Category Archives: Blog

What’s In a Name?

A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble. ~Charles Spurgeon

It’s been nearly thirty years, but the memory is vivid.

I sat at the round Formica kitchen table. Pap on my left, Matt across from me. The tv attached to the wall was silent while we ate lunch.

“Why do they call you Abe?” I asked. “Your name is Howard. How do you get Abe out of that?”

Matt’s grandfather peered at me through large brown glasses. Wisps of white hair floated above a mostly bare scalp. He set down his sandwich and frowned.

“Because I have a big nose.”

I laughed.

I hate that I laughed.

It was obvious I had hurt his feelings.

Never in a million years would I have hurt that precious man of God. He was kindness and love wrapped up in gentle quietness.

He was an old man, but my laughter brought back the pain of a child.

Names define us.

Americans spend months choosing just the right name for our children. Some cultures don’t name the child for weeks or months after it is born. The child must deserve the name it is given.

My own name means “Harvester of the Moon.” My Chinese friend chose to call me “Autumn Song.” My father called me “Heifer Foot.”

Which one would you choose?

Do you wear the name tag “Loser?” What about “Rejected,” “Unacceptable,” “Disgusting?”

Do childhood nicknames stab your heart?

Do overheard whispers ring in your ears? Fat. Lazy. Stupid. Worthless.

Do you introduce yourself but think, What a liar.

What if you instead heard “Loved,” “Forgiven,” “Longed For,” “Special,” “Beautiful.” These are the names God the Father has given you.

Will you come running when he calls your name?


The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
    and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
    and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
    and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
    and your land shall be married. Isaiah 62:2-4 ESV

Hopefully Devoted to You

There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in – that we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible. ~Mother Teresa

It was 34 degrees with a light breeze, the best weather forecast for the week. I layered my long johns, 2 pair of socks, scarf, earmuffs, hat, and gloves and then stepped out on the beach.

Heading south I walked into the sun, a glare on the water blinding my view. A couple walking their dog stopped to chat with another dog owner. I kept walking, clipping along at a pace sure to warm my blood.

Sea gulls and pelicans floated above the water, gliding and squawking over my head. I stopped to watch a lone gull peck at a fish.

A large group of gulls gathered in a tidal pool dipping and splashing for their daily bath. They seemed to be enjoying their personal hygiene ritual. I shivered and walked on.

Mark is a personal trainer at my gym. I was listening to him coach a member while I squeezed weights with my thighs.

“Were you sore last time? Good, good. You should always be sore.”

I couldn’t help myself . . . “Are you sore?”

He looked over at me, surprise etched on his face.

“Yes. I’m always sore. You aren’t getting stronger if you aren’t sore.”

He went on to tell us that the last time he didn’t work out was five years ago when he ate some bad oysters.

Five years. Daily workouts. I shook my head and moved on to leg presses.

What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning? Your kids? Your job?

Do you rise early so you can run before work?

Maybe you stay late after school to work on lesson plans.

Do your hands ache from too much knitting, your eyes from too much reading, or your legs from too much walking?

Do you spend every waking hour thinking about the way words flow together, singing until you’re hoarse, or painting into the wee hours of morning?

Devotion costs us. It costs physical comfort- like bathing in freezing cold water or exercising until you are sore. It costs us sleep, opportunities for other pleasures, and time for other pursuits.

Devotion takes time, energy, effort, even money.

But it rewards with excellence, knowledge, ability, and excitement.

What are you devoted to? How can you tell?


Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body has finished with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.  1 Peter 4:1-2 NIV

10 Things I Learned This Fall

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. ~Albert Einstein

We are in the middle of a very deep cold snap. Winter is past its first holiday. A new year has begun, and we are all feeling reflective. Here are a few things I learned this fall.

  1. Skimm. Two m’s. I work very early in the morning and never get to see the news. I noticed I had no clue what people in society were talking about. It was making me feel, well, clueless. Enter Skimm. It’s a great news source that gives you the world’s news highlights in ten minutes or less. I only manage to read the daily version about twice a week, so I’m not as informed as most, but I think it’s helping me rejoin society.

2. The Instant Pot. It was the go-to gift this Christmas according to my friends and Facebook feed. Mine came mid-autumn because it was on sale and my husband is diligent about reading his email advertisements. My goal was to have another crock pot that was light weight. It sort of – kind of met that requirement. The pot is lightweight, but the actual machine not so much. I need to make room for it on a lower shelf. It has  a learning curve, but once you get it, you’ll likely enjoy the Instant Pot. My favorite part? Hot soup in half an hour that tastes like it simmered all day.

