Boomerang

For Mother’s Day, I received two bouquets of flowers: one from my in-laws and another from my kids. I posted pictures on social media because I have a thing for flowers.

The next day, my neighbor and her young daughter stood on my doorstep holding a beautiful bouquet of homegrown roses. Mom had shown my pictures to Daughter; Daughter led Mom outside to pick a bouquet from their garden, carefully choosing one by one the flowers she wanted to share with me.

My former neighbor and friend planted and nurtured those roses. This simple gift felt like it connected more of us than were present in beauty and friendship.

Later that day, another neighbor dropped off a gallon bag of lemons from her tree. Two days later, still another neighbor brought over a bouquet of fresh herbs with an invitation to snip more from her front yard garden.

Humbled by these generous gestures, I wondered aloud what I could share.

Northern California has experienced odd mid-May weather: a cold front dumped rain on us. My just-blooming roses had become so heavy that I feared they might snap their stems. During a break in the weather, I ran outside and quickly cut as many blooms as I could. I shook them dry-ish and brought them inside.

As I considered what to do with them, I realized that evening would be the last gathering for our middle school group where I have served as a leader for the now-8th grade girls during their three years of participation. My two co-leaders are high school students. I set about tying up two bouquets with white satin ribbon to present to these darling girls.

One of the 8th graders pounced on the bouquets and took it upon herself to present them to the high school girls, who both choked back tears of joy. One said that she had given flowers to her teachers last week, and now she understood how they felt: honored. Loved.

I told Q15 this story at breakfast the next day and he said, “Of course. Boomerang.”

When I asked what he meant, he explained: “It’s the boomerang effect. We talk about it at Boy Scouts whenever there isn’t something else to talk about. When one person does good for another, so that person does good for another, and the good keeps flying around…”

I’m grateful they talk about such things at Boy Scouts. We should all talk about it more often.

The night after I presented the girls with bouquets, the church had a scavenger hunt/end-of-year party for the 8th grade students. I couldn’t go because I had to work. So the girls came to my workplace, and one of my high school co-leaders handed me a jewelry bag; she had purchased matching friendship bracelets for all of us. My turn to choke back tears. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Earlier that evening, my co-worker had told me a story about a BART worker he chats with when he takes BART late on weekend nights. This middle-aged gal does a great job in an under-appreciated position and often has to deal with the last-car crazies, those who have over-imbibed or are trying to hide so as to sleep overnight on the train. He said to her, “Perhaps only you and I in all the world actually know what goes down on nights like these.” She sighed in agreement.

On Mother’s Day, our wine bar gave away flowers to our guests. At closing time, he wrapped up a few blooms for his BART friend, who was genuinely moved. A few nights later, she presented him with a $10 BART pass a tourist had given her since he wouldn’t be able to use the remainder. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Last night I trimmed a few more roses and brought them to a friend who plays piano in the bar a few nights each month. She lives alone, is facing health issues, and I thought she might like them. She smiled and exclaimed, “Oh! These are the roses I see on Facebook!” Yes, they are.

Personally, I’ve never played with an actual boomerang, but I sure am having fun watching the love fly here and there!

Ted Tuesday – Love Letters

Because the world feels upside-down and my heart breaks in so many ways for so many reasons, I asked myself: What do you need today?

Love, I tell myself. I need love.

When people are shot in their place of worship; when the politicians smear muck on each other and the dirty splash hits the rest of us; when so-called friends turn out to be anything but; when you have to keep going but you just want to crawl back under the covers… Love.

It’s what the world needs now, says the song. It’s what we all need. Love is the answer.

Some days love seems in short supply, doesn’t it? On those days, we must tend to our bruised hearts with gentle nurturing, as we would tender seedlings just beginning to poke their heads through the soil in our garden. With protection from their enemies; with gentle sprinklings of water; with encouraging words: Come on, little ones. You can do it! You can grow big and strong and healthy.

I turned to Ted to see what someone else had to say about love, and found the sweetest short video about sharing love with the world. Only four minutes long, if you feel the need for love today, as I do, you have time to watch this video.

Let’s find ways to share the love, people. It’s what makes life worth living.

[Check out Hannah’s website here]

“I Like You As You Are”

[I don’t often post 2x/day but I’m making an exception… GO see this movie!]

Last night in the car I heard the words to the new Florence + The Machine song, Hunger:

At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness
We all have a hunger

The song was still running through my head as we entered the theatre to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? also known as “the Mr. Rogers’ movie.”

