Unalienable Rights

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I stood on my tiptoes in the tall green grass, reaching for the ripest mulberries on the tree branch above. At my feet, my youngest begged “more, more” with an impish grin, his mouth and hands stained purple. The small tree was a hive of activity, branches bending every which way as eight children and three adults searched for the darkest, ripest berries.

After a while, we all piled back into the ranger. The older cousins sat in a tangle of limbs in the back and younger ones stayed up front. The wind whipped our hair around as we motored slowly down the gravel road, the taste of berries still fresh on our tongues.

I want to hold that moment, the hot windy air, the little legs and arms all pressed around my own, bouncing along next to both my parents as we watched the next generation of our family learn how to appreciate the goodness of the world surrounding them.

It is a privilege, the historied homestead and surrounding acres my family still lives and works on. I am the fifth generation of a family of immigrants who left the mining industry in Sweden for the promises of America.  They came here seeking a country that better offered them their unalienable rights.

Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness.

They purchased a plot of dark, fertile soil in South Dakota. They built a house that my parents still live in today. I am here because of their choices. My life was forged in their ability not only to pursue but to find freedom.

It’s a luxury not everyone has uncomplicated access to today.

This week has been full of stories about families faced with unspeakably difficult circumstances. Their hopes for finding refuge turned into nightmares as they found themselves suddenly caught in a web of moral and legal confusion.

One story titled Where’s Mommy particularly caught my attention. In it, a mother describes her family’s need to leave El Salvador because of gang threats to the lives of her husband and son. After an exhausting series of bus rides, they ended up connecting with a group of migrants also wanting to enter the US. It is unclear if she understood that their aim was to enter illegally. But suddenly she was there, staring at a wall that stood between her and her family’s chance at safety and freedom.

I don’t know where the closest port of entry was that night. I don’t know who promised her this way would be safe, or that her family would be okay. I don’t know the fast, shallow breathlessness of her fear.

But I know the fierceness of a parent protecting her child.

I know that stress impairs judgement.

I know that blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

I know that personal safety and security are valued by all of humanity, no matter what side of the wall they stand on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Fluid Nature of Things

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The last few days in Minnesota have been glorious. While the rest of the world may have been basking in spring for weeks already, us Northerners watched as flakes of white flew sideways across the landscape, covering the ground with drift after drift of frozen, icy gloom.

But suddenly, the sun came out Thursday and shocked us all with fifty-degree temps. The snow melted like mad, and my stir-crazy children begged to go for a walk. I was happy to oblige. I dug one scooter from a snowbank beside the house (did it stay there all winter?) and unearthed another and a bike from the dusty depths of the garage. Griff was already halfway down the driveway, so I decided to forgo the stroller or proper waterproof footwear (which I couldn’t find anyway) and let him walk as long as he wanted. Somehow, within minutes, we were off.

The delighted shrieks of the girls filled the air as we made our way down Reed Avenue. Griff kept pace a few steps in front of me in his halting toddler walk/run, stopping every now and then to pick up a rock and proclaim something. The sun sat warm as a promise on the left side of my face. Never did it feel so good to arrive at the creek and throw snow and sticks into the rushing, yelling farewell to winter.

We all burst in the house an hour and half later with red cheeks and flyaway hair. Griffin’s soaking wet, muddy feet and shoes demanded immediate attention, and I vowed that I had to find his hand-me-down rain boots before he set foot outside again.

Thursday’s walk was so great that no one hesitated when I suggested we do it again yesterday. I made a few slight adjustments to the lineup (scooters for all three girls, stroller for Griff when he got tired), and made another sweep of the basement for Griffin’s rainboots. Lo and behold, there they were, tucked into a storage tote labeled 0-3 mos. *Snort*.

Boots on and scooters ready, my small tribe gleefully picked their way down the rut-filled mess of our driveway and set off for the creek again. I couldn’t help but laugh inside thinking that last week, I was planning a Christmas party with a sweet friend as an act of defiance/acceptance of the forthcoming April snowstorm.

After all, it’s all so temporary, isn’t it?

We arrived at the creek, and the girls assumed positions at the top of the culvert, throwing in sticks, rocks, snow, and anything that would splash. Meanwhile, I sat down on the side, legs dangling over the water, and put Griff on my lap so that he could safely throw rocks in without me fearing for his life every time he leaned over the rushing water.

