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May 31, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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That Genesis Feeling

Garden plot

Last weekend, I planted beans and corn, among pumpkins and sunflowers, in a plot at the side of our house. It’s an 8-foot by 4-foot plot, an odd shape for a garden. Long rows for the corn and beans. Short patches for pumpkins and sunflowers. The weather cooperated just long enough on Sunday afternoon for me to dig up the dark earth, drop the tiny seeds in their rows, and cover them over with a mixture of the same dark earth and fresh potting soil. I followed a handy diagram I found online.

Viola! Let the magic begin!

When I am near dirt, I love its smell. Warm, dark, moist…earthy. Dirt smells of life itself. The brown soil underneath my sweaty knees is about to produce food for my family. Worms and bugs crawl around in it, and I let them be. They are welcome in my patch. My uneven rows and clumpy top soil wouldn’t put me in the “Birds & Blooms” magazine, but the garden is mine. To tend and care for. To love and nourish. In its parameters, I feel like I have finally arrived at a place where I am meant to be.

My heritage, on my dad’s side, is in the soil. My grandpa, Raymond, farmed land in Indiana for years. His farm had been in his family line for over 100 years, and he maintained it well. Sky-high stalks of corn, flourishing rows of soybeans, waving sheaves of wheat – those are the images I have in my head when I think of my grandpa’s acres of land. When I would visit in the summer, I would sit in awe of the land around me, as it produced a bounty, drawn out from simple seeds.

That awe is the feeling I still get when I am close to the dirt.

I call it the “Genesis feeling.”

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the story is told of a garden. A lush, beautiful, green place, full of trees and flowers and fruits and vegetables. Earth’s Creator, in the story, tells the first man and first woman to take care of the garden. That was their sole responsibility. In the tradition I was raised in, we tended to focus on the part where they disobeyed the command and were banned from the garden. I think, by now, most of Western society knows about the bite of the apple taken by Eve…and the chaos that ensued afterwards. But I want to focus on the part before the bite. Before the snake. Before the trouble began.

The first man and first woman were gardeners. They cared for the soil and for the animals. They lived close to the earth. This closeness coincided with their harmony with their Divine Creator. They flourished in a quiet, unashamed way, until their connection was broken.

When I smell the earth, I think of that connection. I think it is a holy experience to be near soil, as the soil brings forth creation again and again every season, just like God intended it to do.

Flowers

For over 6 years, I worked in downtown Denver. I was surrounded by soaring buildings and congested traffic. I commuted on a crowded bus, followed by a quick jaunt through narrow streets to my office building. Everything was paved in concrete, stone, or asphalt. In January of this year, I read an article in the Denver Post, about Denverites craving “green spaces”, and how the city of Denver is planning initiatives for more parks, rooftop gardens, and community gardens to be inside the city limits.

Apparently, I am not alone in my quest for the Genesis feeling.

As humans, we want to be rooted and connected. A lack of connection shorts out our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. We end up wandering around our lives, craving a ‘missing piece’ that perhaps we can’t quite name. We want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. (This is why my brother Michael enjoys his Costco membership. “It’s good to be a part of something bigger than yourself,” he says, always with a grin.) But if the ground that we are walking on isn’t solid and healthy, we are going to sink ourselves. We will weaken, not unlike over-planted and over-harvested soil.

When I first moved to Denver in 2007, I was a stranger in a strange land. I had spent several years as a missionary kid in Germany and then a few months with my grandma in Indiana on the farm. I was 23, broke, friendless…and just a little bit of an oddball. I carried a journal around with me everywhere, writing incessantly in it, afraid to miss some detail of this new life I was trying to forge.

Still, Denver welcomed me with open arms. I found a job, joined a church group, made new friends, got married, had a baby, got promoted, earned my degree, wrote some books. The last 12 years have made me wealthy in love and experiences and happiness. I’ve been putting “down roots” in the best city I have ever lived in. I’ve been striving and working and achieving. I’ve made plans, executed plans, and failed at plans. I’ve won and lost. Fought and surrendered. Fallen down, gotten back up. Cried and laughed. Loved and been heartbroken. Grieved and rejoiced. All the things in this list should equal an abundant life with rich soil.

Except, somewhere along the line of the last four years, I’ve lost my path.

I’ve created all concrete and asphalt with very little green spaces.

If I zone into the part, “Got promoted”, from the last paragraph, I can pinpoint the beginnings of toxicity. From the first moment I received a higher title at my last job, I began a race to the supposed success I thought I craved. I found out that I was good at climbing a corporate ladder, fulfilling company objectives, and leading a team. The desire to make more money, get an office of my own, and maybe a summer home in the mountains churned in me. I didn’t even realize I was obsessed. I put in late nights and early mornings. I missed family dinners and Saturday morning breakfasts. There are few pictures of me from last year, simply because I wasn’t around much to have pictures taken.

I focused in my attention to be a good executive leader, even a great one, if I could.

And….I failed.

This could be the moment where I tell about what I learned from the failure, or how I picked up the pieces and created something new. I could reflect that maybe I was in the wrong position or in a wrong company. I could hypothesize on the “if this, then that” or “he said, she said” scenarios. Except I don’t have those answers right now. I can’t fully articulate yet what I have learned, or where I went wrong, or how far I let myself go down into the trap of success and financial gain.

I’m sure I will be able to relay those lessons at some point.

All I know is that I am discouraged, sapped, and a little lost.

For those reasons, I am dropping seeds in the soil this year.

