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Good Night, Sweet Prince

17155323_10212514174588571_3581718803438938048_nSince my kids were very young, we have always had pets in the house. A dog, 4 cats, 4 guinea pigs, gerbils, chameleons and fish. A lot of fur, a lot of pine bedding, and I could have done without the weekly purchase of crickets. But they learned compassion in caring for another living creature. It was so worth it all to see my kids playing with the dog or snuggling with a cat. Over the years we have had to say goodbye to them all and each goodbye brought the tears of grief that spring from a heart that has loved much.

Today we said our goodbyes to our last fur baby – a 14 year old grey and white cat 20170414_094941named Smokey (whom I came to call “the Prince”). He was your run of the mill domestic short hair cat but he had the softest fur you can imagine. He was very shy when all the other animals were around but as each one slipped away we would see Smokey’s personality change and he would become more outgoing. He spent the last 18 months of his life as an only fur baby and during that time he was the most affectionate sweetie you could imagine. It turns out that he was one of those animals who do not like to share their people and he should have been an “only cat” all along. I am so grateful that we got to see his true personality come out in his senior years.16473075_10212257314687234_3889801842831162922_n

Today, as I mourn the loss of a beloved family pet, I cannot help but think of the church service that I will be going to later this evening to contemplate the death of my Savior. And out of that death – new life.

 

 

Out of sacrifice – another chance for us all.

Out of pain and sorrow – the sweetness of promised salvation.

Today, I mourn. But in three days…….

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Dancing in the Waves

beach-2A storm had blown up the coast a few days before and the ocean was still reeling from the power of that wind. The surf was rough and the waves could knock a grown man down. From my sand chair, I watched a little girl of about 5 or 6 as she jumped in delight as the water came close to her toes. Her mom was keeping a close watch on her as she danced at the water’s edge. She reminded me of the sandpipers who scratch about as the tail end of a wave thins out on the sand. They follow the wave as it retreats. Then, just as the water p1020687regroups and slams another wave upon the sand, the little birds scatter before the water only to follow the waves retreat in an endless cycle. I find myself chasing down memories of my own children playing in the surf. I can reach back even further to my own childhood spent on a New Jersey beach. It was a little game of “You Can’t Catch Me!” that we played with the waves, running in just enough to get our toes wet and then scampering back to the safety of dry sand. What we really wanted was to ride those waves but we were too small to risk it, especially if the waves were rougher than normal. So this little girl flung her arms above her head and spun her feet into the sand and jumped high just as the edge of the wave crept close.

beachAs we get older and learn the art of keeping our balance and diving through the waves, we forget about that childhood dance that had kept us entertained for hours. But I was watching this child and remembering how it felt, a curious thought struck me. We still love to tempt fate. We still get a thrill out of leaning into risky behavior just enough to get our feet wet and pull out just in time. Why else would we gather round to watch a schoolyard fight before stepping in to stop it? Even something as innocent as window shopping takes us dangerously close to coveting. Most of us consider speed limits to be suggestions rather than a law and have no trouble driving just fast enough to still be under the radar.

Why, O Lord, do you put up with us? Why do you continue to love us when we are so reckless? You offer shelter and we turn our back, wanting to feel the exhilaration of the storm right up to the moment that the lighting gets too close and we are forced to run for cover. And still you will hold your arms out to gather your wayward children in. As we dance before the waves, You love us. As we grow into other, more dangerous thrills, You still love us. You provided us with questioning minds that always wonder, “What if I do that? What would happen?” And in this way scientists have invented, artists have dreamed and explorers have crashed forth into adventures that expanded the boundaries of our knowledge. Guide us, O Lord, as we continue to dance at the water’s edge and never let a wave go by unchallenged.

Dance on, little one! Your time will come.

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just a mom musing on Mother’s Day

mother's dayTruth be told, I never really wanted to have kids. I figured it would happen eventually, but I wasn’t in any real hurry. I only started to feel that maternal itch when my friends started to have babies. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my firstborn that I realized what I really wanted. I wanted to hold that child. Everything in my heart and soul yearned to hold that baby in my arms.  Over the course of those nine months, I changed from a carefree adult to a MOM (yes, in capitals letters). And I loved the change both in my body and in my way of thinking and how I approached the world.

When my daughter was finally born, I couldn’t get over how beautiful she was. We snuggled constantly in those first few months. I fretted over how much she ate and was frantic to decipher each little cry or whimper.

