Giving, Not Taking

fountain image

Now that it’s “back to school” season, it’s a perfect time to re-visit some commitments to good works. After several lazy, hazy weeks of summer, students have probably gotten out of the habit of reading and disciplining themselves to do homework.

As a family, you may have also strayed from some of those commitments you resolved to follow earlier in the year.

That’s okay. God rested when He saw that His work was good.

We all deserve an occasional break to regroup, refuel, re-prioritize; but are we taking those breaks before we see that our work is good? Are our priorities where they need to be?

According to Forbes Media, only eight percent of us keep our New Year’s resolutions. Staying committed to personal goals, professional goals, and spiritual goals with only an eight percent success rate is a sad statistic.

What might happen if we committed ourselves to giving more than we take?

giving tree

The classic children’s story “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein illustrates the happiness that can be found by giving and not taking.

In this story a tree and a boy develop a loving relationship by spending time together. Their commitment to each other nurtures their friendship.

The tree gives unconditionally to the boy, but the boy eventually chooses to focus only on his own needs and wants.

“I want to buy things and have fun,” the boy tells the tree.

He believes money and material things will make him happy; so the tree agrees to give him her apples, her branches, and her trunk. The boy takes these gifts and then focuses on himself.

Even though the tree is the giver, the boy, like us, is the taker. The tree gives selflessly, but the boy takes selfishly.

When the boy grows old, he returns to the tree to find happiness; but he has no teeth with which to chew the apples and no strength with which to climb the tree’s branches.

Like the boy in this story, if we constantly focus on our own wants and needs, we often fail to realize how happy we could make God by taking less and giving to Him more.

Romans 12: 2 tells us not to be conformed to this world (not to allow technology or other temptations to rule our lives), but to make our lives acceptable to God (to commit to those personal, professional, and spiritual goals).

If we would make serious commitments to these matters, our schools would not need testing accountability, our divorce rates would plummet, and our church pews would overflow.

People in today’s society often claim they are entitled to rewards without putting forth effort. However, as former Major League Baseball player Rex Hudler advised, we should all try to “be a fountain, not a drain.” In other words, be a giver, not a taker.

As this new school year begins, I pray for each student to give 110% effort to learning. I also pray for each teacher to share genuine passion for the education profession. It’s hard work, but try to stay committed.

I pray for family members to love each other unconditionally and to think of others more than themselves.

I pray for the community of believers to re-commit themselves to church and Sunday school attendance.

Your commitment to spending time with God will bring happiness to Him and to you.

Like the boy who developed a loving relationship with the giving tree, we can find happiness when we commit ourselves to giving more than we take.

“Let your heart therefore be wholly devoted to the Lord our God, to walk in His statutes and to keep His commandments.” 1 Kings 8:61

“Love sought is good, but given unsought is better.” –Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Acts 2:42; Hebrews 13:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spreading Joy

joy

Bubbles! I love bubbles! Even the word sounds happy!

July is a great month to play with bubbles, by the way.

When we blow into those suds-soaked bubble wands, we surround ourselves and those around us with bubbles. These bubbles, carried by the wind, reach out to everyone nearby. The joy of the bubbles is contagious.

On the other hand, if we blow our bubbles into a paper bag and close the top, the bubbles quickly disappear. No joy is spread, and the bubbles die.

Like the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine,” we can spread joy and other fruits of the Spirit by letting our lights shine and by letting our bubbles blow.

For example, have you ever witnessed a child whose tickle box has been overturned? You can’t help but smile and giggle with that child. The joy is contagious. It spreads like wildfire!

bubbles image3

According to the old camp song “Pass It On” by Kurt Kaiser, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love. Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone. You want to pass it on.”

I recently attended a revival service where I witnessed several people sharing their testimonies. Their faith-sharing spread like wildfire throughout the congregation. I felt the power of the Holy Spirit in that sanctuary, and I saw the bubbling over of joy.

Pollyanna, an icon in the 1913 children’s book by Eleanor H. Porter, spreads her feel-good attitude to everyone in her community. Having learned a spirit of optimism from her father, Pollyanna teaches a disheartened group of townspeople to see the good in every situation.

Pollyanna finds her rationale from the Word. She reasons, “If God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it—SOME.” Her advice is well-received, and her joy spreads like wildfire.

The theme for this summer’s Kentucky Christian Writers Conference was based on Acts 13:49: “The word of the Lord spread like wildfire through the whole region” (MSG). Hallee Bridgeman, coordinator for the conference, encouraged participants to share their words and allow their gifts from God to “spread like wildfire.” She used Paul and Barnabas as an example. When they began sharing the good news about Christ, an entire city showed up to hear more.

