Tag Archives: Hopefulness

The Question I’m Asking Myself

Last week I revealed that I was joining the OneWord365 “resolution revolution”. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions (something I don’t do anyway), I said I was going to choose one word that represents a trait I’d like to nurture in my life in 2013.

The word I chose is HARMONY.sculpture in the park Holland

The idea is to focus on the idea of harmony every day throughout the year and in the process, possibly change the sound track of my life. For me, relational chaos is exhausting and unhealthy; I recognize this. (It probably is for you too.) But encouraging harmony just might add years to my life (or, as it’s been said, life to my years).

And since I committed to updating my progress on the 15th of each month, here’s the first status report.

Continue reading The Question I’m Asking Myself

Why It’s Time to Rethink Christmas

Incarnation Day

If you were to visit my neighborhood tonight, you wouldn’t have to go far before being confronted by more than one of those front yard animatronic Santas that repeatedly drop their drawers to reveal “Happy Holidays” written in script on their rears. Down the block, there’s a rifle-toting Frosty the Snowman in camouflage gear, while SpongeBob grins weirdly at baby Jesus in the blow-up manger scene close by. I live in the Midwest, but I’m sure that wherever you are, the scene is similar.

It’s all very confusing.

Christmas has come to represent over-the-top materialism, endless parties, spiked eggnog, and that ubiquitous loop of holiday songs in the background everywhere – even at the gas station. It seems obvious: Christmas has been turned into a mostly secular holiday.

But before you go getting all nervous that I am about to launch into a rant about how NOT to observe Christmas, let me assure you I have exactly the opposite intent. Here’s my suggestion for a more meaningful season: Continue reading Why It’s Time to Rethink Christmas

How to Use A Runaway Truck Ramp

“Nothing, not even your dream coming true, is perfect.”

Before I went into law enforcement I lived in the world of advertising and public relations for almost a decade. All these years later, I am still drawn to a compelling headline or an irresistible book title. When good content follows, I’m affirmed and happy.  (I still believe words have a power that even a badge and a gun can’t touch.)

That said, how coSmucker book coveruld I resist a title like “How to Use a Runaway Truck Ramp”? I was hooked immediately.

I already knew Shawn Smucker’s writing from reading his blog and following him on Twitter. I knew he was accessible, funny, and wise, committed to his family and his faith. And here was a bonus: this book promised to introduce me to his wife, Maile, also a writer and deep thinker. I couldn’t wait to go along on his family’s cross-country journey.

Seriously, you ask, did they really take their four small children (ages 2, 3, 7 and 8 ) on a four-month long bus trip across the US and back again in a big old lumbering bus they named Willie?

Yes, and they survived with some great stories and more than a few surprising lessons. Both Shawn and Maile journaled throughout the experience so no detail was missed in the retelling. The result is a sometimes white-knuckling, often hilarious, completely relate-able story, not just of their journey, but of their transformation.

The writing is engaging:

“The road there is like a sliver of thread dropped amongst rocks, and it winds along the path of least resistance.”


“But what if my ‘today’ must die in order for such prolific life to rise? What if the destruction of this current beauty must take place so that the root of something even more glorious can push up new shoots through the darkness?”


“I wonder if maybe I didn’t fill my real life with enough gusto to make it worth staying in.”


“That’s the thing about adventures. The stuff that happens isn’t always easy. It’s not always fun. But it’s always worth telling.”

And inspiring:

“Adventures will change you. They’ll saturate you with a fresh view of life. They’ll take every foundation you ever stood on and shake them until they crack. Adventures will tear away layer after layer of you, and in the end, when it’s all over, you’ll step away from that pile of old skins and barely recognize the person you have become.”

How to Use A Runaway Truck Ramp: A great title that delivers fabulous content. (Can you tell I’m affirmed and happy?)

Click here for a sample of Shawn’s writing and then get a copy of the book here: http://shawnsmucker.com/store/

Shawn Smucker is the author of How to Use a Runaway Truck  Ramp and Building a Life Out of Words. He lives in Lancaster County, PA with his wife Maile and their four children. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook, and he blogs (almost) daily at shawnsmucker.com Maile blogs at mailesmucker.blogspot.com 

Everyday Miracles and the “Skinny” on Walt

everystockphoto.com (Public Domain)

I’ll be the first to admit, I have no idea about Walt Whitman’s faith, whether he was a Christian or not.  For all I know he may have been a pantheist, a Universalist, a Buddhist.  He died 120 years ago, so it would be pretty hard to have a conversation with him about it now.

I do hope I meet him in Heaven someday so I can talk to him about his poetry and his process.  I would enjoy gaining some insight into what it’s like to see through his eyes and hear how he crafted his thoughts into such classics.

That said, when I read his poem “Miracles” through my faith grid and spiritual experience, it’s hard for me not to believe that he had some sort of relationship with the Divine.  I read his lovely words about the miracles found in the common and the extraordinary, about the beauty to be found in the streets as well as the fields, and I am inspired to worship.

Somehow, I think that’s what Walt was doing.

