Wednesday, March 30, 2011


My birthday on Saturday was a day full of blessings. We celebrated by heading to the conservatory downtown, which has become a tradition (at least I think three years in a row constitutes a tradition)!

It's also a tradition that I share some of the beauty here.

Is anything more lovely than orchids?

I'd never heard of Persian buttercups but I definitely fell for them.

The colors of the hydrangeas were particularly stunning.

The two people who made the day even more beautiful just by their presence. I think this may be my favorite picture of daddy and daughter ever!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jane, Meet the Gilmores...

If you love Jane Austen (and find some eye rolling irony in the romantic and dramatic angst contemporary marketing can bring to her work) and if you happen to be a fan of the late, great Gilmore Girls, this funny video clip is a must see.

Four words. Jess as Mr. Darcy.

Too funny!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"What I'd Be Like If I Wasn't..."

I came across the following this morning in Kent Annan's book After Shock: Searching For Honest Faith When Your World is Shaken:

"A friend of the writer Henri Nouwen tells the story of someone angry with him, after he was rude once, who confronted him questioning the disconnect between his actions and his faith. Nouwen was heartbroken and said, 'I wonder if (he) ever considered what I would be like if I wasn't a man of prayer."

Oh yes. This was so heartening and strengthening for me to read after yet another Monday where I felt like I failed miserably in so many small, essential ways to be the kind of person, mom, teacher, daughter of Christ that I wanted to be. I don't mean I failed all day, but I felt like I blew it several times in the course of a tired, stressful day. Not patient enough. Not loving enough. Not gentle enough. Not creative and faithful enough.

And sometimes when I have days like that, I am all over myself (inwardly) chastising myself for not being who I'm supposed to be, who I want to be, who I know God wants me to be, and I forget -- I really do forget -- to take stock and think "but who would I have been today if I wasn't a woman of prayer?" What would I have been like if I wasn't a woman of faith who believes that the Holy Spirit nudges me to notice when I've gotten completely off-track, compels me back to the path he wants me on, produces fruit (even on a day when the harvest might seem small) that I could never possibly produce on my own?

Maybe I wasn't as patient as I should have been, could have been, hope to be, long to be. Maybe I wasn't as patient as I might be on another similar day one year from now, or two, or ten. But was I even a smidgen more patient, loving, forgiving, quick to stop wounding words than I might have been a year ago, or two, or ten? Not because life is like a never-ending escalator of up and up progress, but because of Who I belong to?

And what if, the next time a brother or sister isn't patient enough or kind enough or gentle enough with me or with someone else, I stop to consider what they would be like if they weren't people of prayer? What if I stop to reflect that the same patient God whose fingers are shaping my heart is also shaping their heart? That he has, in fact, perhaps already brought them a very long way -- and is still taking them farther into holiness and health?

All these thoughts today, born of that one story about Nouwen, seem to tie into this wonderful post I read from Karen Edmisten last night, on our progress in prayer and how it doesn't happen overnight. She writes:

"I share this because if you are ever discouraged by the fact that you seem to revisit the same sins or the same patterns of behavior repeatedly, I hope you won't despair. Compare yourself to where you were five years ago with the same sin. What about ten years ago? Do you handle it differently? If you're striving to seriously live your faith life, my guess is that you do handle it differently. A particular temptation or inclination might still be there, but you're probably approaching it in new and better ways all the time."

And then she shares about a very useful tool called ARRR prayer (or as she creatively named it, "pirate prayer"). ARRR stands for "Acknowledge, Relate, Receive and Respond." It's one of those small memory devices that goes off over your head like a light-bulb. This is a prayer tool I will definitely use. I hope it blesses you today too -- no matter what sort of day you may be having!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gladness and Singleness of Heart, Disney Princesses and Sehnsucht

Tuesday was a strange day. It started when the sweet girl walked into the kitchen, looking decidedly green (and two days before St. Patrick's Day)! "I don't feel very well," she said in a wobbly voice. Five minutes later she'd thrown up, and we found ourselves under the flu bus for the rest of the day.