He was having a grand time chucking dried grass stalks in and kicking his legs against the edge, when suddenly, I heard a plop that was different than any of the others produced recently. Sure enough, I looked down, and there was the much-sought after rubber boot, gently bobbing sideways on the surface of the water.

The girls went crazy, demanding that I rescue the boot now making its way toward the fork in the stream. I quickly deposited Griffin in his stroller and buckled him in his seat, and then raced down the banks, stirring up a winter’s worth of dust as I picked my way through the dried yellow grass of the creek side. I grabbed a branch and made a few worthless attempts to snag the boot, but it doggedly kept bobbing just out of reach until the current took it downhill and all further efforts became futile.

There’s something poetic and important about physically letting go of something beyond your control, so I stood there a moment, watching the black rubber boot float away down the stream. It was clear I was never going to be able to retrieve it. It was also clear that I should not chase after it, since I left four unattended children watching aghast as their crazed mother attempted to rescue a boot from a raging spring creek armed with nothing but a weak sapling branch.

I hiked back up the ditch, listening to Ellis give an animated play by play of the lost boot escapade. Griffin, entirely unamused at this point, kept pointing at the creek and shouting “shoe, shoe!”. Lucy declared we might as well go home, and Gabby agreed, noting that there were still popsicles in the freezer. We walked back up the road in sunny camaraderie, as though I had just survived a lion attack instead of a failed attempt to rescue a rubber boot, and made it home without further incident.

Later that evening, it struck me that I had been searching for those rainboots off and on for weeks. How ironic that on the day I found and finally employed them, their usefulness slipped out of my grasp in a matter of moments.

Some people call it Murphy’s law. Some call it karma. I see it a little differently.

I see the reminder that the things we think we hold in our grasp are fluid – with us one moment, washing away the next. I see our human nature to fight, rescue, and retrieve what we lose.

I also see a loving Heavenly Father whose store of provision and grace never runs out. I see the relief in opening our clenched fists in surrender, letting the circumstance of life stream through our open fingers.

Why?

Because in this constantly moving flow of grace, I have never been left empty-handed.

It’s been easy to complain about the weather and I’m just as guilty as anyone. I could also be annoyed about the lost boot or being unable to drive on my mucky driveway. But that also means I’d be focusing on what’s lost, and not on what’s continuously being given.

I’d be anxiously looking down at what was falling out of my hands, instead of looking up at the stream of goodness that continues to keep them full.

High School Mission Trips: We’re not going to Change the World

During my high school and college age years, I was privileged to be a part of six different mission trips as both a student, and a chaperone. If you’re not familiar with the phrase “mission trip”, it’s generally a faith-based volunteerism trip where young people tackle projects that need extra manpower. For example, in Mexico, we helped build a structure (though to this day I can’t quite tell you what it was supposed to be). In South Dakota, we scraped and painted houses. In Kentucky, Louisiana, Arizona, and Brazil, we staffed various types of children’s camps.

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Side note – I used to be impossibly cool. Pink pajama pants girl, I’m looking at you.

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A lot of people are on the fence about the role of short term mission trips. They wonder how much “help” can really come from a group of inexperienced students. Do the gifts and supplies volunteers bring actually do much good? What happens when the volunteers leave?

These aren’t easy questions.

As a young mission team member, I didn’t realize these questions existed. I only knew that I wanted to help people, because I had begun to learn the quiet joy that crept in after doing something kind for someone else. And if I’m honest, I think most students today are in the same boat. They aren’t worrying about the efficacy of their time away. They aren’t doing cost/value analyses, or measuring outcomes.

But they know that as the next generation, they are called, and they are capable.

For me, being called and capable meant I put hundreds of *mostly* crooked nails into wall frame studs. I ran around a soccer field with a happy, screaming group of kids who were more interested in the free snacks than the lesson time. I let someone smash a pie in my face. I journaled during our designated “quiet time” and read my bible, waiting for God to speak.

I did not come back from any of my trips with a specific vision, or a giant life lesson. I did not see any heavenly signs or miracles or crazy shows of healing. What I did gain was this: I lived in a broad and beautiful world full of people who all needed something.