So go ahead. Blow your bubbles, let your light shine, be like Pollyanna and Paul and Barnabas, share your talents. You can make someone’s day brighter. An entire city might want to hear more.

“Go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”Isaiah 55:12

“Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.” –Shakespeare’s Sonnet VIII

Psalm 47:1, Philippians 4:4, Galatians 5:22 

 

A Reader Review

riverjordanbook

River Jordan’s latest book, Confessions of a Christian Mystic, clearly connects with my heart and soul. Her words speak to me like a faded photo album from my own childhood.

River’s talent as a writer oozes through her “dancing swirl of words” in her description of the serenity surrounding her Nashville home. Her observations reflect an inner peace relatable to me as a Christian and, I hope, serve as a witness for those who might be looking for a relationship with Christ.

Skeptics of the term “mystic” need not be disheartened. River believes a mystic is “someone who desires to live and breathe and move in the presence of the divine.” Her story attests that she is doing just that.

Her analogies paint delightful pictures of the people in her life. I can easily imagine an Episcopal priest “as grand as Gandalf” and a guy “channeling James Dean.” Her references to pop culture from the last several decades make her story relevant to Baby Boomers as well as Gen X, Y, and Z.

River Jordan reveals her humanness in this book. She gives an honest and beautiful account of what a real Christian should confess to be: a flawed, but fueled-by-the-Holy Spirit child of God. She reminds us that all Christians, mystic or not, should show tolerance, empathy, and forgiveness.

I often pray for strangers because of River Jordan. Now, I will be more aware of the “company I keep and what conversations and influences fuel [my life].”

Who You Are and Whose You Are

writing desk

Several of my former colleagues retired from teaching this year. Bless ‘em!!

I understand their paradox of emotions as they have made this decision. Panic, relief. Fear, trust. Sadness, joy. Doubt, hope.

“Should I, or shouldn’t I”?

“Will I stop being useful”?

“Teaching has been my life. How can I stop being a teacher?”

That’s just it. We never stop being a teacher, a carpenter, an engineer, a salesman, a banker, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child of God. Our positions, our circumstances, our roles may change; but God continues to have a purpose for us all.

God has a plan for each of us at every stage of our lives. If we will let go and let God, He will use us to fulfill that purpose.

For example, the book of Esther tells us about a young woman who was uncertain about her future. When King Mordecai reminds Esther to relinquish her own desires, she turns to prayer and fasting and places her trust in God. Esther learns that she has been created “for such a time as this.” (See Esther 4:1-17.)

Emily Dickinson’s “I’m Nobody! Who are you? /Are you nobody, too?” is a sad commentary on an agoraphobic poet who felt she made no difference. But look at how the world sees her now!

Sooki, the beloved saggy, baggy elephant struggles to understand what kind of animal he is, but he eventually learns that God has a purpose for everyone.

In “The Tale of Three Trees” by Angela Hunt, three saplings dream of growing up to be beautiful and strong and tall. All three trees suffer great disappointment, however, when they are eventually cut down, never to reach the heavens. They believe they have failed in their usefulness. After time has passed and dreams have been forgotten, the first tree discovers she has been fashioned into a manger to hold the Christ child. The second tree realizes her value as a fishing boat carrying Christ and his disciples. Finally, the third tree finds herself holding the Savior as He shows His love to the world by making the ultimate sacrifice.

God had a special purpose for these trees just as He has for you and me.

manger

To all the teachers and others who find themselves at a crossroad, you will find your purpose. You will never stop being.

Even though I have retired, I continue to sub and work part-time at my old school. While recently completing paperwork to qualify as a testing proctor, I was asked to identify myself as a “teacher,” “administrator,” or “other.” I wasn’t sure how to answer the question; so I consulted the testing coordinator.

His reply: “You will always be a teacher.”

My response: Misty eyes, a lump in my throat, and so much appreciation for those words.

“And when I am forgotten, as I shall be, and asleep in dull cold marble, where no mention of me must be heard of, say, I taught thee.” –William Shakespeare

“For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.” Ephesians 2:10

Philippians 2:13; Proverbs 19:21

It’s May!

 

rosebushscript

“It’s May, it’s May,” sang Guinevere in Camelot, my all-time favorite movie.

The earth’s alive, and everything’s abloom. If you’re an allergy sufferer, then bless you. I hope you can still savor the season.

