Thankful Thursday – Every Breath I Take

The last few weeks have cycled through deep soul excavation, self-reflection, confession and forgiveness, and difficult, honest conversations. These weeks have been hard, tearful, and also so good, resulting in helpful new insights. Growth can be hard work.

One of the healthier ways I’ve managed all the feelings has been to get active. Moving my body has helped shut down my ruminating mind. But movement comes with its own risks. I went for a two-hour seaside walk in the wrong shoes and developed a blister on the ball of each foot the size of a 50-cent piece–ouch! And last weekend I took a wrong step during a run that strained something in my ankle and has had me limping since.

Last week I patted myself on the back–six out of six days I either practiced yoga or ran. This week not so much. This week I’m a lame stress ball, one that should bounce but instead lands with a thud.

My yogi friend suggested her chair class, which enables deeper stretches since you don’t also have to support your own weight. I rearranged activities to make it at noon today, grateful to have an opportunity to move safely without pain.

Little did I know how grateful I would be…

Confirmation #1: Written on the studio whiteboard: “Today’s Intention: Gratitude”
Confirmation #2: Yogi-friend said, “Everything happens for a purpose. If you weren’t injured, you might not be here right now…”
Confirmation #3: The only other class participant? Also a pastor’s wife, also dealing with an injury.

At that point, I just started laughing. Clearly, God put me where I needed to be!

Honestly, I would have preferred to move hard, to sweat, to get my blood pumping. I’m not good at stretching and, left to myself, I don’t take nearly enough time to do it properly. Still, it’s good, helpful, necessary.

For this near-private lesson, our yogi had created a routine and playlist just for us. She asked different questions, not “What is your foundation?” but “WHO is your foundation?” The music also took us beyond our bodies and focused our minds. Two gimpy pastors’ wives and our yogi-sister shared an hour of stretching, breathing, and praying. We shared yoga worship.

I breathe, but I need reminders to breathe deeply.
I move, but I benefit from reminders to move intentionally.
I pray, but I stretched differently into this hour of focused, physically-expressive prayer.

I entered the studio slump-shouldered. I exited with shoulders back, a smile on my face. I received this shared yoga experience as a gift, and I am indeed grateful!

Doesn’t yoga frog make you want to smile?

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Thankful Thursday – Maundy Thursday 2017

I did not grow up with a tradition of observing Lent but, as an adult, I have grown in appreciation for spiritual discipline in general and this season of church life specifically. God does great things when we give Him great access to our lives through disciplines that help to tune our eyes and ears to His work.

Before this Lent began I asked God: “What discipline would you have me observe to see you more clearly?” Funny (and I truly believe God IS funny this way, at least sometimes), He didn’t answer clearly. I could take on a discipline of reading the news; in these times, we all ought to read the news more broadly and more carefully. And I put on a ring my mother-in-law gifted to me; as my ‘not typical’ right-hand ring, its presence on my finger has reminded me of Jesus’ presence with me.

And then Lent took a quick left-hand turn into discipline. Situations arose that required prayer; people needed me; I needed Jesus. God knew I didn’t need more disciplined practices than the discipline He was already planning to send my way. (And oh, wowza, did I ever need that ring as a reminder of His presence…!)

Today is Maundy Thursday, which means Lent is almost over. The dark before the dawn, tonight we commemorate Jesus’ last supper with His disciples before He was betrayed. Tomorrow He was crucified. Sunday, at last!, Jesus rose from the grave.

We want to fast-forward the bad stuff to get to the good. We want to skip the pain in favor of pleasure. We don’t want bitter but sweet. In this Holy Week, God calls us to see His glory in the worst-ever scenario, trusting Him to redeem and transform it into more than all we could ask or imagine.

So what am I thankful for on this Maundy Thursday?

I am, as always, thankful for Jesus, who sacrificed Himself in love for me, for all of us, so that our lives not only exist, but matter.

I am thankful for a year, and that the situation that occupied my heart last year is no longer my concern. And I’m thankful for the hope that the situation that occupies my heart now won’t next year.

I am thankful for time, as in, time heals all wounds. The wounds of last year, but also more recent cuts and jabs that, with time, prayer, and careful tending, have already begun to heal.

I am thankful for kind and gentle human beings who willingly give of themselves to help the rest of us make peace–with ourselves, with God, with one another.

I am thankful for the continual bubbling over of last week’s Mexico trip, and the ways I see God has grown and shaped my Teen through this experience.

