Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Collective Breath

Christmas Eve is here!  Complete with snow on the ground, making the White Christmas I sing about happily true this year.  The presents are wrapped with brightly colored paper, completed with sparkly shiny bows.  Cards expressing Christmas wishes to all are nearly ready to be given (my theory is that as long as they go out before the New Year it’s all good).  Soon, the house will be filled with the smell of Christmas Eve chili, lemon pie and a mixture of other goodies; complimented by the sounds of children, friends and family. 

The special time of Christmas is not something that is made up of all these wonderful things, though these are exceptionally lovely things to include.  It is a yearly instance where the world seems to take a collective breath and inhale the sweet newness of an infant in a manger; the feeling we get when we hold a tiny new life that is only minutes, days or weeks old.  Thrust into our arms, the baby’s weight is slight, but it fills us with the weight of love and responsibility. 

The pause of peace that occurs around this time of year is reflected in traditions, spontaneous declarations and heartbreakingly wistful wants of peace throughout history and the world.  The town of Turku, Finland, has declared a Christmas peace since the Middle Ages.  The holly and mistletoe, respectively the kissing plant and the plant of peace, are reminiscent of the kiss of peace monarchs would give and receive from their nobles.  The old history of many carols can be traced to the need of peace that only this new life a baby could bring.  In much more modern history, a desire for peace came out again in the Civil War, even amidst Christmas day skirmishes.  The soldiers’ hearts craved that peace should be the order of the day and reflected it in their letters and songs.  After the capture of Savannah, some northern soldiers delivered several wagons full of food and other supplies to the people who were caught in a land desolated by a bitter war.  In World War I, an impromptu peace broke out in several places as men in opposing trenches exchanged songs, a few gifts, and rallied their impromptu football (a.k.a soccer) teams with cheering, ringing foreign sounds of peace through no-man’s-land.  Much more recent is in war-torn Nigeria; a few Muslim and Christian neighbors have declared this very Christmas a time of peace to celebrate together. 

Beyond the kindness to strangers we many witness at this time, these days have a convention of people drawing in a breath and catching in a singular air of the divine.  I think it is more than just sweet traditions and customs that has brought about these singular moments that we know of, and the thousands we do not know of.  I think it is the celebration of an earthly birth of a heavenly king.  The peace our minds and bodies crave catch a whisper from the spirit, quiet amongst the sounds of wrapping, caroling, sledding, shopping, visiting, and cooking; barely heard and yet keenly felt.  It is the whisper that offers peace, the peace of the spirit.  The peace we have so long wanted is rested in our arms as a new born baby, Jesus.  The emptiness in the longing is filled with the hope of peace.  But, I think that it is not just the baby that impacts in such a tremendous way, it is the man as well.  The man that died for us, died for us out of love and returned to us out of love, to offer peace. 

In the hectic moments the next few days presents, I wish you a merry and peace filled Christmas.  That you will draw in a breath and catch a faint hint of the smell of a new baby in a manger, of a man on a cross, of the promise of peace in love. 

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
 I heard the bells on Christmas day
 Their old familiar carols play,
 And wild and sweet the words repeat
 Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 I thought how, as the day had come,
 The belfries of all Christendom
 Had rolled along th'unbroken song
 Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 And in despair I bowed my head:

 'There is no peace on earth,' I said
 'For hate is strong, and mocks the song
 Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

 Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
 'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
 The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
 With peace on earth, good will to men.'

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, December 9, 2013

Anthem of Joy

The Christmas musical And On Earth, Peace has finished.  Months of practice, planning, rehearsal, and preparation culminated into two nights of performance.  Then, it is over and we are left with stories, memories, and the tunes stuck in our head.

The musical score, each song that has been practiced over and over (and over) are hushed now from the formal performance.  But, these anthems of praise, anthems of joy, are not merely the music written for the performance.  It is the laughter and giggles, and at time chortles and guffaws, that have filled the stage – these are a theme in the anthem of joy.  Each of the carefully prepared devotions, led and given with leading questions are pointing out phrases.  The whip of flags provides a soft rhythm in the song; while the practices and performance of the angel color guard continue to add a momentum of building tempos.  The sound of little shepherd feet running to their places is a percussive vibrato accented by the quiet counterpoint of a whisper of wheelchairs and walkers and feet spilled with candlelight.  The hands on the sound board, the lights, and computer are all subtle in movement.  But, they are such an important part of the musical line, part of the joyous hymn.  A new baby’s sleepy sigh, a touch point in a phrase that is complex with many parts melding into time changes and key change, rings out into the smallness of the rafters and the largeness of the heart.  It is sensed in the feet of children dancing on their parents’ laps without conscious thought, simply with the need to join the celebration.  Whispered instructions from flashlight wielding stage crews add a new instrumental line; one so subtle that many do not notice, unless it would suddenly not be there.  The audience reaches out to meet the joy, and shares it back with applause, smiles, and warm wishes.

