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Posts tagged ‘life’

Fortune Cookies, Robins & Irony

I had every intention of writing here after my last post, but have been somewhat remiss. Crazy family happenings changed my schedule. In lieu of a more thoughtful post, I thought I’d simply share some completely unrelated thoughts that have been mulling around my head.

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The Heart of Advent

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The most basic definition of advent is a coming into being. In preparing for Christmas this year, I wonder how do we “…come into being…” this Advent? How do we rekindle our focus on the greatest advent the world has seen, that which culminated in the birth of the Son of God? Drawing near to God is crucial, but how do we draw near to God during this time of wonder? All the trappings of Christmas are tradition and no doubt a welcome enjoyment. But how do we see beyond the bustling with tinsel, lights, cookies and presents?

In the Christmas story, Mary experienced a “coming into being,” an advent of her own. “Do not be afraid,” the angel declared Christ’s coming birth to his young mother. An encounter of the simple with the divine and the whole world would be changed forever. What faith Mary had answering the angel, “Let it be as you say. I am a bond-servant of the LORD.” A bond-servant. Not just a servant, but one who sells themself into servitude. She had the freedom to choose. Yet, she chose to accept the circumstances laid before her. The public scorn would have been tremendous for a young pregnant Jewish bride. The cost so great, she likely would lose her husband in the process. Her life would be changed forever. None of that mattered. She took the angel’s words to heart, believing she needn’t fear and that she was “…most highly favored…” by God himself.

Mary offered herself to be a dwelling for the Christ child; in the womb, through infancy, toddlerhood, boyhood, and manhood. She even followed him to his death on the cross. She had to have known the prophecies about Israel’s Messiah King, perhaps even knowing that one day he would ultimately pay the greatest price for his people. Yet, she took on the role of the mother of the Christ child with wonder in her eyes. We’re told she pondered these things in her heart. Mary willingly became a dwelling for the King of Kings, despite any pain she might endure. In doing so, she was blessed to experience the closeness of a relationship with the divine.

At the crux of coming into being this Advent is a willingness to be a dwelling for God. Like Mary, to experience being with him, not doing for him. Come near to me and I’ll draw near to you, he tells us. Emmanuel – Christ with us. A revolutionary concept today, just as much as it was two thousand years ago. All the power of the divine rests in Christ. Christ’s birth should be celebrated, not because it gives us the opportunity for all kinds of Christmas revelry. It should be celebrated with joy and thanksgiving, because it turned the whole created world upside down with an offer of divine proportion. The God of the universe extended an open invitation for every man, woman and child to enter into a living and life-altering relationship with him.

The heart of Christmas isn’t merrymaking, it is life itself. And that life is in Christ. “I am the way, the truth and the life. I’ve come to give them life and life to the fullest,” he tells us. “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy burdened. Come to me and I shall give you rest.” The traditions of Christmas aren’t sufficient balm for the ache of living in a world fraught with great difficulty and pain. Who but God himself could meet us in our darkest moments, bringing us healing tenderness, strength and comfort? For the orphans hidden deep in third world squalor; for those facing down a terrifying sickness in a loved one; for those broken with guilt over what they’ve done; and for the loneliest of the lonely – there is one who can meet you where you are, one who desires to know you. As the angel declared, he was born “…for you…” on Christmas day.

Come near to him and delight in the divine. Allow him to dwell in your heart and you will experience his transforming, life-giving power. Come experience his rest in the midst of the worst turmoil this world can throw at you. His peace is real and never-ending. The greatest present ever given – Emmanuel – God with us. Walking with us, carrying us, filling us with the hope that can only come from the divine. Come near and experience him this holiday season. Come to the manger, he’s waiting.

Photo by Maija/KIIW – DeviantArt

Sand, Water and Light – Early Morning at the Beach

There is a desire in me to be like the clear waters before me, calm and illumined by the gentle morning sun. That my heart would be as pure as the water, clean and clear enough to reflect the loving rays of my God. That like the ever-changing ripples of sand, tenderly sculpted by the rolling waves above, I would trustingly allow the hands of my God to mold me.

