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I sat outside on the hammock tonight, ignoring the incessant clatter of my to-do list. Since launching our new company (have you seen our Visual Creatives website yet? We’re really pleased with it!) these moments have been few and far between. Travel, connecting, doing, creating: these are the new words of my days.

But not tonight.

Tonight I sat and watched the one lone doggy left living in the house. I watched the branches of my favorite tree and realized they were a stage play of birds and squirrels locked in never-ending battle. I listened to the peacocks, haunting, but so familiar. I listened to the people sounds that intruded once in awhile. I sat and I remembered.

I remembered all the nights just like this one. Nights filled with swimming and fence gates swinging, back doors slamming.

It’s just all been so very good.

 

 

Inexplicable

Inexplicable

Inexplicable.

One medium sized word that inspired the entire direction of the second half of our lives.

It is a great word, if you think about it. Life is inexplicable. It is filled with inexplicable moments of beauty followed immediately by inexplicable moments of sorrow. There is inexplicable illness, inexplicabe death. We see inexplicable fame (especially on YouTube!) and inexplicable years spent in obscurity. Once in awhile we thrill to inexplicable healing, provision, or direction. We cry at inexplicable beauty in a baby, a puppy, a sunset. We laugh at the unexpected and inexplicable joke. We puzzle over the inexplicable turns of the economy, our finances, or our teenager’s random choices. And in our human frailty we sit down and try to explain the inexplicable.

We try to impose order on the events of our lives, and so we go on a quest to find our purpose. David and I did this, and I am willing to bet you have, too. There is a reason Purpose Driven Life rocketed to the top of the best seller list. Secular or faith-based, the bookshelves are filled with advice on living up to our potential and carving out our niche in the world. Good stuff, actually. I’ve spent literally thousands of hours reading and learning. Each new perspective helps me tweak our approach to this crazy life.

But even after all if that, much about my life remains unexplained. Am I sure that my one purpose is this, or that? Should I put my energy into writing, teaching, relationships or finding a paycheck? Who am I, really?

One day about a year ago a conversation with a new friend changed the entire lens through which David and I viewed our life. I will tell you more about that conversation another time, but here is the important bit. “In your life,” he said, “why don’t you strive to be inexplicable. Let God out of the box you think you have created for him and allow room for the unexpected, inexplicable twists and turns. After all, life is really inexplicable anyway, isn’t it? It is how God works!”

Inexplicable.

It settled over our perspective like a perfect pair of sunglasses.

Life in God is inexplicable. The most momentous opportunities often depend on the tiniest of circumstances, changes in direction that just don’t make sense without the inexplicable whimsy of God. You scan the radio stations and hear a comment that leads to reading a book that inspires a career. A turn down the aisle at a grocery store reunites you with a friend who had slipped out of your daily life. You choose a church, which leads to a ministry, which in turn leads to a passion that won’t let go.

These are the inexplicable hinges on which the doors of our lives swing open and closed.

Embracing the inexplicable leads to lives filled with possibility. We find inexplicable joys, quiet moments of utter content knowing we are loved and led and safe. We find unexpected tragedy, the events that shape our character and produce the unique fingerprints of our one life to live. And in the process we find our influence. We find the strange, twisted and convoluted life that only we could have lived.

That’s how God works. It is a mystery and a marvel.

I love the inexplicable. I love people whose lives could never have been plotted by the most masterful of storytellers. I find purpose In watching God the redeemer use even the tiniest of events to fulfill His plan on earth through us. He never wastes anything, you know. There really is no such thing as a random happening.

It’s just inexplicable.

Note: For those of you who have persevered this far into the blog post, this is a potential prologue to a book I’m working on. I would love to hear what you think…did you find yourself intrigued enough to turn the potential page onto chapter 1?

Finding the Rhythm of a Super Hero

Last night I watched a superhero in training crash into the side of a building. His jumping was just so off, the poor chunky guy. With the ability to jump to the top of skyscrapers and use them like giant’s stepping stones across the city, he was skidding to the edge of each building leaving behind craters and chunks of cement. It was not elegant.

