Birthday Blessing

Cowboy NilsIt’s a new day. A birthday. Nils is 17. Kyle and I get up early and fry bacon, as requested. A gift-wrapped box of Lucky Charms on the counter. Black-and-white posters of a five-year-old cowboy hanging on cabinet doors. Birthday traditions.

The birthday boy is the last to get up, like usual. But the first to be ready. Wearing his new North Face sweatshirt, picked out by Mom, with some help from Iowa. Big brother and his wife, who’s a varsity shopper, approving the purchase through texts and photos. (Thanks, Grant and Kiana. It’s a winner, for sure!)

What a year it’s been. Just last year on this day. Do you remember what happened? Sixteen, a driver’s test passed. Keys in your pocket. And is it possible that was only a year ago? It feels like forever.

Goodness. We’ve all grown up this year.

You’ve been a champion. Really. Hard core. All Conference. And not just in baseball.

Your will is strong. The same will that stopped you from sucking your thumb cold turkey when you were three. Potty-trained in a day. Taught yourself to read overnight. How does he do it? We’re asking it still.

You’re the only kid whose driving never scared me. From the first, I knew. He’s got it. No problem. Dependable, steady, predictable, you.

Straight A’s. Leader of two worship bands. Tenacious athlete. Friend to all.

Amazing brother.

In a season of change, you’ve endured and flourished. It hasn’t been easy, not for a minute. And some days are harder than others. But I watch you today. Thriving. Striving. And I wonder, what’s next?

Next week we’ll take a road trip, just the two of us. To Indiana. IWU. Our first college visit. Here already. So many decisions. This season. Next year. The year after. But you’re ready. And I’m excited to see what God has for you.

I’m praying for you, bud. Every day. Dad, too. And believing.

Lately I’ve been memorizing the first chapter of Philippians. And it reminds me of you. A lot.

So here it is. My birthday blessing…

 I thank my God every time I remember you.  

I always pray with joy. 

Being confident of this.

That he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

I have you in my heart. With all the affection of Jesus. 

And this is my prayer. 

That your love may abound more and more.

That you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless. 

Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— 

To the glory and praise of God.

Happy Birthday.

Be Still

He said it to me, just outside the bathroom door. Just after boys left for school.

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” 

My husband, standing there weary, after a half a night’s sleep. He’d been up for hours. Walking. Praying. Reading. And then this. This promise.

It’s not your promise. I hear the voice still. Hermeneutics class, three years ago. But what if God whispers to your husband in the dark? Whispers into his restless night, and it’s the thing he’s most desperate to hear. The thing I need, too. And I ask it out loud. Can that be for us, too?

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” And all day long, I keep it close and say it often.

Good thing, too. Given one teenage boy in particular who comes home primed for a fight, as soon as school’s ended. No reason, or a hundred reasons, more like. Music loud. Silence deafening. Firmly planted, refusing to budge.

We just want to help. We think it and say it. But every solution leads to a thousand excuses. And it’s stalemate before we make our first move. Be Still. And what else can we do?

He’ll do the fighting. I keep reminding myself. Wondering, how long? Will we know when it’s over? Will we know when to stop being still?

Last night we talked while we lay in bed. Talked about boys, and the Exodus story. Talked about Him fighting, and us being still. It’s a relief, and a mystery, but if He said it, we’ll take it. What else can we do?

Kyle reads it again. How the people of God marched out boldly, but looked back afraid. Courage one minute. Terror the next. Like us.

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. (Exodus 14:13-14)

We settle in, wrapped in a promise. Stillness and rest. Him fighting, and us sleeping. Good-night.

Shoes

Shoes

I found this description in a book I was reading. It is a dreadfully accurate summation of my own reality.

We always love ourselves more than we love God or others. We are always erecting idols in our hearts and worshiping and serving them. We are always more focused on what we want and how we might get it than we are on loving God and laying down our life for others.* 

Yep. That about sums it up. The typical state of my own heart. Mine.

Fortunately, the book was about grace.

