Category Archives: faith

Which buys more – $3 or $30?

What is the true value of a dollar? When we spend our hard-earned money, what are we really buying? We usually like to think we know what we’re getting.

A chance encounter has made me think more specifically about what we get for our money. On the surface we’re buying ground turkey to make tacos, a new shirt to wear, or the latest book from our favorite author. But behind every purchase lies a deeper story, a bigger meaning. Recently some ground turkey got me a hug and a big thank-you from my son for fixing his favorite dinner. Well worth the price!

I look at the scattering of no-longer-played-with toys in our house, and it makes me hesitate to buy more toys. I’ve seen the scenario played out many times over the years: give kids a cool, new toy; kids play happily with new toy; new toy is set aside and forgotten.

Of course, some toys last longer than others, and some draw the kids back in time and time again. But others are sadly far too short-lived. It’s entirely possible to spend $30 on a toy that for some reason never gets played with. Instead of getting happy, engaged kids, we get some plastic to clutter the floor and we’re out $30. Probably not a good return on investment.

On the other hand, it’s also possible to spend a mere $3, and change a person’s outlook on life, at least for a while. When I gave a homeless couple $3 for a pair of city bus passes so they could get to services downtown, their eyes lit up and they cried tears of thankfulness. Sometimes a mere $3 can get hope, encouragement, real help.

I wouldn’t stop giving gifts to my children, of course. But there can be an inverse relationship between the amount of things someone has and how much they appreciate what they are given. It might be good, even healthy, to give our kids less, which would perhaps increase their appreciation for what they do have.

It might also be good, even healthy, to give more freely to those in need who cross our paths. The truly needy are typically full of appreciation, and even a little help from us can impact their lives in a big way.

Some people say they won’t give if they don’t know for sure how the money will be spent. But I dare to think it might not matter so much whether we can accurately judge how well the money will be used. We give for the needy person’s sake as well as for our own. When we help others, it blesses them and us. There is a balance between taking a reasonable chance on someone and being foolish, of course. But if we use our best judgment and act in faith, we can let God handle the outcome on the other side.

So, what do we get for our money? What are we truly buying? If we have $30 or $3, we still have a choice. Sometimes we buy passing pleasures or things we need. Sometimes we find we have bought hope, encouragement, or tears of joy.

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Of Hurricanes and Elections and All that Remains

In the days after the hurricane the sound of chainsaws filled the neighborhoods. And as the chainsaws droned on, the piles and piles of branches, trees, and debris grew, lining the streets as we worked to recover our Normal.

The fierce winds and drenching rains of Hurricane Matthew had tested everything in their path, shaking free the loose, the weak, the broken. From small branches to old, mighty oaks to shingles and boats, the shaken things were everywhere. The cleanup and repairs can be overwhelming, and will continue for months to come.

But there is some solace in knowing the strength and solidity of the things that remain. There is a certain confidence in the trees that weathered the storm and still stand. They are survivors with strong, deep roots and healthy trunks and branches, and some good fortune of circumstance. They are reminders that not everything succumbs to the storm. That we can suffer some wrath and come out triumphant on the other side.

The storm will shake a lot of things, but sometimes after the shaking, we have a clearer understanding of the essentials. We give thanks for life, for family, for beauty, for the strong things that remain, for our community, for the beautiful blue skies that follow the storm. And there is hope. And life goes on.

Tomorrow is election day, the culmination of a dreadfully long period of ugly campaigning, mudslinging, and other horrendous behaviors I’d rather not mention. It has been a trial, a shaking of sorts for our nation, where “leaders” for the sake of political power and greed have tried to deepen divisions between friends, strangers, races, socioeconomic groups, genders, political parties, and more.

I don’t know that the shaking will end with the election of a new president (probably not). And I don’t know how things will settle out when it’s all said and done. But I know that even in the midst of the shaking we can see the strong things, the true things, the greater things.

These United States of America are greater than politics, greater than government, greater than political parties. We the People will keep on keeping on regardless of political outcomes. On the micro level, where we actually live, most of us have pretty good sense and good intentions. We know how to pull together and get along. There is still common decency around even though we’re hard-pressed to find it in the news and on social media.

Maybe, instead of drawing lines in the sand and fitting people into preconceived boxes, if we actually talked with each other, listened to each other’s points of view, and embraced our common ground, our government might get more and better things done.

So forget what you think you know about liberals, evangelicals, progressives, conservatives, minorities, refugees, and so on. Go talk to someone different from yourself with the goal of understanding, not persuading. Listen. Learn. Engage.

