Thursday, September 29, 2011

Going Deep (Beyond the Bread)

“I really like Mrs. Brown,” Logan said. “She’s kind. And she’s a good friend to you.”

I smiled, lost in the sweetness that my near-man- boy would care about such things as my friendships.

“Whatever you do,” he said. “Don’t bake bread with her.” Then he smiled.

And I knew exactly why.

Logan had been around to witness The Bread Years. When he was smaller, I was younger, and we lived in a dear “gingerbread” home in Iowa, I lost a few friends. More than a few. I’d meet a kindred spirit. We’d share our time and our hearts. Our lives would begin to overlap.

Then we’d wind up in the kitchen.

Baking bread.

And sure enough, after the baking began, the friend would disappear. There would be a job transfer for my friend’s husband. It was best for my friend’s family to move back home. One friend even became a surgical nurse for the United States Air Force.


My friend would vanish into a quiet, lonely whisper, and I’d be left with a tattered heart.

After the sting of The Bread Years, I became a bit guarded. I was weary. And wounded. Why pour, at  gut-level, know-me-and-love-me-anyway depth, into another soul when it was likely that she’d hit the High Road? Was the loneliness from losing a friend (well, at least the daily-grind, daily-blessing part), worth the blessing of that friendship?

In my loneliness, at long, last, I decided: Yes.

God made women with tender hearts. Relational hearts. Hearts made to overlap and intertwine and tangle together in the sweet gift of friendship. Who else, but a girlfriend, can look at my face and ask “What’s wrong?” before a word falls from my lips. Who else, but a girlfriend, can listen to the Lord’s prompt and deliver a book or a hug or a box of tea in such exquisite timing that I know it’s really a gift from Him? Who else will answer the phone at midnight for tears of sadness or tears of joy? Who else will take my children when I’m about to snap to the Place of No Return? Who else will pray, pray, pray for my family?

There’s no one like a friend.

So, I’m once again okay with (blessed by) stretching into another’s life. With letting her stretch into mine. The reward s are well worth the risk.

And as for Mrs. Brown?

Well, she prefers store-bought bread.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Paint the Town (Bringing Glory)

Every September my small, Illinois hometown hosts a celebration. It’s called Paint the Town, and it’s a mark-your-calendar event for all ages. Paint the Town was created by the Children’s Art Preservation Association, the goal to offer hands-on creativity that’s affordable and available to everyone.

For the celebration, Main Street is closed to traffic. Five-by-five squares are measured and marked, with only room to work and walk in between. Aspiring artists receive a bag stuffed with chalk, primary paints, sponge brushes, and a Styrofoam plate for blending. Young moms and dads paint toddler feet and stamp squares with bright, tiny prints. Teenagers sprawl across the pavement in a torrent of artistic expression and small children inevitably wind up with red or blue appendages. Great-grandmas and great-grandpas hover in the shade, sip lemon shake-ups and tap their feet to the music of a string quartet. It’s a celebration of art, community, and the last carefree days of summer.

The day after the Paint, Main Street remains closed. The sidewalks are open for strolling, and onlookers are invited to admire the masterpieces. From Clinton Street to Grape, Main Street becomes a gallery. The colorless pavement, normally decorated only with the laid-back flow of small-town traffic, becomes a canvas of color, reds and greens and blues deep as the sea. What was dull and dark and flat radiates life and love and promise.

Lord, thank you for bringing glory to the commonplace...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sweet Season of Abundance

From the corner of my eye I saw the green digitals change. Nearly one o’ clock. I stepped on the accelerator. Multiply my time, Lord. Let me be productive and efficient. The morning had been full, full, full. And the afternoon would be, too. Trip to the grocery store. Home to bake peach pies. Meeting friends for the homecoming parade. Delivering Grant to the high school for the game. Lonny’s parents’ house (pies in tow) for their anniversary dinner. Back to the school to retrieve Grant.

The commitments were racked up. Stacked up. And I had about twenty minutes to whisk three boys through the store. I began to feel a little anxious. Pressed. Like my day was driven by a menacing clock that measured minutes but didn’t allow time for joy.
I approached the intersection just as the light turned red. I didn’t have time to wait. Time to sit. I sighed. Looked out my window. Then I saw him.
The gentleman.
He sat on a bench, outside the retirement home. His shoulders were stooped with age, and his head bent low. His arms hung down, elbows resting on knees, and his hands were clasped. He looked lost in thought. Prayer? I don’t know. But he was quiet. Still. And very, very alone.
Like all he had was time.
I wondered if he, in days long ago, had felt pressed. Pressured. He must’ve been full. Providing for his family (Bringing in the fields? We live in corn country). Raising his kids. Leading his loved ones. I imagined that there were days when it felt like his world turned too fast and there were not enough hours to get it all done.
The light turned green, and I moved ahead. Toward the store. Toward my day. Toward my dear family. Toward my dear friends.
But as I drove, I whispered a prayer for the gentleman. And I thanked God for my sweet season of abundance.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Little Turtle Man

Shawnelle:   C’mon, Zay. We’re late again. Let’s walk faster, Little Turtle Man.

Zay :   Mama, I’m not a little turtle.

Shawnelle:   Oh? You’re not? What are you then?

Zay:   Mom (sigh), you know that I’m a big turtle.

Thank you, God, for this little (big) turtle man. And for the sweet, simple ways that he makes me smile.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sweeter and Richer - Here's To My Friend

If there’s one thing that a woman neck-deep in the delight of raising young men needs, it’s a sweetheart friend to stand by her side. And God has given me many. But this one goes out to my friend Tammy, the Thelma to my Louise, a sister-girl friend, one who understands most of what I’m feeling, because she lives in a dear world of men-folk, too.

