Want What You’ve Got! (weekend)

Remember photo albums?

Those weighty books with thick, plastic-covered pages which, when peeled back, revealed a sticky surface for mounting photos of people and places and events worth remembering? I’ll bet you have half a dozen of them tucked away in a closet or under a bed somewhere. Mine are stored in a trunk that doubles as a coffee table and they don’t see much daylight, poor things.

Some of the photos in your albums are ancient, dating back a generation or two, chronicling the lives and days of family members you may never have actually met.

Some of those pictures are embarrassing, with hairstyles and expressions and clothing choices you would honestly rather forget.

And inhabiting some of your albums are photos of trips and vacations with dear friends and family that this weekend, you need to be reminded of.

If you are fortunate enough to have a photo album collection, you are blessed to have a visual history and record of at least some of your memories! Have you ever showed these photos to your kids? To your grandchildren? How long has it been since you’ve tripped down this photo-induced memory lane with your spouse?

Every picture tells a story, and your stories were meant to be told! Grab the dust rag, unearth those bulky volumes, and Want What You’ve Got this weekend by remembering and celebrating your life and your loved ones the old-fashioned way, compliments of Kodak.

 

 

 

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Want What You’ve Got! (weekend)

Much of our Want What You’ve Got focus this week has been on our history. Stories from our life-experiences, decisions made (both wise and questionable), trials and suffering, control issues and redemption…

No matter how you tell it, your story is uniquely your own.

I sat across the table from my best high school friend – a rare meal shared with one of my favorite people of all time. She was telling me a recent family story when she mentioned her bedroom at home – a place I’ve not thought about for more than 20 years. Immediately my senses were flooded with memories of sleepovers and birds singing and sunlight flooding through her second story window. Mental pictures of her big, sweet Saint Bernard lying in the yard, the sound of her piano as it floated through the old wooden ranchhouse, the feel of my hands – dirty from working in her mother’s garden…

I couldn’t help but smile as the pages of our friendship’s history were turned through the story she was telling because in a way, it was my story, too.

This weekend, seek out a quiet place in your home and carve some room into your schedule to simply remember. Close your eyes and open your senses to the memories of people, places, scents, sounds and sensations that have made you who you are today.

As you remember, consider how you might re-connect with your history as your future unfolds. So often we are so eager to move forward into the next thing that we blast through our past without fully absorbing the rich ointment of blessing to be found there.

This weekend, take time to remember and respond to the stories your life could be telling. Who knows how far this simple exercise could take you toward Wanting What You’ve Got today?

Statues

Anticipating tomorrow’s Trek to the Manger (chapter 10), I am channeling my inner child by remembering what it was like to play a favorite, childhood game… It’s good to remember! Take time today to feel like a child again; then give some much needed grace to those around you who would be better served by “growing down” – instead of “up” – today.

 

I close my eyes and I’m there, on the front lawn, at dusk.

Giggling girls, tired of straining to defy gravity (some of us just weren’t made to be gymnasts), have traded cartwheels and handstands for a wild game of Statues.

And there I am in the center of the yard, outstretched arm grasped by two small hands, ready to be spun at speeds faster than my mother would approve. On the verge of dizziness, I feel my arm fly free and momentum carry me around the yard as if I’ve been flung at full speed from a merry-go-round. Slowing down, eventually I land in an awkwardly triumphant pose, which I hold as best I can while fighting the pull that threatens to take me to the ground. Hardly breathing, I wait like a statue as the girls circle me, prolonging their decision in order just to see me sweat; and then, the naming.

Rock star! Sasquatch. Basketball player. Ballerina. Darth Vader.

Breaking pose, I fall laughing to the ground before another round begins.

The game of Statues.

Have you ever played? It’s not unlike the way I feel inside as I close my eyes tonight, tired of straining to defy gravity and entropy and the clock that ticks this day into the next at a speed I don’t approve. Today life has spun me around and around, and although I’ve a sense that it ought to be fun, it isn’t and I’m dizzy and I just want to make it stop.

The release. Tightly wound now, it’s as if life has flung me from one corner of the ring to the other, and I’m bouncing off the ropes and grasping at the air, and grasping at the air…

And slowing down. Gaining some control, I try to stick the landing, fighting the tug that wants to see me hit the ground, that wants to see me fail and fall to pieces – but I land on my feet. I land on my feet in a ridiculous pose, which I hold as best I can while waiting breathlessly for the naming to begin.

The names I expect, considering the shape I’m in, are names like:

Wannabe. Just-shy-of-the-goal. Maybe someday. Maybe not. Poser.