The music comes to a silence, but the anthem of joy does not end.  This time is merely another change of pace before moving to a new musical line.  Another key change, a new bridge, and a series of fermatas, then pause for breath before speed finds its new metronomic pace.  The anthem continues in the well wishes of Christmas, the wide-eyed wonder of the child who can twirl and experience wonder in helping place the nativity.  It is experienced in the feel of the clean crisp quietness belonging to the first snow.  The smells of cookies delivered to neighbors strike gentle glissandos, while the delivery of a blanket to one who is cold heralds joy like a perfectly struck chime.  Bells break in as Christmas carolers visit others.  Shared meals with harmony, dissonance, and resolution revolve in the bond of family.  Delicate soprano notes play as little ones don costumes and take their places on stages to win hearts and steal shows.  New chords are tried as new memories are made and old familiar chords blend in with sweet traditions.

The program ends, And On Earth, Peace.  The lights have come back on, and people eventually filtered back out into the dark and snowy night. But, the anthem of joy does not end.  It is the eternal anthem of the joy of the Lord, one of complexity and styles that has stretched for thousands of years of music.  And yet, though with different instrumental focuses, the same theme repeats.  Come, join in the anthem, it is the joy of the Lord.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Heralding in the Season

The holiday season has started upon us, and has already been busy with wonderful visits, activities, and meals.  On this weekend of Thanksgiving, I have so enjoyed reading and hearing about the thankfulness of others.  Thanksgiving for me is a herald of the holiday season, an announcement of the anniversary celebrated in the days to come.  While this herald may conjure up images of turkeys and sweet potato casserole among many, I am actually quite content with a ham sandwich for my meal.  The food, though tasty, is not Thanksgiving.  This last Thanksgiving, just a few days past, is one where I paused and stood a moment; a split second to take in the sound of little feet running and trailing giggles, in-depth discussions over recipes, wonderfully tantalizing smells, and feel of many crowding into the heart of a home. 

Yes, I am thankful.  And, at this crazily busy time of year, I love to have this reminder and chance to participate as a society to pause and be thankful together.  Not to pretend our difficulties do not exist, but to at least momentarily be reminded to move through them holding the hopes that are bright, like the Christmas lights being put up.  Hope in the very faithfulness of God.  That gratitude refreshed on this long weekend, is not dependent upon a holiday.  But, I am thankful for the holidays as a sweet reminder of gratitude for God’s hope.

That gratitude was mixing yesterday with a sweet melancholy sentiment as I started to put up ornaments on the tree.  I love Christmas!  The lights, the music, my favorite smells of pine, and the very feeling of the clean chill air.  Carefully holding an ornament, choosing the perfect place on the tree, and placing it on the branch; it is placing little moments of memories of years’ past.  My heart, full of joy and thanksgiving is also slightly tugged on.  The memories of Christmas past, those who are loved and miles away, or have gone on to be with God, these dear people make up memories of layers of Christmas past.  Not as waves of sadness, but the delicate layers of sentiment and memory that leads my mind to jump from year to year and will be added to this year.

 This season has been officially brought in with praises, intentional thankfulness, and deep rooted memories that tug and bring up joy.  But, most of all the season has begun, the celebration of hope – eternal and human, a baby and a man, death and life – the season of the Nativity!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Puppy Dog Lessons

 Last weekend we loaded up and headed out to a nearby park for some unplugged down time, much needed and much enjoyed.  Besides vehicles packed with what we needed for staying in the cabins, we had all the packing for bringing all three of the dogs with us.  Two labs and one labradoodle came along, much to their delight.  They spent time splashing in the lake, sleeping in the sunshine, and stretched out on blankets.  We packed everything they would need.  And they packed in a few lessons along the way.

Jumping In
My sweet labradoodle pup is more a girly girl than not; more pillow than puddle.  So, while the labs jumped into the lake with abandon, she decided that sitting on the dock with me was just fine.  But, they must have looked like they were having such great fun.  I could see her wanting to join in, but she held back.  Unexpectedly and at a full run, she took off and launched into the water.  Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge the fear and jump in anyway. 
Oh, and she didn’t jump back in later, but she did manage to wade in up to her belly.

Dragon, Pillows, Air Conditioners – Gotta’ Lean into the Little Joys
Don’t leave home without your dragon (a.k.a. safety blanket).  My pup simply will not go to bed without her stuffed dragon.  So, dragon of course went along with us.  Pillows are our friends.  And for many of us, they are kind of an expected part of our bedroom set.  But, just because we are used to it, we don’t want to lose the joy of the feel of a pillow under our heads.  And, when you are in the car, it can feel good to lean into the air conditioner and really soak in the cool air.  Of course, not when you are driving…  It isn’t always the big things that are joys; it is a myriad of little things.