It’s reminding me that, sometimes, you have to go back to the beginning to find out what the next step is. Sometimes, you need to rip up concrete and dig up the dirt. Sometimes, you have to check the quality of your soil before you can reap another harvest. Sometimes, you have to give the soil a rest between plantings. Sometimes, you have to return to who you are in your heart before you can take any more action.

Genesis 1 begins with nothing. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (ESV) Before the garden, there was darkness. In the darkness, was the Spirit. It is this moment that fascinates me. The quiet before the burst. An empty page before written words. A blank canvas before the painting. That’s where I want to be—in the void, open and receptive, anticipating the new things about to spring forth. I’ve emptied myself, in mind and soul, and in my actual day to day schedule, to make room for fresh creations.

Even before I was promoted, I had constant goals on my list. For years, I have been working the soil of my life, determined to reap the best harvest I could possibly gain. The result has only depleted my resources, in body, mind, and spirit. I can’t keep running at a brisk clip on a never-ending treadmill cycle. This strange cocktail of over-achieving and strenuous goal-setting stripped me of other vital nutrients to my “soil”, including time to write, time with my son, time to travel with my husband, and time spent outside in nature, to name a few.

I haven’t completely thrown aside the things I want to accomplish. There is a tiny list tucked inside my journal (yes, I still keep one, although I have managed to not carry it around everywhere anymore) of fitness, writing, and family intentions. I look at it about once a week. But there is no deadline, no pressure, no knife to my throat, no financial gain to any of it.

What I am focused on it this:

I am taking long walks, teaching my son to read, and experimenting in the kitchen with recipes made from veggies, nuts, and a weird substance called “nutritional yeast.” I’m reading lots of books and taking time to think about them. I’m watching movies in a dark theater with my husband. I’m hanging out with my friends. I’m inquiring to adoption agencies and learning more about the foster care system.

I’m practicing gratitude.

I’m pondering who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to go. I’m re-gaining my footing on the path that I know I’m supposed to be on. When I was contemplating this year, a passage from the book of Isaiah came to my mind, “You will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way! Follow it!”

I’m listening for that voice in the stillness.

I’m breathing in, breathing out.

I’m waiting in the void.

Did you know that soil can heal itself? If given the proper environment, nutrients, and attention, striped soil can be replenished fully to its richest, darkest, and densest vitality. Toxins removed. Nutrients restored.

It’s a slow process, though, nurturing striped soil back to health.

Even slower to nurture a worn-out soul.

I’m okay with slowness.

Maybe if the first woman and the first man hadn’t been in a rush to try the next thing,

the whole earth would still be a garden.

Plenty of green spaces instead of gray concrete.

If, during this process of nurturing and waiting, you’re looking for me,

look through the big dining room window at my house.

You see me pulling weeds, watering, coaxing growth, or protecting roots.

I might be on my knees,

inhaling the smell of dirt,

content for this moment….

In a garden,

where the Genesis feeling is.

Mountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 29, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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Sacred.

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There is a small place, tucked near the Department of Motor Vehicles in Arvada that has become a type of sanctuary for my little family each week. It’s a bakery.

The smell upon opening the door is a mixture of dough and cinnamon and yeast and coffee. The owner always greets us with a smile and keeps an open tab for us while we are there. Off to the side of the main display cases is a little nook with three chairs, perfect for our family of Three Musketeers to while away a Sunday morning, undisturbed from any outside influence.

A special place, once a week. We have invested in this time for a reason. It is good and healthy to come away and take a break. Certain places, actual physical locations, help us with this concept. A church, or a park, or a cozy chair in your home, can all aide in rejuvenation, reflection, and rest.

It is good to stop. To cease from the mindless labors that hurt our health and well-being. To halt from work. To cut out distractions. I’ve written about this in this very blog. (see my Archives, https://wordpress.com/post/coloradowriter84.wordpress.com/562)

But, I wonder, sometimes, if it’s not about the stopping, or about having chunks of endless time, or completely free calendars. Maybe it’s about allowing time in the middle of the chaos and the noise and the plans. We can carve out time for mindfulness during times of movement. We can create spaces for flourishing in our distracted, break-neck speed world.

Ever since the Angel blocked the way back to Eden, we have been searching for the sacred again. At times, I contemplate what it must have been like to have the whole Earth filled with God’s presence. To only experience peace and joy and communion every hour. (Jealous much of Adam and Eve!) True, uninterrupted exposure to holiness permeated the lives of the residents of Eden.

Sometimes, you only appreciate something after it’s gone. Mankind has striven to recreate perfection and beauty and peace on the scale of Eden ever since our banishment. This is why certain spaces, holy sites, hold such value over us. We know we are lost and disconnected. Sacred sites shift us to God in a way that, perhaps, we have trouble doing in our own strength.

What if our experience with the sacred didn’t depend on a physical location?

What if began to experience the whole of life as sacred and precious,

no matter where we were or who we were around?

What if our life was not ordinary, but extraordinary, simply because we get to be here now?

I am reminded of Mary, Jesus’ mother, as I think about the sacred among the ordinary. After she birthed the Messiah, angels and shepherds and wisemen surrounded her. Eight days after his birth, she dedicated her son to God, and two strangers offered her blessings. Then she and her husband up heaved themselves in the middle of the night because an angel informed them that a madman wanted to kill her son.

