A Flower in Disguise

 

The “lilies of the field” of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are more likely the wild flowers of his day –scarlet crowfoot, purple iris, orange-red poppies, blue lupine, yellow wild mustard, and others.   What distinguishes a wild flower from a weed?

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A Flower In Disguise

I remember a poster I used to have on my wall … “A weed is only a flower in disguise.”

It reminded me of my yard in Alaska, which was mostly weeds, intertwined by a profusion of strawberry vines and a few varieties of wild flowers that took turns blooming. Sometimes it took the form of an overcrowded mess that needed tending. But I couldn’t help thinking that every plant I “weeded out” could have been a flower in some other context or at least an interesting part of a floral arrangement. It might even have been edible or a source of medicinal healing.

How we see something sometimes makes all the difference.

Some little children think dandelions are pretty flowers, and pick their yards clean for bouquets for mothers and favorite aunts. I used to get a nickel a hundred for them from my dad, but grew up learning they were something we needed to get rid of. Although they announced Spring in Wisconsin, we fought those bright yellow blossoms for control of the lawn.

Back in Illinois, I felt compelled to mow my big yard full of grass and bushes at least once per week. Some people spent all weekend mowing. So I was happy with my Alaska lawn full of weeds and strawberries and wild flowers!

In a way, both flowers and weeds are like people. Each has a special beauty and purpose that can be cultivated. And how we see them might make all the difference.

Webster’s definition of a weed is “any undesired, uncultivated plant that grows in profusion so as to crowd out a desired crop.” So if I desire a so-called weed or cultivate it, might it become a flower?

Maybe with the right kind of love and nurturing, we can all be flowers.

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In Search of Thanksgiving

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The sign said, “Entering Plymouth — est. 1620”.  A moment I will always remember. Plymouth, Massachusetts … The Pilgrims, the Mayflower, the first Thanksgiving … And I was THERE, and the Sign proved it!  I stopped my car to capture the moment forever on my old camera. No smart phones yet!

It was the summer of 1988. And I was taking our daughters — aged 13 1/2 and 10 at the time — on another road trip that they would only admit appreciating as adults.  And my own excitement was not contagious.

But there it was in front of me … the faded sign mounted on top of the metal pole, with that quaint old historical look about it.  But we might easily have missed it, dwarfed as it was by the telephone pole planted right beside it, which cautioned about the danger of high voltage and snapped me back into the 20th century.

But there we WERE … and there’s something about BEING there in the Real place. And that date on the sign … 1620.  One of the first dates I ever memorized in school.

“Plymouth” — says the encyclopedia: “site of the first permanent settlement by Europeans in New England.”

But in another entry: “Plymouth — an outstanding summer resort.  A tourist-based economy supplemented by light manufacturing of ropes and cords, fishing, and cranberry growing.”  Maybe a clue as to where the tradition of eating cranberries at Thanksgiving came from?

Yes, Plymouth, MA has much to offer, but I must say that I found its Real gifts hiding beneath the commercialism and all of the distractions.

Plymouth had been an afterthought on the way to Lexington and Concord.  And we arrived late — too late to see the biggest attractions, including Plymouth Plantation, a re-creation of the original Pilgrim Village — the Pilgrim Hall Museum — and the Mayflower II, a REPLICA of the famous ship.

But that turned out to be a blessing — because we had to seek out the REAL meaning of Plymouth for OURSELVES.  We had to look for something meaningful outside of the now closed Tourist Attractions, Re-creations and Replicas.

We did find a couple of authentic buildings — and yes — we found Plymouth Rock.   As a little girl, I had imagined Plymouth Rock as this medium-sized Rock, that each Pilgrim had personally stepped off onto as they disembarked. Later, I figured the “Rock” was probably mostly legend. But there it was … an actual ROCK …   CRACKED like the Liberty Bell, and identified in 1741 by a 95-year-old man whose father had assured him of the exact landing place! At least, that’s how the story goes.

A couple of years before the Revolutionary War, the rock was split while dragging it to a spot near a Liberty Pole.  Then moved twice more and sustaining more cracks — it came to rest on the shore of Plymouth Harbor under a portico of granite.  And I’m happy to report that it’s actually touchable through a portion of the metal gate that surrounds it.

