Spring is Life and Life is Here

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“Let Thy word live abundantly among us-
They word, the true, the deep,
Thy word, the tender, the loving.
Let it resound; let it ring,
now in speech, now in song
in every house that is called by Thy name…
Holy Spirit, be our guest.
Blow through our souls
as when the mild winds of spring kiss the earth.
Light up our spirits as when the rosy dawn
breaks through the gloom and darkness of the night.
Let every dry and withered heart be refreshed
by the dew Thou sendest from heaven;
Thou, our Father, Lord, hear our prayer.
Amen.”
–Ditlev Gothard Monrad (1811-1887)

I hate to admit it, but I am a comfort shopper.

Food, of course, remains at the top of my list for impulse buys when I am upset– a meal at Chic Fil A or an iced coke (unfortunately) bring me a great deal of comfort.

But what used to bandage my loneliness, a new shirt or a purse, has changed drastically.

Now I go to the Goodwill down the road from our house and come home with beauties like this:

 

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And I buy books to read in this last season in Fayetteville- books that Oprah tags as readable, books about friends in Southern towns.

The new coffee mug has water colored blooms splashed across the inside and outside, against bare white ceramic. the dark teal, red orange, and purple hues draw me to the beauty of spring, even on a surprisingly cold day.

Eliot and I planted seeds a few weeks ago with hopes that something might come from them, something to promise us that there is life here in our midst.

Tiny green leaves have popped up one by one: cilantro, basil, marigolds, zinnias, and, with more reluctance, my rosemary.

Every green leaf pulls the giddy child out of me as I grab Eliot’s hand and drag him across the yard to see the contents in the colored pots.

“Plant’s growin’!” he shouts, tears springing forth as I thank God, once again, for the life that’s right before my eyes.

Life can be so small and so obvious.

My boys started the size of a speck, and here they go, bustling about with full hearts.

Cilantro grows up through fed soil and produces fresh, edible leaves.

A new mug brings spring inside a home and into a lonely heart as coffee slips down the throat.

The daisies and wildflowers at our wedding promised us new life together, new life and precious seasons.

And a new book reminds me that, though I feel alone in this season, life abounds in words on a page.

Life is here in the spring and the Spirit all around me, lifting me up, blowing through my soul as it blew through the soul of Ditlev Gothard Monrad.

So, it seems, we’re not alone at all.

 

Snapshots: at the farmer’s market

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Last week, the local farmer’s market opened for the season.

If there is one thing that gives this city constant beauty, it’s this market.

Vendors gather along all four sides of the downtown “square” to sell glorious flowers, fresh fruits and veggies, homemade soap, hand-crafted items, and more.

Musicians cover every corner and compete for the spare change of passers-by.

Our first summer here, I grabbed my guitar and found a quiet spot near a woman named Beth.

IMG_0201It’s been my favorite venue– singing while little kids dance by, parents not far behind; the shared bond of man’s love for rhythm and voice. Perhaps my best tip was the half-eaten muffin from the teeny blonde boy, who just loved me that much.

Now that Eliot has embraced the fullness of his extroversion, he asks about the market more than once a week, and he knows that it’s a party waiting to be joined.

IMG_2860We show up and tune our ears toward the live music, and head straight to the source–indeed, music is a source of life for both Eliot and me. He sways side to side as the music plays, and he points to the cello, the violin, the guitar of the jazz quartet as they perform their last song of the set.

 

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We found our lab, Charlie, there.

I discovered Celosia, or Cockscomb, the flower that resembles a brightly colored brain– my favorite flower.

 

 

 

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Eliot discovered the bubble machine outside the jewelry store, and takes at least 10 minutes every visit to play in them.

 

 

 

The beauties found here have made this town a blessing to live in– a town where diversity brings celebration, where Saturday mornings belong to everyone:

the executive who needs a few extra bell peppers for a dinner party;

the vegan mom who wants to make kale chips for her toddler;

the exchange student who wants to experience a new culture;

the 20-something who has a weekend date for coffee and a morning walk;

the family of four who comes out for fresh air;

the 3-year old boy who has his dancing shoes on.

