Day 18: Snap Dragons

Earlier today, I finished painting my bargain-find chairs and recovered the seats.   Now, my earlier Lenten goal of friends gathered around the table is in sight.  I went to the store to buy the ingredients for the main course and dessert.  As I was rounding the produce section, I passed the flowers.  Ahhh, snap dragons.  I love snap dragons, and what better way to finish off my new dining room with a mason jar full of the pretty pastel flowers.

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Today I added beautiful flowers.  They were not a necessity by any means.  But it is in the nonessentials that the extravagance of God is seen.  Oh, the depth of a God who creates unnecessary beauty!  He goes above and beyond to create moments of artistry and loveliness for us.  It reminds me of the beautiful poetry of His Word.  It’s not crucial to the message, but communicates His character and lavish love.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” 

Psalm 27:4 


Day 19: K-cups

I recently made a new friend and invited her and her four kids over to play this morning.  She came bearing coffee…lots and lots of coffee.  In her recent move, she was given a plethora of k-cups.  She shared her wealth, unaware that coffee holds the key to my heart. 🙂

Today, I added boxes and boxes of k-cups and a new friend to Lent.  I am so thankful to God for His provision and His timing.

The purpose of this season is to reflect and prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus.  What I am learning through adding to Lent, is that His death and life continues to add to my daily living.  He is alive.  By adding daily, or maybe I should say “by receiving daily”, I am witnessing His resurrection.  He is alive…and finding ways to let me know it.  By opening my eyes to His blessings and bounty, I witness Him being alive and active.

“This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead… Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  

John 21:14&25

The faint chirping of birds…

If I concentrate, I can dimly dice the conversation.

The tweets cascading down from the oaks in front of me are met with distant song to my left.  What are they saying?

There is a pattern to their song.  Verse, chorus, verse again…a back and forth chant and response.  The pitch of the two are different, one distinctly higher than the other, but the quick staccato rhythm the same.  Are they talking about food, the weather, the nest?

I have been listening to birdsongs of a different flair all week.  It’s been deep meaningful discussion on matters of faith, “outreach”, and Jesus.  I sit here in the woods, on retreat, processing all the hymns and anthems I have just taken in, hoping to digest even half of the wisdom I encountered.

At the very core of my melodic meal, Jesus has been singing a song over me.  He has been feeding His goodness and mercy straight to my hungry belly.  He has been wooing me with His love.  His Spirit has been reminding me of all that He said and all that He has done.  His sweet tunes have been everything from savory, slow, and melodic to salty, fast, and turbulent.  In every lyric is a nutrient for my heart.

The rain comes.

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

Fading are the birds, all but one.  In the sound of the softly falling wet, I hear but one little chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Chirp.

She is constant, her beat like the ticking of a grandfather clock.  The rain falls gently.

The air fills with the fragrance of peaceful showers.

Chirp.

Chirp.   Piddle.  Piddle.

In this solitude, Jesus has a message for me.  He has been pouring music of His truth and His gifts over me for months now, but here, in this peaceful place, with rain tenderly tapping 16ths on the leaves on the snare drum of His orchestration, and the bird steady on the count…

Piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle piddle.

Chirp.

Chirp.

It is here that I start to piece together the message of His month long score.

The Spirit is at work around me and in me.  I feel Him moving as I sense the bugs squirming under the leaves.  A small section of dry scrap on the ground jumps as a wooded lizard runs for cover.  I see the Spirit wiggling under the surface of our lives.  Some jump at His dance.  Some respond.  Some run for cover.  He is mixing and stirring our pots.  He’s up to something.

Chirp.

Chirp.

An acorn falls in front of me from the heights above.

clack…

and bounces on the wooden deck…

click, click.

More percussion in this song.  I am learning to listen.  To learn I must practice.

Chirp.

Chirp.

That unrelenting chirp that never misses a beat, it is constant and exact.  Such is the message for my heart–a constant and exact word for only my soul, speaking personally to the depths of my spiritual being.  Yet, I see in the songs I have shared with others this week, the songs I have listened others sing, that the message is being broadcast worldwide.  The movement is wild and far-traveling.  While He speaks straight to my soul, He is speaking directly to the souls of others.  He is amazing.  He is big.

Chirp.

Chirp.

Clack.  Click, click.

What is this message?  What is this great orchestral composition leading me to?  I don’t know…yet.  But I am simply enjoying the concert.

Clack.  Click, click.

Chirp.

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

The message is to listen…to learn His voice.  To practice the art of listening to Him.

The rain from the roof has gathered in the gutters and soon a faint trickle of drops turns into a spout of bubbling brook.

