Category Archives: Faith
“I’m confused.” That is what my church companion whispered to me during the sermon. “If we are not supposed to put our families and jobs first what are we supposed to put first?” It was the Sunday School answer I gave her, “Jesus.” One word whispered to her as the sermon continued.
Earlier there had been a song with the words “Give us clean hands, give us pure hearts, let us not lift our souls to another.” She stated “I don’t know what this means.” There wasn’t the opportunity for discussion, we were singing, and I don’t quite know what I said in response. The comment made me more cognizant of the language used, the religious type church words. Words like idol, sovereign, soul, cleansed, and even worship. Then the Bible passage was about this guy Paul in Ephesus and I could tell she was confused. What did he and this city she had never heard of have to do with God and his son Jesus. She likes Jesus and has accepted what she understands of him. She even loves him some but it’s hard to love someone when you don’t know them well and aren’t quite sure how to learn more about them.
It’s as if she has just tuned in to an amazing story and needs to be filled in.
I wanted to explain more about Jesus and how this guy Paul’s life had been transformed. I wanted to explain what the passage in Acts was about. I wanted to explain how Acts fits into the Bible. I wanted to explain the Bible. I wanted to talk about Jesus. We have talked about Jesus at times, which I’m sure is the reason she asked me to bring her to church. There was some conversation after church trying to explain and understand how she experienced the morning. She wasn’t dissuaded about not fully understanding church or Jesus, she wants to return.
I had a similar experience a few years ago. My friend sat with me in church wondering about the words in a song and the content of the sermon. He asked some questions and I’m sure I muddled through some answers. He liked Jesus too but we’ve had enough conversations that he knows loving Jesus is something different.
It got me to thinking that we have the opportunity to be the pause button on the sermon. Sometimes the sermon is at church from the minister. However at other times the sermon is an act of service, a story, a song, a gift, or a kind word. When we are given the opportunity to pause the sermon and explain it I pray that we have the opportunity to answer “Jesus” but sometimes even a bit more than that. I don’t want to miss that I can hit the pause button to explain the great story of God’s love sent through Jesus to those who have just tuned in.
The snow continues to fall outside the window of parent’s home in Vermont. Miles and miles of white fields lay on the horizon. The night will prove to be brilliant once the clouds clear and the moon shimmers glistening on new snow. Fresh powder always seems to have a mystery of jewels as it sparkles. It’s been much too long since the snow has serenaded us. The world feels expansive with snow covered fields that seem an unending horizon.
In the coming weeks I’ll be moving a couple of towns away after 14 years in the same home. It’s been a wonderful place to live for a variety of reasons, however one reason that I will miss is horizon. Though I live in a town, a village of sorts, my bedroom is on the third floor of a home set on a hill. My bedroom window faces east and the sun regularly wake me up. No neighbors can peak into my windows and my shades are never drawn. Many mornings pinks, oranges, and reds are found on the horizon and it seems the masterpieces have been scripted just for me. I know that just beyond the window lays a village, fields, woods, a beautiful beach and the Atlantic.
Growing up in in Vermont brilliant sunsets are common though were never taken for granted. Whether it is the sun setting over Lake Champlain or settling for the night behind a hill, the canvas is continually changing. It seems it is always improving. Many a day my parents would call to us to see the display of beauty which God was painting. There is also a drive I love to take through the Champlain Valley with the rugged Adirondack Mountains and glimpses of Lake Champlain on one horizon and the soft Green Mountains on the other. Even as a child I knew that this display was magnificent.
On my way to work I drive through conservation and state forest land. Fields lay on both sides with perfectly set trees that solicit dreams of picnics, long walks and carriage rides. Often there are glimpses of deer or in the fall an expansive pumpkin patch. Horses find their way to barns for hay as I attempt to savor a few more minutes without reviewing a list of tasks and crises. My thoughts in the first few miles of this drive typically turn to God who it seems has orchestrated a perfect commute for this girl who longs for the horizon.
