Monday, March 20, 2017

Hospitality - What It Is, What It's Not


My friend Nancy’s coming to visit. She’s been my friend forever.  

But I don’t see her often.

 When she comes over, I want to honor her with a picked-up house.

“Guys’ c’mon. Clean this stuff up,” I say. We’re running like mad and the day’s stacked hard. Appointments. Commitment. Now just ten minutes before we fly out to the dentist. And Nan will be here when we return.

Two little guys scramble. They go to their knees and pluck small cars from the rug. They chase strays that have landed, tires up, under the wing chairs. They try. But there are miles of Hot Wheels track, running in loops and tangles under the dining room table. Twining into the walk-through closet and back out. Pushing into the back hall. A T-Rex jump ramp, jaws gaping, is clamped on the back of one dining chair, and an angled, three-lane drag strip is the new focal point of the living room.

I breathe deep and shove orange track into a plastic tote,but it’s time to go. I whisk the children away from the mess. Defeat presses hard as I walk out the door.

If I’m honest, it’s not about honoring my friend. 
                                                                                                                         
If I’m honest, it’s about me.

 I want to show that I can do it all and that I can do it all well. But today I’ve fallen short.

 Wild-mess short.

An hour later we return. We’re just in the house, just in the middle of the muck, when Nan arrives. She comes in and the boys rush to her arms. Or friend greets each one. Takes time to look into their eyes and rumple their hair. I hug Nan and her arms wrap around me, too.

Then she pulls away and does the loveliest thing.

She looks at the track. The cars. The mess. The dinosaur clinging to furniture with grey, jagged teeth. And she smiles. She walks into the thick of it and she gets to her knees.

“You boys have been busy,” she says. “It's wonderful. Show me what you’ve built.”

And two boys cluster our friend. They take her by the hand and pull her into their world. She follows. She listens to their voices and to their hearts. She takes a car and sends it down the track.

And I stand in the wonder of it all.

Where I see my own inabilities and shortcomings, Nan sees gifts and talents. Where I see a mess, she sees a way to engage my boys.

And I think about hospitality.

Isn’t this what true hospitality is? Sharing what we have. Who we are? Stretching out and letting someone in? Really in? When opening my home and my heart, if I'm brave enough to take the focus off of myself, there’s so much to give.

And receive.

Like Nan’s wisdom and grace. And little- boy goodness manifested in a wild tangle of track. Or my friend and my sons bonding deep. It’s a gentle flow of love. My family giving what we really are, vulnerable offering that reflects the trueness of life, and Nan receiving with joy.

Hospitality.                                        

Poured straight out.

It's a blessing to all.

Lord, help me to offer from-the-heart hospitality...thank you for opportunities to open our home...


Monday, January 23, 2017

That Kind of Boy - A Prayer for Our Children

I handed Gabe a hundred number chart. He was learning about odd and even numbers.

“Now take the marker,” I said. “And color the evens yellow.”

Gabe colored the numbers two, four, and six. Then he colored seven and eight and nine.

“Oops, Gabriel. You colored seven and nine. They’re odd numbers. Let’s count together by twos, even numbers.”

But Gabe wouldn’t count. His face colored deep crimson. His shoulders curled and his head dropped forward. Then he started to cry.

“Oh, Gabriel,” I said. “It’s no big deal. We’ll color over the yellow with blue. The odd numbers can be blue.”

More sobs.

I rubbed his little back. “Everyone makes mistakes, Gabe. Everyone.”

Gabe lifted his head and looked me straight in the eye.

“Well,” he said. “ I am not that kind of boy.”

Gabriel’s reaction was typical. He doesn’t like to make mistakes. He gets embarrassed easily. It’s hard for him to be wrong, and when he is, he’s hard on himself. Too hard.

In some ways, it’s tough for me to understand. Lonny and I have always encouraged our boys. We want them to learn and grow. To try new things. We know, expect, that there will be mistakes. And we're honest and open about our own. This is how we learn! Look at Peter. He made mistakes. Blurting words. Swiping the ear from a soldier. But Jesus taught through these mistakes – revealed Himself, His character, and His purpose through these blunders.

