Day 25 – The Little Plant

My daughter’s little plant, in its clear plastic cup, was drooping when I came down for breakfast this morning. It sits in our kitchen bay window, where the night’s cold weather probably exacerbated its fragile state. Its’ tightly curled leaves clung from limp stems and for the first time, I noticed that its roots were pressed firmly to the sides of the cup, begging for H2O. ‘If it survives,’ I thought, ‘a repotting would be in order.’  I took it to the sink, sprinkled it carefully, and put it back in the morning sunlight.image

Often, things are more resilient than they appear. By the time I’d eaten, finished my tea, and read the paper, the plant was completely revived.  I had met its most basic need – water.

We all know there was no magic involved. The roots carried the water upward and nourished the plant’s cells.  So it is with me. I too, need water. Living water.  Too often I forget that it is always available to me – a gift freely given.  I rely only on insufficient ‘helps’ – my intellect, my creativity, my willpower, my handy electronic gadgets – to reach out in all directions, micromanage my time and my life, and cover as much ground as possible. The end is always the same. I hit my walls of exhaustion, resentment, and anger.

When I have done this to myself, and am therefore left weakened and easily battered by the elements of this world, the help I need is within.  The roots of my soul must reconnect with the living water. The Spirit is my refreshment, restoration, hope, and source of love and comfort.  And it gives me the assurance that I need never go thirsty again.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God

and who it is that asks you for a drink,

you would have asked him

and he would have given you living water.”

– John 4:10

Day 23 – Song in My Head

Hello Friends,

First, to my Followers, please accept my apologies for the notification you received yesterday concerning a post called “Lucy and Aslan.” I had just started working on a draft of that post and inadvertently published it. I could delete the draft, but not the notification.  Thus, when you try to view the post, you get a message saying it is not available. Please bear with me, a very new blogger!  I will resend that post when I complete it.

Today, I’m hearing a song in my head, one that plays there more often than any other.  It doesn’t repeat ad nauseum; it never drives me crazy.  You know what I mean….You hear a song on the radio, a portion of it gets stuck in your mind, and it plays endlessly, torturously, until you want to rip your hair out?   No – it’s not like that at all.

This is a song I learned as a child, and now, it is sung from the heart as a praise offering. It’s “Doxology.”

Most Christians of Protestant traditions are familiar with it, and many Catholics are not.  But there’s nothing theologically controversial about it.  It was composed and first published by Anglican Bishop Thomas Ken in 1709, and the lines were actually taken from the closing stanzas of three of his other hymns. If you’d like to read more, here is a succinct article on the subject:

http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1991/issue31/3118.html

The song itself is a short, simple tune with simple words.  May you be blessed by hearing it today.

 

 

Day 22 – Who’s Calling?

The phone rings.  Thank goodness for Caller ID.  It tells me the caller is “Unavailable.” I roll my eyes. We get too many of these calls.

It used to be that no one had a choice; we all had no idea who was on the other end of the line when we picked up a ringing phone.  But today, technology is demystifying almost everything. Even the political calls I got earlier this month were each labeled, “Political Call.”

“So,” I want to ask this caller, “why should I listen to you – someone who won’t identify himself?”

I would only ask hypothetically, of course, because the truth is, I’m not going to pick up this call, or any other “Unavailable” or “Political Call” coming my way. I mean, why does anyone want to talk to someone who won’t reveal what he’s about and what he wants? That sounds kind of dangerous, doesn’t it?

About 10 years ago, this is how I thought of God, and frankly, I was ok with that.  I believed in a benevolent being and knew a few Bible stories, but the idea of pursuing a relationship with God sounded freakish and threatening.  And there was a lot I just couldn’t square – like how the God of the Old Testament had anything to do with the God of the New.  The heart of the issue was this – keeping Him at a distance seemed safer than asking questions that would give me more information about Him, because if I dared ask, I might find something that turned me upside down.

Like what, you ask?

– Like answers that cleared up confusion I had about His story

– Like a new way of understanding my own past

– Like people in Scripture I can relate to (who would have thought?)

– Like peace and wholeness I could not explain

But I eventually, tentatively entered into the conversation because He had been nudging me for a very long while – piquing my curiosity through my interests in literature, art, and places I’d visited around the world. He’d also made my path cross with certain people, sparked conversations that left me wondering, and whispered truths to me that my soul recognized instantly.