Be Happy To See Loved Ones
Whether I’m gone five hours or five minutes, I get a wonderfully enthusiastic greeting from my pup.  She is so happy that I am back with her.  Don’t forget to show others how happy you are to see them too!

Focus on the Stick
Before a dog can swim out and get a stick in a lake, they have got to know where the stick is.  So, they get focused and wait for it to be thrown, watching for the splash for where it lands.  If they get distracted, they would have no idea of where to look.  It is easy to lose focus, but when we need to keep our eye on the goal, it is time to look at the goal and don’t look away.
Don’t Just Notice – Do Something
An evening campfire was feeling better and better as the cooler night temperatures set in.  As we moved our lawn chairs closer, I noticed that my pup was showing signs of getting cold.  Getting ready to leave the fire and take her in, I reached down to pet her and noticed that I was touching two pups.  One noticed that the other was cold and moved over to cuddle in.  Next thing I know, they were both sound asleep and warm and comfy.  I often get so busy, I miss that someone else is having a rough moment.  And, if I miss it, I certainly can’t lend a hand or warmth. 

The dogs went on vacation with us, and taught a few lessons along the way.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not Forgotten

Not Forgotten – the victims of the day.
Not Forgotten – the rescuers who ran toward danger
Not Forgotten – the prayer vigils that broke down barriers
Not Forgotten – unlikely heroes who displayed selflessness
Not Forgotten – crumbled steel, clouds of dust, debris fields
Not Forgotten – loss of innocence in looking at any and all airplane flying overhead
Not Forgotten – kindness of neighbors
Not Forgotten – where I was that day
Not Forgotten – the days of strife that followed
Not Forgotten – more sacrifice from those in uniform, and their families and friends that love them
Not Forgotten – leadership in terrible circumstances
Not Forgotten – integrity and honor as hands extended to help
Not Forgotten – many prayers for peace, forgiveness, and for those most directly impacted to retain hope
Not Forgotten – changing laws, terror alerts, new fears
Not Forgotten – structures created by ingenuity, built by strong hands, staffed with those going about their normal day, and their absence
Not Forgotten – a field that became a memorial for an act of selflessness
Not Forgotten – new dreams, new structures, new growth in that field

Not Forgotten – a new day, not that this whole threat is over, but that we can stand, in hands linked in prayer and strength to cry out with one voice

No, they are not forgotten.  And those who survive them and have attempted piece their lives back together are also not forgotten.  I remember where I was that day, the feelings of confusion, shock, and horror.  I remember the pride in those who responded, working to the point of exhaustion over and over to save lives.  I remember prayers for those I love in uniform, for their safety and care while they were going about their duties.  I remember the terror alerts that came out, the color coding system that seemed would become part of our daily world for a while.  Such a cry of pride in those who serve came out, making me also feel pride for those celebrating our responders.  We must not forget the horror of that day.  Nor, the kindness, ingenuity, strength, heroism, selflessness, and genuine love displayed in the days following. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Disgruntled Mouth-box or Loving Messenger

I saw a poster for a band called Disgruntled Mouth-box law week.  I had to laugh.  I know nothing about the band or if they live up to their name.  But, the words in the name itself made me laugh, and caught my attention. 

Disgruntled:  to make ill-humored or discontented
Taking Advantage of Light Bulb Moments
                Synonym – alienate, estrange, and sour
Mouth-box: somebody who expresses someone’s views
                Synonym – mouthpiece

Sound like anyone you know?  Being human, I thought of others first…  (Hey, just being honest here).  For example, those who have been in positions of leadership that offer complaining and criticism; one negative after another without thought for offering a solution.  The classic complainers come to mind, the ones who are the constant grouch to be avoided at all cost lest they “infect” you with their sourness. 
Beyond someone having a bad day, this makes me think of words not being used wisely.  Eventually, I get around to thinking closer to home (a.k.a. me).  Though I wish I could claim that all of my words are paragons of wisdom and virtue that build up others with guidance and leadership, I know better.  Not every word that comes out of my mouth represents the best of me or my beliefs – I too can be a disgruntled mouth-box.  I don’t have to speak it, I may have disgruntled, grumbly, roll my eyes thoughts as well – acerbic mental tongue indeed.
But, is that what I want?  Are these the words and attitudes I want to present to those around me and to keep in my mind?  Of course not!  Probably few of us do.  Not a disgruntled person, or a mouth-box.  That makes me think of someone who eventually becomes of no consequence because they are avoided as they jump on their soapbox for the umpteenth time and rail out against others; someone speaking without purpose.
What is a better choice?  Is it not better to offer words of life, building, hope, encouragement, patience, teaching, instruction, and hope?  It’s not always fluffy words or thoughts, but those that are offered are from a different perspective.  The focus is not one that is soured and sours others.  It offers a perspective that reflects the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23).