It's strange how a truly sick day with your child -- not a sniffle day, or a slightly sore throat day, but a truly miserable, nausea-coming-in-waves-can-barely- crawl-off-the-couch-when-I-have-to day -- can narrow your focus dramatically. As I held my little girl's hair while she retched, bathed her face with a warm cloth, scoured the homeopathic remedies, checked our stock of ginger ale (and asked my dear husband to get more), any thought of all the other things I "had to do" that day quickly fled. Apparently I didn't have to do them after all. Apparently what I needed to do was shower my little girl with care and TLC.

There's something freeing, humbling and purifying about that. I don't mean I'm glad she was sick -- far from it! I always feel badly when I see my little one (or anyone else's) sick or in pain. But I do feel like Jesus had something to say to me during this illness, something I needed to hear during this Lenten journey.

I can put things aside. And I can focus more single-heartedly and with greater purity of heart than I usually think I can. The world doesn't stop turning if I don't do my multi-task routine for a day or two. When God puts something in my path that truly screeches me to a halt and calls for my heart's complete attention, He gives me the power and strength to seriously give the task (whether it's loving a child or something else) that full attention.

And he wants me to realize that sometimes it's perfectly all right...perhaps even do that period, full-stop, wholehearted attention thing when it's not a crisis or emergency. Perhaps even that it could be a good thing to set aside time just to do it. For Him. Because. Of course I know he also knows that he's put me in the midst of a busy life, and called me to serve others -- and that through serving others, I am loving and serving him. But what if I just let everything go for an hour sometime, just because? Just to focus my mind, heart, attention and all on Him?

Something to ponder.


And then there were the Disney princesses.

I told you Tuesday was a weird day. Since the sweet girl was feeling too miserably sick even to hold a book in her hand, and since my voice wouldn't hold out to read aloud all day, I suggested movies. I know sometimes movies can help take your focus off nausea, and she was really struggling with that. So I let her pick what she wanted to watch/doze through. What she picked was, in her later words, "two princesses and a pig." Cinderella, Little Mermaid, and Charlotte's Web.

This isn't the post for me to go into my ambivalence over the world of Disney princesses. Suffice it to say that there are good things about Disney animation that I enjoy and admire, and I don't mind my daughter watching and enjoying many of the Disney films (especially the older ones) as long as we can talk about the movies. Which we always do.

Anyway, the day was overcast, I had the lights down low, and the sweet girl lay huddled on the couch watching her movies. I went about the business of folding big piles of laundry (good day to begin to catch up, though I spent most of the day laundering bedclothes, pajamas and towels) to the soundtrack of Disney princess songs. I wasn't paying a huge amount of attention to the films, but the songs were running in my head as I folded. And for some odd reason I couldn't quite fathom, I found myself tearing up over the Little Mermaid's "Part of Your World."

Laugh if you must, but it wasn't just flu-house-induced tiredness. I had a similar reaction not long ago, when we were perfectly healthy, while listening to Snow White trill "Someday My Prince Will Come."

Has it ever occurred to you that Disney has some downright theological moments? That what's going on in those huge, longing moments is pretty reminiscent of what C.S. Lewis refers to as "sehnsucht" -- a longing for something real and tangible in this world that nevertheless speaks to our recognition that nothing in this world will ever truly fill us up, and our longing to move beyond this world to the real world beyond? (Cornelius Plantinga sums this up beautifully in his book Engaging God's World. I quoted him in this post.)

"I want adventure in the great wide somewhere...I want it more than I can tell. And for once it might be grand to have someone hold my hand. I want so much more than they've got planned."

"What I would give if I could live out of these waters! What I would pay to spend a day warm on the sand?...I'm ready to know what the people know, ask them my questions and get some answers. What's a fire? And why does it -- what's the word? -- burn? When's it my turn? Wouldn't I love - love to explore those shores up above? Out of the sea, wish I could be, part of your world..."

"Someday my Prince will come...someday we'll meet again. And away to his castle we'll go, to be happy forever I know. Someday when spring is here, we'll find our love anew, and the birds will sing, and wedding bells will ring, someday when my dreams come true."


Monday, March 14, 2011

Multitude Monday

It's been a long time since I've done a multitude Monday post -- a post where I add to my list of things I'm thankful for.