Springtime, this season of rebirth, represents a season of hope. It’s what the world needs now. Yes, it needs love, sweet love; but it also needs hope.

According to naturalist Edwin Way Teale, “All things seem possible in May.”

Henry David Thoreau labeled this month “an experience in immortality.”

When I walk around my subdivision or work in my yard during this season, I sense the glory of God. The sights, sounds, and scents coming from my limited world of flora and fauna inspire me.

I cherish the lily of the valley, azaleas, rhododendron, and knockout roses currently in bloom around me. Every year around Mother’s Day, my peony bush bursts open and reminds me of my paternal grandmother’s colorful spring yard.

lily of the valley in yard

As a child, my sister and I watched our mother lovingly care for a garden of gladioli, and we often played in the shade of our maternal grandmother’s Rose of Sharon bush. Now my sister’s own green thumb produces beautiful roses and hydrangeas every spring.

RoseofSharon

From the squirrels that scamper through my towering oak trees to the tiny acorns that fall, I revel in the majesty of the One who made them all.

treesquirrel

Yes, Shakespeare, “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, where oxlips and the nodding violet grows.”

The month of May gives me hope. I agree with Robert Browning: “God IS in His heaven, and all’s right with the world.”

In today’s world it’s easy to get caught up in the negativity and deceit and sinfulness surrounding us all. However, those things have always been a part of us.

I am often overwhelmed by the leaves blanketing my yard during fall and winter. I imagine life would be much simpler without all my trees. Then suddenly my trees are filled with song. The season of spring reminds me to change my perspective, to look for inspiration, to believe in newness.

birdintree

The apostle Paul urges his friend Timothy to flee from evil and fight the good fight of faith. (See 1 Timothy, Chapter 6.)

Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report.”

Springtime can be a mood booster. Allow yourself to bask in its beauty.

If you can, take a walk around your home, your street, your local park. Soak up the sounds and scents and scenery. Breathe in the new. Let go of the old. Find the hope.

The movie Camelot revolves around the theme of good versus evil, the same good and evil present in our world today. There is betrayal, but there is also forgiveness. Lancelot and Guinevere take the tonsure and the veil for their sins; but, most importantly, Arthur forgives them.

Arthur believes in the power of forgiveness. He sees hope in a young boy, a boy who has a vision for the future.

We may have been through a rough winter, but spring is upon us. It gives us hope. Let’s hold on to it!

If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims!!

By the way, the Pilgrim’s ship was called the Mayflower because it was scheduled to set sail in May, and the word flower was added to symbolize the hope of finding a new opportunity in a new world.

Romans 12:12; Song of Songs 2:1; Matthew 6:25-27; Psalm 104:12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spring of Hope

Ah, Spring! Thou hast returned, and none too soon!

(Note: Spring is capitalized in the preceding sentence only because I have personified the word. According to Harbrace Rule 9a: “The names of seasons—spring, summer, fall, winter—are not capitalized.”)

Yes, Tennessee has endured a seemingly endless wet winter, but the new season of spring has now awakened a sense of hope after a period of short gray days and long cold nights.

But we must endure the bad to fully appreciate the good. “April showers bring May flowers,” right?

chaucer opening

In his prologue to “The Canterbury Tales,” Geoffrey Chaucer praises the many elements of nature that herald a beautiful time of year. He references the April rains which bathe the flowers’ veins, preparing the way for nature’s rebirth.

In the late 1700’s William Wordsworth wrote the lyrical poem “Lines Written in Early Spring.” He must have been influenced by the April showers as well as the flowers that follow the rains.

As a religious man Wordsworth believed communing with nature allowed him to commune more closely with God. This poem, however, presents a paradox of emotions: the pleasures of experiencing the beauty of God’s creation and the pain of knowing the miseries of humanity.

Spring caused the poet’s pleasant thoughts to drift to sad thoughts, and his heart mourned to think “what man has made of man.”

While Wordsworth’s thoughts were likely tainted by the cruelty of the French Revolution, our thoughts can also be easily turned afoul if we dwell on the myriad problems of our modern society.

Like Wordsworth, my heart also grieves “to think of what man has made of man.” But today, I choose to have hope. Instead of dwelling on the cross, I choose to focus on the crown.