I’ll challenge myself and I’ll challenge you.  Don’t be a disgruntled mouth-box, intentionally don’t!  Instead, let’s intentionally be a loving messenger.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Buzz Words – Or Not

I was part of a discussion last week about the new buzz word/phrases of accountability and failure being a topic of discussion.  After thinking about the concepts more, I find myself torn in two ways.  One, when did these words stop becoming buzz words – in other words, was there a time that they lost their power and potency in current culture?  The second is that if one is true, then thank heavens that they are coming back now!

But why – why are they important?

Accountability, stemming from the older words that mean to account for something, means that an individual or a group will make a choice and then stand behind it.  I think most can understand the concept of accountability, even if we don’t always like to be called for account.  But, it’s relation to failure is not always as obvious as might be thought.

Accountability and failure seem again the obvious match, as we are called to account for our failings.  But, in this particular case, it was brought a step further.  Failures happen, our best plans sometimes flop horribly.  Not leaving it with simply the immediate mess cleaning up is where I would challenge all of us.  Instead, we must learn from these happenings and apply that knowledge to hopefully lead to a different result. 

My low pressure example was I was trying to make potato cakes.  I’ve had potato cakes, but I’ve never made them before.  Combining a couple of different recipes, my first batch was not so much cakey as like an apple sauce texture.  Needless to say, that didn’t stick around long to be stared at like some starchy soup.  But, recognizing that the potatoes were not staying bound together as they were needed, I added flour – with the result that the new batch came out quite beautiful and golden brown.  Yes, that is a pretty low stress example, yet serves as a good example of trying something, failing, and then, making changes and trying again. 

We all fail.  We all need to shoulder forms of accountability (and be a little kinder with each other since we all fail at times).   We all need to learn from what failed and decide what changes to make to move forward.  Buzz words, maybe.  Life time lesson words – absolutely! 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Buckets of Refreshing

Overall, this summer has been extremely pleasant for someone who is not a fan of high heat.  Cool days and cooler nights have come to a temporary end as the heat arrived and seems to want to stay.  My plants that seemed refreshed and able to handle the heat this morning were bowed down and droopy by this afternoon.  The soil seemed as if the moisture was evaporated out at such a rate that what was okay this morning was completely dry by evening.  Grabbing the bucket and filling it up multiple times from the garden hose, plants were watered slowly.  Too fast and the water just rolls off.  Slowly, repetitively, water needs to be added, allowing it to sink in.  One time watered, two time watered, and slowly I watched the water sink in.  After an evening and night to soak in the new water, tomorrow the plants will be recharged.  Of course, that is water for one day.  Tomorrow evening, in this heat, water will also be needed again.

I feel like these plants sometimes.  The heat of a busy day arrives and what started out as refreshed ends as drooped and bowed to the sun.  I can feel dried out, over extended and badly in need of refreshing.  In fact, I’ve been feeling that way in the last few months off and on.  Wonderful opportunities to be involved in so many different projects and activities, doing great things to serve – things I want to do.  But, without refreshing I will be as dry as that dirt.  Yet, I have noticed that as refreshing comes from the Lord, and it does come, it comes like the water from the bucket – a little at a time.  It came in watching fawns for some time this afternoon.  It came from an unexpected encounter waving to a friend during an afternoon.  It came from seeing a shooting star, a hummingbird, and a friend’s smile.  A child’s exuberant and unencumbered praise of Christ, the time in prayer, and the words of the Bible all come like cool water and refresh my spirit. 

Yes, I do bow with the heat and the dryness that life can bring, just with the schedule of things I love to do.  And yet, I am continuing to find each day, buckets slowly added to bring refreshing.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Summer Blooms – Worlds in a Clay Pot

Blooms have been numerous in the yard this year; little swirls and dabs and swaths of color that highlight their pots.  They are a living painting, moving and swirling over the yard.  Rather than writing about them, I thought I would share a few pictures.  Try to imagine the birds singing, an occasional cricket to hop about, the buzz of the bees, sounds and feels of the breeze, and the warmth of the sun.  

Friday, August 23, 2013


WIP - a common abbreviation for Work In Progress.

This has been a summer of projects, many involving paint, sand paper and endless possibilities. I have taken over a spot of the garage, where a plank balanced over the rims of the wheelbarrow has made an excellent impromptu holder of paint and other fun tools.

Coming in to clean up after “playing” with a combination of paints on my hands and dust on my feet (projects that occur while barefoot are just so much better); I am excited by seeing ideas take shape. Sometimes, they turned out better than I imagined. At other times, the results were just okay or not quite as expected. That is the fun of and the challenge of WIP. The expected result may not necessarily occur, but the shaping of an idea into a newly finished project, while overcoming challenges and using creative imaginings throughout is great.

