Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't (Do) Tell Me, Mama - The Power of Words

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11 (ESV)

We're in the kitchen. Zay is nibbling the edges from his toast.

"I have an idea, Isaiah," I say. "How about you make the music for family worship tonight?"

His eyes go round. He smiles a peanut butter smile.

"Really?" he asks.

I nod.

Lonny and I are new to the family worship thing. We set aside time, years ago, when the big boys were small. But somehow, with the smaller ones, we lost the beat. After Christmas, the desire to resurrect family worship became strong. We want learning and praise to be a  priority in our home.

Zay is quiet for a moment. Then he places his toast on a plate and looks at me straight on.

"Gabe did pretty good last week," he says.

I agree. He did. Gabe can't play hymns on the piano yet, but he pounds a mean "Yankee Doodle". We wrote a praise chorus to fit.

"Do you think I'll do okay on the recorder?" Zay asks.

"I know you will," I say.

But he doesn't look convinced. Worry washes over his smile. He bites the corner of his lower lip. "If I don't do well," he says. "I don't want to know. If I really stink, please don't tell me, Mama."

For a moment I'm not sure what to say. Of course we won't tell him that he stinks. Even if his recorder shrieks and our heads hammer as he honks out "Jesus Loves Me", we won't tell him that he stinks. But his concern, his fret over some unkind spoken imagined thing, weighs on me.

It's a reminder of the power of a word.

I read once that it takes ten positive remarks to begin to erase the stain of one harsh remark. And I've been both the giver and receiver of such blows. Words hold weight. God's Word tell us that great forest can be set ablaze by a small fire and our tongues can be like that, too. Small but mighty.

Words can bless.

Words can bruise.

They can bring pain and hurt or give grace and life.

Isaiah still stands there, waiting, looking up, searching my face to find his peace. And it seems a good time to pull my small son to my arms. We fold into one another, over toast crumbs, Zay on my lap, right on the kitchen floor.

"Isaiah, we love you. God loves you. You'll do great."

And no, baby, even if you stink I won't tell you.

But I will tell you how wonderful you are.

I will tell you how pleased God must be with your song.

I will tell you that I'd listen to you make music, good or bad, straight til the end of time. 

Isaiah gives me a peck on the cheek.

"Love you, Mama," he whispers.

Oh, the sweet power of words...

Lord, help me to use words to bless others today. Guard my mouth against words that would do anything less. Amen.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cup of Care - Reaching In

If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care - then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Philippians 2:1-4 (MSG)

There are a million and two things to do. I'm leaving town for a couple of days, and my bags are still in the attic. The laundry is waiting in heaps in the washroom. I want to focus on a full day of school before anything else. And when I wake and walk to the kitchen, I find the coffee pot stone cold dead.

It takes about forty-five seconds for my head to pound. Addiction beats at my temples.

"Morning, Mom," Logan says. His hair is wet. His feet are poking out bare from his jeans. He's late, back pack hanging over his shoulder, toothbrush in hand. He's been working in a pharmacy lab this semester, taking classes near home, and I'm not sure which he's off to, work or school, but I can see that he's pressed tight. "How are you?"

"Fine," I say.

 He looks at the coffee pot. He looks at me. "Oh-oh. Again?"

I nod.

The coffee pot has been a aggravation. It was pricey and it has been replaced twice because it gives out with ease.

Logan rushes around the corner. I putter in the kitchen. Load the dishwasher. Assign chores in notebooks for the smaller boys. Brush the crumbs from some one's late night snack into my palm and shake them into the trash. When Logan returns he's zipping his jacket. I notice that he's found socks but his shoes are under his arm.

"I'm sorry about the coffee. I know it's your steam," he says.

This son, as silly as a broken down coffee pot in in the grand scheme of things is, understands.

And in a mad rush he's gone. Out the door.

A few minutes later, I'm in the shower. I can hear the younger boys milling around the dining room. The day will start full-throttle soon. I decide that I'm not going to wallow. Whine. But I'm missing that caffeine and the jump-start it brings, and right or wrong, I'm moving in slow gear.

I shut off the shower, wrap in a towel, and am rooting through the cupboard for my toothbrush when I hear my son's voice. He's calling from the kitchen.

"On the counter, Mom," he shouts. "I love you. Have a good day." The kitchen door slams.

I pull my robe from the hook, wrap my head in a towel turban, and head for the kitchen. And when I get there, I see that my son is gone. Again. But there's a cup of coffee, in a gas station cup, on the counter.

And this kindness blesses me.

Logan's day will be just as wild as mine. He was off to a late start. No doubt, things for him, too, are stacked deep. But he took the time to see what was happening in my day, and he reached straight in.

In with helping hands.

In with putting someone else first.