A beautiful song entitled “Mercy Tree,” written by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale, illustrates the bittersweet experience of death and resurrection and the hope that springs eternal.

mercy tree

On a hill called Calvary, there stands an endless mercy tree. Every broken, weary soul, find your rest and be made whole. Stripes of blood that stain its frame shed to wash away our shame, from the scars, pure love released, salvation by the mercy tree. In the sky between two thieves hung the blameless Prince of Peace, bruised and battered, scarred and scorned, Sacred Head pierced by our thorns. “It is finished” was His cry! The perfect Lamb was crucified. The sacrificed, our victory, our Savior chose the mercy tree. Hope went dark that violent day. The whole earth quaked at Love’s display. Three days silent in the ground, this body born for Heaven’s crown. On that bright and glorious day, Heaven opened up the grave. He’s alive and risen indeed! O praise Him for the mercy tree! Death has died; love has won. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus Christ has overcome; He has risen from the dead. He’s risen from the dead!

The sweetness overcomes the bitterness. The Son shines in spite of the pain. We can appreciate the sunshine because we’ve endured the rain.

The crab apple trees in full bloom at this time of year also offer a perfect metaphor. These trees have beautiful blossoms but bear bitter fruit.

Bask in the beauty, not the bitterness.

crabapple-tree

If you are in a season of despair, have patience. Your season of hope is imminent.

Song of Solomon 2: 11-12: “For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

Zechariah 10:1; Isaiah 35:1

The Meek and the Wild

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According to an old English proverb, first referenced by John Fletcher in 1624, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

Robert Schlueter, journalist for The News-Democrat, believes the basis for this proverb lies within the heavens. Schlueter avows that the constellation Aries the Ram (aka lamb) can be seen in the Western night sky on March 1. On that same night Regulus in the constellation Leo the Lion is visible in the East. Thus, the astrological Aries (the goat) follows Leo (the lion).

Not being a fan of astronomy, I prefer to think of the March weather adage as a poetic juxtaposition of the meek and wild.

Although many people misquote Isaiah 11:6 and refer to the lion and the lamb lying down together, this passage actually describes harmony between the wolf and the lamb. Nonetheless, the prophet is referring to a peaceful co-existence of all creatures when Christ returns, a time when the meek and the wild can walk side-by-side without conflict.

I believe humans today should be more like the proverbial lion and lamb. Even though we possess opposing views, why can’t we dwell in harmony together?

The Message translation of Isaiah 11:6-9 describes this harmony as a “living knowledge of God”:

The wolf will romp with the lamb,

            The leopard sleep with the kid.

            Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,

            And a little child will tend them.

            Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,

            Their calves and cubs grow up together,

            And the lion eat straw like the ox

            The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,

            The toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.

            Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain.

            The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,

            A living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

 

Like the lion and the lamb, British poet William Blake (1757-1827) juxtaposes the meek and the wild in his collections called Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

As a devout Christian, Blake believed innocence to be a state of childlike love and trust toward everyone and everything. He saw experience as a state of disappointment and disillusionment with the world. Blake pondered over these two contradictory states of humanity and concluded that experience provided epiphany, thereby allowing him to achieve a sort of cleansing in order to return to a state of innocence.

In his poem “The Lamb,” Blake writes, “Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee? . . . He is meek and he is mild, He became a little child.”

In “The Tyger” Blake asks, “Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

Image result for images of william blake's the lamb

The Lamb created the little lamb.

God made both Blake’s lamb and his tiger, and He created them in His image. He created Christ to be a sacrificial lamb, and He will one day summon His return as the Lion of Judah.

In the meantime, the world must experience balance. God provided the juxtaposition of winter and spring so that we can better appreciate the beauty of His creation. He gave us all things: the day and the night, the sound and silence, the elephant and the donkey, the toddler and the serpent, the animal and the human, the lion and the lamb.

I propose that we take a step back to better appreciate the contrasts in God’s handiwork. By taking a moment to breathe in and breathe out, we can allow our differences to complement each other, not catapult us apart.

Whether your March is meek or wild, may you experience joy in the midst of your tears.

–The Literary Lyonesse

Matthew 5:5; Revelation 5:5-6

 

The Sport of Reading

book heart2

I love books! Some people love football. Others love chocolate. Some people are hooked on Netflix; others can’t get enough pizza. I love books!! Clarification: I don’t literally love books. I literally love Jesus and my family, but I really, really enjoy reading books.

As an English major in college and an English teacher all of my adult life, reading has been my métier. I have always had a fondness for words and great stories.

I was a slow reader in the beginning, but the Bobbsey twins and Nancy Drew worked their magic on me as child. When my aunt came to live with us during my adolescent years, I witnessed her excitement as her “Book of the Month Club” book arrived in the mail. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I was hooked.