And all the Scriptures says is this, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

She didn’t run away from it. She didn’t complain about it. She didn’t even try to understand everything that was happening around her. She simply reflected on it, and created a sacred space inside her heart to house everything God was showing her. No matter where she was, in a barn, in a Temple, or on the back of a donkey, she maintained a reverent awe and wonder.

One of the alternative definitions for “sacred” is “entitled to reverence or respect” and “highly valued or important.” Moments in time, conversations we have, emotions we experience, movements of our body–all work together to align our lives back to the Divine. It doesn’t matter where we are. Or who we are with. Or what is surrounding us.

Joseph Campbell once wrote, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.” Isaiah wrote, “In returning and quietness shall be your confidence.” It is so easy to forget that God is present in us. Every second of our life counts.

I am not trying to disregard the pain and suffering in the world. I do not pretend to understand why evil happens, nor am I saying that God is okay with it all. The unspeakable grief and pain that humans inflict upon one another, for no apparent reason, breaks my heart. Whether it is gun violence, extreme poverty, mental health suffering, or grief brought by death, I am not taking lightly the sorrows of the world. Jesus Himself wept at the tomb of his good friend, Lazarus. He cried again over the entire city of Jerusalem.

He knew what it meant to suffer.

What I am saying, is that in the middle of the worst times and the best times, the chance to experience the divine is ours.

When I run through my mind of sacred moments, I think of these….

Going to an Oasis concert with my brother, Michael, both of us half-singing, half-yelling, beers in hand, laughing and crying. Sacred.

My friend Jennifer, grabbing my hand and praying to God for us to find a specific fabric for a dress we were making. Reminding me that God cares about the little things.  Sacred.

Spending time with friends in our backyard, with wine in hand, marshmallows roasting over the fire pit, savoring the glow of the backyard lights.  Sacred.

Holding my naked, still-bloody baby, 2 seconds after he joined the world. Sacred.

Seeing my dad in the hospital, yet laughing at one of his silly jokes with ER nurses. Sacred.

Listening to my grandma before her surgery to remove her breast cancer tell my grandpa to “eat something”, because she cared more for him than herself.  Sacred.

Playing multiple rounds of card games with two old neighbor ladies who cheated and told rousing stories of their youth and vitality and drank multiple cups of strong coffee. Sacred.

Showing up to a friend’s funeral and holding their family tightly during their loss. Sacred.

I’m not taking the bakery trips off our routine. I enjoy the place. I also thrive on worship services, long walks in nature, and quiet mornings with my cup of coffee.  But, aside from those specific times, I am practicing a daily awareness of life around me. My heart and mind is open to receive whatever comes my way, whether it is perceived as good or bad. This expansiveness allows for more grace and more love to fill me up. I’m resting in the wonder of “all things are sacred.” (Thank you, A.W. Tozer.)

So, find your spot, find your space, enjoy any of good stuff that is poured out in your direction. Take in the bad, the hard, the ugly, too. Don’t shy away from any of it, brave friends. It’s all a part of this life we are doing together.

We are not alone. You are not alone.

The sacred is here and now.

Savor it like a fat, buttery croissant.

I know I am.

 

 

 

March 27, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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High-Five Guy

The gym class was crowded. A breeze billowed from the fans above the workout stations. I could hear the labored breathing of the two people surrounding me on their rowing machines. 400 meters, then run on the treadmill. 300 meters, then run on the treadmill.

Rinse and repeat. A purgatorial cycle. Death was moments away. I felt it.

During one transition from treadmill back to the rower of death, the guy next to me turned and raised his hand to high-five mine. It was a sweaty, low impact, feather-touch high-five, yet still a high-five. Two seconds to notice me, then he was back to his workout. Game face unchanged.My energy jolted. Even though my limbs ached and burned, my feet gained speed on the treadmill and my arms pumped harder on the rower. I aimed to kill the workout. “High-Five Guy”s recognition would not be in vain.”High-Five Guy” could have put his head down and ignored me. He could have maintained tunnel vision on his own workout. He could have zoned out to those around him. But he didn’t. He chose to notice me and take action to buoy my spirits. I, in turn, finished that workout with zest and strength. I remained pepped up, all because someone extended their hand to me in solidarity.

Here is the power of encouragement.

Too often, I think people will require too much from me. I’ll have to go out of my way, be inconvenienced, or find time on my already-packed calendar for a 2-hour block of prayer, vigilance, and oil-anointing needed to make a significant impact on someone. The cycle of potential expectations whirls around in my head, making me feel exhausted before I even have the chance to notice.The reality is that encouragement doesn’t ask much of me. It only looks for my availability to its movement in my life. It asks me to pay attention. To be vulnerable. To see right in front of me, around me, or next to me.To notice the tired cashier at the check-out lane and ask how she is.To ask the restaurant server his name and leave a good tip, even if he doesn’t give the greatest of service. To exhibit patience when road service workers shut down the road on my commute to work. Instead of yelling at them, smiling and waving as I pass, knowing they have a tough job. To spend time at dinner with my family, asking about their day, listening to their responses. To smile, from deep within my soul, to anyone who approaches me, as I know that they might need hope, or love, or joy, radiated to them. In Scripture, we are familiar with the specific stories of Jesus’ miracles. The blind man on the roadside, or woman with the issue of blood, or the raising of Lazarus from the dead. What I’ve been thinking about lately, though, are the stories that weren’t accounted for. John writes, in the last part of his Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book…” In the book of Acts, Peter described Jesus as the one who “went about doing good.”Doing good deeds for others was a way of life for Jesus. The Gospel writers couldn’t capture all the stories because they didn’t have enough parchment paper. Maybe they just focused on the big stories to keep our attention on the power of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean there were not hundreds upon hundreds of tiny acts done by Jesus that changed people’s lives. I like to think, that when Jesus was around town, He did a lot of smiling and high-fiving and playing with small children. I think he ate well, danced often, and always had time to listen to whoever was nearby.

