Getting Lost

It helps to remember that getting outside can put me in a better mood.

A walk around the block is obviously good for the dogs. It’s good for the body. And it’s good for my soul.

I had been in a funk when Guy and I leashed up the dogs for an hour-long walk. As we strolled we laughed when one or the other would attempt to pounce on a lizard who had already skittered away. We laughed some more when they stuck their noses into Mexican feather grass—something smelled good—and the grass looked like a lion’s mane on a three-bodied monster. We saw a hawk soaring overhead. We admired roses of every hue growing in our neighbor’s gardens. The gray clouds of my mood parted as I noticed the world outside myself.

I felt more rested (rest-full) for having moved my body outside than I did when I sat still in my comfortable chair.

This weekend we had the honor of witnessing the baptism of our friends’ daughter at a beautiful Catholic retreat center. When the service ended and we had congratulated the happy family, we strolled the grounds.

In one lushly planted brick-walled garden, I spotted a little statue of St. Francis holding two birds. I would have missed him entirely if the birds had been painted with more subtlety—the fire engine red glossy paint positively popped against the green foliage.

He delighted me, so I snapped a picture.

He seemed to be hiding, lost among the leaves and yet exactly where he should be. The birds seemed to glow even brighter for being held by Francis.

I want to be “lost” like St. Francis, perfectly content in my natural hiding spot. I like being a little bit lost in my own pursuits, in flow, attentive to the beauty in front of me rather than caught up by distractions. I want to be surrounded by nature, beauty, peace. And I suppose it would be nice if, on occasion, I brought delight to those who happen to notice me hiding in plain sight.

Learning from Babies

Q15 lost his passport coming home from Mexico over spring break. He claims he gave it to Guy, Guy doesn’t remember ever receiving it, neither can find it. We need a replacement since Q leaves on a Scouting canoe trip in Canada next week.

Within a certain window of time and requiring both parents meant we had to go to the Federal Passport Office in San Francisco. We had an 11 am appointment for the first full day of summer (bummer for the kiddo—we made it up to him with lunch of his choosing).

Apparently, you make an appointment to stand in line to gain access to a room where you stand in another line. More than an hour later, you talk for approximately one minute with someone who gives you a number and asks you to be seated (another line). When your number is called, it takes about ten to fifteen minutes of paperwork. By the time you have completed the process (sans passport, which we made another appointment to pick up), you have spent less than 20 minutes interacting with an official and more than 2 hours waiting.

Lots of parents had littles in tow. Poor babies, stuck indoors, waiting (curiously, I saw no parents pull out books or toys). One young mama seated next to me had a daughter of about three and an eight-month-old son. The daughter quietly entertained herself (remarkable, as my boys for sure would have made a scene). Mama dandled the baby in her lap.

Baby made eye contact. I smiled and he cautiously, then fully, smiled back. He looked away, and when he again turned to me and I smiled, he beamed. He extended his little fingers and I gave him my pointer finger to grasp. He gurgled gleefully. We played this game repeatedly.

Later, another mama sat next to me with a slightly older (maybe thirteen to fifteen months?) curly haired little girl. This darling was not afraid to make her voice heard! She squawked for joy as she stared intently into my eyes.

Another baby peeked over her mama’s shoulder at her sisters seated in the row behind her. She quietly cooed at them and squinted her entire face with her smile. She looked distressed when they looked away and delighted when they gave her attention.

While Q stared intently at his phone, I took pleasure in baby-watching. At least they made the inching minutes pass more enjoyably than similarly staring at my phone (let’s be honest: I did some of that, too).

It was easy to “chat” with the babies. I made a little effort to engage with the first mama, but she barely responded. She smiled but didn’t make eye contact. She answered my question without elaboration (hence, I know her son was eight months old).

We should learn from the babies. These healthy and well-loved babies didn’t hesitate to make eye contact, smile, and talk in their way. They trusted in the goodness of those around them. They wanted to see and be seen.

Why do we lose that openness? Why do teens and adults prefer to stare down, or away, engaging with no one and keeping their thoughts to themselves?

How might life be more fun and the world a better place if we looked at one another with the unsuspicious joy of an infant who has just learned to smile?

