Tag Archives: community

Alert & On Guard

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly….Be alert at all times. — Luke 21:34, 36a

Read: Luke 21:25-36 (Yes, this is the same reading as yesterday, but it bears re-reading.)

Ponder:

“Sometimes it seems as though we spend our lives waiting. Daydreaming about an upcoming vacation, worrying over a medical test, preparing for the birth of grandchild-our days are filled with anticipation and anxiety over what the future holds. As Christians, we too spend our lives waiting. But we are waiting for something much bigger than a trip, bigger even than retirement or a wedding: We are waiting for the return of Jesus in glory. Advent heightens this sense of waiting, because it marks not only our anticipation of Jesus’ final coming, but also our remembrance of his arrival into our world more than 2,000 years ago.”  — Anonymous

Reflect:

What lies heavy on your mind and heart today? What worries are you harboring and nurturing? What needs to be let go so that God can infuse your very being with expectation, hope, and joy?

If you find yourself hurrying through this season with too much to do and not enough hours in the day, do something quite counter-intuitive: sit still and do nothing. Simply be. The to-do list will still be there, and maybe some of it will turn out to not be worth doing anyway. Maybe some of it doesn’t even matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

Be alert. Be ready. Watch for those “God-sightings” in your home, during your worship and time with friends, and even waiting in the check-out lane at the grocery. An encounter with the Divine might be just around the corner or down the next aisle. Look for God in the ordinary and extraordinary. Trust me…God is already there.

Thanks-living:

Consider calling up a friend to go for coffee or tea. Make a date with your spouse, partner, or significant other. Make special time to spend  one-on-one with your child or children. Write your parents a letter. Attend an extra worship service or Advent event in your community of faith. Find one thing to do that requires your complete presence and attention. Put those to-do lists aside and experience some joy and anticipation.

What I Did:

Last night my spouse and I were invited to have dinner with friends. Sure there is more work to be done in this season than we have hours for, but we gladly accepted their invitation, and what fun we had! Not only did Liz prepare an amazing meal, but we had conversation, laughter, and a rousing game of “Words with Friends” that we’ll savor for days to come. Thank you, Liz and Tom, for giving us the invitation and permission to simply “be” for an evening and enjoy the gift of friends and fun. Truly the love, grace, and spirit of our Lord was with us all.

Photos by paralog and Minette Layne. 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

Ponder:

“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

Reflect

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.

Thanks-Living

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!

Building Up One Another

Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.   Romans 15:2

Yesterday my daughter had outpatient surgery, and I had several hours to reflect on the verse above and on the idea of how we build up one another and pave the way for our neighbors and those yet to come. Even being there at Gettysburg Wellspan Hospital and watching how my daughter’s caregivers worked together to make the experience a successful one reinforced this idea. Each person was part of a seamless whole–from the valet who opened her car door to the nurse who wheeled her out six hours later–all doing their best to provide care, hope, and healing.

We do not operate in a vacuum. Everything we do has an impact on someone else in some way. It can be for good or for ill, but it will affect the fabric of the universe in some way. We do have some choice in how we approach life. We can be like a bumper car bouncing off of others in a random or determined fashion thinking only of our own pleasure and goals. Or, we can be like weavers working with others to create something strong, beautiful, and useful–a collaboration of individual fibers that each brings character, dimension, and color to the whole.

As for me, I prefer the latter approach because I realize that I am who I am today thanks to so many people who have paved the way before me, who have touched my life, and who have woven strands of themselves into the fabric of my being. Some of these folks have made significant personal sacrifice–family members, friends, folks in the various faith communities of which I have been a part–in an effort to help me thrive and grow. Likewise, I am thankful to be able to sacrifice for others and pay forward some of the abundant blessings I have experienced.

As English poet and priest John Donne wrote in Meditation XVII

No man is an island,

Entire of itself.

Each is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main

We, each one of us, are where we are today because of the work and building up others have done on our behalf. “Bootstrap” mentality and the notion of a “self-made person” are illusion; one may work hard and succeed, but that success is built on an existing foundation, a bit of something much bigger than ourselves. That, dear friends, is something  really quite wonderful.

Who in your life has paved the way and helped build your firm foundation? How will you build up another?

Photos by opensourceway and hanssplinter. Thanks!

