I Want to Be a Dandelion


Last Sunday, I took a little walk around town after church. Here in the mountains of Colorado, it may be nearly the middle of April, but we’re hesitant to actually call it spring for another month or two. There’s a chance we’ll get a foot of snow this weekend. In some places, wildflowers won’t make their appearance until July. We’re stuck in a sort of seasonal twilight; it is not as cold or snowy as winter, but the plants and animals are not ready to commit to the abundance of spring.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see clusters of dandelions growing up from several cracks in the sidewalk and dotting yards here and there. Dandelions are one of my favorite flowers. They are soft, cheerful, and bright, they are still beautiful and enjoyable after their yellow fades and they turn into puffs made for children’s delight, and there is something about their stubborn, tenacious personality that makes me cheer more for them than for the landscapers who would try to banish them.

As I was admiring the dandelions, it occurred to me that we as Christians should be more like dandelions. These little yellow flowers can teach us a lot about living as children of God. How so?

  • They have strong roots which make them hard to destroy.
  • They can grow anywhere; they don’t need “ideal conditions” to thrive.
  • They are simple and cheerful; they do not need to be flashy or popular.
  • They serve many purposes and fill many needs – they nourish, heal, and encourage.
  • They are resilient – attempts to destroy or discourage them only make them stronger.
  • They spread seeds far and wide; they give of themselves and multiply in the face of strong winds and the changing seasons of life.

So what do you want to be? A beautiful but temperamental and fragile flower like and orchid, or will you be a dandelion?

Out of Control

Hello again. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. Just about five months, to be exact.  The last time I posted, I was bemoaning the impossible length of the last weeks of a pregnancy. Well, just days after that post, my pregnancy journey ended and the great adventure of being a mother began. These past four months have been nothing short of amazing. They have also been exhausting, exciting, terrifying, and thrilling, sometimes all in the same moment. Time has flown by, and I cannot believe my tiny little baby is now a chubby, cheerful 4-month-old whose life goal is to sit up alone. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time that he wasn’t a part of our lives. Every day is full of new discoveries, new challenges, and new ways to fall in love with a short, fat, bald guy.


Being a parent, especially a new parent, is a major learning experience. Learning how to care for your child, learning what each cry or expression means, learning how to function normally on 2 hours of sleep. For me, it has been more than that though. While I have learned a great deal about my son, I may have learned even more about myself. God has been using my daily (and nightly) experiences as a mother to teach me about my own shortcomings and strengths.


While I’m learning and growing in many areas (patience, planning, time management, multitasking), the central issue that God is working on with me is control. While I can’t say that I am always in control of things, I certainly like to feel that I am. I am a planner, a list maker, a spreadsheet-thought-organizer. I like to sort, label, and rearrange. When I found out that I was pregnant, I started planning. Planning the nursery, planning how I would feed my son, what kinds of diapers he would wear, how I would get him to sleep through the night, how I would discipline him once he got older. I researched online, read every book I could get my hands on, spent hours sipping tea with my mommy friends picking their brains. I was ready to have control of the parenting situation.


And then I started noticing that I had no control. Actually, I noticed that from the moment my husband and I decided that it was time to start our family. I had absolutely no control over if or when I would get pregnant (even though I had two specific dates in mind that I wanted to have my baby – haha!) I remember those few days testing to see if I was pregnant and feeling panic as I waited for the lines to show up – panic if I was pregnant, and panic if I wasn’t. Then I found out I was indeed pregnant, and I went to the doctor to confirm. I really like my doc, but I didn’t like what she said. I was 5 weeks pregnant at the time, and she wanted me to come back at 10 weeks to “see if it’s actually a viable pregnancy.”


That planted the seed in my mind that I could lose my baby at any time. I knew so many women who had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects, and my worrying mind started running wild. I asked my sweet husband to reassure me multiple times a day that there was no logical reason to worry. I filled my head with statistics to prove that there was very little chance of anything going wrong with my baby. But it didn’t shake the fear. Every symptom that I had or didn’t have sent me off to the internet to have my doom sealed. I was banned (by my wise husband) from searching those things anymore. And still the anxiety circled me. I knew it was unlikely that something would go wrong, but things do go wrong, and what was there to assure me that I wasn’t one of the 2% of this or 10% of that?


Finally I did some positive web-searching and looked for affirming words for pregnancy. What I found was something even better, something I should have been looking for from the beginning. I found a blog (Grace for Moms) that listed 10 Bible verses specifically addressing fear and worry. I clung to those verses, pulled out my fancy colored markers, and wrote those verses out. I taped them to mirrors, my closet door, and the head of my bed. I said them over and over as I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, and fell asleep at night. And miracle of miracles, my fears didn’t have control over me anymore. Did they sometimes pop up? I’m embarrassed to say, yes they did, especially the really idiotic ones (such as, will a body part that clearly showed up on the first ultrasound somehow be missing on the second one? Not too proud of that thought process – I’ll blame the hormones!)


