It’s the little things.

it’s warmth and shelter in the middle of the storm
it’s card games and Mario Cart and wii
it’s lingering over books
it’s baking cookies and bread to enjoy together
it’s a selfless man who constantly and consistently works hard with no need for a spotlight
it’s food for sustenance and enjoyment
it’s soothing, soul-feeding music
it’s more than enough of everything even when my warped view tries to tell me otherwise
it’s reading Truth freely and without constraint
it’s sharing memories over old photos
it’s prayers prayed with the same, loving man for nearly 3 decades
it’s the love and affection and friendship of mothers and daughters and sisters
it’s laughter, unforced and free
it’s a future Hope of more than enough Grace
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things

it’s seeing the morning star each day as I stumble down my stairs in the dark
it’s the kind smile of a stranger
it’s celebrating milestone birthdays with loved ones
it’s the surprise gift of chocolate from a thoughtful co-worker
it’s the thank you received after helping a kid succeed
it’s the faithful prayers of a loving spouse
it’s the bright smile and sweet laugh of my favorite 18-year-old
it’s hot coffee on a chilly morning
it’s cold water on a warm afternoon
it’s night-time walks with the one I love
it’s the fields, golden and ripe for harvest
it’s the way you know the sun is still shining even behind the clouds
it’s the soul-calming knowledge that this world is not all there is
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

 

In the moment

It happened several times on my trip, and although annoying, didn’t seem like that big of a deal. Then, it happened at my niece’s wedding and I was ticked. Snapping photos left and right, my memory on my phone quickly filled up and just when Steph & Scott were ready to walk down the aisle–bam! No more room for photos. Ugh. I rushed to erase some, but with the bright sun, I couldn’t see the screen. Thankfully, after only a few seconds of scrambling, I put my iphone down and turned to focus on the beautiful event unfolding before my eyes.

The ceremony was simple, worshipful, meaningful and happy. Two lovely souls declared their love, spoke solemn vows, washed each other’s feet (as a symbol of mutual servanthood) and became one under a perfectly blue summer sky. And I almost missed some of the beauty because I thought I needed to capture it through a lens instead of treasure it in the moment.

It happened on my trip as well. For those of you who don’t know, I just returned from a 10 service and learning trip to Nicaragua. What a stunningly beautiful country! The whole trip I kept trying to capture the loveliness of volcanoes and rivers and lakes and people and wide sweeping vistas and not a single picture lives up to the joy and beauty of the real thing. It’s a bit dissappointing but drives home the point for me that you can’t hold beauty and save it up for later. Beauty is meant to be savored in the moment. It brings refreshment and hope in the moment and you can remember that beauty, but you can’t recreate the moment. To some, this is frustrating. We’re such keepers aren’t we? We want to possess and control and you simply can’t possess or control beauty, you just have to soak it in when you see it.

I’m glad my phone’s memory was full. I’m glad I had to put it down and simply listen and engage without framing the next shot. Hopefully, I’ll be more aware from now on of living in the moments of beauty instead of trying to capture them.

Be Still

Man, that happened fast! I thought as the half pan of week-old egg bake slid into the garbage. The fact that it was no longer edible wasn’t my main concern. Struck with the reality that any food item would be thrown away because of lack of eaters occupied my thoughts. Another subtle, yet harsh reminder that the faces living at home change weekly. Just a few days ago, my oldest son still hung his coat up by the door and parked his beater in the driveway. Only a year ago, we were planning a high school graduation. A short 4+ years ago, I washed mounds of laundry on a daily basis, attended countless soccer games and track and cross-country meets and baked more cookies in a week for my own family than some people bake in a year. Food never spoiled and egg bake never saw the bottom of the garbage bag. Life whirled with activity and energy and noise and mess and we enjoyed the beauty of a full home.

How quickly quietly days slip into weeks, weeks to months and months stretch into years. It feels like there’s barely time for a breath before someone else moves out and moves on. Don’t get me wrong or misunderstand, I don’t want a 30-year-old child sleeping on my couch. I get that this leaving –this growing and transitioning– is good and necessary. I love that my kids are maturing and taking flight. I love that they’re adventurous and revel in trying new things, seeing new places and meeting new people. I’m proud of each of them for their blossoming independence and firm, authentic faith.

But with each departure, the grazing time for my thoughts lengthens. It’s easy to ruminate. The rooms of our home say goodbye to their occupants and the sounds echo in the void, and Brad and I ponder the past. We made so many parenting mistakes. Did we equip them well? The closets empty and the grocery bill gets smaller and we wonder about the future. Will they be ok without us? Will we be ok without them? As new faces are introduced and we imagine the reality of our kids having families of their own, we think about the paradox that as the kids leave, the family grows. Will the in-laws like us? Will they want to come home–to our home? Will they value the homelife we’ve made?

