Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bedtime Blessings

Is there a sweeter time than bedtime? Tonight Chloe chose Little Cloud by Eric Carle and Kersplatypus by Susan Mitchell to read for her bedtime stories. She reads to me now and I'm filled with joy listening to my big girl read with such confidence and expression.

The especially adorable part is that her mouth has one less tooth tonight, after she spent all day yesterday "rocking" that loose tooth, though it stubbornly hung in there until early afternoon.



Chloe was amazed to see that Kersplatypus had an inscription on the title page written by the author to her! The author, Susan Mitchell, spoke at Chloe's school this year. Very cool.
Connecting the story to the author to herself was even cooler.


This sweet connection was a precious gift to me today -
a glittering jewel in my crown of memories.

Goodnight, my sweet girl.


Meltdowns, Not Just for Toddlers...

The painting party for the gals at church seemed like a great idea four months ago when we put it on the calendar. The end of June - well into summer and the "more relaxed summer schedule." Problem is, I never made it to that elusive "more relaxed summer schedule." Why, you ask? I blame it on the Kingwood Blaze, Trent's All-Star baseball team. I knew I was crazy to volunteer to be the team mom for the regular spring baseball season with our community league. I mean, it was our first time to even PLAY in the league. I didn't have a clue! Surely there was a mom with more league experience? But no one else volunteered and our coach was going to have to miss our first scrimmage to attend the meeting. That's crazy, I thought. How hard can it be? I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I was organized. I could listen, take notes and follow directions. Honestly, I have such a deep appreciation for little league coaches, who volunteer their time, giving up almost every night of the week, at the expense of their families, just because they love teaching the game. It was the least I could do to show my appreciation. Well, fast forward two months to the All Star season. Trent was thrilled to be selected for the team; Ryan got recruited as team photographer and assistant coach. Our beloved Coach Paschall was coaching the 12 year old team and before I knew it I said yes to being Team Manager. I got sucked in with the old, "You were the best team mom, ever." Clearly I was ignorant about the Team Manager responsibilities for an All Star team. Oh, we have to fundraise? How much? Oh, and organize a two shirt uniform, practice shirt and fan shirt? No problem, except when the coaches' shirts got printed without names and numbers, causing a last minute scramble to keep our team within the tournament regulations. A two week long tension headache was the first symptom that I was wound too tight. I had been going from one event to the next, with no down time - for me a ticking time bomb at best. The only way I was able to keep my feet on the floor was because of Ryan, who picked up the slack in heroic ways, all the while shaking his head.

As I scrambled to make it to the painting class, I still had a To Do list a mile long, which included sewing 12 patches on baseball uniforms, finishing 79% of a book I was supposed to lead a discussion on the next morning and final preparations for my daughter's 7th birthday party the next day. But  I was excited about the painting class! I had really been looking forward to it!

Twelve gals joined us for a "Painting with a Twist" kind of evening, minus the wine. Sabrina, ever the amazing teacher, guided us from the sea-foam green background to the blue eggs, to the nest around them, complete with shading to show depth and finally the tree branch the nest was settled in. Sounds simple, right? No pressure..it's just a nest..it's all just for fun. That would have been true in a non-frazzled state of my mind.  But the more pathetic my nest looked, the less patience I had for the whole endeavor. As I looked around at my friends happily making twigs and cute little curlicue branches, my sad little nest just kept looking more and more like a brown blob.

I realized in that moment that I just needed to go home. We had about an hour left of our class. Sabrina saw my face and realized the jig was up. I couldn't figure out a way to quietly sneak out of there unnoticed, and when someone asked why I was leaving, I tearfully explained how overwhelmed I felt. It was embarassing.  When I got home, I moped up the stairs to have a good cry. My son saw I was upset and instinctively gave me a big hug. My daughter kept asking, "Why is Mommy crying?" and I didn't have a good answer. But I did have a good cleansing cry. Trent brought me a cup of hot tea to help me feel better. Soon after,  the doorbell rang and my sewing friend Denise, who had just left the painting party, showed up to help. She plopped down on my living room floor and she, Ryan and I got the 12 patches sewed on in 45 minutes. She asked, "What else can I do to help you get ready for tomorrow?"