As predicted by my husband and statistics, nothing did go wrong with my pregnancy, and I delivered my beautiful, healthy, all-body-parts-accounted-for little boy on one of the two days I had been crossing my fingers for (though I realized that I had absolutely nothing to do with that). But again, in that process, God was teaching me that I have no control. During my pregnancy, I had spent hours studying and practicing the techniques needed to enable a drug-free birth. For me the idea of the natural-ness of a drug-free birth, combined with the safety net of delivering at the hospital seemed ideal. I would labor at home as long as possible, and then go to the hospital only when I felt that I was getting near the actual birth bit of this process. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and a good ability to use my mind to control pain, and so I thought it would be a piece of cake. Okay, I thought that I could make it, anyway.


The short version of my very long labor and delivery is that after over 48 hours of contractions, I was still untold hours away from being ready to deliver. My doctor suggested, and I agreed, that I should get the epidural anesthesia and a bit of something called Pitocin to help my labor move along a little faster. If I hadn’t received the drugs, I don’t know if I would have had the energy to push the baby out when the time came. It was not the “natural” birth I had hoped for, but I could no longer control the pain. Nor could I control the progress of my labor or the timing of my son’s birth. Almost exactly 24 hours after we arrived at the hospital, I first saw and held my little boy, and the world around me ceased to exist for a moment. I could try, I could use all kinds of descriptive language, but I still could never explain to you what that moment was like. If you’ve had a child, I think you can probably imagine it pretty well.


The next day they sent us home, and God decided that it was time to teach me even more about how little I really could (or needed to) control. Before my son was born, I had pretty clear ideas of how I was going to train him to eat and play and sleep with a careful routine that would minimize any negative impact on my own schedule and productivity. I wasn’t going to be a schedule freak, but I was going to be very regimented, and my baby was going to be very textbook. Yes, yes, I hear all of you who already have children snickering behind your hands at me. Okay, now I hear you laughing out loud the more you think about the ridiculousness of it all.


Sure, I can try to keep a general pattern of activities throughout the day, I can encourage him to nap when he seems tired, I can give him cues about when it’s time to go to sleep or time to play, but I cannot control my child at this point, because I cannot control his needs, and at this point in his life, everything is driven by needs, not by behavioral training.  Not to start any arguments about parenting styles, but based on my experience so far, parents who are able to “control” their babies at this age are either being fooled by a baby who naturally does what the parents are wanting (i.e. sleeping through the night), or they have controlled their child’s behavior at the expense of some facet of the child’s emotional well-being. When my son “decides” that he is hungry earlier than I was expecting, then I feed him. When he wakes up in the middle of the night because he is hungry, because he had a scary dream, or because his tummy is bothering him, I do my best to meet his need. I learned very quickly that we are both happier when I focus more on bonding with my son, learning how he communicates and meeting his needs, rather than trying to make him meet mine.


Not that there aren’t times that I get a little frustrated that nothing is getting accomplished because my whole day was spent feeding or soothing a little boy, or that I don’t feel exhausted when I’ve been up three times in the middle of the night feeding or burping or changing him. Not having control is inconvenient. In some circles, being a parent without total control (even of an infant) is not popular. But I’m less stressed when I embrace the fact that I don’t have control.


Not having control is also scary at times. Every parent struggles with fears about the health and safety of their children. I suppose it is even worse for first time moms. One example of this for me has been the fear of SIDS. If you have had a baby in the last couple decades, you know that there is an entire litany of rules for reducing the risk of your baby dying suddenly and inexplicably in their sleep. The rules may change a bit over the years, but every mom pays close attention and does her best to avoid the myriad dangers that apparently lurk during sleep. We must not have crib bumpers or blankets or stuffed animals in the crib. We should have our baby close to us and have a fan running to move the air around. The baby should always, always sleep flat on their back (if you let them sleep on their tummy or side, you are just asking for trouble, apparently). With all these warnings, which do indeed have merit, the new mother brings home a baby and, if she’s anything like me, becomes a basket case the first time she sets her precious newborn in his bassinet or crib for the first night.


It’s not so bad during the day when you walk by and check on them constantly, but at night, when you should supposedly be asleep, you worry that if you sleep for even a moment, your baby will stop breathing and you’ll wake up in the morning to your worst nightmare. But the fact is, you can’t really control something like SIDS. Now sure, you can follow the precautions that make it much less likely that something would happen to your child in his sleep, but there is a reason that SIDS exists as a cause of death for infants  – it is sudden and not explained by any other cause. You can’t prevent what can’t be diagnosed or determined.


While I still find myself peeking over the edge of the cradle and look for that rise and fall of his little chest when I happen to wake up at night, I’ve come to realize that there are some things I can’t protect my son from, and so no amount of staying awake at night or never leaving his side can ensure his health and safety. In fact, I know that at some points in his life, bad things are going to happen to him, things I cannot prevent. I wish I could, but life doesn’t allow me to completely control what does or does not happen to my child. The best I can do is use common sense to prevent the “bad stuff” that I can, and trust God for the rest.