Perhaps I am reading between the lines of the Gospels to formulate these ideas,

but I’m convinced Jesus knew that sometimes people need a sermon,

and other times, people need a hug.

Negativity bombards us every day. Hurt and pain surround those that we love and those that are strangers to us. The world is tumultuous, uncertain, and downright scary at times. I’m not propounding the belief that life can be all sunshine and flowers and a good time, nor am I suggesting that we all walk around with fake grins plastered on.Rather, I believe it is in the mess that the calling of Jesus becomes real for His followers. His light, His love, His hope – those are the life-giving, heart-changing attributes that can flood through us to the bruised, the battered, and the worn-out souls. If we can’t be the ones to bring the hope, then the Good News must not be that good.Last week, at my job, a lady came to us to sign some legal documents. Since I am the notary public, I was there, with my attorneys, to notarize her signature and log it officially for the state of Colorado.She commented to me, “This must be a fun job for you, huh?”“Yes, I do enjoy it very much.”“I knew it – because you’ve been smiling this whole meeting. Does she always smile?” She asked my attorney.He nodded. “Yep. She’s always smiling.”A smile. A handshake. A hug. A helping hand. A listening ear. These small things can change someone’s day. These minute responses impact the world around us. God is aching to embrace the person closest to us, and He wants to use our open arms to do it. We have the opportunity to be the conduit of grace, if only we engage.

Who knows what load we will lift? Who knows which person we might impact?

Who knows the change we might effect in our home, our workplace, or our community?

I can’t wait to found out.

So, with our hearts overflowing with His love

and our arms stretched wide by His grace,

may our presence, in our homes and in our work, make the difference.

May His peace radiate from us.

May His joy be our strength.

May we know, deep within us, that we are loved, valued, and cared for.

We’ve got Good News.

While we walk this earth, let’s encourage, build up, and do good.

Thank you, High-Five Guy, for all you taught me…in 2 seconds.

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P.S. Let’s lift each other up…just like this…

March 7, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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Blue Ornaments

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I work in a small office in the small town of Louisville, Colorado. Every day, at my lunch hour, I stroll through its orderly streets or wander its scenic pathways through the open spaces.

Last week, during my amble, I noticed a single blue ornament, hanging from the bare limbs of tree in the front of a small house.

Undeterred that it was more than 2 months past Christmas time, whenever ornaments on outdoor trees are both prevalent and acceptable, it glowed in the sunlight, bold and bright.

Maybe someone had forgotten to pack up this lonely blue ornament in the frenzy of cleaning up bigger, more extravagant Christmas paraphernalia.

Or, perhaps, they left it on purpose. To reflect the light on a sunny day. To stand out among the leaf-less branches surrounding it. To remind passersby of the hope that Christmas brings.

The ornament was remarkable in an unobtrusive way.

It made me pause to think.

In Scripture, again and again, average people surface in above-average ways. John the Baptist was the “burning and shining light”, declaring the way to the coming Messiah. A young boy emerged from a crowd, lunch in tow, to give it to Jesus Who fed 5,000 people with this gift. Lydia, a business woman, converts to Christianity and starts a house church in her pagan city.

These people deemed to be different. They bucked traditions and systems. They did and said things that society condemned, but God praised.  They charged forward, fueled by hope and passion, committed to the belief that God was doing a work bigger and more profound than they ever imagined.

They stuck out….and were okay with it.

As I enter another season of Lent, where I’m giving up sweets and Starbuck’s drinks, (yes, yes, I know, tough times), I’m ready for a time of contemplation. I am struck with the thought of how to be a blue ornament. How do I stand out in a world that wants me to blend in? How do I stick up for my faith whenever having faith isn’t exactly popular? And how do I stick up and stand out without being brash and judgmental and aggressive?

I don’t know the full answers to these questions. Nor do I expect to capture them during the next 40 days. Still, I’m pondering each one on my daily walks, and I’m coming up with a list of “maybe’s”:

  • Maybe I can sit in acceptance of traffic instead of being angry at other drivers.
  • Maybe I can respond in kindness to my family in the evening when we are all tired and hungry and crabby, and someone says something that hurts my feelings.
  • Maybe I can smile in the face of adversity, be patient while waiting, and hopeful despite chaos.
  • Maybe I can listen more, talk less.
  • Maybe I can see others for who they are, instead of who I want them to be.
  • Maybe I can take a deep breath and realize that God is doing a great job running the Universe and I need to trust Him.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

The possibilities have only just begun to come to me.

The blue ornament still hangs on its branch, speaking to me. 

I’m listening.

January 15, 2019
Coloradowriter84

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The Stories We Tell

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My great-aunt Edna knew how to tell an entertaining story. She would sit at my Grandpa Raymond’s dinner table, long after we would stuff ourselves with her Southern Indiana style pork and baked beans, and she would regale us with her tales.

One story she would retell was of her trip to New Orleans, where she ate at a fancy fish restaurant. They served her the entire fish’s body on a beautiful platter.

“And wouldn’t you know,” she said, “I couldn’t eat it! It’s great big ‘ole eyeball just stared back at me, and I couldn’t eat a bite!”