When I go too long without a view of the horizon there is something that goes amiss within my soul. My world seems smaller, the possibilities for the future bland, and my restlessness can’t be identified. With the horizon it’s easy to remember there are adventures to be had, relationships yet to be discovered, and a journey that is unfolding. The mystery of horizon is that it is ever changing whether it is jeweled snow, erupting pumpkin patches, dazzling sunsets, spirited sunrises or courageous explorers on a quest. I long to move into the horizon, to take the walks, hike and ski the mountains, kayak the oceans, swim the lakes, and meet those also on the journey. Each day there is new light, colors, people, and beauty to behold. My soul longs for the horizon and what lies ahead. My prayer is to move into the horizon knowing I will not capture it rather allow myself to be captured by the one who created it.
I get out of my car in Boston to attend the Hillsong Concert. I’m with my friend Lyn who is about 20 years my senior. I’ve told her about my friend Joelinda who is not quite 20 years my junior. Joelinda has also heard all about Lyn. Though they have never met they tightly hug each other before I can finish any sort of introduction. Lyn has never been to Chipotle so we venture out for dinner before the concert. Joelinda quickly jokes with Lyn and teases her about this first time Chipotle experience wondering what rock she’s been living under. I can’t help but smile all night as the difference in ages never seems to rise. There is talk about school, worship, family, guys, work, and most importantly Jesus is interwoven through it all. They find other people they know in common and search for connections via smartphones.
My life feels rich as I stand between them in the concert. Joelinda is worshiping with arms wide and heart abandoned. Lyn is learning the words and smiling with joy being in the midst of youth and the Spirit. She’s wearing her Toms, worships with enthusiasm, and fits right in. I smile feeling blessed that my life has become intertwined with these women I admire. Through them I have become a better person. My faith and heart have expanded never to return to the same size.
My thoughts recently have been simple – I don’t want to miss the deep friendship of people at different stages and ages than my own. My life is more complete, deeper, richer, and joyful because of them. If you don’t have a Lyn or a Joelinda in your life I encourage you to find one, two, three or more as your heart and faith will expand, never to return to “regular size.”
I was staying with my parents for a few days this summer right around County Fair time. I love the fair, especially Maple Creemees (in Vermont a soft serve ice cream is called a Creemie, the spelling is negotiable). I also love Maple Cotton Candy, melt in your mouth heaven. However this post isn’t about the fair it’s about going to see my friend Val and her family. The maple delicacies recommends were a bonus added in as pure Vermont Maple products are amazing.
Val and I met at about age 4 or 5. We were both witches for Halloween and our hats seemed to get swapped. We could only determine who the owner was by the remnants of green hair that had attached itself to Val’s hat. I didn’t have a green wig, though hers was an excellent touch. Val and I more officially met when we started 1st grade together and remained classmates for the next 12 years. The first 6 years we were never in a class of more than 13 students so despite Val and I never being “best friends” we know each other well.
Val and I got together at her house. I didn’t ask directions, she has moved into her parent’s old home. I don’t know her address but know the road and that her lawn borders a pond where her 4 year old daughter and 6 year old son fish and look for turtles. They know the difference already between painted and snapping turtles and Val also probably learned this important information before starting 1st grade. On another side note, Val and her husband met because she was a single foster parent to a teenage girl. Her foster daughter gave her teacher Val’s number, a little lie about a requested call, some pursuit, and a marriage ensues.
When I think of the time with Val and her family an image comes to mind – purity. Imagine for a moment dirty children. Not the type that are necessarily caked in mud but ones who have been hard at work playing throughout the day. There have been hands washed, but where hands stop baths eventually must take over elbows, ears, and knees. Her son is bronzed from the sun and a shirt only dons his body when he needs it to walk into a store. Yet purity still comes to mind, especially when I think of her daughter. I’m told I witnessed the third outfit of the day. It was a long green dress with ribbons of pink and purple. Not quite a tutu but a similar material. She ran from back yard to front and insisted on showing me the flips she can do on her swing as her dress fell round her head. She hung upside down feet off the ground while Val seemed unfazed seeing it so many times before. Her older brother doesn’t do the same tricks but commented on how well she does them. Then this 4 year old wonder scampered to the back yard and came bounding back to show us her garter snake. This image I want you to imagine – a bronzed 4 year old girl in a green dress with a snake around her neck and hands petting it like a friend. The garter snake perfectly complements the green in her dress.