This idea struck me in a new way the other day as I looked at my hands, holding a paint brushed and covered in a combination of blue and brown paint flecks. I am also a WIP! I am not even close to declaring myself as a finished product that has met my end goals. Instead, I am in the process of a project shaped over a lifetime. And, not only does this include me, but those around me as well. We are not finished projects, ready for display. But, works in progress, in action, and in practice. The possibilities are indeed endless! I encourage you as a fellow WIP to go, learn, try and create.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

One Black Shoe on the Street Curb

There is a shoe, a single shoe, sitting next to the curb on the street.  Just one shoe, not even a pair.  And, I had to wonder just how did one single shoe arrive at that spot.  Oh, I could come up with something practical – but that would not be nearly as much fun.  So….

Idea 1:
A tennis shoe wearing individual was getting ready to cross the street.  Suddenly, a giant bird swooped out of the sky and picked the person up.  The suddenness of the swoosh of the flight take-off caused one shoe to fall off.  Thus, there it is by the curb.  The giant bird delivered the individual to their car, minus one shoe, after they have had an aerial tour of the town.

Idea 2: 
A shoe seller had a pile of shoes to sell in a box and there were so many they were starting to wobble as if they would fall out of the box they were being carried in.  Perched on the top, swaying to and fro was a pair of black tennis shoes.  The shoe seller could not see the curb since there were so many shoes piled high and stubbed a toe and wobbled.  This caused the black tennis shoe to slide off the pile, bounce off the shoe seller’s head, and land on the street.  As the shoe seller’s hands were completely full of a wobbly pile of shoes, there was no care taken to stop and gather the lost shoe.

Idea 3:
Black tennis shoe, white tennis shoe, red tennis shoe, or blue tennis shoe.  Someone could not decide which tennis shoe to wear and decided to wear them all at one time.   The person came to the curb and when stepping up the black tennis shoe fell off.  However, a train was coming through at that time and the shoe wearer decided that they would try and catch a ride on the train.  The train could not wait for the shoe to be gathered and it was left there on the street.

Idea 4:
A person starting to walk across the street stepped off the curb and their phone rang.  They answered and heard such wonderful news that they jumped for joy.  They ran off excited, so excited that the shoe stayed behind.

Idea 5:
A shoe hoarding raccoon decided that it was time to clean out it’s burrow and rid itself of the summer shoes in its collection.  But, the raccoon could not decide which one to get rid of.  Sandals, flip flops, tennis shoes, and other shoes were carefully sorted through.  Finally, after hours of careful inspection of the summer shoe collection, the raccoon made a selection of one black tennis shoe.  The shoe was carefully placed near the opening to the sewer so that it would find a good home with another shoe collecting raccoon.

Those are my stories, and I’m sticking with them!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blood Will Out – Or So They Say

I love history, understanding why and how things worked at a period of time and how that has created ripple effects that translate to our lives today.  I find myself doing an internal eye roll and silent sigh heaving every time I hear it said that history isn’t interesting or not important.  Intrigue, war, politics, romance, power, peace, learning, conquering, wins, losses, explorations – it is all there!  In the whole span of history, my favorite time period to read about is 12th century Wales.  After starting as curiosity from a family genealogy project, I found stories that let me put historical flesh back on people and make them much more real to me. 

A phrase in that study leads me to more of an etymology understanding, “blood will out.”  In other words, at the end blood will tell, the family history will show itself, and true heritage will break through.  It is an interesting concept, one worthy of discussion and consideration.  I was looking at it in the case of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, (that is Llywelyn, son of Gruffydd, son of Llywelyn the Great) or Llywelyn Prince of Wales, to add an interesting layer.  Llywelyn Fawr, the grandfather, was known as “the Great” and the first to steer Wales from a loose collection of fractious rivalries to a power that would form the seed of a nation.  This man faced dissent both from inside his borders, his neighbors, and from the looming border of England.  Even his son, Gruffydd, did not demonstrate his father’s understanding of the love of country over the love of son; creating a rift that would not heal in Gruffydd’s lifetime.  It was the grandson who understood the dream, where blood told of the nobleness of self-denial in an effort to create a strong and independent nation from disjointed lands, political maneuverings, and shadowy dreams.  It’s a much older argument than so nicely phrased in nature vs. nurture. 

Blood will out – human blood sullied by the sin of the first man, the first woman and carried in our veins since.  Blood will out – the Christ follower who receives a transplant of sorts, a washing away of the sin.  It is in the changes of the Christ follower’s life that we see that blood will indeed show itself time and again.  It is when we see changes that make impacts that are both deep and long lasting over generations that we see this blood change.  Blood will out – indeed.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Perspectives from Marigolds

Just spent a few minutes dead-heading the marigolds in the yard.  Of all the summer flowers, that is one of my favorites with their little sun spots of color and powerful perfume that the bees and birds love. 
To give the coming and current blooms the most energy from the plant, the dying blooms can be removed in a process called dead-heading.  Just snip the bloom off with your fingers.  I go out and do that every week or so, and that is when you will find my pockets full of marigold flowers as I head back in the house to store my treasure through the rest of the year and into the next spring.  I break up the heads so that the seeds can dry out and be stored.  Then, after the most recent batch has dried, it takes its place in a glass jar to be held until the new spring comes.

