Friday, April 29, 2011

Gifts from the East

The heart ruminates blessings by remembering . . . sweetness revelled in longer, as the mind’s tongue rolls image and smell and texture over and over. I begin to savour. Long and happy days with my childhood friend-turned-mother-of-two, my older sister-with-youngest-squirt-in-tow, and my younger-dreamer-sister. These are gifts, and I am thankful.

Childhood bosom friend and sister redesign my blog:

Dancing with wee ones:

Little girl unfolding and refolding laundry:

Deep soul baby smiles:

Playing just like the concert pianist:

Three sisters reunited:

Baby talk:

Sleeping with borrowed baby:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

We ready ourselves for Spring’s Coming-Out Gala. Winter’s simple, unflattering fare no longer suits us. We hurry to stow away scarf and bulky cloak. Who wants boring wool when linen and cotton await? Who would keep wearing clunky boot and frumpy sweater when fairy garb lies nestled in attic chest? The coming gala tickles our senses, sends us reeling in happy anticipation, spinning dreams of romance and impossible beauty.

But why?

Why should we be glad for something we have not yet seen?

Why should we cherish such fervent expectation? Who gave us such a notion?

But then, tragedy strikes. Spring herself has gone missing. At first, she was just delayed, and we could bear it. But then news leaks that she has been caught up in foreign affairs. And our hearts flutter with momentary fear. Winter can be dogmatic and unfeeling: marvellous to wrap it citizens in fluffy coats of white, but unpredictable—sometimes the covers smother and stifle us.

We rally, and bring out coloured garments, go shopping for something new and bright. Our hearts betray our bustle. We worry, we fear, we bicker. It’s taking too long. We take out mounting frustration in vigorous labour, increased entertainment, louder noise—dulling the gnawing ache.

Then we hear the news: Spring is further delayed at the embassy, perhaps even against her will, so the previous governor fills in till her arrival. He tries to be gentle and soft, but soft snow is wet snow, and we mutter choice complaints as we shuffle and slip along. We’re miffed.

But why? Why are we so disappointed by this withholding?

What were we expecting?

We bring boot and coat out of storage, and labour again in Winter’s fields, sighing resolutions, battling despair. Tears flow. Hearts heave. Heads bow.

And then, the unexpected occurs. Our hearts begin melting. We didn’t even know they were frozen! Disappointment, anger, irritation, dissolve into streams of liquid grief. We see our stiffness, we feel our coldness, we struggle for air under the weight of our costumes.

And Winter thaws our hearts. We begin to see him, not as the enemy, but as a benefactor. In his exhausting reign, he revealed our impatience, our snootiness, our bigotry, and greed. We bow in shame and realized poverty; (and our hearts rise to face the dawning sun). We muscle slush, knowing we deserve nothing better; ( and our hands are strengthened ). We plod along; (and our legs grow stalwart).

And why? Why should we not mind the bitter blow?

Because we have seen the King. Because He has entered our sorrow and conquered our enemies. Being with Him dissipates our fear, dissolves our resignation, evaporates our gross rebellion.

Something stirs in our hearts, we feel the washing of a liquid stream. Could we be overcome by this wonder?

We look around, and gape in astonishment: when did blades of grass appear? When did tulips push through the mulch and snow?

We turn, dumbstruck, to the King. And He looks deep into us, through us, and smiles.

Then, He takes our hand, gently bracing our frame, and hums a love song. Before we know it, we discover that we’re dancing . . . with the King!

And that giggle behind our shoulder. It is Spring, waltzing with Winter.

And all at once we realize it: all our wishing and planning and groaning were not wasted. All our tears had a purpose, all our tripping and struggles are swept into a flurry of praise. This ball was not about us, not about Winter, nor Spring.

This is the King’s dance. And He makes all things—darkness and grief and sorrow and horror—to work together for His pleasure.

And we are His, in this dance of HOPE.

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope . . . You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Ps. 16:11

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who was given to us.”

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lessons from a Printer

“Chloe, the printer’s not working again.” Her frustration and helplessness mount. Why, all of a sudden, won’t it cooperate? Maybe it’s her computer, that Macbook. But my computer still works to print, so there must be something wrong with her machine. The urgency abates, and we can limp through this problem.

Then, the “reliable” PC won’t work. The typical dialog boxes evade my screen, and an impotent stranger flashes unhelpful information when I order a print job. It’s like talking to a recording: no logic, no relationship, no help, and no sense of timing— I can’t stand here like an idiot day after day, waiting for a solution from an uncooperative machine. This silent treatment grates me.

