Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's a New Year soon! What a great time to think about random ways to pay it forward in the next 12 months. Here is one suggestion from

"Wednesday December 28, 2011
The next time I pick up flowers at the supermarket, whether for my own home or as a gift for someone, as I leave, I'll pull one flower out in the parking lot and secure it under the windshield wiper of the car next to mine. As I drive away, I'll thank my Higher Power for the ability to share joy anonymously."

Also, check out Rachel's Challenge, and the essay that sparked a whole new movement to pay it forward through other high school kids like her.

One final idea: When your kids get their allowance or money from family, encourage them to put 10 percent aside for giving. If they get $10, just $1 is set aside. But that money adds up, and it's fun to let the kids decide which causes they care about. It also gets them into the habit of thinking of others with their money.

Love and light to you all!
Matthew 25

Monday, October 31, 2011

Raising ‘Nice’ Kids Isn’t Enough — Develop Their Strength Too

“I don’t want to wear this dress,” my 8-year-old insists during a recent school morning. The mornings always seem rushed, always pushed to the last millisecond of packed lunches, brushed teeth, socks and shoes and keys and backpacks locked and loaded.

In haste, I dismiss her opinion and say, “Just get dressed. We only have 20 minutes.” Turning away, my eyes catch a hint of her crinkled expression — a mild “hmmph” thrown at my back.

Twenty years later, I can say with confidence that I did the best I could with the tools in my parenting toolkit. I can listen some afternoon at my kitchen table as my daughter complains that her husband doesn’t listen, doesn’t hear her. That her opinions don’t seem to count.

I can pat her hand, sigh heavily and tell her that men aren’t taught to listen.

Yeah, I’m not going to do that.

How can it be in this age of self-awareness and self-indulgence that I see young girls — and boys — apologizing without provocation, remaining silent, smiling through injury or cleaning up someone else’s psychological garbage? “Oh, it’s OK! She didn’t really mean that!”

No, it’s not okay. Put down the It's Okay Mop and step away from that social vomit, girls and boys! It really stinks!

Parents will beam with pride when a child politely accepts a sticker from a salesperson or eats every bite on the dinner plate. But we will shake our heads in disbelief when that previously "happy” child develops a “mean streak,” starts responding in two-word sentences or adds a blotch of purple dye to his or her hair.

One way or another, people find a way to be heard. They find a way to be seen, noticed and acknowledged. To deny an authentic humanity can lead to either self-destruction or an eventual build up of pressure that leads to outward destruction of everything that touches them.

Eventually, we become inert and not fully alive or we become explosive and psychotic. Of course, those are extremes; there are people of all shades in between. But there is also an alternative.

Mary Oliver wrote a poem, “In Blackwater Woods,” where she speaks of the changing season and reflects on the loss and salvation that comes from letting go. As parents, we have to know when to take hold of our children and steer them in the right direction and when to loosen our anxious grip and let them be fully themselves. We can only do that, though, if we’ve learned to do it too.

Stand up for yourself. Let go of petty differences. Find peace in the storm.

This balance is as difficult to locate sometimes as the balance between work and play, love and hate, contentment and restlessness. So we will muddle along, trying to choose our words with our children more carefully, allowing some discomfort when they publicly speak their minds, understanding that mothers and daughters and fathers and sons won’t always agree.

But on one thing I hope we can all agree. Honor and respect and love begin at home — whether you are showing it to someone at age 1 or 100 — then it flows out into the world. A child grounded in a strong faith and value system who can speak up without shame or doubt, but who can also show love and respect to those of differing opinions, will be better equipped to function in this world and contribute boundless gifts.

Instead of half-alive people pleasers, victims or extremists, we’ll raise the next generation of strong and influential peacekeepers — purple hair optional.

The men and women I know and respect are the ones who don’t take abuse lying down. And they handle it with a smile and a firm upper lip. They know who they are and whose they are.

So I say let’s not raise NICE girls and boys. Let’s raise STRONG ones. Because you’re all stronger than you know.

Deuteronomy 4:9

Thursday, June 2, 2011

“Tomato plant.”

These words are my newest stop sign for worrying.

It happened a few days ago. It was windy, but finally sunny. The kids in the neighborhood were riding their bikes and jumping on trampolines. The neighbors were mowing their soggy lawns. I had just finished planting over three boxes of onions and some pole beans. My lower back was sunburned in the narrow gap between my shirt and the top of my jeans.