In with a hands-on kind of love.

I stand in my robe, in the kitchen, and take a warm sip.

And my cup, my heart, overflows.

Lord, thank you for Logan's sensitivity to the needs of others. Help me find ways to reach in, to love others well, too. Amen.

Note: Written last November. Logan has since returned to Wheaton College to finish Bible degree.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

And Each is Different - Wildly Beautiful Creations

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100:1-3 ESV

We're cutting paper snowflakes. They'll be lovely in the windows. You'd think we'd be winter-tired. And we are. But creativity draws us. So we gather around the table with a stack of white paper, scissors, and sweet time. It's the perfect winter day thing.

I watch my three youngest sons as they craft their snowflakes. One makes the folds carefully. Matching corner to corner. Pressing the crease gently. Another isn't so careful. The corners barely match. But that's okay.

"It's going to be beautiful," Zay says.

 I don't doubt.

 I take a piece of paper from the stack and begin to make my own. But I let it rest on the table in front of me. There's too much going on.

Samuel is cutting pieces from his folded paper. He's careful. Slow. Tiny snips here and there. He appears to have a plan. He turns his folded square and takes a few more snips from another side. He knows where the edges are. They're different from the sides that hold the center.

Gabriel is even more careful than Sam. He pauses before he cuts. He thinks. His head tilts to the side. He turns the square over and back. He squints. Presses his lips together. Gabe has Lonny's engineer brain. Every cut is calculated. The scissors move with precision.

Then there's Zay. So far, he's more like me. Not as careful. But creative. His folds are faster. His scissors carve loops and curves from the paper. Sometimes when he unfolds, the treasure is in
two pieces or more. No worries. He tries again. His tongue presses to the corners of his mouth as he works.  His blond bangs fall forward. Small fingers turn his folded square. His scissors scroll the edges.

It's amazing to me. The differences in my boys. Some of it may reflect their staggered ages. But mostly, I think, it's that God made them to be different. Boys are handcrafted, too. There are similar things, brother bonds, things that stitch them similar as boys born and raised in the same brood. But it's easy to see they have varied bents. Different talents. Different gifts. There are the more challenging qualities, too. The things in about their temperaments that can drive me half wild. Some are more strong willed. Some are more stubborn. I'm fully convinced that, in the Lord's hands, these will be Kingdom strengths. But all in all, rolled together, hammered out, these differences are beautiful.

And they move me to the soul.

"What do you think, Mom?" Gabe asks. He's holding a paper snowflake with pincher fingers.

"Lovely. I'm in awe," I say.

I'm admiring the snowflakes.

And I'm admiring them.

Thank you, God, for crafting my boys differently. I praise you for these wildly beautiful creations. Amen.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Unexpected Gift (Quiet - My Word for 2014))

The alarm presses into my rest. It's morning. Saturday morning. Only the day won't be restful. I remember, before I grope through a pool of covers for my robe, that the day is to-the-ends full. We have two basketball games. Pinewood derby cars to carve from blank blocks of wood. Our fridge began to wheeze two days ago and as I walk to the kitchen, toward the coffee, I find it, cracked open and plucked apart, parts and pieces splayed on the floor. Lonny had tried to fix it the night before. It involved a late-night trip to the ER and a few stitches. We'll be shopping for a new appliance after the games.

So what was I thinking when I scheduled an 8:30 appointment at the vet for Flash?

I step over something, some inner part of the fridge I'd hope to never see, and notice the clock on the oven.

Time to move.

I dress, gulp coffee, pound down a bowl of cereal, and call for Flash. Soon we're heading out the door. And what I've missed in the frenzy, what I didn't see...was the snow. Weighty flakes. Swirling flakes. Flakes that have covered the van and make the hill in front of my house look slick. It's two blocks to the veterinarian's office, but I decide that it would be faster, easier, to walk.

"C'mon, old boy," I say. Flash comes with a wagging tail and eager heart.

We head over the yard. Across the street. Just Flash and me.

And it's then that I notice the quiet.

Our small town is still asleep. There are no cars. No slow blowers. No scraping snow blades. The snow swirls in a gentle flurry. It decorates bare tree branches and sidewalks and even the road. It's fresh. Clean. Completely untainted. Our footprints in the white are alone.

We walk toward the river. I can see the flow. But even that, too, seems slow. Nearly still. There's a tiny tingle-clack as Flash's name tag hits the clip of his leash. There's the crunch of the snow under my boots. There's the sound of my own breath, because the morning is early and we can hear even that.

But all else is quiet.

And I understand, as we make our way down the hill, that this is all a gift. This early morning appointment. This heavy, falling snow. The still and the quiet that is full and rich and sweet. It's a gift nestled in, presented before, given in front of a crazy busy day. I breathe deep until the cold fills my lungs, and my heart almost sings. We eventually reach the office and I'm half sad when I pull on the heavy door. But the appointment is fast. And soon we've stepped into silence again.