Drip.

Drop.

Pour.

He is here, even now, and I know this because I listen.

I fear no evil, for He is with me.  His soft showers of grace turn into rivers of gratitude in my heart.  Somehow this listening transforms me.  My spirit lifts, and I believe it is because I am hearing His Spirit with all my senses.  This is the message He has for me.  This is one of the many gifts He has given me, to have at my disposal His Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Comforter, the One who reminds me of the Father’s love and of Jesus’ words. If I don’t hear, how will I know?

I am learning to be a sheep that listens, that is known, and does not wonder.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).  He is speaking to me in daily current parables.

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:13-17).

In His mercy, my dull heart is being illuminated.  My ears are being tuned.  My eyes are being opened.  His mercies are new every morning.

Chirp.

Chirp.

I hear His mercies falling anew:

Pat, pat, pat, pat….

piddle, piddle,

Pat….

Drip, drop…

pour.

He has healing and I turn to hear it and receive it.

His Spirit is here, with me, with you.  Listen.  Keep your eyes peeled.  Don’t over think it.  Simply sit and listen and start with what you hear.  My friend, I want you to know the joy that comes from knowing.

chirp.

 

Yesterday was the first day of school.  The official introductory step over the threshold into Life After Rehab.  We’ve been building up anticipation for this event, buying school uniforms, backpacks, and those coveted new box of crayons.  The night before was full of anxiety and fierce emotion for the kids.  (Some children more contained than others.)  We recognized old patterns return.  We caught sober-mindedness fleeing the building.  We saw lots of kicking…

But somehow, through the insanity, as parents, we remained calm and level-headed.  That’s not to imply that we have mastered anything at all, but it did show some return from our rehab year.  More pointedly, it was the fruit of the Spirit that we witnessed.  Our stretch of Rehab has trained us, if even a little, in allowing the Spirit to assert His temperament over our own.  

So much anticipation…

This past weekend, I made monkey bread in preparation for Sunday morning.  The kids usually request doughnuts, because they know I’m a softy for fried sweetened gluten and special Sunday morning outings, especially when we are running late.  But in an effort to break the habit, I thought that I’d let sugared monkey bread dough rise over night in the oven so that I could quickly bake it in the morning.  I have a poor habit of never reading a recipe more than once.  If I’ve gotten the general idea of the dish from the first go around, I figure I will remember enough for the next time.  This usually works out well for me, except when baking.  You have to be precise and accurate with measurements of flour and yeast.  There’s a good deal of behind-the-scenes science and chemical reactions going on in that kitchen kiln, that I seriously should have learned by now not to leave any of that finite math to estimations. 

I’m a slow learner…

Sunday sunup, Ava had generously volunteered to surface early and turn on the oven to bake the monkey bread.  But when she opened the door to take the swelling dough out and let the oven pre-heat, this is what she discovered…

photo 4

Thank you, Daddy for thinking to take a picture. 🙂

The softened butter and crystalized brown sugar slid off off the rounded clouds of dough and sat on the floor of my embarrassingly dirty oven.  All that salty sweet bliss…sigh

Ava and I pulled the mess out and sat it on the counter.  We gently tugged at the gooey-ness and discarded the extra dough into another pan…no way we were wasting all that goodness!  As we nipped and tucked, no matter how gentle our efforts, air escaped from the bottled dough bulges.  

So much anticipation…

for that monkey bread.  Those 8 nighttime hours it sat in wait–rising, multiplying, gaining grandeur and fluff.  We all were looking forward to its butter-soaked delight at dawn.  What we found was not at all what we expected.  It was shocking.  It was profound.  It was super-sized.

Yesterday morning when we woke for school, I fully imagined the worst.  I don’t know if that designates me a horrible mom, or a prepared mom.  But what I observed was not at all what I anticipated.  The kids were all fed, dressed (including socks and shoes, which usually equates minor surgery), and smiling…early.  Yes, early.  We appeared at school and had to actually wait in the hallway because we were too early.  (“Early” happens even less than wearing socks and tennis shoes.)

 

Yeast is a peculiar thing.  This cooking agent that is so small, when given exactly the right ingredients (in the right proportions) develops into the amazing goodness that gives sustenance and satisfies the rawest of needs…hunger.  We had been craving for something in our family.  We had been hankering to taste that which satisfies, that surpasses the expectations of mere bread, that which bounds over the limits of American success.  Rehab taught us that only Jesus satisfies the appetite to live life to the fullest.  And like yeast, He comes in ways that we don’t expect and ways that we can’t prepare for.  He comes in forms that do not simply fill us, but overwhelm our tins with exciting and fantastic satisfaction.  Though we don’t set the menu, we still anticipate the meal He is preparing.  As we wait to encounter what He does for our children and for our family this next year, and the years beyond, we have no idea what He will do, or how He will do it.  But, we get to wait in suspense.  We get to watch the dough rise and fluff.  We get to smell the artisan bread waft through the house.  We don’t know yet what’s to come from this season, but it brings joy to watch the yeast double and swell.  It builds our enthusiasm and anticipation.

