Tuesday, December 08, 2009

snow covered and pulling a heavy wagon

this is a photograph. a photograph that i snapped one thanksgiving when the snow, a rarity in my city, showed it's face at my parents' house. this photograph was chosen for a 2010 calendar that circulates locally, and most recently, it was chosen as part of a little art show too. it was truly a picture that i took in a quick moment as my mom was yelling through the kitchen for me to shut the door, and my bare feet refused to step out into the snow. i didn't realize in that rushed minute, i captured something much deeper.

the red wagon is a child's toy. little boys fill them with dirt. little girls fill them with dolls. parents fill them with their children in an attempt to avoid carrying their sleeping bodies ten blocks home after late night fireworks.

this particular red wagon never got to be a child's toy. it didn't hold dirt or dolls or sleeping children. instead, it held gallons of milk, boxes of cereal, and other meal supplies as the nine-year-old hands gripped the handle and tugged it up the hill toward home. the wagon never got to be a child's toy, in truth, because the nine-year-old had to stop being a child.

the red wagon, rust-covered and missing a wheel, sits semi-forgotten in the corner of the porch. it has become a symbol of sadness, and this photo a bittersweet reminder of a life once lived. despite it's blemishes, someone deemed the wagon good enough to hold overflowing pots of fire red mums. someone decided that it was worthy enough to be placed next to the orange roundness of new pumpkins. someone decided that it still had life and was worthy of beauty.

nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old has realized that she is not much different than the wagon, full of rust and missing parts. nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old has realized that even though she isn't deserving, she has been offered a grace that covers the rust in a new layer of beautiful red paint. she realizes that there is a power in the death of one man, and that in that death, she was given an incredibly beautiful life. a life worthy of fire red mums and perfectly shaped pumpkins.

when i took this picture, it didn't occur to me that there was no logical reason that the mums should still be fire red beneath the snow. there was no great explanation for why the pumpkins had yet to rot in the winter air. both retained their color, their life despite the frigid temperatures and precipitation that beat down upon them.

there is this really cool thing about following jesus called life that comes through walking in the gospel of grace. it's a life that can survive the pounding snow and ice. it's a life that manifests itself in the beauty of smiles and kind eyes. a life that prevails when death is present.

nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old is realizing that this life has made her beautiful. she's seeing that without this man named jesus she may not have survived being a nine-year-old. she's understanding that being a nine-year-old with a wagon not used as a toy has paved a life of truly relating, to knowing the souls, of those less known. nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old only hopes that this life given to her brings life to others in moments when they are covered in snow and pulling a heavy wagon up the hill.

nineteen years later, the once nine-year-old wouldn't trade one moment for another.

"for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of god-not by works, so that no one can boast. for we are god's handiwork, created in christ jesus to do good works, which god prepared in advance for us to do." ephesians 2: 8-10

Thursday, December 03, 2009

tucking the covers around the broken-hearted children

a mother is supposed to be a safe place. her arms are supposed to be protective; nuturing. her voice and words soothing in times filled with fear; her presence bringing confidence in times of doubt. every mother fails at some point, at multiple points even, but there is the mother that chooses not to feed or clothe her child. the mother whose hand becomes something that makes a child flinch. the mother whose words are the cause of fear and doubt. becoming a mother is one of the things i most look forward to in this life. honestly, it is the restoration, the redeeming, of the concept of mother to the neglected "little ones" that makes my heart beat wildly.

as i approach the day that officially makes me a year older, i find myself in the midst of a lot of contemplation of life; where i've been; where i thought i would be; where i might be headed. year after year i ask "when, lord?" the answer is often silence to be followed or surrounded by instances the prove he's not saying "no", but rather "not yet."

about a month ago i started asking the question again, and the silence prevailed. initially discouragement began to find it's way into my heart, but then i made an unexpected new friend. i don't know all of his stories, but i know enough to know that he probably quite desperately needed the concept of mother redeemed as a child. his stories are not mine to tell, but i can say that i stand amazed at what he has come through and how it is evident that god was protecting him in every moment, even when the adults in his life were not. every now and then he tells a little story from his past, usually to make a point about the power of the gospel in our lives. the stories are often short, but in the few minutes it takes to tell them, i feel the urgent need to be a source of hope and love.

i love to sing; especially when i am alone and can sing from that place deep within that holds secret desires and tears and words yet to come. in the brief moments my sister graciously lets me have with my nephew before his bedtime, he often asks me to sing to him. there's something about singing a lullaby to a child that feels protective, soothing, loving, hopeful.

last week, i spent a five hour car ride listening to the same album over and over. it was an album new to me, and immediately i was drawn in by a desire to know the words and the melodies. last night, after hearing another of my new friend's childhood stories, i was sorting through the mixture of sadness, marvel at god's goodness and grace, and a little frustration when one of the songs from this album came over my speakers.

the artist is singing from the perspective of god to us (i think), but it really feels like something a mother might sing to a young child as she tenderly tucks the quilt under the child's chin. i'm pretty certain that my new friend, much like the kids i will one day bring into my home, did not have a mother that sang this kind of life and hope over him. yet somehow he became a man truly seeking to be like jesus. what we forget, what i forget, is that god is really the one singing life over these children. god sang life over my new friend as a child, even though my new friend didn't hear, couldn't hear.

he's singing over the child right now that is being neglected by the mother in his life; as she is being lost in a system defined by numbers; as he is trading bicycles for jackets and eating food off the ground out of fear it will be his only nourishment for the day. i am honored that god has seen me fit enough to place the desire in my heart to bring life back to these children. someday i will get to sing his song over them too, as i tuck the covers around the broken-hearted little one.