Here is his poem, see what you think:


By Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet
and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

If you’re living a “workaround” life like I am (and who among us isn’t, on some level?), recognizing the everyday miracles may often be just what you need to get you through.  For me, they include a sweet friend writing me an email at just the right time to tell me what she appreciates about me; the return of green to the grass after a brutal summer drought; the giant chocolate Lab catching my eye from across the room and thumping his tail in greeting; the discovery of shared faith in the unlikeliest of places.

Will you share one or more of your everyday miracles in the comments below?

The Thing About Hands

“I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:15b-16a

I can relate to hands, can’t you?  Strong ones, gnarled ones, huge, tiny, soft, capable, calloused, grimy – they come in all varieties.

I have my mother’s hands:  the length of my fingers, the shape of my nails, the skin that is starting to thin.  I notice the similarities more and more as I get older, because it’s her older hands that I recall most clearly.  I find I even fidget with my hands the way she once did, repositioning my rings with my thumb and pinky finger, stiffening and thrumming my fingers when I’m tense.

There’s an extra spark of recognition these days when I look at old photos of her.  She’s rooting through a purse, folding her arms, holding a book.

And she has my hands.

She never learned to play a musical instrument that I know of, but she could type about a jillion words a minute, error-free, whether on a manual typewriter or an IBM Selectric.  When word processing became an option, it was a breeze for her.

She spent hours at the keyboard, fingers flying, typing out the notes she would use to teach her Sunday School class, notes she then printed out in 5 x 8” booklet form.   Sometimes she would even add clip art and decorative embellishments, though no one was going to see her notes but her.

She wasn’t an artist but she was always willing to learn: ceramics, crochet, dress-making – she tried her hand at all.  She was a perfectionist, so smart and yet in many ways so insecure, which meant she always worked harder than most anyone else.

To this day, I treasure the tiny sugar bowl and creamer she shaped and fired in her community center class.  For years I had one of those crocheted doll skirts she made that would fit discreetly over a roll of toilet tissue. (Remember those? The doll stood in the cardboard core).  And I see her clearly in my mind’s eye, bent over the dining room table or kneeling down on the floor, pinning a pattern to fabric.

She penned many a note in the margins of her Bible with those hands and wrote out prayers to her Savior in longhand to tape on the mirror, clip to the refrigerator, or tuck in her purse.  After she died, anything with her handwriting on it became like gold to me, physical evidence of her existence through the words her hands had written.

I love the idea that God wants so much for me to understand the depth of His love for me, He uses human concepts, tangible images I can understand.  Like hands.

Now if I’m fidgeting, if I’m tense, if I nervously ball my fingers into a fist, I think to myself, “Look at me.  I’m turning into Mama.”  And love courses through me like an electric current.  She’s been gone 15 years but she’s really not.  God has given me her hands and I am so thankful.

I think of my mother when I look at my hands and I am reminded of the love I will always have for her.  And I picture Jesus thinking of me when He looks at His hands, with nail scars that bespeak an unfathomable, eternal love.  It undoes me every time.

That’s the thing about hands.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/kwerfeldein/2234720298/”>Martin Gommel</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

A Lesson from Smudge the Dog

Last Sunday I came home from church and Smudge, our 15 ½ year old Jack Russell terrier, was SO glad to see me it was, well, ridiculous.  Dancing around, doing spins, leaping in the air, yipping like a puppy.

I was kind of pleased at first – I mean, who doesn’t want to get that kind of crazy-happy welcome?  (I am pretty awesome.)  But then she just wouldn’t calm down.  She IS a Jack Russell.  I wanted the mayhem to stop so I reprimanded her firmly.

Didn’t work.

Then, you know what I realized?  SHE DIDN’T HAVE ANY WATER.

She was glad to see me because she knew I was the answer to her problem: She was thirsty, I was the source of water, and that made her happy!  She trusted that now that I was home and she had my attention, she was going to get what she needed.

That didn’t initially occur to me because it wasn’t the kind of reaction I might have had if I were dependent on someone else to meet my basic needs.   I would have probably been all whiny and dramatic, maybe trying to elicit guilt or pity to get what I needed.

But not Smudge.

I started thinking about whether that would be a better approach for me as a human.  What if when I am confused or fearful, instead of praying about it in a whining, begging kind of way, I truly believed that prayer would reveal the answer to me and I got excited?  Seriously, that’s not my default response.

How humbling.

And yet, isn’t God the source of all that I need?  Maybe not always what I want in the moment, but truly what I need?  What if I really came to grips with that and with the fact that when I pray, I have God’s attention, and He is far more faithful to give me what’s best for me than I am to give Smudge what’s best for her?

I’m going to try that.  I’m going to pray and focus on the fact that God knows and wants what’s best for me and I’m going to choose to be excited for that.  I may not dance around and spin.  I certainly won’t yip like a puppy (how undignified), but I’m going to trust that He’s the Giver of all good gifts and He wants to give His best to me.

It worked for Smudge.  She got a full bowl of clean, cool water and lapped it up appreciatively.

How do you approach God – exuberant and expectant like Smudge, knowing you’re going to get what you need?  Or tentative and apologetic, like me?  Have you ever learned a lesson about God from your pet(s)?  Please share in the comments!

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?