Thoughtfulness…Just Because

IMG_3213If you are a Midwesterner, someone may have reminded you about Sweetest Day this past Saturday. Even if you don’t come from the heartland of the United States, you might know something about this date that happens on the third Saturday of October.

I have heard more than a few people suggest that card companies created the day to get people to come in and buy special cards for those they love. Without checking, we might think that sounded possible or even probable.

The truth about the origin of the day has more significance attached than a gimmick by card companies to attract customers. The real origin provides an example of thoughtfulness with no motive attached except to bless others.

Midwesterners may know more about the day because its origins began in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1922, a Cleveland man and a candy store employee felt the city’s orphans, and shut-ins were being overlooked and neglected. To give them a sense they were not forgotten and cared for, he distributed small gifts and candy to those who had fallen on hard times, with the help of his friends and neighbors.

When other Clevelanders heard about it, many of them began to follow suit and the celebration became known as “Sweetest Day”. On the first designated Sweetest Day, a movie star of the day, Ann Pennington, presented 2,200 Cleveland newspaper boys with boxes of candy to express gratitude for the service they provided for the public. Another movie star, Theda Bera, distributed 10,000 boxes of candy to people in Cleveland hospitals.

The tradition continued for some time providing an opportunity to reach out to those not often thought about, those who were not doing well, and those in parts of society that were often overlooked in order to show care and bring happiness.

Over time, what began in this way and was largely a more regional observance, began to be associated with more romantic themes and largely focused on giving small presents, such as cards, candy, and flowers to family, friends, and lovers.

For the past 53 years, I have been blessed to receive red roses on Sweetest Day from the most thoughtful man I know. A few years after he began this tradition, I was blessed to become his wife. It is one of many tangible reminders of his thoughtfulness that continues to the present.

As I reflect on the origin of the celebration, it reminds me that the initial purpose was really an altruistic expression of care for so many that were less fortunate during a very difficult economic time. It could be easy to criticize the choice of the gifts. Why give candy when these same persons would have had need of so many other things? It was something they did not require and would not have access to because it would have been such a luxury.

Perhaps that was why it was such fun for those who received these gifts. For a few moments in time, they may have felt special. On that day, they felt remembered not for what they did not have as much as for what someone wanted to bless them with.

You may not be a fan of this celebration, but before you discount it consider ways you might demonstrate the original intent of the day. Beyond family, friends, and lovers, is there someone else the Lord would want you to show care and thoughtfulness to?

It is far too easy to be caught up in our own lives, schedules, and priorities and never observe those in our midst who may be going through a difficult time.

We can and should pray for them, but perhaps there is some tangible thing the Lord might bring to mind that can bring happiness to a life for no other reason than to bless them.

That thoughtfulness would most certainly be what Jesus showed us.

Sorting, Labeling, Categorizing

PICT0327When my children were toddlers, we had a variety of toys and games, which required them to learn to sort and place things into categories based on size, shape, colors, or types of objects. It was a great learning activity that would help prepare them for more formal education a few years later.

My six grandchildren enjoyed updated versions of similar toys and games and it was fun to see them learn.

I recently attended a conference that gave me new insight into this skill we all learn in one way or another at a very early age. It has been a month since the conference and I am still reaping nuggets from the plenary address by Dr. Diane Langberg.

You see, we continue to use those early childhood skills throughout our lifetime. How much we utilize them for practical purposes will often depend on our jobs, how much order we prefer in our surroundings, and what solutions our daily life might ask us to solve. There is no question the skills are a valuable tool long after we leave school.

I am not a fanatic when it comes to organization, but my closets, drawers, and cupboards would likely demonstrate a preference for order and structure.

There is another side to this skill we learn, however. We also categorize other people and label them.

The challenge when we apply a label or a category to a person or a group of people is that we fall prey to divisiveness. That divisiveness, even when we are looking at true categories, can destroy us as well as those around us. This isn’t something new. There is a subtle power connected with it, however, that can seduce us into believing something that contradicts our tenets of faith and belief as Christians.

Adolf Hitler used labels and seduced a people to follow him. Initially, he said things many wanted to hear about the greatness of a nation defeated from the previous world war.

It happened when Hitler placed gypsies, Jews, the disabled, and others into categories he deemed to be a subset of humanity that needed to be destroyed so as not to harm his concept of a pure Germanic race. In doing so, he dehumanized millions of people and yet was so skillful in his seduction that the people of Germany did not realize what they were signing on to and what would result.

When we label and categorize, we dehumanize.

When we disagree, we must never dehumanize another person. When we do so, we are not Christ-like and totally secular, ungodly.

Labeling, putting into categories, and dehumanizing are not new. It is likely as old as mankind.

It was present when Jesus walked the earth.