Some of them needed a house. Some needed a hot meal. Some of them needed my sad attempts at hair braids. Some needed a buddy to play with. Some of them needed a friend to listen to their stories. All of them needed a reason to hope.

***

One night, the Cross of Glory (shout out!) youth group and I were winding down from a service day in Arizona. The students and I were lounging in an outdoor amphitheater connected to where we were staying when our youth pastor Dan joined us, carrying a bucket of warm water and a towel. A few other groups were with us at the time, and their leaders also came out with water and towels. With only a brief explanation of what was happening, they started washing our feet.

The space grew impossibly quiet as the leaders went from student to student, washing and drying their hot, tired feet.

Afterward, someone gave a brief message, explaining how in John 13, Jesus gets up in the middle of supper with his friends and starts washing their feet. This practice, normally reserved for the lowest of servants, shocked his friends, who were confused by his actions.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

My bare feet tingled in the cool air of sunset, and something about that story sunk deep. Jesus’ life and years of ministry were not marked by fanfare and success and solving the world’s problems. Instead, he impacted the world by servitude, by grace, and by love. 

Somehow, it’s been seventeen years since that trip.

Six of those years have been spent relearning the importance of everyday service as I wipe not just the feet, but the noses, hands, and bottoms of my children. Almost fourteen of those years have given me ample time to practice grace in my marriage. And during each of those seventeen years, we’ve been a part of three churches, loving the small groups, students, worship teams, boards, and other opportunities we’ve said yes to as we grew in community.

While none of these are major, world-altering acts, they have changed me, and how I connect with those around me. But I wouldn’t have understood that if I hadn’t learned what it meant to serve and care for others.

This summer, I’ve been asked to pick up where I left off fourteen (*gulp*) years ago, and chaperone another student mission trip – this time to Paris, France.

After I stopped squealing OUIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!! in my head, Jason and I had a couple of long conversations about safety, responsibility, and my leaving for ten days in July. After securing the assistance of a small army of family members, we decided I should say yes. (OUIIIIII again!!!!! Thanks Grandmas and Grandpas!)

Envision Paris, the group we’ll be working with, is an ongoing effort with the Christian and Missionary Alliance to bring a fresh understanding of the transformational love of Jesus to their city. The traditional church in France, for all its ornate beauty and history, is struggling to meet the deep, connective needs of its people. Envision Paris wants to change that.

Our goal for the time we’re in Paris is to come alongside and encourage a newly formed church community. Our six students, a few of whom actually speak French (huge bonus!) will be participating in English conversation classes and evening student gatherings. We are hoping to use art projects, music talents, and kitchen skills to create friendships, build community, and share our stories of faith.

Spoiler alert: We will not change the world with this trip. But what I do see is the opportunity for each of these students (and myself) to grow in their understanding of what Jesus taught about service, grace, and love. I also see the places where they might experience confusion, rejection, and hurt as they step outside their places of safety and rely on their faith for the first time.

For the record, I value both. I value both because I have seen the different character qualities that beauty and hardship alike can develop in my life.

In the process, I see cross-cultural friendships being built. I see students encouraging one another on in love and good deeds. I see laughter, and big questions, and marginal airport food.

We may not change the world in July, but we ourselves will be changed, and that’s a start.

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As with many youth endeavors, the cost of our students’ trip will be covered by fundraising and financial gifts of support. Please consider giving! I’d love for you to partner with our team and stay tuned for prayer requests, updates, pictures, and posts from the field while we’re there. Click here to visit our team website, where you’ll find easy and secure online giving options for any amount. Your prayers and support will be incredibly meaningful to our team as we prepare to go.

 

Refusing to believe I AM NOT

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I am not a worship leader.

These were the first words that came to mind when our associate pastor asked me if I’d be interested in leading worship at a winter family camp retreat this past weekend.

Let’s be frank. I’m not. I pound on the enormous ebony grand piano in our church with all my heart most Sundays, but I am not the leader, the melody, or the keeper of time. I am the background. The harmony. The filler of sound.

Saying yes was a stretch, not only of my capabilities, but of what I believed about myself.

Even though I stress telling the truth to my children (one in particular that needs help deciphering her imagination from her reality), it’s embarrassing to admit that I routinely lie… to myself. These lies range from big to little: I’m not a good mother, I can’t keep anything together, I’m a mess, I never have time, I shouldn’t say yes, and my particular favorite thorn, I’m not enough.

