That’s not just a Christmas tree you see

It took me a long time to realize my Christmas tree was invisible.

I would spend hours clearing space by the front window, putting away the pictures and non-seasonal objects, retrieving boxes from the garage, then sorting through countless ornaments collected over the years . . .

IMG_8538I’d stop to remember where I got that tiny flamingo with the goofy grin and holiday tie, the Santa posed like a rodeo rider on the back of a dolphin. I’d be thrilled when I opened the box containing construction-paper Rudolph, his crooked mouth penned by a fidgety preschooler. (Rudolph always gets the best spot on the tree.)

Smiling, I would carefully unwrap the crooked candle made of wire and plastic beads, and choke up every time at the tiny stocking labelled “FNU” (FBI-speak for “First Name Unknown”).

I’m one of those people who doesn’t buy boxes of glass balls to fill their tree. Every ornament has a special meaning or memory attached to it. I space them out so each one is properly visible and as I do, I let my mind drift back to when I shared this activity with ones now in Heaven, or those now just too busy.

It’s usually an entire afternoon of nostalgia and sentimentality, and for what? Despite its prominent placement in my front window, no one sees this tree. Continue reading That’s not just a Christmas tree you see

You can try all you want but you will fail at this

file9101267653593This was so long ago, it almost seems like it happened to someone else. But no, I was there.

Some friends and I were invited to a coworker’s 4th of July picnic, where we were surrounded by several members of her extended family who could barely stand each other.

Her brother was there with his common law wife, there was another  brother who had just been released from prison, and the oldest brother, who didn’t approve of either one and made no secret of it. The dad, a self-important control freak, was going to see to it that things were done a certain way (his way) and on his very precise schedule, while the rest of the family and friends held their breath for the blowup.

Oh, and it was about 100 degrees and humid.

People were just starting to relax and cool off in the shade. To everyone’s relief, it seemed a bit of a “cease fire” had taken hold. That’s when BD (Blowhard Dad) decided it was time to fire up the grill. He completely ignored his wife’s suggestion that, Everyone is comfortable right now, dear. Maybe we could wait awhile to eat?

No. He overcooked all the hamburgers, charred the hot dogs, and then announced to everyone that the food was ready, come get it.

When Elder Son (who did not approve of his father, either) announced to BD that no one wanted a burger; no one was hungry yet, BD blew up. “You’ll all eat now and enjoy it.” The air was instantly sucked right out of that backyard.

Yep, he got everyone to eat, but for all his bluster and bullying, BD could not make anyone enjoy that meal and it infuriated him.

All these years later, I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t care who you are, you can’t legislate my good time.”

And that got me thinking. You know what else you can’t do? Continue reading You can try all you want but you will fail at this

Sometimes Angels Have Whiskers

FullSizeRender-1I couldn’t help but notice the ancient rat terrier sitting next to the wheelchair-bound man in the parkway. Both were fixated on the tree service workers trimming the gangly branches of a giant maple in the front yard just across the street. The terrier quickly shifted its attention to me as I approached.

Dogs. They’re such icebreakers.

I asked the gentleman if I could pet his dog and he said of course. A half-hour later, Bill and TK were my new friends.

TK, I learned, was short for “Tiny King”. Clearly, he was quite something in his day but he’s 16 now and well, not the ball of energy he once was. (I understand, TK.) Gray face, cloudy eyes, but still sporting an “I’ve got this” attitude; he was a typical terrier, oblivious to his limitations. He reminded me of my funny Jack Russell, Smudge, who died this year at 18. We used to call her a “little thug in a clown suit”.

TK had stopped me in my tracks, but it was Bill’s story that broke my heart. Continue reading Sometimes Angels Have Whiskers

I Think I Know This Guy

He is always wrestling in prayer for-2He’s a preacher named Epaphras who is said to have helped establish the  first-century church at Colossae. And he’s such a close friend of the apostle Paul that he visits him in a Roman prison and decides to stay awhile.

But this one verse makes me wish we knew a whole lot more about him than just that. Here’s Paul, writing to the Colossians:

“Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” Colossians 4: 12

That phrase, “always wrestling in prayer for you”, resonates with me. In my mind’s eye, I see our friend Epaphras on his face before God. He’s not “wrestling” in the sense that he’s begging God to do something God doesn’t want to do, but he’s striving to represent the Colossians well, and seeking God’s will for them.

Epaphras really wants to get it right.

It is apparent that as he prays, Epaphras hits on exactly what it is that God wants for the Colossians: that they would stand firm in His will, and that they would be mature and confident in their faith. That’s a request God will certainly say “yes” to.

How does Epaphras know to pray this?

One of the coolest things I know about prayer, I read in Romans 8:26-27:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

As we Christians pray, our words are edited by God’s Spirit so that what we ask is in line with God’s will for us. Even when we don’t know what to pray and perhaps all we can do is sigh (or cry), the Holy Spirit puts words to it and implores God in our stead.

That is just amazing.

As a young Christian, I used to wonder what the point was in praying, if God was going to do what God was going to do, regardless. But I think I see the answer in Epaphras. Continue reading I Think I Know This Guy

What does this look like to you?

“You need to tell your followers to knock that loud worship off. They’re making a scene.” 

In their arrogance, the religious elite actually said something just like  that to Jesus . . . and His response was beautiful:

“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” 

hills-mountains-nature-685-621x350Imagine! If we as human beings never again expressed worship to Christ, nature would do it for us. One look at the Grand Canyon (or the tulips this time of year in the Midwest) would convince you of that. He is always worthy of adoration and if we don’t do it, the trees and oceans (and rocks) will.

