Monday, April 29, 2013

When There are Webs in the Windows and You Say "Come On In!"

Last week, the Women's Ministry team at church planned a progressive dinner. I agreed to hostess.

Ninety precious women,  many of whom had never been to my home, were coming for dessert.

The ministry team covered the details, right down to cream for the coffee. All I had to do was clean the house, then kick back and welcome these lovely women.

But wanted to roll out red-carpet hospitality. I wanted to wash the windows.

I come from a long line of Dutch people. But I'm missing that shiny-home gene. And my windows call me out (Sometimes my dad teases and reminds me that there's a river outside my front window. Now wouldn't that be a nifty thing to see?).

So I spent the day cleaning, and an hour before the ladies arrived, I hit the windows. I particularly wanted to clean the tall one in the living room. The glass is over a century old and a spider had taken up residence. A thick sheet of web stretched between two panes.

I tried with all my might to get to that darned web. I tried to pry one pane off. I tried to shimmy Zay's wooden sword, swathed in a cleaning cloth, between the two sheets of glass. I jabbed with a yardstick and tried to gather the web like cotton candy on a cardboard tube.

No luck.

I was out of time and the spiders won.

"What do I do?" I whispered, hands on hips, standing on the porch.

True hospitality comes from the heart. When you open your home, you can open your life.

The words fell in a soft place. The words made me warm. The words shifted my focus and suddenly that web in the window held no power over me.

Ninety women, in groups of twenty-some, came into my home.

There was conversation. And laughter. There was tenderness and sharing and sisterly love. The sweet bond of women stretched over generations and moved deep within these walls.

And you know what? No one cared about the web in the window.

Not even me.

Sweet fellowship is too powerful to get caught in something like that.

So I learned a little bit last week. A gem of knowledge I'll do my best to keep.

True hospitality truly comes from the heart.

And if we just allow it, the blessing is rich and deep.

Father, thank you for teaching me about hospitality. Help me to remember to welcome others into my life and my heart, caring more about relationships and less about my house. Amen.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

All in a Day

I find the photo at the bottom of my desk drawer. It's pressed into the back corner, buried under a wild mess. I pluck it free.

It's a black and white. The edges have been trimmed with pinking shears. There's a sticky spot on the back. At one time it had been placed in an album. Someone had taken the time to preserve this, to tuck it away, to tether it to something bigger so the memory wouldn't slip away.

But now it's in my hands.

The picture was taken, I'd guess, in the late 1940's. It's the house that my grandfather built for his family. Years earlier he'd left Missouri, his home state, in pursuit of work. And how he had a plot of land in Iowa. In the photo, the house is just a frame. There's a whisper of a hint of the home it would become.

My great grandmother is standing on the platform that would soon be the porch. And at her side is my own dear Mom. She's a small child, matchstick legs sticking out from a sweet, white dress. My mother's sisters are there, too. And the family dog is scrounging around the yard.

It looks like an ordinary day.

I sit and hold the photo, and I'm struck by the passing of time. Great grandmother has long been in heaven. Now my dear grandparents, too. A couple of my own children are much older than the children in the photo.

Generations have gone by.

I'm not sure how the photo came to be wedged at the corner of my desk drawer. But I'm glad it did. For a moment, my heart stretches back. But in the same moment, it stretches ahead, too. Ahead to the day that is yet to be born...

Lord, let me live this day to the fullest. Let me pull my children close. Let me whisper in their ears and feel the sweet beat of their hearts. Let me tell my parents they're precious. Let me love my husband well. Let me be a good sister and listener and friend. Let me help someone in need...Lord, let me use this day to know You more.

I stick the photo in the corner of a frame - on the top of my desk.

What a precious reminder of days gone by.

And joy for the day to come.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What the Sign Says - And Fighting Fear


The sign is above me. Lonny and I have taken the youngest three boys away for the weekend. We’re at an indoor water park. My back (I have a long history of back trouble) locked up tight after volleyball last Friday.

So Lonny is in the wave pool, with the three boys, alone. And I'm sitting.

Samuel’s on a raft. He’s a strong swimmer, but he’s rising and falling and is drifting into a knotted people-mass. Gabe and Zay have Lonny’s hands. They’re above the water and under the water and the surface is nearly covered with thick clots of inflatable rings.