3. When the wood floor looks discolored, try poking it with your finger. I thought the bathroom flooring was just discolored or water damaged. Turns out we were about to fall through the floor. Talk about being dethroned! A talented friend came to the rescue and installed new ceramic flooring that looks like wood. I LOVE it. And we have a new toilet, too. Still queen at this house.

4. I can install a shower head. Actually, I have installed shower heads before, but this one has special features- dual shower heads. Get one. Right now. You can thank me later.

5. Wendell Berry writes poetry. I know; I’m late to the party on this one. I became acquainted with Wendell Berry this summer when I read some of his Port William books. I love his descriptions and especially his ability to bring a character to life. Maybe it’s because he writes in Appalachia that I feel so comfortable with his characters. But it was his poetry that first brought Mr. Berry fame. He writes of farming and nature and the spirit and how they all intermingle to create miracles.

6. I need a day off. I’ve been learning that for years and years. Just when I think I understand the importance, I’m struck with the need to work more. For the past year I have been working six days a week and then on Sunday, umm . . . Preacher’s Wife. In November, I finally forced myself to commit to a day off and it has been exactly what God commanded.

7. I am as English as you can get and not be from England. Due to some unfortunate prejudice issues in my son’s life, we decided to take a DNA test. It turns out that I am almost completely English. My husband is related to King Louis XVI. Good thing we got that throne fixed.

8. I have a student who can trace his family tree back to something BC. He told me the date, but it escapes me. Might have been 500 BC. That blows my mind. I must keep better records. Tax season will be here soon. Ugh.

9. The after-writing part of writing is as grueling as the actual writing. I’m looking for endorsements for a Bible study now. Anyone want to read a Bible study on John?

10. Some park rangers play Jazz. New Orleans is a city of surprises. The Jazz National Historical Park has free concerts every day, and while there are often famous musicians, there are also days when the fill-ins are the rangers. And after you listen to the jazz concert, take a tour of the cemeteries. You’ll learn so much you’ll be writing your own blog post.


The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. Proverbs 18:15 NIV

 

The Christ, Part 4

As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Luke 1:44 NIV

You won’t be in a group of women for very long before the baby stories begin. It’s what unites so many women. It’s what perpetuates mankind.

Stories of cars that don’t make it to the hospital, babies born in elevators, and “Surprise! It’s twins!” Stories of hurricane power outages, friends delivering the precious package, and fainting fathers.

But not every woman has those stories.

Some women are childless. Some women lose their children. Some stories are sad, painful, heartbreaking.

When you hear “The Christmas Story,” you are listening to Luke’s gospel. Did you ever wonder why Luke has more detail around the birth of Jesus than any of the other gospels?

Mary.

That’s right. Mary.

As much as he could, Luke went to the sources for his stories. One of his main sources was Mary, the mother of Jesus.

And what do mothers love to tell?

Birthday stories. Exciting things about their kids. What people said about their child. Predictions about their special one. And that time he got lost and she was so nervous and upset, but he was riding the escalator oblivious to all the panic . . .

But Luke tells other stories, too.

Stories of childless women, crippled women, poor women. He tells about foreigners healed by Jesus, rich men who don’t make it to heaven, and poor men who are welcomed by the king. He tells about common folk called to be the companions of Christ.

Luke wants to let everyone know that this Light from Heaven, this Suffering Servant, this King of Kings, is the Savior of All.

You don’t have to have the perfect story. You don’t have to have the perfect kids, the perfect home, the perfect job.

In fact, you don’t have to be perfect.

Because he was perfect for you.


While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple,praising God. Luke 24:51-53 NIV

The Christ, Part 3

‘The time has come,’ the walrus said, ‘to talk of many things: of shoes and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages and kings.’ ~Lewis Carroll

Last week the new season of ‘The Crown’ came out on Netflix. The series follows Queen Elizabeth’s reign in Britain. The glamour, the glitz, the war and worry, the ups and downs. She’s had it all.

The modern world views royalty as celebrity. We watch what they wear, who they date, what they name their babies. A royal wedding inspires fashions and photos; a royal death inspires love songs and lullabies.

But historically, being royal was dangerous work. You led the army against the enemies. You fought the dragons and the sea serpents. You laid down your life for your subjects.

A king, a strong king, was the salvation of the country.

Matthew’s gospel announces a king. Matthew begins with the lineage that highlights Jesus’s relation to the throne. Then he tells us that the current king was so fearful of this new king that he tried to assassinate him. Other kings, “wise men”, came to pay homage to this greater king. How did they find this new king? He was announced in the stars- divinely appointed as all true kings are.