Be Kind

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. — Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968

Today, November 13, is World Kindness Day. Click here to learn more about the movement’s history and intent. I am thankful for this timely reminder about the importance of kindness in our world–on all  levels.

If you live in the United States, and unless you are completely off-grid and out-of-touch, you’ve heard some of the shrill cries and seen the petty accusations being hurled cavalierly about in cyberspace and in the media. It never fails to amaze me how absolutely awfully we can treat one another in our quest to be “right.”

I have seen some of the ugliest, mean-spirited, vitriolic memes and posts on Facebook in the past weeks and months, not to be outdone, of course, by some terribly toxic tweets. Good and faithful folk were sputtering and clattering like pressure cookers about to blow. Most assuredly it would seem that our country is headed straight off a real (not just fiscal) cliff in a metaphorical hand basket accompanied by the cranked-up strains of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

Thankfully, things are never as dire as the pundits and extremists would have us believe, and I strongly believe that the powers of good will always prevail. Sure, there’s trouble in River City–and just about everywhere else–but there’s a lot of really good stuff happening, too. You just have to look for it because you probably will not see it on the evening news.

All major world religions stress kindness as an attribute to which adherents should aspire. It may be expressed in different words or ways, but the message is clear. We are to treat one another with lovingkindness. We are to love our neighbors–both those we agree with and those we find abhorrent. I’ve included one of my favorite passages of scripture and a favorite quote. Yes, the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice, and kindness is the weight that helps us bend toward justice and a better world for all.

When we are kind to one another, we see each other through more compassionate eyes. We are more willing to listen, and not just listen but really hear and empathize with one another. When we are kind, we see a fellow human, a beloved child of the Creator, and one whose journey is equally as valid as our own rather than an opponent who is to be squashed like a stink bug.

So, dear reader, how have you practiced kindness today? What one small thing can you do to reach across a divide and make a difference? How can you accomplish one small thing to help heal this beautiful yet broken world?

Blessings on your continued thanks-living journey!

PS: Don’t forget to comment if you want to have your own copy of I’ve got Some Lovin’ to Do, Volume One of The Doris Diaries, edited by Julia Park Tracey.

Photos by ~maja*majika and sweetonveg. Thanks!

In Praise of Soup

Nothing for me heralds the transition from autumn to winter like soup on the supper table. A good soup is warming, filling, and frugal. A pot can be whipped up using cans relatively quickly, can simmer all afternoon, or  can simmer in a slow cooker from morning ’til night. The aromatic scent of spices fills the house and beckons all to pull up chairs to the table. Add salad and bread, and the repast becomes a feast.

Guess what we had for supper tonight? If you guessed soup, you’re invited over for an amazing bowl of curried sweet potato and lentil soup, along with a spinach, apple, walnut, and cranberry salad. My spouse’s homemade whole wheat and white bread rounded out the menu. And if you live too far away for leftovers, click here for the recipe we used.

As a busy clergy/writer couple, we look forward to slow cooker soup meals at the end of busy days. We use lots of beans, brown rice, fresh vegetables, and ethnic spices. Because we use fresh seasonal ingredients and try to buy our legumes in bulk, most recipes are quite frugal. We keep stock and leftovers in the freezer to add to soups, decreasing food waste. Another benefit of soup is that many recipes can be easily and quickly expanded if a need exists for a few extra bowls.

Last night, for example, we enjoyed a big kettle of “loaded potato” soup (minus the bacon bits). The recipe is simple: combine a sauteed onion and crushed garlic to taste, a five pound bag of russet potatoes chopped, flavor with salt and freshly ground pepper, and add enough veggie stock to just cover the potatoes. Once they’re soft, add chives, up to two cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream). We use a potato masher and and enough skim milk to reach a consistency that’s thick, creamy, but still sporting potato chunks. Yum.

Other favorites are tomato, butternut squash, vegetable, black bean, split pea, and vegetarian bean chili. We’re always open to try new recipes, and this time of year we eat soup, salads, and sandwich combinations several times a week.

I am thankful for good food, especially for the food we are able to purchase from local farmers and markets, and share with generous friends who garden. I am also grateful for the warming and comforting properties of soup suppers when the temperatures drop and nights become longer.

