Warrior in the Rain

Warrior in the Rain
Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.
Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.

This morning I was reconsidering a post I started last winter and never finished. Sometimes that happens. I drift along, writing about a moment that captivates me, but then I’m not sure why I had been told to pay attention. The lessons we learn can be months – or years – in the making. Today, as summer dawns, I’m leaning forward to hear His whisper on this memory.

Cold rain pelted the colonial streets when I dropped my kids off at school this morning. 38 degrees and gloomy. I was turning left when a couple started to cross the road right in front of my car, walking a black Lab.

I saw her first.  She was bundled up in a parka, hat, and scarf, and working hard to hold on to the pulling dog, who was giddy over his outing despite the weather, his tail whipping him into a full-body wag.

Then I looked at him. He was oddly serene – a dreamy, almost complacent expression on his face – and he had chosen strange attire. His muscles were lightly concealed by a t-shirt – and shorts! He held an umbrella over the woman, even as the driving rain splashed against his bare limbs. His gait was strong and steady, but ever-so-slightly unnatural. 

Then I saw it – his prosthetic leg.

I assumed he was military, a warrior injured while serving our nation. But it could have been an auto accident or something else, of course.

Nevertheless, in the two seconds I studied his face, I saw resolve. Perhaps the kind that comes from having faced fear and done the next right thing despite it. Or from the hard work necessary to overcome a challenge you never thought you’d encounter.

Why was I directed to remember him?

Maybe because we all face obstacles to a smooth walk.

Despite my best efforts, I still struggle with comparing myself to others, fear of judgment, paralyzing perfectionism, and an inner critic who won’t shut up. When no one is counting on me, I’m also rather poor at time management and start projects I don’t finish. Then I worry that somehow these failings will become my legacy.

I could resign myself to these negative thoughts and let the foes of my spirit finish me. I could assume that I can’t improve my gait.

Yet I believe that God is pulling for me. His Word is replete with promises of His Love. 

And He is sovereign over all – even over the various forms of darkness that plague my mind, creating muddy puddles on the sunniest of days.

He says,

…be transformed by the renewal of your mind…

-Romans 12:2

This is a command. To allow myself to be made better. To be made new. By Him.

Through Him I will find the long-term resolve I’m looking for.

My ability to walk naturally through life without fear or pain is directly related to my willingness to yield to His Love.

Can I yield a bit more today?

Riveting Like Rosie

Riveting Like Rosie

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I’ve always liked “Rosie the Riveter,” the iconic WWII figure famously portrayed in this painting by Norman Rockwell. Years ago, I had a copy of this print in my office. Rosie symbolized the thousands of women in industrial jobs who replaced men gone to fight. She embodied the spirit of a new phase in American life.

I look at her and I see Resolve. Tenacity. Perseverance. Strength. Courage.

And I know that under her tough-as-nails exterior, she was also tender and womanly. To convey her feminine charms, some artists even portrayed her with noticeably red lips.

I can relate to Rosie’s “taking care of business” attitude, and I suspect that most American women do.

But I also wonder about her quieter moments. The ones where she kept her home together. Held her kids. And perhaps marveled about the way thousands of little bolts can hold one big vehicle together.

I have a riveting gun too, you see. It’s just invisible. Its’ bolts are tiny interactions, layered one on top of another over months and years until hopefully, finally, in the end, my contributions will have aided in the creation of a self-sufficient and loving adult. Three of them, in fact. At least, this is what I envision.

I get so consumed with trying to make sure that everything is powered down and in place that I can forget the beautiful whimsy of working on long-term projects that are large, grand, and so very, very important. And also so very different, complicated, and not “projects” at all – but God-given gifts who are entrusted to me (and my husband) for a time.

I can fail to really see each one of them at all. 

That is, until I experience a moment like the one I experienced tonight. Because – let’s face it – my kids’ growing up experience isn’t just about them, is it?

It was all normal enough – laying out my son’s clothes for school tomorrow.

Except that tomorrow is his last day of kindergarten.

My baby’s last day of kindergarten.

His navy blue shorts and white shirt suddenly looked so, so small.

A metaphorical hammer was coming down on my head as I realized he wouldn’t fit into these clothes come fall. They are already tight, and he’s our last child.

He’s my baby.

I stood there. Suddenly fighting to breathe.