But I have to admit that it’s always bothered me when they cover something meaningful in itself, with a huge edifice that overwhelms it.  First a simple monument to mark the spot, then a small chapel built over it to preserve its memory, and finally a huge building like some of the churches in the Holy Land, that overwhelms the place — the spot in which you are hoping to feel an intimate relationship with what happened there.

And I guess that’s what has happened to the story of Thanksgiving.  It has become overwhelmed by a picture of smiling Pilgrims in big, black hats and white collars, Native Americans with headbands and feathers, and all sitting around a big table … with,  I might add, very colorful and very live turkeys, and cornucopias overflowing with vegetables.

But even back then, there was much more to Thanksgiving than that stereotypical image of peace and good will.

And even now, in spite of the imminent approach of the BIGGEST shopping day of the year — and beyond the intoxicating aroma of roasting turkey amidst hectic preparations and football … beyond it all … we can find REAL Thanksgiving.  And not only in the ritual around the Table of remembering something or someone to be thankful for.

So where did I find Real Thanksgiving back there in Plymouth?       I found it on Burial Hill.

It was almost dusk and the sun was low in the sky as I moved up the hill among the old grave stones. I sat on a bench among the graves of some of the original Pilgrims, and looked down from the sight of the first fort and watchtower, onto the original center of Plymouth Colony — the two old churches nearby —     and the seaport.

And away from the commercialism, in that simple old cemetery,     I could feel the spirit of those Pilgrim colonists. And I remembered that it was faith and courage that had led them to flee persecution for freedom, and to journey into the unknown.

I remembered the picture entitled “Pilgrim Exiles”, depicting a few Pilgrims after the Mayflower had set sail again that Spring without them.  They were looking off into the empty space in the water down below the hill, where the Mayflower had lain at anchor during the first terrible winter.  There was no turning back now, and survival was not guaranteed.

Even in their decision to leave for America, there had been heartaches.  The majority of the original congregation and some of the colonists’ children had remained in Holland and Governor Bradford’s wife had died soon after their arrival, while he was on an expedition on shore.

And by the time of that First Thanksgiving, they had been plagued by sickness and death, after losing half of their group that first Winter.

So when they famously celebrated in thankfulness, that gratitude did not come forth out of just positive experiences — as if Real thanksgiving can ONLY happen when Life is Great — in every way!

It’s been said that Happiness depends on Happenings.  Whether they are good or bad. If I have a great day, I’m happy; If everything goes wrong — maybe NOT so happy.  But even those happy feelings are fleeting.

But REAL Thankfulness in an ATTITUDE … not dependent on our present circumstances.  In fact, it is a response of Gratitude — a word coming from the same root as Grace.

The first Thanksgiving was a recognition of the grace shown to the Pilgrims by the Strangers who now shared food and fellowship with them, and an expression of Gratitude to their Creator for this and other blessings.

The word “Joy” also evolves from the root word for Grace, and flows out from Gratitude.  And if we, like the Pilgrims, are able to recognize the graciousness of others and the blessings bestowed upon us by God, even in the hardest of times, then we can know real JOY.

JOY is said to be “Grace Recognized”.     And for me —   that is the REAL meaning of Thanksgiving.

Not what I Anticipated …

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The Alaska State Ferry was late, so I also was late to arrive at my destination, at 8 pm instead of 7.  And that was the first sign that I would not get the relaxing evening I had anticipated.

And there I stood — outside the terminal, watching passengers leave in taxis and hotel vans.  And then suddenly — everyone on the ferry had gone and the lights of the terminal were going out.

I was concerned.

This terminal is “out the road” as they say in Alaska — and my Arizona cell phone was on roaming, and prompting me with a strange procedure to go through every time I tried to get calls out. The door of the terminal opened and the last employee looked out.  She asked about my predicament and offered to call the hotel again.

I was thankful.

They said someone was on the way.  She said she wouldn’t leave until they came.        No one came.

After awhile this nice employee called the hotel again, and offered to take me there herself if no one came for me.  That was reassuring.  We watched as headlights shone up the road and then passed by, and decided to wait 5 minutes more.