By her first birthday, I was already planning ahead for the next one. Now that I had the hang of this baby thing, I wanted a whole houseful of kids. My husband and I went house shopping and found an older home with four bedrooms and a huge backyard that would be perfect for the large family that we were anticipating. But, sometimes, things don’t work out the way you plan. Sometimes God throws you a curve and you find yourself struggling to keep up. We would lose our second child to Marfan’s Syndrome, a disease marked by a fatal defect of the heart. That tragedy was quickly followed by the birth of our third child, a healthy and handsome boy. We hadn’t had much time to breathe, let alone grieve. Undeterred, we continued to try to expand our little family but it didn’t quite work out that way.

My two beautiful little ones grew and grew. They started pre-school and then made the jump to Kindergarten. Although I would not have any more babies, I managed to raise one dog, four cats, and assorted tropical fish. I was also called in as consultant by my kids to help with their four guinea pigs, gerbils and chameleons. And through it all, I kept the baby clothes, high chair and play swing neatly stored in the attic. I still had dreams. You might think that with all this going on I would have laid aside those dreams, but not so. I still would have loved to have had just one more baby. To fill the gap, I volunteered to help with Children’s Ministry events, Youth Group and Sunday School at church. It was around this time that I noticed a curious thing starting to happen. As much as I doted on my kids, I always had room in my heart to genuinely care for the little ones at church.  I’d plan lessons and games for my Sunday School class and couldn’t wait to share what I was learning in Scripture with other people’s children on Sunday mornings. And then I figured it out. Though I had wanted a whole houseful of kids, I wasn’t going to get that. Instead, I was getting a whole churchful of kids. And I started to realize that my dreams weren’t big enough for the plans that God had for me.

It seems like God’s plans began where my dreams fell short. Now I can see that He has given me the best of both worlds. Two young adults at home, whom I love and adore, plus all the kids at church to love and play with. As I prepare for my youngest one’s high school graduation, I continue to teach Sunday School and volunteer at kid’s events. We laugh and play and learn together about this wonderful God whose plans are always so much better than anything that I could have ever dreamt about.

I wanted a houseful…

He gave me a churchful…

Not a bad deal when you think about it.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Not just for kids

4 kids readingI think that the first stories that I learned as a child were Bible stories. They were stories of adventure and courage. Stories of people in far away places who got to do amazing things, like sailing the sea with all those animals or battling giants. And through it all was a loving God who was overseeing everything this world has to offer. Looking back over those stories with adult eyes gives us a different perspective of those old favorites.

Adam and Eve -a story of Grace

We teach this story of Creation and focus on God’s power and authority but upon closer inspection we start to see the story of grace starts right here in the beginning of Genesis. They never asked to be created yet they were brought forth and placed in a garden paradise. They had done nothing to gain them any reward, yet they were given animal companions and all the food they could eat without having to earn any of it. Even in their disobedience, they were shown grace and given another place to live – the world we live in today which as difficult as it can be is still a very beautiful place. If grace can be defined as being given what you do not deserve, then this story is a picture of God’s grace to his creation, undeserving though we may be.

Cain and Abel – a story of justice

This story is a dark one but we teach it to our little ones as a cautionary tale. These two brothers were each cut from very different cloth. Abel kept flocks and Cain worked the land. While Abel was grateful to God for all he had, Cain seems rather indifferent. When God smiles upon Abel but not Cain, Cain responds with jealousy towards his brother and anger towards God. God first warns Cain that his angry thoughts will head him down the wrong path. Cain ignores the warning and eventually murders his brother in a jealous rage. Here we see God’s justice at work. Justice for Abel in Cain’s punishment but also justice for Cain. His disobedience drives him from God’s presence, but his story doesn’t end there. The Bible records Cain’s family tree where we find people like Jubal, the father of all musicians. Only God could bring something as beautiful as music from a family rooted in something as ugly as murder. God’s justice is designed to bring us the hope of restoration.