Then she would collapse in peals of laughter. As we all would. Out from her pocket would come a dark mauve colored lipstick. She would paint it on her lips, before starting up a fresh anecdote.

These were warm times in my childhood. Listening to Aunt Edna. Her stories about growing up as a farm girl. A sister. Hard times. Marriage. Children. Travel. Food.

These were the stories she shared with me. With all of us. At holidays and parties and barbecues. I loved them. I loved sitting close to her, catching whiffs of her Estee Lauder perfume, drinking in the wonder of the adventures she’d had.

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From left to right: My grandma Bettye, my great-aunt Edna, my great-uncle Bob, and my grandpa Raymond

Stories have been how humans have engaged with each other for centuries. The telling and retelling of adventures and legends cements together our common humanity and shared values. Even Jesus used the method of storytelling to relay His deepest points about the love and grace of God the Father. Crowds continually pressed to Him to hear His words. A few writers, after He died and rose again, picked up pen and paper to log the stories for the whole world to read.

Jesus’ purpose in His stories was to convey a truth about the Kingdom of God. It was always for good, for edification, for instruction. His words, and my Aunt Edna’s, are different timbres from what is plastered in our faces through reality TV, celebrity gossip magazines, social media feeds, and the dark corners of our office workplaces.

We can’t help but share the stories we hear. We love knowledge. Thrive on information. Delight in sharing news. It’s how we are sharing that makes all the difference.

There is a reoccurring problem faced every time we repeat a story. We only know one part of it We only see it from our side. It’s our lens, our narrative, our scope.

In the business world, and in the leadership realm, I’m constantly being asked, “What is the story here?” or “What is really happening—can we go deeper?”

In my time as a paralegal, breaking down both sides of a case, hearing what each party is saying, what story they are telling, is vital to understanding what needs to be done next in support of the legal process.

This is where I picture Aunt Edna again. At my Grandpa’s round dining table, leaning in close.  Her eyes are on mine, and she says, “Mmmhmm, well yes….and that’s right….”

She listened. She affirmed. She validated.

We must understand:

There is always another piece under the surface…another layer that needs uncovered…missing link to connect the dots.

We say a co-worker is grouchy.

Then we find out that she works two jobs because she’s single mom and she’s trying to save up to buy a house.

We think the guy who works as a customer service clerk is rude.

Then we find out his side gig is as an artist who creates beautiful paintings.

We complain because the restaurant served us the wrong food.

Then we find out the sous chef is fresh out of school, trying to make it in a new field, and is hoping this new career will pay off the student loans.

We see the homeless guy and think he should get a job.

Then we find out that he had a job and a family once, but then hard times came, and he lost it all.

We see only the tip of the iceberg of life that lurks underneath our everyday movements, as we sail past each other. We are so eager with our responses to others that we miss the details. We hasten to fill the pauses in conversation when waiting in silence would give the other person space to share.

I want to be a good storyteller.

I think that means I need to listen more.

Some stories are not mine to share, but maybe it is my responsibility to point out to others who are telling their stories. I am white, American, middle-class, have both a mom and a dad, am a Christian, work an office job, and do freelance work on the side. I’m a mom, a wife, a volunteer. I’ve been overweight, struggled with depression, had crappy cars that broke down on me multiple times. Those are pieces of my story.

I can’t speak to the stories of the struggles of the varied ethnic communities across my nation and the world. Nor, to the marginalized of society. Nor, to the under-privileged. I haven’t experienced horrors of war or fled as a refugee; I haven’t been orphaned nor have I adopted children. I haven’t had to pan-handle for cash, worry about learning how to read, or wondered if I didn’t get a job because of my skin color.

Our viewpoint on other people’s stories is limited by our own experiences. Our compartmentalization of people and events inhibits our ability to take in fresh perspectives and learn from different viewpoints. We must look beyond ourselves. We speak. We make room for speakers. To learn, not to tell. To empathize, not judge. I don’t want my words to overshadow what they need to say.

I refuse to convey a message that hasn’t been entrusted to me.

Repeatedly Scripture, we see Jesus engaging with person after person, opening up the floor to the unheard souls of society. A lonely woman at a well. A crippled man by a crowded pool. A child who had loaves and fishes.

People had things to say.

Jesus was all ears.

Everyone had a place at His dinner table.

After all, the stories we know intimately are our own stories. The story of my life, who I am, where I’m going, what God has done in my life—that’s the one I can repeat without fear.  I have often been the dork of the tale, not the princess. I have screwed up, failed, and fallen to my face, skinning my chin, mouth, and forehead, in round after round of blazing glory. I have laughed and cried, been red-faced and sad-faced, given love, and received joy.

It’s the stuff of epics.

I hope that every piece that is added onto my story in the coming year serves a purpose. I hope that any laugh I bring, any tear I evoke, any smile I win, will remind everyone of something deeper. That we are all interconnected. That we are human. That we need each other. Because, in our brokenness, we can use some goodness. In our weakness, we need support. In the mundane, we need the amazing.

I can see Aunt Edna, leaning down from Heaven’s gate,

nodding her head and smiling. Her lipstick is perfect.

“Mh-hmmm, girl, that’s right,” she says. “Ain’t that somethin’?”

You tell me your story. I’ll tell you mine.

The dining room table is open.

Come on over, friends.

 

P.S. Check out the hair….it’s just all a part of the story.

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December 24, 2018
Coloradowriter84

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The Lights in the Plaza

 

 

31185 (1)In the middle of the hub of 17th Street, California Street, 18th Street, and Stout Street, there is a plaza.

