Summer?

Spectacle Lake

(Photography by Felipe Anderson)

Kyle and I have a favorite author – Mark Buchanan. We’ve read and reread all of his books. The Holy Wild. Your God is Too Safe. Hidden in Plain Sight. Spiritual Rhythm. Buchanan is a Canadian pastor with a way with words, a way of describing holy things with wild abandon. When Kyle took a dive to explore deeper spiritual waters a decade or so ago it was chiefly Buchanan’s fault.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to reread Spiritual Rhythm, its subtitle a good fit for some questions I’d been asking: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul.

He starts with spring, and this is the season I’m hoping we’ve entered. It’s what I described in this blog not too long ago. Both me and my family, days getting lighter, seeing new life. And then last week that conference in Chicago seemed to confirm it – my soul waking to new things God is doing, just in time. We could only endure winter so much longer.

Last weekend, barely home from my road trip and with plenty to do, the weather turned summer. Temps in the 80s all weekend, the lake calling, so we ignored our chores and we loaded the Jeep. Opened the cabin and took advantage of Trey’s football buddy and all those muscles, put in dock and boatlift a whole week earlier than planned. Felipe and Jimmy and Trey’s buddy Conner brave enough for tubing in that spring-cold water. Me listening to the fun from my place in the hammock, book in hand but eyes heavy. All of us pretending there’s no homework waiting and grass that needs mowing, indulging for a day in a season to come.

But it’s not really summer, not yet.

I know when I read Buchanan’s next chapter. He’s describing the soul, and a season I’ve been in. Familiar, but distant. Not now, not yet.

How do you know you’re in summer? Simply, things flow. Your life is marked by effortlessness. Fruit comes easily. Joy rises naturally. Light shines everywhere. You have energy to spare. Most seasons of our hearts demand something from us, some sacrifice, some labor, some deep wrenching adjustment. But summer just wants to give and give. Its only demand is that we surrender to it, bask in it. Spiritual insight hangs plump from low branches. It’s easy to nourish ourselves, warm ourselves, refresh ourselves. In our hearts’ summertimes, God seems giddy…

 It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. I know. I spent months, even years in this season.

The first time I read this particular book my soul was in summer still. So when the author warned it wouldn’t last forever I wasn’t sure I believed him. I’d discovered Joy Unending and I was staying. Not leaving. No question.

I’m not sure when I noticed the shift in the season. And I’m not even sure which season came next. When it comes to the soul we might skip without reason. Life changes, things happen. As for me, I’d been praying and dreaming and one day I realized things weren’t as I expected and it was no longer summer.

Nostalgia is an inescapable part of summer – says Buchanan. I know. I’ve been longing, nostalgic, ever since.

Recently I was telling my pastor about my summer. Not calling it that, but describing the season when my soul was alive, my heart giddy. Telling him how much I missed it. He smiled and said, “You’ve known what it’s like, and you’ll get there again.” Which is what Buchanan says, too.

The first big disappointment in our Christian lives is when that initial summertime turns cool and grey. A dampness of complacency creeps into our bones. Icy winds of doubt chill us. Spiritual abundance becomes barren. And we are dismayed.

 (And this is why I so enjoy this author. He says for me what I’d struggle to say for myself.)

And then he goes on. But we learn that other springs and summers are coming, and each becomes a foretaste of that endless summer, the kingdom of God in its fullness.

Summer is a taste of heaven.

Next week two boys will begin summer vacation four days earlier than the rest of their classmates. It might not have been wise, but two months or so ago Kyle bought tickets to watch Colombia play soccer in California during the last few days of school. We emailed their teachers, and got their approval. Now that it’s here, parents and teachers all second-guessing, but Felipe and Jimmy giddy at the prospect of an extra week of no homework and sun.

I’m not sure I’m ready. Boys home and lazy, nocturnal for the next three months. Kyle and I sure to be weary from late nights and keeping up with the demands of a houseful of teens. Nostalgic for summers past. And then, this morning, I read this:

I think nostalgia is really misplaced anticipation.

 That’s it. That explains it. Not missing the past, but longing for something I’ve tasted before and hope for again. A soul’s summer – for my boys and my husband and me.

#Blessed

Gathering

I arrived back home late Friday evening after four days away with my co-worker, Jill, at a conference in Chicago. The Gathering with Michelle Anthony and the folks from TRU. Nearly a year I’ve been anticipating sitting under the teaching of one of my favorites, and it didn’t disappoint. Not in the least. The fact is I’m full to near exhaustion this weekend back at home with chores to tackle and temps in the 80’s and boys itching to get to the lake.