And there we come to my biggest area of fear and lack of control. Ah, that trusting God with “the rest”. Like I said earlier a couple of times, bad things are going to happen. To all of us. Some things may seem worse than others, but none of us are immune. The risks for those really disastrous things may be statistically small, but if you’re the person they happen to, the statistics mean nothing. And that is where fear continues to try to get a new grip on me: something terrible is not likely to happen to me, but I cannot guarantee that it won’t. I can’t use the Christian/spiritual cop-out of “It will be okay; God is in control,” because while God is in control, I might still suffer tragedy. The real answer is that bad things are going to happen to all of us, but because God is in control, we can survive the tragedies and struggles of life, and we have the promise that something good will come out of our suffering. I don’t know what lies ahead for me or for my son, and I cannot control much of it, but I can trust and have a relationship with the one who does know and control the future.


What’s On Your Playlist?

Hello there, long time no write! I’ve been doing some new things with my days, and suddenly, I realized that I now have no time! I’ve really missed writing here, though, and I’m going to squeeze in whatever I can.

Today, I was listening to an old mix CD I had made in college. Yes, I’m old enough to have still used CD’s in college, but I did have an iPod too. It just had a tiny screen and lots of clicky buttons. And it weighed at least a pound. Anyways, I was listening to this CD as I drove around town, and I realized that the songs on that CD were not songs I had even thought about listening to in a long time. And then I quickly reminisced about all the other music that seemed to define my college years, and I had the sudden thought that the music we listen to regularly says a lot about who we are at that moment in time.

As I thought about it, I found that the idea that tied much of my college music together was anger. To give you a good example, during my first year of grad school, a dear male friend of mine took me to visit an old roommate and friend that had transferred to a college in North Carolina. She and I had both recently gone through difficult relationships with members of the opposite sex, and we needed some time to commiserate with one another. Our mutual friend who drove me up there now refers to this trip as the “angry girls” trip. The main feature of our visit was listening to Kelly Clarkson’s album, Breakaway, which is mostly a collection of angry or sad songs, most of them completely appropriate for after a big fight or a breakup. Our friend still cringes whenever he hears on of those songs. It may seem silly, but at the time I found in those songs a connection to the disappointment, pain, and anger that I was feeling just then.

And yet, if you had asked me to describe my attitude or feelings during those years, I probably would not have described myself as particularly angry. I don’t think I realized at the time just how much I was fighting against my circumstances and my own inner self. I was trying to define myself, trying to distinguish myself from my family, from my childhood, and from the rest of the people at the University. I didn’t know how to do it gracefully, so I beat about like a moth trying to escape a spider’s web. I also was finding that I wasn’t sure I liked some of my attempts at establishing my identity, and I think I was a bit at war with myself over who I would become. Nothing like an internal struggle to make you angry. I wondered, as I thought about it this morning, if perhaps I wasn’t as conscious of what was going on in my heart and mind because I had the music to tie into. Stick with me here. I really feel that the music had an effect on how I processed my emotions and circumstances. On the one hand, it helped me move along by giving me an outlet and a cathartic release for my emotions that might have stayed pent up inside me. So perhaps my angry music helped me move on from being angry more quickly. On the other hand, I know that sometimes the music just reinforced what I was feeling and allowed me to stay angry as I repeated the same liturgy of anger and depression over and over. In that sense, I was putting my feelings on repeat, just like I put the songs on repeat.

But what does this mean to you? Well, for one, if you are having a really bad day/week/month, and need something to help you get those feelings out, I can highly recommend that Kelly Clarkson album. But then, I also recommend you don’t do what I did, which is put your feelings on a constant loop of repeats. It’s one thing to be angry, or hurt, or sad, or afraid. Those are all legitimate emotions, and it is critical that you recognize, accept, and deal with them. The danger is when you allow those emotions to swirl around you and become the constant soundtrack of your life. Yes, belt out an angry song so you don’t build up emotional pressure. Go ahead and listen to a song that makes you cry when you need to let the sadness spill out. But then change the station, put on a new album, and listen to something that inspires you or puts a smile on your face. Soaring classical, the bubbliest of bubblegum, perky pop, something country that makes you want to Texas Two-Step (even if you have no idea what that really entails)…use the power of the music.

History and experience tell us that music has a profound ability to affect us. Isn’t that what we were just talking about? Music has the power to influence our moods, thoughts, and emotions. Remember King David, before he was anyone important, was boy with the gift of music. Back then he wore a tunic and played a harp. If he were around today, he’d probably have some kind of goatee and play a guitar. And guess what his job was, aside from being a shepherd – he was invited to King Saul’s palace for one thing – to play music and calm Saul down when he was on the edge of mental breakdown. And it worked! David played, and Saul felt better.

So think about it. What is the playlist of your life right now? How does it reflect your feelings or mood at this moment in your life? Furthermore, how does it affect your feelings or your mood? Do you need to turn the music up, or do you need to turn it off and finds something else to listen to?