“No Ordinary Family” is a new show on tv this fall, and it features a — no other way to say it — very ordinary family who suddenly develops super powers after a plane crash. My building jumping super hero is the dad of his crazy family. Each of the family members has a different power, and in these early episodes they are struggling to learn what to do with these powers.

Let’s go back to our building jumping dad. He is strong, he can jump, he can stop speeding bullets (hey… I am not claiming this show has great writing, but hang in there with me for a minute!). But without rhythm, Dad can’t stick a landing. Bad trait for a super hero. Also Dad seems to have extraordinarily poor judgement, tackling wedding caterers while missing the thieves. Dad’s faithful sidekick (yes, he has one) attempts to teach some dance steps in a futile attempt to impart grace. Meanwhile wife, daughter and son all stumble through their days with their powers, accomplishing nothing but messing up their everyday lives.

What we, the omniscient tv watcher, can see is that this family desperately needs to find their rhythm as a family. Their powers — Mom’s speed, daughter’s mind reading, son’s intelligence and Dad’s strength — are so perfectly designed to work together! Together they would be unstoppable if they would only communicate! If they could find the rhythm of working together towards a greater purpose they would find they have every skill they need. And yet how painful to watch them stagger about like toddlers while the world waits for them to get their super power act together.

How like this family are we? We have all the power we need to accomplish in the kingdom all that he has for us, but like the family in my silly show, we forget to talk to each other. We stay in our little bubbles and bounce off each other like bumper cars. Working together is no doubt harder than staying in our bubble. We may have to — ouch — rely on someone else’s strengths to cover our weaknesses. We may have to put our personal mission on hold while we work on someone else’s goal.

But oh the joy of feeling that power, His power, working like the super power that it is!

Life is so messy!

No, this isn't Toby. But it sure looks like him!

There are some phases of life that are all about cleaning up messes. Oh, they are beautiful phases — make no mistake — but they are so messy. Babies create nothing but messes, which is hard to understand since they can’t even move around on their own power! Toddlers expand that mess-making to an artform. As the kids get older, their messes get, well, messier. Your house may stay cleaner, but oh there are so many other kinds of messes. All of them, however, are messes that are important to becoming the grown-up they were meant to be. And as parents, we scurry about trying to clean up the messes and teach the principles that we need to keep life running smoothly. We pick up the toys, we do the laundry, we wipe the bottoms, we listen to the late night chats.

There are other phases of life that are all about creating messes. Those are the times we watch our kids step out in a burst of courage to a project that may, or may not, be over their head. They are the times that we feel God stirring in our souls to create something new, and so we try.

Lately, my house has been full of mess-creating. It’s just one of those phases. We’ve added two hedgehogs to our animal repertoire. And a turtle, who has recently disappeared (that’s a long story…well, not so long but still…). On Wednesday my daughter Jillian is expecting the delivery of a micro teacup poodle. All these new residents came with their “STUFF. And we’re also hosting a wonderful graduation party on Saturday for Laurie, the superbly crafty girl who has been living with us while she finished up that degree. Laurie’s party is exploding all around us and onto nearly every available surface, although the OCD among us tend to coral the mess once in awhile so we can breathe. It’s all about making glorious messes.

Today, in church, I was thinking the same thing. As the body of Christ, part of our creative nature comes out in making and cleaning messes, doesn’t it? We try one thing for a season, then sense the Spirit prompting us to switch directions and make adjustments. We give each other the freedom to make a creative mess in our lives and stand in awe when — once in a blue moon — God creates something that leaves us breathless.

Sometimes, of course, we are breathless but more in that gasping for breath how am I going to survive kind of way. And that’s ok, too. We step out and start that Bible study for women we don’t even know only to find ourselves swinging in the breeze hoping someone comes. We let a friend down and realize we need to apologize before our relationship suffers. Perhaps we ( and I mean this in a general sense…certainly not me…) even lose our patience with the messes other people are creating faster than we can clean them up!