The Divine Artist sculpts a beautiful and continually transforming pattern in the golden softness underfoot. Rays of light bend with the water, stretching out into a spectacular light show, alive in each movement. The waves gently ripple across the surface, molding the sand and bending the rays beneath. Neither the water nor sand hold tightly to their formation. They don’t rebel or fight against the waves as they come, one after the other. The water and sand give of themselves readily. They willingly submit to the force of each wave, gentle or strong, as if knowing full well they are being made a masterpiece.

If only I could do so as easily and give myself fully to God, who meticulously crafts a unique work of art in each of his children, desiring them to radiate his light for all to see.

Photo – Lake Michigan, South Haven, MI

No Best Friend for Janie – Should Kids Have Best Friends?

Last week an article appeared in the New York Times questioning whether or not it was in a child’s best interest to allow them to have a best friend. Hilary Stout, the author of the article, spoke with various adults working with children in an administrative capacity who feel that allowing a child to foster a close friendship could potentially lead to the formation of cliques and create a culture of bullying. These administrators contend that the exclusive nature of a best friendship is detrimental to the social well-being of all children involved.

Stout reports that one New York summer camp takes active measures to prevent close friendships from forming. “If two children seem to be too focused on each other, the camp will make sure to put them on different sports teams, seat them at different ends of the dining table or, perhaps, have a counselor invite one of them to participate in an activity with another child whom they haven’t gotten to know.”

Along with presenting the camp’s negative perspective on close friendships, Stout quotes a director of counseling from a St. Louis school, who also takes active measures to prevent such friendships. “I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults – teachers and counselors – we try to encourage them not to do that. We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

Reading the article, I found myself getting a little angry that adults in authority would manipulate a child’s natural bonds of friendship. As a parent, I appreciate their concern and desire to prevent a culture of bullying. However, I think their perspective is simply wrong.

No one would argue with promoting kindness and respect for all, but by making it impossible for kids to naturally form close friendships, I think administrators are actually making the situation worse. Psychologist and professor, Dr. Irene Levine points out on her Psychology Today blog that children, like adults have different friendship styles and preferences. Some children are naturally more social, while others are simply more comfortable spending time alone or with a close friend. Also according to Levine, “When teachers (or parents) hover too closely or meddle at the first sign of a tiff between kids, children are denied the opportunity to learn friendship lessons they will need as adults.”

I’ve written here briefly about my own experiences with my childhood best friend, Jeannie. Our friendship taught me invaluable lessons growing up. Jeannie lived down the street and we were nearly inseparable from kindergarten through high school. Our friendship continued in college and although we now live in separate states, when we do get together it’s as if no time’s passed. Husbands and children have been added to the mix, but our friendship still remains. We’ve both expressed how grateful we are for our longstanding friendship that weathered the storms of growing up. Loyalty, honesty, encouragement, selflessness, perseverance and grace are some of the life lessons I learned as our friendship spanned the years.

Even though we were “best friends,” we didn’t exclude people from being with us; rather our friendship enabled us to share with others. Reflecting on those “growing years,” any cliques I remember seemed to exist with those who desired to fit into a group, changing themselves into whatever was acceptable according to current “group think” mentality. Having a “best friend” was a strong support to simply be me, and not to struggle with being a chameleon and only acceptable when put into a mold. I’m bothered that adults would prevent kids from having such valuable, essential developmental experiences. I’m not sure I’d be the same person had Jeannie not been a part of my life. Dr. Levine closed her piece with, “It’s a mistake to make the leap into thinking that close friendships lead to bullying. In fact, when children are bullied or excluded, it is their true friends who “have their backs” and can buffer them from that trauma.”