You see evidences in the gospels. There were tax collectors, Sadducees, Pharisees, Samaritans, slaves, and more. Were they true categories at the time? Yes, but they were also used as in Hitler’s day to dehumanize and degrade anyone not in his or her own category.

If you listen carefully, you hear it today in the secular world as well as the church. It turns us into an “us and them” polarization and divides us over and over again and mars evidence of being Christlike. It shows itself as pride, self-righteousness, and more.

We see it when a homeless person slips into the back of our church. It shows up when we see a woman we believe looks like a prostitute, but those are only the more obvious ones. You see, we measure others by ourselves, so if the person doesn’t look like us, talk like us, dress like us, take communion like we do, or baptize as we do, we label them and the body tears apart just a little bit more.

Jesus crossed into our categories or we would have been dismissed. We were the Gentiles, not welcome in the synagogues of the day. He crossed categories when He spoke to women, slaves, tax collectors, a centurion, Samaritans, Pharisees, Sadducees, a wee man in a tree, fishermen, and more. Jesus, God made flesh, crossed every category. He looked at the heart of the person. He gave dignity to those who had been dehumanized. He did not fit in with the secular world or the religious world.

He has left us here in His stead, to occupy until He comes.

We are citizens of His Kingdom, the real “undocumented immigrants” of this world, but while here serving citizens here no matter their categories.

How Are You Running?

IMG_1307One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Hebrews 12:1-2 where the writer makes a clear description of what is necessary in order to run a good race in our life of faith. Other passages in Paul’s letters speak of this life of faith as a race as well. It is a metaphor packed with significant truths to follow.

This past weekend I got a fresh view of the passage as I watched our daughter run the Army 10 Miler in Washington DC. She would never call herself an athlete as she was growing up, but as a busy home schooling mother of four children she set a goal six years ago to run her first 5K race after helping her oldest son meet a physical education goal of running a mile. She achieved the goal and more races, longer races followed.

This year was not the first year she ran the Army 10 Miler. She ran the race with several friends in 2011, but due to injuries and scheduling this year she would be running a solo race as one of 35,000 runners. During her training for this race, she experienced several setbacks with injuries of her own as well.

Nevertheless, she tried to work through each one to be ready for race day. From hundreds of miles away, we heard about early morning runs alone that started in darkness before she would begin teaching her children for the day. Being a busy mom doesn’t always allow you to get the rest you need and your training time is limited. Even so, she persevered.

This race would test her character as other races had not because she did not run with friends to encourage, challenge, and help her keep at a consistent pace during the tough places on the course.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us others are observing how we run and have set examples, models, for us to buoy our courage. The long list of the faithful in Hebrews 11 lets us view some of those previous champions of old. The keys to succeeding at the race include getting rid of anything that gets in the way of running.

And before we move beyond that point, it’s sobering to realize what we each need to lay aside in order to accomplish the task. We set aside the “I don’t feel like it” and every excuse we can name. We set aside the habits that would make it difficult for us to run. That can include our own selfish desires; our pet sinful attitudes or habits that we never quite totally give up. It requires endurance that only comes by a persistent, daily practicing of the disciplines necessary to achieve the goal.

Most important of all, it requires keeping our eyes on Jesus who modeled focus, endurance, strength of character, and surrender to accomplish His purpose, His mission.

I had watched our daughter through months of practice and training. This past Sunday morning while we were still asleep, she slipped out of the house in the chilly darkness, took the Metro to downtown Washington DC, and joined the others waiting for the race to begin. She had done all she could to prepare. Now the test lay ahead to use all she had learned on all the other mornings over many months and focus on the goal that lay before her.

We, her family, were the witnesses standing along the street watching expectantly, praying supportively, and aware she ran solo in the crowd, but not alone. The One who has been her partner ran with her even as He had on all those other dark mornings when staying in bed would have been so much easier. She ran her own race. We cheered loudly as she passed us. Then we hurried to the finish line to meet her which actually took longer than it did for her to get there.

Her example brought me back to Hebrews and a challenge to seek the Lord about my own race and how well I am heeding the wise counsel written there. We may run together, but we each have our own race set before us.

How are you running?

Keys to Relational Growth

IMG_0159When I was sitting in the therapist’s chair, much of what I heard was related to challenges relationally in one form or another. Without question our relationships are often where we experience the greatest wounds, but also places where the Lord shows us things about ourselves as well as others meant for our growth and healing.

Relationships can be pesky things as well as sources of great joy and solace or as Dickens would say “the best of times and the worst of times”.

When it is the latter, we tend to either give up, shut down, or move on or we look for someone or something to blame. Sometimes the blame goes to the other person and sometimes to us.

One thing I know for certain is that blame doesn’t help any of us and gives room for the enemy to create or maintain a stronghold in our lives.

We stop trusting others or ourselves. Either of these is understandable, but also point to trust issues with the Lord as well.

