Monthly Archives: November 2019




We had a slight flood the other night.  I almost stepped in a puddle in front of the kitchen sink, but when I looked under the sink, there was nothing leaking.  That was when I noticed the river running from the laundry room through the kitchen.  After I screamed in alarm, I yelled for the two older kids to help me because Ben wasn’t home.  I stopped the washing machine from filling with water.  We sopped up the water with more towels than I care to count.  It was quite the production as we cleaned up the laundry room and set up fans in the kitchen to dry the floor that we’d just had refinished earlier in the year.  Minor crisis, yes, but overall calamity averted.

The whole situation made me think of a similar incident with my Mom’s washing machine when I was a kid (at least as accurately as I can recall).  We’d been at an evening Vacation Bible School session at our church.  When we arrived back home, the carpet in the hallway in front of our laundry closet was soaking wet. The washing machine had leaked while we were gone.  My Dad had been working long hours at the time.  Instead of trying to fix it like he normally would have, he asked Mom to buy a new washer and have it delivered.  When Dad began to install the new washing machine, he pulled the old one out and discovered that the machine was partially unplugged.  Somehow, the plug had wiggled out from the socket.  The machine wasn’t broken after all.

We all feel broken sometimes – isolated, unworthy, and lonely.  We may even feel broken beyond repair.  I wonder though, if at times, we feel the sense of brokenness because we are unplugged from the power source.  In other words, we are disconnected from God.  We may think that no one else has experienced emotional distance from God, but in actuality, most of us have felt a lack of God’s presence at one time or another.  God is still there, but we struggle to feel him.

Many people in the Bible lamented the times they were lost in the wilderness or the desert (both literally and figuratively).  When I’m feeling separate from God, I try to get back to basics by praying and reading the Bible so I can reconnect to the energy source.  One of the verses that has always made me feel better says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  Isaiah 43:18-19.  God offers hope, even when things seem bleak.  He is present even when I’m wandering far from him.

My obstinance is often the root of the problem.  It’s as if I’ve inserted a plastic baby-proofing outlet cover into the plug. God is willing to provide comfort and peace, but I am too caught up in being upset or angry.  I won’t let God help me.  I won’t invite him into my life or the situation.  I stand in my own way, sabotaging my path to become closer to God.  When I find myself in those times of resistance, I pray that God will open my heart to his assistance.

Sometimes the journey back to feeling God’s presence is long and tiring. And, we may feel like we are barely hanging on to our faith.  But God is waiting and wants to reconnect.  Returning to our power source may be difficult, but it is essential to our wellbeing.  God can help us unblock the way.  Perhaps we are not as broken as we presume, but are unplugged from God, the giver of grace, love, comfort, and hope.








When I was a little girl, we always went to my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  She would cook a feast, and I only have happy memories surrounding those meals and holidays. I didn’t realize at the time that my grandmother didn’t have a lot of money.  I didn’t give it a second thought because we always had plenty to eat.  Her house was modest and not fancy, but it was what I’d always known.  It was just grandma’s house.  I don’t know much about the generations that came before my grandmother.  I haven’t searched the genealogy websites for records detailing when my family came to America.  But, I have a feeling they came as poor immigrants.

Jesus’ family was clear about their ancestry.  In the book of Matthew, the first chapter is dedicated to tracing Jesus’ lineage to show that he was a descendant of great Jewish people, including King David.  One of the women mentioned in the story is Ruth, Jesus’ great grandmother who lived many generations before his birth.  Ruth, who is one of only two women with individual books in the Bible.  We often talk about her story because of her dedication to her mother-in-law Naomi.  When Naomi’s husband and adult sons died, leaving both she and her daughter-in-law Ruth widows, Ruth decides to leave her homeland of Moab to follow Naomi to Bethlehem in Judah.

In doing so, Ruth becomes not only a widow who is childless, but an immigrant in a strange land.  She is a foreigner who is poor and takes on the responsibility of feeding herself and her mother-in-law.  But with jobs unavailable, the only way to find food is to go behind the workers harvesting the fields and glean what they left or the crops at the edges as dictated by Jewish law.  In the Old Testament, farmers are directed to leave a margin all around their fields to feed the poor and are counseled against harvesting twice.  Lev. 19:9-10.  They are told not to gather every little kernel, so the poor can come behind later and avoid starvation.