After all this time pursuing and seeking and wrestling with love, I am still in a quandary most days. It’s beyond me, somehow. I can’t seem to do it. And that, I guess, is the point.

I give up.

Yesterday I came home from work greeted by rude demands from teenage boys, rap music playing loud in the kitchen, soccer shoes lying defiantly on the living room rug. Again.

And I went for a run.

It wasn’t just an escape. It’s what I’d planned to do already, taking advantage of the mild fall afternoon and sun still shining. Dinner in the oven and just enough time for my normal loop. I started out sluggish, working out kinks from a long afternoon in an office chair. And while I ran I mentally vented.

It’s my kitchen, not theirs. The messes and music are making me crazy. There’s nothing I can do, short of engaging in battle, and it’s a war I’ll never win, so why bother. And those shoes. The defiance. They know my rules. Signs posted by every door. Repeated reminders. Kind. Stern. It doesn’t matter.

I picture myself tossing every offending shoe over the porch railing and out on the lawn. There. Go fetch. Or maybe I’ll gather and hide them. Charge a fee to get them back. My rules need more teeth. Wear your shoes in the house and your cell phone is mine for the next 24 hours. My thoughts racing and me running. The same loop I’ve run a hundred times before.

And then. The course changes. I remember.

Jesus. I can’t do this. I don’t know how. What would you do with the shoes? What does it look like to love?

I turn the corner to the final stretch of my run, and the thought takes shape. Not mine, but His. Feet dirty, souls needy. And Him washing. Bowing down low, a servant.

Do you understand what I have done for you?

There’s your answer. And I guess that’s what He’d do with the shoes.

He loves when I can’t. Faithful, enduring. In my Psalm this morning, a half-dozen times. His love endures forever.

 How long is forever when the issue is love?

I can’t, but He can. And He will. He is faithful.

*Give Them Grace, by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

Retreat

Waterbury

We were a bit desperate for retreat – longing for some time to ourselves, eager to be alone. And so we planned accordingly. We figured this trip to Des Moines could serve two purposes. Time with our newlywed kids, and time left over for us.

We decided to book a B & B. More romantic than a hotel, with a bit more pampering. We thought. The reviews were nice, and according to Grant the neighborhood was swanky. We’d like it.

And it was true, driving into town, this section of Des Moines was special. Vintage homes and beautiful lawns, fall color making a splash. An Iowa upgrade to be sure. We found our address, and phoned the owner, letting her know we’d arrived. Made our way up three flights of smoke-saturated, vintage-apartment stairs – to Jane’s place.

We now know, what we didn’t know then. “Airbnb.” That’s what we should have noticed on the Internet search. Our nephew, who’s traveled the world, knows what it means. It means you’ll be sharing space, cozy, with somebody else.

We lived with Jane for two days. A room of our own, but not much more. The bathroom – we’d asked about privacy, and in hindsight we can read between those lines – we’d share with Jane and her boarding friend, right outside our bedroom door. Coming and going through Jane’s apartment, old hardwood floors creaking like crazy, Jane’s little dog yapping, “Hi. We’re home!!”

The truth is, we just weren’t meant to be alone. Not this weekend. This little dream of ours wasn’t what God had in mind. He had something better.

We sat at Jane’s table and shared her breakfast and shared our stories. The three of us, shy at first, feeling awkward. My introversion and Kyle’s, too, wanting to escape. Yet sensing from the first that just maybe this was God-orchestrated. And it was.

We mentioned our kids, planting a church, where we’d be attending on Sunday. She talked about her own church where she sings in a gospel choir. Shared faith led to shared stories, and soon the ministry of the Spirit was taking us places we hadn’t expected to go. Over eggs and coffee we swapped stories. How Jane’s husband passed five years ago, how she’s been renting the room to pay the bills. How our family of five expanded to seven less than a year ago. And welcoming strangers and adopting children becomes common ground for sharing hearts. Human struggles and God’s provision. We’re not alone. And this is good.