Annie, Get Your Bible

“Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you… Anything you can be, I can be greater; sooner or later I’m greater than you.” So go the famous lines from the musical Annie Get Your Gun. A catchy tune, and also irrefutable proof that Annie Oakley and Frank Butler were Christians.  How do I know? Because no one can turn something miniscule and mundane into a fierce competition like Christians.

Just spend a few hours at a conference of senior pastors, youth pastors or Sunday school directors. What’s your attendance? How many programs do you have each week? Have you built a new “worship center”? How many missionaries do you support? How many satellite campuses do you have? Have you published a book? Do you have a 3D gaming system to get the kids interested? (I won’t even address the absurdity of that…imagine how many more continents would have been reached for Jesus if St. Paul had just had an Xbox and some plasma screens…we wouldn’t even have to send missionaries to Africa!)  It goes on and on.

The people asking these questions often don’t really care about the answers. They’re not hearing that you were called to a church with a weekly attendance of 60 and now it is up to 100. A 66% increase doesn’t make them bless the Lord for what He’s doing in your congregation.  All they really want to hear is that whatever you have is not as good as what they have. Sure, when they took over their church, there were 1,500 attendees, and now there are only 1,000, but it’s still much bigger than your church. And of course, we all know that God is far more active in a megachurch than in a small congregation. I grew up in a megachurch, and yes, God was indeed working there, but not because we had thousands of people. These days I go to a church that could fit 10 times over into the sanctuary at my childhood church.To put it another way, there are more people that attend the church of my youth than live in my entire town now.  And yet, God is incredibly active in my current church, not because we’re big, or because we’re small, but because He has a plan for us.  That’s how God works. Not by statistics, but by design.

But it’s not just pastors and churches that get involved in the holy war of Christian competition. As individual Christians we take the bait just as easily. Who is asked to sing for worship more often? Whose Bible study has more attendees? Who chairs more committees? Who is better friends with the pastor’s wife? Who is invited to golf with the elders more often? Who has better behaved children? Who has a Sunday school room named after them? Who went to a more remote location as a missionary? Who is suffering more for Jesus? And on and on.

We are constantly caught up in the mania of trying earn more crowns, more “Well done, good and faithful servant” accolades, store up more treasures in heaven. Because we want to be the biggest and best, even in heaven. I know it sounds a little cynical, and it seems that I am saying that all of us are only working for our own selfish gain, not for the Glory of God.I’m not.  I don’t think it’s that bad, or that cut and dried. But I do think that we have a real problem as a global church, and we need to wake up and smell the coffee.  It all boils down to some bad theology that we have let ourselves believe for more than two thousand years.

That bad theology goes like this: If God loves you, He will bless you with a big ministry, happy family, and widespread influence. If you love God, you will do your best to build a big ministry, have a happy family, and gain widespread influence. You know what HE says?  “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15) And what are His commands? Love the Lord with everything you are (Matthew 22:37) and love one another (John 13:34). That’s all. Nothing about building programs, foreign travel, or plasma screens. Nothing about trying to be better than others.

Even Jesus’ closest friends struggled with this concept. Just moments after Jesus explained his coming death and resurrection to them, they got bogged down in an argument over which one of them was the best disciple. (Luke 9:46) They came to learn, however, that God’s view of success, obedience and blessing are wholly unlike ours. We want to do what others are doing, be blessed as they are being blessed. The problem with that is that God doesn’t have the same plans for us. His plan for your life is not anything close to His plan for your neighbor, your brother, your mother or your best friend.  If He had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have stopped with Adam. But no, He has formed billions of unique people in the millennia since Creation, and has designed a completely unique plan for each one of those people. (Jeremiah 29:11) Isn’t that amazing? I have a hard enough time coming up with 7 unique dinners a week; I can’t imagine making a different life plan for each of several billion individuals.

The disciples each were given a different path to follow, even though they had all received the same command to “go and make disciples.”(Matthew 28:19) Some stayed in Jerusalem, some traveled around the Roman Empire, others may have gone as far as India and China. We know that at one point (Acts 15), Paul showed up in Jerusalem to meet with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, specifically Peter and James. Paul could have felt inferior because Peter had spent several years with Jesus, or because James was brother of Jesus. Peter and James could have felt inferior because Paul had started many churches, while they just had the one, or because Paul was an apostle to the wealthy Greeks and Romans, while they were shepherding the impoverished, oppressed Jews. They could have had a veritable pastoral Olympic games. But they didn’t. They combined their strengths, sought the Lord, and worked together to advance the Gospel.

So what about us? What do we do with all of this? Well, we need to do a few different things. First, we need to realize that God has a unique plan for us, and then thank Him for it. When we wish we were someone else, or that we had someone else’s life, we are basically thumbing our nose at God and telling Him that He made a mistake when He created us. When you were born, your parents didn’t have any choice over what you would be like. They couldn’t choose your gender, haircolor, athletic ability, personality or musical talent. They might try to push you in a direction that is different from your natural interests or desires because of their own hopes for you. But God is not like that. He was able to pick every single one of your characteristics, and He put you together just the way He wants you.