I walk a block and can see my house up on the hill. I stop and Flash pulls a bit. He wants to go on. I push my coat sleeve back to see the round face of my watch. It's still early. There's enough time.

I want to go on, too.

I want to wander in the quiet.

Flash and I follow the river.

And we take the long way home.

Thank you, Lord, for unexpected gifts in unexpected places. I'm grateful...Amen.


I missed posting last Thursday. So I'll be back this Thursday. See you then. Love, Shawnelle

Monday, January 13, 2014

Meatloaf for My Man (and a blog update)

Hello Friends,

Happy Monday! I hope this finds you rested and well and ready for a new week.

I want to share that for the next few weeks, I'll be posting just once a week - on Monday mornings. We're having especially crazy times with homeschooling, basketball, swimming, and more..sweet goodness all around!

I'd be blessed if you'd continue to meet me here, and hope to return to Monday and Thursday posts after we press through some busy stuff.

May your day hold beautiful things. May you enjoy God's rich blessing.

I'm honored by your friendship, and I am so grateful for your time.



As printed in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Wives:

                                                            Meatloaf for My Man

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. Isaiah 25:6

 “Do I smell meatloaf?” my husband Lonny asked. His eyes were bright and hopeful. When he placed his bag on the kitchen floor and walked to the dining room, I think there was a bounce in his step.

“No, sorry,” I said. I placed napkins around our long, family table. “It’s quiche. But it’s a new recipe. I think you’ll like it.”

Lonny slid his arm around my waist, and his lips grazed my cheek. “Okay,” he said. “But I wish it were meatloaf.”

“I know,” I said. “Poor sweet man. Maybe you’ll strike it rich another night.”

Sometimes, I like to kid Lonny about his affection for meatloaf. The man just loves it. Trouble is, no one else in the house shares his affinity. Lonny and I have five sons, and they’re hearty eaters, easy to please. But not one of them has even the most minuscule appreciation for a morsel of meatloaf. Even I don’t get excited about it. My grandfather used to make a mean one, but that was years ago, and I don’t have his recipe. Plus, I’m a writer, and the word “meatloaf”, in my opinion, leaves a little to be desired.

So we rarely feast on a loaf of meat.

Dinnertime came that evening, and we gathered around the table. I sliced the quiche and handed Lonny his plate.

And as his hands reached out, as we curled our hands around the same plate, something inside me went soft.

Lonny’s had a lot on his shoulders lately. He’s learning a new job at age forty-five. He’s coaching two basketball teams for our smaller sons. One of our teenage boys is dishing out a fair amount of grief. And Lonny, my stable, dependable, no-frills man takes it all in stride.

“The man deserves a meatloaf,” I decided as I dished up another serving of quiche.

The next night, Lonny came home and dropped his bag in the kitchen. “Do I smell meatloaf?” he said.

“Sure do,” I said.

Lonny wrapped his arms around me tight. It would be worth a few grumbles, this smile that smile stretched over on my husband’s dear face.

And making him so happy was pretty simple, after all. All I had to do was to serve “a seasoned rectangular brick of beef”.
Father, thank you that I can please my husband in such small, simple ways. Help me to remember these gifts with a willing heart and a ready smile. Amen.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Prayer for Togetherness

I stand in the early morning kitchen and wrap my hands around a warm mug. The children are still nestled. For the moment, I'm glad. Nestled is a good, good thing.

It's cold. Crazy cold. Schools- and-activities-closed-and-cancelled cold. Can't- walk-the-dogs-or-send-the-boys-out-to-play cold. Don't-go-anywhere-unless-you-have-to cold.

Stay-in-the-house-with-the-fam cold.

It would usually be a dream come true, really. I love this togetherness. The family, minus dad and a big brother who braved the cold to go to work, sharing time. Sharing space. Being close.

Only it didn't live out as romantically as I'd hoped. The past two days were less than lovely.

"Mom, Gabe took my action figure!"

"Mom, Zay crumpled the bristles of my paintbrush."

"Mom, Samuel better run fast because he lost my book and now he's mine!"

Harmony frayed over an unkind spoken word and there was a small-fisted altercation in the dining room. Gabe pounded "Bear Dance" on the piano until it became a war chant and it pulled the children and greyhounds to a wild frenzy. Zay began to bellow because someone pressed a piece of blue painter's tape over plaything Woody cowboy's toothy grin. Living close brought friction and the friction brought an undesired kind of heat...

And togetherness became a place where we need a little prayer...

