Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Wild Flower

What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. 
Isaiah 58:7  (Message)

He rode his bike to school everyday.  She noticed that he sometimes arrived early, before students were allowed into the building, before there was anyone to supervise.  At least twice a week he forgot his lunch.  The days grew shorter and shadows lengthened: air crackled with brittle cold and icy frost lined the edges of moisture on browned leaves and fallen pine needles.  

He rode his bike to school everyday, his thin coat worn and smudged with use.  Sometimes he fell asleep in class, lanky hair hiding eyes on a face that might have seen a washcloth that week.  This wasn't a serve-breakfast school.  She told him he was welcome to come into her classroom on those early mornings.  So he wouldn't have to wait outside.  

I always eat a morning snack, she said.  Would you like a slice of apple? She asked.  And she cut, and shared.  And brought more, because he always ate whatever she had.  Bananas, apples, oranges.  Then granola bars, crackers and cheese, even yogurts with plastic spoons.

He was living in a motel - a weekly-rate motel across the railroad tracks.  Across the highway.  Barely within district.  Everyday, doing homework at the table in the room he shared with his mother, and brother, and two sisters.  Until they could find a better place.  

He rode his bike to school everyday, backpack pinned together with two safety pins, homework hopelessly creased and wrinkled, barely readable through the scribbled crayon and coffee rings.  It smelled of stale cigarettes.  One time she saw a bug escape, antennae sniffing the classroom air when he slapped the backpack on the desk to pull his work out.  Work and bugs from that temporary home.  She kept her face still because his eyes were on her.  He knew she knew.

He rode his bike to school everyday.  Two weeks before Christmas, there had been a delivery made to his home.  Christmas angels.  He had a new backpack.   He had a new coat, and mittens, and a hat to keep his head warm.  He sported new shoes.  Do you believe in Santa Claus?  He asked, showing her, his teacher, during their breakfast snack before school.  Yes, she said.  Absolutely yes.

He helped her in the classroom on those early mornings.  Unstacking chairs, rearranging desks, taking down bulletin boards and pulling out staples.  They didn't talk much.  Sometimes about his family.  Sometimes about hers.  She saw his hopeful smile, his little-boy smile, his big-brother smile.  It bloomed on his face like a wild flower along the summer highway.  Beautiful.  Unexpected. Out of place, but oh-so-bright-and-it-filled-her-heart-with-joy, in the white of winter and the dark before school.  He never showed that smile during class and she felt privileged that he shared it with her. 

And then he wasn't there.  His family had moved.  Out of district.  She discovered.  Out of state.  An opportunity at a real life.  

Dear God, she prayed, thank you.  Keep them safe.  Keep them healthy.  Hold them in your hand. 

Poverty is real in this country. Free and reduced lunches and breakfasts help, but are not always enough to fill in the gaps for students in poverty. Thankfully, church-led, community-sponsored, and within-faculty programs have been put into place to help in situations where families just can't seem to find a way. Back-pack programs help with weekend food. There are used-coat drives, and school supply giveaways. There are many opportunities to be a Christmas angel to children and to families.

Having been in public-school education for the past 17 years, I have seen teachers buy out-of-pocket for their students in need. Without fanfare and without publicity. These students are often mobile, moving from school to school, district to district, and state to state - families in search of a better life, or running from the one they have. The teachers don't do it for thank-you. They don't do it for a pat on the back. They don't do it for recognition. They do it because they care. Because it's the right thing to do. Because it makes a difference.

Linking with:  TellHisStory, Three Word Wednesday, Unforced Rhythms

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Schedule

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 
gentleness and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23

"I love you more," she says as she walks by with the sound of flip-flip-flopping from orange-jewel-sparkle sandals.  My daughter rarely ventures into the office these days - these summer days of headphones and HGTV, of books on her lap, and ipad FB messaging.  Her favorite place is the end of the sofa.  The end with the table, with the lamp, with the space to spread out.  Her nerf-dart gun.  Her flashlight.  Her phone.  Her papers.  Her space.  I think it might be the 21st-chromosome-Down-Syndrome-doubling that gives her this hyper organization.

Sometimes I sit in her seat; I tease her.  I want to see what she'll do; I want to hear what she'll say.

"That's my spot," she stands in front of me, hands on hips, chin jutting forward.  The words hang for a moment before they are shattered by an eruption of giggles.  Her posture changes; her expression changes.  Her eyes widen, as if she's surprised by the laughter - her own laughter.