I don't, of course, only feel thankful when I write things on this list. But it's an exercise that does help me focus on gratitude. When I haven't done it for a while, and when I find myself thinking "ohhh...I don't feel like doing a gratitude post today" then I know it's time to do one.

Mondays have gotten very hard for us lately. Sundays have become far busier than I ever expected them to be: church, usually meetings (sometimes one, sometimes multiple) and somehow never enough rest. I often have to stay up late on Sunday evening, catching up with my class (they post on Saturdays) and prepping for the school week at home. And somehow we just never hit the ground running on Mondays anymore.

That would be fine with me -- I'm really getting into slowing down. But the sweet girl is having a hard time with that concept lately. Stillness, relaxation, spontaneity: they're not easy things for her. We do manage pockets of quiet in the day (hooray for paper dolls and classical music and good books) but her intense and often anxious nature can still easily obsess about doing things a certain way or in a certain format/order. So when Monday gets off on the wrong foot, as it often does lately, it can sometimes just stay on that wrong foot all day. Like a one-legged kangaroo.

I used to get uptight and frustrated in response (oh, okay, sometimes I still do) but nowadays I am better at trying to gently defuse the struggle and help her grapple with her feelings. Sometimes that means humor, sometimes it just means refusing to enter into the anxiousness. Sometimes it means calmly going on and doing whatever I'd planned for us to do and waiting for her to want to join in. Sometimes it means singing. Tonight she got uptight about reading the Bible: she's struggling her way through Genesis, but is determined to read it all on her own and all the way through, no matter how hard it feels and no matter that I've told her that it's really okay if she doesn't read it all right now (this was a goal she set for herself, and while I love that she did, it's so hard to see her struggle through something that I long to be a quiet joy...)

But you know what? God knows what he's doing in her heart. And maybe it's not my place to derail this particular struggle, beyond my gentle encouragement that she not get discouraged, that she takes it slow and easy. So I didn't fight it tonight. I didn't lecture her about how Scripture is supposed to be a joy (because really, is that going to help her heart?). I let her storm off in some petulant tears, and then I stayed at the table and read my Bible for a while. And then I sang some hymns. By the time she came back into the room in her pajamas, I was still singing hymns and I felt a whole lot better. And she looked at me with that loving "hey, my mommy really is a little bit crazy" look, and then she smiled. And I felt God smiling on us both, in all our raggedy, messy struggles.

So my thanksgivings...

115. I felt God smiling on us both, in all our raggedy, messy struggles.

116. Spring is truly coming! Crocuses are in bloom! Light is changing!

117. My precious husband and I took the trash out together this afternoon. Which means we got a little walk in the sunshine in the midst of an otherwise incredibly busy day when we hardly saw each other. And we laughed a lot over the fact that a walk to the trash could be such a blessing.

118. Time with friends yesterday eve, including some we'd not seen in a while. A chance to rejoice with them and their little one as he celebrated his third birthday.

119. Time with some of those same friends the evening before, at a local restaurant.

120. A beautiful CD of classical music from the library this weekend, which the sweet girl spent part of the afternoon dancing/skating to. Imaginary skating, but nonetheless beautiful...and great exercise!

121. Some Puccini on that CD that is breath-taking.

122. A good start to my Lenten reading plans. I'm not as far along in the Psalter as I planned to be at this stage, but I am finding a reading rhythm, and I am loving the reading.

123. Gifts from four families to help with our livelihood and ongoing expenses (as we face upcoming job transitions). God's amazing and faithful provision through his people, and through opportunities to work.

124. An opportunity to share the gospel with a child last week who truly had never heard the good news.

125. Safety for various people we know (or friends and family of friends) who could have been in harm's way during the earthquake/tsunami in Japan, but who are safe. Though many prayers and tears for all those harmed or lost in that terrible tragedy. I'm not thankful for the tragedy, but thankful for prayers, tears, outpouring of love, and God's faithfulness and love in the midst of suffering.

126. A creative plunge I'm taking. More on that soon.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Evening Prayer

Dear Lord,
Give me a few friends
who will love me for what I am,
and keep ever burning
before my vagrant steps
the kindly light of hope...
And though I come not within sight
of the castle of my dreams,
teach me to be thankful for life,
and for time's olden memories
that are good and sweet.
And may the evening's twilight
find me gentle still.