Isn't that the very definition of friendship?
People who just show up to help,
even when we're too stubborn to ask for it,
even when we are beyond overwhelmed.
People who share our journey,
even when we are less than perfect,
even when it isn't pretty.
That is also what church means to me.

Everyone finished their bird nest paintings and they look beautiful, each in their own way.

I'm grateful that Nancy (top row left) was willing to hold up my nest picture in addition to hers. These friends honored my contribution by holding my place for me, even as I sobbed my frustrations into my pillow at home.

My nest picture is still unfinished.
I may get Ryan to help me fix it 
or I may start completely over
or I may just paint over the whole canvass with white and start a different painting project.
I haven't decided yet.

But before I can decide, I need a whole lot more white space or down time in my summer and my life. Gently, I need to create the relaxed schedule of summer before it is too late. Gently, I need to accept my own limitations and be willing to ask others for help. If none of that works, and a meltdown is inevitable, where there is friendship, where there is church, there is always grace.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Praying with Chloe

Day 6 - 24/7 Prayer - 8 am Friday morning

Today Chloe and I went to pray together.
First, we lit candles for others:

Candle #1
"Dear Lord, thank you for being with Papa during his surgery.
Help him to feel better & stronger soon."

Candle #2
"And Lord, help Anna & Rachel have a good trip."

Candle #3
"Oh, and even help me to find a buddy at my gym camp next week.
Amen."


Then we put on some music. Chloe chose the African Children's Choir. Excellent choice, I must say. She started moving to the rhythm right away and we made our way over to the art center.

The first thing I noticed was how much more art there was since the day before. Oh, yes. The teens had been there overnight for a lock-in. Together we looked at the art hanging on the wall.


Chloe noticed Kayla's picture right away. She loved how Kayla wrote LOVE using a heart for the O. She decided to try a picture just like it.


                                













I decided to paint a heart using different colors radiating out from the center. I remembered making pictures like this when I was growing up, using crayola markers.
 

"God's
love is at the center
of my heart
It brings color
and stretches out
it never ends"
It was magical, sitting in that space with my daughter, creating and tuning in to God's whispers of love. I felt the energy of my creativity and well as the collective creativity that had been offered by others in this space. I recognized both as gifts from God. And I offered thanks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

24/Prayer Challenge - What Does Prayer Look Like?

How could I spend a whole hour praying?































I asked Ryan to go up and take pictures for me. I expected him to be gone about 30 minutes. An hour and 30 minutes later he made it home. His explanation, "Well, I went up to take a few shots, but it was so cool I got sucked in!" That's what happens. God meets us there when we are faithful and show up!



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

24/7 Prayer Challenge - Day 1

Sunday, June 12, 4am

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this
silent, sleeping church
In the hum of the air conditioner
As two clocks tick in unison

I sit alone, snuggled inside a blanket
Groggy with sleep
Fighting to stay with it
Honored to hold the church in safe-keeping
for this hour

Light a candle 
Four flames burning,
evidence of the presence of others before me
loved ones, lifted in prayer

Prayer wall
the feel of metal and the clack of the magnets sticking
names we lift up to God

Music?
No..too jarring at this hour

Mold Your Prayer with Clay
More evidence of fellow travelers
An unexpected surprise
a creative invitation from my own child,
here before me this night.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place
The sound of birds causes me to glance up
Through the windows I see the day breaking,
bringing the night to an end,
ushering in hope for this day
Hope.