here's the song on youtube. ignore the video. just listen to the words.
jj heller. keep you safe.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

so i didn't do it in fifty days....

but i'm not a complete failure. here's the next installment of "fifty people." more to come soon!

it only took six (20-25)

he called me "fish product." it was one of the worst nicknames i've ever had, but as a lowly freshman (in college), i felt i had to take it from the senior. in the end, it didn't really matter because he left a mark so great on me, i probably would have let him call me whatever he wanted to.

nick had this way about him that caused people to willingly join the efforts of whatever "crazy" plan he was concocting. call it charisma, but really it was just nick loving people well. i didn’t realize how important this was until i was loved well by him.

the truth is that he really represents a whole group of people that made god’s love very personal for me.

trish was co-captain of the track team and accidentally became my friend while welcoming my next door neighbor (anna) to the track team. she was ornery. actually they all were. but she was the one we most loved to play tricks on. trish was also quick to hug, quick to say “bosa”, and quick to sit with you when you needed a friend. i never imagined that almost nine years later, god would have taken each of us on a separate, but simliar journey and landed us five miles from each other.

bucky, whose real name is dorice, was another track co-captain that i met through anna. she, along with the basketball player, steph, laughed a lot. bucky easily empathized with others; steph used her sarcasm and humor to get people through the rough spots.

and, of course, there was mark and jen. mark actually graduated and headed off to hawaii a few months before i arrived on campus. i got to know him mostly through stories, brief minutes on the phone, and co-conspiriting a surprise visit for jen’s graduation. mark was just kind of crazy. big ideas, big gestures, big voice. jen was the smile, the funny you sometimes just needed to see. except, of course, when she and nick were having a disagreement.

it’s been almost ten years since i met these six crazy people. everyday, every corner turned, was a new adventure with them. and with every adventure, a little more of jesus embedded itself in my soul. an embedding that became the foundation on which the rest of my life would be built.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


a note to my readers: i know i'm a little behind. i started grad school three weeks ago and have been spending all of my writing time on two longer papers for my class. i have been making notes as i think of them and promise to catch up soon!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Queen Helga (19)

i've not had many nicknames in my life, but during my first year of college i had two very random ones that stuck despite my protests. one of these came very late one night during freshman year when my friend anna slipped and called me a name that our senior friends will never ever let me forget. anna had a great laugh at my expense which became the theme of our friendship.

anna lived on junk food: mountain dew, twizzlers, doritos, yet she was pencil thin and ran track. an english major, she would write her papers at 2am on the day they were due and manage to snag an A. she was great at being friends with people and spent all of her non-class time, non-track time visiting one dorm room or another (which is why she had to write her papers at 2am). in our upperclassmen days, anna became a favorite among the younger folk, and she did a fabulous job of loving even the most awkward of them.

my memories with anna are not limited to mountain dew, twizzlers, and horrible nicknames. there was also the time when she pushed me in the snow-filled bushes and left me for dead. and the time we drove four hours to see third day. and the time we hung the "trash" sign on our friend trish's dorm room door. mischeiveousness is one of the characteristics i loved about her. the other was the fact that i had sheer fun when i was around her. and memories that include these two things are ones that last a lifetime.

Friday, June 19, 2009

random, but not coincidental (18)

i'm a fairly emotional person. i understand things based on how they make me feel or how they relate to my life and experiences. because of this, i have never considered myself to have the ability to think deeply about more heady issues. i've found myself many times backing away from anything theoretical, political, theological, or that might end in a debate in which i would have no idea how to defend what i think.

my eighteenth person happens to be a relatively new person in my life; we have not known each other even a year yet. our meeting was random yet not coincidental. i know that god wanted us to be friends because four months after our random meeting, i looked across the auditorium of my new church to see his face. unbeknownst to the other, we had each decided to make it our new church home.

i remember well the first time he asked me one of those questions that i like to avoid. i thought the fear would eat me alive, but there was no way to escape answering. when he responded, he did not make me feel stupid, but affirmed my ideas although he didn't completely agree with my thoughts. he engaged me in further conversation as if what i had to say actually mattered; as if it was important in some way. he gave me new ideas to ponder and fed me ways to continue the conversation. in many ways, he taught me how to think separate from my emotions.

i wonder how sometimes it only takes one tiny moment to overcome a lifetime of built up fear and insecurity. how something so great can be destroyed in mere seconds or minutes or hours. many times i think it involves another pushing you over the edge or doing something that causes a change so subtle or so fast that you have no chance to protest. this is what happened within me. unknowingly, russ had reached in and brought forth a new confidence for me before i could retreat.

a couple of days ago i found myself in a passionate conversation over a debatable topic and enjoying it; russ's greatest contribution to my life, but we're only ten months in to being friends. in many ways, he feels like the older brother i always wanted to have, and i'm certain there's more learning to be had; thinking to be done.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

beyond the requirements--mister lister (number seventeen)

the situation of my life as a younger person often required the aid of other people for certain things. the seventeenth person i write about is one of those people that stepped into my life, unsuspectingly leaving his mark upon me. i was a student in a program he directed. he was required to choose to like me enough to care about how i was doing in school, with college applications, study skills, and the like. he was not, however, required to accompany me on a weekend trip to compete for college scholarships as a high school senior, sit with me while i cried over my first B in a college class, invite me to his wedding, or help me with my grad school loans ten years after his required period of knowing me was over. but he did all of these things, leaving the word "requirement" out of all of his actions. he became one of my biggest supporters and eventually (when it was appropriate) became the kind of friend that i could have inside jokes with. (if you are reading this, i'm monkey waving at you right now)

he's one of those people that life's journeys caused to go a separate direction, only to communicate every once in a while. sometimes i can still hear his voice quite vividly reminding me that school wasn't about the A and that life isn't about perfection. his words return to me in just the right moments like when one accounting mistake messed up an entire financial report at work or when i wrote my first paper as a grad student. in these moments i find his words over rule my fear and my desire to hide my face.

