There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. — Mother Teresa

Last night a teenager in the school district where the church I serve is located completed suicide. Evidently she posted her intentions on Facebook. I don’t know the details, and I didn’t know the young woman, but I do understand the incredible hunger for love, acceptance, and appreciation that so many people feel.

Not everyone has strong families, wide networks of support and friendship, and vibrant faith communities to combat the pain, emptiness, and utter loneliness of depression, bullying, addictions, or difference. Life can be really, really hard.

My heart hurts for this young woman, for her family, her friends, all who knew her at school, and for the community left behind trying to make sense of this deep sadness and painful loss of a life cut short. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, five children or teens commit suicide each day. That’s a lot of pain and hunger for love and acceptance.

My prayer and hope is that we would all find ways to feed those who are hungry both in body and spirit. May we seek ways to be more compassionate and merciful. And may we make our schools and houses of worship safe spaces where all may be fed–without judgment and with open arms.

Thanks-Living Action

Beginning tomorrow consider doing three things each day:

1. Tell the people you love that you love them. Really look at them. Smile. Give them the gift of your time and attention.

2. Do at least one kind act for a stranger. Spread kindness and compassion lavishly; in doing so you will make the world just a little bit better.

3. Do something kind for someone you find difficult to love. Listen to that person. Try to see life from his or her perspective. Remember that your smile or kind word may be a lifesaver to someone in the midst of despair or loneliness.

And remember these words…

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.  ― Thomas Merton

…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

Photo by tjook and Charles Kremenak. Thanks!

Embracing Mystery

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

I enjoy spending time around children because they remind me of how to live each moment fully, how to examine the world with eyes of love and wonder, and how to embrace mystery as a natural part of what it means to be alive. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we manage to squelch this wonderful approach to living and replace it with something far less satisfying, what we term “realistic” and “appropriate” and “logical.”

Somehow along the way we build fences, construct walls, and organize life into neat categories of black and white, right and wrong, in and out, cool and uncool. Because of our human desire to “know” and control our life and destiny, we strive for certainty and mastery. We seek to acquire and cling to rather than experience and ponder. In the process, largely unintentionally, we lose our ability to embrace the mystery of the universe.

Have you ever watched a child experience the natural world? Have you seen how each flower is its own universe to be explored, how every bird and animal is marvelous and wonderful to behold? Remember how mud puddles are for jumping in–not avoided–and garden hoses are destined to be fountains rather than simply conduits for H2O? Little children don’t watch clocks. They don’t hurry past when something catches their fancy. They are honest and inquisitive and, well, real.

Children not only accept mystery, they embrace and are enthralled by it. Mystery and wonder are partners in living. Once upon a time signals a story worth listening to, and music is made to inspire a silly whirl of a dance. A child sees no reason to argue about whether the world was created in seventy days or seventy million days. The world was created, and it’s really cool; that’s what matters.

What would it take for you to recapture and embrace the mystery of life in this new year? Is it possible for you to take off your watch, shut off your cell phone, put on some music and dance like a kindergartner until you fall down exhausted? Can you spare an hour to walk in the woods, to taste snowflakes, and yes, to stomp in a puddle? Will you treasure and ponder the mystery that you are, the gift of life that the Creator has given you, and the wonders and delights of this beautiful world? I hope you will. I pray you will.

We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. — Annie Dillard

Photos by AlicePopkorn and vastateparksstaff. Thanks!

The Generous Saint-aclaus

From the book Tales Told in Holland–a rather odd photo indeed.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  James 1:17

Read: 2 Corinthians 9:6-9


“Once again St. Nicholas Day

Has even come to our hideaway;

It won’t be quite as fun, I fear,

As the happy day we had last year.

Then we were hopeful, no reason to doubt

That optimism would win the bout,

And by the time this year came round,

We’d all be free, and safe and sound.

Still, let’s not forget it’s St. Nicholas Day,

Though we’ve nothing left to give away.

We’ll have to find something else to do:

So everyone please look in their shoe!”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl


Today many Christians will commemorate the life and faithful witness of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.  We don’t know a whole lot about Nicholas, although many wonderful legends and stories exist. He lived and served during the fourth century in what is now Turkey, and he is believed to have died around 342 CE.

