Category Archives: Christian Life

The Critical Importance of Sunsets, Easter Bonnets, and Pie

Have you thought about how you came to have (or not have) faith?  Where and how your traditions and the things you believe about God were formed?  What formed the basis for your personal beliefs as an adult?

Many of my friends come from faith backgrounds very different from mine and I am always fascinated to hear how they came to embrace the beliefs they now have.  Sadly, some have specifically rejected the idea of “religion” altogether and have gone their own way.  Theirs are interesting, if wrenching, stories, too.

For me faith took root in my family, specifically the Christian upbringing I was afforded by my parents.  Generations before me believed in God and in the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus to redeem humanity from sin.  Those beliefs were incorporated into our daily routine and the rhythm of life in general.

We prayed before meals.  It seemed we went to church every time the doors were opened (my Dad was – and still is – a pastor, at the age of 89).  Everyone in our family had their own Bible (the King James Version, naturally!)  We studied and memorized Scripture passages, many of which come to mind now when I need them most.

Our family’s social life revolved around the church.  Fellowships, potluck dinners (we called them “dinner on the grounds” – a very confusing concept to me as a child), Wednesday night “suppers”.  We were Baptists, so we enjoyed pie and coffee at church members’ homes, never a cocktail or a game of cards.

Of course, we always got new clothes to wear on Easter – maybe even a “bonnet” – usually from the Sears catalog!

We acknowledged God in the beauty of creation.  Growing up in Key West meant we were constantly reminded of His presence all around us.  I specifically remember my mother looking at a breathtaking sunset one evening as we sat on lawn chairs in the front yard after dinner, and saying, “How can anyone say there is no God?”  I was about 8 at the time but to this day, when I look at a sunset I remember the awe and sincerity in her voice and I am grateful to the One responsible.

When we visited relatives in North Florida and South Carolina, we practiced the same traditions and shared an understanding and acceptance of the same truths.  Faith in God, faith in Christ, these were indisputable and foundational.

When my mother succumbed to cancer in 1997, the assurance of her eternal destiny and the certainty that I would be reunited with her in Heaven were what got me through – and continue to comfort me now.

Faith.  I personally don’t believe it can be inherited from your parents nor can you “vaccinate” your own children with it.  But it certainly can be modeled – with consistency and depth.  How fortunate and thankful I am for my parents, for those who came before them, and for our church community, all of whom brought their faith to me in tangible and memorable ways and helped me make it my own.

Did your family traditions help you form your personal faith?  What values were modeled to you through the rhythms and routines of your young life?  What are some of your most significant memories?

Mining the Treasure of the Second Verse

When was the last time you heard a new Thanksgiving hymn?  There are the old standards that many of us recognize, perhaps from our childhoods:  “We Gather Together”, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”, “Now Thank We All Our God”.   But since Thanksgiving is mostly a single weekend observance – and sadly, one that is overshadowed now by “Black Friday” and the start of Christmas shopping season – it’s rare we hear a new take on Thanksgiving songs.  The lyrics of the traditional hymns are beautiful, the melodies memorable and it’s all so, well, comfortable.  Nothing wrong with that.

Just a few days ago, however, I read in Psalm 96: “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.”  Since I’m no composer/songwriter, what would that look like for me? How could I sing a “new song” to thank God for all my blessings?  I decided to look past the familiar first verses of these old songs to the second verses, to consider where the hymn writers went with them next.  It was a great exercise in examining things a little differently and perhaps more deeply.

Here’s an example.  Verse 2 of “Now Thank We All Our God”, a song written in the late 1500s, says:

O may this bounteous God

Thro’ all our life be near us,

With ever joyful hearts

And blessed peace to cheer us;

And keep us in His grace,

And guide us when perplexed,

And free us from all ills

In this world and the next.

The evidence is clear here that God is a bounteous God – His presence, His peace, His grace, His guidance and His deliverance; all are listed among  His blessings to make the case for His generosity.  (And I love the reference to being perplexed!)  The songwriter encompasses the full span of our human experience: “all our life”, “in this world and the next”.  What a wonderful reminder to keep the long view and remain joyful!

How about you?  What is your favorite Thanksgiving hymn?  How does the second (or third or fourth) verse help you to worship God with a “new song” this Thanksgiving?

My Slap in the Face Six-Word Memoir

Capturing the essence of your life in exactly six words has become a fascinating and oddly clarifying past-time. I even saw there has been a board game created around this concept just in time for Christmas. It’s being promoted as “Twitter meets Password” and the object of the game is for teams to compete to create and identify hundreds of topics based on six-word descriptions.

Somehow, calling it a micro-memoir is more appealing and less final than, say, thinking of it as an epitaph, though there are some great six-word epitaphs that seem to qualify as memoirs in their own way (think, “I told you I was sick” or “At last I get top billing”).

My daughter was recently asked to come up with a six-word memoir for a job application and we both spent the next several hours blurting out funny (and some not so funny) combinations of words that told our stories within those parameters.  The one I came up with that really seemed to resonate with me also made me kind of sad. Here it is:

“I never did get it right.”