In the Times article, psychology professor Brett Laursen questions the wisdom of encouraging kids to have “…all sorts of superficial relationships.” “We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones.” I wholeheartedly agree with Levine and Laursen. Relationship skills are honed in the wonder years and it’s those skills we carry with us into adulthood; into our marriages, friendships, and workplaces. As a mother of two, I know it’s natural and necessary to help kids by providing needed wisdom and discernment. But taking steps to prevent any close friendships, I believe, robs our kids of the skills they’ll inevitably need later in life. Sometimes it’s better to just get out of the way.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress

A Sunny Stroll Through Bovine Heaven

It’s not everyday that something out of the ordinary happens, but when it does I try to take notice and give it my full attention. I find myself asking, “Is there some meaning behind this or maybe a lesson to learn? A few days ago I tweeted about going for a walk with my daughter, down the long gravel road leading to our house. It was a perfect day for a walk with sunshine, blue skies, green popping up all over and lots of singing. “What could be better?” I threw out to the twitterverse, not expecting an answer.

Our walk began with Sofia asking for her animal of choice. “Cow?” she asked with her big blue eyes pleading. “No, no cows, Sofia,” I replied. “Why don’t we sing a song? How about Old McDonald?” I ask, happy with my motherly ingenuity at fitting her current favorite animal into our walk.

“And on his farm he had a ….?” Pause. Silence, followed by more silence. “What, Sofia?” I ask. “What did Old McDonald have?” She came back with a resounding, “COW!” Every time. It occurred to me, she might have thought we were going to visit the nearby farm center. Every since our recent visit, she’s been quite taken with cows. All the baby lambs, fuzzy ducklings, goats and piglets at the farm center were met with a nonplussed nod of acknowledgement, followed immediately by a request for that special animal. “Cow. Cow, mama,” she’d say directing me to push her stroller onward in her quest.

Thankfully the farm had in residence at least one cow, a really big mama cow with its’ tiny baby calf snuggling up next to it. They didn’t seem to mind being gawked at by an inquisitive little girl and her mom. So it really came as no surprise that while singing Old McDonald on our walk, I’d be subjected to multiple rounds of “Moo. Moo.”

Singing and strolling along, I began reflecting on what a dichotomy life can be at times. Most of my friends’ children are school age now and way beyond toddler songs and potty training. Many of these women have returned to the work force, after having taken leave to be with their young kids. Yet here I was still singing Old McDonald.

The truth is I’m happy to be doing this. I love being with my daughter. I wouldn’t want to miss out on all the little things like singing about cows for the millionth time, while taking a slow walk on a beautiful day. These are the things I get to do with Sofia. And like any parent, I’d hate to miss the wonder in her eyes when she sees things for the first time.

Still walking, we reach the end of the road and turn around to head home. I begin another chorus, while contemplating the complexities of my life. “Moo…Moo,” Sofia sings, and I catch something out of the corner of my eye. I turn to look to the side of the road, to see what’s caught my attention.

Up the hill overlooking the road, scattered between the trees, staring us down was a multitude of bovine. Not just one cow; a herd of cow. White cows, brown cows, black cows and multi-colored cows stood statue still while watching us intently. Shifting their frozen gaze to the new, soft grass carpeting the ground beneath them, they began to graze. Bovine heaven on a long dirt road.

“Sofia! Oh my gosh! Sofia, look!” I say. “Cows…look! Look at the cows!” She looks and grins wide, not nearly as surprised as her mom. “Where in the world did they come from?” I ask out loud to no one in particular, knowing no one else is around. I pull out my phone and begin taking pictures of these cows that seem to have materialized out of nowhere. Seven years I’ve walked this road, not once ever spotting a cow, much less a multitude of cows.