Throughout the year, it’s a fairly standard plaza with trees and flowers and benches. In the summer time, tables appear, ready for use for outdoor lunches.

But, at Christmas time, the plaza changes. Workers arrive early in the morning, the week after Thanksgiving, to hang lights on the trees. White lights, strung through gnarly, empty branches, shine from early evening to late morning throughout the Christmas season.

The plaza shifts from ordinary to extraordinary. All of a sudden, a place that seemed run-of-the-mill comes alive. People who normally rush through it stop.

Pause. Savor. Enjoy.

The lights make all the difference.

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It’s a shame really, that the lights only stay for a short period of time. Their glow brightens the darkness of the winter twilight. Encourages me to take in their quiet beauty. Signals me that a time for reflection and gratitude is upon us. Makes me think of other lights in my life.

The light of my husband and child.

The light of my family around me.

The light of my church.

The light of friends – both new and old.

The light of a home, safety, freedom, and peace.

All these lights in my life point me to my obligation, my calling, my hope. Light, by its very nature, affects everything it touches. It sweeps in, changing the atmosphere around it, marking itself in plain contrast to any other force.

As I scroll through Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and as I watch the evening news, I am swept into the darkness of events.

Shootings. Robberies. Violence against women and children. Racism. Shaming. Political fighting. Threats of war. Families separated. Kids in need of a home. Sickness. Pain. Hurt.

A part of me wants to run away from it all. I want to pretend that it doesn’t affect me. I want to close my eyes and ears and ignore the suffering.

But, I can’t.

Centuries ago, a tiny baby was born to a teenage mom. He arrived into a violent, bloody, conflicted world.

A star shone brightly in the sky, announcing his birth. Letting us know that the Light had come.

Jesus said later of Himself, “I am the Light of the world.”

It is because of His light in me and around me that I am compelled forward. His light on my heart and mind and soul has changed everything. His redemptive love pours out to me, and I want to pour it onto others. I’m leaning into hurt and pain. I’m extending a hand to orphaned kids, single mom’s, and the homeless in Denver, through partnering with other organization.

I’m paying attention to the people around me, opening my heart, praying over them with words.

I refuse to believe that the darkness is greater.

I’m determined to be a light projector.

His light is there for everyone, not just a select few. Like the sun’s rays that invade all the earth, so His love rushes into our lives, healing, comforting, renewing.

This Christmas season, while the lights are in the plaza, I’m enjoying their presence.

Come January, the lights will be gone. The trees will be bare once more.

Yet, the sacred space they carved in my heart will remain.

Because true light is never extinguished.

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Me hanging up more Christmas lights!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organizations that spread light in the world:

Hope House of Denver, visit them at: www.hopehouseofcolorado.org

New Hope Children’s Home, Peru, visit them at: www.hopechildrenshome.org

Denver Rescue Mission, visit them at www.denverrescuemission.org

Compassion International, Inc., visit them at www.compassion.com

Red Rocks Church, visit them at www.redrockschurch.org

Adopt Colorado’s Kids, visit them at https://www.adoptuskids.org/adoption-and-foster-care/how-to-adopt-and-foster/state-information/colorado

DreamMakers, visit them at https://dreammakersproject.org/

 

December 16, 2018
Coloradowriter84

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Snotty Noses

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I have cleaned a nose at least fifteen times today. My young son has a cold, which has produced a fountain of mucus pouring from his nostrils to rival Niagara Falls.

Our ritual is established. He brings a tissue. I wipe his nose…twice. He takes the crumpled Kleenex from my hand and disposes of it in the trash.

I don’t mind really (aside from the constant hand-washing this causes me to need).

What is funny to me is that Rafael does not need me to wipe his nose. He is perfectly capable to do it himself. He is also capable of putting on his own shoes and coat, brushing his teeth, and carrying around his own Paw Patrol toys. Yet, he persistently asks me to do all of these actions for him.

He is asking for my attention. My help. My notice of his need.

But I don’t want to wipe a snotty nose.

It’s messy. And gross. And requires something more of me than I want to willingly give.

The stories of Jesus in Scripture touching lepers especially move me. He would reach out to touch them – the untouchable, the outcast, the revolting.

Every time I put on my dress clothes and go to work in a well-lit, open office space with a padded chair…every time I show up at church on a Sunday to worship with air-conditioning or heat, while lights and music grab my attention…every time I sip my over-priced coffee drink from the polished coffee shop on the street corner of my middle-class, well-off, safe neighborhood….

I wonder if I’m far from the Gospel.

I wonder if I’m the rich man from Jesus’ parables. The fool from Proverbs. The Pharisee out front of the synagogue.

But then….

The snotty noses poke at me.

The people around my abundant life who keep showing up around me, so God can remind me what grace looks like. So I have the chance to get my hands dirty. So I don’t become complacent in all the blessings.

Like the home-bound ladies who need me to deliver them books every month and sometimes complain to me about things I can’t control.

Like the families who ask for prayer on the GroupMe app that my life group uses, sharing stories of need and sickness and heartbreak, wanting me to petition Heaven on their behalf.

Like the homeless population in Old Town, Arvada, close to where I live, who need my winter coats way more than I do, who need someone to give out of their abundance again and again.

Like the friends around me who need to be listened to, prayed for, hugged on, believed in.

Life is beautiful and hard. Short and fun.

It’s also messy.

