When a Storm Comes

Tomorrow I'll flip the calendar to face August, the month when typical life starts once again.  That's not to say that life hasn't taken place during July, but rather that life in July isn't typical.  It's not remarkably scheduled or structured; the days blur together in a humid haze. 

The structured life -- life when I face work deadlines and actually know the day and date, as opposed to wondering "Is today Tuesday?  Wednesday?" -- will come soon enough.  But tonight, this last night in July, I simply want to reflect on a recent evening thunderstorm.

The sky grew dark as rain pelted the windows, and then our power flickered.  The girls decided to sleep in the same bed.  We're safer this way, one of them said.  We're together.

The next morning I walked through our yard looking for damage.  I picked up the lawn chairs that had blown into the yard and returned them to their rightful spot on patio.

I thought about the wisdom of my daughter's statement and the comfort gained from their sleeping arrangement.

What do we do when a storm comes?  We gather more closely to those who love us the most, and we ride it out together.

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Analyzing Children's Artwork (and other things you probably shouldn't do)

There are many times when I feel too busy to sit down with my kids at the kitchen table when they color.  They're occupied, I reason, so I should get something -- anything -- done.  I could unload the dishwasher, or run upstairs to fold laundry, or take out the trash, or sweep the kitchen floor.

But today, I sit. Brooke, my middle child, hands me a piece of paper and pushes the markers and stickers across the table.  She wants me to join her and create something.

I make a person who is standing next to disproportionately large flowers and a disproportionately small pine tree.  I don't intend for the person to look like a clown, but he does.  (We all know that clowns are kind of creepy even if they're smiling.  Scratch that.  Especially if they're smiling.)  Still, the picture contains floating hearts, a friendly message, a pebble path, and birds flying in V-formation off in the distance, so I'll hold fast that it's not too scary.

My youngest daughter shows me her drawing when she's done.  "It's a picture of you, Mommy."

You don't say.  (My, what large eyes I have.)

Then she starts working on a new picture.  Tell me more about this one, I prompt.

"Well, that's Brooke," she begins as she points to the figure with blue hair, "and those are two lions chasing her through the back yard."

And I had thought that my clown was scary.

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The Happiest Funeral You'll Ever Attend

On Sunday night, my family and I went to a church service where nearly a dozen people were baptized.  My pastor calls baptisms the happiest funeral you'll ever attend, meaning that the act of baptism indicates a death to a former way of life and, even more importantly, a resurrection to a new life.

Those baptized had varied stories to tell.  A beautiful young woman who had gone through religious motions as a child, attending church but never connecting with God until she was rocked with an eating disorder, brought to the depths, and then found recovery, acceptance, and hope through Christ.  A father, mother, and eleven-year-old daughter who want to be a family that lives for the Lord.  A man who, in his own words, had lived a hard life and done everything wrong, but who had found forgiveness and a fresh start through Jesus.  A ten year old who was ready to step out in faith on her own.

I looked across the room during the service.  The woman sitting beside me who's a brilliant researcher at the university.  The single mother behind me who brings her young daughters every week.  The large family in front who I never can remember exactly how many children they have.  The elderly man who watches from afar.

We all have our own stories about how God has intersected our lives.

My eyes came to rest on one young man.  He looked so familiar, but I couldn't place why.  I nudged my husband who had been thinking the same thing.  In an instant when the man turned his face, it came to us both.  Sixteen years ago when I was 20-years-old, I had briefly interned in a high school eleventh grade English classroom.  He had been one of the students in that class.

It was his eyes I remembered.  You don't forget eyes like his: one part remarkably handsome, another part rock-hard like he'd be the first to throw a punch during a bar fight.

Joel remembered him because years ago they both had shown up at the golf course at the same time and had played a few rounds together. (All things golf-related are uncannily seared in Joel's memory.)

We talked to him after the service.  He briefly filled in the gaps of the past decade and a half.  He, too, had lived hard, spending fourteen months in rehab, but now he was clean, sober, and holding down a good job.  More than that, he was a new man.  He had come to church to see his older brother get baptized, overjoyed that his brother was finding the same freedom he had found in the Lord.