Sometimes, I can see these lies for what they are – trickery, falsehood, arrows aimed at the heart of who I want to be. Other days, I fall into their wide open trap.

***

This weekend, we had the opportunity for some family play time in the Big Sandy Camp gym during the retreat. One of the activities offered was crate stacking. I’m not sure where this originated, but it’s a unique (and strange) challenge.

The crate stacker harnesses up in climbing gear, and hooks into the belay. Then the stacker starts stacking, creating a tower of side by side plastic milk crates. The operative is to stack enough crates on top of one another in order to touch the ceiling of the gym. Helpers hand, then toss, then all out throw the crates up to the stacker, who attempts to do all of this while maintaining balance, managing fear, and ignoring the burn and tingle of tired muscles.

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I watched the process, and point blank told myself, I’m not going to be good at that. 

That was, actually and probably, the truth. I have torn cartilage in my knees and a marginal sense of balance. As much as I love thrill-seeker experiences, my performance abilities are average at best.

But something inside me said, do it anyway.

So I did. I put on the ridiculous harness that accentuates parts of me that don’t particularly need to be accentuated, stepped on the first crate, and started stacking.

I stacked, and squealed, and wobbled, and laughed, and kept on climbing. I felt fear tighten my senses and narrow my vision. I gulped in enormous, burning breaths and felt the green plastic crates swaying under my nervousness.

I stacked until my lower half tingled with exhaustion and nervousness, and then I slowly stood up, still a few too many inches away from that corrugated white metal ceiling. I knew, with the certainty born of experience, that if I stayed up much longer I was going to fall. My feet were numb, my legs were burning, and I couldn’t steady myself enough to catch and climb another crate. My only chance at reaching the ceiling was to jump for it.

I shouted down to my belay that this was it, I was going to jump. And in that moment, I knew I probably would not reach my goal. The probability of my getting enough vertical to hit the ceiling by jumping off a 20 foot stack of precarious milk crates was decidedly low. 

But falling, without trying, was not something I wanted to do either. So I jumped.

I jumped, and I reached, and I missed.

And in that moment of exhilarating failure, I felt the rope catch my body as I stretched my arms wide anyway, realizing that I could still fly on the way down.

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***

Believing the lies we tell ourselves is a common plague. And like the plagues of ancient Egypt, they are dangerously incapacitating.

I am not turns into I can’t, and I can’t turns into I won’t, and I won’t turns into a heart closed off from the possibility of growth in our lives.

One of the lines from an All Sons and Daughters song named Called Me Higher that we sang at the retreat this weekend said it this way: “I could hold on. I could hold on to who I am and never let you change me from the inside.”

It’s easy to hold on to our lies, isn’t it? It’s easy because lies feel like truths in our moments of messing up. Saying I am not confirms something about what just happened, whether it’s failure, or a faltering, or a simple mistake that we’d easily forgive someone else.

Believing the abstract of I am, or I can is much harder. It means trusting our intrinsic worth over our temporal works.

For a person of faith, asserting our I am’s over our I am not’s is an act of belief. It is understanding that God’s words are more than stories and platitudes from an ancient book; they are promises from a living and active Father who wants us to recognize and be secure in the value he created us with.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. -1 John 3:1

I said yes to leading worship. I said yes, knowing full well that I’m not a worship leader, and that very soon, everyone at the retreat would know that too. I said yes because despite my limitations, I love to play, sing, and be a part of a community of praise.

Yes meant possibility. Yes meant growth. Yes meant serving something bigger than my own need to be perfect.

Yes meant that I am not had no power over what could be done if I simply tried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Mom’s Response to the Tragedy in Las Vegas

Untitled designThe sky was alternating between a light and dark blue-gray and the air felt cool with rain, but Griff and I hopped out of the van and threw on the pack anyway. Every fall I make it a point to spend as much time as I can out at Wild River, the state park that’s just a couple of miles down the road from our house.

Today we took the easy trail through the oak savannah, in part because of the pending rain and me breaking in new boots, but also because I needed an autopilot sort of walk. Earlier, on our way to school, I had turned on MPR and heard the news about the Las Vegas mass shooting. The rest of the drive back, my mind felt numb.