he was a teacher by training. my presence never graced his classroom, but in many ways i still feel like his student. when i think about returning to the field; about guiding young minds through the world of science, there's something in me that desires to be like him: energetic, fun, wise, and going beyond the requirements.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

i call him grandpa (the sixteenth)

we share not one drop of the same blood, yet he calls me his. when i was little girl, he'd make the process of washing my hair memorable and remind me to be a "good egg". now, he only reminds me to wear a life jacket.

he's an interesting fellow; confident but not showy in his uniqueness. once a successful business man; now retired, but retirement has not slowed him down. he has a great house on a big lake where he fishes from the dock and from the boat. every once in a while, he can be spotted cruising down the channel on a jet ski. he's put in over a thousand hours at the local fish hatchery which has involved days of untangling little kids' fishing poles.

he does things you would never expect, like collecting marbles. i can't even tell you how many he has, but he knows the story of each one; each artist. this knowledge almost makes the marble come alive; like looking at a glass painting. he took up quilting not too many years ago and likes to finish the unfinished he comes across. i'm convinced he can fix almost anything. if he doesn't have the right tool, he does research and figures out how to get or make the tool to fit the project.

he's traveled the world; china, the amazon, alaska, the middle east, europe, australia, northeast iowa, adding diversity to his stockpile of wisdom.

what i love about him? the fact that he makes my birthday cake every year intentionally with the wrong kind of frosting because its funny; that he'll shoot squirrels and geese and snakes for tresspassing, yet he intentionally builds things to welcome hummingbirds and bluejays; that he's known for cheating while playing cards, although i don't think i've ever actually seen him cheat; that he never tires of my questions.

we share not one drop of the same blood, yet he calls me his. and me? i call him grandpa.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

memories - the fifteenth

i remember when he used to pick up hitchhikers as we were driving down the highway. his heart too compassionate, too generous to just drive on by. i remember ice cream on warm days and overnight fishing trips. his way of bonding. i remember my little hands trying to help with "handy man" type projects and then my grown up hands using what i had learned. his way of passing on something at which he was good.

i remember sitting in the same room and splitting an entire watermelon between the two of us, his portion slightly salted. i remember the day i was so excited that he was coming to watch my softball practice and the disappointment that followed when a grounder busted up my face while he was watching. i remember jean claude van dam movies and hours of learning to play penny poker, of course with his money. i remember (illegal) afternoon drives in the country, before i could even reach the pedals.

i could continue with the things that i remember as we have spent countless hours together, and to detail just how he's affected my life is difficult. he's compassionate yet brave. he's ornery yet wise. he's peaceful yet somehow he managed to fight for our nation. he's a hero, unsung; unknown to most. but a hero nonetheless.

i hope that as i grow older, i can reek of the same compassion, generosity, and patience that i have seen come out of him. i hope that in the rough times i can cling to faith in the ways that he has. i hope for his bravery, and his ability to sit peacefully in silence with the god he loves.

happy birthday, dad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

when god overrides jealousy: the fourteenth

there's yet another birthday of someone on my list today (maybe i'm drawn to people born in june), but these birthdays and occasions make it easier for me to chose who to write about.

this particular friend is one of the ones that i didn't like upon our first meeting. my dislike was unusual because most people couldn't help but love her and everyone wanted to be around her. in reality, it was my sinful jealousy that really kept me from liking her, but i would make up all sorts of reasons to convince myself that she couldn't be my friend. by my junior year, i found that she was actually quite a refreshing individual, but it wasn't until i found myself as her RA our last semester of college that i actually grew to love her.

sherami has continued to be a part of my life since then. every couple of months we find ourselves in a long conversation usually consisting of pain and boys. while our situations have not been the same, the feelings that they have produced in each other have been mirrors of each other. it has been comforting to have someone who understands the tears and can take to heart the life revelations as they come. she's rooted in jesus and isn't afraid to grow in the midst of struggle. in many ways, i greatly admire her beauty. yes, she's a handsome person, but it's her inside beauty that makes her outwardly glow. i'm certain that's why people are so drawn to her.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

the counselor. number thirteen.

i'm convinced that everyone needs a counselor in their life at some point, but i didn't always believe this. during my high school days, i got to be part of this cool title nine program called upward bound which really has a lot to do with college readiness. there was an employee of the program whose title was "counselor", and when they plopped me in her office as a freshman, i refused to speak as i was sure she was just going to try to figure out all the junk in my soul. in truth she just wanted to help guide my teenage self in decision making processes and if the emotional came along, she was trained to do that too.

the good thing about michelle is that she refused to let my stubbornness affect the way she treated me, and because of that, our relationship has gone from that of a professional nature to one of friendship as i have become an adult. by mid-high school, i stopped looking at her as the enemy although i still didn't share with her, and started to listen to what she had to say. just when my heart had begun to change toward her, she announced she was leaving. but she never really left my life because she ended up working on the very college campus that chose to move to just one year later.