I ran to his bed, where he lay, silently sleeping.

I stroked his hair. Touched his cheek. Held his hand.

Wiped tears from my face with the back of my other hand.

There were so many projects I had planned to do this year while he was spending days in kindergarten. Some got done. Others didn’t.

And? No one was keeping score.

But like Rosie, I was doing the work of a new phase in my own life.

Invisible rivets. Laying down the foundation for what will be when he  finishes 1st grade, and 2nd, and 12th, and so on.

A new phase means changing some things and building on others.

I think of Rosie. She says…

Look ahead with Resolve and Courage. Be Riveted to Hope.

Holy Moments – Day 27 – Clementines

Clementines

There’s one fruit I love this time of year, and I only like them when they come from Spain or Morocco. Clementines. (My apologies to my Floridian friends.) The ones from Europe are sweeter, juicier, and smell more “clementine-ish.” Perhaps it’s just the memories that make me so particular….

I discovered these delicious little oranges in 1992 when studying in France. I don’t remember them in the United States back then, and on my student budget, they were a healthy novelty that paired nicely with the cheese and bread that made up most of my diet. Christmas Eve that year still rings as a fine example of one of those fantastic meals.

I had traveled with two girlfriends to Strasbourg for the holiday because we’d heard it was the “Christmas Capital” of Europe. Right across the border from Germany, this picturesque town boasts unique architecture and a Christmas market in its town centre. We spent Christmas Eve strolling by the open stalls and drinking mulled wine, and after the sun went down, eating a chocolate buche de Noel, cheese, bread, and yes – clementines – in our simple hotel room, which was just a stone’s throw away from the Strasbourg Cathedral. We talked for hours about the people we loved and Christmas back home in the states.

Strasbourg4Strasbourg2Strasbourg1Strasbourg3

By about 10 o’clock, we were very tired, since we had begun our day on the pre-dawn train out of Toulouse. So, we set an alarm to rouse us for the Midnight Mass. Little did we know the alarm would not be needed.

I have never been summoned to church like I was that night!strasbourg-1046384_1280

BELLS!! BELLS!! BELLS!!

They shook our tiny room with a fervor akin to an earthquake.

And we woke up laughing with surprise and glee. We threw on our coats and literally ran out the door and around the corner, into the cathedral.

The place was packed. European churches are often empty these days, but on that night, I stood with hundreds of other latecomers in the back, feeling privileged to have a square foot of ancient stone under my feet. And Mass – conducted in both French and German, with each part being said first in the former and repeated in the latter – felt magical.

At that point in my life, I was not a regular church-goer. I wasn’t even Catholic. But I was captivated by the beauty of the French language, and the art and majesty of cathedrals. The Lord was whispering to me, calling me in ways He knew I’d find appealing. And I was filled with joy standing there in the presence of God’s people, celebrating the birth of His son.

What is the pull of Christmas? The food, friendships, family, the gifts, the beauty of it all? It is an invitation to come and see…Come and see.

He said to them, ‘”Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw… (John 1:39)”

 

Beautiful Faces. Beautiful Song.

I don’t know why I feel compelled to post this.  I don’t have much to say.  Just…

I see beautiful faces everywhere, every single day. Each one is absolutely unique.

Photo Credit: Ken Wu, www.unsplash.com.
Photo Credit: Ken Wu, www.unsplash.com.

And every day, I am dazzled by some natural phenomena – weather, animals, plants.  Most still carry on in mysterious patterns, independent of human control.

My own heart has a pattern – a rhythm set before I gained consciousness, a rhythm not started by me.

I find these things awe-inspiring, and humbling, and my soul wants to celebrate the Only One who deserves the high praise that should be accorded the most Glorious Being who could create these things and set them in motion.

That’s how I feel every time I hear this song – my current favorite. My heart and soul leap with praise to God.  Maybe you’ll feel the same way.

 

Prayer for ISIS

Gifted with a liberal arts college education, I’m trained to ask probing questions, even just to myself, in an effort to see issues from different perspectives. Twenty years past my college years, this is quite helpful when I want to educate myself about a subject.