When Ruth meets Boaz, the owner of the field, he tells her to only glean in his fields.  She asks, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”  Boaz says he’s heard about all she’s done for her mother-in-law, how she left her native land.  He then says, “may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!”  Ruth 2:10-13.  Eventually, Ruth and Boaz marry and have a son who becomes the grandfather of King David. Matt. 1.

Generations later, Jesus is born into Joseph’s family making him a descendant of Ruth and King David.  Jesus, himself, along with Mary and Joseph would become refugees in Egypt when Jesus was a young child.  In theory, at least, Joseph could work to provide for them, and they had treasure from the wise men.  Matt. 2:14-16, 19.  But without Ruth’s determination to survive, none of the rest happens in the same way. She is essential to Jesus’ story.

In the youth Sunday School class that Ben and I teach, we’ve been studying the book, “And Social Justice for All,” by Lisa Van Engen this semester. We’ve discussed poverty, hunger, racism, immigration, disparities in education, lack of access to health care, poor drinking water, and the climate crisis.  Many of the problems have common threads that are generational and systemic in nature.  One of the goals of the book is to show young people that the problems in the world and in our country are closer to home than we might think.  Your classmate may be hungry and that’s why he can’t focus. The girl who is super smart may not be able to go college because her family can’t afford it.  The person working at the gas station may have fled a war-torn country and can no longer work as a doctor now that he lives here. The mom working three jobs feels she is failing because she doesn’t have much time to spend with her kids.  We’ve talked about how we must open our eyes and our hearts to the plights of others.  By serving others, we serve God.

I am not advocating for a particular set of policies to address the problems we face.  They are complex and serious.  But I feel we are called to learn about the issues in the world and address them with kindness and empathy.  In this season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we can view the many chances to help charities as “causes,” or we can think about the actual people who are in need. The faces, names, and lives of those who are desperate every day of the year, not just at the holidays.  If it is hard for us to imagine the lives of those who suffer from any of these societal problems, maybe we can think of our grandmothers and remember that at one point, in generations past, it is altogether possible that one of our ancestors was a foreigner in a strange land seeking refuge.  And if that’s not enough, think of the immigrant, widowed, poverty-stricken Ruth, Jesus’ ancestor, and thank God that he provided people to help her. May we help those living in the margins today.



If the Shoe Fits . . .



I love clothing and jewelry with words or quotes on them.  I don’t mean the ones with logos or vacation destinations on them, although I own plenty of those as well.  I’m talking about the ones that remind me to “be brave” or “be the change you wish to see in the world” or “just breathe.”

So, of course, I was drawn to a pair of Alegria brand shoes with all sorts of positive affirmations written on them: “universal love,” “peace and love,” “visualize peace.”  One day, I looked down at these shoes, and read one of the slogans, “we’re number one.” Immediately, the chant of this phrase ran through my head in the same way we yell it at sporting events with our pointer fingers outstretched, “we’re number one, we’re number one!”  A minute later, I realized that “we’re number one” didn’t really match with the other mantras on the shoes.  I looked back down and reread the motto.  It didn’t say “we’re number one” after all.  In actuality, it said, “we are one.”

I’d misread the shoe – big time.  “We are one,” was much more in keeping with the mood of the shoe.  Bragging about being the best contradicted the theme and the drawings of flowers, peace symbols, and hearts that adorned them.  Why was my default assumption about being better than others as opposed to being in harmony with others?

I’ll admit that I’m competitive by nature.  I like to win, especially with respect to sports and grades when I was younger and in school.  But I try to be kind and reach out to others.  I want to include people, don’t I?  Or, do I let competition separate me from other people?

Sometimes, I compare myself to others.  Okay, more than sometimes.  Comparison is more of an automatic reaction. I don’t consciously decide to compare myself to other people but do it, nonetheless.  Comparison, for me, is just another form of competition.  Often, my insecurities show up in the competitions in which I choose to participate.  When I feel that I don’t measure up, I tend to focus on that quality in others.  I want to be the best, but I don’t necessarily win the comparison competition.  A lot of times, I look at others and laser in on how they are thinner, seem to have it all together, have a better personality, or are more well-liked (does high school ever end?).  As usual, I compare my interior, emotional life to others’ external life as displayed in person or on social media.