i didn't have daily interactions with her, but it was comforting to know that someone who knew me pre-college was just a building away. despite michelle being a counselor, i came to appreciate her insight and advice on the situation at hand. she never pushed me to talk yet embraced what i had to say. i really felt like her friend, and it's a friendship that i'm grateful for.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

eleven and twelve

this year of all of my working years, i found myself incredibly blessed by the two bosses that god put into my working life. both share similar qualities at the core of which is their deep care for the person rather than the job.

tom is a visionary leader with a natural ability for carrying out the details, a very uncommon combination. there is something about him that exudes a humble greatness, and you can't help but wonder if you are standing in the presence of someone that is going to make drastic changes on this earth. he and his wife already did so in mongolia (click here to read more), and he's doing it again among college students in the midwest (more on this). god is using him to renew a dying region, and it's an incredibly powerful thing to watch. tom leads by example and with great regard for those under his leadership. often i conversation the first thing he wants to know is how the other person is doing. many of our conversations preceeding work have revolved around the personal going-ons of my life. tom has become one of those people that i look forward to seeking wisdom from as he has the ability to look at all sides of the issue. he is someone that i would follow in a heartbeat.

ironically, i'm leaving him....

john is very similar to tom in that he is very pastoral. although, he should be as he is a pastor by training. (can you really be trained to be a pastor?) john impresses me because he is so multigifted. one minute you find him meeting with donors and potential parents (of the school of which he is a principal) and the next he's installing the new basketball hoop or painting the new classroom. i love the way he is with children. he's patient and slow to anger, yet firm enough to be shown respect. he gets the gospel (believe it or not, not all pastors do), and he exudes grace. he encourages creativity among both teachers and students, and has had a great hand in facilitating a unique learning and working community.

ironically, i'm leaving him too...

Friday, June 12, 2009

tanya makes ten

i've written about tanya before, but usually it is full of jokes. while she is a fun and light-hearted person to be around, she deserves more than sarcasm this time around. tanya and i met eight yeas ago during an intense summer experience in an urban environment. for various reasons we didn't really like each other, but we survived the summer and went our separate ways.

three years later, we moved back to the city at about the same time, and the lack of knowing people forced us to spend time together. for some reason we liked each other this time, and a year of hanging out turned into two years as roommates.

as much as we liked each other, we really weren't great roommates. tanya was (is) a very laid back, go with the flow, last minute, whatever floats your boat kind of person. i, on the other hand, was fairly uptight, scheduled, planned, need to know everything that's going on kind of person. in a living situation those two extremes don't mix well without some compromising, and we were both still a little immature in that area.

unfortunately i didn't see the effects of our relationship until we decided to part ways, but in hindsight i see that living with her was the first step toward the freedom from myself that i'm experiencing these days. tanya was living proof to me that sometimes you just have throw your schedule out the window and forget what time it is. she taught me that sometimes it's better to silence your cellphone and pay attention to the one who is sitting beside you. she challenged the core of my personality just by being herself. i hated it, and i allowed it to create unnecessary conflict. thus began the unavoidable change. because of tanya, i started to let go, and because of the letting go, i'm a new person. i still like a schedule, but it's okay if 5 minutes late. i still need consistancy, but it's not a big deal if a pot gets put in the wrong spot.

and tanya, well, she now owns a planner. :)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

california dreamin': number nine

during my freshman year of college, one of the first people i became friends with was a guy named russell. several months into our friendship, two of his high school buddies (that also happened to be brothers) came to visit campus. in order to show the guys a good time, russell got a bunch of people together for some game action one evening which is where i first met jake and joel. sitting in that laughter-filled room that evening, i had no idea that my future held good friendships with these guys. over the years to follow, i came to love their musical abilities, joel's humor, and jake's advice. but this post isn't actually about them.

it's about their parents, mark and lisa. i know i've written about them before (maybe even more than once), but these are people that have really effected my life simply by being themselves. joel ended up attending my college and we became fast friends. we went on the same spring break trip which was to return to campus before the end of the break so joel invited me to spend the weekend at his parents' house. as is the case with most people outside of this family, i came to love them within a short amount of time. mark and lisa consistently throw open their arms in welcome and with love. they have been known to put on events for their massive numbers of friends. you can read more about my adventures with the rohde's here:

chillin' with the rohde's
the rohde rave

the adventures i've had with them range from backyard camping to watching the super bowl to boogie boarding off the californian coast. they have certainly created life-long memories, but these are not the biggest reasons why mark and lisa are on my list of fifty. when i think about my future, the things i value, and what i want my life to be about, i realize that mark and lisa are living it. they raised four incredible boys. when the youngest one was just old enough, they downsized their lives, packed up what was left, and moved 1, 987 miles away. most people do this to retire. mark and lisa did it in order to create a welcoming home in another state, only this time it wasn't for their kids' friends. it was for children who didn't have a home; who lacked safety and reliability. in a matter of days, mark and lisa doubled the size of their family, and it now consists of "children" age 26 to 3, seven boys and one girl, and of multiple races.

i want to be like them. i want to be able to take risks that land me in the unknown. i want to do something right when raising children. i want to create a home where more than my own family can be. i want children from a wide range of backgrounds to be a part of my family. mark and lisa are not only inspiration, but a model to follow. if i can be half as great as they are, i'll consider my life a success.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

the professor: the eighth

sometimes when i look back on the academic side of my college experience, i wonder what i really learned: how to complete an assignment pleasing to a professor; how to retain information just long enough to spit it back out onto a paper full of questions; how to write a lesson plan that shined on paper even though i couldn't make it work in a real classroom. really all useful things when working towards a diploma, but not so helpful in the real world.