The van finally came, stopping along the side of the building, even though I was obviously the only one there out in front.  I left the terminal feeling very irked toward the driver.  It was now almost 9 pm.

I approached the driver with my story about all of the waiting and surprisingly the first thing he said was “Please forgive me” … which kind of shocked me and changed my mood.  Then he said “God bless you”, which was unusual in the situation.

So I said, “God bless you, too”.

He was sorry about what had happened, because I seemed like such a nice lady.  And I told him that I was actually about to be a bit angry and NOT very nice, until he said “forgive me” and “God bless you”, and that in my life things often happen that show me that God is involved in the situation.

He told me he was a believer.

It was probably not his fault;  I think they even sent him to the airport instead of the ferry a couple of times.  And between the ferry employee and the van driver, it seemed that God had been looking out for me.

So I was content.

On the way to the hotel, the driver told me he had just recently gotten the job at the hotel and had lived a hard life in a “Lower-48” city.  He was happy with his job and his new residence.

I ended up tipping him.

But when I finally got to the hotel, now after 9 pm — the guy at the desk said he had gotten only one call for the van.

I was irked.

Then he didn’t seem to know if I could print out my airline boarding pass even though I had just seen someone check in for their flight on the lobby computer.  But he didn’t know if there was any ink in the printer.

Maybe God was testing me now.

When I asked why as an employee he didn’t know these things, he said because no one had ever asked him that question before.

GERrr!

Well, that was not too surprising, as you had to call him out of his room by dialing his number on a phone in the lobby, even when I had checked in a week earlier — and that was not evening but mid-afternoon.

Next he told me to sign up for the airport shuttle to leave for the airport at 7:20 am, which was my boarding time.  He was willing to settle for 7:15, but I won the debate with 7. Still cutting it close, but the airport was nearby.

Once again I was irked– but remembered I had decided to be nice because of the van driver and the “God Thing”.

I got to my room, and a red Message light was beeping, so I called the front desk and the guy said, “Oh, that doesn’t mean anything.”  So I tried to ignore the blinking and attempted to turn on the TV.

I had to call again, as I had no idea how to get the two separate controllers to work together. But then who should appear at the door to figure it out for me but my van driver.  And I finally got to relax for a few hours.

But I have to admit … the only reason I didn’t fill out the Evaluation Card in the room, or an evaluation for Hotels.com (which would not have been good) … was because of the terminal worker, the van driver, and what I once more had to call —  “That God Thing”.

The Door

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I’ve had my share of trouble with doors … both in getting them to open and in keeping them closed.

More than once I have locked the key inside my house, and have had to climb in through the window. You see, the habit of carrying keys around is still new to me after living in a small village in Alaska for years, where I only locked the door at night and the old car key stayed permanently inserted into the ignition.

But even then, I had my problems with doors and locks.

I once locked my car with the engine running at the local “dump” by accidentally knocking down the old lock knob while getting out of my car. And with that old car key still safe and snug in the ignition, I found myself stranded outside in a place frequented by bears. The attendant had to close up shop to give me a ride home to find a spare key, as we were out of range for a phone call. And who knows when another car full of garbage might appear! But at least it didn’t happen further “out the road” (as Alaskans say), though I might have met a big Coastal Brown Bear out there willing to tear the car door off for me.

I didn’t have the best of cars In Alaska. They rusted out from exposure to sea salt, and things fell off of them … like the running board attached to my second-hand Bronco or the door handle off my little white Omni. I never did like that car. Before that I drove a red Subaru wagon that came with the church I served and had grown mushrooms on the floor of the front seat between pastors. But at least it would always start right up and make it through the snow.

The little white car couldn’t even make it up a slight incline when our roads and yards were covered with ice. Once it was stuck on a clear level portion of icy road right in front of the police station and I had to ask for help from the police. They asked why I didn’t have 4-wheel drive.

But the doors on that little white car were my biggest problem. One winter, one by one, they all just stopped working. First, the front door on the driver’s side wouldn’t open from the inside, and then it wouldn’t open from the outside either. Then the front seat passenger door began to have similar problems. And sometimes handles on both sides got together as a united front and made my life even more frustrating.