Over the years I wanted to emulate other family members as they made reading a priority. My father read and studied his Bible daily, and he was a great fan of Dale Carnegie. My mother found time to enjoy the Reader’s Digest condensed books, and my sister devoured all the classics.

I also had some wonderful English teachers who shared their passion for the written word. I am grateful for family and teachers who showed me how to love books.

I treasure my collections.

My books would probably not impress Netflix star Marie Kondo, who recommends that people “tidy up” by de-cluttering their book collections. I cannot take her advice. My collections are my treasures.

I once heard James Patterson say that anyone who doesn’t enjoy reading has simply not yet found the right book. If you’re still searching for the right book, visit a local bookstore that is hosting an author event. Hearing an author read from his own work will certainly spark your interest. Parnassus Books in Nashville hosts some awesome authors.

Find an author you love, and give yourself permission to read. Go to goodreads.com and browse through the “Read Alikes Book Lists.” Give up your gaming for a fortnight, and spend that time reading.

Here are five of my 2018 “goodreads.” Check out their reviews, and read at least one. Trust me. They’re worth the read.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

Rush by Lisa Patton

While you’re setting aside more time to read this year, don’t forget to spend a little time each day with the greatest book ever written.

I think some kind of major sporting event is being televised tonight, and most of the country will be watching. I’ll be reading.

“I’m going to go to my room and read for awhile, okay? I’m fine. I really am fine: I just want to go read for a while.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books.”
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Romans 15:4

The Greatest Adventure

hobbit

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat:  it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort” (The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien).

Bilbo Baggins loved the comfort of his home. He was content to kick back, go barefoot, eat six meals a day, and NOT have any adventures. However, Bilbo experienced a golden opportunity when he decided to step out of his comfort zone.

Thirteen dwarves and a wizard named Gandalf invited Bilbo to tag along with them on their adventure. Although Bilbo was reluctant to accept this challenge, he found himself caught up in the moment, and he couldn’t turn back.

By mustering up some faith and courage he didn’t know he had, Bilbo experienced the “greatest adventure.” His life was transformed.

In Romans 12:2 Paul gives us the same kind of advice Gandalf gave Bilbo:   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The same kind of opportunity awaits us all as we stand on the threshold of 2019. If we are willing to take a look outside our own dens of comfort, we can find goals to reach, children to teach, pews to fill, wounds to heal, stories to write, and metaphorical dragons to fight.

We will never be the same if we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. We can soar with the eagles, we can run through dark and scary caves and not grow weary, we can walk through murky forests and climb misty mountains and not grow faint. (See Isaiah 40:31.)

At the beginning of the hobbit’s story, Bilbo felt ill-equipped to take on an adventure. We may feel the same; we may think ourselves too young or too old, too timid or too bold. We can find numerous excuses if we look for them.

We must, however, put our trust in God and allow Him to lead us out of our comfortable hobbit holes. If we invite Him to be our guide, He will walk beside us the entire way.

In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

“God created you [and me] to do amazing things” (Ephesians 2:10). I challenge you and myself to begin this new year by accepting the call to adventure.

Get off the couch. Volunteer. Find a new hobby. Write your story. Commit to going to church every Sunday. Commit to a healthier lifestyle. Step out in faith. According to Einstein, “Nothing happens until something moves.”

“[Bilbo] had many hardships and adventures before he got back [home.] The Wild was still Wild, and there were many other things in it in those days beside goblins; but he was well guided and well guarded . . . . He was never in great danger again” (The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien).

The challenge may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Get out there. Take the risk. God will have your back.

hope quote

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.

The chances, the changes are all yours to make.

The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

The greatest adventure is there if you’re bold.

Let go of the moment that life makes you hold.

To measure the meaning can make you delay;

It’s time you stop thinkin’ and wasting the day.

The man who’s a dreamer and never takes leave

Who thinks of a world that is just make-believe

Will never know passion, will never know pain.

Who sits by the window will one day see rain.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

Today and tomorrow are yet to be said.

The chances, the changes are all yours to make.

The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

(from “The Ballad of the Hobbit” by Jules Bass)

“It is better to wear out than rust out.”—Edwin Markham

“Get up, fix up, and show up.”—Eva Thomas

“Do your best, and trust God with the rest.”—Mark Barron

“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”—St. Augustine

“There is some good in the world, and it’s worth fighting for.”—J. R. R. Tolkien

Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 84:5