In the last few days I’ve come to really appreciate the whole cycle of making a mess and creating. I’m seeing God work out his image in us in ways I never would have been able to plan on my own. I see it in my friends; I see it in my own little family. It’s making me smile.

Life is so messy!

Feeling at home in your home?

When I was ten or so, my best friend lived a few streets over and her home felt to me like my home. We’d ride our bikes back and forth at the smallest whim. I remember one summer hopping on my bike because “Benny and the Jets” was on the radio, and it was our favorite song EVER. It was still on when I burst through her back door and shared the last bars of the song with her. Of course, those were the days when you couldn’t just hit play on your iPod and enjoy the song over again. You’d better live in the moment and rock out while Benny and the Jets was playing or you were out of luck.

I really liked my friend’s house, but I was always puzzled by one tradition: the majority of their downstairs living space was taken up by a wonderful room filled with beautiful white furniture, polished wood floors and a grand piano. I loved that room, even though I only remember being in it one time. It was off limits to kids and — from what I could see — adults. I’d say that there were plastic slip covers on the furniture, but I’m not absolutely sure of that. Regardless, there was no sitting to be done on those couches. No, we spent our time huddled in the cozy den, squished on the big couch that was filled with toys and dogs. There were once baby rabbits in the corner, and there was a record player where we could enjoy the strange music her parents purchased. I think I remember a Godspell record. In any case, the den was where it was at.

I’ve been thinking about that house today, because I have recently decided that I want to be “at home” in my entire life. I want to live in every corner of my house, finding nooks to write or read or paint or sleep. I want people in every corner of my home, talking, laughing, crying and living life. I’m tired of fences and rooms that are only for certain people. It’s time to remember how to live in our homes.

And it’s time to remember how to live in our lives, too. Someday is…right now. There are amazing riches of relationships just waiting for us. There are bursts of creativity, and health, and all those dreams we’ve put off for someday. Now. Because that’s how God made us to live: in the present.

These are the cupcakes that I made today, because today is worth celebrating. And I’m declining to post a picture of me doing Yoga later because of the celebrating I did today. But the rooms of my life aren’t roped off for special occasions. It’s time to sit on the floor and pull out the paints.

Where do I go to quit?

jonah

I’ve been waiting all day to be in a resourceful enough mood to write my post for the day. It should have been easy: 72 degrees on a perfectly clear day in New Hampshire. The lake was so smooth I was able to drink my coffee while we were in the boat going full speed. That, my friends, is a rare event.

Later, David and I got to have lunch with one of my oldest friends, Mark MacDonald. One of these days I’m going to blog about what he is doing for the kingdom. Phenomenal. You’ve all benefitted from this fellow companion whose name you probaby don’t even know! We talked generosity; we talked changing church; we talked about our families; mostly we talked about ways to use our lives for the kingdom. It was an important discussion, and we loved it!

But having said all that and experienced all that, I’m still empathizing with the old prophet Jonah tonight. I kind of want to know where you go to quit. I want to find a shady vine and sit under it. Maybe even curse at a worm if it dares interupt my shade. Tonight I don’t really care at all about Ninevah. Have you ever felt that way? Ninevah had its chance. It didn’t listen the first time; why should Ninevah have a second chance? And why must Jonah be the one to give it to them, as obviously unwilling as he was. Shoudn’t God call someone who WANTED to go to Ninevah? For whom Ninevah was their passion, their bliss, their dream? Why Jonah?

Yep. I know the ending of the story. I’m not going to fare any better than Jonah in this standoff. It’s off to Ninevah I will surely go, tomorrow. But not tonight. Tonight this hill, this vine, this shady spot: they are mine. And I’m staying here.

