Thursday, July 12, 2018

{Slovenia and Serendipity}

"Hey, Grandpa! It's Bethie. Can I get your address? I'd like to send you the support info about my trip to Slovenia." With Grandma and Grandpa moving soon, we weren't sure which address to use. So Bethie -- seated next to a stack of crisp white envelopes -- sent a hastily dialed text to Alaska. She continued to stuff, stamp, and address envelopes.

Ljubljana, Slovenia; PC: John Stevens

Almost immediately, she heard from Alaska . . . but it wasn't Grandpa. "Hey! I'm sorry, but you reached the wrong number. I'm a 20 year old girl from Alaska. Does this happen to be a missions trip?"

Bethie read me the text in awe. She texted, "Yes! I'm going to Slovenia where my uncle is a missionary."

The girl replied, "That's awesome! Are you partnering with an organization? I went to Czech with Josiah Venture a couple of years ago . . . ." Bethie and I grew wide-eyed with delight.

Julian Alps, Slovenia; PC: John Stevens

Texts now flew back and forth and quickly turned into Facebook and Instagram connections. We soon learned that we had mutual friends with this girl, and crazy friends-of-friends connections that only the Lord could orchestrate. (He was on your Czech team? I was in youth group with his mother!) It was like playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon . . . or perhaps more appropriately, six degrees of Josiah Venture. I marveled at the way the Lord keeps his people together.

I also marveled at the way the Lord encourages His people. Having recently finished up a very fun but very exhausting week of Vacation Bible Camp, I felt weary and ill-equipped to switch gears and focus on an overseas trip. Jamie and I are taking this fantastic team of six young adults to Slovenia in August, where we will partner with Johnny and Brooke (yes, with Josiah Venture!) to lead an English camp for middle school students in their hometown, Celje.

Overlooking Celje, Slovenia; PC: John Stevens

As exciting as it is, such an undertaking is also a bit overwhelming for the introvert in me (especially the introvert who has just spent a week with highly lovable yet highly energetic preschoolers). The text from our new friend in Alaska proved to be a sweet, timely smile from God, a reminder that His ways are so much higher than my ways, His goodness so much bigger than I can fathom, His purposes so much more far-reaching, intricate, and perfect than man could ever orchestrate.

Lake Bled, Slovenia; PC: John Stevens

Drew, Bethie and their teammates have all stuffed, stamped, and addressed their envelopes. In just a few weeks, they will be stuffing bags, stamping passports, and addressing a group of middle school teens! We covet your prayers as we join Josiah Venture (JV) in reaching out to the teens of Celje. As you are led, would you pray for our team? Please pray that we will prepare well, whether it's for the more formal English instruction that will take place each morning during camp, or for the lively group games, workshops, and activities that will fill each afternoon.

JV Team

And please pray that students will come! Even now, Johnny, Brooke, and their JV team are reaching out to their community, inviting middle schoolers to camp, where they will be introduced -- perhaps for the first time -- to Jesus. We feel both the weight and privilege of this appointment and pray that the Holy Spirit would use our small work for His kingdom. For we do know that God uses our small, imperfect work . . . even something as small as a misdialed text.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

If you'd like your very own stuffed, stamped, and addressed envelope, we'd be 
delighted to send financial support info your way! All proceeds will benefit the entire 
Glenwood Community Church GoTeam to Slovenia 2018. Please reach out to me at for more info.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

{A Place Called September}

My dad texted the crew this morning -- cousins, siblings, grandkids -- asking us to gather the photos we'd most like to share. It didn't take me long to climb the wooden ladder leading to the loft where we store our albums. I approached the stack with one particular photograph in mind, planning to look at the others later in the week; but before I knew it, I was comfortably seated, engrossed in the images, swept back in time.

Most often, I was swept back to September. To all the Septembers.

For it was usually in September that my grandparents were free to make their annual trip from Southern California to Southwest Washington. And so the old song made its way into our visits: "See you . . . in September . . . ." We'd dramatically croon our goodbyes; yet somehow the hope of September always made those goodbyes less melancholy. (It was never really "goodbye," however. Nanee preferred the farewell that ran more along the lines of, "See you next time. See you in September.") 

The Septembers quickly piled up like so many treasured gold coins. The events in them were simple enough. Everyday events, like getting perms and sunning ourselves at Klineline, eating Tillamook Burgers and shopping at Ross. Yet they each had a golden glow to them. For it was September, and Nanee was a part of them.

One September was particularly golden. I was about 12, and Nanee and I took a stroll at moonrise. It was the harvest moon, and its lavish splendor was breathtaking. Hand-in-hand, we walked down the street as though pulled toward the magnificent golden orb. She in her gold shoes, me in my Keds, we followed the irresistible path of light to the end of the road. Our words were hushed. She squeezed my hand and whispered, "We'll always remember this night, honey."