I’m sweating it now (just a hot flash?). I’m doing my best just to hold it together, to keep from collapsing into a puddle of tears, when the Voice speaks an unexpected name over me. And then another.

Beloved. Child of Promise. Masterpiece. Forgiven. Set Free.

Spun, flung, landed and named, the statue breaks pose and I fall, laughing and crying, into the arms of the One whose healing Presence strengthens me for tomorrow.

Another round begins.

…for the Camera (re-posted for my Traveling Buddies)

Our Trek to the Manger has begun, and as I reflect on the small group discussion questions for the first chapters of our adventure, I’m reminded of my long-time traveling buddies: My precious family.

This post, shared several years ago, is especially appropriate today. It makes me wonder who your traveling buddies are? Feel free to share in the “reply” space below.

My Smiling Children

My husband and I just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. Besides the family we’ve created together, many of the best gifts we’ve been given over the years are memories that have been marked in living color by Kodak (or, more recently, in digital form). This year, our daughter spent hours putting photographs to music so that she could give us this gift of memory-on-DVD, commemorating our years together as a couple and as a family.

Watching this beautiful collection of photographs emerge onscreen brought more than one tear to my aging eye (especially poignant because our daughter wasn’t actually home for the viewing, but had just moved into her dorm room three states away). It was easy to count our blessings as we watched images of our family in its many ages/stages of life, dancing across the screen to carefully chosen music (songs like ‘Never Grow Up’ by Taylor Swift). The speed with which these years are being spent washed over me with each sweet lyric, each milestone passed.

Perhaps most striking to me, though, were the smiles… what GREAT SMILES! My husband and my son – smiling! My kids standing right next to each other – smiling! Age 2 and age 12 – full of happy, toothy smiles in such a variety of locations and situations and events. I admit to thinking, as I watched our lives play out onscreen (smiling all the while), that I must be a better parent than I give myself credit for, to have so many happy moments to remember – so many smiles for the camera.

We do a pretty good job of putting on our happy faces for the camera, don’t we? Is it because we know this photo is going last and become a memory, so we’d better make it count? Or maybe we want so desperately to be seen as happy and at our best that we ham it up for the camera (and take advantage of the delete option when a captured moment hasn’t captured us looking quite like we want to look)?

If you’re like most grown-up children in America, you’ve been told a million times to ‘smile for the camera!’ This simple (yet repetitive) directive certainly has created a muscle-memory over the years, making our cheesy smiles almost instantaneous whenever a camera is pointed in our general direction.

After years and years of being reminded to ‘smile!’ before the flash goes off, it’s no wonder that our automatic response to the camera is almost always a grin. The consistency of this message, though a silly cultural phenomenon, has resulted in beautiful collections of family photos like mine (well, maybe there’s some good parenting in there somewhere, too).

It makes me wonder, though… what if we were as consistent with other messages to our children? Things like:

‘LOVE your sister!’

‘HUG your brother!’

‘CARE for others!’

‘People MATTER!’

If a simple command like ‘smile for the camera’ can predictably produce a legacy of family memories, imagine the world-changing potential of the family whose repeated messages produce behaviors (not just expressions) that last!

As much joy as camera-induced smiles can bring years later, imagine the joy that our lives lived in loving relationship could bring to a world full of hurting, broken skeptics whose only smiles come when a camera is involved.

Today I challenge you, no matter how old your children may be, to harness the power of the consistently spoken message in order to plant seeds of loving, smiling action in the gardens of your homes.

And while you’re at it, linger over the last family picture that made you smile – and thank God for the ‘Cheese!’

‘Family’ is Relative (an Afterthought)

We arrived in Germany on a Monday, and by Wednesday I was getting nervous…

Thursday was family-arrival-day.

My daughter and I made the long hop together, arriving to meet my parents who had done their pilgrimage the week before. When my husband and son hit the tarmac running, we might have been singing ‘The Gang’s All Here’ – but we weren’t. All here. Yet.

The wedding wasn’t until Friday morning, and the bride was getting a little bit nervous, too. But just a little bit. She has always been strong and very capable of holding things together and keeping herself in check. It’s been that way since she was 16 years old – the year she came to live with us. Eleven years ago.

When she moved into our spare bedroom as a teenage exchange student, she was a stranger – to the desert. To American culture. To family life with younger siblings. To the branches of our Family Tree.

When she moved out one year later, it was like losing an appendage… She had been grafted into the Tree in ways we could not have anticipated, and when her plane lifted off and turned toward the east, our hearts broke apart so that she could take a piece of each of us home with her.