It’s difficult to see life’s dough topple over out of our plans and not tug and pull at it’s unexpected bobbles.  We like to control.  We prefer to help out with the plan God has already put into motion.  We love to amend the dimensions of the pan/plan and how long things should have to bake in the uncomfortable fire.  When we get pushy with the strategy of God we can puncture the thin skin on those delicate bubbles of dough.  He desires for us to marvel at the size and magnitude of our anticipation.  He wants us to experience the full goodness of those light and flaky layers once they are perfected in the baking.  When we implement our own program into His sovereign unknown providence, we steal our own glorious anticipation…the anticipation He desires us to marvel in.  We deny ourselves the fine and intricate pastry he’s prepared, and end up with chewy and dense life moments that ferment bitterness at where we’ve been and how we’ve lived…what hardships have been dealt our way.

Oh, I pray that we don’t get anxious for His blessings–that we don’t preemptively pop His bubble–that we don’t steal His thunder–that we don’t scheme to discover the plans for our own surprise party.  Until He serves up the monkey bread on his precise time table, I pray that we hold no expectations, but only hold our breath in joyous anticipation.  

Let the yeast rise…

Monday at lunch, the raccoon was up to his normal mischief.  When Paul rhetorically asked, “What are you going to be like when you are a teenager?  Are you going to drive too fast and always see what kind of trouble you can get in?”,  Ava didn’t miss a beat: “Or date too early!”  We laughed.  She said, “You know, he’ll be one of those teenage boys who dates too early and wears headphones for no reason…”  What a little social commentator we have!  Thank goodness, she’s got some wits about her!

Yesterday, we celebrated Columbus Day by searching for materials to use for our Texas Explorers unit.  The girls will be making their own Native American costumes.  They both have chosen to do their best to emulate the Karankawa Native Americans who lived on the coast of Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.  They also have both chosen the explorer, Cabeza de Vaca, to research.  (I think their decision to pick the same explorer is solely because Helen is trying to ride on the coat tails of Ava’s research.)  Their costumes will double as their Halloween costumes.  We are combining several areas of study: how to research, historical narratives, map making, art, and Texas History.  They will research Cabeza de Vaca and make a map of his journey to and in Texas.  They will gather some facts about his discoveries and his relationship with the Native Americans he met along the way.  They will then write a historical narrative that includes facts they have gathered, but is written from the perspective of their personal characterization of the Native Americans.  On Halloween, they will have a green button and a red button taped to their arm.  When someone presses the green button, they will start to recite their historical narrative.  When the red button is pushed, they stop, mid-sentence even.  (We are trying to make it as fun and silly as possible.)

We found imitation suede, leather, and feathers for the costumes, and we bought some dowel rods for spears.  We also bought some raffia to weave some baskets.  On our field trip last month to the Bob Bullock Museum, the girls had noticed all of the baskets in the Karankawa exhibit.  They thought it would be neat to weave their own and then have it to collect all their Halloween candy.  Yesterday, when we came home from the store, we went to work weaving their baskets.

Now let me tell you, raffia is thin and it has the tendency to split.  Making a basket that is woven tight enough to hold candy was dang near impossible.  We spent all day on this project.  Raffia was all over the floor and we spent the majority of the time wrestling it away from the raccoon and the cat.  We didn’t really have a plan, and so we created as we went.

This is usually how I function.  I cook this way.  I clean this way.  I paint this way.  I mold clay this way.  I sew this way.  For those who always use a cookbook, a system, a template, a model, or a pattern–I’m sorry.  I know that people like me make people like you uncomfortable.  When people with a plan see people like me pull out the paints without drawing an outline in pencil first, they wince.  When people with a plan see people like me add more salt and then scan the contents of the refrigerator for something else to add to the pot, they usually speed dial the nearest pizza delivery.  When people with a plan see people like me whip out the scissors to a yard of freshly bought fabric just laying on the table, they usually say a prayer.  When the shape of the painted bird wing is too long, when the sauce is too thin, and the armhole too large, I improvise.  I get creative.

