Walking Through Fireworks: A Father’s Day Blessing

We pushed the garage door opener on our life as a family of three, just released from the hospital with our baby girl bundle. The house felt huge after our cubby in the postpartum ward. Ladybugs and clouds danced the walls in her nursery.

The sunshine and celebration outside beckoned us. A short stroll before nap time? Why not?

For a first time father, there was nothing newbie about you. A physical therapist, babies were the brightest spots on your clinic schedule. You cooed and chuckled through our miracle’s first-bath-fussing, then confidently laid her back in my arms. I searched your eyes for reassurance. You smiled that everything was alright.

Finally home, the whole neighborhood was in party mode. The 4th of July was sparkling out there. Fresh air and freedom called. Shunning the infant carrier, you scooped our girl up freehand, and through the door we went.

Slowly we climbed the hill, my momma-legs wobbly. Rounding the corner, we saw the street lined with open garages and lawn chair gatherings. We qualified, too, now, a full-fledged family.

Ambling closer, the landscape shifted. The smoke and sparks, crackles and pops hit a crescendo, considerably less festive at close range. Fireworks exploding everywhere, no one paused to welcome the newest neighbor. We decided to run for it—or at least waddle.

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Baby toes tucked in your elbow, we plodded through a gauntlet of ground flower whirls and fuming fountains. It felt like a battle zone. I fought panic that some spark or tipped-over rocket would sting our sweet girl. You spoke peace and curved like a shelter around her. Toddling along as quickly as possible, we made it back safely inside our walls.  It had been the longest block of our lives.

First parenting fail on the books: testing out that verse on walking through the fire without being burned. Check. God must have a special ops unit for new parents.

All three of us exhausted now, you introduced her to the crib with a few pats for comfort. She fussed for a minute, then dozed off, trusting you. It was only when you came out of her quiet room that I saw you rub your shoulders. You had worried, too, along the sidewalk craziness. Afraid of dropping her, tense in the midst of sparks and noise, you had held her so close, your muscles cramped.

Somehow, that strain spoke your love more clearly than anything else. We weren’t business as usual,

We were yours.

We were heart-deep underneath your calm wisdom, and you would do anything to keep us safe.

We could trust you.

2004_1221AA crop cdocAlmost sixteen years later, our controller opens a gate part way around the world for our family of five.

You are still the adventurous one, speaking peace over my mothering flutters. You are the forward thinker, encouraging me to open the kitchen to our daughter’s exploration, placing the lawn in the care of our son’s hands on the trimmer. You carry us through the shifting landscape of new culture, language, and how-to-do-everything.

Sometimes it puts you into knots, but you are wise and strong. With the Lord’s help, you keep us safe.  We love you with everything we are, everything you help us to be.

Happy Father’s Day.


To all the ones we trust, to the pillars of our families, whether by blood or by spirit:

We would not be the same without you. Thank you for launching our babies into the sky and making moms everywhere catch their breath. You teach us all how to fly.

May the Lord be your strength as you walk us through the fireworks.



When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

Isaiah 43:2-3a NIV

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Linking this post up to VelvetAshes.com at The Grove: Family

 

What He is Doing in My Doing

It was an everyday milk run. We snuck out after bedtime to make it this season’s version of a date. Somewhere between the tortilla presses and the plantains, we saw Maria.

Our neighbor has been fighting cancer for the last half-year. Each time I see her, it’s like the Lord turns his laser pointer on. Our interaction is sparse: my English prayers over her in private and Spanish greetings on the street. I saw her hats and headscarves progress to unabashed baldness. I told her she looked beautiful. She told me about her chemo port.

Lately, I open my arms with every hello. Latin culture pooh-poohs personal space. I don’t have enough words to explain my heart to her. I can only draw her near it for a moment now and then.

That night at the grocery store, she held on. We cried a little. Her Spanish flowed next to my cheek, blessing and thanking me for my love. God’s presence filled that embrace, speaking all the things I didn’t know how to say.

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Her hair is growing back now, sparkly silver.

She invited me in the other day, my first time through the steel gate that safeguards her house.  Seating me at her table, she shared her evening, her family, her life. She heaped a bowl with fruit salad, serving me a rainbow cut with her limited strength–topped with red jello, of course, for Costa Rican flair.

Stories flowed out as I nibbled and listened. How her grown daughter had stroked her bare scalp in the restless nights of her treatment, the love expressed in cool touch. Her sadness that we all seem to live behind closed doors in the neighborhood. We laughed that it was the mosquitoes’ fault. Prayers sought for her disability pension to be approved, kindly insights on the personalities of the block. Encouragement from the place of cancer, that the Lord is faithful in all things. Her face lit up when we talked gardening.

I went home with arms full of plant cuttings and the fruit I couldn’t finish. Humming with Spanish headache and unexpressed affection, I dove into my freezer. I recrossed the street with banana-craisin bread to sweeten her week the way she had mine. We thumped the language barrier again as I fumbled for the concepts of already-sliced and thaw-on-the-counter.

I may be hemmed in by verb tense and vocabulary, but God is not. He can work great things in the cheerful hello, in the how-are-you, in the hug in the grocery aisle.

Most of the time, what I do is more felt than seen: happy bellies, cleans sheets, a peacefully ordered home. This time the Lord let me feel some of what he is doing in my doing.

And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.  Matthew 10:42 NLT


How has the Lord surprised you with his movement in your everyday living?

Just When I Thought I was Good at This

Sit right back and hear the tale of my epic team dinner kitchen fail.