But God doesn’t compare us.  I have a hard time believing that God loves me, not in comparison to anyone else, but for who I am.  For who he made me to be.  He doesn’t need to compare.  He knows us – what we think, how we feel, what makes us happy, angry or sad, what we dream, and who we are in the quiet moments when we are alone and the most honest with ourselves.  God knows, but he still doesn’t compare us to each other.

God’s love is not a competition we need to try and win.  We can’t make God love us more by convincing him we are “better” than others.  He loves us individually and unconditionally.  He gives his grace and mercy freely.  Instead of comparing and competing, God would much rather we work together to do his work on Earth: spread peace, help those in desperate need, try to get along.  Pretty much the opposite of competition.

There’s no need to routinely compare or compete with anyone else.  I confess that this may be difficult for me personally. But I’m going to make an effort to be more mindful when I find myself falling into the competition trap.  I may even put my shoes on to remind myself that we don’t have to be number one all of the time because, in fact, “we are one.”


Blank Spaces



We have a room in our home that is small and warm. It smells good and hums with energy.  Most of the family wanders through at some point during the day or comes looking for me assuming that’s where I’ll be.  “I’m in here,” I say, and they track me down to the space just off the kitchen.  The whole family benefits from the goings on there. A lot of items come into the room, I mean a lot, but they may take a while to leave.  This makes the space kind of cluttered, but I go there often anyway.  Sometimes we become frustrated because we can’t find something we need, but we usually get past our hang ups once we locate the lost item.  We turn the lights off only at bedtime.  But I don’t read or write or even watch tv in the area because there is no seating.  It’s not a sweet little nook.  It’s the laundry room.

Until recently, I really didn’t enjoy my time in the laundry room.  I went through the motions of washing and drying clothes. The clutter comes from my distaste for folding clothes until the baskets are literally spilling over.  The searching usually involves someone’s need for socks.  I even expanded the laundry room into the side garage in order to have enough space to hang up some of the clothes for the six of us.  Obviously, laundry is an unending chore. So, while my time in the laundry room may occur in small increments, it adds up over the years. And occasionally I felt the time was wasted, even though it was necessary time spent.

A few months ago, I looked around at the blank, cream colored walls in the laundry room and suddenly realized it didn’t have to be this way.  I could decorate the laundry room, and I could decorate it any way I wanted.  I’d collected prints and quotes over the years but hadn’t known where to display them.  The pictures that I’d gathered appealed to me but were not suitable for decorating the general areas of the house.  So, the prints accumulated, unused, hidden away in a stack in our office.  Now, I knew exactly what to do with them.  I bought a box of tacks and arranged the sayings and drawings on my laundry room walls.  I didn’t measure the walls or try to center things exactly.  I put them up in a way that pleased me, and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.  The walls now speak to me every time I go into the laundry room.  The words inspire me.  The artwork soothes me.

I’ve reclaimed the space, and in so doing, began to wonder what time and space I’ve failed to fully utilize in other areas of my life. I think we’ve all experienced situations when we’ve hidden away our talents, stayed silent, or played small.  And by talents, I don’t mean artistic ventures only.  I mean the ability to bake a pie, make others feel welcome, tend a garden, teach a child, paint a room, create a spreadsheet, balance a budget.  We are not authentic when we deny our talents.  Either we don’t see the opportunities, or we don’t seize them when they present themselves.  Maybe we are scared of being vulnerable or hurt.  If we take a risk and try to use our abilities, we may fail and that’s a miserable feeling.  The fear of failure can be paralyzing.  We keep the walls of our lives blank and our talents hidden away.

And what does God want for us?  He wants us to be true to ourselves and embrace the gifts he has given us.  He longs for us to splash our talents all over the canvas without overcalculating or waiting too long.  To understand that even the mundane tasks in life might be better if we look at them through the unique prism he’s granted to each of us.  He knows how scared we are of failure (especially me), but hopes we still try even without guarantees of success.  Perhaps in the effort, we find out something more about ourselves and our skills and trust our God a little bit more even if we feel like a flop at the time.

We can look for ways to reclaim our days in small ways.  By pulling out those hidden talents, we create beauty, light our imaginations, and inspire others.  We become more authentically ourselves and more faithful to God at the same time.  Let’s look for the blank spaces that are waiting for our individual contributions and infuse them with our creativity, our ingenuity, and God’s love.