So this will be my prayer for my little son. That he would always want to do what is right, but he’ll learn from the times when he’s not. That he’ll have a teachable spirit, and that that He would always know that God is close. That he won’t hold on to his mistakes, because the Lord won’t do that. And that he'll walk in grace and always, always remember how much God loves him.

I know, that in time, Gabe will learn to see the value in his mistakes. That he’ll learn to rest in God’s good grace.

I know he has it in him.

To be that kind of boy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Tale of Two Tables and Seeing the Best in My Spouse

Hello Friends,

I wrote this a few years ago, but I'm grateful for the reminder today.

Thank you for being here. I'm glad that you are.

Lovingly,

Shawnelle

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I'm driving past a garage sale. There's a table, front and center, on the lawn. It's a dinette. Two chairs. Octagon. Glass top.

I'm tugged back twenty-some years.

It's exactly like the first table Lonny and I shared in our just-married home.

I'd saved money and purchased the table at the mall. I bought cushions for the chairs and a basket of wooden fruit for the top. We pressed it into our apartment kitchen between the dryer and the defrost-it-yourself fridge.

I'd like to say that we loved that table. But truth is, not so much. The trouble was the glass top. It showed every smudge. Every smear. Every fingerprint. Every crumb. Every undesirable, tainting thing was displayed. And no matter now many times I wiped it down, the darn thing never was clean.

Sort of like the way Lonny and I treated one another all those years ago.

We had smudges. Spots. Stains. But instead of giving a little grace, learning to live with a smudged person, focusing on the goodness rather than the shortcomings, we exposed each other's flaws. Brought attention to them. Displayed them. Just like that darn old table from Montgomery Ward.

The result wasn't good.

We didn't share many romantic dinners around that table.

I drive along, still thinking. My mind moves forward, and now I consider the table that's in our dining room today. It's a family table. Mission style. Oak with a deep cherry stain.

It has imperfections, too. There's an orange ring in the center where a a dried gourd jack-o-lantern met a toppled, too-full glass. Water stretched and pooled and stained the wood under Jack's pointy-tooth smile. There are Sharpie marker streaks from wild craft projects. A tantrum-throwing toddler jabbed the surface with the curved tines of his fork and pressed dotted frowns in the wood.

The table's a mess.

But the rich, deep color helps to absorb the flaws and we don't really see them at all.

We choose to see the goodness.

The table is a gathering place. We come together, hold hands, and thank the Lord. We laugh. We cry. We share and sing and argue and pout. We live life around that table, and though it's far from perfect, we choose to see the good.

Like the way Lonny and I try to honor one another in our marriage.

I still have my smudges. He still has his flaws. But somewhere in this life we share, we've developed the heart-desire to look past, to let go, to see the goodness, and celebrate the gifts. It took wise counsel, deliberate effort, and hearts that were willing to shift the focus off of one another's flaws and to see our own. It meant choosing to make Jesus the center. We're still learning and we don't always get it right. Some days are better that others. Some days it's just plain hard work. Some days we fall and fail.  But in a lot of ways, this practice has been binding. Together we strive for love and grace.

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." John 15:12 ESV

When my eyes are on my husband's shortcomings, there's separation. When I'm willing to examine my own shortcomings and see God's love, there's connection. It's the give-and-take of grace.


I finish my errands and point the van toward home. Soon I pull into the drive and take my place on the left. Lonny pulls up alongside and takes his place on the right.


It's almost dinnertime.

I smile at the man in the Suburban and he waves and smiles back.

Time to gather round the grace-table.

Together we've arrived.

Thank you, Lord, for the ways in which you've grown my marriage...Amen.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Who I Am in Christ

"Okay, Mom, see you later!" Zay says.

There's a swift kiss, a smile, and he's headed for the door with our friends. Isaiah and his buddy are wearing matching Chewbacca Christmas-gift pajamas. It's January-cold and a pj play date is the perfect thing.

They make Wookie sounds as they go. They wear faux-fur hoods. Their smiles are galaxy-wide and they are beautifully, completely comfortable being exactly who they are.

Little boys.


In a world that pushes our children to grow too fast, this delights me.

It also brings introspection. Am I as comfortable in being who I am? Do I embrace and walk with confidence in the reality of my identity in Christ?

