Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stories of Abundance: Feast or Famine?

I'm continuing a series of short pieces on abundance (this is the third, click through to read the first two: In the Garden and Sowing and Reaping).  Sunday evenings and Monday mornings can often be a time of anxiety for me as I worry that I, we, won't have what we need for the week ahead.  What are you needing as you head into this week?

*   *   *   *  *  *

God has given us another crazy idea for the summer – the idea of hosting a meal every week in our home, providing a main dish and, more importantly, a place for people to be.  This is the seed. 

But I worry so and fight against planting it.  Money feels tight this summer as we whittle down through our savings, each withdrawal advancing the date at which I’ll need to return to paid work.  I argue with God endlessly. 
“There won’t be enough,” I tell God.  “How can we feed others when I feel, weekly, the pressure of feeding my own?” 
But God won't be cowed and keeps pushing the seed of the idea gently and firmly into my palm.  “Just plant it,” God says, “See what happens.  Isn’t it possible there’s more to this than what you can see?”  I finally let go and drop the seed into the ground to see what will come of it. 
*   *   *   *  *  *
I head out to the grocery store to prepare for our first dinner.  I am resolved to make a sweet potato and black bean dish, minus the chicken to cut the cost.  Despite having consented to plant the seed, I am distracted by the weeds of doubt that crop up dense around it and remain unsure that I’ll have what’s  needed to water it. 
As I rush through the store, pinching my pennies, my little white envelope of cash labeled “groceries” peaking out of my purse, I kid you not, I hear this over the loud speaker, “Hello, Giant food customers, Rotisserie Chickens are now buy one get one free, that’s right, buy one get one free, as long as supplies last.” 

The message is so clear, it might as well have been the voice of God.
I stop where I am in the aisle, still counting the cost of chicken, then turn and head toward the rotisserie stand.  There are two other women there, pulling in their harvest of half-price chicken, their unexpected good fortune.  I’m trying hard to hide it, but I know God’s laughing at the fun of it all, at my exasperatingly slow ability to get the message that abundance, not scarcity, is the norm in God's kingdom. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stories of Abundance: Sowing and Reaping

Over the next week or so I want to offer a series of short pieces on abundance (this is the second, if you want, you can start by reading the first: In the Garden).  All of these events occurred over the course of a few weeks.  As these stories echoed around, bumping up against each other in the periphery of my life, it became clear that this was a message I needed to hear and hold onto.  Maybe you do to?  I would love to hear your stories of abundance if you have time to share!

*   *   *   *  *  *
We all sit on the porch eating our ice cream cones on Sunday evening, the first day of our cardboard collection project.  A neighbor has already dropped off two incredibly large boxes filled with cardboard in the less than 12 hours since we started the project, and yet, I worry.  I worry that there won’t be enough.  No one will put anything out for my kids to pick up.  Their hearts will be crushed.  The project I’d hoped would teach them (would teach me!) about the way God shows up and turns the little we have into more than enough will backfire and lead to difficult questions and disappointment. 
I’m busy tending my own little garden full of the weeds of fear and doubt and failure in my heart, my head, when I notice a car pull up across the street.  A woman gets out and pops the trunk of her car and proceeds to pull out enormous flat pieces of cardboard and pile them on the side of the road.  Someone from within the house jogs out to help as we sit staring in disbelief.  These are neighbors we don’t know, I don’t even know their names, but John had stopped by the day before with the kids to hand out our flyer and explain the project. 
We sit and stare, mouths practically gaping, as they unload and we process what it means.  We talk excitedly amongst ourselves, “Could it be?  Is that card board meant for us?  For our little project?”  We look at each other and laughed at our bewilderment, at our excitement, at the wonder of it all. 
We planted the seed of an idea God gave us and it sprouted in the imagination of our neighbor.  Our neighbor remembered a friend with cardboard to spare.  A phone call was made, a seed planted in someone else.  Card board was loaded and keys placed in the ignition.  And here we were to harvest a crop of abundance that we had neither watered nor tended. 
And yet, when the kids went out a few hours later on their collection route, I paced the house in anxiety.  Still not believing in the miracle of seeds and planting.  Still not believing God’s strange math of multiplication whereby Elijah and a widow and her son can survive on a few drops of oil and flour, or a crowd of four thousand can eat and be filled from seven small loaves of bread. 