So yesterday, when the raffia was too thin, the weave of the basket too loose, and the circumference of the bottom too small, we got creative.   As I watched Ava and Helen chuckle at the baskets as they appeared more and more haphazard, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Just wait.  We’re not done yet.  You’ll see.  It’s gonna be something.  I don’t know what, but something!”  And as we mutually twisted and tucked, pushed and pulled, the baskets began to take on more shape, more form, and more strength.  After we finished our attempt to just miraculously weave Native American baskets without guidance or directions, we happened to find ourselves with some pretty realistic and authentic woven goods despite our lack of premeditation.

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What was intended to hold candy, will now hold spears for Helen.  For Ava, she will just have to also carry an extra bag for when the contents of her candy basket overflows.  At least my seemingly foolish unplanned projects result in something.  At least there is more purpose to them than wearing headphones that aren’t plugged into anything.

I like to think of my lack of directions, recipes, and preparation as a necessity for an artist.  I rarely find joy in following a pattern.  But when I can hold up a dress that I made from scratch, knowing all the pain that it took to get there, all the dresses that ended up in the scrap bin along the way, there is such an overwhelming satisfaction.  I’ve been told that if I just followed a pattern I could avoid so much of the frustration, so much of the waste.  If I just started with a pencil, I could avoid all the crumpled up paper in the basket…I’m killing trees after all!  But to me, it’s not waste or trash, rather it’s all valuable trial and error that holds irreplaceable lessons. The angst of solving the problem is like completing a puzzle without looking at the picture on the box: I believe there is no other way to live life!

If ever there was an artist, none could argue with the magnificent art of God.  From beautiful sunsets to animals that are so colorful and abstract they hardly seem real, He created them all from scratch.  I like to think that God is working His artistry in and through us as well.  He might not sit down at his craft table with a bag of limp raffia and start haphazardly weaving a Native American basket for Halloween candy.  But- I think he sits down with a limp me every morning.  He stretches out my frazzled ends and lays me out next to a bunch of other messed up people and starts to weave us together.  Through out the day he wraps and winds together our seemingly stray and loose ends into something that looks to us rather haphazard and misshapen.  Months and years sometime pass as He continues to work more and more people, experiences, and places into His great masterpiece.  I would argue, that while God knows everything and knows the end result, He is an artist who works in redefining ways with those of us who resist staying in the weave.  He has angst over those of us who have colored outside the lines, not with disappointment, but as an artist, who finds a new, creative way to adjust the painting.

Right now, I have days where I know without a doubt I am acting like that darn piece of raffia.  I come to the craft table too thin, too weak, to wily.  I refuse to follow God’s plan.  I push against the weaving of his giant loom.  I try to control the paintbrush and end up spilling the water over everything.  But, the artist that He is–He blots the dripping water and reshapes the running colors.  He gently tucks and pulls on my stubborn straw-like nature, and I start to take shape, have more form, and have more strength.  He reassures me, “Just wait.”  While things look haphazard and down-right ridiculous in my world right now, He’s not done yet.  One day, I will see.  He’s doing something.  He’s making something.  He’s got a plan.  He may not be using a pattern, or sketching lightly in pencil first.  He is wandering through the pantry and the spice rack looking for something to excite and dazzle the senses.  He’s an artist.  I am so thankful that He is the potter and I am the clay.  I appreciate the angst and the tension He has over me, as He works out the kinks and chuckles at what is becoming of me and my plans.  He delights in me, His creation.  I am excited to see what He does, where some of the crazy paths before me will lead.  I pray I can continue to hand over control.  I pray that I stop trying to draft a pattern for Him, stop suggesting more salt, and stop looking over his shoulder as He works His magic artistry.

I pray that I stop wearing spiritual headphones on my ears that are plugged into silent pockets of nothingness.  I pray that I stop acting as if I’ve got His plan in there, and that I am tuned in, when really I am just ignoring all that is going on around me.  I want to be more aware, more keen to His great tapestry.  I am engulfed in it.  It is all around me.  From where I am, if I keep my eyes up, and not worry about how odd or ridiculous I might look, I might catch a glimpse of the Great Creator overhead smiling and working all things out for my good.  I might realize that my spiritual headphones actually have a purpose when they are plugged into the sounds and movements of the Holy Spirit instead of my static-filled expectations.  I can stop being uncomfortable like those who have observed me going straight to the wall with a hammer and nail without measuring first.

I can trust the ultimate artist.  Who am I kidding?  I don’t find joy in following a pattern.  And while it may take less time to do so, I’d miss the satisfaction at the end.  So, why can I not give that creative freedom to God?   Go on, God!   Put together the puzzle of my life without looking at the picture on the box.  When You put the last piece in, I will be ready to stand back and marvel at what you have put together.  I wouldn’t want to live life any other way!