When the wise men came they asked, “Where is the king?” John the Baptist announced “the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus also preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” People questioned whether Jesus could be the “Son of David,” the most notable king of Israel. A little while later, a mother declared that Jesus is the Son of David. And then he came riding into town on a donkey’s colt, the traditional sign of a peaceful king.

In the end, the governor asked if he was the king. Soldiers mockingly called him “King.” And finally, his title was written on the cross above his head. “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

He did exactly what a king is supposed to do.

He laid down his life for his subjects.

Bow before your king.

“Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king.”

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth. Zechariah 9:9-10 NIV

The Christ, Part 2

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival. ~Winston Churchill

Christmas is a happy time- angels, children, gifts, singing. It’s peace, joy, hope, and love. Christmas is God’s graciousness and mercy. Fa la la and ringing bells. Sleigh rides, snowmen, and hot chocolate.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

But Mark doesn’t have time for all that.

The first 15 verses of Mark are rapid fire. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Isaiah predicts his coming, John says he’s coming, and then, BOOM, there he is!

Jesus comes down from Nazareth to be baptized. John is arrested, Jesus is tempted, and “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

What? No manger? No singing angels? No PRESENTS!?

No.

Mark is writing to a group of Christians who understand persecution. They’re being rounded up, taken from their homes, and set on fire to light Nero’s garden at night. They are the Christmas lights.

For Mark’s readers, it’s important to know that Christ also suffered.

He lost his family. He lost his friends. He faced ridicule, hatred, and persecution. He suffered at the hands of men and of Satan. His suffering was mental, emotional, and physical.

Mark spends his book writing about this suffering savior, and then he ends it this way:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

Jesus’s birth was announced by angels, and everyone came to see the miracle. His resurrection was also announced by angels, and people ran to hide.

As you celebrate Jesus’s birth this month, enjoy the glamour and gift-giving, the cookies and crafts, the parties and punch.

But don’t forget that Jesus also suffered so that one day we can enjoy the ultimate celebration. Be sure to tell the end of the story this Christmas, too.

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.


And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:37-39 ESV

The Christ, Part 1

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. ~Og Mandino

My father proposed to my mother while they were out looking at Christmas lights. It became a family tradition every year to drive around town looking at the twinkling colors.

It was a tradition I continued with my own family. Though I don’t decorate for the holidays, every year we drive through the neighborhoods looking at the lights. In some places we have lived we have even visited special light shows.

Darkness falls like cold black waters in late December, but the Christmas lights offer warmth and hope.

John’s gospel opens with such a light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John mentions light many times in his book.

Nicodemus, a member of the Ruling Council, came to Jesus at night, cloaked in darkness to avoid being seen. He talks with Jesus, wanting clarification of who Jesus is. Jesus answers with the famous lines- For God so loved the world that he gave his only son- and then spoke light into Nicodemus’s world-  “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light . . .” (John 3:1-21)

The Morning Star continued . . .

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:5)

John details a miraculous healing in chapter 9. A man born blind is healed and can see for the first time in his life. The Pharisees and rulers are baffled about what to do. They see the man in front of them, but they don’t see the God who healed him. Jesus says now it is the Pharisees who are blind. They have no light.

And as Jesus prepares to be handed over to death he tells his disciples, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light . . . so that you may become children of light.” (12:35-36)

John ends his book with the resurrection of Jesus. It is dark, just before dawn, and Mary Magdalene has gone to anoint the body with herbs and spices. It will be her last act of reverence for the one she believed was the Christ.

Only, his body isn’t there.

As the day dawns, and light floods the garden, Mary recognizes the risen Lord.

“I have seen the Lord!” she declares to all who will listen.

December is dark. Night comes early. Coldness descends. But lights break through the darkness reminding us that Jesus came into the world.

Have you seen the Christmas Light?


The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2 ESV

Gifts of Thanks

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~William Arthur Ward

He was a scrawny little guy with a head too big for his body. A definite descendant of Calvin the comic strip if ever Calvin grew old enough to marry Susie.

Dad had skipped town with another woman. His mother was all he had. She was a great mother; she took him to ball games, caught frogs in the reservoir, and told bedtime stories with gore and goo.

He loved his mom.

He loved her so much he was saving acorns in his desk for her.

As autumn turned into winter the strange odor seeping from his desk drew my attention. The acorns were filled with maggots.