Second, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. That is true across the board, more specifically, we need to stop comparing the work that God has given us with the work that He has given someone else. Your work may be caring for AIDS orphans in Africa, or it might be raising your own children in Austin. Neither one is a lesser calling. Both are about bringing children up to know and love the Lord. Your work might be to develop microfinance opportunities for women in India, or it might be to approve loans in Indiana. Either way, you are helping people improve their lives and you have the opportunity to show compassion, integrity and kindness. Your work might be teaching English in China, or you might be teaching English in Chicago. Wherever you are, you are filling minds and inspiring students, and you have the opportunity to obey God by loving them. God is not so narrowly confined that He is only served when we are working in a full-time, official ministry capacity. He is served whenever we love those around us and give Glory to Him.We must stop seeing ourselves as greater or lesser than others.

Finally, we need to seek His will for our lives. That could be a whole post (or a whole book) on its own. The short version is that we need to use our individual gifts, talents and interests to obey His command to love others. If you can’t stand children, you probably aren’t called to start an orphanage in Thailand, no matter how great the need seems. If you can’t carry a tune, God’s plan probably doesn’t involve you leading the choir. But He may be calling you to plan and host a fundraiser for that orphanage, or He may be asking you to be a part of the greeting team, because those are where your skills and interests lie. God made you as you are for His purpose and His plan. Don’t become arrogant by trying to follow your own plan, as if you know better than God. Humbly approach Him and ask Him to show you what it is that He sees as special about you, what it is that He put in you specifically so that you could serve Him. Because you are infinitely special to Him. He has never, not even once, compared you with another, and He has no intention of starting. Be free in that knowledge, free to be and do what He designed and created you for.

And in everything, have a Glad Heart!

What Will You Do This Summer?

What a summer! I know that summer is usually hot, stormy and all-around crazy, but this particular summer seems to be the absolute limit. It’s hot everywhere, dry everywhere, storming everywhere. Here in Colorado alone we have at least 11 wildfires being fought, and there are nearly 100 fires burning across the US. Even the East Coast, which is usually too humid and wet to worry about fires, has seen several significant wildfires over the past 2 or 3 months. The fires have destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, and have cost many millions of dollars to fight and recover from. And then yesterday the whole eastern half of the country was subjected to intense winds, rain and lightning, leaving several people dead, and millions (yes, millions) without electricity, just in time for temperatures in the 100’s. People are blaming these conditions on a wide variety of things: poor land use, global warming, cyclical weather patterns, God’s judgment, and so on.

I’ve come to realize that the real cause is that living here on our rapidly spinning planet is a wild ride. To the above fires and storms add all the hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases, wars, terrorist attacks, floods, droughts, famines, and so much more. Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened, and keep your hands and arms inside at all times, folks! Because we live in a world scarred by sin, we are constantly faced with sorrow, pain, disaster and fear. Just take a look at the news – most of it is trouble, trouble, trouble (makes me want to sing Music Man) and even the good news is usually about someone’s response to something bad: “Dad saves toddler from grizzly bear” or “Brave young boy calls 911 after seeing mother shot”. When was the last time you pulled up the online news or opened a paper and read a headline along the lines of “People all over the world are joining hands, starting a love train”?

I’ve heard from a lot of people that times are getting worse. Not having lived in a random sampling of centuries and eras, I can’t really tell for sure. I think as history moves along, a lot of times we simply trade one evil for another. We may not have gladiators, but we revel in violence movies and books. We may not have slavery here in America, but we tacitly condone it in other countries by the way we conduct business and choose our consumer goods. We might not have to worry about the Black Plague or typhoid, but we have AIDS and addictions. Women may have more rights and opportunities, but they are also more objectified than ever through every source of media, from the obvious degradations of the porn industry to the subtle messages of the beauty and fashion worlds. We have more technology and communications, but less common courtesy and understanding. We have international courts, multi-national organizations and peacekeeping forces, and yet there are still genocides, revolts and civil wars being waged all around the globe. Apartheid, segregation and eugenics may have been abolished in many countries, but people all over are still wary of “the others”. Communism has been largely defeated, and yet nation after nation is falling prey to debt crises, financial scandals and recessions. Obviously we can’t get a firm reign on business and finance, no matter if we’re communist, capitalist, socialist, or anarchist. We have more college educated people than ever, and incredibly high unemployment. The job security of taking over the family farm or shop is a thing of the past, now that we must each make our own way in the world. So is it getting better? I don’t know. Is it getting worse? I think that’s a hard argument to make.

Since the very first choice to live in willful disobedience to God’s command, the whole fabric of the world has been warped, stained and wrinkled. Sin equals suffering and sorrow. I not only suffer from the consequences of my own sins, but I suffer from the sins of Adam and Eve, the sins of my neighbors, the sins of my relatives, the sins of people 300 years ago, and the sins of people halfway around the world. That might not seem fair; why would God allow us to suffer because of something we didn’t do? But look at nature. Lightning strikes a tree and sets in on fire. That fire spreads from tree to tree, from trees to undergrowth, and from the forest to our homes. Why does the 100th tree have to burn? He didn’t stand tall and attract the lightning. Or what about pollution? I ride my bike around town as much as possible, so I’m not contributing nearly as much carbon emissions and the person who drives 30 miles a day, 7 days a week. And yet I still have to breathe just as much polluted air as the person who drives an SUV. It’s the way God created everything. We talk about webs and circles of life, food chains, being part of the local and global community. We weren’t made as standalone objects which can exist independently of one another. We can’t avoid affecting and being affect by every living thing and every natural force around us. What you and I do affects us, and affects others. Eventually our actions will have an effect on people in distant times and places.