She was right.

The years slipped by. Their bodies aged, yet Nanee and Grandpa still made an effort to "See you in September." At first they drove up -- Nanee loved being seated behind the wheel -- but then it became apparent that flying would be best. All too soon, even that mode of transportation proved too arduous, and so a more permanent transportation was decided upon. They moved to Washington.

It was an honor to share that season of life with them. Indeed, to share all the seasons. For it was not only September now, but December and April and July and everything else in between. This meant that we also shared in the suffering that comes with aging. At first Nanee was up for lunch dates at Beaches, our favorite haunt ("Let's have calamari!"), or trips to Target and Ross.

We even snuck in a spontaneous mani-pedi on the hottest day of the year. (I could't help but laugh over the spectacle we must have made, me wielding Nanee's wheelchair in a skirt with a fresh pedicure, shuffling in those cumbersome, salon-issued, yellow foam "flip-flops." Did I mention it was 100 degrees?)

Yet it soon became clear that even brief outings were just not as feasible as they once were. So we brought the entertainment to her. I read from Little Women, family brought movies and burgers, and our world became very small.

At the same time, our world grew to be very large. For Nanee loved a captive audience and could tell a story like none other. (She wrote not one but three family memoirs.) Gesturing with her ever-expressive and graceful hands, she told us about the war years and her brothers' assignments overseas. Her eyes sparkled as she talked about dances on the lawn, dates at the burger joint, and hitting the town in Navy pea coats with her best friend, Helene.

She especially loved to tell us about going to the movies in the 40s and snacking on huge dill pickles while watching the greats like Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. "People around us would hear us chomping away and move to different seats. We couldn't figure out why!" We grew starry-eyed every time she told us about getting a smile and wave from Bob Hope and an autograph from Clark Gable. (Frantically rifling through her purse for a scrap of paper that day on Wilshire Boulevard, Mr. Gable anticipated her hope. He pulled a dollar bill from his own pocket, signed it, and gave it to her!)

The stories became jumbled as the months wore on. "Have I already told you this, honey? Stop me if I have." She had, but I told her I wanted to hear it again. She was happy to oblige. Soon, she began to add more to her stories. It was as though she felt a sense of urgency, and it was time to impart the most important words, the most important truths. "The years go quickly, honey. Hang on to every moment," she said. I certainly tried to hang on to those moments as she shared, realizing with each passing day that one of them would eventually be our last.

As she reflected in those last months, Nanee knew that she had been blessed. Blessed with life, blessed with an ever-growing family, blessed with the faithfulness of a Savior who had carried her through each of those stories. She summed it up even as she knew her time was approaching, even as the final golden moon beckoned on the horizon. "It's been a wonderful life," she reflected. The wooden blocks stacked near her bed, to which she often pointed, spelled out her mantra: J-O-Y.

I'm a girl in Keds again. My perm bobs, and Nanee is wearing her gold shoes. ("I'm not sure if grandmas can wear gold shoes," she laughs, "but that's okay!") We're strolling, hand-in-hand, pulled irresistibly toward the soft light at the end of the road. Our words are hushed. It's time to go home. I remind myself that it's not really goodbye, it's, "See you in September."

In a flash, all is quiet. I turn in awe, witness to the dawning of Nanee's eternal September. Her best story has just begun.
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Monday, September 11, 2017

{Firsts and Lasts}

This week has been dubbed (pretty much only by me) the week of "lasts" for Drew: his last Sunday in church, our last Seahawks game as a family, our last dinner together with "just the six of us." This morning I'm afraid Drew questioned my very sanity as I approached him with my quavering yelp: "That was your last Monday morning shower! Your last Monday morning application of deodorant!"

I remember experiencing the same sensations surrounding Drew's birth: the last time I'd get groceries, the last time I'd go to church, the last time I'd run a load of laundry. The next time I did those things would be with my newborn baby boy! Well, this baby boy is heading to Eastern Washington University at the end of this week of lasts. And he will begin a lifetime of firsts.

Yes, I'm sentimental, and the silliest things cause me to tear up. (Like his prosaic text the other day, asking if he could grab a kombucha for me while he was at Safeway.)

But really, I'm happy. I'm happy as I see my son achieving a goal he's worked toward for a long time. I'm happy he has found a roommate who loves Jesus (and the Seahawks). I'm happy he and his siblings sat up late the other night, piled on Avery's bed, giggling over family photo albums. I'm happy we all live in a time and place that allowed us to witness a surreal, memorable solar eclipse. I'm happy we were able to celebrate Lawson Family Day last week, from brunch in the morning to our long, lazy afternoon frolic -- all by our lonesomes -- along the Lewis River.