And celebrate the things that I hope will remain after this shaking: the great American experiment of government of the people, by the people, for the people; a land of freedom (even if we’re still working out what that exactly looks like); a nation of opportunity so great that people from other nations long to come here, both legally and illegally. God bless America!

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Remembering 9/11 and Why We Must

September 11, 2001. A day to remember. A day that showcased both the worst and the best of humanity. A day that changed America, shattering our sense of security, our sense of separateness.

I remember the unspeakable horror as I watched events unfold as “breaking news.” The planes, the collapse of buildings, the terrible loss of life, the eventual loss of hope for survivors.

I remember having the news report on the television at Friedman’s Jewelers where I worked at the time. One young man walked up to the counter, saw the news, shook his head, and asked, “What country is that?” When I told him it was our country, he joined the rest of us in disbelief.

I remember standing with many employees and shoppers at the mall (where our store was located) as we circled up, and joined hands in the center court to pray. Prayers for the tragedy, prayers for our nation. The buying and selling of stuff was put on hold so we could tend to our nation’s wounds in our own way.

The horror of that day. So many people working just like any other day–suddenly gone. So many passengers flying to their doom. The jet-fueled fire consuming steel. The desperate who couldn’t bear to wait. The buildings’ collapsing, stealing away the hope of rescue for so many. The rescuers turned victims. The missing. The ache of the families searching for loved ones for so long afterward. The revelation that it was not an accident, but a planned attack designed to be horrific and devastating. The senseless destruction of life, of property, of the sense of security, of the world as we knew it.

The heroics of that day. The firefighters and first responders who ran toward the devastation in hopes of saving others. The “regular folks” who did the same. The courageous trapped inside who led others to safety with them against all odds. The brave passengers who overcame the evil, crashing into a Pennsylvania field instead of the terrorists’ target. The multitudes who helped and gave and prayed and did whatever they could.

We need to remember. To remember it all. Not just our personal stories or the stories of first responders. But also, especially, the stories of the Taken, the Survivors, the Brave, the Terror, the Terrorists. The immense distance between the deliberate choice to sacrifice in order to take lives and the equally deliberate choice to sacrifice in order to save lives.

In a way, this is the story of humanity. This is the story of us. Our lives, our hope, hang always in the balance.

We must remember.

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How Can I Love… ?

Recent events in the world – regarding Ferguson, Missouri, ISIS, Russia, and so on – have been deeply disturbing. There is so much unrest, discontent, hatred. Darkness. Big problems with complicated solutions at best can make us feel like we can do nothing. What must be done to bring resolution? What can we do?

And today I ran into this reminder to see the big picture. It’s about real hope and real change…

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice] for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11)

God loved us… this whole angry, hurting, prideful, mixed up lot of us. Not just me, not just me and you, not just Americans or Christians or people who are kind of like us or “decent folk” we like to be around. We are not okay, not one of us. No one is better than another. And he loved us still.

I catch my breath, and read the words again. There it is: the illustration and definition of what love is. The heart of God reached down into our little world, and loved us in spite of us. Enough to send his son, his only son, to death for our sake. That is some kind of crazy, strong love.

See, we are rebels, one and all, and his love is not choosy. We like to choose sides and jump on bandwagons, pat ourselves on the back and try to look good to others. But it is no good. It’s us – all of us – against God, and we have won our death. We are the rebels assaulting the beauty he created. He is the Grace redeeming us anyway.

He loved us. Enough to send his son as a ransom, buying us out of our own sin. One life for another. His life for all of us. Like a prisoner swap. Only it was his idea born out of his amazing love and unstoppable grace.

So then, here’s the catch: who are we – if he loved us so, loved us like that – who are we to refuse to love one another? Could we be so arrogant? But how can we love the liar, the rioter, the traitor, the thief, the executioner, those with hardened hearts of darkness and hate? Maybe we cannot. Cannot love those so similar to ourselves, by ourselves.

But God can. The power of his love is no small thing, and it is up to the challenge. He is eager to love us. To change our hearts. To love through us. To empower us to love.

That is the meaning of it all, the mystery of the ages. Our purpose in this life is to love. To be loved and to love, in that order.

So remember who you are, beloved, and go out loving. Through kindness and service, through prayer and sacrifice and maybe tears. No matter what the world might be doing around you, remember to love. Love God. Love one another. Amen.