Thank you, Tammy, for making me laugh. For balancing my serious nature with your joy. For loving my sons. For having them over frequently. For making me do out-of –my-zone things like riding your horses and bobbing behind your four wheeler on a sled. Thank you for praying for me. For reminding me of God’s good grace. For washing a hundred loads of  our man-boy clothes because an out-of-order washer or dryer is a regular deal.

And thank you for not celebrating my birthday by putting a mannequin on my front porch.

You are precious to me, Friend, and I know that our sisterhood is a dear gift from God.

Life became sweeter and richer the day you came along.

WRITING NEWS:  In keeping with the snowy picture, I’d like to share that Cecil Murphey and Marley Gibson’s The Spirit of Christmas, a collection of Christmas stories, will be available for the holiday season. My story,"Karen’s Timely Gift" (thank you, precious Karen, I love you), was selected to be included.

The book will be released in October but can be pre-ordered now. And like Christmas Miracles (2009), it's beautiful.

Link Here: The Spirit of Christmas

Monday, September 12, 2011

Old Fashioned

“Why do we have to be like this? We’re old fashioned,” Grant said. I could tell by the color of his face and the set of his jaw that old fashioned wasn’t a good thing.
“Boundaries are not old fashioned,” I said.
“I just want to do what everyone else is doing,” he said. “To go where everyone else is going.”
“And I just want to parent you in the best way I know how.”
Grant left my room. Angry. Again.

Old fashioned? Maybe in some ways. My bicycle has a basket and fenders. I grind my coffee in a hand-crank grinder. And if I could find a retro rubber swim cap, with the big, floppy flowers, I’d wear it (sorry, sons, I would). But I don’t agree that not giving our sons everything they want, not allowing them to do whatever they believe everyone else is doing, is old fashioned. I call it holding a standard.
Lonny and I are big supporters of the child rearing class Growing Kids God’s Way. In fact, we’ve taken the basic course a couple of times. I think that we should camp there. We need the help. One of the basic principles, one that fell solid on our hearts, is the idea of bringing the child to the standard. Not the standard to the child. We’ve set family standards that we expect all the boys to meet.
I hurt for Grant. I know that it’s hard to fit in. I know that some of the boundaries that Lonny and I have chosen probably make it even harder. But we have to hold firm on some things. Grant may feel caged. He may feel different. I hope that one day, he can look back and feel how much he was loved.
So for now, I’ll have compassion for a boy trying his best to fit in. We’ll give where we can and give him opportunity to make some of his own choices. We’ll pray for wisdom as we learn to pick and choose our battles. We’ll open our hearts to the Lord’s lead and humbly acknowledge that, at times, we’ll mess up.
But I’m also not going to be afraid to put down a boundary. To set a standard.
Old fashioned? I still don’t think so.
But if it is, that’s okay with me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

In the Classroom

It was the first day of our homeschool lessons, and I was pumped. I'd sharpened pencils to fine, black points. I'd polished desks and filled them with tidy stacks of blue-lined paper. I'd even replaced hard, craggy glue sticks with brand new ones. I was ready. Ready to leap head-long into our deep stacks of classics. Ready to revel in math facts. Ready to roll up my sleeves and teach my boys about volcanoes and verbs and the War of 1812.

But the morning didn’t go well. Things didn't go as planned.

“Mom, when it is my turn for math? I’m tired of waiting. Tired. Tired. Tired.”

“Mom, Gabe is sitting too close to me. And he’s gnawing his pencil. Like mad.”

“Mom, tell Zay that it’s ABCD. Not ABDD. He’s saying it wrong. Wrong all wrong.”

So much for my romantic first-day-of-school dreams. The boys' hearts were out of shape.

At first my responses were patient and kind. We need to learn to wait (what if Jesus had put himself first?).We honor one another when we choose to not interrupt. Too many words cause problems, measure them carefully. And don’t worry if your brother eats his pencil (it’s non-toxic after all). But after two hours of realizing how much we’d slipped during the summer, I’d hit the end of my rope. My patience wore out, discouragement settled on my shoulders, and my attitude became as sharp as those number-two pencils.

“I think it’s time for recess," I said. "Mama needs a break.” I opened the back door, ushered the boys to the trampoline, and slumped into a chair.

“Lord this is tough. Their heads don’t work when their hearts are out of whack. And I’m tired. Already,” I whispered out loud.

Show them the fruit, came the gentle reply.

“Fruit? Fruit  of the Spirit? I can’t. I’m frustrated.”

Let me fill you with My Spirit. Let Me fill you up. Then you’ll be ready to pour into them.

I sat for a moment to process the Spirit’s call on my own heart. I’d sharpened pencils. I’d purchased texts and notebooks and flashcards. I’d even gone wild on the desks with lemon oil Pledge.  But I hadn’t prayed up. Hadn't filled up.

Guess I really wasn’t ready at all.

“Fill me fresh, with Your spirit, Lord. And let the fruit flow…”

And then I was ready. In my own strength, no one was going to learn a thing. But when empowered by the Lord, the fruit would come. I opened the door and hollered for the boys.

Oh, the gentle ways the Lord teaches me when I’m trying to teach my sons.

I never want to leave His classroom.

Monday, September 5, 2011

From the Fullness - Summer Blessings

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

Thank you, Lord, for summer blessings. I can't wait to see what You'll bring in the fall.