Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Seedtime and Harvest

Picture yourself today as a farmer planting seeds. You are planting the old-fashioned way--broadcasting seed with a flip of the wrist out over a waiting field. Some seeds fall near you, some far away. The bag over your shoulder is heavy with seed and all day long you walk and cast seeds, walk and cast. Seeds fly away from you as though they have a mind of their own, when you are standing, when you are sitting, quiet or talking, seeds leave your hand and cover the ground for miles. 

In reality, this is precisely what's happening at this very moment whether you are aware of it or not. You are a sower, and you are sowing seeds. Seeds are tiny bits of potential. Once released, they nestle into the soil, and they grow. Pay attention to the seeds you are sowing because you will reap a harvest of whatever you plant. Are you planting bitterness, unforgiveness, worry, anger, or discord? Are you planting hope, healing, faith, and kindness? How do you even know what you're planting? Key: Pay attention to the words that come out of your mouth. Your speech reveals what your heart is filled with. Nothing you say is neutral, it all matters, all seeds grow into something after its own kind. You have been blessed so you can be a blessing--Happy Harvesting!

"And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
                 “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
                   their righteousness endures forever.”
 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." 2 Corinthians 9:8-11

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Count it All Joy

I am thankful for trials. Ouch. It hurt me just to type that. Who is thankful for hardship? Who wants struggles and challenges? Who needs that? I do. And so do you.

Trials, all by themselves, do not produce character, but they certainly expose it. Someone explained it to me this way once, "You can tell what's in a container when it's bumped." What spills out of you when you get jostled, knocked over?

It's good to practice with the small stuff--since that's what comprises the majority of our angst in life: Someone cuts you off in traffic, or the grocery line. The Bozo in the truck ahead of you has a green light but he just keeps sitting there on his cell phone. The dog shredded the trash all over the kitchen and dining room. Your toddler has diarrhea all the way from his socks to his eyebrows...and you forget to buy wipes...and you are at a restaurant. Your boss has failed to notice all the extra work you've been putting in and refuses to allow the time off you requested for a family gathering. Your neighbor can't seem to remember when his yard ends and your yard begins. How do you respond? (And yes, these are all real life examples from my life.) Do you lay on the horn? Do you rant out loud or in your head at the stupidity and injustice of it all?

How about the big stuff? What comes out of your heart through your mouth when the house doesn't sell and you know you can't afford two mortgages? How about when the specialists run thousands of dollars worth of tests and they still don't know what's wrong with you? Or when budget cuts mean you are out of a job? What happens when the doctor looks at your loved one and says, "I'm sorry...there's nothing more we can do." What then?

In Life's big and small trials, we learn things about ourselves. We learn that we are not as tough or as smart and self-sufficient as we'd like to think. We find that we are frail, emotionally and physically. We don't have what it takes. When we reach the end of our rope, we look up--we look for help. Trials put us in a position to admit our need for God. That is the goal of suffering. In the humble state of our neediness, God gives grace. Embracing our weakness, God shows Himself strong. When we are ridiculous enough to show JOY in hardship, God imparts strength to us that causes us to develop ENDURANCE. When we train ourselves to stand and face trials joyfully, not consumed by searching for a shortcut out of them, but actually permit our Father to work THROUGH them IN us for His good purposes, we grow. We mature. We become complete, lacking nothing.

Oh, the rewards--the benefits--of learning grace under fire, joy in trials, courage in adversity! Think back on a season in your own life when something you thought would finish you made you stronger in your faith. Is there Someone you should thank?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Portraits of Love

Night falls early in Minnesota's winters. I am fifteen, standing outside with a boy who is two years older than me. He is wearing a denim jacket with a fleece collar, patched blue jeans, and army surplus boots. A navy stocking cap is pulled down over his ears. Snow falls thickly within the circle of a nearby streetlight. It floats down in exaggerated feathery masses, muting sound, suspending time. Showy flakes collect on the boy's lashes and blond curls that hang below his cap. His white teeth flash, his blue eyes twinkle as he kicks snow onto my boot, laughing, teasing. He leans in then, and kisses me full on the lips. He has never kissed a girl before. I have never been kissed. There is an awkward clash of noses, a rush of combined warmth, and it is over. I look down, feeling the heat still on my face and the pounding of my heart. The breath that I've been holding escapes in a cloud of frozen vapor and we laugh again. Surely, this is love!