If you haven’t seen it, go. If you can’t find it in theaters, get it as soon as it drops on DVD.

Though Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began airing before I was born, what child growing up in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t watch at least a few episodes? Q14 told me that, though Mr. Rogers died before he was born, even he’s watched episodes online (so much for the naysayers claiming Mr. Rogers was too slow for kids. Despite the increased speed of today’s world, my kid sought him out and calls him “soothing”).

My dad, an airline captain with Pan American, met Fred (once upon a time, he brought home for me an autographed picture). He said Mr. Rogers was exactly the same in person as he was on TV, nothing fake about him. Mr. Rogers may have been one of the few clergy members for whom my dad held genuine respect.

I am surprised by my emotional response to the film. I’d heard enough to know I’d enjoy it, but even now I’m dealing with all the Big Feels, almost like I’m grieving the loss of someone I loved but didn’t have a chance to know well enough. The movie–truly, Mr. Rogers and his message–touched my heart deeper than I expected.

We all have a hunger…

Love motivated Mr. Rogers life and work. Because he loved, he intentionally demonstrated respect to everyone, especially to children, especially to the least of these. With honesty and gentleness he addressed all the hard topics and current issues. He created a safe space in which children (and perhaps their parents) heard that they were loved, special, important just for being alive.

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I gulped when Daniel Striped Tiger asked Lady Aberlin, “Am I a mistake?”

Like Daniel, I’ve felt like a mistake. Haven’t you? Like Daniel, I’ve noticed that I’m not like anyone else; though I try to live genuinely, some days I muddle (fake) my way through.

Lady Aberlin’s response, “You’re not a fake. You’re not a mistake. You’re my friend” doesn’t silence Daniel’s doubts, but it helps to quiet his loneliness. Friendship helps. Love satisfies the hunger.

Mr. Rogers reminds us that life is a gift and that we have gifts to share with the world. No one is exactly like you (me. him.) and the world would be less without each of us.

Most mornings I don’t pop awake and hop out of bed to “make a snappy new day” because “it’s such a good feeling to know I’m alive.” But maybe if, after I’ve hit snooze and begun to stretch life back into my sluggish being, if then I remember that…

…I am special;
…I have friends;
…I am not a mistake or a fake;
…I am loved;
…and I hold the potential to be for someone else, even a few people, what Mr. Rogers was for a whole generation of children who grew up under the care of his TV ministry…

…well, then, today might be the snappiest day of my life.

We all have a hunger, but we also have more than enough love to feed our neighbors the whole world over. I am happy to see you, neighbor. You are special, neighbor. You are loved, neighbor.

Let’s grow the neighborhood. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Say the Words

Twice this week I’ve found myself in conversation with people who have recently and unexpectedly lost a parent, a woman whose father died and a man whose mother died, both from a stroke.

Last night as I listened to my friend describe the events surrounding his mother’s last days, he said, “Tell the people you love that you love them, over and over, as often as you can. I’d do anything for her to have regained consciousness one more time so that I could tell her again that I love her…”

This morning I awoke from vivid dreams with an uncomfortable heaviness in my chest. I realized my dad had come to me, wearing a nice coat that must have been his Pan American Airlines uniform. As hale and hearty as he had been when I was a child, he greeted me with a big bear hug. I turned to see Q13, looking exactly as he does today except that he was dressed up, too, wearing a suit jacket and slacks. I introduced my son to his grandfather. They embraced, and I woke up.

It didn’t take more than a moment to address the ruminations of my unconscious brain.

This weekend we will celebrate Q13’s fourteenth birthday. Also, the thirteenth anniversary of my dad’s passing on the morning of my son’s first birthday. It’s a weird day, always.

Thankfully, we had time to say the words. In fact, while I have regularly been a gushing fountain of emotion, Dad got better at expressing his love as he recognized the end of his life drawing near. Still, what I wouldn’t do to say it again, and to hear again that he loved me. What I wouldn’t do to watch my son enjoy his own relationship with the grandpa he didn’t have time to know.

Say the words, people. We don’t know how many breaths have been allotted to any of us. Use all the breath you have to share love.

What’s the News?

A couple years ago, I decided I needed to curtail my practice of ending each day with the first fifteen minutes of the 10 pm newscast. For most of my adult life, I watched the news before bed. But gradually I realized that I wasn’t sleeping soundly, that images or issues from the news wound themselves into my dreams or, worse, left me tossing sleeplessly through the night. Adulting can be difficult enough without insomnia.