Once I picked up an elderly person who needed a ride, and because of just the right combination — neither one of us could get out of the car. We had to honk the horn to get rescued.

I finally resorted to tying a rope around the inside handle of the driver’s side (which had begun to work again), rolled down the window just a crack, and let the rope dangle out along the outside of the door, so I could pull on it to get back in. No problems in that small community of car theft — and no one would have wanted the dang thing anyway.

But now I live in a different world with a nice car that drives well and locks and unlocks to my touch alone on the handle … without even producing the key from my pocket. And my greatest fear is that I’ll lose or misplace that key, which some day might become my biggest frustration.

But although I have had my share of door frustrations, I guess that God must be having them too — both from His efforts to open some doors to us and from our efforts to keep them closed. But in His case, the key often lies with us.

There’s an interesting Bible verse where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” But if you look closely at the popular painting by Warner Sallman that’s inspired by this verse, you’ll note there’s a knocker on that door, but no handle or door knob. The only door knob is on the opposite side of the door, which means that the door can only be opened from inside.

And that’s why the painting is called “Christ at Heart’s Door”.

But sometimes it’s as hard for God to get into our hearts as it was for anyone to get into my car. And at least I had extended a rope. But guess what?! God does the same … seeks us out, always ready to extend that rope to us, and continues to knock on the door of our hearts, even when we have shut that door up tight or even locked it.

Oh — there are a lot of reasons why we might want to close that door to Him. We may have been hurt and wonder where He was. It may even be hard to trust God, if we’ve found we can’t trust others or have been used, or mistreated by them. We might have even taken a little peek out the window and seen God standing there … but not yet be ready to break down that door between us and Him … that must be opened from within.

But don’t worry … God isn’t going anywhere.

But as for us, we all have another choice to make. We can close the door of our hearts to others for whatever reason, good or bad, and even lock them out — or we can choose to open the door of our hearts and invite them in … even if it means extending a rope to them down the side of the door. The key to THAT door is in OUR hands.

 

(Hello Readers. I would love to hear from you with Comments on my Posts, or with any questions you might have about me or my desire to share with you what I call “That God Thing”.)

Footprints

 

 

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A moose wondered through my yard several times one spring day, but I never saw it. That was when I still lived in Alaska. I must have arrived home just moments after that first evening visit, and just missed the huge long-legged creature’s trek up the driveway, past the garage and alongside my house.

Here in Arizona it’s more about elk than moose, but I actually did see the huge elk that walked through my Arizona yard one day. In one of those “right place, right time” moments I glanced out the window, saw that big animal, and shouted, “Look! Look!  A deer.”  And then my husband reminded me that the deer that used to come into my yard In Alaska and look through my windows, were much smaller than the big animal now in view outside my Arizona window. But at least he was in clear sight.

When visited by that 1,000 pound moose in Alaska, I was unaware of its presence until I finally noticed the big animal tracks alongside my house the next day and was informed at the local village store that a moose had been seen in my yard. And only then did I know where those big footprints had come from. So when I saw a new set of footprints a couple of days later, I knew what had made them.

Nothing else could have made tracks like that!

But even though I looked out the window every day and night for awhile after that in expectation, I never saw that moose — only some tracks now and then. Yet, I of course believe in the existence of moose — and that one had been visiting me from the evidence I continued to see and from the stories others told about their moose experiences.

And so it is with God.

I’ve never seen God either, but I’ve surely seen a lot of evidence of God’s Presence in my life. And I know that God has come near. I’ve heard stories about experiences others have had that have convinced them that God has left His footprints in their lives. And in my own life, the impact of a significant detail or two has been too powerful, and the connections too profound, for mere coincidence.

Nothing else could have made a track like that!

I finally did see a moose one day, standing in my driveway … which delayed the trip I was about to take to the store! But I’m not apt to see God face to face until I leave this life behind. But that doesn’t make me doubt God’s Presence in my present life. The signs are all around, and I can’t help but see them. God’s footprints are all over my life.