God never intended us to live in a vacuum of existence. He gave Eve to Adam, Aaron to Moses, Bartholomew to Paul. As the great characters of history needed partners, and community, so do we. We might think it makes life more complicated or annoying, but if that is all we see, then we are missing the point.

As 2018 wraps up, I look back at my own snotty nose and how many times I poked it into the lives of people around me, exposing my need, expressing vulnerability.

The grace that I received has been beyond measure.

That’s the beauty of not being alone. We lean into one another. We stretch our arms around each other in love and acceptance. We put action to our otherwise meaningless words about the Gospel.

It’s all the beauty and the mess that, as Rainer Rilke puts in, “reconciles the ill-matched threads” of each life and turns it into a priceless masterpiece.

I’m about 114 Kleenex down.

114 hugs accompanied every wipe.

It’s amazing…the truth revealed to me….by the snot running down a nose.

 

October 29, 2018
Coloradowriter84

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Treadmill #9

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It’s Tuesday. 5:15 a.m. It’s dark outside when I enter my gym, the rug at the door congratulating me for making it there.

I greet the front desk employees with a slight nod. It’s early for me to be too gregarious towards anyone. No offense to them.

A small crowd gathers close to two glass doors, which are the entrance to the room where we will endure our team workout. The giant room is cooled by large ceiling fans, which are constantly whirring overhead. It houses 13 treadmills, 13 rowing machines, and 13 weight stations.

I enter via a ticket that prints at a little kiosk by the doors. The trainer takes it from me and greets me with a cheery, “Good morning!”

She knows what she is about to do to me and the other early risers who crowd around me. It doesn’t bother her.

I jump on a treadmill. The one with the giant white number 9 etched on its back. I start its belt and begin the routine.

I’ve been hopping on #9 for a while now. I love and hate her, actually. The love comes when she is a soft landing for my feet and gentle pace for my aching sciatic. The hate comes when she forces me to run harder, longer, faster, than I ever have. She pushes me. She demands more of me.

She doesn’t yell at me, or call me names, or condemn me for the 3 slices of pizza and the 2 glasses of wine I consumed the evening before. She accepts me being there, is willing for me to use her to test my limits, is encouraging when I lean into her.

This machine asks me, three times a week, “What are you doing here?”

This question repeats in my head as my feet thump in beat to Number 9’s rhythm.

In the book of 1 Kings, chapter 19, the prophet Elijah is running for his life. He has just successfully called down fire from Heaven in an epic display of God’s glory in front of thousands of people. Yet, in this chapter, we find him alone and complaining to God about the death threat on his life.

He finds a cave to hide out, away from the enemies who want him dead. It is in that lonely place that the voice of God comes to him in a still, small voice, and asks….

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

What are you doing, hiding out, away from the world?

What are you doing feeling sorry for yourself because things didn’t go your way?

What are you doing running away from the purpose for your life?

What are you doing here, man of God?

Elijah attempts to give God plenty of reasons for him being in the cave. Ultimately, though, God’s Spirit tells him to get up and go.

Time to move on.

Time to be strong.

Time to live with fierce bravery and undiluted courage.

So, what am I doing here?

At 5:15 a.m. on Treadmill #9?

I’m here because I crave strength. Because I care about my body, a temple of God’s Spirit.

I’m here for my physical health and mental well-being.

I’m here, because, maybe, just maybe, if I conquer Treadmill #9, I can conquer other areas in my life as well.

I’m here because I am training myself to do hard things.

I’m here because sometimes all I can do is show up.

I’m here because I want to be a bad-ass warrior.

I’m here, as my trainer says, “To push through boundaries and break through perceived walls.”

The trainer yells out, “Come on, team! This is your workout!”

I increase the incline and ramp up the speed on Treadmill #9.

When I first began running, I used my outdoor runs to process old hurts and unhealed wounds. Lacing up my Brooks Brothers stability shoes, moving my body, pounding the pavement — all were steps to learning how to let the past be the past and to engage in the future. During those first running years, I was also in therapy. Every time my therapist gave me an assignment, I went on a run. Pushing hard physically gave me the mental focus and emotional stamina to do the work required for progress.

That was 10 years ago.

I still need the physical challenges. I still have “stuff” to work through. I still need to listen to the quiet, gentle voice.

He’s saying truths to my soul…

What if you stopped worrying about what others think and become fully you – who I intended you to be – a daughter full of grace and peace?

What if you stopped craving safety and assurance and moved forward in faith?

What if, instead of stressing out over hard times,

you practice remaining in Me, the Source of true joy?

What if you just show up every day, keep your eyes on Me, and trust Me to guide you?

What if you let Me give you the strength you need to climb the next mountain?

What are you doing here, daughter of the King?

I know the plans I have for you.

Treadmill #9’s belt slows down.

Sweat drips down my forehead.

The class ends.

I take deep breaths in and out. Stretch sore muscles.

I high-five my workout neighbor. Smile as I leave the gym.

The cold air hits my face first, then sweeps through my workout clothes. The sun’s approach is splashing orange and red and pink across the horizon.

I glance back. Through the glass window, lined up in perfect precision, are the machines.

One more step, one more incline, one more push through pain.

You’ve got this, Warrior. I’ll be here.

See you tomorrow, Treadmill #9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 28, 2018
Coloradowriter84

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Weights on Purpose

 

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It’s called a “Ruck”.

When I first heard my CEO Nick say the word, my response was, “A wha–?”

Apparently, in a “ruck”, one treks 50 miles on foot with a 30-pound pack on one’s back. Nick completed a “ruck” in August, accompanied by a few other torture seeking pals.