Towards the end of 2016 I decided that, for my sanity, I needed to forgo TV newscasts altogether. The presidential race brought out the worst in everyone, me included. Above and beyond the ‘commonplace’ stories on worldwide political shifts and violence, America’s angry politicians and their supporters had turned up the volume. In response, I turned it off.

Although we had stopped taking the paper years earlier, the time had come to once again read the news. To that end, I am grateful for The Skimm, which (ahem) skims the national and international headlines and presents summaries in a nonpartisan, headline style with links to more information.

I need to stay informed, but there is just so much bad news!

Without trying hard, I could rattle off bad news on too many world-changing issues. Yet when I ask myself, “What’s the good news?” I’m not sure I know how to answer.

What is the good news? And, now that we’re thinking about it, don’t we all love those too-infrequent feel-good news stories? The ones where the good Samaritan does some wonderful sacrificial act that changes the life of a wheelchair-bound child, or a homeless person, or simply their neighbor who has fallen on hard times. Maybe someone should produce a regular good-news cast (Is there such a thing? If so, point me in the right direction, because I need it!).

Some days—many days?—I forget that gospel = good news. I forget that Jesus told us all about this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I forget that God’s still in charge: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I suspect I’m not alone. Not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the world’s troubles. Not alone in finding it incredibly difficult to be still. Not alone in forgetting that God loves the world, this world, the very one He created, populated by all the people He fearfully and wonderfully made.

Not alone at all, because God loves me. And God loves you. And God asks us to love one another.

That love one another thing can be hard, especially with all the bad news. You and me, we may not even like each other. We may be on opposite sides of battle lines, barbed wire, drawn guns, hatred.

Jesus found Himself there, too. And, despite all the bad news that we are, He loved us so much anyway that He did the most wonderfully sacrificial good-news thing ever: He gave His life in our place, for our sins, so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Jesus’ story–which becomes our story–makes for the ultimate good-news cast.

Walk in Love
Week 10: Walk in Love
1 John 4:7-21

Connect
What good news have you received recently?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 4:7-21.
Why should God’s people love one another?
What does God’s love for us look like?
How does God’s love for us change us?
According to this passage, what does the Spirit do for us (vv13-16)?
Compare vv12 and 17. What is the difference between God’s love being made complete in us and among us?
How do God’s people loving one another make God visible (vv12, 17, 20-21)?
What is the connection between love and Christian confidence or “no fear” (vv17-19)?

Live
Does John mean to say that everyone who acts lovingly has a saving relationship with God? That anyone who does not act lovingly does not? Explain.
How do you know God loves you? How do you experience God’s love for you? What’s the difference between knowledge and experience of God’s love?
In your experience, does love or fear inspire more obedience? Better character? Explain.
When have you acted lovingly despite not feeling loving? What was that like?
“Remarkably, loving someone who is unlovely brings into focus the power of God’s choice to love us in our unloveliness” (Gary M. Burge). Have you ever experienced this? If so, describe it.
How would you sum up John’s version of the gospel’s good news from this passage?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you know and experience His love so that you have generous love to share with others.

Believe. Love.

Many years ago, in my first church job, I had the privilege of working in the front office. Which meant I was the ‘face’ of the office, handling all the various requests of both members and those who walked in off the street. Brenda, the mentally-absent and sweet homeless woman whom we often let sleep in the women’s lounge, was one of the most colorful ‘characters’ in the mix. Oh, but we all have our character traits that lend to the stories of our churches–and our lives.

Another woman, a leader in her area of volunteer responsibility, was particularly ornery. I don’t know why, perhaps she couldn’t articulate it herself. She came to my office regularly to bark complaints at me. It was always my fault, even when it wasn’t, and she had no time for explanations. I cringed when I saw her coming.

After months of regular, painful, interactions, I put her at Jesus’ feet in prayer. I asked God to help me love her. Of course it would be great if God decided to change her, but meanwhile I would ask God to change me.

I took action. I smiled every time I saw her. I listened with all the patience I could muster. I did everything I could to soothe her frustration and help her in whatever ways she needed. I even committed to greeting her with a huge smile and a hug every Sunday morning during worship. After all, she sat on the aisle only a few pews back from my regular aisle seat.

At first she seemed skeptical. She yelled at me all the time; why would I hug her? I persisted with a big puppy dog-faithful grin. It wasn’t fake–I hate fake! Rather it was a courageous act of obedience to our loving God. Even when we don’t feel loving, we can choose to act lovingly. And sometimes, thank God!, our actions will work into us the feelings.