But this is actually the best news we could have. Because our world is ordered this way, we have the opportunity to set into motion things that will benefit others, perhaps for hundreds of years. We may not ever fully see the effects of our actions and choices. Do you think that the person who first inspired Jonas Salk to love science was thinking, “If I can just get him interested, he’ll come up with a way to prevent polio”? Did Moses’ mother hide her baby because she thought, “If I just keep him alive, he’s going to change the course of history and religion and be world famous for thousands of years”? Did Florence Nightingale’s father allow her to go against the grain and seek a career in nursing and statistics because he knew she would forever change the practice of nursing and military medicine? No, each of these people was simply doing what he or she knew to be the right thing.

Every day you are asked to choose between right and wrong, between good and best, between selfish and giving, between immediate and eternal. The way you respond will have a lasting impact on the world. Eventually the fires will be contained and extinguished, power will be restored, homes rebuilt, rains will return, the temperature will go down, and this summer will be just a memory. What you do this summer, that can live on forever. You may be relaxing and renewing your mind and energy, or you may be running around busier than ever. But when we get to September, and the classic, “What did you do over the summer?” is asked, what will your answer be? What lasting effect will your actions have? Please don’t miss the fact that the smallest actions can have enormous effects. I’m not suggesting that you try to go out and be a Salk, or Moses, or Nightingale. If you can, that is wonderful. But you might just be the encouraging friend, the nurturing mother, the inspiring father, the caring mentor. And that is a calling that has eternal effects.

Have a Glad Summer!

Hope Blossoms

Welcome back! You’ve probably been wondering where I’ve been. And if you haven’t, please don’t tell me; allow me to have my little fantasy that you’re out there eagerly awaiting my latest dose of wisdom from on high. Between trying to maintain order in a class of wee-ones desperately ready for spring break, unpacking the last (never-ending) boxes from moving, cleaning the house for eagerly anticipated visitors, and spending quality time with said visitors, I have neglected my poor little blog world. Fear not, though, for I have returned! And with me, I bring flowers and very cute little smiles.

And now, enjoy a little glimpse of what I've been up to while I was away from you...

It all started with a book. Two books, really. The first was Ron Hall’s and Denver Moore’s heart-wrenching, uplifting book, Same Kind of Different as Me.  It completely opened my heart and my eyes to the real world of the destitute and homeless. I hope to go into how that has affected me more in a later post, because it is quite significant. The second book was the follow up to Same Kind, a fascinating and inspiring collection of real-life stories of people who have put their faith and compassion into action: What Difference Do It Make?  You can find out more about both books here.

After I read of a little girl who made a tremendous impact on her community in What Difference Do It Make?  I felt that I needed to light a fire under my students to bring love and hope to their world. We brainstormed about a variety of ways that we could help the people around us and bring them hope, and one of my little girls struck on something that seemed just right. She thought we should make flowers and give them to people to bring them hope and joy. We decided to name the project Hope Blossoms.

I researched all manner of paper flower crafts (you wouldn’t believe how many there are out there!) and settled on one I thought would be the easiest for my army of little hands to manufacture. I found these gems: 

on the Intimate Weddings website. So I headed out to the store and grabbed several packages of cupcake liners and pipe cleaners. The kids really got behind the project, industriously making flowers in their spare time at school.

Once all the flowers were assembled, I chose several verses of scripture that spoke of hope, cut and pasted them into leaf shapes on my computer, and printed them out on green paper. I had the class cut out the leaves and glue them to the stems. The result was quite satisfactory, if I do say so myself. 

One beautiful morning, we set out for our local nursing home, where I had arranged with the coordinator for us to hand out our Hope Blossoms to the residents. Because we live in a small town, and because we have a gorgeous bike trail that leads most of the way from school to the nursing home, we decided to take a nice, long walk. 

The kids were a little shy and nervous at first, but when they saw how happy the residents were to have visitors, and to have something special to keep for themselves, they really got into it. I hope that in some way we blessed the people we met that day. Even more than that, though, I hope that my sweet students’ hearts and minds were opened to something new, to the knowledge and understanding that they can be God’s tools, no matter how small or insignificant they may feel. 

How about you? Do you sometimes feel that you are completely unqualified and inadequate when it comes to meeting the physical and emotional needs of the hurting people around you? I know that I have often felt that way. I still do. Because, in fact, I am unqualified and inadequate. But when I open myself up to God working through me, I can do anything He calls me to do. If He has called you to bring hope and love to someone, He will work through you as long as you are willing. Ask Him today to show you where He would have you carry your blossoms of hope.

