Monthly Archives: February 2020

Use Your Strength



My son Alex’s second grade class recently had a civics lesson, in which the class elected a Teacher of the Day.  On Monday, the class voted and winnowed the field down to two candidates. Alex was one of the last two standing, and he was so excited.  The next day, the class divided into groups to help craft campaigns for the candidates. One of their tasks was creating a campaign poster that featured a drawing of him.  He said he knew one child was good at drawing faces, so he asked her to draw the head.  Alex asked one child to draw the body, another the hands, while still another created the background, and he drew the shoes. He said, “I tried to use everyone’s strengths,” when making the assignments.  I told him that was a very good idea and figured he must have learned that from his amazing teacher Mrs. Davis.

On Wednesday, his excitement turned to tears because he was concerned that he was going to lose the race and because he was frustrated.  A couple of his friends had gotten into an argument while they were finishing the poster.  One of them was mad that another had more artistic responsibilities.  He was getting a crash course in how hard it is to manage a team sometimes.  We talked through the situation and tried to focus on how nice it was to be nominated. Alex won the election after he made a little speech on Thursday.  I was glad he won, mostly because I didn’t want him to get upset at school if he’d lost.

Alex’s determination to draw on his friends’ strengths reminded me that God has blessed each of us with our own strengths.  The fact that Alex and his friends were drawing the body, and that the same analogy is used in the Bible was not lost on me.  The Bible says that each of us has a gift that can be used in the service of God, and that together we make up the body of Christ.  1 Cor. 12.  Just as the human body is made up of many varied parts with specialized functions, so is the body of Christ.  Finding our specific gifts and then using them to further God’s work is vital to a well-functioning church family or community.  Initially, we may not see exactly how our gifts fit in with the larger whole, but when we willingly offer our skills and talents, God will find a way to put them to good use.

Knowing our own strengths is as important as helping others express their strengths. When his friends started squabbling over their assignments, Alex got a dose of the competition and jealousy that sometimes emerges when we feel our particular talents or gifts are not being properly appreciated.  The Bible talks about that too, “And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”  In other words, to make the body work to its fullest potential, we have to use our gifts and let others use theirs.  We need to show appreciation for all the talents people bring, not just the most obvious or lauded ones.  While one person may be front and center at church every week, another may pray for others in the quiet of their room every night.  Both are essential.  Everyone is necessary and important to God’s body.

Several years ago, I was serving on my Church’s board and was trying to get other people to serve as a greeter on Sunday mornings.  To me, this was an easy ask.   All you had to do was smile, say hello, and hand out programs.  Why wouldn’t people agree to help?  After expressing my frustrations, I got my answer.  While I was comfortable welcoming people, not everyone was.  Some folks got nervous or weren’t good with names or just didn’t like doing it.  Now, I understand the value in people doing what they love and what they do well in furthering God’s work here on earth. I’ll be the greeter all day any day, but don’t ask me to make a home cooked meal for the family with the new baby. I’ll buy a meal and take it to them but cooking from scratch makes my anxiety go through the roof.  My gifts are different than your gifts, and that’s how we’re able to get things done.

After the week-long campaign, Alex brought his poster home, and I could see that he and his friends had made the perfect illustration of how the body works best when we work together.  Just like the body of Christ works better when we recognize our own strengths and those of others, and then we get to work individually and as one.









When I pick my sons Clay and Alex up from elementary school, I often give them a rundown of the afternoon ahead.  I tell them whether they have karate or soccer practice or if their older brother has a basketball game.  This day happened to be Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season in preparation for Easter.  I explained that we’d go to Church for a small service, and then Pastor Chris would put ashes on our heads in the shape of a cross.  They’d participated in Ash Wednesday services before, but I wasn’t sure they remembered.

That’s when nine-year-old Clay asked a question that made me hit the brakes. “Who are we putting on us?” he said. “What?” I said, whipping my head around to stare at him.  His concern startled me.  “No, no, we aren’t putting anyone’s ashes on our foreheads!” I exclaimed.  I told him that the ashes were from the palms we’d used last year during Palm Sunday when we waved them in Church to simulate the welcome Jesus received on his way into Jerusalem before Holy Week.  The Church had burned the palms last year and kept the ashes.

I racked my brain about why he would think we were going to use someone’s ashes.  Our nineteen-year-old cat had died recently, and we’d talked about how we would get his ashes from the vet.  I figured that was why he was nervous that we would end up with a being’s ashes on our heads. Honestly, there are a lot of things about Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter that can be mystifying, even for adults.

I grew up in Church, but ours did not commemorate Ash Wednesday or Lent. So, when I was in law school, I was unfamiliar with the practice.  Every year, for three years, when my friend Charissa would come to school with ashes on her forehead under her bangs, I would point and say, “You have some dirt on your forehead.”  Not to be rude, in fact, I thought I was being helpful.  But I had forgotten that it was Ash Wednesday because it was not a part of my practice.

I know there are probably deep theological meanings behind Ash Wednesday that I still do not comprehend even though I’ve experienced it for almost twenty years now.  But what I like is the symbolism of God’s claim upon on our lives and our dedication to God in return.  The cross made of ashes rubs off quickly and easily, but perhaps one of our goals for Lent should be to more fully inhabit what the dust on our foreheads demonstrates. What if we try to make our lives a visible reflection of God’s love?  Instead of seeing a cross on our foreheads, people can look at the way we live and see God’s light and love.  Not an easy commitment by any means, but one to consider.  Not in an effort to be perfect, but to show others that God loves imperfect people anyway.