Gentleness Saves

The following is a brief and quickly written post in response to Barbara Brown Taylor's question, "What is saving your life right now?"  Explore other bloggers' answers to the same question at Sarah Bessey 's blog.  For me, this was a good prayer experience.  What would your answer be?  Consider commenting, journaling, or posting the question on your facebook page.  Here's my response:


All I can say is that we are in transition again.  It’s presence hangs like a heavy cloud just over the horizon.  The twins turning one in two weeks.  School starting, a first grader and a four year old gone three mornings a week now.  And me, on a precipice again, or at least it feels that way.  Barreling down a river toward a waterfall, I can feel the current gaining speed and we’re not ready, I’m not ready.  So I am lashing things down to our little raft, holding us all too tight and making everyone miserable in the anticipation and not knowing. 

A friend stopped by this morning and pushed it all back for a few minutes, spoke over the roar of the waters, made space for the flood I was holding back. 

After she leaves and I am standing doing last night’s dirty dishes an old verse comes to mind:

Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old. 
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.  Isaiah 43:18-19

Maybe.  Maybe this is what’s saving me in the wilderness and desert of my unknowing and fear.  The promise that God is always, always, always doing a new thing, that there’s no turning back with God, that what lies beyond the fall is better than what came before.  And that maybe the ride is for enjoying.  This, saves me.

But then, when I forget again and fight and struggle and cling to my raft counting down the minutes to my own sure demise, there’s another voice that saves me.  This one whispers beneath the roar of the waters, “Be gentle with yourself.  Be gentle.  As gentle as you are with your shaking son who’s dreamed a dinosaur in his room at four am.  Gentle as you are when you lay down the other two who’re dancing and jumping and yelling in their cribs.  Gentle because you know they’ve simply forgotten how to let go and stop fighting the steep fall into sleep.  Be as gentle with yourself as I am with you.” 

I write these words that are saving me in black ink, going over it three or four times so it stands out bold and place them in the center of my refrigerator,

“Be gentle  (for love and for joy).”   

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stories of Abundance: In the Garden

Over the next week or so I want to offer a series of short pieces on abundance.  All of these events occurred over the course of a few weeks.  As these stories echoed around, bumping up against each other in the periphery of my life, it became clear that this was a message I needed to hear and hold onto.  Maybe you do to?  I would love to hear your stories of abundance if you have time to share!

*   *   *   *  *  *

I head out into the yard in the heat of the morning – the green beans need to be picked.  We’re not good gardeners, my husband and I.  He plants with the kids in a flurry of hopeful expectation and I reap with the kids with a weight of obligation to the fruit which has grown of its own accord amidst weeds, harsh sun and a lack of water. 
I squat beside the garden; the bean plants paint a chaotic picture of our inattentiveness.  The leaves are half-eaten and the beans hard and overgrown.  But I pick them out of duty and compulsion, “waste not, want not” and, plunk, plunk, plunk, they fill the spaghetti strainer by the handful. 
The kids are elated.  “Can we eat them?” 
“Sure,” I say as I pop one into my own mouth. 
“Any time we’re out here and get hungry, we can eat them!”  they exclaim. 
The kids pick haphazardly and I can see they’re invigorated by it, by finding there a harvest that they played so little a roll in producing.  And I too can’t help but join in and be moved by the wonder of it all.  It’s then, as my mouth is open that my spirit is open too and I see here, yet again, the message of God’s abundance.  The picture here in my poorly tended garden of what God insists is the truth of the world, the truth of God’s kingdom, despite the voices arguing against it. 

*   *   *   *   *   * 

"We need not hope for Grace, we merely need to open our eyes to its abundance. Grace is all around us, not just in the hopeful future but in the miracle of now."  Richard Paul Evans

Friday, July 20, 2012

Easy Affection?



Sometimes ten month old Levi rests his little hand on his twin brother Isaiah’s pudgy thigh when they ride side-by-side in the jogging stroller.  It looks like an adorably casual gesture of affection.  Occasionally they even appear to be holding hands as they ride along taking in world around them. 

People, of course, love this.  It’s probably the number one thing that people enjoy about twins and what they comment on the most.  They’re fascinated with the easy acquaintance they imagine between twins, the bond that existed from before birth.  “Imagine always having a friend,” they say or “How special, that they’ll always have each other.” 

For the most part I try to hold my tongue at these remarks.  I don’t mention how desperately Isaiah enjoys pulling Levi’s hair or the deep satisfaction he finds in stealing the coveted pacifier.  How he frequently and painfully explores his brothers ears and eyes and nose with detached curiosity.  I refrain from citing the numerous times one crawls over the other, using his brother’s head as a hand-hold to get to a toy. 