Earlier in the day, I went to church, cleaned the kitchen, wrapped gifts for two upcoming birthday parties and helped with homework.

As I got the kids to bed that night, I thought about the coming week. I thought about the laundry. I thought about doing some work on my computer.

My youngest, age 7, was in her bed with a book. She tugged on my arm.

“Mommy, could you bring my tomato plant into the garage tonight so it doesn’t freeze?” She had heard the weather report about one more chance of frost that night, death to any sun-loving plant like the tomato.

Her tomato plant was still sitting on a small table outside our front door. I told her to place it there for some sun in the afternoon.

Under my daughter’s watchful care, this particular tomato plant sprouted and grew at school, destined to be a Mother’s Day gift along with an eggplant and zinnias. She carefully labeled the milk carton planters and proudly presented her plants to me one day after school. She told me that some of the kids didn’t have plants because theirs died.

She wanted to plant hers in our garden right away, but I told her that the weather was too cold for the plants to be outside yet. So she placed them on the workbench in our garage. Every other day she added water.

I nodded my head. “Okay. Yes. Thanks for reminding me.”

I hugged and kissed my girls, said goodnight to my husband and proceeded to sit at my desk for two or three hours, fretting over my to-do list for the week.

The next morning I quickly showered, got dressed and headed to school to supervise an hour of marching band practice. My daughter found me in the gym. She told me she loved me and blew me a kiss before heading to class.

I headed home to grab some coffee and my computer before driving to St. Paul for work. I came into my driveway and that’s when I saw them. Three little milk cartons covered in construction paper. Red pencils lined up in each carton as plant stakes. Wilted and wet brown leaves.

I forgot about her tomato plant.

Kids don’t usually ask for much: “Play with me.” “Tuck me in bed.” “Can you get me a glass of water?” “Read me a story.” So this latest question cuts to the core.

“Mommy, could you bring my tomato plant into the garage tonight so it doesn’t freeze?”

There is a big reason that God tells us not to worry. Worry distracts us from focusing on what’s important right now! Worrying about tomorrow or about the past won’t change it. But we can make a difference right now. We can do what we promise before it’s too late. Jesus said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”

What’s your stop sign for worry? What have you failed at or forgotten to do in the distraction of your lists, selfish worries and troubles? A plant can be replaced, but a person’s trust and love is a far different matter and needs deep concentration every day for us to stay on the right path. Avoid distraction from your true purpose. Don’t leave your priorities in the cold.

Matthew 7:13-14

Sunday, April 10, 2011

“God never gives us more than we can handle.”

This is a saying I’ve heard frequently. Now I realize that it doesn’t make any sense.

First of all, this saying is used to help people feel better about stress or hard times. So we must assume by this use that God is the one handing us trouble.

It also seems to say that God decides when we’ve reached our “full” point for stress or trouble. Then he stops piling on the trouble.

But really, terrible things DO happen to people. They have loved ones die suddenly. They are diagnosed with scary illnesses. They experience natural disasters and all kinds of injuries.

Those experiences aren’t exactly the kind we just “handle.”

In fact, this saying is the absolute opposite of what God is, does or expects of us. God is not responsible for giving us trouble. God also isn’t our personal light switch for turning off troubles. Sometimes our troubles continue even after we pray for them to stop. Loved ones don’t come back from the dead. Illnesses don’t go away. Natural disasters and injuries require a long time for healing.

God also never promised that our lives would be trouble free, even after we’ve consecrated our lives to His service.

So if God doesn’t give us trouble, and doesn’t necessarily stop trouble and doesn’t promise a trouble-free life, then…what exactly does He do? And why should we pray to Him or believe in Him?

A lot of people wonder about this — especially in tough times. They feel alone. They believe that handling things is completely up to them. And at some point they experience things that go well beyond what they can handle. Nonbelievers watch people who believe in God experience just as many tragedies...sometimes more and many worse things.

So where is God in that?

Actually, He is everywhere.

If we look closely, God is the kind words of a friend...or a stranger. He is the green light. He is the perfect song on the radio. He is the blooming tulips and warm breeze. He is a child’s hug and a good night's sleep. He is all the things that are going right and all the people who treat us like beautiful human beings…who lighten the load and lift us up.