The questions hit my heart because a friend and I recently had coffee and conversation. The kind where mugs are filled over and over because we go soul-deep. We spoke of our similar spiritual struggle - being tethered to the old-self by cords of insecurity and fear. Maybe it's past circumstance. Maybe it's old scars that want to bleed fresh. Maybe it's habit. Whatever the reason, there is a call to take every fearful, thought-of-unworthiness to the obedience of Christ.

And there's the opportunity to see myself the way that God sees me.

Because I'm a follower of Jesus, I have a new identity. Because He's the lover of my soul, His righteousness has set me free.

It's mercy. It's the heartbeat of grace.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV

Embracing this truth stirs gratitude. It brings the sweetest form of joy. The embrace is the chain-breaker that brings freedom from fear.

I can let go of shame.

I can be defined by grace and not guilt.

I can walk, with confidence, into the life and calling and circumstances that He brings.

The Wookies leave, and as the door slams and quiet swells, I give this truth some thought...

My friend and I - we'll encourage one another to claim our new identities. We'll pray for one another to live and breathe the gift of grace. We'll look at one another, straight on, and remind each other of exactly who we are.

And with time and growth, we'll wear the confidence and strength of grace and as comfortably as our own skin. Like little boys who wear Star Wars pajamas, play all day, and live with easy-powerful acceptance in being just who they are supposed to be.

They are little boys.

And we are women who, because of Jesus, walk in righteousness and grace.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Blessing of the Small Moments

“Let’s take the convertible for a ride,” Lonny says. “Top down.” We’re elbow deep in dishes because the dishwasher is out-of-order and the fix will have to wait for funds.

“Really?” I ask. “It’s winter.”

“I know,” he says. “Let’s go.”

I look at the mess in the kitchen and then at the sun streaming through the windows. It’s an unusual sixty-five degrees. I know I should be tending to the house, laundry, and chores, but I can’t resist the longing in Lonny’s eyes. I grab my jacket and we head for the garage.

 Isaiah and Gabriel are playing hockey on the drive. “Hey guys,” I say.  “We’re going for a ride. Top down. Want to come?”

“Top down?” they ask.

I nod and they rush to rest their sticks against the garage. Soon we’re buckled in, riding along the Mississippi, warm wind on our faces.

“Having fun?” Lonny asks. “The boys are.”

I look behind me and my small sons’ arms are waving in the air. Their mouths open wide and they’re singing. Loud. Together. Even with the wind in my ears, it’s a lovely sound. I look at my husband and his grin comes from his heart.

Thank you, Jesus.

In this moment, I’m filled. Filled with joy. Filled with peace. Filled with hope because the Lord is near. What-if worry is banished. Fear for the future flees. There’s no room. In this moment there’s the here and now and I’m thankful to the Lord for the beauty of this blessing and for the instruction He gave me to live this way.

When I’m willing to live in the moment, to live day by day, life can be so sweet.

We ride  for much of the afternoon and end up in a small town up the river. We stop when the sun dips low and the air grows cool. Main street sings of vintage charm in this sweet village, and soon we're out, admiring festive window displays. We walk slowly, unrushed, but I stop still when a sign in a shop window catches my attention.



Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but my the number of moments that take our breath away.

I’m blessed by the truth of it. I’ve lived this today. Standing here, several boys by my side and Lonny holding tight to my hand, my heart's desire is affirmed.

This year, I will live moment by moment. Day by day.

I want to live and breathe and appreciate what the Lord brings.

I will not let worry steal or fear destroy.

I move closer to the glass and suddenly I see my own reflection. My men gather around. I see us there, standing on the sidewalk, as we do in life. We're side-by-side together.

Oh, the big blessings of small moments...

Lord, let me be wise enough to see.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. Matthew 6:34 (MSG)


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WRITING NEWS:

I'm humbled and thankful to have contributed to Daily Guideposts 2016, and I'm excited to share that my son Logan contributed too - his devotion debut! It's a beautiful book. The theme for the 2016 devotional is "Abide in Me". What a precious thing, to read of the real-life, heart-deep,  meaningful moments of others and to let them help me abide daily in God's love.

 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Zuzu's House, Trust, and Keepin' Out the Cold

A friend, over Christmas break, said something that made me smile.

"I think you live in Zuzu's house."

Zuzu. George Bailey's Zuzu. From one of our favorite movies, It's A Wonderful Life (it's a wonder we don't all have pneumonia). I sat in our living room and laughed. Then I reached for another throw.