I’ll confess.  I love it too.  “Look, they’re holding hands,” I say to my husband.  In the early weeks we took picture after picture of them tangled together sharing a stroller and pressed up against each other in a deep sleep when they shared a crib. 

I’m sure twins share a unique bond that’s deeper and more complex than I’ll ever understand.  But I also think of Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, and the other scores of brothers, biblical and secular, for whom brotherhood was, perhaps, their biggest challenge.

Maybe people believe strongly in the bond of twins because we so long to believe in the possibility of such relationships.  Relationships based on acceptance and love that are rooted in something beyond time and space.  Beyond the individual particularities of our lives that are so often the roots of our warring and strife. 

I hope these boys, and my other children as well, grow a deep affection for one another.  But I want to remember the reality that it won’t be easy to do.  That affection worth sharing is never easy, but instead is hard-won despite the hair-pulling and competition.  And that true love is often, if not always, rooted in something greater than the self.   

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Empty Box Can . . .




We’re three weeks into our cardboard collection project.  Our goal is to fill our back room from floor to ceiling with cardboard that we will then donate to Project ShareMy original question was, “Can an empty box make a difference?” Here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

An empty box can:

1. get your neighbors talking (in a good way!).  Since starting our project we’ve had more opportunities to connect with the very quiet, highly elusive people who live around us. 

2. give people ideas.  Several of our neighbors and friends have really been thinking about where they can find cardboard.  One neighbor manages a local Sub Way and mentioned that his landlord won’t pay for a recycling bin, so they THROW AWAY all of their boxes.  Since we started our project he’s been bringing them to our house once a week and he’s planning to call Project Share to see if they can arrange to send a volunteer to pick-up in the future.  

3. make it more than a little difficult for door-to-door sales people to get to your door.  Ok, so when someone drops off a big slippy-slidey pile of cardboard we don’t always get it brought in right away.  So the night that two men from Comcast came, yet again, to ask why in the world we didn’t have Comcast they found a bit of a “barrier” between themselves and the irate woman answering the door.  (hmmmm . . . I guess cardboard worked both ways in that case, to their benefit and mine!)

3. teach teamwork.  The little cart we made for toting cardboard broke on day 2, so we’ve been hauling it awkwardly up and down the street since then.  Last week John sent me a text from work to tell me he saw some cardboard on his drive in.  I sent Sophia and Solomon running down our back alley to beat the recycling truck to a pile.  I loved watching them struggle down the street half-dragging, half-carrying it together.

4. live a little.  We're proud to be loaning several boxes to some close friends who're moving across town this summer.  This gives our boxes a chance to see a little more of the world before heading to the big recyling bin in the sky, er, I mean, Project Share.  Plus, we look forward to getting all of these boxes and more back when our friends unpack in August!

5. make eating ice cream cones on your porch more interesting:  


We're about 1/2 way through our alloted time for collection and figure we're about 1/2 way to filling our back room from floor to ceiling.  Stay tuned for updates and keep your eyes peeled for cardboard, we can use every little bit!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Impossible

Snacks at our house are served in small glass Pyrex bowls.  That and baby food and cereal and anything else that needs to be consumed.  They’ve also been used to serve cheerios to pet ants in the backyard and make a perfect bed for my daughter’s small, white beanie-baby kitten. 

We have almost ten of these bowls now and go through nearly all of them on a daily basis.  When the twins are old enough to take part in the great American tradition of sitting in front of the TV with a snack in hand we will go through even more of these bowls. 

The other day I ordered four more from Amazon, thinking we’d stock up, but I accidentally ordered the wrong size – 6oz, not 10.  One morning I served my four year old his cereal in one of these new bowls and he noticed the difference in size right away.

“Mom, this bowl shrank!  How did it shrink?!”

I couldn’t resist telling him that I had done it.  I wove an elaborate tale about how I was very tired because shrinking bowls was hard work and I’d stayed up all night to do it. 

His questions abounded, “How did you do it?  Can you shrink more?” 

“No, only four – it’s very hard work,” I reply.

“Did you put them in hot water?” “Can you shrink me?” 

Later, on the way to school, he commented from the back of the van, “Boy, you must be really tired if you stayed up all night shrinking bowls.”

He questions everything, but not the idea that it can be done because for him there’s no reason it can’t be done.  There’s also no reason for him to think he won’t be a jungle explorer when he grows up (along with the whole family, and my job will be to stay back at the hut with the babies!) or dig a hole big enough for us all to live in on our next trip to Grandpa’s house (my job, he says, will be to stay at the top and make sure it doesn’t fall in on everyone else). 