There was such joy for me knowing that she is doing what she loves. There is a purity her in her joy and living of life. There is purity in that she is learning and doing what she loves with no pressure from a culture that monetizes little girls’ dreams of a royal court. She doesn’t care that dresses can become dirty and aren’t really made for playing with snakes, turtles, and checking the fishing trap. She loves that she is good at swinging and is getting better at turning herself upside down. She loves snakes and even giving them a quick peck of a kiss before she releases them. When I think of purity and this time with Val I think about her kids and their motives being pure, their joy being pure, their curiosity being pure, and their love for their family being pure. When Jesus said “let the little children come to me” I’m going to imagine a little girl in a green dress with a garter snake to match.
This blog post has been a long time in coming. It was months ago when the lilacs were in bloom that it began to bud in my heart. I don’t own a lilac bush. Someday when I own a home it’s on my list. I grew up in a home where there were 2 lilac bushes. I remember cutting some early in the morning, wrapping the stems in wet paper towels and bring bunches to my elementary school teachers. As a side note I can’t imagine I thought this up on my own and believe I must have been copying one of my fellow schoolmates.
What happens though when you’re an adult, don’t own a lilac tree and love fresh cut lilacs in your home? What happens when your dear neighbor in her 90’s who lives in her own lilac-less apartment loves lilacs as well? It’s clear you must find and acquire enough to spread the aroma through not one but two apartments. So each spring I set out to my usual locations to see if the lilacs are plentiful. There is a spot where I need to walk ½ a mile down a path and bend the upper branches down to retrieve the lilacs reaching for the sun. A town park down the road has planted a few bushes in the last few years. I assist the town in pruning. A few miles away there is a home with at least 50 feet worth of lilac bushes planted like a fence between their yard and the sidewalk. I believe the sidewalk is public property and therefore so are the lilacs. A new location was found this year on what I thought was a state park, since that time I’m still debating if it is private property. I feel a little strange about the next location, a cemetery. But I go and prune a bit there as well. Each time, especially at the cemetery, I step back to see if I have taken too much and each time there seems to be plenty and the bunches in my hand don’t make a difference to the bush but only to me. At the cemetery I wonder who loved lilacs so much to have a bush planted for them.
I talked with my dear neighbor Gini about the lilacs once. I admitted to her that it took me some scouting and possibly even some stealing. She didn’t want me to steal but the joy she received from the lilacs was worth it. It makes me wonder why anyone would plant flowers and not want to share them. This year I only had to steal lilacs for one. I thought of Gini the entire time. Though I have always wanted a lilac bush mine will be planted in her honor.
There is a favorite bicycle ride that I have in Vermont. The back roads are couched perfectly in the Champlain Valley. The Adirondacks and Lake Champlain are on one horizon and the Green Mountains on the other. Cows occasionally look up from feeding to give me a curious stare. Occasionally I talk to them, they are good listeners. Wildflowers line the sides of the roads until they meet fences keeping in (or out) hay, corn, and cows. During my most recent ride I learned three important lessons.
- Keep your mouth shut. I seem to get a refresher on this lesson each season both when biking and in “real” life. Biking is not like driving, there is no windshield to protect us from bugs. There is less safety, you’re more exposed. The faster I hurdle myself forward the more unpleasant it can become if I forget to keep my mouth shut. I won’t elaborate you can imagine. However simple this lesson is I need to remember it and implement it or I end up with consequences that leave me sputtering, frustrated, and even angry with myself that it’s such a simple concept. I must remember to learn to keep my mouth shut.