Father, help us to love one another well. Help us to be thoughtful with our actions and words. Help us to offer forgiveness freely.Help us to live close, to be close, with blessing and grace.

I hear movement overhead and know that the crew is awake. Soon the stairwell carries voices and footfalls - the music of sweet life.

So far, so good.

But I breathe deep and reach for the coffee pot anyway.

It may be a two-cup day.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. II Corinthians 13:11 ESV

Monday, January 6, 2014

Holding A Boy's Heart

It's two days after Christmas and Zay and I are folding socks. All of a sudden he shoots up. Stands. His almond eyes go big and round. The nest of socks that has been on his lap tumbles in a loose knot to the floor. "I forgot one of your Christmas presents," he says. "I'd better go get it. Now!"

He bolts from the washroom. I can hear his feet pounding down the hall. I match a pair of black Nike socks and smile. Zay had been busy making gifts months before Christmas. He'd handcrafted things from cardboard, paper, the tubes from paper towels...There were shoeboxes of treasure squirrelled away all over the house.

I wonder what he's made me.

Zay returns in an instant. He does, indeed, have a shoebox under his arm. His smile is shining joy. "Sometimes a boy forgets," he says. "Then the Mom gets another present. After Christmas."

He thrusts the box forward.

"I like unexpected presents, Zay," I say. "I think the timing is just right."

I hold the box on my lap. Smile at my son. Remove the lid with careful hands. There's a cardboard heart inside. The gentle curves at the top are stapled together. There's a jute rope looped through.

A heart-shaped necklace. From my son.

"I love this necklace," I say. "It's beautiful."

Isaiah takes a knee beside me. "No, Mama," he says. "It's not just a necklace. It's more." He takes the necklace in his small hands. He carefully opens the heart from the point.

There's a tiny picture of a boy inside.

"It's a locket," he says. "For you. Inside is a picture of me."

I take the gift from my son. I hold it close and look at the boy inside. He has a round face. Stick legs. Hair standing on ends. His smile is big and wide. He's standing in the center of a heart.


And right then and there I'm renewed. What a precious thing to hold a child's heart. What an overwhelming, beautiful, crazy gracious thing.

We sit quiet for a minute.

To hold a boy's heart. To teach that heart. To mold that heart. To have the blessing, the privilege, to fill it with truth and honor and honest, good things. To help it learn to be strong enough to protect, to put others first, to stand alone if need be...but also strong enough to see beautiful in small places.

It's just me and my boy and a quiet corner of time.

To help that boy learn about  the saving grace of Jesus. To help him know God's love.

After a moment, Isaiah takes the necklace and gently loops it over my neck. In an instant his arms are around my neck, too. I pull him to my lap. He settles in over the abundance of unmatched socks.
I pull him close and kiss his still-soft hair. Breathe in the goodness of a little boy. His head settles under my chin, where I wish it could last forever.

And the necklace is pressed between us.

My gift.

The amazing blessing of holding a son's heart.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A New Thing - Embracing A Word for 2014

It's New Year's Day. Early. From my bedroom window, I can see snow swirling down. The day is peaceful. The house is peaceful. The morning is too young for too much to go on.

I nestle close to Lonny and whisper something about coffee. He rolls over. The hardwood floors, I know, will not greet my feet warmly. So I stay put. And think...

A few of my friends claim a word each new year. A word to live by. A word to apply to life. A word to stretch around and stretch into. I've never tried. But I read a friend's blog recently, a post about her word for 2014...and it made me want to try, too.

What would my word be, Lord?

I ask, mostly for fun, not expecting a word, really.

And quiet comes to heart.

I smile. Quiet? I spend a great deal of energy trying not to be quiet. Trying to be more assertive. Trying to push past my natural bent to be reserved. Trying to speak out loud in a group or join a busy conversation or share my opinion when it may not blend.

Then there's my home.

No way to apply quiet here, most of the time. We're a bustling household of boyhood. Quiet is like trying to push a round peg into a square slot.

Did you mean quiet, Lord?

I pull the comforter high. Watch the snow shake past my window. It's captivating. Gentle. Easy. Slow.

It's quiet.

Maybe there is a way to live quiet in 2014.

Lord, will you quiet my fears?
Lord, will you quiet my worries?
Lord, will you quiet the self-doubt and sometimes, in this parenting time of life, the hurt?

Lonny rolls over. I hint at coffee again. He stands and trudges toward the kitchen.

I stay still, pull the pool of covers around me, and watch the wonder outside my window.

Yes, I think that quiet would be a precious thing.

The LORD your God is with you. He is mighty enough to save you. He will take great delight in you. The quietness of his love will calm you down. He will sing with joy because of you.
Zephaniah 3:17 NIRV

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exalt over you with loud singing. 
Zephaniah 3:17 ESV