He’s too young to have learned the laws of physics which declare that glass bowls can’t shrink (thought they do break!).  Too young to separate with clear lines the possible from the impossible. 

 * * * * * *

On a recent Sunday morning I met a new couple at church who asked, in getting to know me, “Do you have kids?”  My reply to such questions until now has been something like, “We have two kids, six and four, and then we also have twins.”  Splitting them up this way seems to make it sound more sane, less the impossible reality that it is.  But for the first time I replied without qualifying, “I have four kids.” 

* * * * * *

I wander around the house these days, treading water, trying to stay afloat while crunching layers of cheerios under my feet and endlessly ferrying dirty glass bowls from one room to another. 

I tell myself I’m the least likely candidate to be in charge of what feels like a small daycare.  I think to myself, “This is not me.  This is not possible.  How can I be a mother of four kids?” 

* * * * * *

Children don’t know the difference between what is and isn’t possible.  Maybe this is part of what Jesus meant when he said we should become as little children if we’re going to be able to enter into the kingdom of God.  The kingdom where the lines between possible and impossible and all the other polar opposites we think the world depends on are so deeply blurred. 

God is doing something strange here at my house, something no less amazing than shrinking glass bowls.  God works late into the night – taking my tiny heart, my too small life and cracking it open.  It’s very hard work you see.  With human hearts it’s two steps forward, one step back.  As the muscle contracts God reaches out, yet again, to pry it open.  But I’m learning to lean into the expansion, to believe in the impossible and say with Mary, “Let it be unto me . . .” 

God, make me, make all of us, like a little child so we can live into the impossible things that you have made possible.

I'd love to hear about the impossible things God is doing and has done in your life . . .

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Monkey Bar Living


“In him we live and move and have our being.”  Acts 17:28


I stand in the back door watching as my four year old makes his way across the top of the monkey bars for the first time.  The kids have tied a ribbon to one of the bars and use it for Diego-style climbing on the slide.  This makes them happy and me nervous.  I stand there with my heart in my throat meditating on the inherent risks of summer.  My blood pressure rises and anxiety settles into its familiar perch in the muscles of my shoulders and neck. 

The weight of shepherding kids through summer is overwhelming.  There’s the burgeoning independence, the inherent dangers of pools and lakes, not to mention the lesser evils like bee stings and poison ivy.  It’s tempting to lock the windows and doors and crank up the AC rather than have the difficult conversations about “stranger danger” and why playing in the backyard is safer than the front. 

I pull away to check on the babies crawling through the living room at lightening speed and wonder, yet again, how we’ll all survive this summer.  I try telling myself to expect at least one trip to the emergency room, as if planning on it will make it any less alarming to endure. 

I could spend my whole day this way, the whole summer caught up in worry and fear.  But underneath it all I hear God’s still, small voice whispering and I know deep down this is no way to live. 

So I choose instead to meditate on the love of God.  Surely God loves my children more than I do.  And this love gives me the confidence to step out onto the shaky bridge that leads from fear to trust.  Like my son on the monkey bars I train myself to stop looking down, imagining how bad a fall would be, and learn to enjoy the view. 

I go ahead and buy the baby gates, two for good measure.  And along with them outlet covers and life vests.  But I refuse to buy into the fear, choosing instead to trust in the one who gives life and breath to us all.   

For some more great posts on fear, check out my friend Matt Tuckey's blog, Y Thoughts. What helps you move from fear to trust? 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What Happens After I Close the Door . . .

