when we didn’t have a song stuck in our heads.


I am from
ferry rides to Catalina Island and sunburned weeks at Ida Courts Apartments. I am from old quilts blanketing sandy beaches and early morning hikes up the windy roads overlooking Avalon Bay. The tiled fountains, saltwater taffy, red painted paddleboards, fishing off the green pier, and sunset walks out to the Casino all tell me that “family time” is to be savored and that things done over and over again take on a rhythm of their own, shaping us by their repetition.

avalon-beach-catalina

I am from the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and the White Gift Processional – first known to me in Whittier, California, but rooted deep in the patchwork of Europe that speaks of my ancestry. I am from pork chops with applesauce, barbecue chicken with baked potatoes, and enchiladas with guacamole; from chocolate chip cookies, homemade strawberry jam, and frosted sugar cookies at Christmas; from Advent Calendars, Easter baskets, and ice cream cakes for my birthday. I am from hallways lined with family pictures, trinkets filling bookshelves testifying to world travels and curiosity long-lived.

I am from words spoken with passion and truth, and from The Word, who shows me whose I am and how He sees me – which is truer than anything else I know.

The Face of a Friend

Hugging the path

My faithful friends are like an autumn breeze,

With gusts of laughter, buoyant on the wind.

Like rusty red and playful yellow leaves,

Our lives entwine entangled one within.

 

When autumn zephyr blows with forceful wail
And maple shakes and shivers in the blast,
The hustling, bustling, ever-changing gale
Sends foliage flying, fleeing – none outlast.

 

In the grass

But friends of mine do bare a softer stream:

With words they mend and tend to broken heart,

With sighs they stir my memories and my dreams,

With prayers they set unspoken needs apart.

 

Theses kindred souls surround me with their grace,
Unchanging, stand beside me face to face.

Mama’s Dreams

It’s happeningboys' backs
my boys becoming men
brandishing desire and direction different than mine.
Their otherness stares at me
unblinking.

But still, my heart holds dreams
first given by God when each still dwelt in womb safety.
Dreams rooted in the naming –

The son-of-the-right hand
steady, faithful, loyal,
holding fast to the Word of life
and nothing else.

The bearer-of-light
creative, transforming, authentic,
bending to the Light that brings life
to this world.

The strong-and-courageous-one
inviting, open, humble,
taking boldly ground he knows God
has secured.

So even though doubts assail me,
my tongue betrays me,
my fears malign me,
I stand assured –
what God started
He will complete.

Yes, this happening,
this inevitable affair
forces us to face places
new
unfamiliar
but known to the One
Who knows us each by name.

Here I rest.empty road

Tucked away for the future

A writer-friend of mine, challenged me to write a poem entitled, “What I would tell my granddaughter” based on things I know to be true. Well, yes, my granddaughter is still years and years away from making an entrance into my life, but still, I’m hopeful she’ll be here one day.

So, here’s where my thoughts landed.

If I should have a granddaughter… 

I would take her out in the morning early so we could catch the sun rising over the horizon shedding its rays of pinks and purples and yellows.

And I would tell her, “Sweetheart, the sun always comes up in the morning; and even if you can’t see it through the clouds or the haze or the tree-shaped shadows, it’s there ready to offer warmth and a start to a new day unwritten.”

Sand

I would take her on walks along a salty shore lined with shells and seaweed and driftwood; and we would pause to let the waves wash over our toes.  The outgoing water would pull the sand from under our feet and we would sink just a bit each time.

And I would tell her, “Baby, the ocean never stops coming and going, one with the other.  And even though it’s painful sometimes, life is filled with hellos and goodbyes, bringing heartache and healing, tears and tenderness, longing and laughter.”

 

I would take her to city parks crawling with children with different colored skin and hair and eyes, speaking languages strange to her ears.

And I would tell her, “Darlin’, a smile needs no translation and the best way to approach an unfamiliar situation is open-handed rather than close-fisted; and people who aren’t like you are often the best people to help you know you.”

 prayer candles

I would take her to houses of worship where Jesus is known and loved and spoken of; places where the Spirit moves freely and mysteriously, where people have “met their maker” and lived to tell about it.

And I would tell her, “Angel, you have a story to tell, a story worth telling.  It started the moment God thought of the very idea of you and placed you in your momma’s belly, and it’s still unfolding to point people around you, who know you and your story, to the God who lives to redeem.

