Communion in St. Paul

My friend Janet whispers the Holy Spirit to me, sometimes she texts it, sometimes gets kind of pushy with her comments. She nudges me out of complacency. She speaks, though, from an honest place with grace, no judgment, allowing room for my soul to catch up, my ears to hear. I have trusted this relationship, trusted that God was leading me, us, to a new place. That journey began with coffee in her living room, gained incredible momentum as we led several members of our church in studying “Beginnings” by Steve Wiens, and has kept us searching as we discover what it means to be authentically creating with the gifts God has shared with us.  This pilgrimage, begun over a year ago, took Chef and I to St. Paul Minnesota for a two day trip to listen to Seth Haines, author of “Coming Clean” and Steve in an event called Sobriety and the Spirit.  I wanted to go to hear what Seth would have to offer to Chef and I, believers and parents of an addict.  I wanted to meet Steve in person after a digital friendship has taken root.  I wanted to experience worship at Genesis Covenant Church where podcasts each week leave me hungry for more.  Those were my plans, God plans were much bigger.

To say that Seth spoke with honesty is like saying the sky is blue, chocolate is delicious, puppies are cute.  True statements but without seeing the shades of color reflected in a stormy sky, without smelling the richness of a fine German piece of candy, without ruffling the ears of a 10 week old Golden Retriever, some of the depth is lost.  Seth was brutally honest with his story. It hurt to listen to, it hurt to know it isn’t unique.  He didn’t stop, though, in just telling.  He asked us to find our pain and to find the thing we do to keep that pain at bay, which separates us from God.  (Buy his book, it is good.)  So in the quiet moments he gave us, I listened for my own whispers but my head was still talking, my ears not tuned in to the Spirit.

Matt Moberg came up to the stage with his guitar and tore away whatever mask I had left.  His voice is still echoing around my heart. I was entranced, I was spellbound. God held me in His hands while Matt preached His words through song.  Find him on ITunes.  Whispers, flutters in my soul. The music ended and we were back to discussions, back to my head space time. I needn’t have worried,  God was preparing me.

The next day we entered the community center where this church plant is held, immediately embraced, welcomed, remembered as those people who came from afar.  Friends from the day before greeted us, we played with children, drank coffee. Then music began, music that is truly straight from the angels, music that is so pleasing to God, my heart broke open.  I watched as this young woman sang, her voice piercing my soul, her faith laid out, shared, broken for all to take.  The young man next to her lifted his voice, perfect harmony, perfect call to worship. In that darkened auditorium, I heard their call, my walls fell away, I met them in community, in communion, to seek Our God, to worship Him.

Seth spoke again, delivered the sermon, I wondered what we would gain from a second listen. The ways in which I don’t see God at work amaze me. I just didn’t see it coming.  When Seth again asked the community to close their eyes and identify the pain, before my eyes shut, my word came to me in a shout. It was bold, it was direct, it was not to be ignored.  My ears could hear the whispers of the Spirit and the Spirit, as excited as me, finally making that connection, shouted! It wasn’t the word I had imagined the day before, I am still wrestling with this word. But wow does it make sense. My ears have heard.

Maybe one day I will be so practiced at listening that the Spirit can whisper, maybe one day I will be without walls around my heart. On this day, on this journey, I am one step closer to my own up close, fully trusting relationship with my God. It takes a village, it takes a community to raise a believer.  It takes music written and sung by the pianist that feels like it is your own song.  It takes authentic believers, without masks, admitting we are just all in this together, loving the One who created us. It takes testimony of our sins met with “I know sister, me too” instead of judgement.  It is grace.  It is light.  We found this village in St. Paul, one step further on our journey.  Praise be to God.

 

Stop. Go. Stay. Pray

“Ma’am, you can’t go until your belongings go.  Ma’am, step up here.  Ma’am, push this through.  Ma’am, stop right there. Ma’am, come on up here.” The voices came loud and swiftly, confusing me, as if I had never traveled through TSA’s labyrinth before.  The elastic barrier blocking one X-ray line stood right in front of me, the other side of it a particularly difficult man.  He kept giving orders in direct contrast to his partner on the other side of the band, I didn’t know who to listen to, what to do.  When my backpack and laptop entered the X-ray , I looked up agin at the barking TSA agent who told me to come forward.  Does that mean go right with the other passengers, I am free to move ahead?  His barrier stood between us.  I walked closer to his banded line, his mocking increased.  “go around it, or can you just walk through that?”  By this time I am shaking, wondering how a simple interaction has gone so wrong so quickly.  Why is he being so mean? As I slide around the tiny barrier, he continued to loudly ridicule my behavior for all around to hear.  I guess I was one of the lucky ones selected to avoid the full body scan.  I would have preferred it.