Seeing these summer blooms drying up can be kind of a sad thought.  It is a reminder of the opening and closing of life chapters in general.  But, as I look at the pile of seeds ready to dry and be stored, I can’t help but think of the perspective lesson marigolds share.  Life does present us with opening and closings, starts and finishes.  The starts and finishes can be nerve-wracking, happy, grief filled, and joyous.  Needless to say, I can go in fits and starts with openings and closings that do not regularly occur in an all smooth fashion.  New things can make me nervous, even when I’m excited about them.  And, some things I am very glad to see go, while others I miss very much. 

But, marigolds remind me of how these chapter lessons are kind of like these seeds.   The lessons can be dried out and stored for later.  Carefully preserved to be re-planted later, as life seasons change, lessons will come in handy again.  Planted in the next season, they not only re-grow from the seed of that original plant, but produces new seeds as well.  Each season of planting and building, all from one dried up flower head holding marigold seeds.    

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Praise from the Garage Floor

I was sitting in the garage floor yesterday, painting a small window a lovely blue color, and listening to Rend Collective Experiment from my computer.  Singing along to some of the songs, I started thinking about worship and praise, and how my definitions of what that means narrows my width of worship and praise opportunities. 
Let me back up – worship and praise of what?  Worshipping and praising God, taking time for an action of gratitude, a heart of thanks for all that my God is and was and will be.  It’s an act that is uplifting, refreshing, energizing, and at times draining. 
So with that part said….
I’m sitting in the floor, paint brush in hand, and thinking about how worship is more than one style or one type of art and how my very definition limits me.  There is a painter who paints to music and creates incredible paintings as an act of worship.  The gardener who tends the plants so carefully to create a living canvas of color is acting out worship.  A dancer, with every fine tuned motor skill practiced, can move in time to worship.  A musician, a writer, a sculptor, a teacher, a child playing in the sprinkler… the list goes on and on.  Worship can take so many forms; I don’t want my definition to be so limiting – especially when we were made with so many ways to express praise. 

I’m going to start looking for new ways to praise, intentional actions to thank God for his goodness.  I wonder what forms it will take.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Diving for Candy

Today was the Great River Days parade, a yearly event here in this Iowa river town.  It is a parade complete with the marching band, various rescue vehicles proudly displaying their sirens and lights, and lots of local entries.  Children lined the curb, candy bags in hand; waiting for what they hoped would be a deluge of candy.  Teenagers trying to appear as if they didn’t really want to scramble after the candy stood in little groups along the sidewalk.  Grandparents and parents watch the little ones as they make sorties from the candy bag to the curb.  Children learn to wave and look cute in an attempt to win over the candy throwers – it works.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Witness to Love in Action

I have been witness these last few weeks to wonderful examples of love in action.  By this, I mean someone taking an action to care for someone else, not for self-gain, but to help someone else gain.  In a time when it is much too easy to hear the news of crimes, agonies, collapsed dreams, wars being waged, and chaos; it is easy to wonder if any act of love by one person can make a difference today.

With that in mind, I wanted to encourage you the way I have been encouraged.  Last week I had the exhausting pleasure of helping at my church’s children’s camp (akin to a VBS).  My opportunity to serve was with the workers’ children who are too young to participate in camp.  There were many hands that went into making this week long camp function, and many chances to witness love in action.  Let me give a few examples… 
Everyone was hungry for snacks or a quick meal by the time the evening camp is about half over.  Each group of kids and leaders are so happy to see a cooler coming loaded with goodies and cold water.  The preparation of the coolers is love in action, taking time and work to plan, prepare, distribute everything, and clean up for the next day.  Food was served, but so was love.

Teenagers serve as big helps during the week, taking on everything from being gophers, extra hands during craft and game times, to members of the worship team.  Not only did I witness these individuals jump in to help, but also do so in such a way that made them examples to point children to, serving with cheerfulness.

“Jesus loves” is one of the games played by the children, as they would roll a ball to each other saying, “Jesus loves…” and then filled in the blank with the name.  Of course there was the glee over getting the ball.  But, there was also each little child trying to decide which friend to send the ball over with the announcement that Jesus loves them.  And, the receiver of the ball would just beam before starting the process again. 

There were many examples, and these comprise just a few, where small acts of love can be impactful in the lives of others.  Children were cared for, adults were encouraged, and a remarkable amount of love was poured into lives with prayers that it spills over in many ways and that these children will have a relationship with Christ – our ultimate source of love.