Over time she melted like an ice cube. She stopped grumping at me. She smiled back. Eventually, she even smiled first. She opened up to share her joys (with the occasional frustration thrown in). When the time came for her to move away to be closer to her grown children in her older age, we shared a genuine, tearful goodbye.

God did change her, but He changed me first. I decided to believe in Jesus, and to live in the truth that Jesus loved her as much as He loved me. Sheesh, Jesus loves me even when I’m the biggest grump in the world! Of course He can strengthen me to share His love with others. Even when it’s hard. Even when they’re hard. Especially then.

1 John 3:23–“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us”–sounds a lot like the Great Commandment–

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Believe in Jesus. Love one another.
Love God. Love others as you love yourself.

When we believe, we have the courage to act. When we love, God changes us.

Walk in Love
Week 8: Belong to the Truth
1 John 3:19-24

Connect
To which organizations or clubs do you belong, and what are some of the rules of membership?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:19-24.
What might cause someone’s heart to condemn them (v20)?
How can Jesus’ followers set their hearts at rest (vv19-24)? In other words, from this passage, what evidence would indicate that someone “belongs to the truth”?
Notice the balance between what we know and what we feel. Why are both important?
How would you explain vv21-22 to someone who says they prayed but God didn’t answer as they hoped?
How does this passage explain our role and God’s role in our relationship with Him?

Live
Have you ever doubted your relationship with God? What helped you through that time? Alternately, what reassurance have you offered to someone who doubted?
What comfort does it give you that God knows everything?
How might conflict between people who claim to follow God affect one’s faith? Explain the emphasis on the command to love one another.
What does it look like in your daily life to fulfill the commands to believe in Jesus and love one another?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you believe in Jesus and love others.

 

 

Find Center

If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a Jesus-lover since forever. I have spent most of my professional life working in churches, and I am also married to a pastor. And I (mostly) love the church in all its beauty and brokenness.

All of this can lead to a flurry of activity: worship attendance, so many groups of various sizes and kinds for study and prayer and community, volunteer service, special events, even cookie baking.

So many things on the calendar threatening to crowd out the heart behind them. In fact, truly meaningless without the heart behind them.

Lately, I’ve had four words cycling through my head: Love God. Love Others.

That’s it, folks. It all boils down to love.

Because you can do all the things, but if you don’t do them for the love of God and others, why do them at all?

Jesus blasted some harsh words at the folks in His day who did all the things, were very proud of themselves for doing all the things, but had completely missed the point of all their activity: loving God and others. He called them “white-washed tombs.” Eww…I don’t want to hold the dead things. No sirree, I want Life!

Lately as I’ve practiced yoga, my intention has been along the lines of gratitude (hello, Thanksgiving!) or strength (because, exercise). Today my word was “center,” and as soon as it landed it struck every nerve in my being in the best way.

In so many ways yoga is all about center, core, balance. As a Jesus-follower, GOD is the center of my being. Or, that should be true, but I don’t always live it. When I don’t, I’m off-balance, toppling this way and that, and life doesn’t work nearly so well.

Throughout my practice this morning, I mentally and physically returned to my center, my God whose love and gentleness and goodness overflows my life in ways I don’t always recognize.

When engaged in a balance challenge, it helps oh so much to set your gaze on a stable point directly in front of you, whether that’s straight down on your mat or two feet in front of you. Holding your gaze steady helps to strengthen your center and steady your balance.

A yoga newbie, I am way wiggly, but I’m working on it. As a long-time pursuer of Jesus, I should be less wiggly. It all depends on where I put my gaze: on me, my challenges or obstacles, my fear or anxiety? Or on the immovable God who created me, knows the plans He has for me, and promises to give me strength to meet anything He puts before me? Let’s see, which makes more stabilizing sense?

They tell me that no matter how long you’ve practiced yoga, sometimes one side will be tighter than the other. I’ve found that true already, that some days I can stretch deeper or balance with more stability on one side than the other.

Same goes for loving God and others. I venture most of us find it easiest to engage in loving others, flesh-and-blood, visible right before our eyes. But then some of us tend toward contemplative introversion, so loving God can feel more natural than engaging with actual humans.

Still, with our gaze set on God, His love flows through us back to Him and out to others. It’s always a both-and.

So that’s where I’m at as we enter one of the busiest seasons of the year, Advent, in which we anticipate Christ’s birth and second-coming. The decorations are coming out today to be ready for the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow. The calendar is filling up. I’m praying God will keep my gaze centered on Him. Then all the activities can filter through the two sides of the fulcrum: does this help me love God? Does this help me love others?