With the last of my strength, I push. There is the sensation of pressure and tearing, followed by a slippery gush of liquid and heat. I collapse, sweating and shaking, against the pillows behind me as the cries of an indignant newborn fill the small room. I cry, big salty tears of exhaustion and relief. Through a blur I see the swaddled baby they lay in my arms. Eyes wide open, she stares at this bright new world she's entered. Her hair is plastered against the ridges of her scalp, streaked with my blood. She curls her wrinkled fist around my finger and I marvel at her tiny blue fingernails, her perfect lips, and her smooth-as-butter skin. For months I have felt her kicking and turning, waking and hiccuping inside me and now--the familiar stranger and I meet. Hello, Sweetheart--I'm your mommy!" I whisper. Surely, this is love!

The room is eerily quiet except for the sound of her labored breathing. My Gram, best friend of my childhood, confidante of my adolescence, cheerleader of my young adulthood, is dying. I lean my head against the rail of her bed, feel the coolness of metal on my cheek. I trace the familiar veins on the back of her hand with my finger. Her breath comes in rattling inconsistency. I find the air in short supply for my own lungs and wonder how I will ever continue breathing once she stops. My dad stands on the opposite side of the bed holding her other hand. "It's okay, Mom...you can go...we'll be fine," he tells her in a voice thick with grief. And the two of us, her only son and first grandchild, walk her to the gate. We remove the rings from her hands, tuck the sheet tighter around her thin shoulders, and weep. Surely, this is love!

A man hangs naked and bleeding on a crude beam of wood suspended from a post in the ground.  His hands and feet are pierced through with cruel spikes that hold him to a torturous death. Dark clouds roll overhead and it begins to rain. Gasping, straining for a painful breath, he looks down at his tormentors and prays, "Father, forgive them. They don't realize what they are doing." This man, beaten beyond recognition, the same who joined His Father in breathing the stars and planets into space. This, the Ancient of Days, Great I AM, Prince of Peace, Blameless Lamb--he who takes my punishment, bears my shame, forever settling a debt I cannot afford. This is the price God's Son willingly pays to buy me back, to give me an eternal and abundant life. Surely, this is love!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Blessed Birthdays

I am thankful for aging. Age brings many gifts, the first of which is Perspective. Events of my childhood stand out as feature-film length when they were but six-second vines. When I was 8, our dog Ginger gave birth to three fat puppies. My sister and I played with them endlessly, cuddling and naming them, and were heartbroken when they went to new homes. And oh! how the time dragged in those days until Christmas, and birthdays, and the county fair! Then came the really long year I was 13 when nothing in world news compared to the horror of pimples on my nose or the thrill of a cute boy smiling at me in the lunch line. At 24, summer crept along lazily while I lounged with my two little girls in the sun at the lake. At 33, the pace picked up as I was distracted by moves and job status and image, and chunks of my 40's blurred by my preoccupation of threats to my health. Perspective is good friends with Wisdom. Wisdom knows that Time is fleeting. Wisdom knows that what other people think of me is none of my business. The older I get, the greater the percentage of the population becomes on the younger side of me and I begin to feel like Everyone's Mother. What is intimidating about everyone being younger than you? Nothing! I am old enough now to know I don't know much. I am old enough to know that I control very little in my own life much less anyone else's. Every day the sun rises and sets on schedule without my help. Spring follows winter with summer after that and I don't have to lift a finger. God is on His throne and He laughs at the boastful plans I make. He knows I am made of dust and my days--like grass--are numbered and fleeting. I do not pine for my youth or wish to return to The Good Ol' Days. These words from 2 Corinthians 4:16 help keep my focus, "That is why we are not discouraged. Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day." My favorite part of my life is happening right now and the BEST--is yet to come!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Work: Love in Action

I am thankful for work. Work was not part of The Fall, as some think, but was instituted by God: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Gen. 2:15) So, the oldest profession is really GARDENING! This is work that I have only discovered in the last decade of my life. It is a good thing to labor in the dirt among the rocks and tree roots, to battle weeds, to prune and transplant, to supply water and nutrients and seed. When I was a child, I thought of work as punishment. As and adult, there have been seasons of my life when I have been physically unable to work and that's when I most vividly realized its value. The paycheck is great, but it's not just about that. To work is to create, to restore and maintain, to serve. Work is noble and we find fulfillment when we embrace it. All work has worth and dignity whether you are washing dishes, pumping gas, unloading trucks, or managing a hospital. I love going to work every day. I am an assistant. I assist. I have the most lovely person to sit by every day and my entire job is to help her. I sort mail. I answer the phone. I label, file, shred, and stamp things. I deliver messages. I cover books and collect receipts. I sanitize surfaces and clean windows. Many precious teenagers, teachers, and parents approach our desk every day and I assist them. What a privilege! How are you making the world a better place for someone else today?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Savoring Reruns