I am thankful for yoga, and my friends and their friends who filled a studio this morning for a laughter- and fun-filled sweaty workout, good for body and soul.

I am thankful for the rain showers earlier today, for the quail running down my fence line, for the twilight breeze rocking the tree branches outside my window. Peaceful beauty.

I have to laugh at what happens when I pull out my running shoes…

…and say “Thank you!” for what I see outside my door…

The first spring rose in my garden, a gift from a friend

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ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Thankful Thursday – Beach Therapy

I am a beach girl, all about toes-in-sand over body-in-water (although I have heard stories of little me evading my parents’ grasp and running headlong into the waves, fully dressed and shrieking with delight). With proximity to the shore, I breathe differently: deeper, more fully, relaxed. Robinson Jeffers wrote, “The tides are in our veins,” and I agree: again and again the tides pull me back to the coast. I need regular doses of vitamin sea.

So today I am thankful for Pacific Grove, California, one of my favorite places on the planet. I first visited with Guy on college-escape weekends to his parents’ home in Santa Cruz. Back then I referred to Pacific Grove as Monterey, no firm line on the coastal cliffs marking town from city. For most of my kids’ lives we have vacationed there one week each summer. This week, while Guy and Teen build homes in Mexico, Tween and I got away for a few blissful days.

Our summer “‘Cation House” unavailable, this trip started with a Groupon for two-nights’ stay at The Olympia Lodge at the end of Lighthouse Avenue, a five-minutes’ walk from Point Pinos Lighthouse and the rocky shore. The lodge is a little like Grandma’s house–friendly, cozy, a few updates but mostly old in a comfortable way. We don’t require luxury and the price made it right. We’d stay there again.

Tween and I scrabbled on rocks and examined tide pools. He led the way, pointing out stable rocks to land each step, calling, “Mom, look, look!” We saw so many hermit crabs, anemones, even a chiton. We saw nesting Canada geese. Never have we seen so many seals and sea otters in the wild, bobbing in the waves. The sun hitting surf spray created flashes of rainbows. And everything was blooming!

While Tween “rested” (read: stared at phone) I went for an almost-two-hour walk from the golf course to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and back. I walked and prayed and people-watched. People walked alone or in pairs. Many walked dogs. Some ran or biked or laughed with loved ones as they maneuvered surrey bikes. Some sat, soaking in the view. A couple of middle-aged men enjoyed a glass of white wine; when I smiled, one remarked: “What better way to end the day?” Indeed!

Some appeared to be turned inwards (one or two even in tears), while many, like me, smiled because they couldn’t help themselves. It wasn’t until later that I realized: perhaps I noticed so many smiles in direct response to the slap-happy ridiculous grin on my face!

Tween and I enjoyed all of our regular activities–a few hours at the aquarium followed by a walk down Cannery Row, a scrumptious chocolate-caramel sample at Ghirardelli Chocolates, and drinks at Starbucks. We ‘socialized’ puppies (held, played, laughed, and loved puppies!) at the animal rescue. We looked for potential new reads at BookWorks.

We also bought art supplies and spent an hour drawing the view. We devoured guacamole and chips and burritos vegetales smothered in enchilada sauce from Michael’s Grill & Taqueria. And we went paddle boating on Lake El Estero next to the Dennis the Menace Park. Tween hadn’t been paddle boating since his legs were too short to reach the pedals. The half-hour ride around the lake, which afforded us an up-close view of two herons and a pair of turtles, was a perfectly relaxing way to end a perfectly relaxing couple of days.

Next spring break Tween will be on a school-sponsored trip, and the following year he expects to join his dad on the Mexico trip. This week was our final spring break hurrah for just the two of us. I’m grateful we did it right!

 

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Full Friday – March 2017

The week before spring break is a crazy one in our office as each year we prepare to send about 250 people from our church and community to Mexico to build hope and homes with AMOR. This year, in this one week, our group will build fourteen homes.

I am FULL of gratitude for this trip, this experience, that changes lives in Mexico and the Bay Area. The chaos that precedes the trip dims in contrast to the bright light God shines through the trip itself. I can’t wait to hear all the stories on the other end…!