I bask in the presence of God
Not in these four walls we constructed and call "church"
But in this space, still vibrating with the prayers of the brothers and sisters
who faithfully kept watch with me through the night.
I am blessed to have been a part of it.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

Monday, June 13, 2011

24/7 Prayer- The Challenge

Prayer
Seven days,
Twenty-four hours a day-
One hundred sixty-eight hours or
 Ten thousand and eighty minutes
Monks in Europe practiced continual prayer for 100 years!
 Young people from Revelation Church in Chichester, England, 
decided that if monks could do it for 100 years,
they could do it for a month. 
That was in 1999
They are still praying.
Since then 24/7 prayer has become an international movement
24/7 prayer rooms span the globe
People in the most unlikely places are praying.
At this moment,
95 groups in 25 countries are praying.
(Make that 96, if you include us)
And we're not just talking churches, either
Small rooms in the back of restaurants, hospitals and bars
Bringing Jesus into the world!

But that's crazy, you say
It's totally unrealistic!
A week?
Why not start smaller? 
Just filling 24 hours would be challenging enough
It's outrageous, really.
You are asking me to pray for a whole hour?
What will I say?
What if I get bored, fall asleep?
I'm really not that great at praying, even for a few minutes
let alone a whole hour. 

Our challenge at Kingwood Christian Church
is 24/7 prayer for the next week.
If the monks did it for 100 years
And young people in England
 have been praying since 1999
Can't we commit to
Seven days,
Twenty-four hours a day-
One hundred sixty-eight hours?

Are we open to to possibility
that God will meet us there
that miracles could happen
that prayer can take many forms
that just showing up is enough

Are we open to the whisper of God
in candles,
and art,
and music,
and confession,
and bapismal water
and Scripture,
and movement,
and the bread and cup?

Will we meet Him in the stillness?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Follow Me into the Waters

My 12 year old son, Trent, decided to begin the steps toward baptism and joined the Discipleship class at Kingwood Christian Church about  five months ago. He was assigned a mentor, a member of our church who Trent really looks up to, Mr. Dave. The process has involved a monthly class after church which includes Bible study, discussion and thinking about Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Completion. In the Disciples of Christ tradition, we dedicate babies after they are born. Then we celebrate a believer's baptism, which means that each child makes the decision to be baptized when they feel called and are ready to publicly confess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. Some are ready at six, others at 16. I didn't feel any pressing need to coerce Trent into thinking about baptism. I had no set age in mind. Trent has been in our church from his very beginnings. Even in utero, he LOVED choir practice nights and would kick along with the music!  He has been in church every time someone is baptized. I wanted it to be his idea, his decision. So when he expressed interest in the Discipleship class, I was pleased.
Fast forward to the weekend before the first class. "You mean there is homework?" Trent grumbled, now second-guessing his decision. At this time I realized that I was not the person to convince him that this homework was important and needed to be done. Enter mentor, Dave, who has a wonderful low-key way of talking with and encouraging Trent.

Thankfully, Dave made a commitment  to get together with Trent before their class met each time to work on the homework together. He also attended the classes with him, nudging him (sometimes literally) as needed. This is what church is for me. I get emotional just typing these words.  How blessed we are to be a part of a church family where others can and will step in and nurture our children, filling in the gaps when we can't, picking up the slack, from watching for cars in the parking lot to leading them in their faith. If it had been left up to me to insist he did the homework and attend the classes, (I hope you are seeing the unpleasant picture here) he probably would have dropped out. But when another person (who wasn't Mom) stepped in to walk with him, things moved along just beautifully.

Today,  I tried to hold it together as I watched my son follow Jesus into the waters of baptism. It was one of my proudest and most joy-filled moments.

I can't wait to see what God will do in your life, my precious son.