"It's Sheldon," she says - in reference to a character on a popular TV show.  She has just quoted one of his lines.  Like she has to explain the context of her remark to me.  

"I love you double more,"  I call after her, smiling to myself because I am behind in my plans for the day and she loves me this time because I just finished printing off her schedule for her.  

She has been reminding me all morning.  Right after she delivered her morning hug.  "Mom, my schedule...."  During her morning coffee, "It is Monday, my schedule..."  While eating breakfast, "My schedule yet..."  Her hands in the air emphasizing - palms up in the I-don't-know position - like she wants to say so much more.  Shaking her head at me, voice accusing.  "I need it, my schedule."

The fact is, I AM running behind.  Wake up with husband - check.  Coffee with Sierra - check.  Exercise - check.  Help Sierra in the shower - check.  Shower myself - check.  Get breakfast, let dog out, get dog's breakfast, empty dishwasher, put breakfast dishes in, go back upstairs - brush teeth, wash face, fix wet hair, call mom, wash Sierra's face, fix her hair - check, check, check, check, check, check, check.  I haven't written my post yet.  I haven't checked the paint in the garage.  I haven't put a load of laundry in the washer.  I haven't checked my job status, or my emails, or .... 

 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

It only needs one appointment - one change - and then I can print it.  My daughter's schedule.  Then she will be able to relax into her day.  Into her week.  She'll look at her watch, placed just so on the arm of the sofa, and she'll check the boxes off as she completes them.  She'll keep the schedule on the coffee table with a pencil - checking off boxes all week.  At the end of the day on Friday, after she checks that she made the coffee for Saturday and set the table for dinner...the last two items for the week...she will throw the schedule away.  Completed, purpose fulfilled.  She'll need another on Monday.

Context.  The I love you more statement?  Yes, she can finally pick it up from the printer.  But it's more than a simple thank you, it's also an I-know-I've-been-bugging-you-and-I-want-to-be-sure-we're-still-ok. 

Context.  The smile behind the I love you double more?  First - I'm always working on communication skills with my daughter.  According to the Down Syndrome experts, her speech falls far behind her thinking.  We are always working on ways to bring her thinking to us - to the people around us - to the world in general.  She's 23, and hasn't stopped progressing, hasn't stopped trying, surprises my husband and me on a daily basis.  So, we've gone through I love you to the moon and back, I love you to the ends of the universe, I love you most, I love you....times a million, I love you bunches of flowers... I'm proud of the way she's using a variety of these formulaic phrases.  Extend, extend, extend. Second - it strikes me as humorous that I'm giving my daughter a schedule when it is obviously me who needs one.

How often does it happen that the thing we provide to others is the thing we need the most?  I plan and provide a schedule for my daughter to keep her on track and to help her a navigate a world of independence within the big, broad world of anything goes.

Context.  So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  Galatians 5:16-17 (NIV)

Guess what - we ALL need something to keep us on track and help us navigate a world of independence within the big, broad world of anything goes.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit.  Thank you for guiding and directing us in our busy lives.  Help us to hear.  Help us to listen.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Comfort ye, comfort ye my people,
saith your God.
Isaiah 40:1 (KJV)

Sometimes I have to read in King James.  The forms of speech hold more information for me.  This is imperative - YOU need to comfort my people.  You meaning us.  We need to provide comfort.  And the tense isn't past, it isn't present.  It's future.

The future is now.
Comfort each other.
It's part of God's will.

Blessings on your weekend.

Linking with Still Saturday

Friday, July 25, 2014

Just Beginning

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17  (NIV)

Reflected in the mirror, those worldly-blue eyes,
Exquisitely lined, eyelashes thickened,
China-blue like a porcelain doll,
"It finishes the look,"
She said, applying the touch of pink, just so, 
To lips already as perfect as a freshly picked peach.

A painted dress-to-impress mask for all the world to see.

I tried it.
the lipstick and the gloss
And just couldn't master the skill
Of leaving bits of pink on straws
And glasses
And napkins
And boyfriends.

Apparently I wasn't finished enough.
Or pretty enough
Or dressed enough
Or polished enough
Or skinny enough
Or smart enough
Or easy enough.

Or perfect enough for all the world to see.

It took years for me to realize
That I would never be enough
By myself.
That I thought finished meant success
Meant perfection and polish
An end to the journey
But it doesn't.

"It is finished," He said from the cross.

But it wasn't.
It was just beginning
He gave up his spirit 
For us
Because no matter who we are
No matter where we've been
No matter what we've done
We are enough for him.

He finishes us.