That crazy-office week continues to our home. My sweet Guy leads this trip every year, and every year it surprises me (again! How can I be surprised again?) how much work it takes to plan. In addition, this year Teen is–at long last–a senior and a student leader for one of the house builds. Quite literally, he has anticipated this trip his entire life, and it’s almost here…

The FULL schedule means I have not been as present to the blog as I like. I have put on pause several posts just because there aren’t enough hours in any day. I had hoped to post a Meatless Monday recipe for National Spinach Day (3/27) but, as much as I ❤ spinach!, I didn’t have a spare minute to decide which particular spinach recipe I’d post. I started writing a re:create recess post for Wednesday before the day slipped away. I planned to write a Thankful Thursday post, and instead said a happy Yes! to a friend’s request for a short walk around the dog park, a healthy antidote to stress.

So here we are: Friday. The week has been FULL-to-the-brim. My heart is FULL: the hectic pace pulls in tow joy, gratitude, frustration, bite-your-tongue bleeding, tears, and laughter (um, have I mentioned I’m just a wee bit emotional?).

And now, now it’s time to take a deep breath and a rest. We have a week. Nine days, including weekends. Half of our little family will be in Mexico, working and serving and growing. Half will spend intentional time resting and playing together, growing in altogether different ways.

I may feel energy-empty and heart-full now but, during this week, I plan to fill up on rest; to fill up on moments and memories with my darling Tween; to fill up little accomplishments in a lot of arenas; to fill up my body with satisfying rest, fulfilling exercise, and delicious food. I want to exit this week FULL in completely different ways.

Meanwhile, here are some recent pictures that fill my heart with beauty.

For dinner tonight, I’m making (again) an entirely satisfying soup (stew) that will linger as tummy-yummy leftovers this weekend (my friend keeps sharing her kale crop!). And for more on my (too-short) one-night experience with AMOR, keep reading.

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For Cryin’ Out Loud

How many times have I sat with a group of women, Bibles open to Luke 10, as criticism of Martha zings around the room?

Martha’s too busy.
She’s caught up in the wrong thing.
She’s obviously Type A.
Clearly she’s a fussbudget busybody.
She’s overly dramatic.
She’s causing a scene.
Does she think she needs to prepare six courses? Hasn’t she heard of a one-pot meal? How about a sheet pan dinner?

Poor Martha! Every once in a while a woman seated around the circle will eke out a timid comment in her defense: who among us hasn’t acted like Martha at least once? Who truly feels qualified to cast these stones?

Mary gets the honor, while Martha gets vilified. I think we might be missing the point.

I think Martha lost sight of Jesus.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She made Him and His traveling entourage feel comfortable. Hospitality was a BIG big deal back then, way more so than these days. Dirt floors and mud walls might have made housecleaning less of an obvious burden (or moreso?), but inviting at least thirteen hungry travelers into your home meant you probably had to slaughter a goat or two. To skin it, clean it, cook it, how long would that take? (asks the vegetarian…) Plus the side dishes: I imagine tabbouleh and unleavened bread, eggs and nuts and fruit, cheese and wine.spice-370114_1920

I’m getting better, but I used to turn into a whirling dervish before hosting a dinner party. Except way less graceful. I have a soft spot for Martha.

No, I don’t think it’s Martha’s hospitality that got her in trouble. She worked that gift in spades (go, girl!). The key is in her question. Interrupting the party beyond the kitchen, Martha cried:

“Master, don’t you care…?”

Martha forgot who Jesus was. If God = love and Jesus = God, then Jesus = love. Okay, I’m willing to concede that maybe Martha didn’t know Jesus well enough yet. Maybe the if/then hadn’t been made clear.

And yet: I believe Mary’s stillness at Jesus’ feet and Martha’s busyness in the kitchen were separated by only one thing. Mary was attentive to Jesus and Martha was attentive to her preparations.

Can we do whatever we’re doing and still be attentive to Jesus? I sure hope so! I’ve pretty much built my life and faith on paying attention to God while I also do business. In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey claims that real, undignified life is the classroom for holiness. “If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find God at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet time or the mission field” (p117).

If Martha had taken off her apron and plunked herself down next to Mary, she still might have missed Jesus. She needed to focus her heart, not her hands.

Martha’s cry recalled for me Mark 4, the disciples in the boat when the storm came up. Jesus was sleeping, which might have been a good tip off that God was not going to sink them. But their fisherman training got the best of them. They’d seen storms and this one seemed bad in the worst way.rembrandt_christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galilee

They cried: “Teacher, don’t you care…?”

Of course He does. Jesus loved them. Jesus loves us.