Keep an eye out – you never know when you might see love in action.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


He told his wife in a letter that a day would be marked and celebrated by “succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade… Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other. ” John Adams wrote these words to Abigail, with the thought that the celebration would occur on July 2, the day that the Declaration of Independence was adopted.  The formalized adoption took place on July 4, just two days after, in a hot Philadelphia hall with a town that held its breath with the uncertainty of what was coming. 

The people heard the news and they did celebrate with first readings of the Declaration of Independence to the Philadelphia public, replete with organized and impromptu celebrations.  The first battles had already been fought; the colonies were already in a state of war.  But now, it was a finalized and definitive statement that the bond between mother England and these colonies would be broken; and that these individual colonies, like a collection of the Greek poleis, would start taking the steps to form a new nation.

Today, I want to recognize the citizen soldiers who left their families, farms, businesses, and lives to stand on battlefields and fight for independence.  I want to recognize those citizen soldiers who stayed at home and maintained the families, farms, and businesses so that there would be something to form the nation around, not to mention provide needed supplies.  I want to recognize those who were charged with a difficult task of birthing an infant nation and doing so, with ups and downs along the way, but seeing their task through.  These people, our early citizens, left a high standard for us to live up to.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dreams and Sacrifice

Tomorrow I plan to be sitting in a parking lot, surround by a crowd of people, enveloped in a cloud of bug spray and a sea of lawn chairs.  Tomorrow I plan to walk in a parade, listen to music, watch fireworks, and celebrate July Fourth.  This is not a day grounded in some flippant summer celebration, it’s one based in a purpose.  In the midst of these wonderful lawn chaired crowds having fun, it is easy to forget the purpose behind the celebration.  So, I want to pause with my celebratory activities for a moment to remember those founders of what would become the United States of America. 

Volumes of information have been written on those who started with a dream and a hypothetical situation.  We now celebrate the reality of what was the hypothetical, the blessing that came of the sacrifice.  These are the founders that defied the British government by forming a new government.  It is also the time to remember the founders made of farmers, towns-people, craftsman, merchants, and the future citizens of the country.  It is a time to remember that this is the celebration of a war fought, a war won.  It is a celebration to remember the sacrifices of those who crafted our founding documents, searching their minds and hearts of such words as “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and the Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”  The words, such as “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be ... the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. ... For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."  Words of power, strength, and purpose reflect an awareness of the importance of events that were at the heart of them. 

The words, the actions that made them more than empty words, still ring with purpose and validity today.  The words and actions were those of dreams, sacrifice, and putting the effort to change the hypothetical into the new reality.  We can still pull national strength from these efforts, as we face new dreams, and make new sacrifices.  I challenge each of us in the USA to realize that effective citizenship in such a place demands an awareness and continual seeking for future growth. 

                                                       Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chainsaw Chorus

A storm blew in a few days ago. It blew in, blew through, and blew some things over.  When the storm blew past, a chainsaw chorus started to play around the neighborhood.  Chainsaws started playing at their various pitches from all around.   The song of a storm became the song of a neighborhood cleaning up, the sound of people checking on each other, the sound of recovery occurring.  There was a death in our community with this storm, and there is also the sound of grieving losses of something that is not replaceable. 
Picking up some branches, listening to the chainsaws, I thought of the song that resonated with me with the last tornado, “God of Wonders.”  A severe storm, not one of my favorite natural occurrences by any stretch of the imagination, does serve to remind me that God is indeed a God of wonders.  Some of those wonders the very dangerous storms.  And, once the storm has passed, He is the God of wonders as we start loving our neighbors.  The song of the storm, the song of the chainsaw – it’s the same chorus of the wonder God who teaches us to love Him and our neighbors.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sisters of Chalk and Grade Books

We worked together for a few years, forging a sweet friendship in a short time.  The five of us are all so different and yet complimentary in ways only the Master Planner could have put together.  It’s been several years now since we worked together, years when each of us drifted our own ways and on our own paths.  A recent evening reunion left me once again thinking through the memories of these wonderful women and what a gift they were and are in my life.  We walked through lesson plans, prayed over and dreamed dreams for our students, spent moments comforting each other in the times of frustrations, and had more times of laughter than I can count.  I think about these special women and how important and different each is….

A sweet southern spirit of hospitality, she loves her children with a fierceness that is belied by a graceful charm.  This woman has found she is much more capable than she might of thought years ago and has a new confidence to match.  It sits well on her, as this is strength of faith and not one made by a person that becomes haughty.  She still has moments where I believe she doubts herself.  I wish she knew her smile conveys not only the temporary sadness and anger at the hardness life presents at times, but also the long lasting joys of motherhood and friendship.  An encourager and a lover of hope, you are a dear friend.