There’s no one response to hearing news of violence and chaos, the gunshots ricocheting like harmless firecrackers on the radio. Here in the northern Midwest, I felt the strange combination of being far-removed yet somehow still close to the tragedy, as though some smarmy stranger had entered my home unannounced and left his greasy business card on the kitchen counter.

Tragedy is invasive. It is a reminder that safety is relative, and the world is not as friendly as I want to teach my children it is. It casually drips fear into the normalcy of our daily lives, discoloring our thoughts and leaving us upset, uncomfortable, and confused.

It also makes me never want to be in a mass gathering of people ever again. (If you need me, I’ll just be holed up in my kitchen, thank you very much.)

My son and I walked along the paved trail, and I pointed out the different colored leaves, the trees, the moss, the puddles. He bantered along in one-year-old babble, occasionally uttering something that sounded close to the word I was repeating. It felt good to focus on something near, pushing the senselessness out and away as I worked on expanding my son’s vocabulary.

Right after I heard the news, I Voxed a friend, recording a jumble of messy emotions that basically boiled down to, “this is horrible and I’m upset and I have no idea what to do.” There was nothing to do, of course (which is my normal route – when in doubt, make a meal, bake a pie, buy a gift, clean a kitchen, send a card, just don’t. sit. still.).

But sometimes our restless hands have to be stuck, still – caught in the needs of our daily life and those who depend on us – while we feel our way through the event, our emotions running from shock to anger, to sadness, to fear, to worry.

I’m learning, lately, that it’s important to listen to each of those emotions as they come, allowing them to sit in my cupped and shaking hands. Being true to myself also means being vulnerable, expressing my confusion and darkness and fear, because those are the places I am most likely to connect with others and find solace. Or in the words of Matthew 5 and the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Friends, I have nothing profound to say about today’s shooting. I’m just here in my little blue office, surrounded by legos and drawings and bills and an embarrassing amount of empty coffee mugs, and I’m sad. I hurt for the parents who sent their son or daughter off to their first concert, not knowing their children would come home with a new understanding of hate. I hurt for the couple who went to hear their favorite musician but can’t get the sound of gunshots and screams out of their heads. I hurt for the friends having a girls’ night out who are now scared to open their apartment doors. I hurt for the hotel employees and policemen and EMTs who looked into face after face of pain and shock and terror. I hurt for the loved ones on the other end of the phone line, receiving the darkest, hardest words.

I hurt because I am human, and even though I teach my children that humans should not harm one another, I know it still happens.

I hurt because this is a broken world, a fallen world, and hope can be a hard hand to grasp.

Nevertheless, I have found that hope is somehow always present, reaching through the panic and pain, not as a quick fix or a religious pill, but steady as a Father’s heart beating for His children. It is this heart and hope that I choose to stake my faith in, even on days like this.

So today I hurt, and today I hope.

And tomorrow I’ll get up, spend time praying comfort over those affected by the shooting, and then go about my work teaching my children to love, respect, and protect one another and the world around them.

It seems a small consolation, given the size of the loss. I know that. But it is something, and if we all did the same, choosing hope instead of hopelessness, action instead of anger, the next generation could only be better for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing Risk

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The door to the plane rolls up, and a blast of air hits my face. Everyone comes to life, securing safety googles, straightening harnessing, checking straps. Twelve thousand some odd feet below and sixty miles away, my family is going about their Sunday afternoon routine without me, because I’m sitting on a bench, rattling my teeth in the smallest airplane I’ve ever set foot in, strapped to a stranger I’m about to trust with my life.

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My tandem jump guide straightens up. The four pairs of jumpers ahead of us scoot their way down the bench to the front and launch themselves out of the plane. My friend Katie and I high-five each other like amped up high school football players, and I take a deep breath. Katie’s videographer, (all photos courtesy of Katie Folkestad and Sky Dive Twin Cities, Baldwin WI) Katie, and her tandem guide slide to the front, barely pausing before disappearing into the patchwork green landscape below.

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Katie’s jump

Somehow, it’s my turn. My guide and I awkwardly move off the bench and crouch in front of the open door. This is the part I assume everyone pictures in their mind – eyes frantically searching the unfamiliar horizon, hands clutching the overhead bar, calculating the risk, making that final decision whether or not to jump – except it doesn’t go that way. We face the open door for all of two seconds. I can’t tell you if my guide said ready, set, go, or if he counted 1…2…3… because somehow we just lean forward and tip ourselves out in the open air.