(Found on the site while hunting down resources on St. Patrick and Celtic prayer for catechesis class. I'll have to see if I can't hunt down a specific attribution later. But ah, this one spoke to my heart this evening. Or my heart spoke it.)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Start of the Lenten Journey

So many years Lent sneaks up on me. It usually begins sometime in February, and I hardly ever feel completely prepared to begin the journey. This year the start of Lent comes just about as late as it possibly can, given the late date of Easter. And I still found myself not prepared.

I'm not sure what my excuse is this year (or if I need one) but I do know I'm tired. I've spent some time in the past couple of days looking at Lenten resources online, reading some excellent blog posts and articles, and thinking about how I hoped to approach this Lenten season, individually and as a family.

And in the end, I realized something...even if I'm not at all "ready," even if I don't have neat lists, calendars, posters, devotional materials, etc., all lined up and ready to go, it doesn't really matter. Because if I'm open to his forgiveness and his hand, God can do the work he wants to do in my heart, in our hearts. And it will be quiet work, maybe even hidden work. And because it's God's work, it will be good.

So this year's Lenten plans are very simple. Instead of searching high and low for reading materials, I decided to continue the spiritual reading I'm already doing in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. I've also set myself the goal of reading and praying through the entire Psalter between now and Easter. I may post some thoughts, from time to time -- so you can expect some Psalm-drenched reflections over the next few weeks.

And for our family? We brought out the Lenten candle (a round candle with space for a tea-light, the wax painted with a desert scene -- this is a candle given to me by a dear friend years ago, and we use it every year) and we're listening to songs from Michael Card's Starkindler. We'll read one of the daily Scripture readings each day as a family, most usually the gospel. I also brought out a fresh, brand-new notebook, its pages completely empty, for us to use as a family prayer and praise notebook. The sweet girl decorated the cover with the picture of a simple cross and the words "God Loves Us." We've agreed that during the Lenten season, any of us can write, draw, or paste any prayers or praises in the notebook that we feel called to put there. We started tonight by pasting in a picture of a refugee family in Haiti -- a photograph that moved me to tears yesterday, and moved the sweet girl and all of us to prayer.

I'm working on a small "giving up" area in my life, and the sweet girl has expressed an interest in learning more about fasting (we're starting by having her give up a snack time). We're also joining our church's usual almsgiving project by filling a baby bottle with coins for a local crisis pregnancy center.

And that's Lent this year. Simple and homemade but what I feel called to. Of course, God is always a God of surprises!

A blessed Ash Wednesday! Following St. Ambrose, may the Lord give you a heart to love and adore him, delight in him, follow and enjoy him.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Crocus Sighting

Twenty-two crocuses make my heart sing.
Their small purple cups set the table for spring.

EMP 3/8/11

This could get to be a habit. I posted a spring snippet last year when we saw our first crocuses. Nineteen of them that time, and spotted on March 11. We're three days earlier this year, and spotted three more flowers. Somehow that feels like a cheering sign!

Monday, March 07, 2011

"But God Meant It For Good"

And as for you, you meant evil against me,
but God meant it for good
in order to bring about this present result,
to preserve many people alive.
~Genesis 50:20

That's the verse we're focusing on in learning time this week. It was playing in the background while I was cleaning up the kitchen this morning, and as I sang it, I found myself pondering it anew.

We often think of this verse coming in the context of Joseph's story, and it does, of course, though not precisely where I tend to place it in my mind. I tend to think of Joseph saying this to his brothers during their initial reconciliation. But he doesn't -- it comes much later, after the death of their father Jacob. Because it turns out that Joseph's brothers, even after all that time and even after their brother forgave them, are still worried that he might yet move into vengeful mode and pay them back for all those years of suffering he endured in Egypt. Even after all the weeping, kissing and caretaking Joseph's done in the preceding years, they're afraid once their father is gone, all bets are off.

Isn't this just like us? Even forgiven -- even assured of loving care, protection, friendship, GRACE -- all the things we don't deserve, we still sometimes go running back to the shadows of our sin. We're sure those shadows are long, way longer than the grace that's been extending over us. We're sure somehow that those old sins are going to find us out one last time and give us one more good kick in the teeth.