A meal doesn’t have to be time-consuming and expensive to be good for you, tasty, frugal, and local. Soup makes a fine option for entertaining because it’s easier on the cook. Try putting together a couple of soup options, a few loaves of bread, and a hearty green salad the next time you host guests. Better yet, make it a “crock-luck” soup party and let everyone contribute something for the table.

What are your favorite soups? Feel free to share a recipe!

Photos by erin.kkr, jeffryw, and Qfamily. Thanks!

Bridge Over Life’s Troubled Waters

You never know when life will throw a curve ball in the midst of a smooth inning. One minute things are looking just ducky, and the next minute you are dealing with a crisis for which you are patently unprepared. It might be diagnosis of a major illness, an accident, the death of a loved one or friend, the loss of a job, a natural disaster, or any combination of nightmarish components. In short, it only takes one instant for life as usual to shatter like glass at your feet.

I’ve been there; perhaps so have you. My curve ball was a breast cancer diagnosis on the heels of a traumatic divorce that left me a single parent in a vulnerable financial state. At the time, I could barely fathom how to pull myself out of the muck of my predicament. Thankfully, other people could see more clearly, and family and good friends came to my aid. While no one can carry another person’s load, my friends, parishioners, and family journeyed with me–forming a bridge of solidarity between despair and hope. It was their faith, their hands, and their prayers that carried me across. I am so thankful for each one of them. I am where I am today because of the many relationships that formed a net of security and safety against the onslaught of suffering and fear.

Now it is my turn to be there for others whenever possible, however possible. We live in a world marked by suffering. Right now, well over a million people have had their daily existence altered by Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern United States. Some people have lost everything; their lives will never be the same. Sure, some day life may be better, but right now that horizon is nowhere in sight. They need that bridge that you and I can be–in prayer, through dollars given to relief efforts, and in messages of care and support. You and I, all of us, can send waves of prayer and healing intentions out to those in need in addition to tangible forms of aid. We can seekto stop rash judgments, blame, and negative energy that works against hope and  healing. We can make a difference.

Tonight the congregation I serve is hosting a screening of The Line, a new documentary film by Linda Midgett, presented by Sojourners. This 40 minute film tells the story of four people who have fallen below the poverty line–plunging from lives of hope and promise to days and nights of fear and anxiety. As their stories make quite clear, there are very few of us who don’t walk this line and who aren’t immune from falling below it. All it takes is one major illness, one job loss, a divorce, an accident, or a natural disaster to change life forever. The thing that separates this film from others I’ve seen is that it does offer hope., and it lays claim to a better future for all people by inviting everyone to the table to engage in dialogue about how to fix broken systems and outdated policies. It is a gem of a film. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to spend 40 minutes of your precious time watching it and thinking about it.

As for me, The Line and the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy remind me of how grateful I am to have had a bridge to walk, crawl, and be drug across in my own needful hours. I am so thankful for the many hands that would not let go of me, for those who insisted that I get back up and start walking on the other side to a place of greater strength and stronger faith. You all are living proof of the strength we bear when we journey together. So, today I give thanks for you–family, friends, and colleagues. I give thanks for health. I give thanks for a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear, a car to drive, and work that is meaningful and delightful. I give thanks to the Creator of the Universe who loves me and is there for me no matter what. There is so much for which to be grateful. I could count blessings all day long and still not run out of reasons and people for which to be thankful.

Yes, the waters of trouble and suffering may run high and dark, but tides ebb and the sun rises again, and always life is still very, very good. Never, ever take your gifts and blessings for granted. Count them carefully and joyfully. Thank as many people as possible. Look for ways to be a blessing to others. Do something each day to make this world a better place.

What can you do to brighten your own part of the planet? What one thing can you do right now, today, to make someone’s life a little better? Please share your thoughts, intentions, and ideas. Blessings to you!

Photos by c.mcbrien, sojo.net, and theps.net. Thanks!

You Gonna Serve Somebody

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

                                                              — Bob Dylan

So I guess the question posed by a host of folks ranging from Bob Dylan in his classic song to Jesus of Nazareth in scripture is this: just who are you going to serve? I’ve been thinking about this question often this week while pondering, praying over, and writing this week’s sermon (based on Mark’s gospel, 10:35-45).