Me with my Gram, 1963
I am thankful for memories. Memories are the mental scrapbook of your life that you can pull out whenever you have a spare moment to relive them--in the grocery store line, at a stop light, at night when you can't sleep. My head is FULL of these "video books" and I visit them regularly. Memories are funny in that they evoke all of your senses and take you back in time: I am a child, having a sleepover at my Gram's. Her whole house smells like the Occur! perfume she buys from Myrtle Hanson, the door-to-door Avon Lady. Her bed is cozy and sags in the middle like a big feathered nest and I am giddy with the joy of being near her. She's wearing the slippery pink nightie I pulled from the top dresser drawer for her. I feel the wrinkled veins and heat of her hand as she pats my flannel-clad, little girl self. I hear her voice, low and soothing as she recounts stories of visiting her own grandmother in Thief River Falls. I listen, snuggled against the warm weight of her body until her even breathing turns to soft snoring. And the contentment, the love and security that I felt in those moments is mine again. It is a part of my grandmother that I have not lost. It is mine to pull out and enjoy again whenever I want. THIS is the power of Memory. What a priceless gift we've been given--the ability to travel in time, to raise the dead to life!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Echoes of the Unseen

I am thankful for MUSIC. Our family has a homemade lullaby we sing to our babies from the day they are born. It contains only five simple notes. The words are "Bye-oh, bye-0h, Bay-bee, by-oh, by-oh Bay-bee." There are other verses with equally compelling lyrics. It lends itself well to fits of improv. My mother sang it to me and my sisters. I sang it to my five children, and we all sing it to theirs. The other day, I observed my 20 month-old granddaughter cradling her dolly and singing that very distinct tune. and my heart melted, flooded with wonder. Music is one of the earliest things we notice and one of the last things we let go of. A growing field of study is in the area of Music Therapy. It has been said that "Music soothes the savage beast," and it also works miracles on the human soul--particularly among the elderly and those with special needs. Music provides pathways to the past, connecting us to memories that we may not be able to access with conscious thought. Have you witnessed non-verbal individuals, closed off to everyone around them,
perk up when a familiar hymn or song is played then smile, and sing along? Music is a gift that defies logic and reason. What mysterious force compels us to tap our toes to a beat, or hum and whistle when we are alone? Music is other-worldly, emanating from around the throne of God. It flows through the canals of our ears, bypasses the brain, and caresses the soul in a powerful. inexplicable way. We experience this when we hear music with no words that makes us weep. I believe there's a receptor hidden deep in our souls that hears the song of the stars.. The melody courses through us as real as the blood through our veins. We were made for this--to hear music, to make music, to return music in worship of the Composer and Giver of All That is Good.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Leaving the Race to the Rats

I am thankful for TIME. Time is more precious than money, for no one can trade for it, save it, or buy even a minute of it. Every person alive will have 24 hours--1440 minutes, 74,400 seconds--in their gift package of Today. Yet Time is something we casually waste, even brag about killing. At the very least, most of us are Abusers of Time. We take small chunks of it and expect to cram impossible amounts of Things to Do in it, always feeling pressure that we somehow weren't allotted ENOUGH. Time Gluttons, we are never satisfied, always lusting for more. MORE. The older we get, Fat on Time and Rich in Days, the more attention we pay to its pace. The ticking seems louder and the hands spin faster around the face of our clocks every year. We look back and regret how much of it we've squandered and look forward anxious about how much is left. The question is, "Why?" Why do we wish for more? What would we do with more than we are doing with this Gift of Today? As you and I sit, perched on the edge of a new day, let us consider this: How about if we just fully live Today? Let's not wolf it down, swallowing without chewing, but intentionally slow down and SAVOR it. Let's toss out our To Do Lists. For one day, we won't tell ourselves (or others) how BUSY we are. I am as tired of hearing it from you as you are hearing it from me You are no more busy than I am. I have the same amount of time in this day as you do. The real question that needs to be answered is, "What will we do with This Gift of Today?" People talk about Living in the Moment. What if we really did that today? What if we fully lived in 1,440 moments? What if, for today, we let go of yesterday and tomorrow? What if we took tiny bites of THIS day, chewing and noticing, appreciating and ingesting everything that comes to us in each mouthful? Jesus came to give us abundant life--a life that is full of purpose and meaning--a life that satisfies the deepest longing of our souls until Time is of no consequence. (John 10:10) Don't be in a hurry. Don't be distracted. Don't be robbed. Don't miss it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver

I am thankful for words--vehicles that deliver images, convey deep emotion, render dimension to amorphous concepts. Words can be used as weapons and have the power to wound, kill, and destroy. But greater still is their power to create, heal, give life. In the beginning, God SPOKE and the clock started ticking. God spoke the stars and galaxies into existence with His words. The Word was with God in the beginning and everything that was made was made by Him. Then, at the perfect moment in time, God spoke Incarnation and the Word appeared on our planet wrapped in human skin--the perfect visual message in a language mortals could understand. This Word of God bled and died, taking the punishment that was ours so that by our own utterance of His name, one word--JESUS--we can receive light and grace and salvation. Consider, today, the thousands of times you will push air from your lungs, past larynx, over formed lips and tongue into the hearing of others. Pause before you do and consider the listener. Is what you are about to say good? Is it necessary? Helpful? True? Use this wonderful gift wisely and with thankfulness!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Season by Season

Walking down the sidewalk in sunshine this afternoon, I was freshly impressed by the carpet of perfect, bright yellow leaves underfoot; their vibrant hues exploding upon my retinas. I love the way they rest, scattered like so much inconsequential confetti after a blow-out party. The random stragglers remaining on the trees glow opaquely, backlit by the sun as luminously as stained glass in the most ornate cathedral. I absorb the soft, diffused light, the crispness of the air, the damp, earthy scent of withering flora. Season by season, God makes his faithfulness known and displays his splendor to all who will but take note. 

Photo: Walking down the sidewalk in sunshine this afternoon, I was freshly impressed by the carpet of perfect, bright yellow leaves underfoot; their vibrant hues exploding upon my retinas. I love the way they rest, scattered like so much inconsequential confetti after a blow-out party. The random stragglers remaining on the trees glow opaquely, backlit by the sun as luminously as stained glass in the most ornate cathedral. I absorb the soft, diffused light, the crispness of the air, the damp, earthy scent of withering flora. Season by season, God makes his faithfulness known and displays his splendor to all who will but take note. #blessingsallminewithtenthousandbesides
Photo by Amy Synstelien Garvin

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Wisdom of the Innocents

My introduction to the cruelty of life came at a young age. My two sisters and I were given three baby bunnies one summer which we named Petunia, Sweet Pea, and Tar Baby. For weeks we coddled our wee bundles of fluff, wrapping them in doll blankets, toting them everywhere we went, feeding them treats of grapes and peanut butter crackers. By fall, when we headed back to school, the novelty of our pets had worn off and they spent more and more time in their joint pen where they grew into adult rabbits who mated and gave birth. Discovering the new babies was not the Disney Experience you might expect but more of a Bunny Holocaust: The naked, newborn bunnies were tiny and perfect--right down to their miniature noses and eyelashes. And they were also bloodied and half-eaten; victims of their own witless, clueless mothers who greeted us with their usual enthusiasm, looking for treats.

Sometimes, it takes a child to give voice to what adults shudder to acknowledge. I recall a story from years ago, of a mother who had inadvertently left out a pamphlet of information on abortion that contained graphic images of aborted fetuses. Her toddler discovered the pamphlet and brought it to her mother and asked with a furrowed brow, "Who broke the baby?"

The little girl was too young to know that what she was seeing, human body parts, was "not actually a baby, but a fetus, a mere blob of flesh" torn from the uterus of a woman who did not welcome it. She was too young to know that a decision whether to "continue the pregnancy" was a "personal matter between a woman and her doctor." She did not know that human life is valuable and protected only when children are planned and wanted. She did not know that the country in which she lives is hotly divided by this issue of the Right to Choose, precluding any rights of personhood the child itself may deserve. She did not know that babies can be legally crushed and torn limb from limb out of their mother's bodies until the day they are due to be born, and it is not considered a crime. This little girl's brain was not muddled with political correctness. All she knew was someone had broken a baby.

Like this child, there is much I don't understand in our world. Just as I could not fathom a momma rabbit killing and eating her own young, I do not understand the female gender of my species. I do not understand women who fight for equality with men in every respect forgetting that they have an ability no man could ever possess--the gift to conceive, nurture, and bear life. Only a woman will ever experience the wonder of an unborn baby's hiccups or midnight gymnastics. Only she will know the thrill of pushing that person from her body into the world and hearing his first cries. It is a privilege that defies description! If it were only men who were lobbying for abortion rights, I could maybe understand--they might feign ignorance based on lack of experience. What could they know about the wonder of cohabiting the same body as another? And yet women, in defense of women's rights, are militant about permitting the choice of other women to kill their innocent unborn children. How can they not defend the tiniest, weakest souls among us who have no voice? How can other women turn away and stay silent? Where is the maternal instinct in humanity? Are we so cultured, so wise, so beyond something as base as reproducing other humans? Where is nurturing? Where is tenderness? Does this not go against everything that is sane?