I know I need to capture it now before it gets lost in layers of life and its significance starts to fade. But this is one of those times when the GOOD of what happened is almost too overwhelming to do it justice, and I’m not quite sure how to start. How about this…

God is good. This is how we began the conference and from the very first session the words and the language were just for me. My words. His language. Confirming and affirming all these years of His leading. And I think He might have prepared this Gathering just for me.

I’ve read all of her books. Spiritual Parenting. 7 Family Ministry Essentials. Every time I’ve said the same. She says it just the way I would. The way God leads Michelle and the way He leads me is so much the same.

 Chicago wasn’t so much about ministry as it was about the soul of the ministry leader. This was on purpose. And yet I wonder – was there anyone else who felt it so personal?

God is glorified. He IS Glory. He IS Blessing. And then Michelle said something God had already been saying. Obsession with a gift without acknowledging the Giver is idolatry. Last week in this blog I wrote about idols, tongue-in-cheek. But here at the Gathering I’m broken. I fail to radiate His Glory when I’m consumed by my own. It’s true and I know it. I’ve failed Him often, especially lately. More consumed by idols than I am with HIM. My default when life’s hard, though I wish it weren’t true.

He’s the main character in the Big God Story, and discouragement comes when my story’s about me. It’s been terribly tempting these past 16 months to get lost in my story. Hard days, hard life. There’s a breakout session on the second day and I write this down. It’s a privilege when God chooses ME for His epic adventure. And it’s not just me I’m thinking about now. It’s Nils. He needs this, too. What good is it to share my son’s struggles without sharing this story? You, son, are blessed. You’ve been chosen to join Him in a story that’s BIGGER than you.

After lunch, another breakout. I’ve heard it before but it’s just what I need. Pursue abundant life and get dysfunction. Pursue Jesus and get life, abundant. I know. I know.

Then it’s the evening session and by the end my confession is thorough and His breaking is complete and I’m weeping and singing and FREE. Really free. God is God.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

 By now I’m almost expecting this miracle of every word spoken and every song chosen. Exactly right. Exactly for me.

I leave with Jill and we head for dinner. I drive, she asks questions. The highs and the lows? The God moments? At first I can’t. Too much to answer. Then tears and a story begins to unfold.

 Day Three and I’m hung over. What more could there possibly be? But there is.

God is… Megan Marshman starts with a question. Are you OVERFLOWING from the Source of Life?

I’m baffled. This word? Really? Just before I left home I prayed this exact thing. The sweetness of God once flowed from my life, but not lately. God – I want it again. Overflow from me. 

 Every word. Every session. Uniquely chosen, uniquely given, and I’m full to overflowing. #BLESSED.

BLESSED. The theme of this conference, and this might just be my favorite part. For three days straight we experience blessing, and not just from God, but from the lips of His people. First they show us. We stand assembled with hands extended receiving the blessings from speakers who bless. Your Heavenly Father loves you. You are chosen by Him to be in His story. Created in Christ Jesus to do good work. And He who began a good work will complete it…

 Each time it’s different, the blessings repeated. Sometimes corporate and some one-to-one. Hands held, eyes met, blessing given – just for me.

Your children need blessing. Those in your church, and those in your family. Each session, each breakout, is really just this. He calls you blessed. Now go home and be blessing.

 Just before the end of this Gathering there’s a time to share stories, and this is the story I have to tell.

God chose me for His Story – 15 or so years he’s been showing me how. Recently leading me to add to my family. His family. These boys are a blessing, and they need to be blessed.

Felipe and Jimmy. Your heavenly Father loves you. And so does your mom.

 And Nils, too. He chose you. For this – His Story. His Epic Adventure. YOU ARE #BLESSED.

Crazy

Crazy

Mom, you should put this picture on your blog. Jimmy tells me this every so often about his silly-faced pictures. Today’s your day, Jimmy. I’m writing about crazy.

You Make Me Crazy. It’s the name of this month’s message series at church. The ideals and ordeals of family life. And that about sums it up.

Tuesday night was one of those. Ideal and ordeal both. Felipe stayed home from soccer practice to finish a painting for his Capstone Project. He greeted me with a smile as soon as we returned, eager to show off his work. Mountains, pines, and water – an ideal combination as far as I’m concerned, and the boy is truly gifted. We need to visit the place in your picture – I told him as I praised his hard work. Then leaving the workshop I noticed his feet. Bare and covered in paint. Oil-based and sure enough, black footprints led from concrete straight across carpet. That same carpet we’d professionally cleaned the week before. And three days later our house still smells like the paint thinner and stain remover it took to work out that particular ordeal.