The weekend was good. Not a retreat, but refreshing. Full in all the right ways. We laugh, realizing how not alone we’d been. And it wasn’t just Jane. Everyone and their brother was in Des Moines for the weekend. Kyle’s brother, on his way to Colorado. Pastor Randy, and Debbie, on their way back from Nebraska. A handful friends in town to run a marathon (the route just a block from our B&B retreat.) Even my sister-in-law flying into the Des Moines airport, but later in the day, after we’d left for home.

We drove back last evening, our time together extended by long stretches of road construction. Time alone at last. We talked, and we remembered.

We talked about Grant and Kiana, and Revision Church. How awesome they’re doing in this season of life. Youth and passion, in all the right ways. Like someone said about them at church, “When I was their age I was just wasting space.”

We talked about something Grant said while leading worship. How he’d been praying, and had this shift of perspective. He said it like this: “I was inviting Jesus into my day. And then I realized I had it backwards. It’s not Him that needs the inviting. It’s me.” Of course. And this is what it’s like to pastored by your son.

We talked, too, about boys at home. We try to pay attention and take note, again, of the things God is doing. He is good, and He’s faithful. We pray out loud, eyes open while driving. Thanking God for a weekend away, for Grammy at home taking care of our boys.

Mid-trip my cell phone rings, and it’s Luke. Just calling to check in. He tells us about his own weekend retreat with the Navs. How awesome it was, and how maybe this summer he’d like to work at a camp in the mountains. Camp + mountains + Jesus = YAY! He says it just like that.

We ask, can we go, too? Kidding, but not.

Luke’s comments take us back to an earlier conversation. Kyle had been talking about how he’s been dreaming. He told me and I exclaimed out loud. Me, too! The same dream, and so far I’ve only told God, wanting to know if He’s in it.

Someday, a little cabin. A retreat on a lake. Quiet and refuge. Just us.

We’ll see. God’s full of surprises.

Lake Day?

October Lake 1

This is too good to be true. This – October 11, and we spent the afternoon on the lake, pulling boys on tubes! They hung on for dear life, knowing the water beneath them was frigid, but it was worth every white-knuckle minute. They didn’t even try to hide their delight.

What a miraculously long stretch of summer we’ve enjoyed here in Minnesota, and I am soaking up every minute. A couple of days ago I heard someone complain that they were wishing for sweater-weather. Goodness. Isn’t there plenty of that and more on its way? I, for one, am giddy to be basking, still, in all this sun.

Lately everyone’s been asking. How is it going? And we know what IT means. Us. Our family. School starting. Church planting. Boys moving in, and boys moving out. Marriage and adoption and seasons of change. How is IT going?

And today, for the record, I’d like to say. All things considered. It’s very good.

This weekend, alone, chockfull of good. Homecoming at BU, and all of us together at a football game. Grant and Kiana, too. And Luke, with his new Bethel girlfriend – and I must admit, I’m loving that. Nils, Felipe and Jimmy enjoyed a soccer win Saturday morning, and then joined us briefly in the BU stands. Enough to say they saw their cousin – Bethel’s freshmen starting quarterback – leading his team to a Homecoming win. But they don’t sit still long. Just like old times, the younger boys prefer playing their own games on the sidelines to watching the real thing. And Felipe impresses the spectating crowd with “124 record-breaking soccer ball juggles.”

And if that’s not enough good-ness. At halftime they gave out championship rings for last year’s BU baseball team, Grant and his buddies together again, celebrating. They played the audio from the conference-winning game. Grant’s walk-off hit – and “they’re mobbing Grant Anderson on the field!!” What a gift, these memories. More than any of us deserve.

Last week at school there were mid-term reports for boys, and grades are good, too. Amazing. How well they’re doing with all this change, and so much to learn. And, yes. There are days when it’s hard, still. But it’s good.

Nils wrote a paper for his English class, and he asked me to proof it. An autobiography about the change in his family. He told the story honest. It’s been hard. Yes. Harder than expected. His “perfect family turned inside out.” I’m glad he could say it the way he did. This story isn’t a fairy tale.