I pull cords, turn off power, start it up again . . . nothing.

I uninstall the nearly-full cartridge, and switch it for a refilled one . . . nothing.

I wipe the cartridge openings with glass cleaner to remove sediments or dried ink . . . nothing.

Finally, I plop the whole works into an empty apple box and haul it to the store. Surely the associates will have answers, or even suggestions, to help me out. When I ask, I am told they are not registered to do maintenance work on this brand. I’d have to call the manufacturer about the warranty. Great: more communication with machines.

Pulsing between aggravation, defeat, and abandon with the menace, I bring it home again. I try to ignore the problem, but we both know we can’t live this way. I hate this helplessness, this mounting frustration, this emerging reality of no way out and no happy ending.

So, I vent to Dad in a bullet-point e-mail list. I don’t care if he can’t help. I just want someone bigger than me to know I’m miserable. He sends back a message of radical reality:Are you selecting the proper printer as we installed my HP when you were home when we worked on the Quicken books.”

Installing the farm printer made it the preferred machine, showing up first in the queue. Hence, the strange dialog boxes and un-received signals.

Can it really be that simple? I change the settings. I order a print job. I hear the machine grunting, digesting paper. It spews out a beautiful printed page.

I’m deflated, relieved, exhilarated all at once.

What do I learn from this?

Stupidity is trying the same things over and over, expecting different results.

Specific rules govern the process of problem-solving: following the rules leads to the solution. Fixing the wrong problem does not help.

Confession ushers in the best results. Pouting keeps me boorish and isolated from help.

Joy comes in relationship—being willing to die to the pride and fear that bind us in hopeless seclusion.

Hope becomes reality when I realize there is Someone Bigger than me Who knows . . . and cares . . . that I am miserable. And He can abate the cause of my misery.

Isn’t this the Gospel? That we failed, and God did not, and He came, and He rescued us?

So God, open my eyes to see You Gospel-ing me every day, because where You are is life, where You reign is peace, and where You rescue is joy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Place to Belong

After four years of journeying to other countries, I came back to this one. But journeys change you, they are supposed to; and the once-familiar setting no longer held assumed safety or comfort. The once-common presumption of friendship no longer sustained the soul.

Journeys unravel the heart. Coming home made me see how frayed mine was. Home again, but not at rest; perhaps a prolonged jet lag, or a multi-layered culture shock, or a complex unravelling of threads—whatever the reasons, I barely moved, but my insides were churning. Months of swirling questions, spiralling defeats and disappointments, vortexes of frustration and fear of ultimate failure; I needed mooring. My parents threw me the rope they too gripped—faith in God, trusting that He is good, and does good, banking my life on His essential power. The cord held fast.

Weak and shaky, I ventured out again, following the Shepherd. He makes me lie down in green pastures. I did not want to lie down; I thought I should go, and was frustrated with myself because of my weakness and inability to rouse.

He leads me beside still waters. Nothing happened, nothing exciting, epic, grand. Life hummed quiet around me. I thought about the difference between resignation and resolution. I thought about living a beautiful life, not just a productive one. Healing flowed.

He restores my soul. I did not know it was so worn, so tarnished, so needy. But the longer I wander in this place, the more I need His mercy, the more I see my need. And His grace is enough.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake. This ebb of mercy flows quiet and sure: because it is not all about you, it is not all up to you. It’s not my story to tell, not my performance to mess up. I’m not the star; I’m just here to tell how good The Star really is.

Now, I’m not far from home, and that is a gift. There were years when long and thoughtful letters sustained and bound my heart to my parents. Now, I crave their embrace, and to hear their whispered prayers as they hold me on their shoulder.

Now, I’m not on my own, and that is a gift. A sister shares this ascent, and the laundry, and the dishes, and the rent bills. There is no more smugness that “I did it myself,” and no horror of utter failure, because we pick up after each other, and we lift each other’s sagging limbs.

And now, I belong. I’ve been welcomed into a troupe all heading the same direction. My crystal ideals shook and crashed during the voyage—but that’s okay, because they were cheap, and not worth keeping. While I was away, I saw treasures of true value, the potential of genuine relationships founded on Reality.

The journey made me see the beauty I left behind, and the glory of what lies ahead. The trip broke me, and brought me healing.

It is good to travel, and it is even better to go in company. To just belong, be “one of,” and listen and look for the Shepherd, Who goes before His flock, and leads them gently home.