Noah’s Ark – a story of compassionnoah

What kid didn’t have a story book showing all the animals lining up two by two or was told to look for rainbows after a storm. This story is a favorite for many reasons. It captures kids’ imaginations with it’s images of exotic animals and high seas adventure but it is much more than that. It’s a story of God’s compassion on His whole creation. Noah is introduced as being the only righteous man in a world that had strayed very far from its Creator. God will destroy the corrupted earth and basically start over but goes about it in a very unusual way. Noah instructed to build a huge boat that will save his family and all the animals from the coming calamity. Yet, the building of this ship will take a very long time and as Noah is gathering supplies and constructing the boat, his neighbors would have had to notice what was happening. This  would give many an opportunity to question and possibly repent. Sadly none did, but the chance was always open to them. Those who did enter the ark, were the only people on earth who were willing to place themselves in God’s hands. And of course, there is the rainbow at the end of the story. The ultimate sign of God’s compassion for his people. Compassion is described as loving someone enough to share in whatever they suffer. This is how God loves. Scripture records how He cries over our sinfulness, always holding out that offer of forgiveness. We can see how God cares for and protects Noah and his family through one of the darkest times in human history. And surprisingly, we can see how God has compassion on the very people who have brought about this darkness.

david and goliathDavid and Goliath – A story of obedience

Who doesn’t love a good “kill the evil gaint” story? Isn’t it great when you see the underdog emerge victorious? We all  love a classic good vs. evil battle and this story delivers. David, the youngest of his family, has watched all of his  brothers join the army to fight the Philistines. David himself must have wanted to go but he is too young. He stays on the family farm and helps his dad take care of things at home. Then dad send David out to where the army is encamped with bread and cheese for the soldiers instructing David to come back with news of his brothers. While at the emcampment, David hears Goliath, the giant Philistine, threaten the Hebrew army and the rest is history. While this is certainly a story of faith and courage, it is also a story of the importance of obedience. I’m sure that David thought often of his older brothers and looked up to them as they defended the homeland. More than anything, I’ll just bet that he wanted to be with them and fight the Philistines. But he obeyed his father and stayed home. In fact, he only shows up at the battlefield as an act of obedience to his father by delivering sandwiches to his big brothers. He will not be given the opportunity to fight the giant until after he obeys. When we make obedience to God a bedrock principle of our lives, we might be surprised at what God will build upon it. After all, He made David, who started out as a delivery boy, the greatest king of Israel.

Jonah and the Big Fish – a story of Mercyjonah

I always found this one a little disturbing. Jonah is thrown overboard into a stormy sea, swallowed by a large fish and then vomited up on the beach. Disgusting! But that’s the only parts a kid generally remembers and there is much more to it. Simply put, Jonah tries to run away from God but God turns him around. Jonah has to tell the Ninevites to repent and they do. Jonah now sulks because he thought the city deserved punishment from God and can’t understand why God is forgiving them. Jonah was happy when God gave him another chance but apparently doesn’t want to extend that same courtesy to the people of Nineveh. Mercy is not something that comes naturally to us. We can understand the concept of justice but His mercy often confuses us. Mercy is the very nature of God. Though we all deserve death (sorry to be so blunt), God offers us life and that is what mercy is all about. God shows mercy to Jonah, the Ninevites and you and I.

The Bible – a story of love

All these stories have a central theme that runs through them. They speak of a love that is beyond the limits of this earth – the love of God. As I read through these stories again and again, I gain new insights. We may first learn these stories as kids but when we relearn them as adults, we can see so much more.2 kids reading


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We Don’t Always Get to Teach the Lesson We Planned, Do We?

100_4574Saturday afternoon it was snowing and the report for Sunday called for bitter cold and high winds. Even though I was safe and warm inside, i was not happy about this storm. It had been a long winter already and this wasn’t going to make spring come any faster. On top of that, I had a great lesson, complete with cool object lessons, lined up for my Sunday school class the next day and was excited to present it to the kids.  Now i couldn’t be sure if any kids would even show up. As i fell asleep that night, I prayed that God would either bring the families to church or give me an alternate plan for the few stragglers that would brave the elements the next morning. I didn’t get much sleep as the predicted winds blew around the house all night. There was only a few inches of accumulated snow but the drifts and ice patches were still a problem. So I prayed, “Lord, these are your kids. What would you like me to do with them in church today?” As I bowed my head, wisps of verses dealing with wind started to flit through my mind. “Of course”, I thought, “talk about what’s going on. Talk about the wind.”

