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

Spread a Little Hope, Part 1

Greetings, Reader! Today I’d like to inspire you. The more I see of the world, the more it strikes me that there are so many people living without hope. None of us are immune to pain or disappointment. At times I am overwhelmed by the amount of suffering compared with my ability to ease that suffering. There are so many types of suffering, and we are so constantly bombarded with requests for help in the form of money or volunteer hours, that we quickly begin to feel guilty. So what is a person to do? How are you to do real good, rather than just wishing that you could? As I always say, there is a better way.

Here’s what you need:

  • A compassionate heart
  • A desire to make a difference
  • Time
  • Generosity with whatever resources you have

Here’s what you do:

  • Think through the many types of pain and suffering around you. Focus in on the one or two that really move your heart.
  • Look for established organizations in your community that serve in the areas that you care most about.
  • Make a list of your talents and resources. If you are not very creative, offer up those talents and resources to the organizations you have found, and let them place you where they can best use you. If you are creative, however, you may spend some time thinking of your own ways to meet the needs in your area.
  • If there is no group or organization in your area meeting the needs of the people you would like to help, use your connections and social networks to find others in your community who share the same passions as you, and pool your talents and resources.
  • Get your family involved. Serving others together is an excellent way to strengthen your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Children are very enthusiastic about helping others, and there is no better time to develop a generous and compassionate spirit than childhood.

I hope that you will be inspired to find your own niche where you can do the good that you were made for.  In the future, be looking for ideas on more specific ways to Spread a Little Hope.

Peace Be With You