A few days have passed, yet when I think about this night, tears still well up.  What a ragtag group of people.  Young and old.  Wildly errant and straight and narrow.  PhD's and high school drop-outs.  Brand new and well established.  On the surface, it seems like nothing would connect us, yet our lives have all been changed by God.

I think of the stories that were told: stories of brokenness, great personal failure, deep disappointment.  Stories of hard circumstances that were brought on by bad choices or byproducts from the universal challenges of life.  But then in each story there was a turning point, a pivot when the momentum shifted, a but then or an and yet 

But then I heard about Jesus.  And yet God got a hold of me!

God still pursues people.  I know.  I didn't grow up in a Christian home, but I was fifteen when I made a choice to follow Christ.  In the years that have passed, I've watched God continually pursue me, asking me to yield control, to hand him the pieces of broken dreams, to trust him with my abilities, with my children, with my future.  He asks me to believe -- both in thought and action -- that He (the God who died and rose again for me) is capable of handling the affairs of my life, both small and large.

I daresay that if you're reading this, God is pursuing you, too.

There are decisions I have regretted in life.  Following Jesus has never been one of them.  It sounds painful.  Scary, even.  Death to self?  Letting go.  Relinquishing control.  Surrender.

But then God fills the emptiness and heals the broken places.  And yet God turns the greatest weaknesses -- those hang-ups, those bad choices, those moments of which we're most ashamed -- and He turns them into stories of recovery and deliverance and relatability for others who have traveled those roads, too.

But then.  And yet.  These words have come into my life narrative so many times.  They are words that make all the difference.

It's my prayer today that these words will find their way into your life story, too, whatever page you are on right now.

I've never ended a blog post this way, but it's impressed on my heart to share that you can contact me directly with any questions, prayer requests, or thoughts.  Just visit the contact tab up top and shoot me a message.  I'd be most happy to connect with you.

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The Summer of Many Small Travels

Like a patchwork quilt, my summer is expanding before me one small block at a time.  Each has a new pattern and looks different than the last, but when stitched together they seem to be forming one cohesive fabric of summer.

Last Saturday my husband and I traveled to the wedding of two students who had been in our campus ministry.  This one-day block was exceptional on so many levels: the relaxed two and a half hour drive when we talked, uninterrupted, about whatever we wanted, the beautiful ceremony when bride and groom exchanged personalized vows, the joyful flurry of hugs that reunited us with former and current students who've been away for the summer, and some amazing food.  I hardly ever take a picture of what I eat, but I did this day.

There were milkshakes at this wedding, my friends.  Real-deal milkshakes in chilled Mason jars.

It's this simple: more weddings need to do this.

And then there was the dancing.  Let me tell you: when we go to a wedding, we dance.  No holding back, no dignity type of dancing.  It's an unskilled, exuberant form of movement that a wedding photographer just might capture for posterity.  The type of dancing that comes from you slipping the DJ a list of songs.  The type of dancing when you're surrounded by some of the best people for a joyous occasion, and you think to yourself, I am unequivocally happy at this moment.

Hot on the heels of the wedding, we took our children to visit my parents at my childhood home in Pittsburgh, a flurry of two days when we ate pizza, and spent a rainy morning at an amusement park before they shut the park down, and, once the weather cleared, visited a local playground where I had wiled away my summer afternoons as a kid.

Then, there were a few normal days at home, the everyday thread stitching the bigger pieces together.  Mornings running errands, or visiting the library, or taking the girls to the doctors for their well-child visits so they're cleared for the next school year.  Afternoons playing with neighbors in the back yard or spatting with sisters in the family room.  Dinners of grilled barbecue chicken and vegetables.  Evenings when the kids -- the same kids who were so full that they couldn't eat one more bite of grilled zucchini picked from the garden -- ask for ice cream because they're still hungry.