there is one class that i remember doing this thing called learning in. it wasn't of my own accord, but because the professor made everything so intriguing, one couldn't help but absorb the information. you could argue that i was predisposed to liking the content, but it wasn't so. this professor's name was spoken all over campus by many a student, and his class was outside of my major. he made the text come alive and found ways of tapping into all learning styles that some of the education professors could have learned from. he was patient and wise and took time to meet with his students outside of the classroom. he was a natural teacher. he was well respected by both students and faculty, and his classes filled up quickly.

i had very few interactions with him outside of class as i had waited until my last semester to take it. the handful of times i was in his office, it was to discuss our group project (as a group). i don't even remember having any one-on-one meetings with him. i wasn't one of those students on the campus that stood out. i knew about 600 people, but i'm not certain that 600 people knew me. i was a pretty average (for our campus) student and was not an athlete (unlike 80% of the student body). unless you knew me well, there was really no reason for anyone to remember me. i spent one semester in this man's class. three hours a week for about sixteen weeks.

at baccalaureate, i was in between greeting friends and family, when this man found me. he congratulated me and told me he enjoyed having me in his class. then he said (and i quote), "i can say this to you because you have graduated and because i don't think you will take this the wrong way. if were twenty years younger, you'd be my girlfriend."

while some might take this in the wrong creepy way, i actually saw it as a huge compliment. this highly known, respected, gifted man saw something in me that, had he been in a completely different place in life, would have led him to pursue me. it helped me to realize that i'm really worth the wait.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

ice cream and dancing: number seven

the thing i liked most about chelsey is that she brought pure fun to a room; or more specifically to our room on the third floor of gaass hall. she was innocently devious, creative, and curious. she loved to eat pizza and mac n' cheese with me, and i'm pretty certain she is the only roommate i've ever had that actually enjoyed watching lifetime movies with me. chelsey was a cross country runner which she put to good use...running to the grocery store...to get ice cream...for us...to eat. there were times when my stomach would ache from laughing with her.

besides helping me to relax and have fun, she taught me practical things like wrapping presents and dancing. although the present wrapping session usually ended in her just doing it for me, and the dancing resulted in her laughing at me as i was no where near the graceful ballerina that she was.

that she really was. a graceful ballerina, a runner, an ice cream lover, and one of the best roommates ever.

Monday, June 08, 2009

a friend from the cornfields: number six

a new baby was born today (of course). i'm specifically thinking of a little girl whose parents named her calla.

it's been a long time since i've talked to this man who suddenly found himself in a new role, but there was time when he was the one i talked to with as much frequency as possible. it's been said that my dad prayed him into my life as i had been pretty lonely and in need someone to call a real friend. others might say that we just drifted into each other's life, but regardless of how it came to be, it's a friendship that changed my life.

for various reasons, i spent much of high school feeling unvalued and unloved by my peers (i'm not going to argue that my feelings were totally valid, but they were my feelings nonetheless). i had joined this county-wide bible study consisting of teens from about five tiny towns. it was in this study that i met robert. he would tell you that he didn't want to be friends with some random girl from another town, and i would tell you that i thought he was cute (i was pretty boy crazy back in the day). despite his internal resistance, some kind of bond formed between us and we found ourselves together; "cruising" on friday nights, watching snl on saturday nights, star gazing and profoundly discussing life in the summers. we kept each other company at our respective school functions, and became advocates for each other's accomplishments in life. honestly, robert was my best friend.

through his friendship, i learned that i was lovable. i learned that my family was lovable. i felt validity. i found encouragement. i experienced a deep joy and a deep love. i think i can say that there is something mutually influential about our friendship as is caused robert to begin discovering just where he might be passionate; helped him to question the purpose for his immediate future.

as we got older life happened. college took us down different paths. he became a pastor, married an incredibly wonderful woman, and today, they became parents. i'm excited for this new life which hopefully means a new passion for this man.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

when thank you isn't enough: persons number five

sometimes influence happens indirectly; like these commercials. thinking about these fifty people combined with processing information about "good start" and "bad start" in early life development has brought me to my number five.

they've been around my whole life (and longer), and while i have been effected by spending time with them, it's the investment they made before i was even conceived that has profoundly shaped the cornerstone of who i am.

they were a young couple answering god's call to plant a church in a small city in nebraska. church planting can be difficult so they took jobs to help financially. or at least i assume that's the reason brad found himself working at valmont.

another young couple moved to the same small city for his job. eventually, ron also found himself working at valmont alongside brad. i can't pretend to know the details of how their friendship formed, but i do know that there was something about the way brad loved ron that ron found intriguing. at some point ron and his wife, denise, found friends in brad and his wife, judy. and at some point, brad and judy brought jesus into ron and denise's life.

ron and denise became part of the church plant and found themselves being discipled by their young friends. eventually, the foursome became practically inseparable. they found in each other refuge, strength, and a friendship that nothing could destroy. i've heard stories about how brad and ron would do the things that ornery guys do and would get hurt in the process. about how judy and denise would scrape pennies together so that they could split a good housekeeping and a chunky bar. sometimes if they hit a gold mine, they would tell stories over chips and salsa at the local mexican joint.

thirty years later, a letter from one couple to the other read, "God looks down and pairs us up with soul mates, we believe, and you are ours; our spirits continue conversations whether we are in one another’s presence or not."

what a poetically beautiful statement.

i deeply admire the bond between these couples, and hope that i will have that in my life, but the effect it's had on my life goes beyond deep admiration. every once in a while, i try to imagine my life without jesus; without a savior to hope in; without grace to walk in. i can't conceive a picture because jesus has always been around, thanks to brad and judy. ron and denise: they are my parents. something about the way that brad and judy intentionally poured into them didn't just effect their lives, but made drastic changes at the core of who they each were, their life as a couple, and as parents.

there's so much more i would like to say, but the deep emotion of gratitude and love i have for this couple is impossible to express.

what do you do when thank you doesn't feel like enough.....