Stories told about Nicholas emphasize his love of God, his love for neighbor, and his particular compassion for the poor and marginalized. My favorite legend involves three young women whose father was about to sell them into slavery (think human trafficking) because there was no money for dowries. The good bishop reportedly placed a bag of gold in one of each girl’s stockings that were hung out to dry, thus enabling them to marry rather than face a life of shame and ignominy.

Legends about the life of St. Nicholas give us our legend of Santa Claus, although the modern North American Santa Claus is a creation of Clement Clark Moore, who in the early 1800s wrote the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” or what we now know as “The Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s  creation of Santa Claus was an attempt to transform the rowdy, drunken holiday traditions into a more family-oriented, calm, and safe holiday. His good intentions, however, played right into the hands of those seeking to market Christmas, and so gift-giving morphed like atomic fallout into an overspent, overindulged, and harried experience.

Recapturing the story of St. Nicholas is one way to turn the Advent and Christmas focus back to giving in a good way–not giving to excess or beyond one’s means but rather giving to meet needs. Instead of giving out of guilt or duty, St. Nicholas’ witness encourages us to give out of pure love in response to the unmerited love and grace of Christ.

No, I’m really not trying to spoil Christmas for the tots or undo a complicated system of supply and demand that will unmantle the very underpinnings of capitalism and the economic system. I’m simply hoping to provide a way for us to reclaim the expectation, preparation, and joy of the Advent season. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if no family had to go into debt in order to “do Christmas” the right way? Wouldn’t it be lovely if folks could slide into the pews on Christmas Eve and sing “Silent Night” with a sense of wonder and delight rather than exhaustion and anxious hope about whether enough has been prepared and spent?

Christmas presents we purchase come and go or break and end up in some landfill. Gifts of heart and hand last much longer. But the gift of God incarnate for which we wait once again is the one true gift that matters, the one that will never be the wrong size or color and will never need returning.


Spend some time today recovering the legends and stories of this good Christian man, whose life witness gives us a model for generosity and care of the poor and marginalized. For more information, check out Bill McKibben’s delightful little book Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas, Adam English’s new book The Saint who Would be Santa Claus, and/or Stephen Nissenbaum”s The Battle for Christmas. You can also learn a lot by visiting the St. Nicholas Center website. Give thanks for Nicholas’ generous spirit and find one way to be secretly generous with someone today.

Consider making St. Nicholas ornaments or cookies. A pattern/tutorial for the ornament, designed by Mollie Johanson/Wild Olive, may be found here. Recipes for cookies may be found here or at the St. Nicholas Center website. Blessings on your day!

Photos by dierken and oddharmonic. Thanks!

The Gift of Children

I’m tired tonight, but it’s a good and happy tired. We’re in the midst of a Community Vacation Bible School in our small town, a collaboration of three congregations (Church of the Brethren, Lutheran, and Methodist), and it is a joy to see upwards of 50 children having so much fun in a safe, caring environment. Most importantly, we’re sharing some promises of God that hopefully will give them some grounding and security in the knowledge that they are beloved children of the Creator. I know these children are also basking in the support, encouragement, and warmth of the many adult and teen volunteers who have planned and worked for months to help this week come together.

An oft-quoted African proverb reminds us that it takes a village to raise a child. This week we are in the business of being one such community, of trying to make a difference. When we seeds of hope and love, we may never see the results of the efforts, yet still we plant.

Children are a gift of God, no doubt about it. All you have to do is hang around them for awhile. Their joy, lack of inhibition, laughter, and sense of wonder are amazing to behold. Watching how even the littlest children instinctively begin to move and dance to the music–spinning with joy and adding a cascade of squeals and giggles to the instrumentation–makes the day better.

Yep, I’m tired, and I bet the rest of the volunteers are, too. That said, I pray we all sleep the deep, peaceful slumber of children tonight. And may you, dear reader, dream dreams, experience awe and wonder, and laugh until your belly hurts. Give thanks for the children in your life. They are fragile. They are precious. Treat them with care, shower them with love, and tell them often just how amazing they truly are.

Night now!

Photos by D. Hilgart and National Assembly for Wales used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for Tea and More Tea and More Tea!

The college audition process is now complete. Thanks be to God! I was impressed with how this particular school conducted the process. The hospitality was great, and they even provided lunch and free tickets to the department’s production of Chess tonight. The faculty spent a lot of time talking and answering questions. They had representatives from all the applicable areas a prospective student and her family could desire information — housing/student life, financial aid, and admissions.