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Katie’s free fall. Phenomenal.

When Chris, my friend and youth pastor at church messaged me with the question, “Ready to jump?”, I didn’t know how to respond. He was putting together a sermon illustration and promotional material for taking faith-filled risks in the month of July, and wanted to know if I’d be interesting in skydiving with my friend, his wife Katie. I was standing in my kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes and the chatter of my children finishing their breakfast. The idea of jumping out of an airplane seemed alien, so different and strange in the context of my normal life.

Jason and I had talked about it briefly over a cup of coffee before he took off for work, but with no real decisions or clarity.

Was I ready to jump?

Are we ever ready to hold hands with that kind of risk?

It seems to me that risk is something I try to steer clear of at this stage of life. I carry the weight of responsibility for my children, who are all still in various stages of physical and cognitive development, and it’s up to my husband and I to know what our kids are capable of – when to protect, when to push, when to maintain status quo. Risks are taken in a calculated, padded sort of way.

But this wasn’t about my children. This was about me and my faith. (Well, I mean, if I died it would be about my children and my husband, *laugh/cry*, but the likelihood of that happening was 0.0007%, much less than the risk of dying while driving a car, which I do every day.)

This was about my willingness to take a risk for something beyond myself.

The whole idea of taking risks is complicated. To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I see the need.  I enjoy wrapping myself in comfort – a solid family, close friends, good food, a snug home surrounded by nature. I like soft clothes and strong coffee and books with hundreds of pages. I revel in hot showers, clean sheets, and the smell of my favorite Aveda lotion.

But life isn’t about comfort. In fact, because I’ve decided to be a follower of Jesus, building a static, easy life built on maintaining my own comfort should be the least of my concerns.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.”               John 12:24-25

But was I really, ready to jump?

***

Katie said I should scream, and she was right, because the cold crush of wind roaring in my ears and tangling my hair rips my breath away, and the best way to fight it is to roar a raw mix of fear and exhilaration into the wideness of the sky.

I know I’m falling, but strangely, it doesn’t feel like falling. The ground is so far away that the free fall loses any sense of urgency and instead, I find myself able to believe I’m flying, arms wide spread, screams turning into shouts of astonishment and adrenaline. After sixty seconds, my guide taps my shoulders, alerting me to the parachute that’s just opened above us.

We shift to an upright position as the parachute pulls up on our harnesses, and suddenly me and the stranger on my back are masters of the sky. I can’t help but kick my feet out wide like a baby does when his legs are submerged in water for the first time, excitement coursing through every inch of my limbs. We continue to descend, the air growing warmer around us. The guide asks if I’d like to do some maneuvering, which involves leaning and swirling one direction, then the other. This isn’t my favorite, and I’m thankful when the pressure of the turning subsides.

 

The drop zone is now in sight, and even though I shout that I could stay up here all day, my guide laughs and tells me I better just come back and jump again. We glide through the air, turn gently, and position ourselves to land on the drop zone of green grass at Sky Dive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. I lift my feet forward so that they’re parallel with the ground, which is steadily getting closer and closer. I try to savor the last few seconds as we come into land, my guide touching down and leaning back, pulling us down into a controlled slide on our rears.

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high five

The whole process took less than five minutes, and as I shake my arm and legs loose in the harness, I can’t quite believe it’s over. I am flooded with adrenaline, so loose and light in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Katie and I hug and high five again, and I find myself repeating the words amazing and awesome over and over again to anyone who will listen. And then, somehow, I climb back into the 4-runner and drive off down the road, back into normalcy and, in a split minute decision, the Dairy Queen drive-thru.

***

A week later, I’m under no delusion that I did something earth-shattering for my faith. Yes, I took a controlled risk. I conquered my uneasiness and got to jump out of an airplane, which was an incredible life experience gifted to me by my church. Did I change the world? No.

But what if, by practicing taking a non-essential risk, I was preparing myself for something bigger later? What if saying yes this time meant I’d have more faith, and be more ready to say yes to whatever came next?

What if being willing to jump gave me the opportunity to build my trust in One who’s never failed me yet?

That, my friends, is a risk I’d take all over again.