God is also the trial that builds our integrity and character. He is the critic who calls us to account for our mistakes. He is the warning bell to change direction. He is the close call. He is the mirror. He is the walk in the desert.

God can take our troubles and create good from them: Romans 8:28

He picks us up, walks with us through the storm and calms our fears: Psalm 23

One of the most frequent commands in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.” This is because we are never alone in our tragedies and sorrows. Instead of relying on our own strength to navigate life, figure things out and endure every small and large catastrophe, we should surrender and rely on God.

He is there. He is just waiting for us to say, “I need you. I can’t do this by myself. In fact, I can’t handle anything. Please, take over. Show me what you can do.”

Then He’ll show you.

God doesn’t give us trouble. He gives us Himself. He never asked us to "handle" our life. He wants us to "hand" it over.

That's why He's called the Savior.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love and Grace

I finally sat down to watch the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love.” It is already available as a seven-day rental, so I know I’ve waited a while to experience the book by movie. I missed watching it in the theater with some girlfriends several months ago…and I’m glad for that intervention.

When the book came out, I remember reading it in a tent along the shores of Lake Mille Lacs. Lying in the heat of July, I completely identified with the lost woman, but not the one who found herself in the end. Her hopelessness in some way justified my own shrunken heart. Meanwhile, I was missing my life. That year I didn’t buy or wrap my children’s Christmas gifts. I felt trapped in my house, my marriage, my choices.

Sometimes now I sit in church and this ocean of warmth washes over me and I feel as though my face is shining. But it’s not just in church. It’s when I bring ibuprofen to my husband with a glass of water. It’s when my daughter sits by me on the couch knitting a hat. It’s when I stir a pot of homemade chili or feel the water hit my face in the shower.

My life may look the same on the outside as it was a few years ago. I didn’t travel around the world to find myself. I didn’t change my house, my religion or my husband. This life of grace is the most extraordinary ordinary. And if I think about it too much or try to hold it, it floats away like smoke.

There are still times when the burdens and regrets of this world sink in and I miss the call. A smiling woman gives me directions as I rush back to the parking garage after an exhausting day, and I am too late to smile and thank her. The frozen foods dealer stands in my front entry and talks briefly of his mother’s recent death, and I’m at a loss for words of comfort. Days go by before I take time to read that bedtime story.

But this, too, is grace. At least I recognize the missed opportunities now. I’m no longer absorbed in petty frustrations and resentments and jealousies. I have nothing to consume, earn or acquire. My heart is growing more spacious, softer and open for business.

I’m struck by how often I want to reach out and touch the shoulder of someone as we speak about our day, our children, our plans. I share their happiness and pain far more acutely than I could have imagined not long ago. That tactile connection to them, a touch however brief, says that they are real and breathing and valuable. Right here. Right now.

Some people I can’t touch. I send them love and light anyway, hoping and knowing that it’s enough. A silent prayer for their health and welfare. For peace. For grace.

After all, this life is no longer mine to control and bend to my will. Whether I see with my eyes or with my heart, it’s all happening in its own time and its own perfect outcomes. So many things have happened in this more spacious heart that I could have never engineered them. So many sad. So many difficult and defeating. So many wondrous and unexplainable. But all necessary and leading to a devotion and faith that only a child would understand. I am becoming that child, not from innocence or foolishness but from love, service and wisdom.

Just the other day, I had the opportunity to be with another who is also growing a more spacious heart. Struggling against the loneliness that sometimes comes from feeling outside of this world, she asked me, “But can God come down and give me a hug when I need one?”

And I said, “Yes. He gives it from me and anyone who loves you. And then you pass it on.”

I try to walk slower now. I try to hug longer. The holy words gathered up like daily bread often leap from the page to greet me. When I sing, it feels like a story that began in anger and desperation, moved through humiliation and shame and is resolving itself in worship…not to a person or things or self but to the One who is and is to come. He is the only one who deserves my song anyway. And it is good.

It is good in the extraordinary ordinary moments, when a deli owner lets me in after closing, makes me the most beautiful turkey sandwich and tells me I can pay him next week. When I play Barbie salon for two hours with a seven-year-old who won't always be seven. When the propane bill is less than expected. When a stranger walks by and gives me the peace sign.

This grace makes so much sense that I can’t make sense of who I used to be. I can only write and sing and smile, feel the warmth and remember that it is always well with my soul.

Psalm 40