I’m the first to admit – I don’t know much about Islam. Yet I can’t ignore a terrorist offshoot of it – ISIS, and their heinous acts. Why are they this way? I ask again and again. Seeking first to understand, I try to see ISIS in a cool, distant, academic kind of way. For the sake of clarity, I want to know the many layers of objection they have to the West, and specifically to America. My head starts to spin the minute I sink my teeth into any book or article on the subject. The historical, religious, geopolitical roots of this increasingly dangerous threat to innocent people all over the world is such a tangled web that it’s no wonder recruitment to their cause is becoming easier. Pull any one thread of an angry heart into a taut position and you can turn a believer into a fighter.

I have no expertise and can thus offer no solutions here. But my faith does call me to persevere in one difficult task. Prayer.

I have read that in the video of the 21 Christians whom ISIS martyred on a beach in Libya a couple weeks ago, several of the men could be seen mouthing the name “Jesus Christ” just before they died. To God be all glory for their tremendous displays of faith in their last moments.

This fact made me wonder – Did these brave men also pray for the souls of their executioners? They probably did. To a non-Christian, this seems absurd. But it begs the question – Why and how would this be possible? The answer is – Because in choosing to follow Christ, we accept His will and His way. And we move with Him not in our own power, but “through Him who empowers [us].” (Philippians 4:13)

The same God who parted the Red Sea, sent manna from heaven, and brought water from the rock, “will fully supply whatever [we] need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Colossians 4:19). He can – and will – give us the grace we need to consistently pray.

So, through our Lord, we are called to pray fervent, heartfelt, daily prayers for ISIS.  Please pray with me:

Lord God On High, My Heavenly King and Ruler of All,
I thank you for my life and my blessings.
I come to you, such as I am, and offer myself in your service.image
I trust in your faithfulness and goodness,
and will not be shaken, for you are always with me.
The enemy of my soul surrounds me on all sides,
pricking me to hate the ones you also love.
Lord, renew my strength to love my neighbors, ISIS.
Kindle in me a fire to continually pray
for their anger to abate and their violence to cease.
You stand at the doors of their hearts and knock.
They are in deep waters and will drown for want of You.
Give them ears to hear You.
Give them eyes to see You.
In your mercy, grant them wisdom, understanding, and gentleness.
May your powerful whispers of eternal, unconditional love
destroy the walls that separate men.
You show me the path to life, my Lord,
Your love delights my spirit.
May my joy in You be a beacon of hope in this hurting world.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.

– Matthew 5:44 (KJV)

Valentines for Everyone!

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They burst into the kitchen, their young faces flush with excitement. “We have a GREAT idea!” they said.  “We’re going to make Valentines for everyone in the neighborhood!”

“Um, ok.”  I said, incredulous. “That’s a….good idea..??”

With amazed and delighted disbelief I watched my daughter and her friend follow through on this loving, joyful impulse.  In the unusually warm weather, they spent all of Sunday afternoon sitting on our front porch making Valentines for neighbors, most of whom they don’t know, taking breaks now and then to run off with exuberance for “deliveries.”  If the recipient was a friend, he or she received the card face-to-face.  If not, the Valentines were left in the house mailbox, one from each girl, sweetly signed with only their first names. In a span of 4 hours, the girls industriously covered our little section of the world, 4 tiny streets, with love.

We were all conceived by the One who loves like this – with abandon. But somewhere along the way, we usually acquire a harder-hearted response – the one that I showed yesterday – to love, freely given. Lord, open my eyes today.  Help me to see all the ways you love me.  Help me share your everlasting love with the world.

Many waters cannot quench love,

Nor will rivers overflow it;

If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,

It would be utterly despised.

–  Song of Solomon 8:7

 

Jerk Fish

imageI was gathering laundry this morning in my oldest son’s room and stopped to peek in on the cantankerous little jerk who lives there. He’s a fish.  And that’s his name – “Jerk Fish.”

He might have had another name at some point, but now no one can remember it. He lives alone in his 40-gallon tank – and has for about 6 years. This valuable real estate would be lovely for a much larger community of more colorful, amiable fish, but every time we have tried to introduce a new roommate, Jerk Fish attacks the fellow until there’s basically nothing left of him.

In the beginning, it was sad for all of us, as we hoped for fish utopia, but now we’ve just hardened to this tyrannical, territorial warmonger.  Trouble is, he won’t die.  So, we feed him, and he lives out his days in solitary. I guess he’s happy.