Debris Down Under



I was searching for one of my kids’ electronic devices as per usual. We returned to the place he’d been sitting that morning to see if it fell on the ground or if he’d simply overlooked it in his angst filled search.  When our superficial review of the sofa did not produce results, I yanked the couch cushions off.  I gasped. And not because I’d suddenly found the iPad.

It was disgusting.  Let’s just say it’d been a while since I’d cleaned under the cushions. Popsicle wrappers, Legos, coins, popcorn, dirt, socks, three remote controls, and dog hair were scattered over the surface and wedged in the crevices.  I sighed and started scooping up the trash while picking out the small toys and money.  When I stood up, I noticed that the iPad had fallen onto the window ledge behind the couch. At least the mystery of the missing device was solved. I retrieved the vacuum in order to finish cleaning up the mess.

I shouldn’t have been shocked about the dirty state of the couch.  This is not one of those sitting areas reserved for company in a front parlor of days gone by.  My boys eat, sit, play, and sleep there all the time, and the dogs do as well.  My daughter prefers the floor, so she can’t be blamed for this mess at least, but the rest of us are guilty.  We literally live our days on this sofa.

Every time I pull the cushions back, the gunk awaits just below the surface.  We don’t intend to collect the debris under the cushions, it just happens.  When we don’t tend to it often, it gets worse and worse, which is like life, of course.  On the surface, everything seems fine.  We go through our daily routines, post our best moments on social media, and hope our lives appear neat and tidy from the outside.

But often, just below our carefully constructed veneers, our inner lives are in shambles.  We are barely hanging on, dealing with a litany of problems, both our own and those of the people we love.  We beat ourselves up, believe we are worthless, and hang on to the remnants of shame.  The pressure underneath builds as we avoid dealing with the crumbs of broken dreams and the leftovers from damaged relationships.  We do not dare peer underneath because as long as we cover up, we can pretend the hard stuff doesn’t exist.  That is, if we even realize the turmoil is growing.  Some of us have become so good at ignoring our emotional health, we are in danger of being suddenly overcome by the rubbish.

Even worse, we think we’re the only ones to struggle to handle the issues threatening us.  We feel out of the loop while everyone else appears to know how to easily manage their lives.  Unfortunately, the effort to stay above the fray only reinforces the distance between us. We fear that if we are real about what’s going on inside, we won’t be met with understanding and compassion, but rather ridicule and criticism.  So, we keep quiet and further isolated.

God knows though.  He is not surprised by the emotional clutter in our lives or the dirt we try to hide.  In fact, he wants to help us deal with the undercurrent tugging at us.  One of the ways in which he offers that help is through community.  Instead of withdrawing due to the fear of being found out, God wants us to find a group of like-minded believers with whom we can share our lives.  Trying to find our tribes may sound daunting and time consuming or even impossible, but it is well worth the challenge when we finally find communities that are welcoming and warm.  I’m not discounting that this may be difficult, but I think we can all find our people eventually if we keep up the effort.

What may begin as superficial acquaintances has the potential to grow and deepen.  Mutually supportive relationships can be born out of these communities.  The more we invest in others, the better equipped we are to reveal our own foibles to them and depend on them when we need help.

I was a part of a small group at my church for eight years.  During that time, members came and went, and spanned the generations from about 35 years old to over 70.  We read a variety of spiritual books and shared prayer requests, and in so doing, we learned a lot about one another.  Over time, we earned one another’s trust and became comfortable discussing the challenging aspects of our lives that we usually hide.  We dove deep into our issues and those of our families, including illnesses, deaths, divorces, pregnancies, miscarriages, addictions, and the hard parts of caring for elderly parents and young children. Eventually, our group dissolved as folks’ time commitments changed and they could no longer attend.

But when one woman from our group died after a short bout with cancer, we gathered at the funeral and cried and laughed as the pastor shared stories about her in his eulogy.  Despite our collective grief, I felt blessed that we had genuinely known her and had been known by her based on the relationships we formed in that group.

God intends for us to live in community. When we find our people, no matter how long the search may take, we can choose to be vulnerable and seek their help to deal with the dirt that may lie below the surface of our lives.  God wants us to move away from hiding our emotional debris and move toward the people he brings into our lives.  It’s okay to pull the cushions off the couch and ask for help in cleaning up the mess.