Now I understand. He just wanted me to come home.  He cares for me and protects me, and always has, even when I didn’t acknowledge Him. And now I’m so, so thankful that I finally accepted His call.

Day 21 – The Cost of Humor

It’s been 6 days since my last post…..more than I wanted, but I will eventually get to my first goal of 31 days!

In my mind, I keep returning to a little scuffle between my two older kids from last week that I think illustrates something that happens all too often, and leaves us with a question.

Things had gotten silly on the car ride home from school Thursday.  For one part of the ride, we were talking about pug dogs bred with beagles – “puggles.” And then later, after we stopped for my daughter’s half-hour piano lesson, the conversation was still animated but had taken an edgier turn.  I had placated everyone with snacks but all three kids were ready to be home, and there was nothing to do but to wait out the 8 long minutes until we got there.

The atmosphere was different, and it’s hard to tell how or why exactly.  These things just happen when kids are itching to release pent-up energy, and there was a lot of noise in the car. One kid was singing and the other two were taunting each another with verbal barbs.  Things sounded fun but I sensed it might be going too far and wasn’t sure so…I called out, “Quiet Game!”.

No one was to say a word or make a sound until we got home (real coughs and sneezes are allowed).  I looked in the rearview mirror when we pulled into the driveway and saw my daughter’s face turned toward the window, tears rolling down her cheeks. We all got out except her. When the other two kids went inside she told me, “He hurt my feelings.”  I knew he hadn’t meant to, but words have power. We have to remember that.

My oldest son, as usual, had gone up to his room to study.  I came in to talk.

“But, I was kidding!  She takes everything so personally!”

“Yes, and when you know that, you need to be sensitive.  You love your sister, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well.  Is it more important to be right here, or to have a good relationship with her?”

“Have a good relationship.”

Then, of course, because he’s 11 he went on to cite all the ways he wants me to stand up for him more when she bothers him, but that’s for another day….

What this situation made me remember is this question:

Is it more important to be right, or to be rightly related?

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

– Matthew 5:9

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Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza

Day 20 – Thunderbird Pizza
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com
Photo credit: Thomas Schweighofer, www.unsplash.com

If you’re from Philadelphia you have your favorite place to go for a cheesesteak (which you probably just call a ‘steak’), and you know whether that’s a ‘whiz’ place or not; you also have a favorite place for hoagies; and you have a favorite place for pizza. These places may or may not be one and the same. Philadelphians are VERY particular about these foods, and VERY loyal to their neighborhoods. There is no “best place to get a cheesesteak” in the city. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t lived there.

I went to high school in the western Philly suburbs, in a town called Broomall to be precise, and my family’s one-and-only for all three of these staple weekend foods was Thunderbird. If we weren’t squeezing into one of the tiny booths in this very basic building, we were having Thunderbird delivered – and I knew all the delivery guys.  Each one was either a friend, or a friend of a friend. To a kid who grew up moving around a lot, and then having moved to Broomall in 10th grade, it was exciting to open my front door and know the person carrying my dinner. I think that’s what made me smile so much when I saw the Facebook post. That and the memories of celebrations that involved Thunderbird food – lighthearted moments – like eating the 6-foot long hoagie with my cheerleading squad over my dining room table after we won the regional championships.

High school is a difficult time for many people and for lots of different reasons. I was no exception. My parents had divorced and remarried, and although I think I held it together on the surface, I was churning inside – learning to navigate relationships and deal with pain that would take years of searching and prayer to heal from and understand. But it wasn’t all bad – not nearly so.  I was blessed with very good friends, and was accepted in the community enough to feel some sense of ownership in it.  I was very proud of the service my dad gave to our country as a military officer, but it meant that until that point I had never lived in one place longer than a couple years, so I had never been “from” anywhere.  Feeling linked to the town through the high school and friends who worked at Thunderbird made it feel more like a permanent home.