We continue our walk home, me laughing at the unbelievable. What do I make of this? I ask myself in true form. I’m stumped. All I can come up with is that God must have a really good sense of humor. He had to be laughing if he was watching us that day.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

A Necessary Sacrifice – From Vietnam to America

“The first time I spoke with my brother after he’d left, we couldn’t understand each other. He didn’t speak Vietnamese and I couldn’t speak English.” I’d just met Marie and she was telling me about her youngest brother, who’d left their home country at an early age. “He knew he wanted to be a priest, even when he was very young. My father knew it wouldn’t be safe for him in our country. So when my uncle decided to move to the US, my brother left our family and went with him.”

Concern for his safety and knowing that opportunities would be better for him, Marie’s parents agreed to allow him, their young son, to move away. Far away. Far away from the family he knew and loved, he moved to the US and was raised by his uncle.

“Freedom? There is no freedom.” Marie shakes her head and continues to tell me about the state of affairs in her home country. She and her family are part of the small minority of Roman Catholics. “Things are not safe. It’s better here,” she sighs before telling me about the persecution facing Christians in Vietnam. Pressure from the government to follow a state supported religion affects schooling, employment, their safety and their very existence. Bullying tactics make life, in some instances, agonizingly difficult. I shake my head in a mixture of sadness and disgust.

Marie goes on to tell me that she’s been married for three and a half years. Right after her wedding she and her husband decided it would be better for her to come to the US. He plans to follow her after finishing up graduate school at a Vietnamese university. The last time she spoke with her husband in person was right after their wedding. They’ve only spoken by phone since she arrived here. “I’m about ready to take my test for citizenship,” she tells me proudly.

I am greatly moved by Marie’s story. For a moment, I turn to hide the tears I feel welling up. Sacrifice – painful sacrifice for a better life, for safety. For freedom. My own mother left her country, pioneering out on her own to make her way to this land of opportunity and freedom, as a young woman in her early twenties. She didn’t leave under such harsh circumstances as Marie, but the leaving was still painful. The courage it took to leave everything she knew, to leave her home, for a new, strange culture is something I stand in awe of each day. My heart is grieved by Marie’s story and I know that she is only one voice out of many that have bravely sacrificed for a better life.

I can’t imagine the loss her parents must have felt in saying goodbye to their son, not knowing if they’d ever see him again. Saying goodbye to my own son seems unimaginable. Only hearing my husband’s voice over a cold phone line, not to hear him whisper good morning or feel his embrace after walking in the door at night from work seems unthinkable. Being one with someone, yet being so far apart. Sacrifice, I know, is sometimes necessary. I’m ashamed at the things I so easily take for granted, things that should be savored each day.

Now here in America, Marie’s had the opportunity to visit with her brother. After she took classes to learn English, they were finally able to talk for the first time. To talk about their family, their home, and about the brief moments of a shared childhood. Her joy is obvious. So is her big sister pride. “He’s all grown up now and he made it,” she tells me grinning wide. “He’s a priest” she says nodding. “He’s a priest.”

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

Living the Half Life

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2

As a follower of Christ, I seek to deepen my relationship with him – most times. Sadly, I don’t live this out at all times. Lent provides an opportunity to look inward to expose those dark areas that have taken up residence in my heart. Like exposing an open wound, this is a painful process, but not one that’s in vain. Jesus talked to his disciples about cutting away what wasn’t fruitful on the vine. Not for the sake of cutting, but that the vine would ultimately bear much greater fruit.

Yesterday, I took cutters to the misshapen hydrangea tree in my front yard. The tree badly needed pruning. Although it’d grown in stature since first planted, it was uneven and vastly overgrown. Pruning the branches, at least three feet off of some of them, was painful for me. Those branches had yielded full and fragrant blooms last summer. Although I knew it had to be done, the question of whether or not it would bloom fully again this year made me hesitant.

God, however, is never hesitant to prune out the areas of our lives holding us back from bearing the fruit he created us to bear. He knows the process is painful for us. Thankfully, in His infinite wisdom He also knows all that we can be, even if we haven’t a clue. And so, he prunes. We, unlike, my hydrangea tree, have a choice to make. As we go through a season of pruning, we can stop in our pain and refuse to go any further, never to experience the life God intended for us to live.

