Dress Yourselves

The kind of young woman who can be a terrific torchbearer has high standards all the time, not just in her prom dress, but every, ordinary day. ~Margaret D. Nadauld

It’s here again: Prom Time.

My social media feed started highlighting girls in dresses in late-March and it will continue until mid-May.

I attended my high school proms, but that was before the glitz and glamour of the 21st century. Back in the “Old Days” we painted our own nails, had our moms help with our hair, and dresses came from the JC Penny Catalog.

Now American teenagers spend lots of their parents’ money on fashion and finishing touches.

Because it’s a very important dance.

Paul has his own fashion advice in Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV):

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Can you imagine it?

You rise in the morning to brush your teeth with compassion and kindness. You slip humility over your head and fix your hair with the brush of gentleness. The diamond of patience glitters around your neck. Both legs slide into forgiveness and your shoes are sturdy for bearing with each other’s burdens.

You put on your overcoat of love and head out the door with your friends in unity.

You’re glamorous, you’re beautiful, you’re the queen of the ball.

Dressed like that you’ll dance all night.

Because it’s the most important event of your life.

It is . . . Life in Christ.

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 ESV

Dead or Alive

There are only three events in a man’s life; birth, life, and death; he is not conscious of being born, he dies in pain, and he forgets to live. ~Jean de la Bruyere

Death is so final. No more conversations, no more laughter, no more birthday parties, cake, or candles.

Death separates, isolates, penetrates.

Death brings tears, anger, depression, and great, great sadness.

I’ve lost count of the number of deaths I’ve witnessed in the last year.

Everyone dies.

But not everyone lives.

Continue reading “Dead or Alive”

In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ~Mahatma Gandhi

She tipped her head to the side like a curious dog. She held my hands a little longer and then sat back.

“You’re the only person I’ve ever prayed with that didn’t end, ‘in Jesus’ name, amen.'”

I knew she wanted an explanation. I didn’t really have one.

Continue reading “In Jesus’ Name, Amen”

The If of Failure

A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. ~B. F. Skinner

My older son is graduating from college soon. He’s thrilled, excited, nauseated, and scared.

Because now that all the hard work, late nights, and uncertainty are over, he still has no job, isn’t sure what the future holds.

I so understand.

I graduated from college with an Education degree. We moved to an area that was instituting all-day Kindergarten. My specialization was Early Childhood Education, so everything looked promising.

Only I didn’t get a job for over a year.

That isn’t quite true. I actually had two jobs. I worked hard as a substitute teacher during the day and as a teacher and diagnostician at Sylvan Learning Center in the evenings and on the weekends.

In Mark 9, Jesus’s disciples tried to heal a boy possessed by a demon. Nothing they did worked. When Jesus came along, the boy’s father begged Jesus to help if there was anything at all that could be done.

IF?

Jesus shook his head, sighed, and healed the boy.

What were we doing wrong, the disciples questioned.

They had the degree, some experience, even a bit of a reputation. They worked really hard, but it wasn’t enough. They felt like failures.

We might look at that and think, if Jesus’s inner circle couldn’t cut it, why am I even trying?

But the disciples turned to Jesus- exactly where they needed to turn -and he led them farther along the path.

What looked like failure was only an answer to IF.

If you try and fail, try again.

Keep on praying. Keep on fasting. Keep on turning to the one with the answers.

It doesn’t take away the fear and nausea, but it does lead you in the right direction.

Far from failure.

5In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5-7 NIV

Pruning Shears

As soon as a redwood is cut down or burned, it sends up a crowd of eager, hopeful shoots, which, if allowed to grow, would in a few decades attain a height of a hundred feet, and the strongest of them would finally become giants as great as the original tree. ~John Muir

“What have you done?!”

Matt jumped out of the car. We had just bought our first house. 

The small front porch was hidden behind overgrown box hedges and red leaf photinia.  When Matt headed to work that morning, I headed to the bushes. By the time Matt returned, they were pruned down to bare branches.

That was in November.

It was a long winter of sideways glances and raised eyebrows. Matt’s head shook as much as the bare branches in the winter wind.

But the next spring new leaves and healthy growth appeared.

Pruning looks painful- even kind of stupid. Branches with flowers or fruit are cut off. Lovely leaves are hacked away, strewn across the lawn by children building forts.

But pruning is necessary.

It’s the same in our lives.

I teach Bible class. I volunteer at the nursing home. I join Bible studies, serve on church committees, and lead community service projects. I write books, teach in China, and try to maintain my home.

All are worthwhile, looking like flavorful fruit ripening on my branches.

The truth is . . . I need to be pruned.

But what needs to go?

For me it’s easier to know what doesn’t need to go. What do I believe would disappoint God if I pruned it out of my life?

I’m sure God has called me to write, to teach in China, and to serve my church family. I’m equally sure that God doesn’t care how high the grass is, and since I don’t live in a neighborhood, no one else does either. If the living room doesn’t get painted in a weekend, who cares?

What about you? Too many evenings at the soccer pitch, or weekends at the theater, or hours at the office? Is there someone else who can step into your role and let you focus on the greater things?

What is God trying to prune out of your life?

“Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42b NIV

Fire

Persevere in virtue and diligence. ~Plautus

There are fifteen minutes between Bible study and worship time at our church. We hug and kiss, catch up on news, smile at children, visit the restroom, and find a seat. It’s loud and sometimes chaotic.