Joseph's words, which are so wise, also give us a glimpse into how much his heart has grown. Not only does he point to God's sovereignty, a lesson he learned in the trenches (and a lesson that took many years to reach full fruition) but he shows how very different he is from the teenager who stood before his brothers telling them about his dreams. Let's face it, the young Joseph was a bit of a braggart. He didn't deserve to be thrown into a cistern and sold as a slave, no, but his brothers' frustration, annoyance and jealousy of him is at least somewhat understandable. "Hey, cool! One day you're all going to bow down to me!" is pretty much the reading I take away from the young Joseph's initial telling of the dream. Of course the fact that he dreamed true (a gift from God) is only part of the story -- he couldn't possibly have imagined why his brothers would be bowing before him, or how it was all part of God's tapestry to save his people.

But here, older and wiser Joseph, assuring his brothers once again of his pardon and forgiveness, teaching them about God's sovereignty over their collective story, shows a deep humility. "Am I in the place of God?" he asks. It's a telling question, not only because it shows that Joseph's understands vengeance, grace, forgiveness ultimately belong to the Lord, but because it shows that Joseph is no longer dreaming about how awesome it would be to stand in that place -- to be the one receiving homage and worship. He knows now that whatever place God puts him in, even one of tremendous responsibility and power, is derived -- a place given to him by God, and for deeper reasons than he himself might possibly imagine.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Poetry Friday: Da Vinci's Parachute

I was on a website the other day that had one of those calendars with days you can celebrate in March. I was chuckling over some of the funny things that people celebrate when I was brought up short by the notation for March 5. It read: "the invention of the parachute: Da Vinci."

Many, many years before what many people consider the actual invention of the parachute, Leonardo Da Vinci sketched his ideas for a parachute in one of his notebooks. And 11 years ago a British man actually dropped from a balloon, about 10,000 feet above the ground, using a parachute made from Da Vinci's design (and using materials, canvas and wood, that would have been available in Da Vinci's day). I remember reading about this, not long after it happened, in a scientific magazine I picked up at a library sale. You can read a brief news article about the event here. It includes the line that still captures my imagination: "It works, and everyone thought it wouldn't."

I bring this story up on Poetry Friday as a prelude to the poem I wrote not long after first reading that inspiring news story. I hope it captures your imagination too.

Da Vinci’s Parachute

They laughed when I took to the sky
buoyed by outmoded invention.
Sheltered by a five hundred year old idea
finally fleshed
in canvas and rope,
I jumped, caught the air,
and dangled
over undulating brown-grey hills.
I did not look down for long.
Upheld by ancient design,
my face turned upward in awe,
I held my breath.
For a moment I was the scribbled sketch
in the margin of Leonardo’s imaginings,
buffeted across the pages of time,
my body, my faith
sustained by the heavy sphinx-like tent
ballooned above.
The tent held true
and I drifted down
lines taut, then slack
in a dance of purposeful pulling.
And true is true.
Lines clear and pure.
Did you not think
the old ways would hold
in these new winds?
Watch me fall
and think again.

~EMP (all rights reserved)

Today's poetry roundup can be found at The Small Nouns.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

It's the birthday of Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss, 1904-1991). Our family loves Dr. Seuss books and I've enjoyed reviewing a number of them over the years. So in honor of the day, I thought I'd post a few links.

One of our very favorites is There's a Wocket in my Pocket. When the sweet girl was little, she once informed me, after changing into her pajamas, that the wocket was now in the clothes hamper!

Dr. Seuss also wrote one of the most unique ABC books ever. And even the tried and true bedtime book gets his highly creative touch in The Sleep Book.

I love the fact that Dr. Seuss can use his imagination to pay tribute to...imagination! Oh, The Thinks You Can Think! is one of my very favorite Seuss titles.

And I still retain a great fondness for Hop on Pop, one of the first books our daughter ever read on her own when she was nearing the grand age of five. I have days when I really miss our sojourn in three-letter word land.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Whom Do We Serve?

"Our king is Jesus, not time; we serve him, not it."

This from our friend Travis, who serves along with his family as a missionary/teacher in Uganda.

Our family so needed to hear this yesterday. I think we probably need to hear it every day!

Passing it along, in case you need to hear it too...