Readjusting Our Viewpoint

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If you are driving through life looking through the rear-view mirror, it’s going to prove very difficult to move ahead down the road. Yes, backing up is sometimes necessary … like backing out of the driveway or out of a parking place. But it’s soon time to choose a direction and move forward, which is hard to do if you continue to look behind you.

I don’t know about you … but I can’t always get those mirrors adjusted just right, which isn’t helpful in heavy traffic. But mirror adjustment is not a matter of one size fits all and must be readjusted for each driver.

Perhaps it’s like that in our journey through life. Maybe it’s about adjusting our viewpoint so we can cautiously glance behind to avoid predictable mishaps, but without distracting ourselves from the wider view of the road ahead and an ever clearer vision of what God has called us to be and to do.

He Is Already There

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We come to an understanding about the nature of God in different ways. Some see the Divine more as someone or something to be feared and obeyed, while others as more of a Loving Presence through whom we might experience mercy. Still others aren’t sure and may seek understanding in many different places and examples.

This is a story about God’s nature as seen through Jesus:

A long time ago, a woman of Samaria came to the village well to draw water. She had a bad reputation and the other women shunned her. They came in the cool of the day, and she came in the heat of noon. But this time, even before she arrived, Jesus was already there.

He didn’t shun her. He asked her for a drink of water, even though Jews (like him) didn’t associate with Samaritans. He talked to her in public, even though men didn’t do that back then in his culture. And the righteous people, who played by the rules, were shocked!

But Jesus loved her just because she was a precious human being.

He didn’t condone her lifestyle, but he didn’t condemn her either. And he didn’t wait until she was a better person. He told her right then and there that he knew who she was, rough spots and all. And he offered her living water that would well up in her and quench her thirsty spirit. And his love changed her life.

So if you are searching for that living water, bring with you your doubts and your fears and your reservations. Because you will find that even before you arrive at the well, God is already there.

What It’s Really About

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I smiled. I was respectful and polite. I even took the classes and became a certified Nursing Assistant. The nursing home was run by a plump scary RN who had hired me because I had a nice smile. But behind the smile I was young and insecure, and stressed by the schedule that demanded waking, dressing, and getting up into chairs what were too many people in too little time … and all before breakfast.

I knew all the details of the care I must give — the stuff to be done, of which all was not pleasant. I knew how to make a bed just right, even with a person in it, and how to do something called mitering the sheets — a special folding back of the ends that kept them snugly under the mattress. I still do this today with my own sheets.

Yes, some time ago, in what now seems like another life — I worked as a care giver in a nursing home.

I still know the proper way to help a bed-ridden person into a sitting position or a wheelchair. But I know something just as important that I didn’t understand then. It’s about more than doing the right things in the right way. It’s about more than being nice. It’s even about more than caring.

As a care giver or as a visitor who wants to do and say the right things — the most important thing you can bring to a visit with a resident, a loved one, or even a casual acquaintance in a nursing home or other kind of care center … is yourself … your authentic self. And when that happens … and you feel it … I call it a God Thing.

Now much older and finally more self-confident, I pull into the parking lot of the local care facility and walk the few steps to the door. I know how to push the metal box that lets visitors in while keeping the residents safe within. I sign my name, time, and write the name of whom I plan to visit. I put on the Visitor tag. I know the routine … the stuff to be done. But it’s still about more than doing the right things in the right way.

This day I have come with a bit of trepidation, not knowing exactly what I might say or do, and praying that I will know how to communicate. I know that it is about more than a planned Scripture verse or a pre-rehearsed prayer. And I know that it’s about more than my own fears or discomfort. It’s about being able to put that all aside and trusting the Holy Spirit for the words. And that is my prayer.

I am approaching the room … or maybe the wheelchair in the hallway … and I am suddenly relaxed, and a peace has come upon me. This is not just a person in a bed or a wheelchair, one happy to chat or unable to. This is not only a person whose mind may be far away or sharp as a tack, good humored or in pain both physical or emotional, seemingly unresponsive or welcoming. This is a child of God, like me, and in this we are truly who we are. This is what it’s really about.

I feel the Presence of God. I feel God working through me.  And I feel Joy.