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A Trip Down Grandma’s Memory Lane

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She pulls out her thin high school yearbook from 1948, the white cover now yellowed with age. Locating her class of 47 kids, she begins to tell me their stories. She shows me the boy who drove her and her brother to school, and who always saved the front seat for the cute cheerleader. She tells me about her friends. She recalls who married and who divorced, who was friendly or funny, what they went on to do with their lives.

Her stories bring to life these black and white faces full of hope and promise, reminding me of my own high school days. They were not so different from us. In some ways we are all the same.

And then she nonchalantly tells me how they died, so many of them, one by one. This one from cancer, that one in a car accident, another from some other disease she can’t quite remember. So many of these smiling faces frozen in time have passed from this life, and their passing is now just part of their story. “That was the end of him,” she says.

I guess that’s how it can be when you’re 82 years old and you’ve seen so many of your contemporaries leave this life behind. Death becomes more matter-of-fact than surprising. Not that she is unmoved or unfeeling. Sometimes her eyes fill with tears at the thought of the loss.

But she knows, really knows, that we are all heading that way. In the wisdom that comes perhaps partly from age, but even more from the hope of an unshakable faith, she accepts the inevitable. And rather than despair, she presses on with the living that remains to be done. She walks in faith that the One who brought her into this world will see her through to the other side. That there will be peace and joy and life everlasting. And there is, even now.

Sometimes her eyes fill with tears at the thought of all the loss.

Sometimes I marvel at her calm resolve and acceptance.

Sometimes I wonder what people will say about my story after I’m gone.

Sometimes I wonder what my end will be.

As a mother of three children, I hate to even think about not being here for them. But we all have an end coming. Best to be mindful and make the most of our time here. Love God. Love others. Live in line with our priorities and values. Press on through the fear that would hold us back and keep us small. Live large in love and honor and truth.

She closes the yearbook, gently rubbing its cover, wishing the years had not yellowed it so. She wonders if there’s a way to make it white again. But I think it’s just fine. No matter how time has changed the outside cover, it’s the inside that still holds the treasure.

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A Call to Live and Make it Count

This morning I took Evan to his preschool as usual. For the walk across the parking lot in 40 degree weather, he chose his favorite light jacket with the hood up. On top of the hood he wore his jaguar hat that hangs down on the sides, thus ensuring the warmth of his head at least. He is often a comical sight, marching to the beat of his own drum for sure.

When we approach Evan’s classroom he often likes to try to sneak up on his teacher by “hiding” himself, crouching down close to the wall. He finds it hilarious if we pretend we can’t find him. Little kids are cool like that.

Evan is four years old. The same age as the little boy, William Webb, in the next town over who died from cancer yesterday morning. I can hardly imagine the pain and loss his family is dealing with right now, though it makes me cry just thinking of it.

When terrible things happen to children, people often say to hug your own kids extra tight, symbolic, I suppose, of treasuring them. I love hugs, and I love my kids. But to me, the terrible death of a four-year-old is a reminder to make life count.

Make it count. We’re all terminal. Any day could be the last for any one of us. Be intentional in how you live and how you love. Take time now to teach your kids the important things you want them to know. Speak life into people’s lives, building them up rather than tearing them down. Savor the moments.

Do your best; give your best; live your best. And for all the ways we fall short and fail, there is grace. And there is hope and peace in the Giver of Life, who is Love. We cannot be perfect, but we can make our time count. “Love each other deeply” (1Peter 4:8), for our time here is short.

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Reflecting on a Life

There were these two college kids once upon a time. They made some mistakes they lived to regret, making me in the process. She gave me life, and set me free.

Free to make my home with these other two, a childless couple yearning. In love, they gave me life, and set me free.

Because life and freedom go hand in hand. Two ideas in symbiotic harmony.

There was this man once upon a time, and he was God, yearning. He killed death, in love. He gave me life, and set me free.

And when I look back over these years of my life, it is all good and fullness of life and flying in freedom. It is all grace.

So now I carry on the legacy. Giving life and freedom. May it be all grace.

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Sometimes Cats

When I look just beyond my computer screen, I see tiny holes in my curtains. The curtains have hung in that window since we moved into our house several years ago, but these holes are new. They are the evidence of our cat. Our newest cat.

Jon and I had no plans to get a cat of any kind. At least not any time soon. Three kids, two dogs, four hermit crabs, and we were good. We like cats, but why add more trouble to the mix?