The recipe goes like this: a hungry youth group, a spaghetti dinner routine I’ve run at least a dozen times a year for the last 4, the ever-changing landscape of a team cabin kitchen, and, for texture, my habitual time crunch.  Pot on open flame.  Tomato paste, water, cornstarch, chicken bullion, sugar, whisk.  Taste.

Eyes grow wide.  Houston, we have a problem.  Salty like the sea.  How?

Stay calm.  You can fix it.  Add the meat to absorb flavor.  More water, cornstarch, sugar.  Whisk.  Taste.

Worse.

Don’t panic.  Maybe the chicken bullion just finished dissolving and this new container was more potent than before.  You can outrun it.  No other choice.  Nothing to start over with.  Hungry eighth graders milling around.  Don’t show fear.  They might escalate to feeding frenzy.  Move forward.

Seasonings might help.  Shake in basil, oregano, black pepper.  More water, cornstarch, sugar.  Whisk.

Dear, Lord.  It’s. Not. Getting. Better.  Are my taste buds going numb?  What is going on?  Don’t say that bad word in your brain out loud.

More water, cornstarch, sugar.

 

Pause.

 

Why is the sugar in this jar so white?  Could this be. . . ?

Taste.

SALT!!!

Hurriedly scoop last spoonful of “sugar” out of the pot and toss it.  Brain whirling.  Salt in the cabin always comes in a big shaker.  Sugar lives safe from ants in a peanut butter jar.  The last team must have put a bag of salt in a jar just like the one for sugar.  Oh, look.  The jar actually labeled “Sugar” is sitting right there on top of the microwave.

I had mistakenly added salt, salt, and more salt to balance out the salt in the sauce!

alcohol background bar beer

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Dumping in genuine sugar, progress started.  The team got a spaghetti dinner with the punch of a Pringles can.  We laughed that it was more of a pasta dipping sauce than a marinara.  Everyone was fed.  And gracious.  But I had still messed up something I can normally do by heart.  It burned a bit, like the salinity in my mouth.

If revenge is a dish best served cold, humility apparently goes well with salt.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8 NIV


Have you ever found yourself making a big mistake on your own home turf?  I would love to hear about it below.

Embracing Life From the Second Row

I was not just upset;  I was upset with myself for being upset.

After years of “maybe someday,” I had finally auditioned for worship choir.  Kick your thoughts of robes and high sopranos to the curb.  This group was cool.

I stepped onto the risers that first Sunday, trembly with nerves.  My heart was full of prayers to open the heavens.  My head was running harmonies, timing changes, and bridge lyrics.  My pride, the tricky beast, was bumped by my spot in the second row.

Until that moment, I hadn’t known how much I wanted to be seen

The leadership wisely put anchor people in the most visible places.  When the spiritual climate of a thousand is at stake, holiness trumps height.  My 5’2″ stature had always placed me front, if not also center.  This group was different, arranged by experience and anointing.

The veterans in front of me topped my height by inches, even with the riser’s help.  I could still open the heavens—through the small window between two heads and their nearly touching shoulders.  My expectations had been widescreen.  Bump.

20171230 IMG_9016 fi cdocHow could my compass be so stuck on me when I was there specifically to point heavenward?  I muscled my attitude back in line with devotion and invited the Lord’s presence into the morning.

It was glorious.

Moving to our mission country provided a similar bump to second row.  We were shocked to hear children must be 18 years old to be left unattended.  Our uber-responsible, babysitting-aged daughter could not legally watch her younger brothers here.  A family four houses down was reported to child protective services for the latchkey schedule of their son.  Our neighbor had to choose between employment and motherhood.

My window to serve went from panoramic to porthole.

Gently, the Lord drew me back from widescreen expectations of work projects alongside teams and cradling each child at the home.  My ministry GPS reconfigured, abandoning the scenic route but not the destination.  I point heavenward through food and words shared, prayers on my balcony, and databases current with ways to connect.  I wrestle our daily routine in line with devotion through the frame of homeschool and cross-cultural living.

I have learned anew the simple beauty of well-sung backup harmony.

It’s still glorious.

I will probably always want to be seen.  More than I like to admit.  Yet, this is holy ground here in the second row.  The heavens are open.

He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.    Psalm 40:3 NLT


Have you ever spent time in the second row?  What was your experience like?

Ever Blooming Promise

One big perk of living in Costa Rica is that something is always in bloom. Always. Sometimes it’s a dramatic show, turning the rough pavement into paradise. Sometimes it’s just overgrown bedding plants that winter never came to kill.

If I take time to look, I will find color between the green leaves and blue sky.

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This was a promise given, a whisper from the Lord across the stormy surface of my pre-missionary heart.  Sitting in a chair and a bedroom that have long since been sold, wrapped in a blanket now stored in a barn, I wept.  And listened.  And heard.

Isaiah 35.

The reference meant nothing to me.  I am better with experiences than addresses.  The impression stuck, and I opened the pages.

Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
    The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
 Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
    and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
    as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
    the splendor of our God.
 With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
    and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.”        Isaiah 35:1-4 NLT

I understood what God was saying.  I just didn’t particularly like it in that moment.  I wanted to be able to obey without the desert and the wilderness.  I wanted to see blooms and his glory without the journey.

“Okay, God, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Said the girl with the promise of God’s beauty for the dry places, his strength in my weakness.

The girl who trusted that the Lord, like Aslan in Narnia, may not be safe, but he is good.

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This is a promise kept, a warm breeze of love through the whole of my missionary heart.  Sitting in a chair on a rented balcony, looking out at a valley where we serve, I smile.  And look.  And see colors.

I don’t need the address now.  It’s my home.


How about you? Is there a promise you are waiting to bloom? Or one fulfilled that colors your life? I would love to hear about it. Please leave a comment and share your story with us.