Snapshots at St. Arbucks: Book Review

snapshots_frontcover1

Within minutes of meeting some people you know you have found a kindred soul, a new “tribe” member, a person who shares so much of your outlook that you know time and distance can’t erase your friendship. I have been blessed by several of those in my life, including one with whom I’ve lost contact. Seems impossible not to be able to find someone in this digital age, but i can’t find Denise, one of my bridesmaids.

Recently I “met” another tribe member of mine, R.G. Ryan. He wrote a book called “Snapshots at St. Arbucks.” Having wandered across Coffee Shop Journal, he contacted me via comments and email. He recognized the kinship as well. We are a rare group, R.G. and me. We are the people who sit at Starbucks and watch the rest of you. We know your stories, even if we’ve made them up on the evidence available. We see life stories in your stories. I share them here, and R.G. shares them on both is blog and in his amazing, wonderful, makes-me-cry-and-laugh book. Go to the sidebar now and click Snapshots to buy it. Then come back and read the rest of this review.

Snapshots at St. Arbucks is just what I’ve described: R.G.’s observations during his time spent at Starbucks. Sometimes he is joined by his beloved bride, sometimes his his “disgustingly good-looking African-American friend.” Sometimes he is joined by the people nearby as life’s little dramas are played out — as they are — around him. R.G. captures it all: the desperate husband landing the job he needed so much, the doggies wars on the patio, the littlest Starbucks fans trying to make their little voices heard. He writes in short vignettes. And running through all his St. Arbucks wanderings is the message of hope, purpose, God’s love and man’s love. R.G. used to be an L.A. record producer, and his background leads to a creative approach to life around him. I tried — very hard — to savor this book slowly, like a friend you only meet for coffee once every week or so. It didn’t work. I stopped into Jeremy’s Starbucks (seemed appropriate) and downed this book in one sitting. I just looked a little weird sniffling once in awhile.

I’ll share one of my favorite lessons from R.G. today (though I suspect there are more to come!). R.G., his wife, Eddie and his wife are all sitting at a Starbucks enjoying music during a weekend trip. The problem was, the music was grating on their nerves. As they got up to go, the band took a break. One of the members recognized R.G., who had signed him as part of a band much earlier in life. Now, this band member was playing with pick-up players in Starbucks, his dream of the big time obviously long gone. To R.G., this man was now obviously empty, used up, without that spark of life in his eyes. This made R.G. think about his own life.

“He was once young and filled with dreams and a fierce ambition. In fact at the time I produced their demo the dreams were still very much alive.”

Cheri knows me well enough to understand where I was going.

“And now he’s empty?”

Yeah, but it’s a different kind of empty. There’s an empty that comes from being poured out,” I glanced at Eddie, “Like at the end of a really good show where you’ve given it all you had.”

Sylvie said hurriedly, “Let me take a crack at this. The other kind of empty is the one where life has just sucked it all out of you to the point that there’s nothing left.”

That passage hit me like a ton of bricks. So many times I do feel as if I am empty, poured out and dry. But I know that most of the time (not always) it is because I’ve chosen to give it all I had. The alternative is to be empty because it’s all sucked out of you. Not much of a choice, is it? R.G. encouraged me in just those few words to keep on giving, keep on pouring. Thanks, R.G..

I loved this book immediately, like an old friend. It’s not getting filed on my bookshelves; it’s opened almost every day. I can’t imagine higher praise.

Here is the link to R.G.’s site:

http://rgryan.com/

How do you press the reset button?

reset_button

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the “reset” buttons in our lives: the things that make  us feel truly like ourselves. They are the small creature comforts we turn to at the end of the day, or the childhood home we run to in our memory or reality. 

In our life, our children have often provided the reset buttons. As toddlers, nothing made them come back to their equilibrium point faster than a trip to a McDonald’s play place. Many times, especially when traveling in unfamiliar or stressful territory, we’d just halt our journey long enough to spend forty five minutes in a play place, de-stressing. Some of our favorite family memories were developed in brightly colored tubes and ball pits: Jillian coming down a tube with no clothes on just to see our surprise, the Christmas in New Hampshire when our little village was snowed in and we spent the better part of two days in the glass enclosed space watching the snow drift and pile. Later in our lives, shopping malls provide the breath of familiarity that we all need.