Saturday, June 06, 2009

servant heartedness and a wedding: person number four

looking back on the summer i spent with the next person on the list, i realize that he gave me a glimpse of the person i was to become. he loved jane austen and classical music and could chop an onion better than most people i know. i know this little fact about the onion because he consistently gave up what little free time he had during an intense summer program in order to help me prepare dinner for a hundred people. he quietly served people in this way--taking out the trash, picking up a middle schooler at the end of a school day, working late into the night on woodworking projects for urban elementary kids to finish the next day, waking up early on a sleep-in day to bake for friends. the list could just go on and on. i think daniel was one of the most naturally servant hearted people i have ever met.

becoming friends with daniel taught me to let go and live with the playfulness of child every now and then. he silently pushed his way into my life in ways that showed me i don't always have to be strong; that it's okay to let others do things for me; and to depend on community every now and then. when he wasn't excersizing his servanthoodedness, he could be found running around with the kids, playing games, and using his boyish charm to put grins on the faces of everyone around him.

daniel got married today to an equally as wonderful woman named kimberly. i'm certain that together they are going to unintentionally wreck people's lives by caring for them in ways they never imagined possible.

Friday, June 05, 2009

a shared day: person number three

today is my half birthday. it’s a special day, not because it is my half birthday, but rather because I share it with the real birthday of one of my fifty people. i met justin practically the minute he stepped his freshman feet onto campus. i never imagined that this jolly boy would grow into the passionate man he has become. justin has more than touched my life; he’s made an imprint so deep that nothing could possibly fill it.

why? because justin is:

a bold follower of jesus. with reckless abandon, he consistently says yes when god calls him to the scariest of neighborhoods and to love the hardest of people.

a goof. justin has a way of making people laugh; sometimes at his own expense. whether he's cracking a joke intentionally or making light of the moment, his humor often puts a room at ease.

a compassionate and wise friend. when i first met him, he was a friendly guy, but as god changed his heart and his passions, he became filled with compassion. he's been given a gift to see people through the eyes of jesus in a much more natural way than most of the rest of us. through his compassion, he exercises wisdom and is often sought after for advice.

an inspirer. justin is a world changer simply through intentional relationships. what's more inspiring than that?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

unspeakable change: number two of fifty

sometimes it's as simple as witnessing change that occurs in a person. their growth leaves something unspeakable attached to you which remains forever. and this is how the second on my list will be remembered.

she was a crier. everyday. as if it would really get her out of running laps in my class. her tears came because "she couldn't do it" or because she didn't like the game or because she didn't understand my directions. in reality, the cause was her slight immaturity combined with low self-confidence. despite the fact that i'm also a crier, i would pat her on the back and send her on her way: running laps, playing the game, and generally doing whatever it was i had instructed the rest of the class to do. i would take time out of the game to explain rules in her terminology which often involved the use of cats or hamsters. i spent the whole first year trying to convince her that she should ask questions, use her words, rather than break down sobbing. she was the student that i was certain would never enjoy any sort of physical activity and would probably always dread coming to my class.

during the second year, something changed in her. i found that she had a glorious smile that complimented her wildly curly red hair. she ran her laps slower than most, but without tears. she participated, but still hung back at times. every now and then, she would even ask for an explanation. one day in the middle of a soccer game, i watched as the ball flew through the air aimed at her. i expected her normal action: running away, but instead was greeted with surprise as i watched her intentially meet the ball with her head, bump it with her chest, and send it reeling to the ground. later she beamed at me with confidence as she explained to me that another more adept classmate had told her doing a header doesn't actually hurt.

later in the year i met her in the hallway. i greeted her with a hello. she paused, grinned from ear to ear, and started to bob up and down as she skipped the hello to declare "i love hockey!" i don't know what changed her, but it was obvious that something had gotten to her core. my last day of school, i pulled her aside to encourage the change i had seen. before i could even get the words out, she hugged me hard and said she was going to miss me. at the end of our little conversation, she gave me her version of high five called a "migh nive" and bounced her curly head all the way back to her mother. there was something powerful in the newfound confidence of this little girl, and this time as she ran, it was my tears that fell.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

the first of fifty

i realize that the first of fifty life influencers was due yesterday, but it was a daunting task to pick who would be first. in no way does the order i choose to write about these people reflect an order in which i value them. that sort of order just cannot be done.

my friend jessica gets to be the first, partly because we've being playing phone tag a lot lately and partly because she has the kind of personality that would just jump and go first when asked. not that i asked, but her name did kind of jump off the paper. when i first met jessica, i was fresh out of college and in the "big city" to teach at a school in which she had already invested several years. her passion for the mission of the school and her desire to be a great teacher made her intimidating as she spoke her mind quite freely. because of my newness, i didn't see what drove jessica. in my blindness, she became one of those people that i saw in shapes and colors.