 May your heart be glad!

Dead or Alive?


I have something important to share with you today. Just keep in mind that I said “important,” not “fun.” You’ve noticed that I’ve been digging into the New Testament book of James lately. Of all the New Testament books, it is the one I find most challenging and practical. I want you know that any time I share a challenge like what I’m about to share, it is something I am working through as well. I’m right there with you, not up on a mountaintop shouting down at you.

Think back to our last talk about James. What did he say made our religion or faith “pure and lasting”? Right,  caring for the abandoned and oppressed. Good job! If you were sitting here with me, I’d give you a big gold star 🙂 Let’s move on now, and see how James cautions us against developing a worthless, lifeless faith.

I love James because He always seems to address the very thing I need to work on. If you are familiar with James, you know that he is big on telling us how our words can affect others. If you’re not familiar with him, check out James 3. In James 1:26 he tells us that neglecting to control what we say can make our faith or religion dead and worthless.  James says that everything we say should be governed by the law of love, meaning it does no harm to anyone. That’s pretty hard, isn’t it? I know that I am becoming much more aware of the effect my words have on other. If we don’t control what we say, our faith is worthless. Trash. Burn it up, and throw it away. Put it out on the curb. That’s not the kind of religion I want. You?

Do you have a problem controlling the words that come out of your mouth? Maybe you are really good about not swearing, but do you gossip? You might not use profanities, but do you yell at your children? You may be really good at biting back snarky comments towards your coworkers, but do you constantly criticize your spouse? Governing our words by the law of love means that we control the content and the tone of what we say – to everyone. We say those things that build others up, not tear them down. Yes, you’ll have to correct your children, you’ll disagree with your spouse. It is inevitable, and it is right. But when you do, before you speak, consider how the words and tone you are choosing will affect your target.

There’s another trap waiting here. Are you, like many of us, really good at controlling what comes out of your mouth, but inside you snarl and nag and belittle? If you are, you have probably realized that you can only keep those things inside for so long. You can keep the harsh thoughts about your boss, the frustrations with your relatives, the self-condemning to yourself for a while, but eventually they are going to burst out, and not necessarily at the object of their wrath. You may find yourself yelling at your kids, when really you’re angry about the person in your office who keeps stealing the credit (and the snacks). How to change this? Two things: First, make sure you have a person or two in your life that you can share some of those real frustrations and disappointments with – before they get to the explosive stage. Second, ask God to change your heart. Ask Him to clear away the angry, critical or judgmental nature you have. This is critical, because eventually, whatever is in our hearts comes out of our mouths.


Oh, but you say, “I don’t want religion, I just want to have faith.” Okay, let’s look at that. Growing up in Evangelical circles, a common catchphrase was, “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship [with God].” Well, sure, as a Christian, I am convinced that my belief in Jesus allows me to have a relationship with God that people in other religions do not have. But I still am pretty sure I have a religion. I have a set of beliefs in a specific deity and reality that I am devoted to, and I show my devotion through a common set of traditional actions. Sounds like religion to me.

Outside of Christianity, there are also a vast number of people, especially today, that do not want to be part of “religion”. Can’t say that I blame them all that much. Much of the really awful stuff of the past, well, forever, has been at least sponsored and condoned, if not outright instigated by those who claim to be part of “religion”. I don’t want any part of that either. But just as I don’t want to give up being a human because there are so many evil people in history, I’m not going to give up on real religion just because it has been misused in the past.

I think another reason that I like James is that he is blunt. You never have to say to yourself, I wonder what he really means? So today, James tells us that if we have faith that is not coupled with good deeds or loving actions, then our faith is dead and worthless.  Did you get that? Was he in any way vague? I didn’t think so. If you’re feeling like a little extra-credit work here, go read James 2:14-18. Wow. If you need to read it two or three more times, I can understand.

James doesn’t pull any punches. You have to have faith and good deeds, or else you don’t have either. A lot of people don’t like to go there. It’s too sticky of a question, too difficult of a balancing act between salvation by faith or by works. Well, the great news for us is that James isn’t “other people”. And he definitely “goes there”. The way he says it, he doesn’t seem to think that it is a balancing act at all. It’s like having two feet to walk. If you have a left foot, but not a right, you wouldn’t argue that you can walk just fine. You have to have faith and loving actions, or else you are going to be stumbling around.

I happen to live in a town that has a lot of New Age and Buddhist influences. Nearly every street has houses or shops with Buddhist prayer flag garlands hanging on the porch or in a window. We have more yoga classes per capita that anywhere I’ve ever lived. And yet, what many of these people have is “faith” that somehow, someday if they recite enough mantras or positive thoughts or prayers to a universal spirit, things will all work out. That can be pretty unsatisfying when life hits really hard. It’s okay when you’re stressed about work, but when your child dies, or when your husband leaves you, you need a faith, a religion, that is real and alive, not dead and worthless.