It’s the city that loves its local farmers and supports their work with happy hearts and generous pockets.

This year local politicians set up tables trying to buy votes with lollipops and balloons, and I get to kindly say, “We’re moving in July,” as Eliot shoves the root-beer flavored candy into his mouth and the politician’s wife smiles.

If I can spend the next 9 Saturdays in the open air of the market, I will be absolutely content. So, here’s to a house of fresh flowers and meals of sustenance, straight from the green earth.

 

For more posts from the Snapshots series, click here.

A Lesson for Children: He’s not who you think he is.

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We’re about to buy a new car.

If you’re like me and Jan Karon books make your heart soar, you’ll understand that lately I’ve prayed “the prayer that never fails” a time or two.

A few weeks ago I prayed it in asking for something bigger to haul our boys and dogs in, something that could make the trek to a new city and a new adventure.

The next day some dear friends asked us after lunch if we needed a new vehicle. I sat in the car on the way home and cried, as the flood of realizing a prayer answered, hit me.

It’s been a season of blessing, and I’ve been counting them along the way, one by one, in order to savor the goodness that flows from the fingertips of a loving Father.

And this week, I asked for a few more good things, I asked that His will direct it, His way provide whatever we might need.

He provided the car, down to the color we love, down to the thermometer on the rearview mirror telling me that it’s warm and sunny and just right outside.

I sit in it and I look around me, and I just cry. It’s all I can do for now, for a while, until something wears off and it just becomes quiet peace.

I’ve got a bad habit of waiting to see the goodness until it’s totally fulfilled. I’ve got a bad habit of not believing until everything is in its proper place, until the blessing has come and gone and I have seen it with my own eyes and felt it with my own hands.

This time, I prayed for our car to sell, and it sold that day. I prayed for assistance, and He provided. I prayed, He listened.

Now, I’m aware that life isn’t always a pray-and-get-exactly-what-you-want type of life. I’m not naive and I don’t push that on any friend or stranger.

But what I’m aware of is that I have a Papa who’s better than any earthly one; a Papa who pours forth love in big, gushing floods and lets blessings seep into every tiny bit of our short lives. And those blessings musn’t be stifled because I’m waiting for goodness to stop coming and life to turn to darkness and gloom again. Blessings can come piling on top of one another, piled on top of me, until I can barely breathe for the thankfulness.

This week His blessing poured forth and I drive a new car with my boys cozied into their car seats behind me, my husband at my side talking kayak adventures and camping memories to come.

This week I realized that I don’t understand his Fatherly kindness, and while I search for its meaning, I must only trust and obey the sweetness of a familiar and loving voice as He leads on onto beautiful, clear paths.

Bing says it even better than I do:

Snapshots: coffee shop eclipses

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In this building, I slowly transformed, and this building’s walls saw those moments eclipse over one another until I became another person, not entirely, but to the coffee taster or book reader, most certainly.

In those days before the change, I saw a quiet coffee shop corner as my social plug. I drank my bubbly, sweet drink and pretended to read books or study, all the while people-watching from my little nook. I didn’t see it then, the future unfolding before me– the future that pulled my husband into a job and taught my taste buds a lesson or two; the future that brought to me the true beauty and magic of a quiet hour alone with a book and a cup of latte; the future that gave me a new solitude entirely.

I was the Frappacino-with-all-that-whipped-cream-goodness kind of girl, and now I’m the vanilla-latte-please-give-me-a-little-extra-caffeine-and-a-little-less-vanilla kind of woman.

I’ve got a Chemex at home and I take it with me when I travel, just in case. I’ve got a toddler with his own Keep Cup for his special drink of 90% foam, 10% coffee.