That was ten years ago. And here we were – sitting around the table in her apartment – getting to know the man who, tomorrow, would join her on that special branch of our Family Tree. And awaiting the arrival of the rest of the family.

The car pulled up to the curb and my heart began to race a bit. Outside stood the mother of our dear almost-daughter – a woman whose name and photos and story had become part of our own history, in spite of the fact that (until today) we had never even met. Face to face for the first time, with language barrier firmly in place, we looked at each other and watched a decade of pictures come to life. Our embrace betrayed her nervousness, too, as this oddly assembled family began to take shape with each person who walked through the door.

One of the sweetest moments of my life took place on that Thursday, as we gathered in the living room before dinner. A quick visual roll-call confirmed that everyone was present: Sue (our student, the bride) and Max (her husband-to-be), Sabine (Sue’s mother) and her parents, Karl and Hanna (Oma and Opa – Sue’s grandparents), Uncle Ingo (Sabine’s brother), Ray and Bea (dubbed Sue’s American grandparents – my mom and dad), Britton and Joffrey (Sue’s sister and brother – my children), Dallas (‘Papa Dallas’ in Sabine’s words – my husband), and me (‘second mother of the bride’ as I was teasingly referred to by my kids).

Through tears of joy in the midst of a truly surreal moment, Sue lifted her glass – for the first time in a lifetime – to her family. In German and in English. And Sabine, who was standing beside me, took my hand in hers and squeezed, but I could hardly see her through the tears that had filled my own eyes.

Paul talks about this mystery in Romans 11, in terms of the Kingdom Family Tree. He assures us that God is more than able to graft into His Tree those of us who, though wild olive shoots by nature, have within us a heart to belong. He makes room for us in His family. And He asks us to do the same in ours.

‘Family’ is relative. Who occupies the branches of your own Family Tree isn’t determined by biology alone – it’s really up to you.

That moment in the living room on a continent far away from home is proof positive that God is at work in my Family Tree. In fact, He’s been pruning and trimming and fertilizing and watering that Tree for a very long time, so that I could have this memory to cherish and treasure and ponder for many years to come.

family

eighteen STAR BOMBS (a PINK Tuesday post)

When my daughter was very young, I had great intentions of keeping track of the many, MANY memorable moments that her life would produce. I even bought journals – blank books with pages just waiting for memories to be jotted down, as they happened, to be enjoyed in the distant future. Maybe even on 18th birthdays. What a GREAT idea! Why, I even thought of that!

Unfortunately, I never did that.

So today, on my daughter Britton’s 18th birthday, I have drawn upon the pictures that remain in my aging mind in order to remember eighteen moments & experiences from the years that have raced by since you were born – my firstborn. These aren’t all of the memories, mind you (my mind isn’t that far gone!), but they are certainly among the sweetest. The ones I never will forget.

1. Gerber baby food spinach. Dark. Green. Slimy. Smelly. YOUR FAVORITE!

2. Sitting in the Mexico City airport, return trip from a holiday beach vacation, watching chicken pox erupt on your perfect baby skin. Couldn’t get home quickly enough!

3. Our first sail. In our first sailboat. Catalina 22. Cheney Lake. So exciting that YOU fell asleep in the V-berth! Apparently you weren’t aware that Dad & I were still learning how to sail. We executed a nasty jibe, sending you bouncing off the ceiling and back down to the cushion. Never mind that we took on (a wee bit of) water – you looked up at us, gave a killer glare (how DARE YOU interrupt my nap!) and fell back to sleep.

4. Choosing your dress, ordering your corsage & Dad’s boutineer, fixing your hair EVERY YEAR for the Daddy/Daughter Holiday Dance.

5. “And the rocket’s red glare; star bombs bursting in air!” Never mind that I didn’t correct you early enough – it was so perfectly sweet to hear you sing it that way!

6. Leaving our newly-found church home in Yuma and having you say, enthusiastically, grin all OVER your face: “Mom – I think I’m addicted to this place!”

7. Singing the “Smile Song” to you at bedtime. For YEARS of bedtimes.

8. Incredible, mind-blowing temper tantrums! Sometimes at home (where there were doors to slam). Sometimes in the car (where you were perfectly positioned to kick the back of my seat repeatedly). Do you remember “Rollercoaster” – our secret code for, as Jimmy Buffett would say, “Breathe in, breathe out, move on”?

9. The way you adopted Sue (our exchange student) into our family as “sister,” and the way you STILL consider her to be just that, all these years later. AND the way you worked so hard, taking college classes, going to high school and working part-time in order to buy your OWN plane ticket to Germany, to see your sister!

10. Mom/Daughter retreats (especially the shopping trips – and ESPECIALLY the matching pink pants trip)!

The Pink Pants

 

 

11. The note you wrote to your father when he was considering a job change. You wrote it at night. Left it in his car, where he found it the next morning. It was exactly what he needed to hear.

12. Me, getting ALL worked up at one of the first softball games you pitched, while listening to the other team’s parents yelling: “Come on! You can hit that pitcher! HIT HER!” Me, telling those parents how RUDE it was to coach their kids to HIT someone during a softball GAME! (Me, slow in catching on to softball lingo, not realizing they were talking about hitting the PITCH – not the PITCHER.)

13. Years & years of birthday parties (especially the Luau year, when the neighbor kids stole the ring toss game DURING the party AND the year that EVERY SINGLE GIFT you opened was another Barbie)!

The Luau Birthday

14. This past spring, when you took your brother to see the Harry Potter midnight premier with you & all of your friends.

15. Watching you (& Mandy) lead the music at this year’s women’s retreat (and most memorably, the late-night practice session at our house the week before). You sing and play so beautifully. I am so very proud.

16. Knowing about (at least) some of the behind-the-scenes giving you do from a heart that is generous and kind: donating backpacks and school supplies to kids in need; buying Wet ‘n Wild passes for you and your brother to enjoy together…

17. Awed (not to be confused with odd, although, if the boot fits…) by your amazing motivation, diligence and HARD WORK! Watching you achieve so much before this 18th birthday, both academically and athletically, has left me (nearly) speechless. I don’t know where you get it. Seriously.

18. Just yesterday, when you called about the crazy “18 on the 18th” birthday gifts that are rolling in from friends and family everywhere… So many people who love you SO MUCH! Such a testimony of a life – 18 years of life – already well-lived. Because you are well-loved.

Most people would probably think of #5’s “star bombs” as a mistake, but that’s because they don’t know the definition of a “star bomb”.

A “star bomb” is what happens when something wonderful explodes on the scene, capturing our attention and leaving us eager for more (which is what you’ve done for me these past 18 years).

May these memories bring smiles, tears and HOPE for many years to come.

For you, Britton. Birthday girl.

And for all of us who need to remember to take the time to write it down.

What’s in YOUR Faith Chest? (a PINK Tuesday post)

Box 1 -Wooden Chest.

Image by ~Brenda-Starr~ via Flickr

My home church has a beautiful tradition of encouraging faith development in our youngsters. At baptism, each child is presented with a meticulously hand-made wooden chest. We call them Faith Chests, and when we give them to our children we explain that they are intended to house the items of faith that they will acquire as they grow.

I was recently looking through my son’s Faith Chest, searching for a medallion with his baptism date on it. While in there, I found such a variety of faith-related things that I had to laugh out loud. Among his faith items I found…

a small New Testament (gift from VBS)

a handmade blanket (gift from the quilters at our church)

a photo frame made out of craft sticks, holding a picture of my son at VBS

a poster with faith-facts about my son, created in Sunday School

a set of home-made Resurrection Eggs

a cloth drawstring bag filled with items that tell the Passion Story

a recycled plastic bottle filled with rice and some pretty obscure objects (not really sure what the faith connection is here)…

My son’s Faith Chest contains memories and reminders of the milestones and events in his growing faith life. Things he has made. Gifts he has received. Props used to teach and tell the stories of the Bible.

My son’s Faith Chest contains the stuff that faith is made of.

And this got me thinking… If I had a Faith Chest of my own, what would be inside? Which items from my 40+ years of life would mark the events and kindle the memories of a growing faith? What have I accumulated on my journey that belongs in a keepsake like this Chest of Faith?

And my answers, well, they tell stories.

The Stuffed Lamb from high school frienemy, Robin. Robin and I were like-minded and competitive, enjoying each other’s company immensely and yet vying for the same kind of attention from pretty much the same people. What resulted was a tumultuous friendship that often got turned inside out. During one of these rinse cycles, Robin showed up at my after-school job with a beautifully wrapped gift from the only Hallmark store in town. It was a Precious Moments lamb; stuffed, soft and cuddly. She knew I loved Precious Moments. And she knew that in spite of our egos-out-of-control, I loved her, too. The lamb would definitely make it into my Faith Chest, because it reminds me that when those who know us best can love us still, that takes faith.