i don't really remember how that changed. it may have been the day i saw her dawn a top hat and cane to sing the winston grammar song to her students. regardless, i'm so thankful that god challenged my perspective as jessica became one of the greatest influences on several aspects of my life. perhaps the most obvious way is my appearance. superficial, i know, but important nonetheless. she brought me out of my tomboyish mismatched funky ways, and into the world of womanhood. through her i came to enjoy my clothes instead of fighting with them every morning. she gave me essential shopping skills and instilled a confidence in me that i had not known before.

beyond the clothing, jessica inspires me. she is bold and spunky; confident in a humble way; spontaneous. she's the life of the party; she stands up for what she believes in; and she'll let you know when you might be making a bad decision. her honesty is what spurs me to seek big decision advice from her. her contagious personality always sends me into fits of laughter, and somehow, when i'm around her, i can forget the everyday stresses.

jessica's been a part of my life for almost six years. there are days when i long for the states between us to disappear so that i can tell her my latest boy story over coffee or model every black pair of shoes i own to see what fits best with my new summer skirt. but until that day comes, i'll just have to put on the outfit, look at myself in the mirror, and imagine her saying, "sammy, those pleated pants have got to go."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

in celebration...

today is kind of a significant anniversary for me. it's not one that i've ever celebrated, as it may not be the celebrating kind. sometimes i even forget about it until it is here and almost over. for some reason, as i greeted the new summer urban project interns today, it was very prevalent in my mind. eight years ago, i was in their shoes; stepping into the city for the first time, wide eyed and a little afraid. i had no clue when i stepped out of dave's little red truck and into the circle drive of my new temporary home that my life would not just change, but would take on a whole new meaning.

today's anniversary combined with last night's post has gotten me to thinking a lot about how drastically different i am. sometimes i think about the person that rode in that little red truck eight years ago and wonder if that was really me. i'm not even sure i recognize the girl i was just a year ago.

my life change didn't just happen. i was inspired. i was encouraged. i was prayed for. i was counseled. i was invested in. i was loved. in reality, i am a product of the effects that relationships have had on me. in honor of the anniversary; in honor of the woman i have become, am becoming; in honor of the people who saw beyond my colors and shapes...

fifty days. the number of days the summer interns spend in the city; the number of days that i first spent in the city where god would wreck my life. fifty is not high enough to represent the number of people who have forever left their marks in me. but in fifty days, i'm going to bring you fifty people. fifty people that pushed me from my state of being...

may you be inspired by who they are and through that inspiration find the courage and words to express your gratitude to those who have evoked change in your life.

and if you happen to be one of the fifty...thank you...

Monday, June 01, 2009

there are people in this life that no matter how hard you try, you will just never forget even if years go by without words spoken. forever etched in my memory are things like my early childhood bff. i haven't seen tami since i was seven, but i will never forget her obsession with jon bon jovi. there was a janitor at my first elementary school that called me the skunk when i would show up in my yellow sweater with the black stripes down the arms. i can still see the little round glasses that sat just below the gray hair atop his tall, thin, almost elderly body. later in life there is a girl named anna who drank mountain dew and constantly got a's on the papers she would at 1am on the day they were due or chelsey who would go for a run with her backpack on, only to stop and fill it with ice cream for us to indulge in upon her return. there's no way to erase daniel or joe, a homeless man that became our travel companion as we ventured across the state early one sunday morning. there are a few people in my life currently that, despite what the future holds, i know will hold their place in me; the guy who taught me my first guitar chords which unlocked a whole part of me that i had put away; russ who inadvertently made me get through my fear of inability to think intellectually and gave me a confidence that was never before mine; the new friend i had coffee with tonight.

i haven't known him long, but just long enough to want to know him longer. he's a quiet, rather peaceful man, but not without presence. he's an artist, a musician, a cook, an intellect, a computer geek, an outdoorsman, and an athlete all wrapped into one person.

my first contact with him was through his art. admittedly, upon first look, i didn't understand his painting. i found it beautiful and sensed the emotion, but it wasn't until our accidental/coincidental/god-ordained meeting (choose your own adventure on that one) that i saw things differently. the painting was no longer just this pretty thing with some sort of meaning behind it, but an extension of a part of a man's struggle within his soul. the figure was no longer standing; he was desparately reaching. he wasn't decorated by a ribbon, but bound by the unwanted. the emotion took shape as stubbornness and fear beginning to yield to longing and desparation.
when i looked beyond the color and shapes, i found something soul stirring. like his paintings, there is a richness to this man that i never would have guessed at first glance.

as we talked over intentionally cold coffee tonight, it came to light that a lot of treasures are blown off after a quick glance at their pretty colors or well drawn lines; like heavy metal music or susan boyle.

just what i have missed out on...what life change have i passed by...what impact have i denied just because i couldn't "understand the words" or "wasn't attracted to the color" or because i simply didn't have the time to explore the depth?

i can't imagine just what i would be like nor what faces would flood my mind if i walked around looking only at shapes and color and hearing things in heavy metal-like screams. i'm grateful for the times that god has forced me to see beyond my blind contentedness and into rich depths of the treasures around me for without those moments or without those people, i would just be. and being is not enough.

but that's a story for another post...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

confessions of a suicidal squirrel

dear lady who hates me,

i did it. it was me. not the other guys. i just couldn't resist the juiciness of the pumpkins, and your flowers were the perfect place to bury my nuts. i will miss running on your window ledge early in the morning and making the choking noises outside your living room.

please don't forget me.
-the squirrelly one

Saturday, April 11, 2009

squirrel attack!

