I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition

This post was originally published for Mother’s Day 2014. It is as relevant now as it ever was, so I am reposting it this year in honor of my sweet Mama. To those of you who never knew her, you missed a real lady.   

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red-Carnations38Recently, I was handed a red carnation as an acknowledgement of my participation in a community event. Looking at it, I was reminded of a tradition in many churches when I was growing up.

On Mother’s Day, at least in the South, when you went to church you wore a carnation on your lapel or dress – a red one if your mother was alive, a white one if she had died. (Do you remember this?) Continue reading I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition

The surprising thing about “weakness”

IMG_9610.PNGWho among us hasn’t wondered about the role of prayer in the overall scheme of things? Almost no one turns down an offer of prayer in a crisis, but why do we pray when God already knows what He’s going to do? Can we change His mind? What’s different about prayers offered silently and in private, versus praying aloud with others?

For all these questions about prayer there are surely an equal number of deep theological responses (which I for sure don’t have). But I find there’s beauty in wrestling with our uncertainty and lovely things to discover about our God as we communicate with Him.

Here’s an example from just this week: Continue reading The surprising thing about “weakness”

The holiness of a four-way stop

It’s rush hour on my usually-quiet suburban street. Well, maybe not rush “hour”, exactly. It’s really only about 15 minutes.

From around 7:10 to 7:25 most every morning during the school year, the street in front of my house is bumper to bumper with high school students trying to get to classes on time.

IMG_3496bfree-largeSchool starts at 7:30 and they’re lined up at the four-way stop, struggling to properly yield the right of way to each other (as they oh-so-recently learned in driver’s ed). Now and then, I hear someone sound their horn over whatever perceived infraction just took place. That usually happens as it gets closer to 7:30 and the possibility of being late becomes more real.

Oh, and sympathies to you if you have to back out of your driveway during that time frame. Taking turns and being nice apparently only applied to kindergarten. I may have muttered about this from time to time over the years…

Interestingly, I’ve found that there’s something positive and even holy about this brief traffic jam in front of my house each morning. It gives me an opportunity to see the individual young faces in those cars and wonder if anyone has prayed for them yet today. Maybe not. (I’m thinking, most likely not.) So lately, I’ve started praying.

I start with the obvious prayers like,

Lord, please keep these young people safe at school today, encourage them to be responsible and make wise choices, protect them from peer pressure, help them learn and grow into good citizens.

Then it goes a little deeper:

Let them know that they have value, surprise them with encouragement today from an unexpected source, give them courage for whatever battle they face, make them sensitive to the pain of the marginalized around them.

Ultimately, and arguably most important, I arrive here:

Let them recognize Your hand on their lives, soften their hearts toward faith, welcome them into a relationship with You.

Even if you don’t live near a high school or have teenagers in your life currently, they’re out there–I see them every day from my living room window–and they could use your prayers. Adolescence is a tumultuous time, you may recall, and this rough world isn’t getting any better any time soon.

For sure, if you have a student at the high school in my town and they drive past my house in the morning, you can know they’re going to get prayed for. Maybe running late and getting stuck in traffic at the four-way stop isn’t the worst thing for them, after all.

And for me, it beats muttering.

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The simple song lyric that undid me

A friend of mine is fond of muttering, “Hell in a handbasket, my dear. Hell in a handbasket.” This is usually in response to:

  • yet another crass reality TV show in the lineup,
  • an encounter with a rude or texting driver,
  • sloppy workmanship in an already overpriced product,

. . . or any of a number of other “proofs” that society is unraveling at a meteoric rate.

It’s become so common, we’ve adopted a kind of shorthand between us. My friend now just looks at me and says, “Handbasket!” Enough said.

It’s easy to default to negative thinking these days, though, isn’t it? You look around at the alarming lack of civility among so-called leaders;  the deep divides along racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines; the creeping fear of violence and danger at every turn . . . and you can start to despair.

If you’re like me, sometimes you’re tempted to turn off the news, gather your loved ones, and just hide,  if only that would help. 

“Handbasket!” Right?

IMG_9488But this past Sunday, a single line in a song at church opened my eyes to a really important truth. We were singing “Strong God”* (listen to it here) and there’s a line that says, “This is God in His holy place.”
Just that one lyric was all it took to pierce my heart and change my perspective.

Continue reading The simple song lyric that undid me

No need for a bucket

I was getting out of my car recently and happened to glance down at the hardy succulents lining my driveway. It was mid-March and they had already started pushing up through the hard ground. These guys come back early every spring, no matter what this harsh Midwest climate throws at them in the winter and regardless of how I ignore them in the heat of the summer.

I think one of the reasons they are so cold-tolerant and drought-resistant is the way they’re designed. Look closely:

IMG_9375The leaves open upward and overlap each other, forming a cup-like shape. Do you see the droplets of water that have been caught within them? From there the moisture  slowly seeps down into the heart of the plant where it will be stored until it’s needed in the dry season ahead.

I’m reminded that we, too, can catch water in cupped hands. We fit our palms and fingers together like this tiny succulent and hold them under a faucet or scoop them down into a creek. Most of us learned this as children,  when it was a form of play. Unlike the plant, for us it’s just a temporary measure, but in a pinch you can sure grab a little and maybe slurp it or splash it, just like when you were a kid.

Cupped hands, like cupped leaves, seem to me a metaphor for prayer.

I see in them a picture of emptiness that needs to be filled, a gesture of acknowledging the Source. As the plant reaches up to absorb the moisture it needs, we offer up our empty hands asking — maybe begging — for what sustains us, too.

God designed these humble plants perfectly to collect what they need to survive; He knows what the seasons will bring. And He does the same for us.

He invites us to come to Him any time — all the time — confessing our emptiness, acknowledging that He is the One who nourishes, anticipating an outpouring of His generosity.  We don’t need a bucket, just humble hands cupped in prayer.

And He delights to respond with a love that overflows, a love that is unending and always available for the asking .

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If you’d like to receive an email when I publish new posts, just click the “sign up” button in the right sidebar above (or if you’re on a mobile device, you’ll find it below under “visit full site”.)  I’ll send you a link to my free (really short) eBook, Harmony Is Hard: Humans Are Involved just for signing up.

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?

Finding Joy in a Workaround Life

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