I’ve heard it said that, more and more, people feel worse about themselves after they look at Facebook. So, reflecting on my own happy reaction to this post about my favorite pizza joint, I offer this: I can use Facebook as a spiritual barometer. It can tell me how the weather is in my soul. If I look at a post and feel uneasy, jealous, resentful, angry, haughty, proud, or greedy, I know that there’s trouble brewing with me.  If, on the other hand, I read posts and feel genuinely joyful for others’ success and loving toward them, and my demeanor remains happy, peaceful, tolerant, kind, gentle, good, and rooted in faith and self-control, I’m on the right track and will not leave Facebook feeling worse than when I got on it. And given how far I’ve come in the nearly 25 years since high school, that’s certainly where I want to be today.

 

Me in my "Thunderbird" (i.e. high school) years.
Me in my “Thunderbird” (i.e. high school) years.

Day 19 – Turn-down Service

Last night I was talking with my grandparents (now both 92) about a trip we all took together 30 years ago, when I was 11 and my sister was 8. We stayed in a hotel where I experienced for the very first time a little luxury I haven’t seen recently – turn-down service. Here’s how I remember it:

It was late in the evening and my eyes were heavy. My grandparents, my sister and I were all dressed up, having just attended a banquet dinner – the final event of a boating race weekend that my grandfather had been participating in. We had gotten ready in the room before dinner and left in a hurry. (Now that I have children, I know how the adults present must have felt at the time.  Trying to rush along two young girls who are busy styling their hair and admiring themselves in the mirror is no small feat….but I digress.). The dinner had been lovely – multiple courses, an ice sculpture of a prop in the middle of the ballroom, dancing afterwards. My sister and I felt like celebrities as the only kids there, and though we all had a great time, we were ready to get back and into bed.

To my young eyes, the room was like a dream. Lights dimmed just so. Toiletries neatly organized by the sink. Clothes hung or laid carefully across the suitcases. Bedspreads folded and set aside. Blankets tucked in perfectly at the ends of the beds. Crisp white sheets folded down from the center of each bed into neat triangles. And perched atop each perfectly fluffed and sleep-ready pillow was a foil-wrapped chocolate mint. Trying not to muss anything, I sat on the edge of the bed and let that decadent little piece of chocolate melt on my tongue. It was glorious!

The best part of the ‘turn-down’ experience for me was the chocolate mint. I recognized in that one little thing, a singular moment of unexpected joy.  For someone else, the experience might have been different, or lacked sparkle altogether. But for me, it was a gift – a sweet lightness.

Is it possible, as an adult, to find the same kind of joy?  I think so, but I also think it requires a kind of practice….Practice at keeping my clouded eyes open to see where the gifts are, so I can recognize them as such and then savor them like I savored that mint.

Sunlight was streaming into our room today as my alarm went off.  For weeks it’s been dark, but with daylight savings time, morning feels like morning again. I hit the snooze and lay silently studying the yellow rays peeking around the sides of the curtains, wanting to burst into our room. In the quiet, I could savor the miracle of that sweet light and feel joy rising again, as I gave thanks for the gift that it is.

Day 18 – Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Last night, my preschooler startled me during bedtime prayer. There we were, heads bowed, him saying the traditional ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ which we modify at the end by asking God to bless each member of our little family (including the dogs), when suddenly he added someone else. “And Lord, please make Ava and Charlotte’s* daddy, who is in the hospital, better.”  My eyes shot open. Then, after a big sigh, and squinting his eyes even harder closed, he added the most tender, heartfelt “Amen” I’ve heard in awhile.

‘Amen’ means ‘it is certain.’  I think of this every time I say it. It girds me up, gives me strength and hope, and I picture the worldwide community of believers who trust in the evidence of things unseen. But watching my child say it?  Wow. He was so sincere – totally devoid of any doubt, fear, or distrust.  He reminded me:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,

and do not hinder them,

for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 

— Matthew 19:14

The parallel verses – Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16 – are nearly identical. It must have been quite a moment there with Christ, since children then were not considered as significant as adults, and the gospels vary in accounts of other events, but not this one.

It’s easy for me to think cynically here and say, ‘Oh, but young children…my son – he doesn’t have abstract thought yet. He’s not mature enough. He doesn’t have adult concerns. He can’t see the big picture.’  All true, and yet….

I think of my son’s small hands, folded together.  He remembered to pray for his friends’ dad – someone I don’t even know – because at preschool he heard about this man’s need.

Lord, what are your other plans for how this little one might serve you, and what are you trying to teach me, as you see me watching him?

* Not their real names.