And yet. Nils, just lately, has been my true test. I watch him to see how we’re doing. I pay close attention. Is he okay? He seems to be happy. Settled. At peace with himself and with life. So in spite of the struggles, I think he’s doing it. Like all of us. Finding our way to joy.

There are still days. Kyle especially carries the burden. Grieves the loss, and dreads the future. The weight of responsibility falls on him. Is this just the load of being a dad?

We weren’t planning on going to the lake yesterday. Too much homework. Too much to do. But I said to Kyle before heading to church. “Come on. Let’s do it. Let’s NOT be responsible today.” He chuckled – that’s a switch.

And it was exactly the right thing to do.

Capacity

10 mile

Years ago our pastor’s daughter, who is also a good friend of mine, decided to join her high school track team. Pastor Randy tells the story of how he took Missi out to the track one day, when no one else was around, and he timed her running a 400. Missi gave it her all, and when she finished she said, “Dad, that is as fast as I can run.” Dad just smiled.

Of course as the weeks passed, and Missi continued to train with the team, she got faster, and faster. And then came the end of her senior season, when Missi and her teammates competed in the 4×400 relay at the state tournament, winning the event, and breaking the state record. And she had, after all, been able to run faster than she ever thought possible.

Just recently, I was able to get a taste, albeit much smaller, of this experience. For several years I’ve been running consistently with my neighbor friend, Cheryl. The two of us typically run a 2.5-mile loop, two to three times a week. And then a while back, Cheryl and her daughter, Casey, asked me if I’d like to join them in running the TC 10-mile, a race in conjunction with the Twin Cities Marathon. It was something I’d been wanting to do for a while, so I signed up, and started to increase my training.

Gradually we extended the distance of our runs. From three miles to five, and from five to eight. And it wasn’t as hard as I expected. Before long I realized our shorter loop had become remarkably easy, and adding a mile or two was no big deal.

Yesterday we ran the race, and it was a blast. Fun. The morning was beautiful, sunny and chilly, and perfect for running. And as I’d remarked to Jimmy, a day or two before, “Sunshine is like Mountain Dew for me.” I enjoyed every minute, and as we approached the last two miles of the race, I realized I still had some gas in the tank. And I figured, what can it hurt? I may as well see how fast I can finish. So for the last two miles I picked up the pace, passing a number of runners as I finished the race. For a non-competitive spirit like mine, it felt like a win.

When Pastor Randy tells Missi’s story, he likes to make a point. “We can always increase our capacity.” He’s said it often, in a spiritual context. You always have more room for God – and for the fruit of His Holy Spirit.

A few years ago I was thinking about Missi, and Randy’s story, and it inspired me to pray. It turned out to be a prayer I’ve prayed many times since. God, increase my capacity to love. I remember exactly where I was the first time I prayed it. I was sitting in the bleachers of a high school gym, watching basketball. And I’m not sure what it was about the night or the context, but I remember the significance of the prayer. Increase my capacity to love.  

I’ve prayed it hundreds of times since, and it’s second only to my most oft prayed prayer – God, I trust you. The prayer that never fails.

As you might imagine, I’ve prayed both of these prayers a bit more often during the past nine or so months. God, I trust you. Increase my capacity to love.  

Not long ago something happened that was kind of exciting. I was doing some work for church, preparing a class on spiritual gifts. The class is for kids and their parents, and I’ll be teaching it later this week. In preparation, I completed my own test on spiritual gifts. I’ve done it before, and I knew what to expect. Teaching and Faith would come out on top. Hospitality and Mercy would drop to the bottom. Except. This time was just slightly different. My top two remained my top two. But just behind them, around the third or fourth spot, Mercy had climbed near the top.

Was it a mistake? An assessment malfunction? Or something else? Dare I hope? That this Mercy surprise is an answered prayer? An increase in capacity? To love?

My scripture memory, just this morning, makes me smile.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11