Oh, that we would ask a toddler what is right!

I am convinced that any girl/woman considering abortion would think twice if she got to see what was really going on inside her womb. What if she could see that child opening and closing his fingers or sucking his thumb? Or what if live abortions were shown on cable TV channels just like other routine surgeries in reality programming? You know why they aren't. Abortions are not like any other surgeries and we instinctively know it! We want to keep things secret and private so the reality of the horror is known only to a select few which have somehow managed to override their own consciences. Today I watched an older movie clip on YouTube called The Eclipse of Reason. Charlton Heston gives the introduction and then a physician who formerly performed abortions talks the viewing audience through an actual abortion as seen through a fiber optics camera inserted into a woman's uterus. You see the child's limbs torn from his torso as blood fills the uterus. The 12 oz baby is extracted piece by piece and reassembled like a puzzle on a sterile tray to make sure they "got everything." I had to turn away in tears. I could not watch.

What will it take for people to see this "procedure" for what it is? Where are the mothers and why aren't they crying out against this horrid practice? Where are the doctors whose goal must be to preserve all life? We cringe as we hear accounts of ancient civilizations who tossed children into active volcanoes or sacrificed them on the fiery arms of stone idols. Oh, the horror of genocide and gas chambers and medical experimentation that we read about in history books and see on CNN. Yet our crime is worse! We clamor for animal rights and gay rights, and decry everything that smacks of discrimination in one breath; and then, in the name of human rights and choice, we allow hundreds of our children to be chopped to pieces every day for convenience and profit. How can we call ourselves an intelligent, civil society and why is there is no media and public outcry?

There is a murder trial currently taking place which ought to be the story of the century. A doctor and his staff are accused of killing countless infants who survived his abortions, and permanently maiming women in a Philadelphia clinic. Reading accounts of the charges against him, it appears the man is more a butcher than a doctor. Babies born living were beheaded and discarded without a thought. This physician's specialty was late term abortions. He joked about his victims--one whom was so far along (30 weeks)--he quipped, "That one was big enough to walk himself to the bus stop!" And it wasn't only babies that died at his cruel hands, but their mothers as well. Why isn't the rage first and loudest from supporters of "choice?" Surely this is not what Planned Parenthood and its supporters had in mind: A woman who bled to death because of medical negligence and others who were severely damaged and rendered sterile when they said matters such as these are every woman's right? And you must realize that half of all the babies aborted are also female...what about their rights?

Whenever debate about abortion comes up, there are always the exceptions that are showcased: What about rape and incest? What about when the health of the mother is at stake? I daresay these situations comprise a very small percentage of abortions performed every day. The more common scenarios are repeat procedures requested by women who have come to regard abortion as a viable form of birth control. You have to wonder why this is so since we continually inundate our young people with sex education and free contraceptives. Why is pregnancy the common "surprise" that it is? An unplanned pregnancy of any kind should be the exception rather than the hundreds that are terminated every day considering all the information and prophylactics we have at our disposal.

So here's the deal--I am actually pro-choice. Yes, you heard me correctly: I believe a girl or a woman should have a choice. She can choose to abstain from activities known to produce children, or she can take measures to lessen that possibility. Suppose, despite the best the pharmacy has to offer, she still finds herself pregnant? Good news--more choices: Pregnancy is a limited condition lasting only  nine months. To her advantage, there remains but a vestige of the shameful stigma once associated with a woman's unplanned pregnancy. Religious and secular organizations alike stand ready to offer women assistance with health care, emotional and physical support, counseling, even job training both during and after the pregnancy whether she chooses to raise her child or gift it to someone waiting to adopt. A woman has many choices with regard to her body and sexuality. Murder should not be one of those options.

To all the broken babies of the world--I am sorry. I am sorry for a culture that considered you a burden and not a blessing. I'm sorry that the warmth and comfort of the only home you ever knew was not the place of safety it should have been. I'm sorry there were no loving arms and smiles to welcome you into our world. My heart breaks for all you have missed; the middle-of-the-night cuddles, the sweet smell of baby shampoo on your downy heads, the fleecy-softness of baby clothes, the sunshine on your cheeks, the rattling purr of kitties, the first taste of ice cream. I'm sorry millions of us missed out on the chance to be your mommies and daddies. You did nothing wrong. You did not deserve this. Please forgive us. God help us.

Add caption

 This photo was taken in 1999 when a surgeon was operating on an unborn baby named Samuel whose gestational age was 21 weeks. The surgeon was correcting a hole in the baby's spine. You can see the baby reaching out his tiny hand and grasping the surgeon's gloved finger as if to thank him. Not a person?