As I walked the pond trail today, I noticed that other people were happy, too. Their happiness struck me, probably because so much recent darkness has caused this world to sigh and mourn and doubt. Why, only last week I was unable to even walk the pond: the devastating Gorge fires had filled the air with smoke and ashes. It was fitting, then, that my audiobook chapter from A Girl of the Limberlost today should include the line, "The world is full of happy people, but no one ever hears of them. You must fight and make a scandal to get into the papers. No one knows about all the happy people."

Today, I knew about the happy people. I saw a young mom walking the trail as her six children clambered over the monkey bars. One child issued a merry challenge, "Hey mom! You should try to jog the last lap! You can do it!" She was up for the challenge. And she did it. Her children clapped and cheered. "You did it! Good job, Mom!" As I, too, circled the park, she and I struck up a brief but lovely conversation . . . and I was among the "happy people" because of that interaction.

The Peninsula Man also made me smile today. I don't know his real name. The Peninsula Man frequently walks the pond (it would perhaps be more accurate to say he ambles about the pond), always wearing the same cap and vest. His little dog faithfully skips at his side. (I should explain: the children and I took to calling him The Peninsula Man a couple of years ago, when the pond was just a baby. At the time, a narrow peninsula extended from the shore and was quite traversable. At the end of the peninsula lay a log, upon which this man often sat to observe the birds. Alas, the peninsula is now very overgrown and only navigable by frogs and birds.) Well, as we passed each other today and said "hello," The Peninsula Man flashed a quick, semi-toothless grin which inexplicably made me feel like he'd given me a gift.

And as I left the park? Another simple gift. A woman pulled up in her minivan. I expected to see a stream of children issuing from the bowels of the vehicle, which is usually what happens in the world of minivans and parks. Instead, she alone came out, bearing a large plastic container. I quickly noticed that it was filled with grass and arrived at a conclusion: "Oh! Did you find a little critter?" She nodded, "Yes, a bunny." She explained that her dog had found it, and this was her grand Rescue and Relocation attempt. It made me happy that a neighbor took the time to care for a helpless creature.

I was happy later today when my afternoon tea was ready and I decided to change my routine. (My routine: sit in The Big Chair and devour as much tea and book as I can before my family needs me.) Today, I headed instead toward the opposite end of the house, teacup in hand, and tapped on Drew's bedroom door. "Mind if I have my tea in here?" He didn't mind. He was packing, and moms come in handy for that sort of thing, anyway. I sipped my Earl Grey and gave a suggestion or two, folded laundry here and there, arranged boxes, sighed over his childhood monkey, Baboo. Mostly, we just chatted about "the nothings" that make up all "the somethings" of this life.

That just might have been my last afternoon tea in Drew's room. The rest of our week is racing toward us at breakneck speed, and I'm bracing myself for the likelihood that my afternoon tea might be more along the lines of the "to go" variety. But whether or not it was the "last tea before EWU," I know my son is going forth in good hands. He's in the hands of the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. And that makes this mama's heart happy.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

{One Way or Another}

Twenty-five years ago, my sister and I stood before the bathroom mirror, coiffing and giggling. It was the 4th of July and a glorious day awaited. As per tradition, our family would head down to Officer's Row to the home of our very dear "Uncle" Ron and "Auntie" Marlene. We'd gather with other families and do very patriotic things, like wave flags, grill burgers, listen to guitars and banjos, and marvel over apple pies and strawberry shortcakes.

I was fifteen, my sister thirteen, and it was the early nineties. This meant that our hair was big and held firmly in place by Aqua Net, our nails were fiercely glittered, and our Keds were red and blue. (We each swapped a shoe to make a very patriotic -- and, we hoped, impressive -- statement.)

What I didn't know at the time was that this day would become a sort of anniversary. After the lawn and barbecue festivities, our families sauntered down toward the gazebo (church friends met "to the right of the gazebo" every year) to prepare for the Fort's fireworks show. My sister and I spread out our blanket and poised ourselves in our red, white and blue cuteness, giggling and watching. Because you just never know who might walk by.

Well, one certain young man did walk by. It was providential -- some of his friends hadn't arrived, so he went with Plan B, which involved checking out the crew "to the right of the gazebo." We'd known each other for ten years, but something about the excitement of the day (or was it the Aqua Net?) caused him . . . to stay. He and a couple of friends decided that our blanket would be a nice one to share. We welcomed them warmly, flashing our smiles and glitter, and somehow everything just clicked. The fireworks were especially memorable that year, and Jamie and I started dating three months later.