Real questions and honest fears ring in my ears along with whispers of peace.

Peace, daughter, never will I leave you or forsake you.

Peace, child, I am the same yesterday, today and forever.

Peace, beloved one, you are mine, you belong to me.

Peace, dear heart, my banner over you–my anthem for your life–is love.

Peace I give you; no matter the past, present or future, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

We all need reminders of God’s love and presence. You may not be saying goodbye to your kids right now, but perhaps your soul needs soothing because of another circumstance. Take courage, my friend.

He knows you. He loves you. He sees you. He cares.

“Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God.” ~Psalm 46

It’s the little things

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

it’s the mirrored reflection of flowers on my wet deck

it’s old, broken-in, comfy, warm slippers on a chilly morning

it’s hearing beautiful, life-affirming words from a brave co-worker

it’s my hardworking teen learning perseverance

it’s an unexpected gift card for gasoline

it’s the yellowing bean fields on the gently rolling hills

it’s sleeping next to the same, faithful and faith-filled man for 26 years

it’s the coffee mug with cherries on it that sparks memories of grandma’s house

it’s fresh potatoes from a friend’s garden

it’s a reliable car

it’s the privilege of praying for and with a dear friend

it’s knowing I’m loved even when I feel unloveable

it’s the laugh of a wonderfully made 17-year-old anticipating his birthday

it’s sharing life’s journeys with a courageous friend

it’s experiencing grace for the moment

it’s the “love you” text from my kid at 11:47 at night

it’s believing that everyday “is a new day with no mistakes in it yet”

it’s dear parents leaving a legacy of love and prayer

it’s the myriad of reminders that we’re not alone…

and there is a God…

and He does love us…

it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big

*I’m not going to lie, today’s post is an exercise in faith for me. So please, if you’re struggling and in a crappy place and you read this and just want to gag, know it’s not born from everything being perfect, but from needing to remember the little gifts that are truly present in our everyday lives.

May you be encouraged to look for the little things in your life today, friend.

4 weddings and a marriage.

They sat, side by side, poised yet uncomfortable. Married almost 56 years, they came to share their wisdom and experience with kids younger than any of their own grandchildren. As they spoke of dating and marriage and child-rearing you could both see and hear the love they had for one another and for their God. Faithfully and un-assumedly following His leading, they’ve lived a beautiful, rich life. Ministering to people all along the way, they’ve journeyed side by side. The grace, humility and sage-wisdom poured from them both. They readily admitted their shortcomings and praised one another for their strengths. A picture of love, perseverance and grace, listening to them felt like a beautiful privilege. Specifically, the way he spoke of her strength and dignity and grace touched my heart; he not only still loved his bride of 55+ years, but much more so than the day they wed. She sat, silent, with tears streaming, as he praised her child-rearing and patient love for him. The mutual love, loyalty and respect exemplified the selflessness necessary for a marriage to thrive.

This summer, we enjoyed attending four weddings and, at least three times I started writing about them but never finished. Each wedding had the usual beautiful bride, nervous groom, loving family, sweet bridesmaids, fun groomsmen, ball jars, and lots of lace and burlap.  Above all these typical similarities, though, one stood out: each groom was enraptured with his bride. Each groom stood, beaming–at least two with tears–watching his beloved walk down the aisle. Each man possessed a gentleness and beauty of expression that showed his complete devotion to the woman walking to join him. Enraptured and heart-captured, as I’m sure the 80-year-old man had been 56 years ago.

As I reflect on those young grooms and the much older groom sitting in front of the classroom last week, I’m struck again by the beauty of love and the gift of a partner in life. Through all we encounter in this oftentimes hostile world, a loving life-partner is pure grace. Even in less-than-perfect marriages, having someone with whom to share life is a gift. And we so often squander the gift don’t we? Or forget it’s a gift at all.

It’s my prayer today that if we’re married, we remember the gift of our spouse. And it’s also my prayer today, that each of those 4 grooms will have the privilege of sitting next to their bride in 56 years and being even more enamored of her then than he was on their wedding day.