God loves us and wants to remind us of his love over and over and wants us to share that love in turn.  May we make every attempt to fulfill this hope: that others can point to us and identify us as representatives of God’s love, even without the ashes on our heads.



Table for Three



The first stop on our girls’ weekend, which happened to be around Valentine’s Day, was breakfast at a place we’d heard was delicious.  Based on the crowd that morning, others had heard the same.  Before we ordered at the counter, we walked through the restaurant to find a place to sit.  The only table available was long and fit for a big group.  We sat at the end assuming another small group could take the other end of the table.  I told my friends to go order while I saved our seats.

A gentleman walked in and he and his teenage son sat at the other end of the table.  After a moment, he approached a server, and I overheard him say that he had a party of eleven on the way.  They were going to need the whole table, where I sat, or to push other tables together.  They both glanced my way, but didn’t say anything to me.

My initial thoughts were not overly generous.  Nope, not happening.  We were here first.  They can’t have the entire table.  They are just going to have to wait until we are finished eating.  I’m not moving.  I could feel my body tense as I became defensive and possessive.

But then, in a moment of clarity, I looked around the room, just to see if there were any vacancies.  Another father and his son dressed in his boy scout uniform (yes, really, a boy scout) had recently exited the restaurant leaving a table with two seats.  On further inspection, I saw an extra chair sitting alone against another wall.  A family had abandoned the chair in favor of a highchair for their baby.  All I had to do was grab the chair and sit down at the other table to make it a table for three.

I got up and told the man needing the large table that he could have the entire table.  We would move to the smaller one.  He protested at first.  He said it wasn’t necessary.  His group wouldn’t arrive for a few more minutes, he said.  No, I insisted.  We could move to the smaller table.  It wasn’t a hardship.  He thanked me profusely.

I waved at my friends to tell them I’d moved when they returned from the counter.  I explained what had transpired, including my thought process that focused entirely on the scarcity of seats and my need to hold on to what was ours.  I was embarrassed that I’d been ready to dig in my heels to keep our seats when all I had to do was open my eyes to see the space that was appearing all around us.

We ate.  The man’s large group arrived.  During our meal, the man approached our table, said thank you again, and handed me a frosted sugar cookie in the shape of a heart.  I was surprised and delighted.

When I became entrenched in getting my own way, I couldn’t see the other options in front of me.  When I got out of my own way and saw the possibilities though, my heart and the love in the room grew beyond my expectations.

A heart cookie was a delicious end to a meal, a great start to the weekend, and a beautiful symbol of a lesson learned.




When It Rains


IMG_0890Every school day, I give my elementary aged sons, Clay and Alex, the same hurried series of instructions: “eat your breakfast; put your clothes on; brush your teeth; get your shoes on; grab your backpacks.”  On the mornings when it rains, I rush them along even more than usual because the carpool line can grow long as more people drive than when the weather is nice.  On one of those recent rainy days, I added, “put your coat on” as we got into the van. Ten-year old Clay said, “It’s not raining yet.”  “Yes, it is,” I countered.  “We’re inside the garage right now.  Watch,” I said.  I slowly backed out of the garage and the rain pelted the van.  Clay gave me a look that said “fine” and slid his coat on before buckling his seat belt.  He didn’t know it was raining because he hadn’t looked out the windows of the house that morning.  He didn’t know it was raining because our garage is attached to our home.  His mind was on the inside of the house instead of outside.

I started wondering about how our focus shifts between the inside of our homes and the outside of our immediate domains.  Sometimes, our own houses, or lives, are in trouble.  There are leaks and the rain is pouring in the roof.  The wind is blowing the water in under the doors, so the floors are flooded.  We feel like we are wading around with buckets and mops, frantic and worried.  These are the times we need to concentrate on our own houses.  We must take care of our lives and families when we are in need and should seek and accept help from others to deal with the circumstances life throws our way.

When things settle down in our own homes, and everything returns to normal, we tend to hunker down in the calm after the storm.  We are so relieved to stop struggling that we simply stay inside to remain safe and avoid any other calamity.  We may even assume that because we are okay for now, everyone else is okay too.

But if we focus only on our own lives, we fail to see that the rain may still be falling on others’ lives.  When we don’t look beyond our own realities, we miss the suffering of others, from people in our immediate communities enduring emotional, financial, and health challenges to those who are hurting in the community at large, be it our city, state, country, or world.  While we cannot solve every person’s problems, we can become more aware of others’ issues and understand the reasons for their pain.

The other day, I heard a radio interview with some people who were on the edge of poverty.  They had jobs, but they also had college debt, medical bills, children, some of whom had special needs, and on and on.  One of them said, “I’m not stupid.  I’m not lazy.”  She just wanted others to understand that her plight was complicated and not easily solved. She wanted to be seen in her God-given humanity, not as someone who was less than because she didn’t have much money. The woman was busy trying to keep a roof over her head – literally.  She had to keep her eyes on the problems right in front of her to survive.

But if our lives are running relatively smoothly, we can make efforts to learn about the vulnerabilities of others.  Awareness is a first step toward understanding and then helping in some way. Let’s take care of our own lives certainly, but let’s also reach out to those stuck out in a downpour.  Maybe all we can offer is an umbrella, but perhaps that caring gesture is a start and just what the other person needs.