I explained in no uncertain terms that the acorns were to be thrown away and the desk thoroughly washed.

He was devastated.

Those acorns were his gift to his mother. He didn’t see the maggots; he saw the great joy that he had picking them up during recesses, plopping them in his pants’ pockets, squirreling them away in the pencil box. He knew his mother would love them.

I knew she would not.

Then I became a mother.

As a mother of boys, I was gifted rocks, sea shells, worms, even a dead mole. I was regaled with fantasies, jokes, and riddles. I was serenaded, hugged, and kissed with sticky, filthy fingers and faces. Occasionally I even received a fistful of flowers.

I loved every single gift.

Why?

Because they were given in love and appreciation. Something my boys valued was freely sacrificed and offered to me.

I didn’t need any of the gifts my sons gave me, but I treasured them like a Kindergartner’s maggot-filled acorns.

God doesn’t need anything you give him. But if you freely offer him a gift, He will accept it with tears of pride and joy glistening on his cheeks.

What will you offer God this week?


Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV

Love Eternal

A pen never knows what it will write, a brush never knows what it will paint and a chisel never knows what it will sculpt. When God takes someone into his hands in order to accomplish a new work in his Church, the person doesn’t know what she will do. I think this might be my case: I’m only the tool. ~Chiara Lubich

A year ago I began working with a company in Beijing. I love the job, but it means my work schedule is a bit earlier than most Americans. Because of that, I haven’t seen the news in a year.

I now subscribe to a news source that provides a quick read of what’s going on in the world. I can usually get through it in ten minutes or so and have a basic idea of what is happening here and abroad.

Sometimes I regret that.

A few days ago I read through the headlines and fell to my knees in prayer. Poland was having a Supremacy March. An earthquake in Iran and Iraq killed hundreds of people just as winter is beginning. Thousands have been killed in the Philippines drug trade. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen are starving people and threatening war. Women are coming forward in unprecedented numbers to expose sexual harassment and exploitation.

The world is a tragic, sinful place.

In the early 1940’s a young Italian woman also fell to her knees. Chiara Lubich wondered what it would be like if everyone showed love. In a world where bombs fell because of hatred and greed, Chiara wanted love and peace to fall instead. Her desire turned into a movement- Focolare -that is practiced in 182 countries today.

What do they do?

Show love 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Love neighbors, enemies, strangers, and brothers.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Chiara will be remembered for the love she showed and the movement she created.

God doesn’t ask us to start a movement that circles the world. He asks us to love, right where we are.

My grandmother will be remembered for years because she sent food to a family who had less than her own. My grandfather is remembered for saying hello to everyone he met on the street. My friend, Larry, will be remembered for extending a hand of friendship to criminals and druggies. I have friends that I will always remember for asking about my children, for helping me with needs, for listening, for praying, for being inside my life instead of on the edges.

You don’t have to stop a war. You don’t have to rescue disaster victims. You don’t even have to start a movement.

You do have to love the least of these. (Mt. 25:40)

What have you done today to love?


And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-32 NIV

To the Work

No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better. ~Jim Yong Kim

“Some people hold up signs saying ‘Will work for food’. If you think about it, that’s like slavery.”

It was a conversation with an eleven year old and he was talking about things to be thankful for. I’m guessing he isn’t thankful for work. I know he’d rather play video games or watch a football game than finish his schoolwork.

The thing is, a lot of people feel like their work, their job, is slavery. Toil, struggle, unfulfilling, just a paycheck.

Jesus tells his followers that their work is to believe in the one he has sent.

Hardly seems like work, right?

Until you start to understand what believing in him means.

Belief in Jesus means that you care for the sick. You visit the widow and give to the poor. You pray for your enemy. You have compassion even when you are tired. You carry your cross daily.

Belief is a lot of work. And belief is something you do all the time. Even at work- your job.

Are you a nurse or doctor? Do you pray with or for your patients? Do you go the extra mile to make sure they are taken care of once they are home?

Teachers, do you show your students how to care for others? Do they see you check on other teachers and offer a helping hand?

Mechanics, do you help neighbors with repairs?

Artists, film makers, and authors do you insist on quality that glorifies God? Do you share your talents with nonprofits, the church, or kids’ summer camps?

Waiters, are you patient with the noisy couple and their toddlers? Do you offer smiles and encouragement?

Prison guards, do you extend Christ’s love to your wards?

Peter tells us to live as free people, but not to take advantage of our freedom. We are to live as slaves to Christ. (1 Peter 2:16)

Are you a slave of the Master? Even at work?


Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8 NIV