Yes, I’m anthropomorphizing a fish. But as I was trying to catch this grainy photo of him for you (and he wasn’t cooperating), it was fun to think about the fact that he probably doesn’t care one iota about what I think of him. He’s just doing what he was made to do – be a certain kind of fish who doesn’t happen to play well with others. God is just fine with him, because His expectations for the fish are different than they are for me. And pondering that made me smile, and here’s why.

Yesterday, my post was about the very difficult topic of abortion. In my walk with God, I am called to follow His promptings, and this blog is a reflection of my desire to do just that. So speaking out about something I believe is gravely wrong, and for which I also believe there are so many people who need healing, forgiveness, and help, was the right thing for me to do. But it’s a risk, and I also recognize that it’s a risk for others to step out and say they agree with me.  I tried to be sensitive, but it’s difficult to know how we’ve been interpreted. We all wonder and worry about what people might think of us.

When my mind started to wander that way, I offered up a prayer and heard the whisper say to me:

Fear of man will prove to be a snare,

but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.

– Proverbs 29:25

When I write about what I believe is the Lord’s truth in me, I can’t be afraid of what all of the people I know might think.  I’m keeping my eyes on Him.  And if I get things wrong, I’ll await His loving correction, because he’s my Father, and I’ve already been promised His eternal love.

 

 

Sleeping Trees

 

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The sun rises in our capital city today, but things are different.

Yesterday, a fire in a very large waterfront home tragically took the lives of 4 children (cousins from 2 different families) and 2 adults, their grandparents.  I heard about it midday, when a beloved friend called – very, very upset.  Her kids were friends with those kids, and she would have to deliver unthinkable news…

I don’t know the families, had never met the children or their grandparents, but….well, I guess when you have kids, this kind of news is just especially gut wrenching.  So awful. Devastating. How would I as a parent, feel?  Instinctively, I hold my breath just imagining the sudden free-fall into darkness.  I reel like this every time a story hits, literally, “so close to home.”

I look at the barren trees this morning and in my mind hear my youngest son’s words: “The trees are sleeping.”  That’s what he said, back in the fall, when the preschool class was learning about seasons, and I immediately fell in love with the analogy – perfect for a 4-year old and 42-year old alike.

A cold, dreary winter combined with sad news can make people huddle and hide, withdrawing from the light. Right now, we can’t see it for all the bleak grayness of the world, but something new and beautiful will be visible in time.  I have faith.  I believe. I will hold a candle for those who can’t right now.  I believe – in Him.

And Jesus said,

“I am come a light into the world,

that whosoever believeth on me

should not abide in darkness.”

– John 12:46

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Only believe, only believe;

All things are possible, only believe.

Fear not, little flock, whatever your lot,

He enters all rooms, the doors being shut;

He never forsakes, He never is gone,

So count on His presence in darkness and dawn.

“Only Believe,” Paul Rader

(From The Bible Promise Book for Women, Barbour Publishing, Inc., 2014, p.13)

Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza

Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com

If you’re from Philadelphia you have your favorite place to go for a cheesesteak (which you probably just call a ‘steak’), and you know whether that’s a ‘whiz’ place or not; you also have a favorite place for hoagies; and you have a favorite place for pizza. These places may or may not be one and the same. Philadelphians are VERY particular about these foods, and VERY loyal to their neighborhoods. There is no “best place to get a cheesesteak” in the city. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t lived there.

I went to high school in the western Philly suburbs, in a town called Broomall to be precise, and my family’s one-and-only for all three of these staple weekend foods was Thunderbird. If we weren’t squeezing into one of the tiny booths in this very basic building, we were having Thunderbird delivered – and I knew all the delivery guys.  Each one was either a friend, or a friend of a friend. To a kid who grew up moving around a lot, and then having moved to Broomall in 10th grade, it was exciting to open my front door and know the person carrying my dinner. I think that’s what made me smile so much when I saw the Facebook post. That and the memories of celebrations that involved Thunderbird food – lighthearted moments – like eating the 6-foot long hoagie with my cheerleading squad over my dining room table after we won the regional championships.