The Sunday before Christmas can be especially busy as excited children skip down the aisle to their parents.

This past Christmas season was no different.

As we began the first song a strange odor caught my attention. I wasn’t the only one.

People started looking around, trying to keep their eyes on the words of the hymn, but there was definitely something amiss.

After the second song, my husband stood up for announcements.

“Yes, you smell smoke. There was a fire in the kitchen, but I put it out.”

While we were visiting and laughing, the room next door was on fire. Smoke and flames raced across the stove and up the wall.

Thankfully, Matt saw it in time and grabbed an extinguisher.

Matt was diligent. He was watching, and he was prepared.

Do you know what your children are seeing on the internet? Are you diligent to check their history, their chat rooms, their pants’ pockets? Is your nose in the air when they pass by with their friends and their phones?

Are you watching over your elderly neighbor? Do you notice when the garbage can doesn’t make it to the curb or the newspaper goes untouched in the driveway?

What about on the job? Has a coworker been asking questions about your marriage and how you cope with expectations and falling out of love? Do you have an answer ready, a prayer to offer?

Be diligent to watch for fires in your life.

And be prepared to fight them.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV

I Can’t Stand You

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong ~Mahatma Gandhi

I like just about everyone. I try extra hard to find something good about the students that other teachers avoid. I spend time with people who grate on my nerves just so I can discover what makes them who they are. I give bad drivers the benefit of the doubt, and I believe the best of everyone’s intentions.

My neighbor calls me “Mary Sunshine” in a derogatory tone.

But there are times when I just can’t bring a smile into my voice. I just can’t give another ounce of love. I can’t face “them” and instead walk the other direction.

Continue reading “I Can’t Stand You”

Friend and Physician

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. ~Helen Keller

Jesus had friends, good, strong, devout friends. And yet, at the end of his life, they deserted him.

Paul, too, had friends. Some he considered as sons, and others he gained mutual strength and benefit from. One of those friends was Luke.

In Acts 27, Paul embarked on a voyage, not of his choosing but of his destiny. Much like Jesus, he headed to his life’s trial to appear before the ruling authorities. In Paul’s case, he was on his way to Caesar.

But unlike Jesus, Paul didn’t get to walk across town and be tried. He had to make a long journey by ship.

A trip like no other.

The men on board suffered at least two weeks of an extreme storm. After fourteen days of no food and being battered by the waves, Paul’s life was in danger again. Fearing shipwreck, the soldiers threatened to kill the prisoners. Finally, the ship ran aground and broke apart. Luke and Paul swam to safety and most certainly began treating sick and wounded men once they reached the island.

After a few months on Malta, they boarded another ship and headed to Rome. Luke accompanied Paul and stayed with him the two years that Paul was a prisoner in Rome.

Wow. What a friend.

Sickness, beatings, a bad reputation, traveling in want and need, storms and shipwreck, political trials and imprisonment.

My own efforts at friendship pale in comparison.

I forget to call or text. I think about taking over a meal when I hear of a bad time, but the food never makes it out of the pantry. I say we should get together, and then another year passes. A crisis happens, and I cringe at the wrinkle it puts in my schedule.

Lord, teach me to be a better friend. I want to be a friend like Luke.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV

Tell Your Story

If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story. ~Orson Welles

Share your testimony.

You know you’re supposed to. You really want to. You marvel at those who do.

But you just can’t.

You aren’t an imprisoned serial killer turned Christian. You haven’t given up a lucrative job to work for a non-profit. You haven’t had cancer or lost a loved one.

What do you have to share?

Paul is a great person to imitate. Don’t worry; you don’t have to be flogged, imprisoned, shipwrecked, or martyred.

Paul defended himself before the king, and he started right where all of us start- birth. He was born into a believing household. He studied God and his word.

Continue reading “Tell Your Story”

Nothing Bad to Say

It is not living that matters, but living rightly. ~Socrates

Governor Festus had taken over Felix’s office, and he was confounded about what to do with the prisoner, Paul. King Agrippa and his wife Bernice stopped for a visit and the king offered to hear Paul’s defense.

Festus brought Paul before the royals and explained that the Jews were ready to tear Paul limb from limb, but he, Festus, had been unable to find anything wrong with the man. He had committed no crime, said nothing deserving of death. In fact, if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar he could have been released.

That had to have been music to Paul’s ears.

Paul and Peter were brothers in Christ, apostles sent to different communities but with one purpose. They met on several occasions. I imagine they compared notes, prayed together; we’re told that they confronted and instructed each other.

Their camaraderie must have at one time included a conversation like this:

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority:whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 1 Peter 2:12-15 NIV

Paul had lived his life doing good. He submitted to the authorities, and he received commendations to the king.

How are you living?

Have you given your money to the poor, fed the hungry, and been condemned by brothers and sisters as ‘holier-than-thou’?

Do you tell your children no, screen their emails and chat rooms, and refuse to have cable in the house only to have your children slander you, your friends question your integrity as a parent?

Do you care for your elderly parents, putting off cruises with your own friends, to make sure Mom walks every day and Dad gets to have coffee with his buddies? It’s the right thing to do, but you cringe under the half-concealed anger your friends display.

Paul would understand. He went on to Rome and experienced several years of imprisonment all for doing the right thing.

Take heart; you’re in good company.

Stay strong and do what’s right.

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 1 Peter 2:19 NIV