Reveling in the beauty of creation as God’s handiwork for sure looks like worship.

I have a friend who, though not a “religious person”, thrills to the beauty of sacred music and loves to sing as part of a traditional choir. To her, the blend of the different voices enriches the sound and creates its own beauty.

If you ask her, she would tell you music is itself a form of worship. Who could disagree with that?

It’s natural to be moved to praise God as you walk through a park on a beautiful day or when you’re surrounded by others holding hymnals or following lyrics on a screen. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about how worship is expressed in the hard things.

Do pain, suffering, and tears look like worship opportunities to you? Cause for begging, pleading, groveling prayers, maybe . . . but worship? Continue reading What does this look like to you?

But only if you don’t hold hands

filename-1Funny, the things you remember. When my younger sister and I were really little – I’m talking maybe 4 and 5 years old – we went to the nursery at the seminary where my parents were both students. We didn’t know anyone, of course, and we were scared, so we clung tightly to each other after our parents dropped us off.

The large room was divided into two, with a low partition between the sides. One area was for the younger children; there were the usual coloring books and stuffed animals and puzzles with giant pieces.  On the other side of the room was the area for the older kids. I’m sure there were lots of toys there, too, but all I remember is the blocks. There were dozens of wooden blocks in every size and there were even those sturdy cardboard ones painted to look like bricks.

Oh, how I wanted to play with those blocks, but it would mean being separated from my little sister, since she belonged on the other side of the room. I was torn between my protectiveness of her and my desire to build a “house” out of cardboard bricks. It was agony for a little kid.

One of the teachers, apparently sensing my dilemma, offered that we could both stay on the big kid side, but “only if you don’t hold hands”.

Continue reading But only if you don’t hold hands

I Think I Know Lot’s Wife’s Name

IMG_6779Lot, the nephew of Old Testament patriarch Abraham, lived in a rotten neighborhood. In fact, the entire city, as well as the one next door, was so wicked, God ordered they both be destroyed, as a warning to future generations of His disdain for unrepentant sin. To this day, even the names of the cities – Sodom and Gomorrah – have come to epitomize evil and wickedness.

The story in Genesis 19 is riveting: Because Lot was said to have been a righteous man, God sent angels to rescue him and his family before the cities were annihilated.

The angels warned them to hurry and not stop to look back. Lot’s wife famously disobeyed and the Bible tells us she was instantly turned into a pillar of salt — perhaps caught in the burning sulfur and volcanic explosions that engulfed the area.

Though some Hebrew texts refer to her as Edith and others call her Irit, Lot’s wife is never actually named in the Bible itself. Instead, she stands as a symbol of the danger of indecision, especially when God’s instructions are clear. Even in the New Testament, Jesus cautions His disciples to “remember Lot’s wife” and not look back when God calls you forward.

The more I think about it, the more I think Lot’s wife’s name could have been Diane. Continue reading I Think I Know Lot’s Wife’s Name

Choosing to gulp, not sip

I stood transfixed on the lanai, watching a river otter cavort on the opposite bank of the small pond behind my rented condo. It rolled on its back in the grass, stood up, then threw itself down and rolled some more before finally slinking back into the water and swimming away.

Now I don’t know if otters feel joy; I kind of doubt it. For all I know, its back was itching and that’s how otters scratch. But that creature was so playful and unguarded, so totally in the moment, I couldn’t help but smile.

32 Curious DolphinI’ve felt the same pleasure watching dolphins frolic alongside a boat or kayak. They leap out of the water with those ubiquitous grins and seem for all the world to be truly enjoying themselves. Are they? I don’t know, but something about them makes my spirit soar.  Continue reading Choosing to gulp, not sip

People are starving – and not for food

I’ve been told I must have “talk to me” tattooed on my forehead in a type of ink easily visible to the lonely. It must be true because apparently Karen (not her real name) could read it.

IMG_3126It was only about a ten minute ride on the water taxi from the marina to the beach, but that was long enough. By the time we got off the pontoon boat, I knew Karen’s entire story: Where she’s lived for all 41 years of her marriage, how much she paid for her last three houses, the nature of her latest ailment, what she and her husband disagree about, the names and ages of each of her grandchildren, and … well, you get my drift. Me, a complete stranger.

The next day I went to an outdoor art festival with two friends. As I browsed the jewelry booth, a nearby shopper found earrings to match the necklace she was admiring. To my casual comment, “Must be your lucky day!”, she blurted out that she could use some good luck; her husband had died unexpectedly last week of a massive heart attack. She said she had come to the art festival hoping for a distraction from her crushing grief. Stunned, I touched her arm as I told her how sorry I was, my voice cracking. Again, I was a complete stranger.  Continue reading People are starving – and not for food

That Day Worrying Finally Paid Off

I was at breakfast with a friend this past weekend who was fretting about her daughter. Her adult, intelligent, capable daughter. My friend was worried about a project her daughter was planning to take on the next day and the potential complications that could arise. The fact that she had no involvement or control over the outcome herself didn’t stop her from being genuinely concerned.

Only half-kidding, I said, “Well, it’s good you’re worrying about it because one of these days that’s going to pay off for you.”

We both laughed at the absurdity of such a statement; who really thinks worrying is anything other than a complete waste of time?

IMG_2498I’m one to talk. I recently drove 23 hours to spend two months in Florida. Balmy, snow-free, palm-trees-gently-swaying-in-the-breeze Florida.

The night I arrived, you know what I did? Continue reading That Day Worrying Finally Paid Off

Finding Joy in a Workaround Life

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