Linking today with 5-Minute Friday

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

That Fine Line

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, 
and I will listen to you."
Jeremiah 29: 11-12  (NIV)

He stands in front of the dresser, feet planted solidly on the carpeted floor, a contrast of soft and tender, baby and boy, daring her with his eyes.

"Do you need help?"

The sturdy legs are clad in khaki pants, elastic band loose on his tiny frame, his tiny, fiercely independent frame.  He has them pulled just up to the little nub of his bellybutton.  She knows that precious in-and-out fold of flesh, that once-connection between them.

Not even three years.  It hasn't even been three years since she gently cleaned and dressed the little birth-wound, as she had his brothers before him.  Memories of ivory soap and baby lotion.  Yet here he was, dressing himself.  Pants on completely backwards.  One arm in the neck, one arm in the sleeve, the shirt twisted across his shoulder and under his chest.

"Not yet."

She smiles at the little-boy-voice saying those I-can-do-it-myself words.  It's that fine-line time - the time when independence stands toe to toe with need.  When helpless spars with able.  When babyhood lets go and boyhood begins.  She's seen it before, has worked her way through it with the two older brothers.  Is still working her way through with the older brothers.  And now this one.

Still smiling, she walks into the room, busying herself with this or that - folding and fluffing, picking up, putting down.  Busying herself with little things so she will be available when the not yet turns to Mommy, please.  Because she knows it will.  But not yet.  He's right; he needs to try, to learn, to grow.  So she makes herself available to help when he's ready.

A friend of mine shares little snippets of life with her four boys.  Precious life with her boys and her Army-chaplain husband.  She understands the balance between doing for and letting do, between what-will-people-think and how-will-my-child-feel, between teaching independence and learning entitlement. The end of this story?  I helped with his shirt but the neckhole is huge now and he is still wearing his pants backwards.

Can you picture God?  Our heavenly Father, a parent?  He sees us, tangled up and inside out.

He says "Do you need help?"

And sometimes we plant our feet on the floor and just want to do it ourselves.

"Not yet."

But our God, our amazing, wonderful God... he knows us.  He smiles.  He walks around our lives folding and fluffing, picking up and putting down.  He waits.  Patiently.  For us to grow.  For us to learn.

For us to ask.

Do you see him managing that fine line between doing for us and allowing us to learn to do on our own?

Sometimes he has to let us fail.  Sometimes we don't get exactly what we want.  Sometimes we get stuck.

Sometimes we just have to walk around with our pants on backwards.

Heavenly Father, in every sense of the word, 
Thank you for loving us so much that you don't always make our lives easy; 
you don't always clean up our messes.  You make us do it.  
And with your help, your strength, your wisdom, and your son, we are able.

Linking with Three Word Wednesday, and TellHisStory

Note:  My daughter and I had the joy and privilege of getting to know the family in this story when we hosted a small bible-study group at our home while my husband was deployed.  At the time, 'Mom' had two boys and was expecting the one in the picture.  The army moved them shortly after he was born, and then 'Dad' was deployed shortly after the move.  We keep in touch through Facebook.  This morning I am thinking about this family - now four boys - separated yet held together.  It is another kind of line, that separation.  

Would you join me in praying for them and others like them - praying that the family grows together across the distance of miles and circumstance, that they are surrounded and supported by the love and kindness of friends, that they are safe - emotionally and physically, and that they remain spiritually strong and resilient in the face of trials.

Thank you.

Monday, July 21, 2014


He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul.
Psalm 23: 2-3

My back conforms to the canvas chair - striped green and white like an awning - like garden-party favors - as I rock back and forth, catching the morning breeze.   I am still surprised by the green - I who spent years in the deserts of Arizona living with volcanic rock and cactus, painted-pebble yards and cinder block walls.  Even the name sounds dry and sere.

I am mesmerized by the color green.  Variety of hues indescribable, too many to catalog.  These shades are not labeled in jumbo crayon boxes, prismacolor pencils, acrylics and oils; they are subtle.  Startling.
Cool and refreshing.

It calms me, this green.  Makes me feel subtle and cool, like the slip of water over algae-coated rocks in a glassy stream.  Like the inexorable climb of ivy, reaching, clinging, then anchoring.  Like unfolding leaves and shoots of new grass.  Like venerable tree trunks with north-facing velvet cloaks of moss.

It recharges me, this green.  Growing.  Reaching.  Ripening.  I look for it each spring, after winter.  Walking the yard, the neighborhood, camera in hand, lens narrowing my vision, focusing my eye.  The first green.  It is hope.  It is promise.  It is faith.  It is real.