 

It’s the little things

it’s the bright early-morning moon greeting me as I wake

it’s hot coffee on a cold day

it’s a warm house in the middle of a blizzard

it’s the quickly scrawled thank-you note from my daughter before she rushed out the door

it’s the two minute conversation in the hallway that builds a bridge

it’s the darling red-headed three-year-old singing “Annie” songs in her kitchen

it’s the unexpected snow day

it’s seeing the boy who struggles interact well with peers

it’s a little text in the middle of a long day from a good friend

it’s shared laughter with my kids

it’s knowing the warmth, love and grace from the same man for over a quarter of a century

it’s hearing the Star-Spangled Banner sung in the middle of the day in the middle of math

it’s getting glimpses of wonderful things to come

it’s little scraps of paper falling from jam-packed notebooks testifying to a well-fought faith and extraordinary life

it’s the myriad of reminders that we’re not alone…

and there is a God…

and He does love us…

it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big

The Best Wedding Gift Ever

I’ve been thinking about my marriage all week.  Tonight, Brad and I are celebrating our 25+ years* by going to a Brian Regan show–yay us! After seven months of heaviness, I can’t wait to laugh.  Anyway, thinking about our wedding and life together, I started remembering all the gifts we’ve been given.  So, so many amazing gifts….but in all my reflecting, one gift takes center stage.   

We use it everyday and have since we walked out the church doors to a new life.  It’s the best gift a couple can receive.  It’s not the settings of china or the gold-rimmed cake plate or the odd juicer or even the Chicago Cutlery cutting board.  It’s not our faith or loving upbringing or the examples of long, healthy marriages–although those are, indeed, gifts.   It wasn’t piled among the other presents and it didn’t come wrapped in a pretty package.

The best wedding gift Brad and I received came from my parents: the gift of autonomy.  My dad took my hand and put it in Brad’s then stepped back.  We said “I do.” and my parents chose, from that moment on, to see us as an independent, autonomous unit.  They let us go.  So many couples have to fight for independence from the their parents.  And ours**, out of love, humility and sacrifice, gave it willingly and freely.

Only 21 when we married, I was filled with all the innocent sweetness and simultaneous arrogance that accompanies a young, bright, college girl.  I grew up surrounded by love and grace and faith.   I’m the youngest. I wasn’t a brat, but I was definitely indulged.  I had life by a string.  Sacrifice–and certainly self-sacrifice– were not realities to me.  Too young to truly understand what a lifetime of giving up yourself for the sake of your spouse entailed, I stood at the altar and offered my heart and life to another.  And thank God , my parents let me go and didn’t try to keep any sort of hold on me.  Thank God they saw the wisdom and were given the strength to let me grow up in the arms of another.  The two people who knew me the best and loved me the most unselfishly let me go–releasing me to a new, independent life with Brad.  They let us live and love and make decisions on our own even when, I’m sure, they worried.  They did not impose their own dreams and desires on us but let us forge our own.  They didn’t, even subtly, try to sway where we should live, what we should do, how we should spend our money, or how our faith should look.  They never assumed we would spend holidays with them or live near them.  They didn’t try to dictate or rule any part of our lives.  They truly, completely released us.

I shudder to think what would have happened if my parents would have not stepped back when I was so young…What if dad would have set himself up as Brad’s adversary instead of ally? Or if my mom would have continued to baby me and let me have my own way?  Or what if she would have let me complain about my in-laws or husband? Or if they would have insisted on giving their opinion and input into our life decisions whether we sought it or not?  Or what if they would have pressured us to spend holidays and vacations with them?  I’m pretty sure my life and certainly my marriage wouldn’t be the same.  But they didn’t.  They–my mom especially–constantly pointed me to two relationships: God and Brad.  She didn’t allow me to disrespect Brad or talk negatively about my in-laws.  I learned within the first year of marriage that my mom was Brad’s biggest ally and complaining to her about anything would get me nowhere***.  I’m sure she worried at times.  I’m sure she wanted to step in.  I have no doubt she had opinions and that she hurt for me at times.  I know, because I’m now a mom, that she probably did want to side with me.  But she chose God’s plan of parenting (let your kids “leave and cleave”) over her own natural inclinations to hold on.  And she prayed.  Over the last 25 years, she and dad prayed everyday for us.  Every. Single. Day.  What a beautiful gift.

Out of fear, many parents hold on.  They’re afraid to let go not only because of the mistakes their kids may make but also because, I believe, they fear if they let go, their kids will distance themselves and the relationship will be weakened   But I think the opposite is true.  My parents release of me actually had the polar effect.  We wanted to be with them because they didn’t demand it.  We sought their opinion because they weren’t constantly offering (or pushing) it.  My mom’s unselfish backing of my mom-in-law made me love both women more–not my mom less.  Their gift of autonomy endeared them to both Brad and I.  It didn’t drive us away from my parents, but pulled us closer in the healthiest way.