“Now therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God.” Ephesians 2:19

This musing comes from the happiness of recently becoming a member of A Place Called Hope.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Birthday Letters

Monday 4 April 2011

When he came into our world. . . we went to pray for a boy whose body lay smashed from a vehicle accident. We took the picture of him, all new and squirmy and cold-looking in the incubator. He was so eager for life, he breathed too soon, and swallowed his swimming pool. The newborn lived. The fourteen-year-old did not.

So the world was freshly broken, and newly grieving, when he came into it: this long-awaited child. Twice before his birth, her womb had swelled happy with life. And twice it had emptied too soon.

And now, this: a second child of promise, this second balm of mercy, this second gift of grace.

Once upon a time, three girls seemed enough, so they wrote a period at the end of their phrase, at the end of this phase.

But God edits life punctuation.

The period grew into the base of a question mark. God answered the question, and erased the scribble, even though smudges remain to remind of man’s need and God’s supply. He reworked the ending, and used a semi-colon: a new thought within the same sentence. He gave a boy, a little man to carry on the name, a man of light and good fortune.

And now this: a second son, a child to reach beyond our family ties, and touch the world. Just like his Daddy, and just like his Mum. Unlike any of us, yet like what we should be: dreamers, lovers, willing workers, happy learners.

His life, always intertwined with pain, was followed by two more grievings. Maybe that’s why he loves children so much. Always laced with joy’s triumph: his curiosity and bottomless vitality renew life, and make us think about the better things. Maybe that’s how he can love people so much. He loves better than a sibling. A brother loves from duty first, but he loves from choice, not assumption or obligation.

Our family didn’t want it to end with him . . . but it did, and yet, it hasn’t. He will go places none of us have ever been. He will reach beyond what we can grasp in our spheres. His life, hidden with Christ in God, is blooming tall and wide. I pray he stays hidden, and Christ bursts forth in glory.

And his life in Christ teaches me what lectures cannot: that life is a gift to be offered to God with thanks, and upraised, open hands.

And the sixteen years of his life are a gift. Happy birthday, baby brother, Avery!

“I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.“ I Tim. 2:8

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lessons from a Tea Party

“Come play wiss me.” And she lifts teeny hand, reaching for mine, leading me away, pulling me towards the wonder of her world.

“Teapot, and cups,” she chirps soprano. Little legs boasting petite amounts of chub lean against tiny chair, and she sets herself down gently. I push her up to the table, where she is hostess, I am company, and happiness overarches in canopy.

“Want sugar?” “Pour cream?” Unconscious Behaviour’s veil falls from its face; I mindlessly perform tea time rituals. She notices everything. She copies everything. She stirs just like me. She taps spoon twice on cup rim, just like me. I realize I am exposed.

Pleasure and horror intermingle: my habits and defaults and first reactions forge her perspective of what is normal. And I need help to be all I should be in this moment. This moment is all I have with her.

I teach her “cheers” before we drink our tea, raising miniature cups together to gently kiss before we press them to our lips.

And I look in her peerless blue eyes, right into her soul. She is exposed too, but she is not scared by it like I am. She knows only this reality. She lives in these moments, expecting nothing but what she is promised by parents, living blissful in parameters set by others.

“Let’s pretend.” Saucers are plates and dolls are babies and we eat cookies and salad and meat and whatever we like off our plates. We complement each other on the fare, smacking lips and approving with “Mmmm.” And the food is pretend: we sip and stir and stab air.

Another organza curtain lifts, revealing the reality behind the pretend. What is actual is that we are happy.

And why are we happy? Because we believe that we have been given all we need to be happy, in this moment.

Grace is for the moments, not for the months ahead; but for now.

We giggle and sing and dance, cooing and gurgling our delight: wellsprings of joy. We delight, not because we are delight-ful in ourselves, but because we are taken care of by One Who loves us. He, our Parent, watches over us. He always reacts correctly. He always does what is right. He always is in control.

And we are happy when we move beyond recognition of His authority, into delight under it.

Where God is Lord, then we are happy.

I pick her up and twirl, and do what comes naturally: I sing over her.

And He does the same, over us.

“The LORD your God . . . rejoices over you with singing.”

“Delight yourself in the LORD.

P.S. Gentle reader, two links to share with your heart: one, to a conference for women meeting with women and leading them gently to the wonder to God's reality, learn more at

She Speaks Conference

And two, to a story of real grace, told as it is lived, at
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