And my heart is fearful. If a boy goes under, who in that pool would know?

I’ve struggled with this sort of fear for a year now. I’ve struggled since my oldest son spent twenty-one hours, trapped underground, in a dark, cold cave.

I know that perfect love casts out fear, and I think of the Lord’s perfect love.

But still I strain to see my guys, my toes are curled, and this fear I’ve been fighting is close.

It’s a pool, for cryin’ out loud, I tell myself. The boys spend all summer long in the pool in our yard.

My eyes shift from Lonny and the little guys to the space where Samuel had been. But I can’t see him. Everyone is wet. Nearly every boy looks the same. Lonny let him float too far and no one was watching him, really, at all.

I’m about to push myself from the chair. I’m about to trek, half-hunched, to the side of the pool, like a mad woman out of control.

But then I have a thought. And the thought keeps me quite still.

Danger. That’s what the sign says. But what does His Word say?

He tells me not to fear. He promises to be with us. He tells me to be courageous and He’ll never, ever leave.

I stay in my seat.
The waves calm. The water stills. I scan the surface until I see my Sam.

He’s paddling toward his dad. Smiling bright as the sun.
I know my battle with fear over my sons isn’t over.
But today’s small victory?
It  sure feels sweet.
"Have I not commanded you? Be bold and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you where ever you go." Joshua 1:9


Friday, April 19, 2013

Learning Hearts

Logan is teaching Gabe to play the piano.

Gabe's frame is small in front of the old upright. But Logan sits near, teaching his brother, guiding him.

It takes time, dedication, and a willingness of heart.

I listen. I go about my own things as the plink, plink, plink, over time, over days, transforms to a sweet tune.

And I think about my own life. I think about my relationship with God.

I want to learn. I'm not content with where I'm at.

Teach me, Lord, open your Word to me. Teach me new things. Teach me new ways. Breathe into my life. I want to live transformed.

My heart is like Gabe's. I'm excited about the things I'll learn.

I know the Spirit will come near.

And God will meet my desire with His grace.

              Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Psalm 119:18

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monster Fingers and Hope Pushing Through

"Come look, Mom!" Isaiah yells. I hear the porch door slam shut. I hear the fast pound of small feet. In two seconds flat my boy is through the house and standing beside me.

I look up from my keyboard.

Isaiah's eyes are wide and he's wearing the grin that tugs every thread of my heart.

"They're poking through. Monster fingers are here!"

Zay reaches for my hand and then I'm fast on his heels. We're through the kitchen. Out the porch door. We're standing on the patio near the walk where soon a stretch of hostas will grow.

"Look close," Isaiah says. He's crouched over, in that little-boy way, with his back curled round and his feet planted firm and his head dipped low. His small finders are rooting through winter-gray mulch. They're ferreting through loose soil and dead leaves and the washed-out remains of the glory of fall.

I stand and watch. Not far from where he's poking is a stepping stone made long ago by an older son. His then-small hand print is captured in cement. His hand fit into mine back then. I could meet his needs and care for his heart and his life was an open door to mine.

"Here they are," Zay says. "Now come here and look."

I bend and peer at the ground. Sure enough, there's purple life pushing through. The hosta sprouts are small and sharp. And they do, in fact, look like monster fingers. Like monster fingers pushing up straight through.

"There's more," Isaiah says. He's on his feet now. He's a bolt of energy and a whir of motion and he's pressing through another mound of earth.

"Monster fingers," he says. "They're starting to grow."

I watch my boy. His delight in this sign of spring is strong. Isaiah continues this this quest and I think of my teenage, struggling son.

There are signs of hope there, too. They seem small. But if I I look hard, if I push away the gray of sadness and the dark of hard choices and the heavy covering of hurt, the hope is there. Pushing through. Like monster fingers in the ground.

There is hope in the Lord. What has been buried, asleep, can press through  the darkness with life that is fresh.

Zay pokes around in the dirt for a bit longer. Then he's off to join the other boys. Baseball season is near. Bats and balls and gloves are hauled from the garage.

But I stand for a moment and look at that sweet, small hand print in stone. And the new growth that is sprouting up alongside.

And I walk away with thoughts of hope.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Warm Feet, Warm Heart, and the Unspoken Words of Friendship

I'm having coffee with my friend when she pulls a small package from her handbag.