There is no question that some relationships might be toxic for us. If you are unsure about whether that is true, an excellent resource is Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud. He gives excellent examples and steps to help you discern whether you are dealing with an imperfect human like you are, a foolish person, or an evil person. He also guides you through the best choices of how to respond to each type of person.

Reading this book was very enlightening to me and gave me a better handle on how to help others as well as how to be wiser myself.

The risk we face too often is to close off our heart. Closing off our heart not only risks relationships with others, but our relationship with the Lord also suffers.

John Eldredge addressed this through his book, Waking the Dead, and one quote from his book regarding this issue follows:

If you dismiss your heart, you will end up dismissing theirs. If you expect perfection of your heart, you will raise that same standard for them. If you manage your heart for efficiency and performance that is what you’ll pressure them to be.”

But, Pam, you say… What about Proverbs 4:23?

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” ESV

Maybe we need to prayerfully consider what the writer of Proverbs is saying. When you do, I don’t think you will hear that we are to close off our hearts.

We are instead to be watchful, focused, and intentional to avoid slipping from His path into areas of temptation and sin. That fits as well with what John Eldredge says.

If we fall prey to closing off our hearts, we will be more likely to be tempted to dismiss the heart of the other person.

If my heart exacts a desire for perfection in me, I will have a similar standard for the other person and sometimes even justify it since I first expected it of me.

The keys to relational growth are:

  • Ask the Lord to show you your own heart and what He sees there. He loves you most and always wants what is best for you.
  • Ask the Lord to show you the heart of the other person. Don’t trust that you know for certain where it is or that you heard accurately what the other person was saying.
  • Ask the Lord to heal any broken places in your own heart or theirs from relationships prior to this one that need His healing touch.
  • Trust the Lord. Your humility before Him as you seek Him first will lead to a vigilant heart that is open to Him as well as others.

What Does Preparation Look Like?

IMG_0267As a child growing up on a farm in Ohio, I was given the gift of so many things I didn’t even realize I was receiving until much later in life when the farm was no longer there. Most of what was served on our table was grown or raised on our small sixty-acre farm. Both of my parents were exceptional stewards of the land and all they owned. That witness resulted in me keeping just over seven acres of the original farm, which I allow a neighbor to utilize for whatever crop he needs to plant. I feel a sentimental tug to the values I saw day in and day out from one season to the next.

My parents never took God’s provision for granted, nor did they cease to exude gratefulness for His supply. Part of that was demonstrated in their faith and another was evident in their actions.

In the winter my father would pour over the catalogs of plants and seeds choosing what he believed would be best for our land and provide his family and livestock with what they needed. Preparation began when snowdrifts covered the fields and the garden, when the trees were bare. He knew there would be no crop if he waited until spring to consider planning.

The spring calendar was timed to exact details so that each crop, each plant, and each seed would be planted at the optimal time to bring about the best possible harvest. It has been many years since I watched the checks on the calendar as tasks were completed, but I still remember much of the sequence of which things were planted when. The ground was tilled until clumps were broken into fertile soil waiting for the seed. Fertilizer of just the right type was added at just the time it was needed.

As school ended for me and summer began, more work was done weeding and watering, always tending and never shirking responsibility for the land. One by one crops began to push up out of the ground, grow, and be harvested. My roll of “helper” whether podding peas, snapping beans, picking cherries, sterilizing jars for canning, or holding bags open for freezing taught me much about food preservation that prepared us for the fall and winter seasons when the land would not be producing.

In the summer and early fall we enjoyed a table of great goodness, but my parents never took for granted any year’s harvest. A bit more than would be needed until the next harvest was always put away in the event the rain was too much or too little, the sun too hot or the air too frosty. As a result of that preparation, we enjoyed God’s provision through all the seasons of the year.

But my parents’ stewardship did not end with the land or the livestock. They also stewarded faith, knowledge of God’s Word, and a commitment to prayer, tithing, service, and fellowship. They continued a lineage from their families. The harvest of their preparation and tending passed to me and beyond, to my children, their grandchildren. They knew well that life apart from the Lord would never prepare us to live with hope, find peace in the midst of life’s storms, or courage in the face of obstacles.

Today Frederick Buechner again reminded me of the importance of preparation as I read these words:

“People are prepared for everything except the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared for God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s. They are prepared for the potluck supper at First Presbyterian but not for the marriage supper of the lamb, and when the bridegroom finally arrives at midnight with vine leaves in his hair, they turn up with their lamps to light him on his way all right, only they have forgotten the oil to light them with and stand there with their big, bare, virginal feet glimmering faintly in the dark.”

As I read his thought provoking words and reflected on what I had learned from my parents who went home to be with Him twenty years ago, I sought the Lord’s grace to let my preparation for Him be a daily priority.