 

Boomerang

For Mother’s Day, I received two bouquets of flowers: one from my in-laws and another from my kids. I posted pictures on social media because I have a thing for flowers.

The next day, my neighbor and her young daughter stood on my doorstep holding a beautiful bouquet of homegrown roses. Mom had shown my pictures to Daughter; Daughter led Mom outside to pick a bouquet from their garden, carefully choosing one by one the flowers she wanted to share with me.

My former neighbor and friend planted and nurtured those roses. This simple gift felt like it connected more of us than were present in beauty and friendship.

Later that day, another neighbor dropped off a gallon bag of lemons from her tree. Two days later, still another neighbor brought over a bouquet of fresh herbs with an invitation to snip more from her front yard garden.

Humbled by these generous gestures, I wondered aloud what I could share.

Northern California has experienced odd mid-May weather: a cold front dumped rain on us. My just-blooming roses had become so heavy that I feared they might snap their stems. During a break in the weather, I ran outside and quickly cut as many blooms as I could. I shook them dry-ish and brought them inside.

As I considered what to do with them, I realized that evening would be the last gathering for our middle school group where I have served as a leader for the now-8th grade girls during their three years of participation. My two co-leaders are high school students. I set about tying up two bouquets with white satin ribbon to present to these darling girls.

One of the 8th graders pounced on the bouquets and took it upon herself to present them to the high school girls, who both choked back tears of joy. One said that she had given flowers to her teachers last week, and now she understood how they felt: honored. Loved.

I told Q15 this story at breakfast the next day and he said, “Of course. Boomerang.”

When I asked what he meant, he explained: “It’s the boomerang effect. We talk about it at Boy Scouts whenever there isn’t something else to talk about. When one person does good for another, so that person does good for another, and the good keeps flying around…”

I’m grateful they talk about such things at Boy Scouts. We should all talk about it more often.

The night after I presented the girls with bouquets, the church had a scavenger hunt/end-of-year party for the 8th grade students. I couldn’t go because I had to work. So the girls came to my workplace, and one of my high school co-leaders handed me a jewelry bag; she had purchased matching friendship bracelets for all of us. My turn to choke back tears. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Earlier that evening, my co-worker had told me a story about a BART worker he chats with when he takes BART late on weekend nights. This middle-aged gal does a great job in an under-appreciated position and often has to deal with the last-car crazies, those who have over-imbibed or are trying to hide so as to sleep overnight on the train. He said to her, “Perhaps only you and I in all the world actually know what goes down on nights like these.” She sighed in agreement.

On Mother’s Day, our wine bar gave away flowers to our guests. At closing time, he wrapped up a few blooms for his BART friend, who was genuinely moved. A few nights later, she presented him with a $10 BART pass a tourist had given her since he wouldn’t be able to use the remainder. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Last night I trimmed a few more roses and brought them to a friend who plays piano in the bar a few nights each month. She lives alone, is facing health issues, and I thought she might like them. She smiled and exclaimed, “Oh! These are the roses I see on Facebook!” Yes, they are.

Personally, I’ve never played with an actual boomerang, but I sure am having fun watching the love fly here and there!

Surprise!

Parenting can be So Fun!

For example, today, when I told Q14 I would pick him up mid-school day but didn’t explain why. And he didn’t remember or figure out that TODAY is the day he gets his braces off! And I got to surprise him with one of the best surprises an adolescent can receive.

I texted him to meet me outside the band room after class and, as he got in the car, I smiled and handed him his toothbrush. Confused, he accepted it and looked at me for further explanation.

Despite the fact that the only times I’ve taken him out of school this year have been for orthodontic appointments. Despite the fact that, at his last appointment, they told him he’d get his braces off at the next appointment. In February. He still didn’t get it.

I laughed and explained, and he laughed in relief that Mom’s odd behavior didn’t signal something scary. Right, because I’m such a scary mommy…

It’s raining and our house was being cleaned, so I stayed in the car with the dogs while the almost two-hour process took place. He did let me take a before picture…

I raced to the upstairs office when they were done for a quick chat with the doctor and to confirm next week’s retainer appointment. Oh, let’s be real: I raced upstairs to see my kid’s sweet smile.