The incident stayed with me for hours, I couldn’t shake the way this man in uniform, a position of power had belittled a gray haired lady just trying to get by him. He was aware of his buddy giving me contradictory orders, he was enjoying it.  Did the fact that he was a huge African American man play into it? Not for me, but I wonder if it did for him? On the day that another verdict was handed down, another acquittal in the Freddie Gray death, maybe he was just angry. I was just another white person and he got to take out a little justice of his own.

I wondered though about those kinds of interactions that happen outside of a TSA line, where people in uniform give conflicting orders, guns are at the ready, anger is just below the surface. Decisions made to go, to stay, who to listen to, one false move, bang.

I was scared yesterday, unsettled, but I made it through the line with only my dignity battered. I find my heart filled with forgiveness for this TSA agent who maybe needed to find a little justice in a really injustice nation right now.  I am filled with prayer for all those in uniform who face split second decisions in dangerous times.  Most of all I pray for those who don’t know whether to stay or go.  May God keep you safe.

I Started It

I did a terrible thing yesterday.  It started innocently enough, as most things do.  I had good intentions, as I usually do.  Thinking through to the consequences though, not so much.

While out running errands Plum and I decided we need to stop at the local hot dog stand for “root bear” floats and coney dogs. His dog comes with only ketchup and my float without ice cream but these are minor details.  He loves the hot dog stand, eating in the car with the sun roof open, climbing from front to back, freedom from the car seat.  Feet out the window, peeking at me over the top of the windshield through the sunroof, his positions change like the restless 5 year old he is.  Finally the food came, I ate, he continued to roam the car and have bites in between.  We still had errands so Gran was trying to rush things along, unusual for our trips to this stand.  He was drinking his float, not using the plastic spoon that came with.  The devil came in to me,  I picked it up along with a ketchup packet and fired it at him, catapult style.  I did a terrible thing.  How was I to know it would go out the passenger side window, delighting him, disrupting our meal, bringing the devil front and center to our lunch?

I thought of course he had seen that before, I wasn’t showing him anything new.  Apparently not.  The stand is generous with their ketchup packets unfortunately so he tried this new trick, he found plenty of ammunition.  Ping, off my glasses.  Ping, next to my mug of frothy deliciousness.  Then, fire, but no ping.  Where did it go?  Fits of laughter followed as he pointed to the steel beam above us, the girder holding up the awning.  Out the sunroof, resting gently on the edge, too high to retrieve, lay one tomato bullet.  Not content to rest in that victory, pieces of his hot dog bun began flying out, my fried mushrooms next.  All hell had broken loose in the form of a 5 year old with a plastic spoon.  When I tried to regain control of both my laughter and my grandson, he came back with that childhood mantra “but you started it.”  Yes,  yes I did.  The difference is knowing when to end it.  Taking my mushrooms crossed a line.

I try hard to teach him that just because someone else starts something, you don’t have to join them, you can also end it.  This concept may be a bit beyond him yet I am planting seeds.  I love the quote about not attending every argument that you are invited to.  Maybe I was just giving my Plum some practice on avoiding trouble, thinking about consequences, not being a follower.  Or maybe I was just a bad role model for the day, a granny having fun instead of always being in the parental role.  I do know for sure that if you pull up to the third slot on the left side and look up, you will see what a great shot my Plum is, and know I did a terrible thing. I worry about future trips to the hot dog stand, knowing I started something.  How am I going to avoid getting pinged by a 5 year old?  Next time we will ask for two spoons.

 

One day my Princess will come

We planted my tree yesterday, 12 days late, but still, she is in the ground.  My Chef labored over the hole, the ground rocky, a stump that needed removed.  He researched on Youtube the best planting of a flowering crab, let me say that again, he researched using the internet.  Not his comfort zone.  He packed his trunk with proper soils to mix to give the tree the best start, to prepare for the big day.  I bought pink ribbon, a pink bird feeder.  We forgot about how the older “sibling” feels when a new child is brought into the family.