With gratitude to Jim Fuehrer and Ryan Nelson-Paryag for the photos.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sister Saturdays - More Beauty from Sabrina

Lucky for us, Sabrina Reynolds has again offered the gift of her honesty, insight, and wisdom. I am so pleased to introduce this mom, wife, student, care-giver, spiritual director, fellow traveler, and one of the most beautifully creative people I've ever met.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Be Still

Psalm 46:10 Be Still and Know that I Am God
Imagine your life is a blank piece of paper. Now think of the things that make up or fill up your life right now. Write or draw the things that take up your time and energy in size proportion to how much time you spend doing them. If you spend most of your time working, then the word “work” (or a picture for it) would be the largest thing on your paper. Then fill in the other things you spend your days doing. When you are finished your picture might look something like this:

What do I notice? Not very much whitespace. What do I know? I need to create opportunities for whitespace in my life. What is the danger for me? Being full of resolve to clear some whitespace in my life, and before I know it, I have filled the vacancy with some other activity! Glynn Young wrote in his community blog, “The whitespace in our lives is like that. We have it, but we usually try to fill it up with activities and stuff. Yet that whitespace is the rest time, the thinking time, the quiet time that we need to let ourselves be quiet. It’s the time when God speaks most clearly, or when we’ve pushed away all the distractions that invade our lives so that we can hear God speaking clearly.” I know that I have to be very intentional about carving out time to be still. What are some strategies you use?  My pastor says she intentionally builds extra time into her day, between appointments, so that after arriving at her destination, she can turn off the car, breathe, and have time to be still. One friend uses her car time to pray on the way, chatting with God like an old friend in the passenger seat. Another friend takes a little extra time in…*gasp* the bathroom stall at work for a few moments of stillness. While I sometimes wish I could wipe my paper clean of many of the activities that take up my waking hours, the reality is that we do have these activities to juggle as a family and they do bring me great joy.

Let me be honest. Being still is not my strong suit. In fact, it takes a great deal of effort for me to be still. But God is exceedingly patient with me. When I take the time to be still and listen for God I am always amazed at what God has to say. I believe that God had Ryan in mind for me as a life partner. This laid-back Caribbean man will call me over to him in the evenings and say, "Honey, you haven’t stopped since you came home. Come sit down with me and relax." The truth is, I don’t even realize I am still going at such a high speed until he mentions it. He doesn't have any trouble taking time to chill out. More often, I need to follow his example in the relaxing department!
Recently, in my weekly Bible study group Sisters of the Spirit, we decided to try an experiment from The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. Her first exercise for a more joy-filled life is to practice 15 minutes of nothing each day. We were already doing a study called Contagious Joy by Christa Kinde. What a perfect experiment, right? I mean, how hard can it be to do nothing for 15 minutes? Well, it was very hard. One of my days of 15 minutes of nothing included a nap on a hammock, which I was happy about, but may not really count as nothing. I also cheated a little by having a notebook handy to joy down things on my to-do list, so they could stop swirling around my head and move on by. When we met the following week to discuss our experiences, I was surprised that everyone found it challenging. Some group members found that they fell asleep as soon as they stopped moving. That is an indicator of our exhaustion level, I think. While our goal was not to stop our thoughts, we were amazed at the non-stop-stream- of-random-and-sometimes-related-thoughts-and-subsequent-rabbit-trails constantly moving through our minds. When we are always moving, we don't realize that our minds, our thoughts, are always moving, too.  When I committed to the week-long exercise, I scheduled intentional time to do it (plus, as the group leader, I need to be setting an example, right?) But even after recognizing that there was value in the discipline and indeed greater joy, as Martha Beck suggests, once the week was over I was back to my same routine, minus the 15 minutes of silence. Perhaps it helped me to be open to any opportunities for stillness that arise. If I have five extra minutes before a class starts, I can check status updates on my friends’ Facebook pages or I can close my eyes and listen to the birds singing.  I just have to remember that I need to take time to be still. Every time I do, even for a brief moment, God is there waiting for me, not with a disappointed expression, but with open arms.

Questions to ponder
·        How do you carve out time to be still?
·        Think of a time when God surprised you during your quiet time
·        What other ways do you hear God speaking in your life?
·        What do you gain after a time of being still? Does this motivate you?
·        What other scriptures come to mind when thinking of being still?