Sitting on the balcony, mesmerized by green - and life goes on.  Not just growing things.  The shadow of a hawk sweeps across the lawn below, fleeting and bold.  Red, red cardinals streak through the canopy of leaves, and stop to pose against evergreen-deep limbs of feathery needles, sharp and soft.  Contrast.

Life goes on.  Sitting on the balcony, rocking, my mother tells me about her plans for the day.  She is one-thousand miles distant yet close as the words we share.  The lives we share.  Daily.  I remember the days when a phone call was anchored to the wall.  I remember writing letters and waiting.  I remember libraries and card catalogues.  But life goes on and I gladly use this technology that keeps me close to those I love.  Contrast.

Life goes on and my husband works.  Away and busy, purposeful.  Life goes on and airplanes careen from the sky, rockets flare across desert cities, children ride busses to temporary homes, soldiers watch while families wait, secrets are told, newspapers sold, marriages made, and politics rage.

Life goes on and I am surrounded by green.  I rock back and forth, catching hope in the gentle air, breathing in promise of a new day, held in verdant, growing faith that all will be well.  It is real - life goes on.

Heavenly Father, 
Thank you for reprieve from today's headlines.  Thank you for green.  
Help me to keep your green pastures in my heart as life goes on.  
Help us to find your myriad hues and purpose.  
Help us to live in you.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Small and Full of Thanks

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
Psalm 8: 3-4  (NIV)

Sometimes I just feel overwhelmingly small - just small.  One person in a world of people.  One world in a universe of worlds.  Small.  And I gasp at the wonder of this small - my infinitesimal life, because I know that God loves me.

He knows me.  He knows me and still he loves me.  He knows us all and still he loves.  He loves so much that he came to live with us - to be small with us.  He gave everything for us.  That is full-of-wonder wonderful.

And I am grateful.

Linking with Still Saturday, and Sunday Stillness


...before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom...
Ecclesiastes 12:5  (NLT)

I don't ever remember either of my grandmothers without white hair.  Powdery, silvery, cloud-like and soft.  But that's who they were to me in the long ago and faraway of my childhood memories - old and wise, welcoming and sweet.

I have been watching my father's hair go from dark to light as the years pass.  I inherited his dark hair and diligently color the gray out every eights weeks.  I think when errant white becomes common and full, it will be time to accede to this almond tree in bloom.  But not yet.

What a graceful image of aging - before your hair turns white like an almond tree in bloom.  

This spring, my sisters and I were blessed to celebrate my parents' birthdays - 80 and 85, together.  Daddy was the only man invited.  Four generations.  We rented a vacation home on the outskirts of Nashville and spent a weekend of sharing and caring and loving on each other - a weekend of getting to know the toddlers and babies, to reconnect the scattered pieces of living across the country, to get some face to face and skin to skin.

Bloom.  I pray that we will always choose to see the graceful image - like the almond tree in blossom.  I hope that I will bloom as elegantly as my parents.  I pray that these families, my family, your family, will bloom where they're planted, sowing seeds of encouragement, caring, and love in the gardens of their lives and the lives of the people around them.  

I hope you bloom. 

Linking with 5-Minute Friday

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pure in Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God
Matthew 5:8  (NIV)

"Oops, I am messed up."

My daughter is telling me that she forgot to rinse her plate after lunch.  It's that am in there that gets me.  She inserts those little verbs to be in many of her statements.  Usually I find it charming.  Today.  Not so much.

I don't want her to think she's messed up.

Meet my daughter.  She is a 23-year old young woman with Down Syndrome.   She recently discovered the Down Syndrome part and insists on telling me at least once a day, if not more.  At first, I thought maybe she didn't really understand what she was saying - what having Down Syndrome meant.  But she kind of, sort of does.  I knew for sure because of an episode on Dancing With the Stars (DWTS) this past spring.

A little background.  There are three things you need to understand about my daughter.  One - my daughter loves reality TV.  She IS every contestant on every show: she chooses her team color on Survivor (before the merge, of course), she sits on the judges panel for American Idol, she renovates and designs for ALL the shows on HGTV - and points out all of the 'issues' in our house (I have chosen to be amused rather than alarmed).  Two - she ALWAYS picks the best-looking men on any show and calls them cutie pie.  And finally, three - she is an empathy master.  She feels the unspoken, the unacknowledged, the unheard.