And that’s what happened. I scrapped my carefully planned lesson, and started searching out the verses that mentioned wind to see where it would lead me. I found that in the Old Testament, God used wind alot as a symbol for not just His power, but also to show how He protects and helps us. In Genesis 8:1, wind made the waters recede so that Noah and his family could leave the ark. In Exodus 10:19, wind brought a plague of locusts in Egypt. It was a wind that blew all night which caused the Red Sea to split so the Isrealites could escape Pharoah. When they were hungry in the desert, God caused a wind to blow quail off course and straight into the cooking fires of the Israelites in Numbers 11:31. The references to wind went on and on. In each case, it showed God’s strength, power and might as He protected His people. All except for one curious passage.

In 1 Kings 19:9-13, The prophet Elijah is running for his life. Jezebel has demanded his life and Elijah’s only recourse was to hide in the desert. God has sent his angels to watch over him and lead him to a safe place to rest. While hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb, God speaks to him. God directs Elijah to “go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about the pass by.” A wind so powerful it tears the mountains apart roars by, but God is not present in that wind. An earthquake shakes the mountain, but God is not there. A fire came, yet still, God is not there. Finally, a gentle whisper and God speaks. The class and I looked at these verses and wondered why God used the might of nature to show Himself earlier, yet here makes a point out of not being in the impressive storm, quake or fire. While theologians with much more knowledge than I have written of Elijah’s mountaintop experience, I purposely kept things simple and told the class that one of the things that God was doing was to give a foreshadowing of Jesus. Yes, He certainly can use the power of the natural world to get our attention, but I really do think that here, He is letting us see that the time is coming when He will change the relationship with mankind and we will be able to have a personal relationship in which communication will include a quiet vioce speaking into our souls. Prayer will become a conduit of that voice and a two -way conversation with the LORD that did not normally happen in Elijah’s time.

With the exception of Elijah’s story, God has used wind in the Old Testament as a symbol of his power and for the defense of his people. I didn’t bring it up in class as we were running out of time, but there are also numerous verses that speak of wind separating wheat from chaff. This is used as a picture of how God will cause the enemies of Israel to be scattered before them. There are other references to wind as something to be feared but those references were outnumbered by the verses in which God uses the imagery of wind for His glory.

Next we turned to the New Testament. I settled on only two references in the New Testament though there were many to choose from. We looked at Mark 4:39 where Jesus stilled the wind and waves for his frightened disciples. This wind has caused dangerous conditions for the men as they sailed but Jesus calms their fears as he stops the waves. This and other wind references in the New Testament, use wind as a danger to be protected from and which Jesus is able to control.  God is still using wind to show his power but in a different way. Here He is controlling dangerous situations to protect his people.

Lastly we read James 1:6 which uses wind as a metaphor to show how doubts can cause you to be tossed about as a man with no stable base for his life, a dangerous situation indeed. This led to discussion of what winds are blowing today that may cause the base of your life to be unstable. What problems might you be dealing with? What doubts might you have, often caused by the shifting winds of our present culture. Look at any magazine cover, newspaper, movies or TV shows and you will see that what is considered PG today was not just a few years ago. And this slippery slope of morality continues to erode away under us. That is the wind that we are battling today and my students are right in the thick of that battle. The class and I were able to engage in some great discussions and they were asking thoughtful questions.

I had one more story for the class, a personal one. Most of my students were born just after the infamous 9/11 terrorist attack on our country. I shared with them my memories of the day and how it changed our country’s perception of safety and taught us fear. But I remember vividly what happened one year later. There was much concern as the one year anniversary approached that there might be another attack. That morning as my kids and I stood at the end of the driveway waiting for the school bus we were buffeted by a crazy wind that was the result of a low pressure system meeting a storm to the south of us. Not a drop of rain – but we had bright blue skies with incredibly high winds that had my young children holding on for dear life as we waited for that bus. As I stood there, trying to help them stand up under their backpacks, I couldn’t help but think that God was sending us a message. It seemed to say, “Don’t worry. Though you are scared, I am still in control. Just see how mighty my wind can be.” It was strangely comforting. Later that morning, several other moms called me and we all were amazed that we had gotten the same thought as we were standing in that whirlwind of a bustop with our kids. “Don’t worry, I am still here. I will protect my children”. Whether He is showing us His mighty arm or quieting us to hear his words, He is God and windy days are times to think on Him who holds the winds at the four corners of the earth. Think of his might, his protection, his quiet voice. Remember that he is still here. From Elijah’s whirlwind to the storms of the Galilean seas to the wind patterns tracked by the Weather Channel today, He is still here, controlling everything from a spring breeze to hurricane’s howl. He is here. Emmanuel.