 

I would take her to a mountaintop covered in sweet smelling firs, where the wind speaks to the trees who whisper back, “He’s here.  He sees.” And we would wait, hand in hand, blood warmth pulsing through our entangled fingers, for the moon to rise and take its place among the stars.

And I would sit with her quietly, knowing that some moments are better left unsaid, untainted by words that fail to bring understanding. And we would mull our thoughts in the cool moonlight.

Getting Through

How strange prayer is.  Sometimes it feels like God is right in the room with me, hearing my heart, leading the way.  Sometimes I feel like God and I are just missing each other — I’m not getting through.

It reminds me of how I felt flying into Rio de Janeiro a few years ago.

RioLuggage

The flight went smoothly enough… until we landed at the airport.  My co-worker, Denise, and I sailed through customs and walked out into a crowd of greeters.  As we scanned the sea of expectant eyes, not one pair looked back at us with recognition.  Our friend, Janie, who had asked us to come to Brazil to train her new music staff, was simply not there.  So, we gathered our luggage and stood in a conspicuous place.  After a half hour of anxious waiting, we decided we needed do something.

So, we prayed.

God you know where Janie is, you know where we are.  Please help us find each other.

Our cell phones were dead, but we found a bank of pay phones.  They looked equipped to take credit cards.  I swiped, but nothing happened.  I swiped again, nothing.  A man using the phone next to me pantomimed that the phone didn’t take credit cards.  We needed to buy a prepaid phone card.  So, after more pantomiming and broken English with a security guard and the women at an airport pharmacy, I finally purchased the critical calling card.  All the while, Denise stood sentry in the airport, on the lookout for Janie.

I had three phone numbers for our friend.  Two cell numbers and a home number.  I tried the first cell number and only received the Brazilian equivalent of the Verizon operator. The second number rang and rang and rang.  No luck.  I tried each number again.  Nothing.  Reluctantly, I dialed the land line, praying for someone to answer the phone, but not wanting it to be Janie.  I knew that she lived at least an hour from the airport.  As the phone rang, I whispered, “She better not be home, she better not be home.”  To my surprise a young woman answered the phone.

“Janie?”

“No. blah, blah” – something in Portuguese.

“Do you know where Janie is?”  I formed each word slowly.

Hesitation. “I – don’t – speak English.”

“Yes, you do.  You just did!”  Finally someone to help me!  “I am Julie.  I’m at the airport.  Do you know where Janie is?”

Pause. “Janie airport.”

“We can’t find her,”  I answered, trying to hide the desperation in my voice.

Silence. “Oh, OK.  I call.  I tell her call you.  Number?”  So I gave her the phone number of the pay phone, praying that she had been taught numbers in the English classes she had obviously taken.

Soon, the pay phone rang and on the other end I heard … Janie.  Contact!  She hadn’t forgotten us.  She wasn’t lost.  She had been waiting in another section of the airport all this time.

Ten minutes later, Janie greeted me with “Hey Julie, baby!”  She and her friend Maita were hugging us and throwing our bags in her car.

JanieMe

It was a rough landing, but finally, we had arrived.

 

See how that’s like prayer?

Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like I’m getting through.  Like I have the wrong number, or I just connect with an automated operator at the other end.  Does God read pantomime?  Do I need a translator?

But really, God sees what I don’t.  He wants me to trust him to work it out in his timing.  I’m learning to do that.  And soon I know I’ll hear, “Hey Julie, baby!  I was here all the time.”

 

…   …   …

I linked this story up with Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory.  This is good stuff!

 

Stimuli

Why does a Orlando-sized cock roach scurrying across the kitchen floor make me quiver and squeal?  Just the sight provokes this typical response… okay, so it’s typical for me.

And why does a cup of piping hot Earl Grey tea with just a spot of milk revive my soul as much as my palette?  It marinates me in memories of savored conversations with friends and family — old and new.

It’s the same with candle-light and Christmas Eve. Lemon-drops and Grandma’s house.  Salt-water taffy and Catalina Island.  Certain stimuli awaken certain responses.

But sometimes I wait for a certain stimulus — and it’s absent. Or sometimes the stimulus is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  Then I need to look beyond what’s typical to what’s true.

Often times, King David found himself in “stimulating” circumstances that defied typical responses.  In the context of Psalm 3, David is being pursued by his son, Absalom.  I’m sure he felt like the whole world had turned against him.  I can’t imagine the sense of betrayal and hopelessness.

David holds out hope, though.  He hears the naysayers: “God will not deliver him.”  He sees the hand of God:  his Shield, the Bestower of glory, the Lifter of his head.