When the Tornado Comes

 

 

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Tornadoes and floods and volcanic eruptions have been called acts of God since ancient times. The God of the Bible sends a flood and thunders down from a mountain. But He also speaks to His prophet Elijah in a still, small voice and through Jesus as he calms an unpredictable storm on the Galilean Sea. And He has always offered hope and salvation to His people.

Our perception of God has changed through the years, as we’ve looked less fearfully to Him for daily direction, and for comfort and peace of mind. But God is as powerful as ever, and can enter our whirlwind life with His powerful Presence, both by shaking us up and disrupting our complacency, or by calming the seas in the midst of a stormy life saying, “Peace! Be still!”

Yet sometimes we are caught up in a whirlwind and the seas of life are welling up around us, and it seems like confusion and disorder are all around. And we don’t feel that peace.

Destructive forces compete for power in our world with constructive ones. And the battle may even rage within us. We may feel like kicking up a dust cloud and fleeing from the turmoil — or perhaps even kicking up a little storm of our own in the wake! In fact, more than once I have heard someone talk of feeling like a tornado in the midst of havoc. And I can only guess that their life is not filled with peace.

I lived in Wisconsin along the storm route called “Tornado Alley”. And there were many times as a child or adult that I headed to the basement in response to a tornado warning. What could we do but wait and pray? After all, you can’t reason with a tornado. You can only try to get out of its way.

But how can we escape the turmoil within us? Tornadoes come in many shapes and sizes — just like our problems. And like the storms that may be brewing in our own lives, we can’t always see them coming or predict what their wide-spread consequences might be.

But nothing in life is too big or small, or so encompassing that God cannot bring some peace and hope into it. As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Maybe those words above seem trivial in the midst of life’s storms. But we live in a world that is more than the destructive situations and ways that we hear so much about in the media.

God is present in the ordinary, everyday people and things around us, in blessings that come our way, and in happy coincidence that some call serendipity. It’s why I write my little spiritual nuggets … that you might recognize this in your lives.

God is present in the midst of the storm, to show us the way and to see us through.  He is present in sunshine and in shadow, in the whirlwind and in the gentle breeze.

The Messy Joys of Remodeling

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My husband is finally doing it — remodeling our bathroom. So why am I anxious? It’s something I’ve wanted for the past couple years.

But in the making of something new and better, we’ve been making our way through a big mess. Walls torn down, boards and tools and mess, mess, mess; and everything from that SMALL bathroom, which I can’t believe was even all IN that tiny space — is now scattered all over the house.

And let’s not forget the noise of tearing down those walls and prying up layers of old floor, the dust and nails and other debris — and the disruption of life as usual, including the need to run downstairs in order to find a working bathroom.

Oh, I had finally made some simpler plans of my own, even paid an interior decorator to come and make a plan for the small, cramped bathroom I didn’t want to completely let go of. But that’s not the vision my husband had. My plans were enough to get him going, but his plan is much bigger and better than what I could have ever envisioned. He’s an engineer, after all!!

Sometimes we are more comfortable with things as usual, the way it’s always been — even if it hasn’t been that good. Just a little change might be OK. But more change can be messy — and we may have to tear down walls and venture into unknown territory before new and better things take shape.

But like anything in life, we sometimes need to get through a big mess, some inconvenience, and a bit of confusion — before we can come to the place where we can look around and see that this journey has made things better.

And we can even take that lesson into our spiritual lives. God has a blueprint for each of us, and the clearer our spiritual vision becomes, the easier it will be to read those new specs and to follow God’s plan for our lives. But then things may suddenly become messier, no longer everything in its place. Ethical decisions are more complicated. And we may even have to stop a moment and pry loose some old barriers so we can open up a window to a new view of life.

Tearing down those walls can be much more difficult than tearing down those old bathroom walls. Remodeling our lives means change. And venturing into this unknown territory can be as unsettling as living within a remodeling mess.

It’s an ongoing journey. And there will be obstacles in the way … dust and debris popping up from old cracks and crevices and resistance to what’s new and different.

But if we trust in the Great Engineer of the universe to have a greater plan, somewhere along the way we will come to the place where we can look around and see that this journey has made things better. And that God has a much bigger and better plan for our lives.