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Lessons I Learned From My Kids

Kids know a good thing when they see it. Imagine the scene – so many children running up to Jesus that the disciples feel they must step in and stop them. Sort of like protecting the Good Humor man when he rolls his truck into the neighborhood! Jesus encourages the children to come forward and holds back his well-meaning desciples with a sharp rebuke. He tells them that they can only receive the kingdom of heaven if they can do so as a child. Strange advice to give grown men, but Jesus is referring to the absolute openness and trusting love of  kids. Children always see the wonder of life while adults see the pitfalls. As a child, I recall the Jersey shore boardwalk as a magical place of pure fun. The store lights twinkled like stars and the smells of caramel popcorn, salt-water taffy and warm-from-the-griddle waffles and ice cream would make your mouth water. Going back to the shore as an adult, I saw every splinter in the aging wooden walk (I walked it barefoot as a kid!), the twinkling stars were really gaudy neon and the sweet smells could be nauseateing if the wind was right. However, as I looked at my kids, they were fairly quivering with excitement as we paused to get our bearings. The amusement parks, concession stands and souvenir shops are as exciting to them as I remember them being to me way back when.

That’s what happens as you get older, though. You no longer see all things as being possible, but instead can point out every possible problem. Case in point: kids choose bike helmets for the cool colors and designs while parents look at the safety rating. I remember my kids  sleigh riding each winter in our backyard. They stood at the top of the hill, surveying the slalom-style run that their dad had helped them with and dreamt of the best sleigh ride ever. As I watched them, I was mentally navigating all the roads and intersections between my drive way and the nearest emergency room. Children are innocent wonderment: adults are jaded and cynical. Children see the entire world opening before them, adults see only obstacles. No wonder Jesus instructs us to become more like children. Faith is a matter of the heart and their hearts are still soft and supple, not yet scarred and clogged with cholestrol.

The Bible give us many examples of such uncluttered, simple faith. There’s David, dancing for all his might before the ark. His joy is uninhibited in the same way that my son would run through a sprinkler on a hot summer day. He’s not worried about the water being too cold, or tripping over a tree root, or stepping on a bee. He’s just running for sheer joy. Look at Mary, whose trusting response to the angel is a simple “May it be as you have said”. I would have had a lot more to say to that angel and not much of it would have been exactly positive.

Of course, there is the outspoken side of childhood, too. I’m reminded of Peter at the Last Supper. When Jesus washed the apostle’s feet, he was giving them a two-fold lesson in humility and unconditional love. The apostles didn’t understand and were shocked by Jesus’ actions (you’d think they would know better by know, but some things never change- even today). Peter is the only one to ask the question that they are all thinking, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” It is too humiliating to think of his Lord and Master crouching down to massage his dirty toes. But Jesus assures him that even though he doesn’t understand, he should allow Jesus to do this thing. It will become clear to him later. Still Peter refuses; in fact he gives Jesus an outright “No!” Jesus explains that unless Peter sticks out those troublesome feet of his and allows Jesus to perform this act of service, Peter cannot enjoy the fellowship of his Master. Looking back through history, we can see the symbolic overtones. This act of humble love will be eclipsed by Jesus’ ultimate act of love and service on the cross. Unless we accept that Jesus’ death was a gift to reconcile us to Himself then we can have no fellowship with Him. Peter, lacking the benefit of such hindsight, has no idea of what Jesus is talking about, but he recognizes that rejection of Jesus in not an option. With the exuberance of a child who doesn’t know what he’s getting into but still jumps headfirst anyway, Peter offers his whole body to Jesus.

These are examples which God has set before us. These three people are open, loving, trusting, hopeful and totally focused on God. Our own children continue the lesson today. They exhibit such excitement about God’s creation whether they are catching fireflies in a jar or snowflakes on their tongues. So I’ve been trying to spend more time with kids, not just my own but the neighborhood kids, church kids, school kids. Maybe by hanging out with these children, I can catch a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about. Maybe, just maybe I will see Mary or David or Peter as they clamor up the back steps to ask for more Kool-Aid and another bag of popcorn. Maybe, just maybe my heart will lighten and my eyes will open as I laugh at their silly jokes or revel in their hugs as they come bounding off the school bus. And maybe, just maybe I’ll find myself loosening up and becoming more like them and consequently more like Him.