He tried to play it so cool, I’m sure processing this seismic shift in self-image through the pervasive fog of adolescent insecurity, but inside I know he has to be as excited as his mom who simply can’t stop ridiculously beaming at his pearly whites. He indulged me with an after picture…

We picked up Guy from work and hit Chipotle, our regular post-ortho appointment lunch spot, for a congratulatory burrito before dropping him back off at school for his last class of the day.

The only thing that makes me a little sad? I won’t have a built-in to the schedule excuse for playing hooky with my kiddo. Still, I think now and then I might just pull him out of school anyway. Time together, especially in these critical teen years, is way more important than a PE class on a rainy day.

Yonder

The familiar carol rings:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn

A thrill of hope…yet some days hope feels like a discipline, something to hang on to for dear life as we toss, washed and worn, by the cosmic spin cycle.

Still, I think of children on Christmas Eve, hoping for the gifts that will be under the tree when they awake. They rightly hope, because they know they are loved and that their loved ones will make sure there will indeed be gifts, however so humble. Those children, they thrill with hope. Beyond the annual Christmas joy-filled celebration, their hope makes the family Christmas services hum with anticipation.

the weary world rejoices. The weary soul rejoices. Has my soul become too weary to thrill, to rejoice? How many of us slog through the burn-out day after day, attempting to drown out the noise, self-caring and self-medicating by turns, never feeling fully refreshed? When even rejoicing feels like a forced discipline, how do we rest our weary souls?

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Yonder: over there, in the distance. At least, tomorrow, after we go to sleep on Christmas Eve to awake to the sure knowledge that Jesus Christ has been born. Or, at least, New Year’s Day with a whole new year stretching before us.

We’ve had a rough go for the, oh, last couple years. For various reasons–political, professional, and personal–each of us (and yes, me me me) has had to work hard to hope, to thrill, to rejoice, to refresh, to wait for the yonder. I’m hoping we can let go of the past and move with increased joy into the yonder of 2019.

I have no idea what that might look like. I’m not one for resolutions, just for taking the next right step as firmly as I can and resetting when that step falters as steps occasionally do. However, I received some end-of-year encouragement from my daily Bible reading:

Sing to the Lord a new song.
    Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

Psalm 149:1 (NLT)

Sing a new song now to the Creator and Sustainer who in the end will make all things new again (Colossians 1:15-17, Revelation 21:5).

Even better:

…she laughs without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:25b

For now, trepidation comes more easily than laughter. And so I will keep at hope, rejoicing, singing, and laughing, intentionally injecting each day with prayer and love and moments of happiness.

Thankful Thursday – Wassailing

Last night, for the first time, we attended our high school’s holiday concert called The Wassail. When I asked Q14 if he’d like to attend, he asked about the unfamiliar word.

I sang the first line or two of the carol, enough to jog his memory, and explained that wassail is also a drink similar to mulled wine. So wassailing is caroling and drinking and celebrating the season.

In our town, Wassail is a tremendous holiday concert. Now that we’ve experienced it firsthand, I anticipate we’ll make attending it an annual tradition.

Up to 120 high school singers, plus instrumentalists for a few numbers, made unbelievable music like I’ve never heard. During one piece, as vocalists encircled the audience and literally surrounded us with song, I closed my eyes and nearly wept for sheer beauty.

And Christmas arrived. Not the actual day, that’s still next week, but the spirit of Christmas. I always pay attention for that moment when I feel Christmas. Some years it never comes, or comes after Christmas has ended. These talented young people ushered the Christmas spirit into my heart.

When I looked up wassailing, I read that the tradition has pagan roots, that men would put cider-soaked cakes under apple trees while banging pots and pans and singing in order to ward off bad spirits and exhort the trees to healthy production in the next year.

With all the Christmas and end-of-year activities, I’ve been feeling tired. I see it on others’ faces, too: the joy and the weariness. I am still tired today, but last night’s Wassail sure chased away some Grinchy bad spirits. Hearing those young people sing so beautifully, having invested so much of their time and heart into rehearsal, it reminded me that there is hope. We have hope.

This morning I met a friend for coffee. As we waited for our drinks, a man sporting one of those obnoxiously funny Christmas suits held open the front door as 20+ preschool children filed in. They lined up near the counter and started singing Jingle Bells. People got up from their seats to better see and hear them as they continued to sing three songs in all. One couldn’t help but silly-smile at so much cuteness.