Plum and I have each claimed a tree in the front yard, his the glorious Liliac, mine the sad Tulip the lighting is partial to as well.  Bird feeders hang from each, suet in the winter.  Much competition ensues as we watch how many visitors we have at each tree, he always wins. Of course I fill his feeder with the premium seed, the yummiest suet.  Bringing this new tree into the mix with pink adornments upset the balance, he wondered why his cousin got her own tree, why the fuss.  A hard conversation as he hid under the bushes, feelings raw for both of us.

How joyful my little Princess will be when she finally visits and finds her own tree that her best cousin planted, mixing soil, moving rocks, dumping, loading, digging, all for her.  Someday she will come and see birds visiting, listen to their songs.  “But, Gran, what if she never comes again?”  I never make promises to this little boy who trusts so few.  I told him we were trusting God with that, we were planting our Princess tree, we were going to care for it and watch it grow and I believe one day she will play under it.  “Gran, can I play with her?”  He spoke my dream.

We planted our Princess tree yesterday.  My husband was in labor for several hours, we brought him Gatorade and tried to keep him comfortable. We proudly took pictures afterward, we found a place in our family for this newcomer.  Today I sit on the porch and watch God pour rain down, blessing my hopes, feeding my dreams.  One day my Princess will come.  Until then, I will watch her grow for my chair on the porch.  Today is a good day.

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is one of those complicated holidays for me.  Positive male role models were sparse as I was growing up, my mother’s brother being the only one I truly loved.  Uncle Max gave the best hugs, hugs that didn’t hurt or ask for more.  A huge man who didn’t scare me, his arms wrapped around me and brought safety.  He was the one man who ever touched me and didn’t ask anything in return.

As I grew older, after my father died, my feelings about God the Father became enmeshed with my experiences with my earthly one.  I believed in God but wondered if he too was part of the group who hurt little girls.  I turned my back on Him and gave away what others had taken, seeking love, finding shame.  With each promiscuous act, I knew I was farther from what God wanted of me but maybe I didn’t want to go to heaven anyway, if that is where my father was, like so many family members professed.  Looking back, what a sad teenage mess, alone battling heaven and hell, secrets kept, shame piling up, thinking I was running from the One who is Love.

I married to escape myself, my history, my mother. My wedding was a duplicate of hers, I barely made it down the aisle.  I knew it was the wrong choice, I regretted it immediately, but how to stop the circus, disappoint her?  Two children came from this union, little else to celebrate.  This was not the man God picked for me, I wasn’t listening to my Father, even though I took vows in His church.  I lied.  When true Worse came, he wasn’t with me, we weren’t united, I guess he lied also.  The marriage ended, I began.

Several years later, I met a man completely different from anyone I had ever been attracted to before.  Kind, generous, funny, yes.  But he also argues with me, drives me crazy.  I cannot control him, nor him me.  He craves time with me, something I find hard to understand.  After almost 20 years together, he is still an enigma.  I love puzzles.  He has loved my children as if he were there for the birth of each one, been more present in their lives than their biological father.  When we took vows, I spoke the truth.  I believe he did as well.  It hurts me that our children didn’t recognize him this year, but I know it is a season, not a lifetime, just as they ignored me for Mother’s Day.  Sometimes kids are just shits.  Sometimes they are rock stars.  This is the year of shits.  The amazing thing is that he stays for all the years.

Uncle Max and my Chef have taught me about real Father’s Day, which allows me to be that much closer to my Father.  Their example of love in all the seasons, without expectation of anything in return, doing no harm, surely makes God proud.  Sometimes dads are shits.  These men are not.  Thank you God for my Uncle Max so long ago and my Chef every day.  Happy Father’s Day to two incredible men who are rock stars to God the Father and me.

 

Soul Restoration

After a particularly brutal news cycle, a couple of weeks of heart ache that ripples from close to home then out into the nation, but found its way back to home and repeated, seemingly without end, we needed an escape.  Senseless deaths based on love identity, a child killed on magic property, one killed on a family camping trip by a fallen tree.  The ensuing hate and blame and second-guessing showed how far we have delved into an ugly holier-than-thou society of strangers. Connections felt coast to coast after 9/11 are buried so deep under fear that we no longer even consider walking in another’s shoes.  Time to step away and restore in the presence of someone who’s heart was equally bruised, who soul was crying out for a day of peace.  To the church of IKEA and Brickworld we went.

Spending an entire day with such a good friend, who can mock your inability to follow through on any IKEA hacks, will stop and agree, yes, that IS cute:communion.  Filling up carts, writing down bin and aisle numbers, marveling over hundreds of things for which we have no need, selecting, admiring, rejecting, mindless wandering in a cinnamon roll scented desert. All the while, talking, talking.  One conversation that lasted 8 hours, finally enough time to truly get caught up and remember too.  Add some perspective to events of 30 years ago. We gift each other the unique perspective of the long view added with an abundance of trust to illuminate our own blind spots.  We traveled three floors, loading our carts with whimsical items and shed our burdens as we went.

Next stop Brickworld, a convention of LEGO builders who brought their masterpieces for the rest of us to gawk at, visiting her son’s displays. Dessert after our IKEA lunch, this fed our need for wonder, sheer delight. Works of art and imagination, creativity born of the same bricks I use every day, left me with little speech.  As someone with no artistic talent, I have a deep appreciation for others who use that portion of their brain.  I am intrigued by their ability to, well, just create.  From scratch, no kit, no instructions.  Art worthy of gallery showings, my soul rejoiced. Builders devoting hours and energy to joy then sharing the fruits, families eagerly laying it up.  For a few hours, peace reigned.

My friend has one of those hearts that carries the hurts of all the world, her empathy capacity limitless.  She worried that taking a break from hearing about the next child injured, the next family divided, the next big shooting, just for the day was wrong, somehow.  Checking out felt unfair, irresponsible.  Remembering that God doesn’t sleep or shop at IKEA and cares about her over-burdened heart as well allowed her to take a day of soul restoration.  My soul is thankful I went along for the ride.

School Of Splash and Sprinkle

You know those really cute rocks that people paint to look like lady bugs or butterflies?  Or maybe they put watermelons or basil leaves on there to mark their well-weeded garden? My life is not like that.  We coated rocks with preschool water color paints, about 6 plastic slabs of them in various state of destruction.  We used the paint brushes that come with the sets, no true artist would ever touch these I am sure.  Because we were feeling extra saucy, we added glitter, both the glue and sprinkle variety.

We selected rocks from my Chef’s well landscaped path, initially just one at a time and then eagerly selecting one for each other on our trips around the side of the house, maybe two or three.  I painted the whole rock one color and then tried to decide what to do next while my 5 year old grandson merrily dabbed here then there, announcing it looked “fantastic.”  And it did. His freedom to play was inspiring, joyful, messy.  He asked if I needed help, he gave me pointers as only a child can.  “Do this, Gran.  Nan, watch how I made a new color.  Do you like this?” As a lover of all things green, he delighted in the green rock I painted with gold glitter in his initials. “Magnificent,” he proclaimed.  His pace became frenzied as he threw himself into the event, splashing colors, mixing hues.  “Oh Gran, this is fascinating!”

His rocks were spectacles of color, blending, running, mixing.  Was he really using the same 8 color palette as me? Chef joined and I watched as his rocks, like mine, were ordered, lines clearly marked.  His colors were perfect. (I think he could make those ladybugs and butterflies.) Plum offered to help his Grandpa too, who resisted.  He had his project under control.  He cringed at splashing paint as Plum’s exuberance took hold, worried about glitter on his pants.  Yet when I look at our now dried rocks, the most glorious ones are the those adorned by Plum.  He got it right.

I was reminded that my  God doesn’t see just an 8 color palette.  Children, having just come so soon from God, haven’t forgotten how to listen to Him, how to see Him in the world.  When we let them teach us, we see so much of Him, directly into His eyes. He has to be cringing when we draw lines that separate His beautiful people, robbing ourselves, our world of real glory.  We make children stay in the lines, use one color at a time, clean your brush, be careful.  We teach children to hate, separate, dominate.  What a shame we teach joy out of them, replace it with eyes that see only an 8 color palette.  For one day, I followed the lead of this child, letting him instruct me in producing colors I had forgotten how to make, how to see.

We painted rocks.  Aren’t they fascinating, magnificent, amazing? Glory be to God.