Last week it was bunnies. Eight little babies in a nest dug up by our hole-digging puppy. And boys to the rescue with a box and a shovel and everyone’s Snap-story got noticed that night. Mom, can we keep them? And there’s just no good answer to that question. (Later with boys and puppy asleep Kyle moved the little family to a safer location across the yard with wry hopes Mamma Rabbit would follow. On the upside I think it’s safe to say our neighbors’ flowers may be just a tad bit safer this summer.)

I think my sin must be more grievous than most.

 I said that this week, too. Looking around at the chaos and wondering again how long it will take God to kill all of my idols. Thinking how my friend, Cheryl, down the street must be so much holier than me. Two girls raised and out of the nest, remodeling a home I’ve always thought perfect. And there she is rebuilding while I’m still tearing down, bit by idolatrous bit.

My lawn was an idol. I’m pretty sure that’s true. Every morning from late spring into fall, sitting out there on my porch, savoring the green. Taking breaks from my bible to re-set sprinklers. Enjoying the view of my freshly-mowed lawn. But one winter of a puppy pottying in that convenient spot just down the porch steps, and this spring my poor grass looks afflicted. (That’s not to mention the dog-sized holes and the half-eaten Hostas – my puppy consuming more greens than the rabbits.)

Clean windows? (No longer an idol.)

And let’s not even talk about those two white living room chairs I unwisely purchased a couple of years back. The first new furniture I could really call mine.

Summer is coming in just a few weeks. And even the season I once thought ideal seems an ordeal when I think about the weeks on end of boys and their friends with endless hours to invest in destroying this home.

Earlier the same day as our paint ordeal Kyle and I were out walking Maple. We walked past our friends’ remodel and talked about the projects we might like to do. An update here, replacement there. But our list was short. Surprisingly so. And I said it to Kyle while we took our walk – Who knew 20 years ago when we built this house how boy-proof it would actually turn out to be?

 A miracle really. I’ve been thinking it often. How God led us to construct this home all those years ago, and how it’s turned out to be nearly indestructible all these years later. Some dings and dents, no doubt. But full of boys and teens and puppy – and still standing. Beautiful. The exact word used by a co-worker a few weeks ago who stopped by for a meeting. And this friend is a home-decorating genius, and she says my house is timeless and lovely.

A miracle. All of it. I’m amazed and I’m grateful. Boys and puppy and wet paint and bunnies – and the miraculous killing of soul-numbing idols. All of it good, and all of it crazy. The ideal ordeal – this family and home.

Spring

Spring

I’m sitting on my porch this morning and the sun is so warm I’m breaking a sweat. Everything is green except for the riot of white blossoms on my flowering crab. It’s spring.

It kind of takes you by surprise. It’s been coming bit by bit for quite a while, and yet the brilliance of it hits you all at once. No more gloom of winter. It’s a new season. And we survived.

Spring is here for our family, too. When did I first notice? A week or two ago? A month? I’m sure it’s been coming on slow for a while now, and yet it seems sudden. We used to be one thing, and now we’re another. A before and after. A dying and a coming back to life.

That’s what it is. LIFE. I look around at the five of us living together in this place and we’re ALIVE. We made it and more.

Felipe smiles most of the time now. Not that posed smile like the pictures from prom but the kind that bubbles up right from the heart. We wondered if he had it in him. If he’d ever find his way out of the dark. But there it is, and I said it just this week. The real boy has begun to emerge.

 David Crowder has this song.

But a certain sign of grace is this… from the broken earth flowers come up pushing through the dirt…*

The boys had an English tutor last summer, a friend of mine. She’ll likely work with them again this year. And in a text I sent her just this week I said you’ll be amazed at how much more themselves they are than a year ago.

 Or two months ago.

I wonder about the change. Why this breakthrough now?

Spring doesn’t hurt. Both boys are competing on the track team. Jimmy runs and he looks legit. Lean body and endless legs and boundless energy. He could be the real deal if only he loved running like he loves soccer which I’m afraid might be just about impossible. Felipe’s the team manager and he throws the discus, and this kid who hadn’t planned to go out at all is the one who seems to have found his niche. He loves it.

We’ve also got soccer, and Nils playing baseball, and Prom, of course. And not that being crazy busy is the always the answer, but this particular combination seems to be just the ticket for now.

It’s been sixteen months and we’re repeating seasons, and this I think is helping, too. Everything now we’ve done before. It’s not so new. We know what to expect.

Crowder’s song is about grace and dirt and becoming whole and holy. And I think somewhere there just beneath the soil of these boys’ hearts there’s a miracle happening, too. Time and care and sun and patience and before you know it a riot of blooms.

*Wholly Yours by David Crowder Band