Or we can choose to let go of whatever darkness is hindering our relationship with God. He doesn’t expect us to do it alone, but with his help and in his strength. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 Jesus goes so far as to say that without him, we can do nothing. We simply cannot be fruitful apart from him.

As the spring sunshine warms my hydrangea tree, shining its rays on the newly sharp cut edges, the tree will burst forth with buds that will grow into emerald leaves. The pain of the cutting will disappear into a multitude of sweet fragrant blooms. Like the sun’s light, God’s light shines healing rays of truth into the hidden areas of our hearts that are most in need of healing and growth. We were made to live fully in the light of God’s love and truth, free and abundantly fruitful. Anything less is living the half life.

Photo courtesy PhotoXpress.com

A Walking Shadow

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” Macbeth – Shakespeare

Literature throughout history brims with statements ruing the futility of life. Perhaps the most famous of these is found in the book of Ecclesiastes in which Israel’s King Solomon goes to great length detailing his attempts to find meaning and fulfillment. Known as one of Israel’s greatest kings, Solomon was “greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.” His fame quickly spread throughout the ancient world, leading foreign leaders like the Queen of Sheba to seek him out for his great wisdom.

In his quest for fulfillment, Solomon pursues just about everything under the sun. With the world at his feet, he tells us “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.” He seeks out wisdom, justice, learning, hard work, wealth, and power. Solomon sums up his grand experiment with the words “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” His conclusion of the matter ends with “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,” spoken with the understanding that man’s ultimate hope in life is that God will one day bring every deed into judgment, whether good or evil. Solomon, the great king and the wisest of men, lived a full life with every earthly advantage. Yet from his words it seems he didn’t find the fulfillment he sought so earnestly.

Looking around at our world today, we can easily nod in agreement with Solomon. Life appears to be somewhat futile. The good suffer, the evil prosper, and ordinary days lead to more ordinary days filled with the banal. Pleasure leaves us empty. Even learning leaves us cold. Honest reflection of what we’ve learned reveals more of what we don’t know and simply can’t understand.

In marked contrast to the many statements of futility, Jesus tells us that there is indeed more to life. Like Solomon, he is also a king. He is the King of Kings. This King came quietly in the night, born in a rugged stable and lived in relative poverty and obscurity. Until the beginning of his public ministry at the age of 30, he was relatively unknown. Jesus’ words are a balm to the aching wound of meaninglessness. He tells us that there is more to life and that “more” is found in him. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10.

What if in the midst of our circumstances, our ordinary days, we took Jesus at his word? What if we took a hard look at our lives and asked ourselves what are we striving for? What are we seeking to find our fulfillment in – pleasure, money, knowledge, status, power? An honest look would reveal that all of these things come up short. What if we stopped seeking and striving for anything but Jesus himself?

Making the choice to seek him in our ordinary days could open our eyes to the extraordinary all around us. My daughter, Sofia, sees the world around her as one that is filled with wonder. What appears to me a simple shadow cast on our driveway from the noonday sun is transformed into a marvel of a playmate. Attempts to outrun her newfound friend end in a pile of giggles only to be curtailed by bursts of Old McDonald and Twinkle Twinkle. Through Sofia’s eyes, the caterpillar that once ate holes through the green leaves on my roses isn’t a nuisance but rather another playmate, albeit a furry one. Even while mummified and still, it’s being transformed into a grand monarch. Watching it take flight as if relishing its newfound freedom last spring, I smiled in wonder and Sofia grinned from ear to ear.

Fulfillment in life does exist. Not in our earthly strivings, but in the one who promised that if we became like little children, we’d see the glory of promise all around us. Answering Jesus’ call to passionately live this life with him finds us stepping out of the blandness of our lives and walking straight into the life we were created to live. Seeking him is where life really begins. Imagine what we might see and experience once we do.

Photo courtesy PhotoXpress.com