I sometimes go there on Saturday mornings to watch my husband pull shots and to dive into my black journal. The scribbles that fill it there are different, somehow. I say hello to a regular customer and Isaiah flirts with her a little, and as my steaming latte hits the bar, she takes him into her arms for a walk to and fro as he eyes everyone in the room, his blue-eyed charm consuming them. And I sit there, every single time, and think about how grateful I am for those friends behind the bar. Nearly strangers to me, but they somehow give me Home in a little white cup when they see me coming and start my latte before I get to the bar.

They give me Home when they fill the foam with a white feather or flower, just because there’s art in all things good. IMG_0204 In this building I find Home where I once found stimuli, and I find peace where I once found entertainment. And my taste buds find exactly what they need when the entire body is in want of rest.

The walls of this place have seen it all as they have themselves transformed, taking on a new face, a new name, a new DNA. Perhaps the eclipse has been larger than I’d thought, the drink changing from a girl’s to a woman’s. Because coffee shop walls see and hear it all, not just my story, but yours and his and hers, as we pour ourselves out over tabletops and find our solace in Times New Roman-covered book pages.

If I could, I’d go every morning until the day we move, but life won’t allow it.

So, I’ll gladly settle for Saturday mornings and occasional weekday afternoons, and I’ll savor the latte as it slips down my throat, reminding me that I’m not the girl I once was, and I’m so thankful for it.

Spring Break Stories: encounters with the aborigine

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We’ve started really looking at houses online, without the reservation in our hearts, without the wondering what’s to come.

And I’ve been praying things, asking in faith that my little heart desires might be met.

We look at house rentals and in my deepest I pray for a big kitchen for friends to gather in.

In my few 25 years of life, I’ve witnessed some bits & pieces of humanity that seem to stick and remain true year after year.

I pause the whirlwind and look around me– at the grocery store, in the library, the daddy and daughter sharing carrot cake in the coffee shop–

I’m tired of seeing how different you and I are.

I live in a small town, and I’ve seen little diversity in my days. But it’s something I’m longing for.

I’m longing for the challenge of finding the same imprint in my neighbor that I find in myself.

Thomas Merton said it like this:

Our task now is to learn that if we can voyage to the ends of the earth and find ourselves in the aborigine who most differs from ourselves, we will have made a fruitful pilgrimage.

That is why pilgrimage is necessary, in some shape or other. Mere sitting at home and meditating on the divine presence is not enough of our time. We have come to the end of a long journey and see that the stranger we meet is no other than ourselves– which is the same as saying we find Christ in him.

For if the Lord is risen as He said, He is actually or potentially alive in every man.

Our pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre is our pilgrimage to the stranger who is Christ our fellow pilgrim and brother.

I long and ardently pray for that large kitchen, and I’ve long wanted more space for the hospitality that gathers many in. Because in the veins of humanity runs the unifying need of food and fellowship.

Because Merton reminds me that in the aborigine–my brother–I find not only a stranger, but the same humanity that’s in myself.

I want my life challenged and my comfort rattled by encounters with my brothers and sisters, the ones who don’t live like me, but the ones Jesus still claims as belonging.

So, let my future home expand to fit the new friends we’ll make in the unknown culture awaiting us.

O God, give me the big kitchen for the gathering of our souls at Your table, that we may, in Your presence, remember that we are all aborigine-pilgrims on the journey heavenward.

 

Snapshots: His Name is Jon.

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Our first son started out with two names.

We walked into the packed gym, my belly swollen and my ankles puffy; he was due in a month or so, but I felt the ache in my body like I was going to give birth any moment.

This was  a late birthday present: a Switchfoot show, a much needed date after 8 months of severe sickness and fatigue.

We prayed about what this show might speak to us, because Jon Foreman’s music has always spoken to the deep places of my heart, spurring me on toward writing my own music and finding what my own heart has wanted to say in the deep darkness of life.

A woman noticed how uncomfortable I was sitting on a flat bleacher, so she offered me a reserved, padded, plushy red and wonderful stadium seat on the front row beside the stage.