I’ve written frequently about my own reset buttons. My favorite moment of the day comes when I flop in my lounge chair on the back porch with my cup of coffee and whatever latest book is at hand. Reset, indeed. Or the scent of the bookstore (best ever!), or singing the songs I need to hear in church among the people I love. 

God programed that need to reset every so often into our native operating systems. I believe that’s why he treats us to a sunrise and sunset every day. “Stop and see, children, all is well. My sun rises and sets no matter what.” I think it’s why he told us to celebrate feast days, and remember his last supper. All of these things have the effect of pressing our reset button so we can go boldly into each day with a clean slate and a new heart. His unforced rhythms of Grace provide the backdrop and stability that our feeble minds need.

For this reason, I’m teaching myself to notice the moments of my days, to find and press the reset button as often as needed. I’m thankful I don’t need to spend as much time in loud and crazy play grounds any more, but I also need to remember to help my children find their own reset buttons. It’s a good concept.

Starbucks Quote: The Way I See It #36

juggle

Today I have been juggling all the plates in the air, plates that make up the world that spins through our home. I’m frantically praying over them, hoping I don’t have a broken mess of pottery on the floor soon. Spinning plates are beautiful in the air, but messy on the ground.

Do you ever feel like that? Like all the components that comprise your life are precariously perched, and if just one drops then there will be a massive cleanup effort. We’ve got sixteenth birthday parties, tutoring schedules, travel plans, mothers considering retirement centers: all of these issues are keeping us both on our feet and on our knees. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, David and I popped into Jeremy’s Starbucks to discuss the retirement center question. This is the quote that I found on my espresso cup:

“Mother-love is not inevitable. The good mother is a great artist ever creating beauty out of chaos.”

— Alice Randall (Novelist, The Wind Done Gone, and the first black woman to write a No. 1 country song.)

Yes, another Starbucks cup reminder that life is — in the end — the party you make it. I decided that if the pottery piece end up as shards on the ground, I’ll just take a mosaic class and get back to work. Chaos does indeed sound like life here, right now. But I also remember that in the beginning, God also created out of chaos. He hovers over chaos. Not a bad spot to be, then, in the center of where God hovers.

And just for fun…if you want to learn to spin your own plates in the air, you can click here!

Grace

What an amazing word…Grace.

Grace, that unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor that sometimes washes over us like a brand new creation, just for us. Grace.

Have you ever been on the giving end of grace? There is that teetering moment of indecision — because we are all imperfect creatures who struggle with any little bit of good — when we ponder the power that is in our control. Do we extend grace or do we demand justice? But the grace, once given, enlarges our own souls, too. We feel a little bit of the joy the Father must have when he stretches out his graceful arm of compassion. Suddenly the whole world seems to be a more beautiful place, a place where we can and should extend grace.

And oh! The absolute delight of the receiving end of grace. Think of the moment when you realize that your certain and feared future has changed in an instant. If, like me, you were young when God’s grace first swept your future clean, then you need to stop and ponder grace once in awhile. It is easier, I believe, for those who were walking on a dismal, dark journey and stepped into God’s grace knowingly as an adult to remember the instant flood of sunshine, the rain of grace over their heads.

I’m thinking a lot about grace today, because last week my daughter received grace from a  judge who had the power to suspend her licence. The statute was clear. But this judge decided to build into my daughter’s life, to help her and teach her rather than exact the letter of the law. How often do you leave a judges chamber and receive a hug and a kiss — yes, a kiss — from a woman who had the power to exact payment. This judge demonstrated grace — unmerited favor — to my daughter and her parents. And as good as that felt (and it felt GOOD!), it made me realize once again how unbelievably mind blowing God’s grace is in our every breath.

Amazing grace, indeed.