I’m going to state what a ruck is again. In case anyone read the first few lines too quickly.

Nick walked 50 miles. With a 30-pound pack on his back.

For fun.

On purpose.

This concept was new to me, and rather insane-sounding. Since I’m a runner, I’m constantly searching for new ways to be lighter, swifter, more fluid. Lose the body fat. Buy lighter-weight shoes. Don’t run on a full stomach of Frappuccino’s and chili rellenos. (yes….I really did that once. Bad idea.) Getting rid of extra weight is paramount to a runner. That’s how you gain speed.

Right?

Yet, here my CEO is doing a thing where he added on weights.

It felt counter-intuitive to me, despite all I know logically about using weights to build strength. I don’t want to carry around heavy things. I don’t want added pressure on my back. It sounds so inconvenient. And hard.

Ever since I was a young girl, I have listened to the words of pastors and teachers, espousing words from Scripture on the need to “set aside every weight” and to “lay your burdens at the Cross.” In John Bunyan’s famous story, Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character Pilgrim starts out his journey with a giant bundle on his back. When he reaches the Cross on a hill, the bundle falls off. He’s freed from his load.

Freedom from what impedes us or imprisons our souls is a core aspect to Divine Love. When our spirits are freed, and our souls are lifted, we are unhindered in the path set before us. David, in one of his Psalms, wrote with joy, “I will run the way of your commands—because you have set my heart free!”

Still….a nagging phrase won’t leave my mind.

On purpose.

My CEO didn’t ‘fall’ into a ruck race. Nor was he forced to do it. Or born into a family of ‘ruckers.’ Every mile logged, each pound added, every drop of sweat — were all geared towards a goal. He wanted to do it. He set his mind to it. The weight was on his back for a reason. He then built the strength to carry it.

Sometimes, the power of Christ frees us immediately.

Other times, His power enables us to carry a weight that is both necessary and beneficial. We build our strength. Our resilience is most evident in times of great trial.

The Apostle Paul in the New Testament wrote about the “care of all the churches” weighing on him daily. In the book of Deuteronomy, in the Old Testament, Aaron supported the weight of Moses’ arms so that Joshua could win a battle. Jesus Himself sweat drops of blood while bearing the weight of redemption’s price before He died.

Their endurance resulted in meaningful outcomes. The outcome was worth the weight.

(Ok, I’m sorry for that last phrase. Sort of.)

I’ve been thinking about what in my life is worth carrying with me. I’m compiling an inventory of what needs to go and what will stay. I’m asking questions, sitting silently, listening. Where have I taken on burdens that I shouldn’t? Where am I purposefully carrying my share of a load? Where can I trim fat, yet gain muscle?

Weights, for me, show up in spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, and relational ways. I know where my baggage is, and alternately, I know where I need to keep practicing faithfulness. Each one of us, if we reflected a short time, could see our own internal and external ‘extras’ that are tugging at our souls.

If I decide to take on a weight, or if a weight is thrust my way, what will my response be? Can I see its value, or is it sucking life out of my soul? Is the space it takes up necessary, or should I release it away? Is it teaching me, or undermining my principles?

Is it bearable, for myself alone? Or do I need help?

Because, in the middle of the heaviest weight, we can know:

We don’t have to bear it alone.

My favorite scene from “The Lord of the Rings” movies is when Frodo collapses, exhausted from the magnitude of the Ring’s weight. Sam-Wise Gamgee leans over, hoists Frodo on his back, and announces, “I can’t carry it, but I can carry you!”

That’s the power of two. The solidarity of a team. The solace of community.

Paul had Silas.

Aaron had Hur.

Jesus had John the Beloved.

Frodo had Sam.

Nick had 2 friends with him.

We don’t have to be on our own, no matter how strong we think we are. We don’t have to always act tough and “buck up”. We can lean on the people God has placed around us. We might have to risk vulnerability. We might collapse. We may falter.

But we don’t have to run solo.

A few months back, I sat in my office at work, holding back tears. I was just realizing that the weight of the task before me was bigger than anything I’d ever attempted. I met the concerned eyes of my co-worker, and said, “I don’t know what to do.”

“Let me help you,” she said.

I did. I realized, as the weeks progressed, that the ancient King Solomon was right, when he wrote in one of his books, “Two are better than one.”

The reality of life is that it is hard—overflowing with struggles and hardships. Yet, through these moments, strength and grace and courage thrive. The Divine One always shows up. Sometimes, He’s in the inner power we find to do what we need to do. Other times, He’s in the person next to us, who is there to lend a helping hand along the journey. Either way, we prevail. We move forward, a little dusty from the bumpy road and scratched from the bramble-strewn pathway, yet clear on who we are and where we are headed.

Warriors. Conquerors. Children of the Light.

Heads high. Backs strong. Hearts light.

I know I’m stronger from the weights I’ve carried. Whether chosen or not, each one has served a purpose in my life, and I’m grateful for each one. I know I will have the grit to carry whatever else is waiting for me to pick up. I’m keeping my eyes open for a chance to help with someone else’s load, too.

I’m moving forward in grace and peace. I’m convinced of the joy coming towards me. Hope is brimming in my heart.

And, friends, I hope and pray the same for you.

However, there is one thing I have decided….

Despite acknowledging the value of weights….

If Nick ever asks me to go on a ‘ruck’….

I’ll, politely yet emphatically, say, “No, thank you.”

On purpose.