- Find a healthy rhythm – gain momentum and sustain it. Once I get up to a steady speed it’s much easier to maintain it. What the optimal speed is for me and how long can I go at a particular pace, in biking and in “real” life is another question. I don’t want to over-exert but I also don’t want to underperform. Underperforming becomes a danger zone in Vermont, moving so slow that I’m at risk for attack. As I biked up a sharp hill I was bit by a horse fly, quite common near so many farms. There was one, then two buzzing around me looking for an opportunity to take a chunk out of me. I felt as if they were taunting me and wondered at what point could I regain enough momentum to part company. Finding a health rhythm feels better, whether it be the pace of the ride, a morning routine that is refreshing, times to reflect, spending time with friends, etc. When I know that my rhythm and momentum are at a more optimal pace then the momentary hindrance of feeling like a pincushion for horse flies is just that, momentary.
- Keep enough in your tank – to outrun the surprise enemy. In this case it was 2 dogs. I was enjoying the view, recovering from a slight hill when the dogs sighted me. They attempted to greet me and I was thankful to move out of their reach before their teeth offered salutations. My takeaway is that too often we run at full tilt, all out, with little gas left. Thankfully I was prepared and was able to dig down and stay safe. There are times to “leave it all” on the court, field, game, meeting, etc. however it is essential we know when those times are. This was not one of them and I was glad I was prepared and had enough left in the tank to outrun the enemy because he was real.
Yesterday I ate Raclette for the first time. If you, like me, had lived a life without knowing about this eating experience let me briefly enlighten you. It is a Swiss dish with potatoes, cheese, pickles and other side dishes. Raclette cheese is melted and then poured over the potatoes and repeated. I was informed that a perfect bite includes a bit of potatoes, cheese, pickle, and individual seasoning. They were correct, it is a tasty dish. How I found myself eating Raclette is another story and one founded in Christian community.
My dear friend Gini died two days before Christmas, just four days shy of her 96th birthday. The last days were a mix of sadness and joy as it was clear she was near the end and her body was shutting down. Thankfully she was not in pain. The important words had been said and I think that is the story of much of Gini’s life. She had a gift not only to listen but to give wise council through conversation, words of scripture, and writing. Gini was known to engage in the hard conversations. She would sometimes preface a hard conversation with knowing she might lose her friendship over saying what was on her heart but was willing to risk it. I personally believe it only made her relationships deeper. She also loved to have discussions about the arts and culture and always where faith intersects with them.
I found myself the past couple of days spending time with Gini’s friends from her years as a staff member at the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Reminiscing included snowy days, good conversations, years of correspondence, and where they and their friend’s journeys have taken them. These were glimpses of conversations that could go on for hours. There were discussions of social justice, health care, economics, science, art and aging all through a lens of faith. I was welcomed into this community over the past few days and for that I am profoundly grateful as it has helped the grieving and healing.
What I don’t want to miss is how not only this community brought me into their fold but also how I might do that for others. It can be so difficult at times feeling welcome and moving from outsider to feeling welcome and even an insider. Though I didn’t live through those “hippie” years with them (their words) they included me in the stories and provided me with the back stories. They shared with me the experiences that they had together on the hills in Switzerland telling me of more friends who would offer hospitality to me that also knew our dear Gini. They shared food, warmth, and hospitality.
There was a moment when I realized all of these individuals are single, some always and some more recently. This made the Raclette experience even more powerful. Raclette is a community eating experience the grills are designed for many to participate. I am thankful that they don’t seem to make Raclette grills for one and it seems a metaphor for how we are to live life, in community.
Today my dear friend Gini is exhausted and uncomfortable she is 2 weeks away from reaching 96 and is ready to be with Jesus. She is a Great Soul. Today there was little she could focus on or receive comfort from. I read/prayed with her from “Great Souls at Prayer” a compilation of prayer by Mary W. Tileston. Her copy is well worn with personal notes and meaningful phrases underlined.
December 12th: “Most Loving Lord, I offer my whole self unto Thee. Take, I pray Thee, into the hands of Thine unspeakable pity, both my soul and body, my senses words and actions; vouchsafe in all things so to direct and govern me, that I may ever flee every occasion of sin, and may so constantly cleave to Thee and to Thy commandments, that neither life nor death, nor anything which may befall me, may separate me from Thee – Amen” Treasury of Devotion, 1869