A firecracker, she sparkles with bright colors and vivacious laughter.  With the heart of a soaring bird and the spirited energy of a beach girl, a technical scientific mind is thrown into the mix to create a whirligig of potential and laughter and survivor’s strength.  I love her curiosity about all things scientific, with a constant prodding to investigate and understand why God has made the way the way the world is.  With a whole world of things to learn, the possibilities are open wide and boundless before her; and I can just see her running through the scientific field gathering as many proverbial flowers of knowledge as her arms can carry.  A momma, a wife, a grandma; you inspire me to learn and laugh and seek God’s heart, you are a dear friend.

A rock for so many, I’m not sure she knows how many depend on her as a source of strength.  And yet, her strength is real because it is from a depth of faith, and not brittle from being solely person dependent.  With a work ethic that amazes me, she keeps working to provide for her family and provide a better life for those she works with.  Such a heart, big as the ocean and yet can view the world with a realists eye.  A mom and a daughter, you seek to and encourage me to make the world a better place, you are a dear friend.

A sunbeam embodied, she lights up people by seeking to show them God’s Holy Spirit by her words and actions.  Joy bubbles up in her, as well as a fierce fighting passion for those she loves.  She’s a momma with a passion for growing those around her, both her children and those children that are part of her brood of youth brought into her life by God’s path.  The faith of a child with a warrior prayer life, and the shine of God’s love, you are a warming and refreshing influence and are a dear friend. 

A friendship forged in the classroom, over 10 minute lunches and hours of classroom preparation, chalk dust and report cards, term papers and curriculum; each of them are so special to me.  I’m so glad that they are part of my life.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Pie is a Lot like a Concert

I had the opportunity last Saturday to sing and have great fun in participating in a gospel concert as part of a pay-it-forward opportunity for Miracles Can Happen Boys Ranch.  The ranch is a private non-profit boys home where teaching family and love is the order of the day.  Following the concert was a pie supper with many wonderfully yummy treats to share. 

Before the concert, there were many hours of practice.  We met regularly, normally gathering in the family room with dogs running around.  Songs were tried out, weeded through, and then slowly crafted into something that we would be okay with sharing.  In practice, we all had times when we had to keep working to find the harmony, listen to chords, and count through timing.  In the course of practice times, a list evolved and assumed an order of music.  More demanding songs would follow with something that would either be easier or would give the lead a break.  Pacing the songs was another decision, when to go with a slower or faster song.  Discussion, laughter, tea drinking to soothe overworked throats, and lots of music go into creating this or any other musical event we do.

The day of the concert, I spent the morning in the kitchen making pie.  As I was reading recipes, preparing ingredients, mixing, and baking; I was thinking about how making pie and preparing for a concert are a lot alike.  First the crust was made.  Ingredients were measured, mixed, and then just the right amount of ice cold water is added in to create a good dough.  Just as the musical choices start as a broad selection that get selected through and mixed together, the dough becomes the list of songs. 

After the dough is made, the filler gets the attention. Lemon, apple, berry, chocolate, or varieties of other flavors are there to choose from.  The sugar, corn starch, flour, and other ingredients are mixed; when the recipe is right, they are prepared for cooking.  When the music list is created, more work is done on those specifically; sweetening the notes and making it work until the harmony is tightly and comfortably working.


Heating the oven, it’s time to bake the final creation.  Either browning the crust or a light meringue, the smells fill the kitchen with pastry and fruit.

The concert arrives, creating the final mix of sound and song.  All of the hard work pays off.  The last song is sung, and it’s time to share pie with friends and take a moment to catch your breath.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Wash It Away

A sudden rain came down a few days ago, that for all its brevity could be called a gully washer.  I was inside, and though I paused to admire the actual sheeting of rain that blocked my view to see across the street, I did not really think much about the outside effects.  Later that day, I walked to my car to head home.  The rain had stopped and it was nicely cool and fresh outside.  I noticed that there were brown lines around cars, where the rain had washed cars and removed the layers of dirt.  Outlines now existed around cars, and in parking spots where cars were once parked.  My car shined quite nicely in the sun, looking clean and sparkly.  The remnants the rain left were not on my car, but in a car sized dirt outline

As I got in the car, and headed home, it struck me that the car could not wash itself.  There had to be an outside source to remove the dirt.  In much the same way, the sins that accumulate on, around, and in me are also something I cannot remove.  Jesus, in much the same way, performed an act that worked like that gully washer.  He shed his blood and died for my sins, in essence removing them by the sacrifice of love.  What left was a bright and shiny forgiveness of my sins and your sins in the person of me and other followers of Christ, and that human size dirt outline you see there on the ground, that is the sin that is no longer mine to pick-up. 

Why? That is one of my favorite questions.  I think it is important to understand why things happen or don’t happen certain ways.  Why would a perfect God do something to even bother with the messiness of people?  Love.  God loves us so much that He gave us his one and only Son.  We in turn, if we believe in him, we are given eternal life.  Because, the Son (Jesus) did not come to condemn the messy structure we call humanity, but to save us instead.  I accepted that Love.  I hope you do too.