Good, solid reasoning, and yet, here we are. In the span of four months, two cats claimed us as their own, and changed our lives. We have put up and taken down baby gates in multiple areas of the house, rearranged the bathroom, temporarily lived with our garage door open, and inconvenienced ourselves and our dogs.

Not to mention the new chores we’ve added to our life: giving the cats food and water, cleaning out the litter boxes, and making time to play with our feline friends. All this for two homeless cats who decided to camp out at our place, and wouldn’t leave.

Maybe we’re too soft. We could have sent them to Animal Control and wished them well. Maybe we’re too compassionate, concerned about what might happen to them in the midst of so many other unwanted cats. Maybe it’s simply a God thing. A surprise in our life, perhaps unplanned and unwanted, that turns out as a blessing with a purpose.

Our first cat was Twinkle. In my mind I call her Grace. She was a scraggly, wary little cat who sneaked into our garage in search of a safe refuge. A skinny ragamuffin looking for mercy, she had little to offer. Yet we reached out to her in kindness, cared for her, and took her in. We showed her grace, as God does us.

Our second cat was Brownie. In my mind her name is Faith. She made her debut on our rooftop, and soon adopted our front yard as her home. Friendly and fun, she easily won us over with her feline charm. She was our “outdoor cat” for three weeks.

And then she disappeared. Gone for two days, which was not like her at all. We worried and searched. On the second day, not knowing what might have happened to the little brown cat, this popped into my head: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

Instead of sorrow and hopelessness, I deliberately trusted for the best outcome. I exercised faith, and that afternoon, amazingly, we were reunited with the cat. She had walked into a woman’s house several streets away, and the kind woman posted about her on Craigslist in hopes of returning her to her home.

So we have holes in our curtains and two cats, furry reminders of grace and faith. Funny how God likes to use tangible things in our lives to remind us of the spiritual. Like water. And bread and wine. And sometimes cats.

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The Stamp of Justice – Some Thoughts for Easter

Today I mailed an Easter card to a far-away friend. I decorated the envelope with a few Easter stickers declaring “He is Risen!” Then, as I attached the stamp in the top right corner, I noticed it said simply, “Justice.”

Justice. How appropriate. How profound. Justice is a heavy word, one bearing the full weight of the law. When Justice is truly served, it may be hard, but it is right, and there is no way around it.

Justice fell on Jesus on a Friday. Not for anything He had done. It was the Justice we deserved. He served the sentence, taking the punishment for our crimes. Crimes against God, against our fellow humans, against ourselves. We are all guilty before God. Justice.

God placed the stamp of Justice on Jesus as He hung on our cross in our place. Justice was fulfilled.

On Sunday something remarkable happened. With Justice now satisfied, God placed the stamp of Mercy on us. Mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Hope. Life.

Why?

Love. That’s Easter.

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Free Like a Hawk

A couple days ago I was walking around our neighborhood and saw a hawk land on a tree branch with a dead squirrel in his grip. I stopped to watch for a moment as the beautiful bird looked around and hopped from one branch to another with his catch.

I was a little sad for the squirrel’s loss of life, but still impressed by the hawk’s skill and beauty and majesty. And I wondered what it is about birds of prey, killers that they are, that captivates us even to the extent of making one a symbol of our nation. And I came up with a theory.

Hawks, eagles, and other birds of prey are apex predators just like killer whales and tigers. No one seeks to eat them. They occupy a position of freedom and power. Fear is unknown to them.

We humans, on the other hand, are a strange lot, an apex predator by virtue of our brains. Physically, we are not so impressive compared to other animals that could easily devour us. We are not the fastest or the strongest. We don’t have sharp claws or giant teeth. Other critters can see and hear far better than we can.

And yet we have these thumbs and these crazy brains that enable us to imagine and create and dominate. But these same brains that make us a threat to all other species by the way we can manipulate the world around us, at the same time, make us painfully aware of our precarious lot in life. So, even as we dare to dominate this world, our own self-awareness threatens our sense of security.

The hawk remains confident, powerful, and free from fear. And those traits make him very attractive to us. How we long to rise above the weight and fear and mess of this world… to fly in freedom.

How fitting then that our deepest longing is matched by our gracious God. He assures us that those who hope in Him will “renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) For Christ-followers, saved by grace alone, made new creations by the love of God, there is freedom from fear and sin and death.

Thus, we look at the mighty hawk with yearning and admiration, and find that our Creator, through Jesus, has even more so bestowed upon us the very traits we crave. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1) So go… fly!

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