I hope when my own children stand at the altar and profess the beautiful vows “Til death we do part” I will, in grace and faith and maturity, put their hands together then step back with the same purpose and love that my parents did for me.  And I’m sure on that day, I will realize the amount of sacrifice and determination it takes to truly let your children go.

*August 6, 1988

** His parents let us go as a couple as well–truly, they gave us the same gift.  But,  since I was writing from my perspective, I wrote about my folks.  

***Brad took offense at this and thought I was suggesting he was a jerk.  He, of course, was not difficult or hard to live with at all–but any married woman knows that women complain about their husbands and in-laws to their girl-friends, sisters and moms (and anyone else who will listen) even if there’s not much to complain about.

Traveling

Traveling an unfamiliar stretch road to pick up the worlds most amazing bratwurst for my husband’s birthday (a fact completely irrelevant to the story, but these brats are too good not to share with all of you), I drove south.  I noticed evidence of the recent flooding*.  I passed nondescript farm places and a typical Iowa countryside.  Lovely.  But, really, nothing out of the ordinary for our pastoral landscape.

I reached my destination, retrieved the brats and headed back.

Traveling the same road I’d been on only 10 minutes before, but now heading north, the landscape seemed different.  Hills rose and fell, like and an old man sleeping on a sofa snoring away.  The river still spilled over it’s banks in a beautiful swell.  I witnessed a herd of goats running and playing and jumping up a hill.  Old barns and beautiful farmsteads captivated me.  Crevices, valleys, ridges and winding side roads seemed to hold unknown adventures and beckoned my now-wide-awake-heart.  Was this really the same road that I’d just traveled only moments before?  Indeed, it was.  Gone was the typical average Iowa country road.  Before me lay beauty and mystery and refreshment.

Perspective is everything isn’t it?  One minute I’m traveling along, minding my own business with brats and birthdays on my mind and the next, I’m transported through soft beauty that yielded a soul-rest.

But here’s the thing, I didn’t try to change my perspective and there wasn’t anything wrong with what I saw driving south.  I didn’t have a bad attitude or wrong perspective.  I wasn’t being negative or tuning out beauty.  I really wasn’t.  I was just driving and taking in the scenery, like I usually do.   It’s the road I was on and the direction I needed to be going.  It wasn’t bad or wrong it’s just where I needed to be at that moment of my journey toward brat-bliss.  Then, on the way home, I was simply going the direction I needed to go.  I didn’t ask to see anything different or seek a scenic route or try to take in views less-typical.  I also didn’t change my attitude or focus because there wasn’t anything wrong with it in the first place.  My perspective changed simply because of the direction I had to travel to get home.

It’s true, sometimes we need an attitude adjustment or a course change.  Sometimes, for me at least, I need a loving metaphorical face-slap to snap out of a crappy attitude or negative perspective.  And sometimes, we are headed down a dangerous path and a full-blown intervention is necessary to put us back on the best path.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I believe there are times when we’re on the path we’re meant to be on and it’s mundane and uneventful and frankly, drudgery.  And that’s ok.  Oswald Chambers wrote over a hundred years ago:

We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes. It’s one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. If we are not looking for halos, we at least want something that will make people say, “What a wonderful man of prayer he is!” or, “What a great woman of devotion she is!” If you are properly devoted to the Lord Jesus, you have reached the lofty height where no one would ever notice you personally. All that is noticed is the power of God coming through you all the time. [emphasis mine]

So where ever you find yourself today, whatever road God has you on– whether on a road of beauty and magical wonder and delight or the cold, hard pavement of a difficult circumstance or simply the path of day in-day out life in grace–may you rest in God’s provision and care and know that He will provide soul-rest and refreshment when you most need and usually least expect it.

 

*written at the end of May when there really was flooding

 

It’s the little things

it’s the secret bathroom mirror artwork, only revealed after the steam of a hot shower then disappearing again to surprise you another day

it’s the uncontrollable giggle of a junior high boy when something strikes him as funny

it’s people of different ages, colors, and nationalities gathered around a table sharing a meal

it’s watching kids of all ages branch out and soar

it’s feeling a warm breeze after a cold winter

it’s having an old friend offer prayers on a hard day

it’s enjoying coffee and conversation every morning with the same man for almost 25 years

it’s the reminder in the sunrise that Mercy is everyday new

it’s long friendships

it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…

and there is a God…

and He does love us…

it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big