Now, one Saturday morning later, I find myself lounging in my dear friend's guest bedroom three hours from home, the glorious makings of a brief girl-weekend where we'll talk for hours, and eat, and take walks as she shows me her area of the world.  Tomorrow, I'll return home.

Another patch added to this beautiful, eclectic quilt.

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When Someone Else Offers to Host

I've done a good deal of hosting over the years.  Because of my husband's job as a campus minister, a steady stream of college students visit our house on a regular basis.  The largest number of students over for dinner at one time, you wonder?  Over 50.

Let me tell you, that's a lot of pasta.

I know what it's like to trip over dozens of shoes at our front door.  And what it's like to be unable to see your couch underneath an avalanche of cast-off jackets.

I know what it's like to make sure everyone has enough to eat, and what it's like to hug a steady stream of people as they say, "Thanks so much for having us over!"  I know what it's like to sweep remnants of a meal off the floor and wash stacks of dishes once the final guest leaves.

Hosting?  Yes, I'm familiar with hosting.

But last week a young couple in my church asked to host us -- all five of us -- for dinner at their apartment.  They've been married for a little over a year now.  Our three daughters served as their flower girls.  Joel and I probably have had them over our house a dozen times -- summer picnics when they were dating, premarital counseling sessions before their wedding, various dinners throughout the year.

My automatic reaction to the invitation was to flip it.  "Are you sure you want to host us?"  My mental rolodex scrolled through scenarios of my kids spilling drinks, knocking over picture frames, or touching everything in their still-newly-married-non-kid-proof space.  "Would you rather just come over to our place?"

But, no, they insisted on hosting.  So we went.

As soon as I entered their kitchen, I saw the copious spread of picnic food -- hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, grilled asparagus, summer squash, salad, homemade macaroni and cheese.  It was displayed on the serving trays that my friend had received at her bridal shower.

Something happened in my heart at that moment.  A mixture of deep satisfaction (This wonderful couple! They're married! This is their place!) merged with humble acceptance.  They did this for us.  They want to host us.  They get joy from treating us.

I followed my friend on a tour through the apartment, appreciating each decorative touch, noticing the framed picture of her with my youngest daughter at the wedding: my friend gently crouched to extend her bouquet toward Kerrington (then, a fresh three-years-old) who buried her face in its blooms, sniffing deeply.

When we went upstairs, I asked her to show me her closet.  (We've shopped together.  She's uber-fashionable.)  I stood in quiet admiration for a moment before speaking.

"I think I'm living vicariously through your... "  I paused, not entirely sure how to phrase the sentiment welling up inside.

"My youth?" she asked, a smile forming.

No, it wasn't just her youth.  (And, for the record, I told her that I'm nowhere near old.  Not even close.  Sheesh, girl.)  It was the whole glorious package -- the newly-wedded-ness, the first apartment together, the solid amount of framed wedding pictures because they don't have kids to take pictures of yet, the fact that these two wonderful people are their own complete family right now.

It was all so right.

It made me think back to when Joel and I started out, just the two of us.  How grown up I had felt the first time we hosted friends for a meal at our new place.  How we once had sent our friends on a much-needed date night by inviting their four young children to sleep over.  (We had been astounded by how much those kids ate!  And exhausted when they finally had their pajamas on, teeth brushed, and heads on their pillows in their sleeping bags in the other room.  Oh, we were such novices!)

Yes, we had been a young newly married couple without kids once, too.

In case you were wondering, my daughters did spill drinks during dinner.  Two of them.  They touched everything.  I'm also pretty sure they traumatized the cat.

At the end of the night, we hugged our friends and said, "Thanks so much for having us over!"  Once we loaded the girls into the van and pulled away, I imagine that they swept remnants of dinner off their floor and washed stacks of dishes.

I think that their hearts were just as full as ours.

The night showed me that there's dual blessing in friendship. Blessed are those who host.  Blessed are those who are hosted.  It works both ways.

Would we like to come over for dinner?  Why, yes.  Yes we would.

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Three Ways in Which My Husband and I Are Different

Title: Three Ways in Which My Husband and I Are Different

Subtitle: He would buy these giant stuffed animals.  I would not.