So, we were watching a get-to-know-the contestant-better clip for James-the-cutie-pie on DWTS.  Somewhere in his celebrity life, he had received a video invite to the prom by a young woman with Down Syndrome named Hannah.  In the clip, he said he regretfully would not be able to accompany her because he was booked on that date.  So instead, he sent Hannah and her mom tickets to see him compete on the show.  I don't believe they ever mentioned Down Syndrome in the clip, but my daughter looked at me as we were watching and told me that Hannah had Down Syndrome.  Then she proceeded to name everyone else she knew or had ever known who had Down Syndrome.  And she had tears right along with mine - tears for the kindness and joy.

I love when things click with her.

So when she said she was messed up, I didn't want that phrase to click.  I wanted her to know she is amazing.  She is beautiful.  I wanted her to know how proud I am of her, and how much she is loved.  So I told her.  Simple as that.  And you know what she did?

She gave me that I-know-what-you-mean look, the old-woman-wise-face, and told me she is a young woman with Down Syndrome.  Like, of course you love me and are proud of me - how could you not?

I don't know why I was worried.

Heavenly Father, 
I know I thank you for my daughter all the time.  I just want to thank you again.  She is such a blessing.  You are an amazing God - how did you know I would need a teacher like her in my life?  At this time?  Thank you.

Linking with Unite, Unforced Rhythms, and Women Helping Women

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Across the River

          You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, 
declares the Sovereign LORD. 
 Ezekiel 34:31 (NIV)

A village lay alongside a wide, winding river.  It was an ancient village, and had seen many people come.  It had seen many people go.  Farmers, builders, artisans, speech-makers, and educators.  Growing and shrinking, growing and shrinking, the village adjusted to the winds of change and the sands of time.  It remained at peace and it prospered.

Across the wide, winding river was another village.  Also ancient.  A sister-village, similar in all respects except one.  This village was no longer at peace.  This village no longer prospered.  For whatever reason, for whatever vagary of fortune, this village had become a war zone of poverty and violence.

As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. 
 I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
Ezekiel 34:12 (NIV)

The children were the first to suffer.  Bellies aching from hunger, souls sickened by fear, they stopped singing.  They stopped dancing.  They stopped feeling.  Helplessness led to hopelessness; the darkness of the village was a looming, endless thundercloud of sorrow and despair.

I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, 
and I will bring them into their own land. 
I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, 
in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.
Ezekiel 34:13 (NIV)

There were only two ways out of the village of tribulation; death was the easier. The harder way, the longer way, the nearly impossible way, was to cross the river. Cross the river to the promised land, the land of milk and honey. Freedom land.

They tried.  Wave upon wave of mothers and children tried.  They strapped on sandals, sandals of peace, and they walked, daring to hope for a better life, a better way.  They traded helpless for courage, and hopeless for faith, and they walked.

Yet the darkness followed.  Loss of life and innocence, like twin plagues, accompanied the hapless pilgrims on their journey.  Hunger was a constant companion.  But the travelers helped each other through the difficulties and the many who made it, gathered at the river's edge.  Cross the river to the promised land, the land of milk and honey.  Freedom land.  These were the thoughts that built the rafts; these were the images that fueled the boats.  Dreams of a better life.

I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts 
so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety.  
I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. 
I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 
The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; 
the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, 
when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 
They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. 
They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 
I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, 
and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land 
or bear the scorn of the nations. 
Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them 
and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 
Ezekiel 34:25-30 (NIV)

Those who lived to finish the journey rejoiced. Welcomed by the sister-village on the other side, they began to heal. The children grew, they shared in song and dance, the valley through which they had come. And the village adjusted to the winds of change and the sands of time. It remained at peace and it prospered.

Heavenly Father, Creator of all things, 
Heal us so that we can grow in compassion and grace, so that we can look beyond ourselves and our politics and give help to the helpless and hope to the hopeless.  Help us to spread your love and your peace beyond our own small horizons.  Help us to look across the river.  

Today I'm linking with Jennifer, and Beth.

NOTE:  The current situation of the un-documented immigration of children across our southern border is overwhelming and heartbreaking.  I just couldn't finish this story using today's headlines.  I can't imagine that sending these children and families back to the violence and poverty of their home is the right thing to do.  I understand taxes and paying for those who cross our borders; I understand working hard for my money... but I keep coming back to Jesus, time after time, saying 'give'.  He didn't say 'give if you want to'; he didn't say 'give as long as it doesn't disrupt your life', he said "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."  To understand more about the situation, you can read here and here.  In her blog Lisa Notes, Lisa informs readers about a way to help (without the political...).