It seemed like hours before the guys came on to play. Then I felt the stirring, the deep pulsing that only music can speak into someone’s soul. In junior high, I sang one of Switchfoot’s songs for the talent show. Years later, I remember standing in my sister’s kitchen, doing dishes, eating a snack, listening to words sink deep and remind me that God is alive in life, God is alive in music’s beat.

During the set, Jon Foreman usually comes down from the stage and walks through the crowd while he sings.

That night he meandered off the stage and his gait was steady. He came right to me, right to my bursting belly and to my husband at my side. And he stood there for a minute as “Restless” began to play.

And whether he meant to or not, he was singing a blessing over us there, over my son, over his life. I asked God to speak to us that night as we drove to the venue. I asked Him to give us something to hold on to, something that could speak into the life of the little boy in my tummy.

And there, Jon singing over us, even for just a few seconds, blessings poured forth, and God spoke. He reminded me that my son is His, that from the beginning He is claimed, that His life is something worth living, something mysteriously, beautifully and specifically crafted by hands of grace.

All that in a few seconds of song, in a few seconds of eye contact and humanity shared between souls.

His name was Eliot Micheal.

But then, his name was Jon.

And Sunday I asked him if his name was Jon. I looked down at the bulge and held my hands to the skin and asked him. He kicked, giving the affirmation that only a crazy baby in a tiny womb can give.

A month or so later, Jon Eliot Micheal was born. He came out crying, of course, came out with words for the world. We brought the iPod and let the sound fill the room:

I can hear you breathing,
I can hear you leading
More than just a feeling
More than just a feeling
I can feel you reaching
Pushing through the ceiling
’til the final healing
I’m looking for you

I am restless, I am restless
I am restless, looking for you
I am restless, I run like the ocean to find your shore
I’m looking for you…

And his cries stopped. And he listened to that song that I held to my womb for a month, the song that was part of his namesake, part of his journey, part of his life to come. So while the song belongs to Jon Foreman and the guys of Switchfoot, that song has claimed us as we have claimed it; and the name Jon has claimed my son as we have claimed the promises that seemed to pour through the walls of the tiny gym that evening.

 

For more posts from the Snapshots series, click here.

The Shape of Blessing

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There was a water stain on the ceiling tile, and someone was talking about the mystery of God.

I looked at that stain and saw the process of the water, slowly seeping into the cracks and seams…seeping until some sort of shape formed.

So it seems to be with God, who slowly pours Himself into our pores until a shape takes form, until we see Him as something beautiful, yet still unknown. Mystery.

What is the shape of God? What form is found in His blessing?

A few nights ago Trav and I received an unexpected dinner date.

Eliot stayed with Suzan, and we sat there with juicy burgers on our plates, a basket of fries between us.

Isaiah slept the entire time, and I said out loud, “I’m thanking God for this, right now.”

We ate slowly and savored every bite of food and every bit of conversation.

The shape of the blessing, unique for that moment.

Yesterday I sat at ONYX and watched friends pass Isaiah around while I sipped my latte.

There was a creamed tulip on top and a Celtic book of prayers at my side.

Be at the dawning of our life, and oh! at the dark’ning of our day, amen.

At the dark’ning of the day, He is the lit candles on the table, my reminder that Lent is the season of grace flooding my heart.

He is the flame, the bright hope-light.

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And we are safe in our beds and full in our bellies, overflowing with blessing upon blessing.

It’s just hard to see the shape sometimes.

When I was pregnant with Eliot, I waited and waited for my belly to grow big, because I wanted to see the shape of my boy. I wanted to see him grow and see him make his appearance. So it grew and grew, and the mystery of who he was became clearer and clearer, the beauty of the blessing becoming brighter and brighter.

The shape of the blessing, the shape of the Mystery.

Look around you and see it. Look up at ceiling tiles and let your ears hear the voices of truth. They are all the blessing, and they are all the mystery, water of life seeping into our veins day by day, in the dawn and in the dark’ning.