I think my friend is right. Our house is like Zuzu's house. It's rambling. Old. Drafty. We can feel the winter wind whoosh and whisper over the floorboards.

And today seems especially cold.

The air is damp. Temperatures are low, and I think it's time to reach for the big defense: electric blankets. So I pull the stepladder from the basement and haul it to my bedroom closet because the blankets are stored high. I'm excited to retrieve six bundles and wrap them around six beds. I'll be glad to know that at night, when it's even colder because it's dark, my family will be warm.

If only it could be this easy to press out all kinds of cold, I think as I stretch on my toes and wriggle my fingers toward the soft bundles.

It's not something that's desirable to admit, but if I'm completely honest, I often a struggle with worry. I worry for my children. I worry for their futures and circumstances. I worry for my own future when they are not here. And then there's the dark place of fear. I slip there easily, even though it's nowhere I'd like to be. I don't want to exist in these cold places. But circumstances, unwelcome and unchosen, seem to create an opening and I let the cold seep right in.

But what if  challenging circumstances bring opportunity to find peace and comfort in the Lord?

It's something that I think about as I toss blankets until there's a sea of softness on the ground. I turn the thought over and over while carry armloads of blankets up the steep, curved steps. I ponder while I and unmake and remake a half-dozen beds.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 NIV


Trust.

This has to be the way.

During the times in my life when I've chosen to trust more and fear less, the sharp sting of fear diminished. It lost power.

When my response to worry becomes an opportunity to trust, the cold is kept away.

And this becomes my prayer.

Lord, it's a new year. A time for refreshment and new beginnings.  Help me to remember how turn from worry and to trust in You.

When evening comes and dark winter wraps around us, I find peace in knowing that my family is cocooned. As they sleep, they're wrapped in warmth. But even as I sit and listen to the strong howl of the wind, there's something else, too. A different kind of peace that's filling. Settling. Comforting. A peace that passes understanding and becomes salve to my soul.

I agree with my friend. This old house is like Zuzu's.

But I'm learning to trust.

And trust keeps out the cold.














Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Some Enchanted Evening (Not) And One Blessing After Another

This one is from a few years ago...but this sweet memory reminds to today that there is blessing all around...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours...

Lovingly,

Shawnelle

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"Better get going," I say. "Time's tickin'."

Lonny looks at me and smiles. He's taking the boys to spend the night with grandparents. Then he and I are having a date.

"Love you, Mama," Zay says. He hugs me hard and pushes through the porch door with two backpacks and Mine-O-Mine, his special blanket.

Grant will drive over after work, but Gabe and Samuel go with Lonny now. There are hugs and I'll miss yous. There are kisses thrown over shoulders. There are waves. There are see-you-in-the-mornings and don't-forget-to-prays and an Oops! I forgot my toothbrush.

At last they're loaded and I walk outside and stand by the fence as the van moves down our drive. It's vehicle full of precious. I wrap my hands around wrought iron and whisper a prayer for their safety. For their grandparents.

I love these boys like wild.

But I'm excited to see them go.

I trudge through gold leaves (they'll just have to wait) and head back into the house. Lonny will be back in an hour.

There's just enough time to get ready.

Just enough time to fall flat with the flu.

It hits hard and fast and anything romantic is gone before Lonny returns. But when he gets home, he loves me with that caregiver kind of love. He rubs my back. He holds me close. He loves me well when I'm well past lovely.


And the next afternoon he returns for the boys.

They come in a burst of excitement and life and I'm still camped on the couch. They've heard that I've been sick and they come full force.

Grant bends low and wraps his arms around me. Zay rushes in with a cupcake saved from lunch. Samuel asks if I'd like some music. He finds his guitar and the room is filled with song. Gabe comes last. He's snipped the final pink rose from the bush by the walk. It's floating in a drinking glass. He walks slowly. Eyes on the glass. Eyes on me.

I settle into my blankets. The aches aren't so bad because the room has grown so full.

Lonny walks in. He's got an armload. There are backpacks and blankets and pillows and more.

The boys are home. Things hadn't gone as planned.

But there's an enchanted evening after all.


From the fullness of His grace we all receive one blessing after another. John 1:16