Buddy the Elf was right: The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.

Advent 2018 Wk3 – Faith

The year C20 had his first birthday, Guy and I both turned 30 a few weeks before and after. Our birthdays span November to January so Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s got wrapped up in the fun. We created a list of small celebrations we could enjoy each day during those eight weeks, simple activities like sweetening a mug of hot chocolate with a candy cane, going for a walk together, or watching an animated Christmas movie. We celebrated our lives and the holidays with flair.

As I spent this last week reflecting on joy, I realized that I might be doing Advent wrong. Or, at least, wrong for me at this time.

Other than chomping the daily chocolates in our Advent calendar, I didn’t grow up with an Advent tradition. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was simply Christmastime, when we listened to Christmas music and shopped and wrapped and enjoyed the season.

I appreciate Advent for its thematic focus, its intentionality, its lens on waiting for Jesus. But over the years, our church has adopted a fuller Advent tradition, limiting Christmas music to Christmas Eve and the following Sunday (and the annual Christmas concert, the one exception to the rule) in favor of Advent hymns. And since there are only two popular Advent hymnsCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel–the music sounds like the rest of the year. So even though I used to start listening to Christmas music in October while I planned the church Christmas materials, I have mostly stopped listening to Christmas music before Christmas.

And I’m missing it. I’m missing the joy. I’ve employed the discipline without reaping the benefit, and I’m sorrier for it. I feel dry and dour.

Perhaps traditional Advent observance might also necessitate the observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas–Christmas celebrations commencing on Christmas and lasting until King’s Day on January 6. But I’m not there; when Christmas is over, it’s over. And since so much of life necessarily involves waiting for Jesus, I want to enjoy Him now. I want to celebrate Him today. I don’t want to wait any longer.

Besides, there is way too much good Christmas music to limit it to a day.

Those of us who follow Jesus live in tension between the already and not yet. Jesus has come, and He will come again. We have the joy of salvation now, but we won’t experience the fullness of life in His Kingdom until the second coming. So we wait.

But why in the world am I intentionally limiting the joy of celebrating His birth? Sure, His birthday is next week, but He’s already here. This year the discipline feels a little absurd, like not talking to my son for the month before his birthday just because his birthday hadn’t yet happened… What sense would that make?

This week’s focus is faith, that God will direct our paths even (especially) when the way seems foggy. I’m staring intently down some foggy paths of my own, and I do believe that Jesus will show up, that He will hold my hand and walk gently with me. And I’m going to celebrate that reality today, with some Christmas music, even as I wait for His eventual arrival.

Week 3 – Joseph’s Faith 

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light three candles (two purple, one pink): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope, joy and faith.

Read Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Read: A good man, Joseph found himself in what looked like a bad situation. While he quietly planned a way out, an angel assured him that he had no reason for fear: what seemed like bad news would be good news for everyone. Mary’s baby wasn’t just any baby—this would be God’s baby, Immanuel, God with us! When we accept God’s plan, God turns our fear to faith and our faith to joy.

Pray: Holy Spirit, where we feel fear, plant your seed of faith. Grow our faith into joy in your presence. In the name of Jesus, we wait and pray. Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 7:8-9 How does God’s faithfulness inspire your faithfulness to Him?
Tuesday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Wednesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Thursday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Friday Colossians 1:3-4 Who can you thank God for as an example of faith in Christ?
Saturday Hebrews 11:1 How do you define faith?

Suggested Activities
Make a list of things in which you put your faith, for example, that your alarm will go off in the morning or that the lights will come on when you flick the switch. Try to count as least ten. Then ask: Is it (or, why is it) sometimes easier to trust in these mundane things than to trust in the God who sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior?

Incorporate silence into your daily routine and use it as a chance to talk with God. Drive with the radio off. Go for a quiet hike. Sit in silence with your morning cup of coffee. Read your Bible, and let God share with you His perspective on what you’re facing each day.

Journal
When have you seen God show up in your unexpected or unwanted circumstances? Where do you need to experience His presence currently?

“It is faith that what happens to me matters to God as well as to me that gives me joy, that promises me that I am eternally the subject of God’s compassion, and that assures me that the compassion was manifested most brilliantly when God came to us in a stable in Bethlehem.” –Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace