Conversations Change

Household Faith

A short 8 weeks ago the church was filled with children’s laughter amidst the adult conversation.  Thanksgiving was right around the corner and spirits were high.  Families were getting ready to feast and convene with one another.  There were two days off work plus a weekend to look forward to.  I gave thanks.

The second week of December I tracked conversations I overheard in passing or was involved with in one way or another.  Some words were full of bitterness and disappointment.  Others were full of gossip.  Some words showed weariness. Others were hopeful, looking forward to having family home for the holidays.  I experienced joyful talks. I also experienced words as sharp as swords—short and brief, but damaging just the same.  I prayed for awareness of my own words.

I stopped in the grocery store aisle last week to visit with a Grandma, a friend of mine.  We hadn’t visited for a long time, so it was good to catch up.  Her words told of her concerns for her grandson who had just enlisted in the armed forces.  She was proud of him.  But her words also showed signs of worry and concern.  I prayed for his safety and for God to speak Peace to him and the family.

Two nights ago, we found ourselves in the 3rd level balcony of a massive arena.  The rodeo was about to start.  The mood was celebratory!  People were escaping from the work-a-day life with family entertainment.  The music was loud.  The conversations around me were playful. There were happy faces.  I gave thanks for a Friday night out with my hubby.

Yesterday I finished Saturday morning training, upbeat and excited for the afternoon appointments.  I took time to encourage some newer folks and greeted some of the students in for class.  The music was fun, and the mood was light.  The sun was even trying to shine in through the windows.  I hadn’t taken time to pray since the meeting had ended.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Eight weeks ago, at church, while the children were playing, and the adults were talking, one family was still reeling, trying to wrap their minds around the words they’d received from their doctor: “…here is the name of an oncologist.  You will need to call to make an appointment…”

For this family, the conversations changed.

The Grandma whose grandson joined the armed forces to serve our country?  Her words today were meek.  The grandson’s unit had been deployed to Afghanistan.  There had been very little contact with him in the weeks and months since he left.  He sacrificed his own time, putting his very life on the line, missing holidays and family events, in order to serve others, half a world away among unfamiliar land and unfamliar peoples.

For this family, the conversations changed.

Sitting in the 3rd level balcony of the arena, the bulls were winning.  The cowboys on the bareback and saddle broncs had experienced some success.  But the bulls were not as giving.  Not one cowboy had lasted the full 8 seconds yet.

The announcer introduced the rider, the cowboy gave the nod, and the gate swung open.  As the young cowboy lost his grip, he hit the ground dangerously close to the bucking bull.  Seconds passed but the cowboy didn’t move.  The medics were called.  The bull was roped by the pick-up riders at the other end of the ring.  The defibrillator was hurried to the side of the young rider, who was still not moving.

The arena came to an eerie quiet as the medics worked on the rider.  Many heads in the crowd were bowed.  Others had their eyes glued to the cowboy.  Even the announcer went silent.  An usher arrived at the end of our row and motioned for a young dad and his children to follow.  He asked, “…how far to get down there”.  She said, “It’s a jaunt but we’ll get you there.” They left their coats and their hats and mittens, the dad carried the youngest and the two little boys followed along closely.  I assumed family of the fallen rider.

The young, athletic cowboy was carried out of the rodeo ring on a stretcher, but alert enough to give the now applauding crowd a thumb up.

But for this family, conversations changed.

Yesterday morning immediately after the training, I received a text from our daughter in Hawaii.  It was brief.  It said, “Pray now!  This is not a drill.  We’ve been told there is an inbound missile aimed at us.  I have to take cover in the bathroom!”

For our family, the conversations changed.

Hours later, I glanced back at the initial response I sent back to my daughter who was alone in her apartment taking cover for what was believed to be a very real inbound missile attack.  My initial text said, “Oh dear…” I spoke “Oh Dear God” out loud, but I didn’t type it all out! What I didn’t say was, “I love you!”   Is there ever a time when those words are inappropriate!  I mean, really!  Our daughter lives 20 minutes from impact if North Korea sends a missile towards Hawaii (God forbid)!  Are there any other words to be spoken than “I love you!”?

So many words come out of our mouths every single day.  But how many of those words impact the life of another in a positive, life-giving kind of way—on purpose?!  I am very, very fortunate to be in a job where the work I do is dependent upon words of encouragement.  And yet I must remind myself to take those words home with me sometimes!  How quickly we diminish the value of the spoken word into mundane exchanges—some more positive than others.

The words we say, the conversations we exchange with others is so routine, so much a part of our daily busyness.  I think back through so many conversations with a lot of words that really said nothing at all.  I’ve pondered lately how often we really stop to think about our words—about how our words alone can lift a spirit, give encouragement, share compassion, express our feelings.  Even so, on the flip side, our words can so easily crush spirits, hurt feelings, discourage, and draw a line of division between peoples.

I have the usual first of the year resolutions of things I want to accomplish, things I want to change about myself and my surroundings in the new year.  But one thing I added to my list this year is giving myself permission to be present in the moments – to better listen to others—to weigh my words in such a way they cast light as opposed to casting shadows.  Our words are important.  Words are powerful.  How we use them and what we imply with them has the potential to be life-changing.

I am drawn to the scriptures, from first chapter of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was God, and the WORD was with God…”

May our words reflect The WORD, in Truth and in Love.  Keeping in mind, that sometimes, the best word is The WORD, offered in silent solidarity of the moment—an unspoken word that says more than words could ever express.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Empty Nest

Household Faith

For those who know me at all, there is a very well-known fact that permeates my existence.  I am not very fond of birds.

Ok.  Understatement.  I am terrified of birds that are within close proximity of me.  Or ones that surprise me by flying out of a bush at me.  Or that look at me funny.  Any bird that does not announce itself in advance causes me great stress.

Once, when I was in 6th grade, my uncle stepped inside my Grandma’s kitchen to show off his pheasant.  Mind you, I was sitting on the sofa at the far west end of the old farmhouse.  My uncle was in the kitchen, at the far EAST end of the house.  There were two rooms between us.  But when he dropped the wing tips to show the side of those pheasant wings, I was OUT!  I mean OUT!  The next thing I remember (to this day) is waking up to my Grandpa gently patting my cheeks!  My whole family was peering down over me waiting for me to recover from fainting!

And if I were to be completely transparent, the bird doesn’t even have to be “whole” or alive to be terrifying.  A dead bird in the street causes as much anxiety as a single feather (especially BIG feathers).  My little brother used to be able to lock me in or out of my bedroom when we were kids simply by lining the threshold of my doorway with pheasant feathers.  I would hide in (or totally avoid) my bedroom door until someone, usually my mom, would remove the feathers so I could enter without hyperventilating.

On another occasion, in the 4th grade, all of my grandparents were gathered around our kitchen table in the mobile home to celebrate my brother’s birthday.  It was a little tight, but we were all seated around the table.  I was sitting between my grandmothers.  I will never forget!  Mom always let us choose our favorite meal for our birthdays.  Then she would go to town, making the best birthday dinner possible.  My brother had chosen fried chicken!  His favorite!

Chickens are my absolute WORST nightmare. 

The story goes like this: At around 18 months of age, my grandma took me to the hen house to gather eggs.  She was carrying me when she approached the door and her other hand was full of egg baskets, so she wasn’t able to knock before she entered.  Who knew hens needed to be notified BEFORE someone entered their chamber?  Grandma set me down on the floor of the hen house.  I let out a blood-curling cry about that same time and scared the old hens out of their ever-loving, pea-brained minds.  In the midst of the chaos, the hens knocked me over and flapped all over my toddler sized body!  Grandma had to call my mom and hour later to come get me because I was still unconsolable!

Even telling this story gives me goosebumps, so it obviously impacted my formative years in a massive way!

Back to the fried chicken dinner for my brother’s birthday.  I can eat fried chicken.  Not my favorite, but I can do it.  I just have to talk myself into it.  On this day, my grandma, the one who raised chickens and eggs, didn’t ask me which piece I wanted, she simply put a wing on my plate.  I avoided it for the longest time.  I remember everyone was talking and laughing around the table while I was contemplating my fate with the chicken wing.

Finally, I mustered up enough courage to attempt eating it.  As I began to pull the wing apart, my imagination took over and that wing came to life right in my hands.  I flung the chicken wing up into the air and almost knocked my chair over when I ejected from it to flee the chicken in my imagination!

My Quaker grandma grabbed a hold of me and pulled me in close.  “Good heavens, child!” she said as she hugged me to the safety of her side.  My chicken-raising Methodist grandma reached behind her on the floor, picked up the chicken wing and put it back on my plate!  Then she pulled it apart and took a bite saying, “See? There’s nothing wrong with this!”

As an adult, I have worked very hard to NOT allow my phobia of feathered creatures affect the way my children respond to birds.  I have learned to tuck my fears way back into the archives of memory in order to not faint if a bird surprised or got too close to me.  Mind you, I have never tried to overcome my fear, because that brings a whole other set of fears to the forefront!  But suppressing the phobia has been advantageous over the years.   And I do believe my children have a healthy relationship and understanding of all things feathered, which I count a huge victory to my parenting efforts.

But then yesterday, while driving my husband’s car out to the farm to check on the horses, I had a flashback experience.  A few days ago, Craig was so proud to have discovered a nice big feather of some sort while working on my brother’s farm.  It might be from a hawk, or a vulture (really? He could get excited about that??) Or from another very good-sized bird.  He showed me the feather with great satisfaction, then tucked it into the sun visor of the truck.

I happened to be headed to the farm last night at dusk.  The sun was low in the sky. I was watching the road extra careful to avoid the deer who often graze in the ditch near the farm.  Without thinking I reached up and flipped the sun visor down.  Out of nowhere this HUGE, unidentified feather swooped down and landed between my chest and the steering wheel!

My heart began to pulsate fast and my throat instantly swelled up so I couldn’t breathe.  My initial instinct was to eject!  But I had to keep driving. I don’t think I screamed, but I am not 100% sure about that!

Then logic began to take hold…it’s only a feather.  It’s not attached to the bird.  Heck, we don’t even know what bird dropped it!  My breathing slowed even though my heart continued to pound in my chest.  Somehow, I managed to stay on the road while I flicked that stupid feather over my shoulder somewhere into the back seat. (Which reminds me I need to remember it’s in the back seat so it doesn’t sneak up on me again in the next day or so)!

Which is why I was taken by my sudden obsession over a family of Robins.

Early in May a pair of Robins built a nest on the downspout support of Mom’s garage.  It took them exactly one afternoon to completely resurrect this perfectly formed nest.  I watched them from my perch on the backyard swing. Back and forth from the yard to the nest site, carefully placing each twig, string, and treasure in place.  They were tireless, relentless even.  Here they would come.  Then off they would go.  One after another, until the job was completed.

Then the rains came.  Almost two weeks of rain and wind, cold, and mist.  I’d check on the robins who were hunkered down in their home-made nest.  It became apparent they were taking turns sitting on eggs.  Craig climbed up high enough one day to report there were three little blue robin eggs in the nest.

I watched expectantly.  Morning and evening I would check.  Mom kept an eye out during the daytime.  And then one day the Robins were both gone.  No one was visible in the nest-home.  And as I watched, one came back carrying something in their beak!  Sure enough, the eggs had hatched.  A new Robin family was taking up residence right there on our drain spout.

The rains let up finally and the parent Robins once again worked without stopping to keep the babies fed and protected.  When I mowed the yard under the downspout, the mama stayed on the nest, completely sheltering her young ones from the noise and danger.  I thought how brave she was to stay put with that loud machine rumbling right under her house.  She didn’t flinch.  And surprisingly, neither did I.

Another week passed. Mom and I could see the little babies sticking their necks way up any time the bushes rustled, in anticipation of one of the adults bringing back a snack!  When mama or daddy Robin did come back, they always had a bite of something for the babies.  They never returned to the nest empty-beaked!  Not once did the babies go disappointed.

There was a great purpose in the flight of the parent Robins.  Out to the yard they would go.  They’d hop around in the grass for a bit, listen, hop some more, then all of a sudden they’d pluck something out of the grass and return directly to the nest.  Within moments they were back at it.  While one was hunting, the other was feeding.  They were never too far away.  From sun up til sun down they repeated their efforts.  I would have been exhausted, but the Robin couple didn’t seem to mind.  They stayed attentive to their calling, purposefully and determined day in and day out.

Then one day one of the baby birds got brave enough to spread its wings.  That was a little nerve-wracking for this bird fearing woman!  But I watched (a little further away than my earlier observation points).    It would spread those wings out then march around, almost tipping its siblings out of the nest on several occasions.

Imagine how surprised I was to find myself seriously concerned that someone might actually fall out!  Who would help it?  How would it learn to fly from the ground if it even survived the fall?  My husband assured me birds had been learning to fly and leave the nest without my concern since the beginning of time!  But I was still scared for the safety of the newly hatched, feathered creatures of God’s design.  The world is such a dangerous place!  There are predators, and  cars, and all kinds of ways for birds to meet their Maker!  Nothing is guaranteed in the world outside of the nest!

A day passed before I could get back to check on the flock.  Sure enough.  One of the babies was gone!  There were two left and Mama and Daddy Robin were still feeding them when I got home late one evening.

Another day passed.  I missed the flying lessons.  But on day three, the nest was empty.

No one was home.

The babies had flown away.

No one returned to the nest that night.

No one.

Mom and Dad Robin no longer had need for the nest.

How does that work?

A month has passed now.

The nest is still empty.  Still attached to the downspout.  Unattended.

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.  Maybe after we’ve raised our children and prepared them for the world “out there”, after we’ve nurtured, instructed, fed them, disciplined them, loved them, coached them…maybe after all that, the lesson is not so much that we helped them fly away.   Maybe the message is for those of us still attached to the original nest.

Up until this point I thought we raised them up to send them off so they could return to us.  But maybe, I’m thinking of this all wrong.  Maybe the point is, we are to go to them! Maybe the Empty Nest is the symbol of safety and consistency, and persistence.  And just maybe that Empty Nest gives us permission to move on with our own goals and dreams!  Maybe that Empty Nest reminds us that the hard work of raising up the young ones is time well-spent.  But maybe the time comes when our “calling” takes us in a new direction.

I’ve taken some criticism over the years for pursuing my own dreams and goals.  But maybe that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do!  There was a time when all of my purpose, all of my energy, all of my everything went into that nest.  But now the nest is empty, so maybe it’s okay to leave that nest to build something new.

The Empty Nest sitting there on that downspout reminds me of so much.  Of family.  Of joy.  Of the kids when they were babies.  Of how quickly they grow up and spread their wings. Of love. Of how important it is they build their own nests.  Of laughter.  Of how strong the nest at home remains after they depart.  Of the importance of visiting their nests!  Of the critical element of faith in the upbringing…faith enough to fly!  Faith enough to return to the nest if need be.  And faith enough to build their own nests when the time comes.

The birds still sing in the mornings.  They still visit Mom’s bird feeders all day long.  My favorite bird songs are their nighttime songs.  The night time songs are more soothing.  They sing with a different tone at dusk than they do at daybreak.  These feathered creations of God’s design surround us whether we’re aware of their presence or not.  They go about their business all day long, then do it again, day after day after day, fulfilling their calling.  And somehow I am comforted by that.

Even so, I still must talk myself into entering the barn alone at dusk to fetch the oats and brushes for the horses.  The Barn Swallows are deep into evening routine by that time, swooping low to duck into the barn doors at a very high, very dangerous rate of speed (if you ask me!).  I could move the oats closer to the door so I don’t have to actually walk INSIDE to reach them, thus avoiding the dangerous diving birds!  However, there is a wildness in God’s mercy, and on occasion I choose to test myself.  See how far into the barn I get before feeling faint!

Having survived the BIG feather in sun visor last night, I walked in boldly into the barn, daring the Barn Swallows to come at me.  I survived.  In fact, I happy danced a little, proud of my minor accomplishment!

I suppose the Empty Nest might even be a sign of Hope.  There is so much yet to come.  The Empty Nest is but one chapter.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Fine Lines – An Introduction and an Invitation

Household Faith

There is a very fine line…

Everyone has answers.  And suggestions.  And words of advice.  Yet no one has walked in my shoes.  At least not in the sense that they fully understand my mission, my intent, or ultimately, my calling.

Events of the past year have brought my husband and me to the decision to sell our home, pack up our lives after only one year as empty nesters, and move into my mom’s home to offer support as her short term memory slowly disintegrates.  We could have waited because my mother is capable of caring for herself still.  But I wanted to be here while she still remembered. I wanted to still share in the day to day routine while it still existed.  I wanted to give her, and me, a quality that would not exist if I chose to wait a few months, a year, or until it was too late.

Looking in from the outside, there are many opinions.  But that’s no different than when I was learning how to be a mom for the first time.  Everyone had all the answers.  And suggestions.  And words of advice.  And then later, when my children were older and I had “mom” experience, people still spoke their observations out loud to me, uninvited, yet clearly articulated.

There are times I have felt experiences with my heart before my eyes could comprehend the magnitude upon my life.  But these experiences I kept to myself because I feared outsiders who looked into my world with a judgment call or an explanation I didn’t request.

Other times I have expressed my experiences and insights unashamed, only to find myself facing the very fear that held me silent before.  So I learned to guard my heart.  As a result, I have held many things hostage in my heart.  There are times I have not reached out because I feared a reprimand or criticism.  There are times I have held my tongue when speaking truth would have a rocked a boat or caused tension.  There are times I have watched from a distance instead of offering kindness.  But the time for silence is broken.

This blog is about the Fine Lines…the very fine lines between speaking and being silent; between believing and questioning; between understanding and accepting; between acting and standing down.  Such lines are so fragile they blur with a whisper of a breeze.  Yet so important that if missed, they may never again be captured.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Nine Months

Household Faith

Last July I spotted an irony I am still pondering.  While leaving a fast food restaurant in the up and coming, booming West Side of Des Moines, I rounded a corner leading to a main thoroughfare.  Standing there on that corner was a woman and a child.  The pregnant woman, probably mid thirties.  The child 5th or 6th grade maybe.  They stood holding a cardboard sign that read, “Please help my family.  We are hungry.”  This woman had positioned herself in the trafficway between several fast food and sit-down restuarants.

Now the irony.   Three feet from where the woman stood was a “Now Hiring” sign for one of the fast food chains.

How does that work?  I’ve wondered and wondered about that woman.  Questions abound.  Is she unable to secure child care so she can leave her children?  Is she able to work?  Is she literate in English enough to hold down a position in the middle of Iowa?  Does her family only pan handle for food and other needs?  Where does she live?  Is she married?  Are there other children?

And then the biggest question of all:  “What is my role?”

It’s a Fine Line kind of question.  Jesus teaches that “..even the least of these are my children…”  He also teaches, “…when I was hungry you fed me…”

Incidentally, I had just fed myself, and met several colleagues at the fast food place.  The woman and her child were standing there when I went in.  And they were standing there when I went out.  While I was in the restaurant, a teenage boy, maybe a junior or senior in high school, walked into the restaurant and asked for an application for work because he’d seen the sign.  The same sign the woman was standing by outside.

I honestly don’t remember if I noticed the woman when I came around the corner going in to the parking lot.  I do remember thinking there were people standing in a precarious place out on the lawn, but I do not remembering thinking much about her until I left.  She smiled. Both she and her child waved as we passed by.  I nodded and smiled back as I passed by.

Should I have offered her a meal.  Or two?  Could I have returned to take her into the restaurant to ask for an application like the teenager had?  Should I have stopped and listened to her story?

More irony.

Today I was over in the same area of town.  It was about the same time of day.  I always get turned around over there.  I am bit directionally challenged anyway, but as I was following my GPS in search of a print shop, I found myself in that same parking lot.  My mind rewound to our gathering there last July.  Good memories.  I wondered how those colleagues were doing and if they were still pursuing their dreams.  And then I rounded the same corner.

There she was.  The same woman.  The same child.  The same sign.  “Please help my family.  We are hungry.”  But this time she had a small baby wrapped in a scarf crisscrossed around her body.  And there were three other children of various ages, all younger than the first one I’d noticed last year.  And there was a man.  Her husband, I presumed.  He was holding the sign.  They smiled and waived.

The same corner.  The same trafficway.  The same “Now Hiring” sign three feet from where they were standing.

It is a weekday.  It’s lunchtime.  Have they eaten today?  Yesterday?  Is there a plan beyond this cardboard sign and their smiles for tomorrow?

Do they have jobs?  Are they capable of applying for work?  Are they willing to learn, to participate in daily work-a-day life?  Do they know where and how to reach out for assistance?  Do the children go to school? And the question I’m still pondering tonight.  “Do they have a home to go home to when the day is done?”

Nine months have passed since I first noticed this lady.  Nine months between my ponderings.

The questions remain.  The answers are not forthcoming.

Jesus’ teachings still ring in my heart and echo between my ears.

Nine months.

It takes nine months to grow an embryo into a baby in the human womb.

How can so much develop and change in nine months?  And yet so much stay the same?

I think of the lame man in the Bible.  Three of his friends cared so much for him they carried him on his mat all the way up to the roof of the house where Jesus was speaking and lowered him down so he had a chance to be changed—a chance to be healed—a chance to walk.  Those three friends didn’t have to do that.  They didn’t have to engage in their friend’s condition.  They chose to!  They wanted to!

They cared.

So does my lack of engagement show a lack of, ultimately, caring enough to engage in potential change?  Those three men in the Bible didn’t know for sure if getting the lame friend in front of Jesus was actually going to work, yet they hoped. They were willing to take a chance on the potential outcome.

They made a choice.

Nine months passes in the blink of an eye, unless of course, you are in your eighth and ninth month of pregnancy waiting on baby to deliver.  Then the ninth months drags on!  But looking back, nine months fly by!

How does time pass for this family on the corner?  Does time stand still as they wait on the corner and then go home ….or go not home.

This family has made their choice.  They are putting their hope in potential kindness from strangers.

But if someone, someone like me even, engaged in their situation, listened to their story, learned their names and their hopes and their dreams, would positive change even need a whole nine months to give birth to new hope?  New possibility?  New circumstances?

The fine line is not between giving them money or not giving them money.  The fine line is between engaging in their story, or not engaging in their story.

To listen is to care.  To act is to be obedient.  To engage is to offer hope.

The outcome is beyond my reach—completely out of my control. But the here and now of The Kingdom is bulging with opportunity.  I have complete control over how I participate in the here and now.

I made the same choice nine months ago as I did today.  But the past does not have to define the future.  And so my choice does not have to remain my decision.  There is still potential to create change—at least within myself!

Then the fine line becomes the difference between wanting to control the outcome, or simply being okay no matter how it all plays out.

The ultimate irony:  I am the one who changes either way.

Rating: 1 out of 5.
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