How does David know these things to be true?  How in the world does he recognize God as the One bestowing glory when his eldest runs him out of town like a criminal?  Where’s the glory in hiding in caves, conspiring?

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.   (Ps. 3:5)

For David, it’s simple. He lies down to sleep and then sees the next morning. David’s confidence in the Lord’s ability to deliver stems from this striking observation.  I sleep.  I wake.  The Lord sustains me.  No one else.

I, too, can trust the Lord because of that reality in my life.  Even in the face of uncertain stimuli.

It’s simple… I woke this morning.

Nothing but the hand of God sustained me through the night.  His purpose prevails.  I’m here breathing, thinking, praying.  He must have a hand — The Hand — in that.  No one else.

A simple stimulus and response.  I woke… then God is here.  I made it through the night… then God is in control.  Morning has dawned… then God’s got this… and me.

Words

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.  1 Thessalonians 3:5

I love these words.

direct:  engineer, orchestrate, steer, guide, usher, escort, aim, point out the way.

into:  interested in, steeped in, at home with, in tune with, enamored by.

God’s love: His affection, warmth, adoration, delight, tenderness, affinity, goodness, grace.

Christ’s perseverance:  His steadfastness, persistence, continuance, abiding-ness, patience, stamina, courage, grit, hardiness of spirit, stick-to-it-iveness.

………….

Why does this blessing speak to me today?  This is what I need.  Today.  One step closer to knowing God’s direction for our lives, one step closer to hearing and obeying.

I need to know the Lord engineering and escorting us along the way.

I need to know I’m steeped in, at home in, enamored by, and in tune with the Author of my story.

I need to know God’s warm affection and tender delight as I align myself with Him.

I need the stamina, the abiding presence and the hardiness of the spirit of Christ as I face the fears, questions, and answers that lay ahead of us — even today.

Waiting is not for the faint of heart, not for those who would look to the future and turn back in cowardice.  Waiting takes courage and humility.  Like the irresistible pull of a magnet, it takes stick-to-Jesus-iveness.

May I know that today… May you, too.

 

Because all of us are waiting for something.

 

Why wait?

 

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay in your house today.”  Luke 19:5

I remember waiting for the bus to take me to ballet class.  Mom taught piano lessons after school, and I wanted to dance.  So, even though I was 13 or 14, I took the bus.

Shiny cars zoomed by as I sat on the bench alongside Whittier Blvd.  Every one moved with direction and purpose, the traffic thick with exhaust fumes and rattling mufflers.  I seemed to be the only one waiting.

Of course, if I wanted to catch the bus, I had to get there before it arrived.  The bus driver wouldn’t wait for me.  He didn’t know I would be there.  He would just pass by the spot if the bench was empty.

Waiting for him was the only way to be sure that I’d be there when he got to the bus stop.

So, with bag of toe shoes and leg warmers in hand, eager not to miss him, I’d wait.  And even though everyone else around me hurried by, I knew that to get where I wanted to go, I’d wait.  Waiting wasn’t fun, but dancing was.  The hope of dancing was worth the wait.

How like Zaccheaus.

Zaccheaus knew what he wanted.  He wanted to see who Jesus was.  He was curious. He wanted a glimpse.

But, his height, or lack of it, hindered him.  So he ran ahead to a tree along the road, scrambled up and waited.  He waited for who he knew was coming.  He got way more than he expected.

First, he did get to see Jesus. From his tree branch, he had a clear view over the heads of the crowd. That was all he wanted — curiosity satisfied.  But, then he also got Jesus’ attention.  At that spot, Jesus looked at him and called him by name and invited himself to dinner.

From then on, Zaccheaus needed more than just his curiosity satisfied.  He needed his soul satisfied.  Jesus would turn Zach’s world upside down, inside out, forever changed.

All from waiting alongside the road Jesus was taking.

I want to wait like that… expectant.

Instead impatient because it seems answers are taking too long.  Instead of anxious because I wonder if God remembers us.  Instead of fearful because what Jesus asks of us might be hard.

I want to wait knowing that whatever God has planned for us will be way better than what we’re hoping for, way more than what we expected.

There’s a spot.  A place where Jesus will look at me and call me by name and invite me to feast.  And if I’m not willing to wait, I might miss him when he passes by.

So maybe waiting is less about biding my time and more about positioning myself to see Jesus.

Thanks, Zaccheaus.  I’ll take that.