The sons of Zebedee, James and John, are jockeying for power and position in what they assume will be the earthly rule of their rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, the anointed one; in short, the one who will kick Herod’s behind and send the Romans packing. They have the חֻצְפָּה (or chutzpah, as we know it) ask for seats on either side of the throne.

What they don’t realize is that the reign of God and the Way of Jesus looks nothing like the traditional notions of power and glory. Notice that when Jesus asks them if they can drink from his cup, they respond like eager puppies that don’t take time to sniff for hemlock or sour milk. And even after they answer in the affirmative, Jesus tells them it’s not his call to dole out the prime real estate.

This little exchange ruffles the ego feathers of the other disciples. Clearly they don’t have Paul Harvey to give them “the rest of the story” or the record of scripture to fill them in. What they do have is Jesus, in the flesh, living with them and constantly trying to teach them. If you want to be great, Jesus says, you have to serve.

Not much has changed in 2000 plus years. We humans still have to serve somebody. Even Bob Dylan had that right. The question is who–or what–will you serve? Who–or what–will you put first in life?

If you intend to put Jesus (and thus, God) first, then you must be a servant to all. Funny how that kind of resonates with the great commandment in Luke 10:27 to love God with every fiber of your being and your neighbor as yourself.

Of course, I guess if it was easy to follow the Way of Jesus, everybody would be doing it and church pews would be full, and no one would be hungry or lacking the basics to live. No, it isn’t easy. That’s why people serve fame, fortune, consumer culture, alcohol, drugs, sex, power, and any other number of gods.

It is impossible to serve all and follow Jesus under our own steam and of our own volition. Do-it-yourself faith is simply not an option. The only way we are able to drink from the same cup as Jesus (aka the cup of suffering) is to rely fully and faithfully on Him. By faith through grace alone can we then walk through this world with open eyes, hearts, minds, and hands. Only by grace can we serve all and serve God.

So, who you gonna serve? I continue to echo the answer of Joshua and countless other faithful folk who have said: “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15b).

Photos by JuditK and F3LONY. Thanks!

Thankful for Access to Healthcare

Me before first chemo session. I shaved my head and donated the hair to Locks of Love rather than watch it fall out. I figured someone ought to have use of it!

Several events of this week have made me aware of just how thankful I am to have access to healthcare. I am extremely fortunate. My spouse and I serve as pastors to congregations that are part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). One of the biggest expenses in the benefits category to our congregations is our family healthcare policy–and it is a wonderful policy. Our denomination also places a strong emphasis on wellness and preventative medicine, offering us both incentives and resources to attend to our health as an act of stewardship and faithful discipleship.

One of the reasons I am so thankful to have insurance is because I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed in June of 2004, and underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation between late summer and Easter 2005. The diagnosis came just one week after my girls and I had moved to Rushville, New York, to begin internship. What could have been a nightmare turned out to be a formative experience and a lesson in blessings, the goodness of God, and the importance of community.

My internship supervisor, the congregations of St. John and St. Paul Lutheran, the UMC in Rushville (in whose parsonage we lived), my extended family, dear friends and neighbors, seminary professors and staff, and an amazing team of physicians, technicians, and caregivers surrounded me with more love, prayers, and care than I could have ever imagined. I would never wish a cancer journey on anyone else, but I can say that the blessings and gifts in the experience far outweighed the difficulties.

Here’s the important thing about my experience. Had it not been for a free mammogram and basic student health insurance, I might have waited too long due to financial insecurity and the rigors of grad school and single parenting. My cancer was aggressive and moved extremely quickly, breaking out of the breast into my lymph system. St. John and St. Paul worked together and threw a chicken barbeque benefit with help from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans that raised enough money to keep us from bankruptcy, and the hospital and cancer center helped me find a study, subsidies, and grant funds to help offset what student insurance would not cover. Even so, I am still paying down student loans that were necessary to take, especially considering the cancer slowed my graduation by an extra year. Still, I maintain that I am one of the lucky ones. I am alive and healthy. Every day is a gift.