So how do we have that living, breathing, active faith? Well, let’s review. In our previous talk about James, we saw that “pure and lasting” religion means caring for the abandoned and oppressed. Today we saw that worthwhile religion means taking control of how we use our words, letting them be ruled by the law of love, which means that our words can do no harm to others. And finally, we saw that living, active faith is characterized by a life of actions that do good for others. It’s like a big circle, the ultimate recycling symbol. Loving Words -> Loving Actions -> Living Faith. And back around.



Spread a Little Hope, Part 2: Orphans and Widows

Greetings, Reader! We are going to talk today about a specific area in which you can spread hope to the world around you. If you haven’t read my first post on the subject, go check it out. It’s okay, I’ll wait for you… Alright, got it? Good, now we can move on.

So, I’ve been reading the Bible a lot lately. Even if you don’t, stick with me, because I think you will agree with what it has to say here. The specific book I’ve been focused on is the book of James, which is historically accepted as being written by the brother of Jesus. I mention that to point out that he would have been very familiar with the teachings of Jesus, who is recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike as having quite a bit to say regarding the right way to treat other people (He was pretty big on caring for “the least” among us). Here’s what James has to say: “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles.” Other translators have used the words “undefiled” and “unblemished” instead of “lasting”. Let’s focus in on what the author is saying here. He’s assuming that there are kinds of religion, and a multitude of ways that people express their religion. James makes the unequivocal statement that none of those things matter if they don’t put a high priority on caring for the disadvantaged and socially oppressed. I think we can all agree that a lot of religion has historically been defiled and blemished by its adherents. Crusades, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers, forced conversions…the list could go on and on.

Why do religious people get caught up in defiling their religion? Because they have lost the focus of what “pure and lasting religion” is really about. It is not about power, it is not about mandating any form of belief or behavior, it is not about earning a better place in heaven. It’s about love. Jesus, that famous brother of James, put it pretty clearly: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Not a lot of wiggle room there. And I can’t think of a single religion or a belief system that would disagree, except for perhaps Utilitarianism, which is not real popular… Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a universal moral imperative. We innately know that it is the right thing. And yet, we often do a pretty abysmal job of following this imperative.

Not that we don’t want to do it. Organizations and movements which at the very least claim to help the “orphan and widow” abound. Many of us are content to let them do the actual work, while we send them some money. Isn’t it nice that we can help out these “poor folks” without ever having to interact with them? (Note the sarcasm.) Our governments are also have a finger in the pie. With this being an election year, we are going to continue hearing a lot of very strong opinions as to how much the government can and should be doing to help the “least of these” in our society. There are some valid reasons to be having that debate, but that’s really not what I’m concerned with. Because the imperative we’re talking about today didn’t say anything about pure and undefiled government (as if!) being characterized by caring for the financially and socially downcast. It was about religion, and religion is about people. James (and Jesus) mean us. I see you there, looking at the person next to you. Cut it out. I mean you. You need to be caring for the orphan and the widow. Sure, it’s not what you were planning on when you got up this morning, but it’s where we’re headed now.

Still with me? Good. Let’s make this practical. So you don’t have an orphanage right down the street from you?No streetchildren wandering in front of the bus stop on your way to work today? Sorry, you’re not off the hook just like that. The fact is, there are orphans and widows in your town, and there are lots of ways to find them. Community services centers, churches, synagogues, mosques, and a whole variety of non-profits in your community can all direct you to those in need.

But even more than just looking for the actual orphans and widows around us, let’s think about what James really meant by calling our attention to those two specific groups of people. In the first century, your position in society was tied to the position of the men in your family. Your father, your husband – they determined where you stood in the eyes of the community. So to be without that father or husband practically meant that you had no place in society. You were totally at the mercy of others. Often, those others didn’t feel very compelled to care for you. They had enough to do to take care of themselves, or so they thought. James said this wasn’t the case. Not only did people have the ability to care for others, they had no choice – he says we “must” care for the orphans and widows.

In our society today, there is a much wider variety of people who are what we might call financially disadvantaged or socially oppressed. Race, geography, education, religion and politics are all contributing factors. All of those factors need to be addressed. But that’s not the imperative we are talking about here. What did James say? He said we much care for the oppressed “in their troubles”. Not in the socio-historical background of their troubles. Not in the generational cycle of their troubles. He said in their troubles. Where they are right now. The care we are to give is immediate, obvious, and effective.

What does this mean for us? It means giving up our free evening and babysitting to give a single parent a night off to have fun or pursue a hobby or work on his or her degree. It means mentoring children who do not have adequate parental involvement. It means sitting and listening to a friend who has just lost her husband for hours even if you have other things that “should” be done.  It means welcoming a refugee or immigrant and making them feel like a part of the community. It means visiting the elderly lady on your block that hardly ever gets out of her house. It means loving and helping those around you without expecting to get anything in return.

Trust me, Reader, in writing this I was just as challenged as you are right now. I know I’m not anywhere near close to perfect. But I’m trying. Because when I come to my last days, I want to have been part of something pure and lasting.

Peace Be With You