True, my life isn’t over yet so I still have time to “get it right”.  After all, this is just a six-word memoir, not my epitaph. But summing up my life that way sounded so negative and defeated. I want to be more optimistic than that and I have every reason to be. In many ways, I have led a fascinating and even charmed life. I have always been deeply loved (maybe that would be a better six-word memoir) and my Christian faith has sustained me (another one).

But by some standard in my own mind, the phrase: “I never did get it right” reverberated and taunted me. And there are days I let that define me.

No, I never did get it right. But you know what the truth is? Neither did you. Neither did the most accomplished among us. And that’s really okay. It’s good to try, but if we could get it right (whatever that means by your definition, which is no doubt different from mine), we would have no need of each other and no need of God. We would be sinless, and Jesus’ death would have been irrelevant.

I think I’ll accept imperfection, how about you?

Do you have a six-word memoir you would share … and maybe explain?

Reflections on Life as a Workaround

Since “Reflections on Life As a Workaround” is the current subtitle of my blog, I thought it might be helpful to elaborate on the idea a bit here and in future posts.

I suspect I am not alone in the realization that this life – the one I am living now – is not at all the life I would have predicted when I was younger.

What was I envisioning?

There was a time when I thought I would be a missionary to a foreign country because as a young child, I had this idea in my mind that God would love me more if I worked really hard for Him.  I desperately wanted that love.

But I never became a missionary.

I majored in advertising in college, worked in radio, print, public relations and promotions for about a decade after graduation and wandered away from God for a long time.  It wasn’t until years later that I began to truly understand grace and His desire for a relationship with me, whether I “worked really hard for Him” . . . or just accepted His immeasurable, unconditional love.

I also thought I would be a schoolteacher because I loved the idea of making charts, writing down the grades for all the students, and keeping track of information.  I wanted to collect the milk money on Mondays and make sure all the children got one of those little cardboard half-pints at the mid-morning break.

But I never became a schoolteacher, either.

I didn’t even like kids all that much until I had my own!  Instead, after I grew disillusioned with the advertising world, I became an FBI agent.  I made plenty of charts, kept track of lots of information and wrote reports of everything I did on each case.  I made sure criminals got what was coming to them, too, and it wasn’t half-pints of milk.

As a young girl, I assumed I would someday be happily married and have twins – one boy and one girl – and my perfect little family would live on a ranch with acres and acres of property to explore, always on horseback and always at a full gallop.

But I grew up in Key West – no livestock there! – and my track record on marriage turned out to be less than stellar.  I had one beautiful daughter who I would have instantly died for the moment I laid eyes on her.  And I found myself raising her alone from the time she was about 17 months old.

During those years, I taught single parents as a volunteer leader in my church, coaching them along in their spiritual journeys as they struggled to understand that with Christ, they could pass more than just a “broken baton” to their children.

A lot of how my life turned out was just the way circumstances unfolded.  Families move, interests change, people disappoint.  But a good part of my plans also got derailed because of my own bad judgment and ill-advised decisions.

Let’s just call it what it is:  sin.

The consequences caused pain and heartache, and required a lot of adjustments along the way.  But I realize now that God accompanied me through all of it and looking back, I see how He continues to redeem my life, even through all these workarounds.

My now-grown daughter, Allison, gave me a wonderful book for Christmas by Rainer Marie Rilke, a young poet writing at the turn of the last century.  It is called Love Poems to God and is translated from the original German.  Here is an excerpt from the collection that expresses with wrenching beauty the reciprocal loving relationship God invites us into:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like flame

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going.  No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

(Almost) Slaking My Thirst for Community

It happened again.  I went on this amazing vacation, expecting excitement and beauty and awe.  I was not disappointed; it had all that and more.  After a brutal Midwest winter, the Caribbean cruise was a reminder that the White Witch really does not rule Narnia.

For five days, the paralysis of cold and gray gave way to warmth and life.  My soul began to thaw.

But as I have found previously after a vacation like this, the real value of the experience was not in the weather or the activities or even in the content of the conference.  It was in the community that was built, if only for a few days. A few intense but much-too-brief days.

Then there is the familiar ache I have come to expect, the ache unrelated to being back in the “real” world, but with leaving behind fresh new relationships, connections formed out of shared passions and common interests, and stories of hope and triumph.  It felt like I was presented with a tall glass of true Christian community and then had it snatched away before I could drink it in fully.

This thirst for community is a common theme for me.  My friend Wendy told me once that the grief I feel at this loss of community is from God; that it is the result of having been given a tiny glimpse of what we will experience in Heaven.

When the preview is over, as it is for me tonight, it makes our longing for Heaven more intense, and living without it that much harder.  It is an exquisite thought – unending “fellowship” (as we used to say in the church of my youth) in an atmosphere of pure love.

But for now, I will have to enjoy the drop of cool water on my tongue that these earthly experiences provide.  I’ll take the “almost slakes” and be grateful for the memories  …  and the preview of what is to come.