Of course, my dear perfectionist daughter is concerned about how she may have “bombed” her audition. We’ll see. She is way too hard on herself. I personally have a good feeling about this program and its potential “fit” for her growth and development as an artist AND scholar. We’ll fine out soon enough, I suppose.

40/40/40 Update

Honoring Relationships

Today I want to give a big shout out to my two step-children. Although I’ve only been a part of their family for nine months, they have welcomed me, made me feel at home, and supported their dad’s marriage and new spouse. Thanks, K & K! You’re awesome, and  I am proud to be a part of your lives.

Giving Possessions

More clothes in the bag today! It is amazing how I am finding it easier to part with items of clothing that I do not really need nor wear often.


I am thankful to spend time with my youngest daughter today. We spent a delightful afternoon in a tea room with Russian tea cakes and some amazing pots of tea. The ambiance was amazing, the Wi-Fi was free, and the music delightful. It was a good time of destressing after the audition. Now we’re off to supper and the musical followed by the long drive home.

What is your favorite tea or hot beverage? For what are you grateful this day?

Photo by Brandon Geisbrecht used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Thankful for Children

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. — 1 Corinthians 4:2

Yesterday afternoon, I attended child protection training with three folks from the congregation I serve. We are in the process of crafting our child protection policy to become a Safe Haven congregation for children, youth, and vulnerable adults. It’s a critical part of our ministry, one we are not taking lightly.

The United Methodist Church down the street hosted this training for their conference and brought in a wonderful speaker/trainer. Since we share some ministries with them, including a community Vacation Bible School, the opportunity to be “on the same page” with them was great. One cannot take too seriously our charge to protect, love, and serve all of God’s children, and unfortunately faith communities have been too trusting in the past.

Safe Sanctuaries is the program used by the United Methodist Church. The book and training materials are written by Joy Melton, an attorney who is also ordained in the Methodist tradition. If your faith community does not have a policy in place to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults, please consider how you might address this concern. Don’t wait until you have to respond to the worst possible scenario.

We are a small congregation with few children, but we take seriously our calling to offer a safe space for them to know, love, and serve their Creator. Children bring such a pure faith to our assemblies. They trust God, their parents, and the adults in their communities to help order their world, provide love and protection, and offer safe boundaries for their growth and development. In return, with something as simple as a smile, they bring light and hope to our days, reminding us that with God all things are, indeed, possible.

So give thanks for the children in your midst. Do all you can to keep them safe and be good stewards of this sacred trust. Show them the love of Christ and let them teach you about faith, hope, and love.

Photos by quinn.anya and commanderjaygold used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


On Their Birthday–Thankful for my Daughters

“To have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

–Elizabeth Stone

Today is a special day for me. On this day in 1987 and 1993 my two daughters were born. Yes, the same day—six years apart. I am so thankful for my girls. They are truly gifts from God.

Both girls have their own gifts and talents, and it’s been fun to watch them grow and bloom. They are good writers, have considerable athletic skills, are socially progressive and are champions of the underdog. They are becoming strong, creative, and amazing women.

Has every day been a cake walk? Of course not! Anyone who has children or works with them knows that there are heartaches, tears, and frustrations along the way. There are days I wanted to throw up my hands and crawl into a box, and there are days I wished they would crawl into a box and reemerge as fully functional well-adjusted adults. Ah, but life doesn’t work that way; it’s a process, a journey, and each step bears the weight of meaning.

I recall many anxious minutes waiting for them to come home so I could at long last go to sleep, and I remember the pain of holding their hearts and wiping their tears through hurts and disappointments. I also know the delight of celebrating their successes and joys. Mom’s taxi logged many miles and hours carting them to athletic competitions, dance and gymnastic lessons, school concerts, plays, and friends’ houses. Parenting is a hands-on, 24/7 job.

This day is a little bit bittersweet, too. My youngest is now 18 and preparing to launch into the “real world” of college, career, and beyond. My oldest is halfway around the world, so I won’t get to give her a hug today. Even as I celebrate their special day, I do so with a few heart pangs. Tonight, when we gathered around the dinner table to eat and celebrate, we set an extra place for Elspeth knowing that we are with each other in spirit; no amount of distance can dampen that fact.

Happy birthday, girls! You are so special to me, and I love you with all my heart. I give God thanks for you every day.