"For you," she says. "From Ireland."

She presses the package into my hand and she smiles. I smile, too. I know what's inside.


My friend has the sweetest way of gifting me. She buys me socks. Theme socks. Dee has two grown daughters, and this sock gifting has long been a tradition in her family. A few years ago, they pulled me in, too. I have Easter socks (one pair with a bright egg print, one pair with a bunny head that bobs the back of the ankle), Halloween socks (candy corn and bobbing pumpkin head), Independence Day socks, Christmas socks, and even socks from England.

Now I have socks from Ireland, too.

I open the package to find two pair. One is solid green. The other is wild with clover.

And I'm soft inside over the gift.

It isn't about the socks, really (though it's crazy cold for April and I can't wait to go home and put them on). It's the thought. It's the heart of it all. It's the gentle love of friendship and the unspoken message that gets me: I care about you. You matter to me. You're close at heart even when I've traveled far.

I set the socks on the table and squeeze my friend's hand.

Then I laugh out loud. The socks are darn cute.

"Thank you," I say. "For the gift."

But what I really mean is thanks for being my friend.

Dee squeezes my hand back.

My own unspoken words of friendship?

My friend. I know she knows.

Thank you God for the gift of friendship. Amen.

P.S. As I finish writing I remember one of our favorite children's books on friendship. Have you read THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR by Valeri Gorbachev? It's precious. Wonderful watercolor pics. (THE BIG TRIP is sweet, too.)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Circling Our Young (Elephants, Penguins, and People,Too)

The boys are next to me, pressed in tight. It's time for science and we're reading about elephants. We read about the muscles in their trunks. We learn how to distinguish an Asian elephant from an African elephant. We learn about elephants' strength and stamina and how they will walk for miles to find water. But what catches my heart, what slips into my thoughts, again and again, is how the elephant herd circles the young.

We studied penguins last week. Penguins form a circle of safety around their young, too.

It's like people. It's like the blessing of friends and family who circle close, who ring our family, who stand side by side and link armor around our kids.

The circle is a ring of prayer. "I pray for your family," a friend whispered once. "When I can't sleep. I pray for your boys, alphabetical order. Down the line. One by one." Last year, when one son was trapped underground in a cave, a wide web of prayer covered our family. And there are the prayers of those who know the daily, in-and-out, ups-and-down stuff. A sweet circle prayer - I'll forever be grateful for those who intercede for my children.

Thank you, Lord, for quiet whispers. For burdened hearts. Thank you for the prayers that hem my children in.

The circle is a ring of support. I've watched friends stretch high to embrace by big boys. Bend low to kiss tears from my little ones. There have been bandaged knees and broken hearts and the circle has been sweet salve. There are people my boys know they can run to, depend on. Friends and family that provide a strong extension of home.

Thank you, Lord, for those who are a  support to my kids.

The ring is a circle of love. Not long ago I went on a cleaning rampage through a big boy's room. I tossed away a brown box that I didn't know contained a meaningful note from a long-distance but close-to-the-heart friend. My boy stood in the March cold, in the dark, and rooted through the trash until he retrieved the note. A note from a friend who has loved him for years.

Thank you, Lord, for those who love my children. For those who care deep. For those who are faithful. For those whose love stretches into my boys' lives.

The boys and I finish our book. There's another in the basket. But we'll save that for another day. I want to sit for a moment and hold my sons. I want to stretch my arms way around,

knowing we are a part of something bigger, something more - solid, strong, and sweet.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Building A Barn (Brotherhood)

                                                   "We're building a barn," they say.

                                                 Then they disappear. For a long time.

I find them in the schoolroom. Hunkered down. Speaking softly. Lost in the sort of thing only two can share.

They measure. They snip. They twist themselves sticky in long ribbons of tape. At one point Gabe cups his palm around Zay's chin. "You have a smudge," he says. And with his thumb he erases the light gray trace.

When they're finished, the horse is in the barn. The boys sit back on their heels, legs bent and tucked underneath. "We've built a barn," they say.
I smile at their work. They beam with pride.
Yes. They've built a barn.
But somehow we all know they're building brotherhood, too.
Lord, thank you for such times. Amen.