Jesus loves us in the boat. In the kitchen. In the green pastures and the dark valleys, wherever He leads us He also loves us. Psalm 31:7 promises, “I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care…”

Thinking about Martha’s cry, the disciples’ cry, brought to mind the phrase, “for cryin’ out loud.” I did an online search and each site that popped up confirmed the same origin for the phrase. While consistently an expression of frustration or exasperation, its origin comes from the phrase, “for Christ’s sake.”

Which made me laugh: crying out to Christ, in frustration and fear, for Christ’s sake? That seems appropriate. We call out to Christ–maybe with the wrong motives, sure, but still–we cry out to Him and He draws us near for His own sake. Because He loves us.

An Uncommon Commitment

The month, and again, the week before he began 6th grade and a new school (Aug 2015), I asked Tween when we could get his hair cut. The first time, he shrugged, very pre-teen of him. The second time he responded, “I’m not. I already put it out on Instagram that I’m growing my hair to donate to charity.”

To which I replied, “First, you have an Instagram account? And secondly, that’s not something you thought you should talk over with your parents first?”

[In my defense, he is my second child and WAY more tech-savvy than anyone else in our home…]

I spent about a week trying to talk him out of it. New school. New teachers and friends. First impressions. Long hair can be a pain. Kids can be mean. It could be a bigger commitment than he understood. I suggested he wait until he’s 16 and donate blood–no necessary prep time.

He held his ground. He said, “Mom, there are kids who can’t grow hair. I can. I’ve got great hair. And I’m 11! I don’t want to wait until I’m 16 to do something good for others!”

Why on earth was I trying to talk my kid out of being a good guy with a generous heart?

He has fabulous hair, thick with a few curls and slight waves, a blonde-strawberry color that cannot be produced from a bottle (I’ve long said that if a colorist tried to do my hair his color, I’d end up pink). Some child/ren will be blessed with a wig made from his fantastic goldilocks.

I gave in, and together we researched different organizations. We ruled out the Big One (you know, the one you assume receives all hair donations), because they charge patients for wigs. We pulled up six or eight different tabs and I left him to do his own reading and research. This was his project and he needed to choose the organization that tugged on his heart. I warned him, though, that most organizations won’t take processed hair and, because of my blonde highlights, I would likely not be able to join in his efforts…

Things mamas don’t expect to do with tween-age sons: invest in good conditioners and better brushes; loan him your hair ties and buy him not-too-feminine head bands. Also, blow dry his thick mane while you simmer with jealousy. And grow out your own hair because doing it himself is not enough–he wants to mount a campaign of hair donation.

We left Tween in front of the computer while we went to the Farmers’ Market. We hadn’t yet parked when he called: “MOM, I found it! Children with Hair Loss will take eight inches, not ten, and they’ll take processed hair in good condition! You can do it with me!!!”

Ugh, his sweet enthusiasm! Donating my oh-so-fine hair had never been on my bucket list. I tolerate this hair; will someone else want it? I have bad dreams that I’ll receive a rejection letter… And yet, all parents recognize that our kids take us in directions we’d never expected, so my hair is now longer than it has been in 20 years, since pre-kid days.

Having heard about Tween’s campaign, two 20-somethings, a former babysitter and her friend, have donated hair. Two girls at church, one in middle school and another in high school, have donated hair. A mom of two littles cut off her long black locks and she, too, will send her hair to Children with Hair Loss. And then us: Tween and me. He went first. I have another month.

Three weeks ago Guy took Tween to his barber; Guy needed a cut, Tween needed a measure. And to make sure Guy’s barber was down with the ponytail/donation method. Far beyond the necessary eight inches, Tween was closer to twelve.q-hair-1

At which point he panicked. His whole middle school identity has been wrapped up in being the long-haired boy. He got major social cred with the girls as soon as his hair was long enough to braid–and he let them (smooth move, Kid!). It took a while to wrap his brain around a looming new identity…

Tween’s last haircut was just before his 11th birthday, early May 2015. At that point we had no idea this commitment would appear on our horizon, so honestly, his haircut could have been end-April 2015–when didn’t seem to matter as much as that it happened. Today, at least 21 months later, he got a hair cut.

q-hair-2q-hair-3q-hair-5

I am so proud of this generous kid. Of his sweet heart. Of his uncommon commitment. I can’t take credit. He is his own amazing person. I’m just grateful for getting to swing in his orbit, for becoming a better person because of his example to me.