High school is a difficult time for many people and for lots of different reasons. I was no exception. My parents had divorced and remarried, and although I think I held it together on the surface, I was churning inside – learning to navigate relationships and deal with pain that would take years of searching and prayer to heal from and understand. But it wasn’t all bad – not nearly so.  I was blessed with very good friends, and was accepted in the community enough to feel some sense of ownership in it.  I was very proud of the service my dad gave to our country as a military officer, but it meant that until that point I had never lived in one place longer than a couple years, so I had never been “from” anywhere.  Feeling linked to the town through the high school and friends who worked at Thunderbird made it feel more like a permanent home.

I’ve heard it said that, more and more, people feel worse about themselves after they look at Facebook. So, reflecting on my own happy reaction to this post about my favorite pizza joint, I offer this: I can use Facebook as a spiritual barometer. It can tell me how the weather is in my soul. If I look at a post and feel uneasy, jealous, resentful, angry, haughty, proud, or greedy, I know that there’s trouble brewing with me.  If, on the other hand, I read posts and feel genuinely joyful for others’ success and loving toward them, and my demeanor remains happy, peaceful, tolerant, kind, gentle, good, and rooted in faith and self-control, I’m on the right track and will not leave Facebook feeling worse than when I got on it. And given how far I’ve come in the nearly 25 years since high school, that’s certainly where I want to be today.

 

Me in my "Thunderbird" (i.e. high school) years.
Me in my “Thunderbird” (i.e. high school) years.

Day 14 – Spider-Man

imageI pretend not to notice as he creeps around the side of the kitchen island and aims his little hand at me…his thumb, forefinger, and pinkey sticking out, the other two fingers curved back into his palm. “Gotcha!” he half-whispers, smiling his sly, playful, dimpled smile. “UAAAHH!” I shriek, “Not your web!  You got me again!”  And he giggles with delight, then runs away.  Practice makes perfect, and my little Spider-man’s got two weeks to work on his webs before Halloween.

I like Halloween – when it doesn’t upset my kids or me. And yes, the bar is low for that. I admit it – I hate the dark side of the holiday. If we could get rid of anything associated with blood, gore, violence, scariness, and fascination with anything related to that macabre stuff, it would be wonderful.  But since I know that won’t happen, I just focus on the lighthearted, wholesome aspects which lead to joyful memories of the fall season – trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and of course, innocent kids’ costumes.

Costume selection is always interesting because each year I’m curious to see what appeals to the kids and why. My oldest son (now 11), has, for 6 of the last 7 years been some kind of warrior.  If a costume expresses an inner desire, then perhaps he wants to be tougher than he feels he is.  My 8-year old daughter’s tastes vary. In recent years, she’s been a princess, a cat, a glamorous witch, a female warrior cartoon character, and a pirate. This year, she had trouble deciding between a vampire and an angel. I sensed she just liked the idea of being a vampire, without really understanding its full import. So I showed her costumes and vampire makeup.  The fake blood disgusted her, and she settled on ‘angel,’ and a full-length gown. In the end, it was really about the gold and white dress. But, I was quite happy with her choice.

Whether a person wants to try on a whole new identity, or express some hidden side of themselves, no one ever puts on a Halloween costume and then hangs out at home all alone. The fun is in circulating amongst other people incognito, or somewhat so. Everyone wants to be noticed in their chosen garb, and to have a good time wearing it for a little while. And sometimes a person feels even more brazen in their costume – willing to step out boldly in ways they wouldn’t otherwise – just because the garb gives them added confidence as they “become” the character they portray. I saw this firsthand with my oldest back when he was two and chose to be Buzz Lightyear. His costume had inflatable wings that attached to his back, and I have photos of him walking up to complete strangers with a huge smile, bag out and ready for handfuls of candy.

Why do we do this? Why do we try to be noticed? I actually think we are looking for something divine. We want to experience someone seeing us not only for who we are day-to-day, but also as who we wish we could be, or think we might be – a better or alternate version of ourselves.  No matter how much time we spend with our family, friends, or acquaintances, we sense the truth deep in our souls that none of these people can actually fill our deepest need – to be fully and wholly known.

So, a costume is not merely a covering up – it is also a reaching out. It’s a way of saying, “Will you still love me – like this?”  Too often, the costumed are not yet aware of why they want to be noticed.  The psalmist says it perfectly:

O God, you are my God–

for you I long!

For you my body yearns;

for you my soul thirsts,

Like a land parched, lifeless,

and without water.

–Psalm 63:1-2