it's a known fact that i have issues with squirrels. they eat my pumpkins, dig holes in my garden, knock over the plants on my porch, and run up the sides of my house. my life would be less stressful if it were squirrel-less.

there is another type of squirrel in my life; a particular class that i teach. like the animals, the kids dart all over the place, not paying attention, and knocking things (usually each other) over. they also cause stress, but it's only over such things as: potentially loosing one in the frenzy of outdoor pe, major injuries due to their lack of listening to directions, and their lack of listening to directions resulting in my having to repeat myself about twenty times. this particular class, mostly due to their age, is also pretty clueless so i was flabbergasted when they decided to think for themselves the other day.

we were trying to play kickball with nine students in the sprinkly rain. not only was it not enough players, but these specific kids were not enjoying it. (i know, how can you NOT love kickball!) one little fella decided he would try to knock the ball out of my hands in between pitches. when another of the more athletically inclined squirrels joined in, I had a much harder time keeping the ball away from them. before i knew it, most of the class was on me...most of them trying to get the ball, but a few of them attempting to defend me. the shock of their rebellion was paralyzing as they mauled me for the ball.

eventually order overtook the chaos, and i somehow managed to keep the ball in my hands. but in the meantime, my heart grew just a little bit for the squirrels. it's taken almost the entire school year, but i think i really like them.

this event, however, has no effect on my feelings toward the animal.

not the best i've ever created, but it was still fun

Thursday, March 26, 2009

death of a favorite

(just for the record, that's my pocket peeking out, not unmentionables)

spring in my yard (the result of hard work in the fall)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

sometimes i feel like i'm on such a huge learning curve, yet i'm grateful that i am still teachable. i'm often amazed that god isn't more frustrated with me, and continuously thankful for the grace i don't deserve. like most people, i'm scared of what would make me uncomfortable; that is often the very place where god decides to call me. i'm not in a place to elaborate on these two statements in a way specific to my life...just yet. but i will say that i'm having a good laugh (or maybe a good cry) at the fact that i still haven't picked up on the fact that god calls me away from my comfort. after a bit of resistance i'll step into the uncomfortable, be challenged, encouraged, see a whole new side of god's character, and eventually will begin to feel like i belong in whatever situation that may be. of course at the same time there is usually this "i don't think he would ever ask me to do _______" in the back of my mind. and of course, that "i don't think...." becomes the next uncomfortable thing he's asking me to do.

the discernment and transition stage is the worst. trying to figure out if god is really saying what i think he's saying, and then actually stepping into it. everything so new it's like stepping into a foreign land when it may only be across the street...or sitting right next to you.

while i college, i was assigned to work one year in the security department. for the first several months, i was assigned a student partner. we got to wear security ball caps and roam campus in the golf cart from 8pm to midnight one night a week. we would lock all of the academic buildings and just be certain that everything appeared safe. when the iowa winter began to hit, i was moved inside due to a circulatory disease which doesn't do so well in the cold. if you know iowa winters, you would think that was a blessing, but if you knew the reputation of the head of security you would think differently. john was an infamous name on campus. he was known for being quietly gruff, although many students would have chosen different adjectives for him. he showed little mercy when it came to parking tickets and had very little tolerance for the dumb things that college kids would do. ever the rule follower, i was a bit fearful of him and what would happen if i ever accidentally broke the rules (because i would never intentionally break the rules :) ) so when the winter chill came, i found myself sitting (scared) less than five feet away from him three afternoons a week.

one day while venturing across campus to the security office, i heard this voice say "ask john how you can pray for him". what? yes, i did what every normal person would do and quickly dismissed it. as i got closer to the building where the office was housed, "ask him." no way. there is no way i am going to ask him that. i entered the office and greeted john in the usual friendly, but cool way. "ask him." i shot to my desk and began to widdle away at the stack of parking tickets from the weekend. the further i got into the stack, the more i heard the words, and the more i heard the words, the more fearful i grew. "what if he's not a christian and he jumps down my throat? how will i ever be able to come back to this office?" eventually the room started to spin and my productivity decreased drastically. i kept praying that he would get called out of the office so that i could just be comfortable. but when that didn't happen, i closed my eyes and told the voice that i would open my mouth but that's as far as i could go alone.

i slowly turned in my chair to face john. he saw this which was my cue that there was no going back. i opened my mouth, and from what seemed like someone removed from me, came tender and calm words "i was wondering if i could being praying about something for you?" my heart was pounding in my ears. i watched the expression on john's face go from the gruff security man to a very tender, broken, vulnerable human, and he proceeded to tell me about how he was once a pastor. he shared with me the intimate story of why he was no longer a pastor and continued with the fact that he was trying to discern if he should return. and he just wanted prayer to really hear from god!

it was a highly uncomfortable situation, sitting next to him everyday. this man that was rumored as mr. tough on campus when really he was just doing his job. i prayed for john that day, and i prayed for john every day after that for a month. our greetings were no longer chilly, but covered in smiles and authenticity. i began to look forward to going to work, and when my time as a security worker was over, i found myself stopping by often just to say hi. then one day, several months later, the office wasn't the venue any longer. one sunday morning, i found myself, along with a couple of friends, leading worship for a little congregation that god had brought john to pastor.

even though the process isn't always so fun, i love that god pushes us into tiny little offices to sit next to uncomfortable so that we can get even the smallest glimpse of grace and redemption and relationship and his character. pieces of him that i'm certain i would miss out on if i only lived unyielding to the call from comfort.

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