Because of the cancer, however, other insurance would have been difficult to get. I was able to move directly from student insurance to ELCA insurance, but when I went on leave from call to assist my parents in 2009, I was not able to find insurance that I could afford, so I had to stay on the ELCA plan and pay the premiums out of pocket. I was lucky to have that option, but the year and a half I was on leave was financially devastating–even though I worked three jobs (a contract family and youth ministry position at my home congregation, adjunct teaching at two colleges, and freelance writing). It was a tough time, but again, the gifts of being able to be close to my parents outweighed the sadness of leaving a call, a community, and friends I loved and the tenuous financial situation of living hand to mouth.

I’ve been reminded of the gift of healthcare this week as I’ve seen and heard about others struggling with serious health issues. Two family members were hospitalized. Both have insurance, thanks to Medicare. Were it not for insurance, all of these folks would be in horrible situations.

My own 24-year-old daughter would not have affordable healthcare were she not able to remain on our family policy (thank you, President Obama). She currently works for a non-profit ministry as a mental health worker, and they offer no group coverage, only a minimal plan brokered through a local insurance agent that has a high deductible and minimal benefits. This was a shock to her after returning from working in Korea as a teacher–where national healthcare is good and provided at a minimal cost.

Today I read Nicholas Kristof’s essay in the New York Times about his friend, Scott, who is without healthcare–a Harvard educated, intelligent, thoughtful man, who simply took a chance on not purchasing a private plan and ended up with stage four cancer. Click here, please, to read the story for yourself. It reminded me again why I am grateful to have health insurance and ready access to fine healthcare.

June 6, 2010–Six years a cancer survivor and just married, with daughter the younger, my mother, and Mr. Husband. Daughter the elder attended the wedding via Skype. Every day is a gift!

If you do not have insurance, please look into how you might get some; don’t play roulette with your life. If you cannot afford it, pursue every avenue to find subsidized insurance. We can all inform ourselves about the issue, seeking facts behind the polarizing rhetoric, and write to our elected officials urging them to continue to pursue a way to provide care for all citizens. Finally, if you do have insurance, be sure to give thanks for it. It could save both your physical and financial health some day.

P.S.: To all the many people who walked with me through the wilderness of cancer, thank you again. You will always be held close in my heart, and I am grateful for each and every one of you.

The Gift of Connection & Community

No man (sic) is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. — John Donne, from Meditation XVII

Jacobean poet John Donne’s powerful words still ring true today, although humankind still strives for distinction and personal space. However, for the one who practices the art of “thanks-living,”the joy and the meaning of life are found in the connections forged among us. The meaning of life is expressed in community and communion rather than the glories of individualism and singular achievement.

“I did this” or “I made that” the human mind is apt to proclaim. The truth is that nothing is completely original, and we all build upon the lives, creativity, and experiences of others. We, too, will leave a legacy for good or ill upon which our successors must build.

Yes, that’s correct–“we.” Because we do not live in isolation. Even Thoreau in his Walden woods cabin could not completely separate the individual and his efforts from the joys and delights of a shared creation. The same sun and moon and stars that shone on Walden Pond still shine on all of us today. The same life-giving rain and nurturing soil belongs to all creation, not to you or me alone. Nothing can truly be held only by the individual, despite our illusions to the contrary.

We may build fences and wall and fortresses, but they will crumble and fall eventually. Robert Frost knew this when he wrote the poem “Mending Wall,” and said “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,/And to whom I was like to give offence./Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”

We are created to be our best in various constructs of community. We form family units, schools, churches, clubs, cooperatives, and any number of other groups that gather around shared purpose and goals. Together we are stronger than the isolation of our individual parts. When we break down walls and remove barriers, amazing things happen. Life and love flourish if given the most minute of opportunities.

One small example is our backyard garden. In all probability two new raised beds would have remained a dream without the joyous self-giving of our friend and neighbor, Debbie. She brought her tools, knowledge, energy, and laughter to the effort. She generously brought alpine strawberries, Egyptian walking onions, and black-eyed Susans to be planted. Other neighbors and friends, Ida, Audrey, and Creta gave their extra tomato and onion plants so that we now have an abundance to share with others.

Our little backyard garden, still very much a work in progress, is not something that we can claim as “ours.” It is the gift and product of community, the fruit of connection, and a harvest of true blessings.

Questions to Ponder

What strands of connection and community are you weaving into your life?

Who gives to you and to whom do you give?

What harvest of blessings might you celebrate during this season?

Photos by Linda N and steppnout. 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!