Over the years, we've celebrated the 4th in various ways, but once kids came along it just never seemed practical to head down to the Fort. That is, until this year. Over our barbecue meal on Monday afternoon, we retold our kids about that festive day long ago, and we suddenly realized it had been 25 years. Something in the significance of that caused us to decide that we really should go to the Fort again this year.

So we packed our blankets and headed down. Much was the same. Elephant ears called our names (and we answered). Girls still walked around with coiffed hair and boys still joked loudly, hoping someone might notice. Toddlers still ran about in patriotic tutus, and parents still sat on coolers or tossed around frisbees.

Some things were different. The 80s band played songs that were now considered "oldies." One way or another I'm gonna find ya, I'm gonna getcha, getcha, getcha, getcha. There were frequent pauses for "selfies" among the crowd, and iPhones provided a noticeable level of entertainment and diversion.

Avery noticed something different, too. Something that smelled like . . . weird popcorn. We hesitated and then broke the news to our innocent pixie. "That's marijuana, honey."

Pixie was appalled. "Marijuana?!?! Why are people drinkin' marijuana?!?!"

The fireworks had changed too, in that the show was a bit shorter than it had been 25 years ago. But the delight in our lives was even greater, knowing that we'd shared those years together, and it really wasn't the Aqua Net, Keds, or glitter that had orchestrated our destinies, after all.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

{Cherish the Ordinary}

The birds chirped outside his window this morning, the chickadee starting off the day with his merry, chicka-dee-dee-dee! My son, of course, was asleep. He'd been out late, celebrating with friends. For last night was graduation night.

I'm sure he wasn't thinking about chickadees at the time (his obsession as a 7-year-old seems to have waned a tad), but he just might have been thinking about penguins. The Clark College Penguins, that is.

He and his closest friends lined up side by side in their caps, gowns, and honor cords, preparing to receive both their high school diplomas and their AA degrees, this first collegiate journey further deepening their bonds as they proudly realized the completion of hours spent studying, comparing art projects, rating professors, looking for the bouncy ball, congregating in the student center, and conquering finals.

It's been much more than a two -- or even a 12 -- year journey. Really it began 18 years ago. I remember the delight of coming home from Drew's baby shower, arms laden with beautiful gifts. Our church family had blessed us with dozens of darling outfits, and I couldn't wait to show Jamie the little overalls, the miniature baseball cap, the snuggly blankets, the cozy sleepers.

With pride, joy, and anticipation over the baby to come, I removed the clothing tags, sorted a load of laundry (in which everything was small and soft -- no adult clothing allowed in this load!), and pulled out the pink box filled with brand new, baby scented Dreft detergent.

That load of laundry was a joy to fold. The tiny shirts, the handsome little jeans, the wee socks that would probably never really stay on his feet, the receiving blankets that were oh-so-ready to receive.

This baby -- now a man -- does his own laundry these days, but last night was a flurry of activity as he looked at the care instructions on his graduation gown. "Um, Mom? Could you iron this for me? And maybe my shirt, too?" That long gown hung in my bedroom doorway, that handsome man-shirt, so much bigger than the little suit he wore once upon a time . . . and I said yes. I joyfully said, yes.

I glided that iron with mingled joy, awe, and something nameless that ached deep down, over the folds of that royal blue gown. Every pleat, every tuck. The steam rose and hissed, the heavy metal plate pressing and perfecting. It was such an ordinary task . . . but the significance of it caused me to linger and give myself fully to the work.

For 18 years I've completed similar ordinary tasks. Each day building one upon the other. Washing a load, folding a load, ironing for this occasion or that. The washing machine runs and swirls, the dryer turns and tumbles, and the days slip by, one by one. All ordinary in their own way, yet here they were, stacked up to this moment, preparing me -- preparing us -- to delight in both the ordinary and the extraordinary.

Last night the Clark commencement speaker, former POW Jessica Lynch, said something that made me grab my pencil and notebook: "Cherish what you are given." Even when that which you've been given is unexpected, not of your choosing, not the ideal, cherish it. Cherish the days of ordinary laundry when the socks don't pair up and the jeans reveal growing holes in the boyish knees and you end up wearing a dirty shirt after all.

Cherish the days of the extraordinary, when the laundry responsibilities are indicative of change and growth and a future that gleams hopeful and bright. When it's time to iron the shirt for the dance, the slacks for the recital, the gown for the graduation. Cherish what you are given.

Among the thousands, there were at least 50 of us clumped together in that stadium last night, cheering for "our row" of kids. We created a streaming din of celebration for the eight graduates who were our very own. The names were called, we craned our necks, and we really couldn't believe it. . . . David . . . Kendall . . . Drew . . . Jon . . . Cori . . . Aly . . . Alyssa . . . Averie. Our kids. The kids for whom we've washed and ironed, wept and cheered.

And we cherished what we'd been given.

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