All Is Quiet On the Blogging Front

Like water slipping through an open hand, there's something elusive about summer days.  They keep streaming by, one right after another, and then I notice a new row of slashes across my calendar designating that another week of life has been lived.

In light of all this living, I've been quiet on the blogging front this past week.  How have you been, my friends? 

We celebrated the Fourth of July with family and friends by eating, watching fireworks, and arming my children, niece, and nephew with small-scale explosives (all in the name of America, of course.)  It was glorious.

We've savored the evenings when we've sat around our fire pit, happy with our thoughts and conversation, listening to the crackling wood, and periodically swatting at air when the smoke wafts in our direction.  I smile when my husband adds logs to the fire, his pleasure evident, because it supports my belief that there's a bit of a pyromaniac in every man.

The days have rolled by with various activities, too.  I painted a wall in my family room that had been scratched, scuffed, nail-holed, and hand-printed into submission, which felt like a significant victory.  On top of that, I finally began to refinish the end table that I snagged at a garage sale, and I started stenciling a few decorative canvases for the girls' bedrooms.  (I can't wait to show the results when I'm done!)

I've made our weekly trek to the library for summer reading, had friends over for dinner, taught the kid's class at church on Sunday morning, and watched the episode of Brother vs. Brother that I had missed.

Basically, it's been regular, nondescript summer life -- kids in the backyard, dirt trampled on the floor, hair pulled back in a non-committal-ponytail kind of life.

I wouldn't want it any other way.

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The ABC's of Summer

In summers past, I've balked at the idea of planning anything that required much foresight or cleverness.  Heat saps my creativity and gumption, it would seem.

This isn't to say that I don't do anything with my kids during summer, of course.  We do plenty of things besides wallowing in boredom (which, I'd argue, can often be good for kids.)  Days are filled with visits to the pool, impromptu adventures with neighbor kids, playing at the park, trips to the library in the morning, bike rides in the afternoon, chasing lightning bugs in the evening, and popsicles all the time.

This summer marks a first, though, in the sense that we sat down as a family and made a summer bucket list.  Not just any bucket list, either -- an alphabetical summer bucket list where we brainstormed an activity for each letter of the alphabet. 

Certain letters were a breeze.  A stroll through the arboretum (A), a baseball game (B), cooking hot dogs over our fire pit (C), and feeding the ducks at a local pond (D).

We expected other letters to more challenging.  We plan to drive by our town's quarry (Q) which sounds rather lame, but you work with what you've got when you're dealing with Q.  We'll also be performing an undercover mission of cheer (U) where we secretly bless someone (which turns out to be one of my favorite entries on the list), and exploring (X) a new place.

But one letter out of the 26 teased us.  We simply couldn't think of something to do for J.  Everything we brainstormed seemed anticlimactic (Jumping rope?  Eating jelly beans?  Jenga, anyone?), or age inappropriate (joy riding), or illegal (jimmying locked doors.) 

We skipped ahead to the next letters and finished the rest of our list before starting the J brainstorming anew, still unable to settle on an activity.

My husband walked to the cabinet, pulled out the phone book, and flipped to the J's.  He noted that there was an ice cream shop called Jackson's Frosty Freeze in the next town, a scenic 20-minute drive away.  Good enough.  I wrote it down and hung the list on the refrigerator.

After dinner last night, for whatever reason -- the World Cup loss to Belgium, the sudden late afternoon thunderstorm, the new book that made me blink up from its pages at my real life, unsure which reality felt more vivid -- but all five members of our family seemed out of sorts.

I walked to the refrigerator and ran my index finger down the list, stopping on J.  My simple question "Who wants to get ice cream at Jackson's Frosty Freeze?" served as a rallying cry, urging the kids to move more quickly to the car than they'd moved all day.

Twenty minutes later we reached our destination and noticed a slight problem.  They seem to be renovating.

Well then.  Scratch that idea, unless you happen to know a synonym for demolition that starts with J.

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