I can’t know exactly what happens, but I imagine it goes something like this:  Ten month old Isaiah rolls over, pulls himself to the bars of his crib and stands slowly and deliberately to his feet.  He starts to bounce a little, banging his chubby hand on the crib rail, in effect calling his twin brother, Levi, out to play. 
Meanwhile Levi struggles out of his swaddle puffing on his pacifier as he works to sit up.  He crawls to the end of his own crib dragging his half-wrapped blanket behind him and stands in one swift motion.  The blanket hangs off of him like a loose-fitting toga. 
Isaiah’s face breaks into a grin of delight as he squeals and increases the vigor of his bouncing.  Levi bangs a few times on the crib rail and is then hit by a stroke of genius.  Holding onto the crib with one hand he yanks the pacifier out of his mouth and starts waving it in the air like a victory flag, smiling and chattering with gusto.  Isaiah doesn’t have a pacifier, but is none-the-less thrilled with Levi’s showmanship.  He slaps his hand on the rail and adds a squeal to show his approval.  And then it happens, in one brief moment of sheer enthusiasm, Levi hurls his pacifier.  It arcs through the air and lands somewhere across the room. 
And this is what I find fifteen or twenty or thirty minutes later when I return:  Levi sitting, sobbing, a miserable wreck at the end of his crib.  It’s as though he has just collapsed where he was standing, broken with grief and regret at the loss of his dear pacifier.  
At ten months Levi is my impulsive child.  He often stands bouncing causally at the couch or changing table holding himself up with only the slightest grip of one little hand, waving the other and giving little grunts of seeming defiance against the power of gravity.  He falls more often than not and usually has more than one bruise on his head or face to show for it, but it doesn’t stop him.  He can take a complete face plant and get up and keep rolling along like nothing has happened. 
Part of the pain of parenting is watching your children experience difficult emotions.  Regret is particularly painful for me to watch.  Perhaps because it signals a growing recognition in the child that life can hurt and actions have consequences.  It is, in part, a loss of naiveté. 
I imagine that the pain of regret is a brief and passing thing for children.  They move on quickly to the next toy or person or nap.  It is, hopefully, a long time until they learn to carry regret with them - holding it deep inside, feeding it like a small pet, caressing it in the wee hours of a restless night. 
Regret, like anger, is an emotion that serves it’s purpose best in the moment, alerting us to something gone wrong.  But like anger, regret is destructive when groomed and carried for a lifetime. 
I can’t keep my children from regret and, ultimately, I’m thankful for the impulse and freedom from consequence that leads, at times, to regret.  I’m thankful too for their quick ability to let things go and move on.  In all of this I can learn from them, for I too often let the fear of possible regret bind me from the possibility of joy in the moment.  I don’t believe that Levi’s experience of loss detracts at all from his experience of sheer joy in the tossing of his pacifier.  It’s a difficult balance to maintain – impulse tempered by experience – and I too often err on the side of experience.  
I can’t know for sure if Levi feels regret at his impulsive action.  I do know he emanates relief as I pick him up and fish the pacifier out from wherever it’s landed, across the room or somehow incongruously under the crib.  He seems to search for it eagerly with me, then lays his head on my shoulder with a heavy sigh when it’s finally back in his mouth.  He lays limp with relief as I re-swaddle him and place him in his bed.  Often his eyes are closed before I leave the room.
May you find the grace to receive the lessons of regret when they come.  Then find the grace to let it go and move forward in grace. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Can an Empty Box Make a Difference?

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, Donald Miller explores the idea of life as story.  Miller describes talking with a friend who's teenage daughter has gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd and is spending time with a boyfriend who's a bad influence.  After listening Miller suggests that maybe this daughter is seeking excitement because her family's life story doesn't offer any.  The father takes Miller's comments to heart and decides to write a more exciting story for his family by challenging them to raise money to build a school in a third world country.  Within a few weeks the daughter drops the boyfriend and is fully invested in her family's new mission. 

I know the years when my children will allow me to write or even participate in their stories are limited so I decided to try my hand at it this summer by challenging us to embark on an adventure.  So, here it is . . .

Corrugated Cardboard Collection

 (exciting isn't it??! it gets better . . .)

Did you know that Project Share feeds over 3000 individuals per month?  (Click here to read more about Project Share, our local foodbank.)  One way they do this is by collecting corrugated cardboard and recycling it to help raise funds for their programs.  Their website explains that the cost of corrugated cardboard is particularly high right now, making it worth collecting.      

Here’s the plan:  Sophia and Solomon are hoping to collect enough cardboard this summer to fill our back porch room from floor to ceiling.  Here’s a picture of them with the little bit of cardboard we’re starting with. 

We’ll start on July 1 and continue through mid-August.  We’re asking friends, neighbors and local businesses to help us meet our goal.  Our friends at the South Side Deli have already agreed to donate! 
I'm so proud of my kids who went door to door on our street yesterday in the heat to invite our neighbors to donate.  One elderly neighbor came to the door asking, "Now what are these kids selling?"  I was pleased to reply, "Nothing!"  Several neighbors commented on their respect for Project Share.  Another elderly neighbor, who works installing furnaces and AC units, said he had a ton of boxes to get rid of and dropped them off this morning while we were out at church:

For the next month every Sunday evening (when trash and recycling go out on our street) we’ll go around to pick up any donations left out by our neighbors.  Here's Sophia with tonight's haul:

If you’re local, please get involved either by adding to our collection or starting one of your own.  Stay tuned for updates (will we make our goal??) and feel free to leave a word of encouragement here for all of us!