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These unexpected gifts

The summer morning air is cool and heavy. I instantly feel it resting on my forehead and arms as I cross the yard to let the chickens out. My yellow farm clogs leave dark footprints in the grass, proof of life in the quiet, early hours. I open the coop and watch the chickens pour out in a flurry of feathers and straw, then turn to the bigger coop housing the ducks and meat chickens. Something green hanging on the barn catches my eye.

Every so often in the summer, and usually after a rain, the farm becomes home to some amazing moths. We’ve found various Polyphemus types resting in the grass, but this moth was new to me. Her wings were a perfect creamy green, with four small, yellow markings, and her antennae were like an intricate ivory lattice that twitched gently.

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I finished chores and came back to check on her, and, knowing how excited the girls would be, decided to bring her inside. I gently reached my hand under her wings and waited until the delicate legs grasped my finger, and then slowly carried her into the house. The girls were thrilled, and no matter how many times I reminded them to move slowly and quietly, they shrieked and jumped with excitement.

Picturing a sticky preschooler foot as an untimely cause of demise, I scooped up the moth, which I later looked up and discovered was called a Luna, and set her back outside. After a wobbly start on the grass, the moth suddenly started shivering (a precursor to flight), and then caught the breeze and fluttered into the sky, looking for all the world like a delicate leaf suddenly come to life.

I stood back up, brushing my hands on my knees, and watched the grays and blues of the clouds marble the sky. And in that moment, I decided it would be a slow day for me and the children. A day for margin, for space. A day for looking for the extraordinary in the framework of our normal lives.

***

We spent the morning sprawled on the rug, playing games, clapping for the baby who practiced his squats and stands with the dogged determination of an Olympic athlete. His strong legs pushed him up and down, and I marveled at how tall he’d grown, and how much work it must be to learn the art of balance and motion.

We moved outside to the swings, the bikes, the trampoline. The baby joined me in the garden and learned the sheer joy of smearing, squashing, and raking his way through the dirt. I staked peas, pulled weeds, spent time staring at the intricacies of the flowers in bloom. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, I slowed down. Took notice. Enjoyed.

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The rest of the day flowed steady, easy, like water from the garden hose. Please don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. The girls fought over stuffed animals. The baby cried and messed an extraordinary amount of diapers and clothes. I still did dishes and laundry and sweeping and the lego-to-heel dance of pain.

But somehow, those things were okay too. It seemed that having margin for both joy and error was equally important. After all, life doesn’t favor one or the other. Could it be that joy and error were necessary partners in the everyday?

***

Later, we piled into the van and headed for the library, where we ran into our neighbors and miraculously both had time to chat. A surprise text landed us next to my best friend for supper at the local Drive In, where our kids ran circles around the fountain pond and chowed down on hamburgers.

Out of nowhere, someone anonymously paid for our family’s meals. I looked up from wiping food off the baby’s face, and stared incredulously at the waitress when she told us. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or more grateful. We hopped back in the van and left the radio off, making time instead to talk about the about the gifts of thoughtfulness, of generosity, of blessing.

Later that night, I kept thinking, “I could have missed this entire day.” And in a sense, it was true. Yes, I would have lived and breathed for the same 24-hour period. But it would have been easy enough to hurry my way through chores before diving into house tasks, and miss the experience of the Luna moth delicately spiraling into the sky.

I could have skipped playtime to fold and put away laundry. I could have thrown together something quick for lunch instead of making my daughter’s favorite meal. I could have said no to the library, which would have then been easier to decline meeting up with my best friend, and not afforded me the chance for sharing an unexpected object lesson on generous living with my kids.

I could have missed it all.

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When I create space to say yes, to be awake, stay present, and actively appreciate the good things in my life, I rarely feel as though my minutes pass me by, or that they’ve gone too fast. Savoring my days ensures that even if I look back and yearn for a certain time period again (newborn stage, anyone?), I can know I lived those moments to the fullest, leaving no space for regret. Conversely, time moves slowest when I put the blinders on, doggedly pushing forward, bound by my own perception of duty in lieu of enjoyment.

And some days, that might be reality. Some days are meant for doing, moving, accomplishing. Some days run beautifully on a schedule. But when we’re given the opportunity and reminder to slow down, to watch, and to feel grateful, there’s endless surprise and delight waiting in life’s simple, unexpected gifts.