The Scrollwork Metal Cross from neighborhood Bible study friend, Leslie. We were both attending a neighbor’s Bible study group, which started with The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and took on a life of its own. What began as a loosely connected group of people who knew, liked and might be related to the hostess morphed into a circle of friends whose faith grew simultaneously for all too short a time. At one point I took on leadership of the group (while what was really anticipated every week was my husband’s retelling of the Veggie Tale versions of the scriptures). I showed up for the study one night and was presented with a Pier 1 bag, handed over to me by Leslie with a smile. She had found it while shopping and it made her think of me. Dainty and sizeable, the metal cross has graced my wall ever since. Several months later I got a phone call. 40-something Leslie had died unexpectedly, after dinner one evening. The cross would belong in my Faith Chest as a picture of the beauty to be found in spontaneous acts of giving, because life is short. Why wait?

The Dead Carnation that I received, gave back to God, and then took home with me again. I walked into the sanctuary and was handed a fresh carnation. All of us were. I held it. Smelled it. Twirled it around between my fingers. At some point in the service, I was asked to let it represent an intention – something that I wanted or needed to give to God. Hmmm. I held it and smelled it and twirled it some more, and surprisingly ended up in tears. I knew what the flower had to be, and I was certain that I needed to return it to God. I laid my intentions on the altar and walked away. I gave back to God my plans for what I would be when I grew up someday. I gave them back and trusted that my sacrifice would be sweet, like that flower. Later in the evening, someone had gathered up the flower/intentions and put them in a bucket. I found mine – it was pretty distinct – and I took it home with me. A reminder that what I have – all of what I am – is a gift from God. The dead carnation would be at home in my Faith Chest because I believe God will remember the surrendered dream it represents, and because I believe His dreams for me are even more beautiful than this one would have been.

The Scrapbook given to me by my husband several Christmases ago, which served as an invitation to contact a local recording studio and have some of the songs I’ve written over the years recorded. This would be in my Faith Chest because it reminds me of the faith that my husband has in me and the value that my life’s work has in his eyes. When people have that kind of faith in you, you don’t take it for granted. You thank God for it. You thank Him for it every single day.

I could go on. I could go on and on and on.

But what I really want to know is, what’s in YOUR Faith Chest? What are the things you can touch and feel and look at and smell and taste that remind you of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going on this life-long journey of faith?

Indulge yourself in this opportunity to pack your Faith Chest full!

Full of memories of God’s work in you.

Full of connections with Him through the people in your life.

Full of opportunities captured and embraced to be all that you can be in His eyes.

Full of all the stuff our faith is made of.

the Betsy Candle

I’m preparing for a women’s retreat today.

It’s a rainy, chilly autumn day and so my mind has wandered from the task at hand to a snowy, chilly winter day… years ago.

My first retreat.

The first retreat I ever planned and led was in February 2006, and it was truly a labor of LOVE.

LOVE for the God who created me with gifts and called me to share them with others.

LOVE for the mountains and quiet time and camp.

LOVE for the women of my church home, whom I desperately missed, having moved away months before.

With only weeks to go before gathering my girlfriends together at camp, one of them was taken away.

Suddenly.

Unexpectedly.

Violently.

Tragically.

Still reeling from this inconceivable death-blow, we gathered as planned. 25 women arrived with broken hearts and lots and LOTS of emotional baggage.

We were…

ANGRY at God for allowing such horrific events to take place.

SORROWFUL for the loss of one who was wife, mother, grandmother, sister and friend.

CONFUSED by an entire range of never-before-experienced emotions toward the one who took her life – our friend, too – her husband.

Sitting in a circle of chairs that Friday night, our faces betrayed the true state of our hearts. One chair was empty and it should NOT HAVE BEEN.

Betsy should have been here.

In the midst of us was a candle – we called it the Betsy Candle – and we lit it up not only with flame, but with the flames of our unanswered questions and unnamed emotions. Intended to represent what her presence in our lives had meant to us, the candle burned quietly among us all weekend.

A reminder of a woman of beauty.

A reminder of the unpredictable nature of this life.

And a reminder to us that sometimes there are no words to express the brokenness we feel inside.

The Betsy Candle was unobtrusive that weekend – it didn’t demand our attention.

Instead, its sweet fragrance drifted from room to room, bringing a smile to one of us here and surprising with a happy memory another one over there.

In quiet ways, the flickering flame of the Betsy Candle brought to life the words of Lamentations 3:22, 23, 26, & 32:

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.”

The Betsy Candle is long gone. I continued to burn it in my home for months after that first retreat, but the lesson is more clear today than ever before: Sometimes all we can do is to quietly wait.

Without words.

Without understanding.

Without a clue as to what to do next.

But WITH the compassionate, loving and faithful God whose presence burns steadily within us, and whose salvation is absolutely worth the wait.