Fingerprints on the Heart

hug_therapy“Everyone makes someone happy: some by arriving, others by leaving.” When I first heard this, I laughed because it is so true. And then I wondered, Which am I? Which are you?

Like fingerprints, each of us leaves behind evidence of our presence. Like fingerprints, we may not realize they’re being left behind—everywhere. Unlike fingerprints, the evidence we leave behind is on people’s hearts and lives, not their doorknobs.

Recently my pastor said, “Whatever Jesus touched, he transformed.” So true. He left fingerprints everywhere: fingerprints of healing, love, joy, and hope. Like the fragrance of bread baking in the morning or the lingering scent of rose petals, the beauty of a gentle and loving spirit makes life full-bodied and wonderful. The opposite is also true: a disapproving or angry spirit poisons the atmosphere like an unpleasant odor.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The master of ceremonies and bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee didn’t know where the excellent wine came from, but the servants knew. They had, at Jesus’ request filled six huge jars with water and suddenly the water became wine. Did they ever forget that moment? (John 2:1-10)

Jesus and the disciples were caught in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their boat was awash and almost capsizing when the disciples, although experienced fishermen, frantically awoke Jesus. He stood in the wildly pitching boat, quietly speaking to the storm. “Be quiet! Hush!” The wind and waves ceased. “Who is this man?” They were stunned and afraid. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ’I am willing,’ he said. ’Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared” (Matthew 8:2-3). Likely this man was universally shunned and abhorred. But Jesus touched him. Unforgettable.

Even during and after the inhumane flogging and brutal crucifixion Jesus left his fingerprints behind. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

Whether it was the mothers of the children that Jesus welcomed, tousling their hair, (Matthew 19:13-14) or the woman caught in adultery to whom he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” (John 8:1-11) Jesus’ purposeful kindness and warm welcome was an unexpected wind straight from heaven, refreshing everyone that was near him.

I remember a couple of my college professors who left fingerprints on my heart. Because of reasons I won’t go into here, I dropped out of college during my senior year. I had to get the signatures of each of my professors to complete the process. One professor in that Christian college was extremely disappointed in me, and said something to this effect.” You came here to serve others, and now you’re going to serve yourself?” The second professor was surprised, but not disappointed in me. He said, “I believe in you, David.” Those reactions are as fresh in my heart as the day those comments were made, and I’m eternally grateful to the second professor who valued me more than my decision.

texy box

We don’t even have to be the ones involved in an interaction to be affected. Years ago, at Walt Disney World, we were waiting in line after a long day for the monorail to take us to the parking lot. Everyone was tired, but most of us were managing pretty well. One boy, about ten, said something to his father, who began yelling at him. We are all instantly uncomfortable, and horrified when the father cuffed the boy on the side of the head. The look of humiliation and anger on that boy’s face sticks with me still. That father didn’t only irreparably harm his son, but left a sickening cloud over the rest of the day for hundreds of people.

Interactions don’t have to be huge like these. Just a friendly smile in the cashier’s line at Walmart or a long stare at someone who’s obese can leave joy or pain in our wake. Thoughtless comments linger after we’ve left like a stench, but warm acceptance brings joy.

A Self-Entitled Generation

Wait! She married herself?

The concept of solo marriage hit the headlines in Italy September 2017 when Italian Laura Mesi married herself. The 40-year-old fitness trainer dressed in a white gown and was joined by 70 family and friends for the self-marriage ceremony, (which is not legally recognized). She paid $12,000 for the wedding, which included a three-tier cake topped with a figurine of just herself on the top followed by a whirlwind honeymoon for one to Egypt.

When 38-year-old Sophie Tanner of the UK celebrated her second wedding anniversary earlier this year, there were none of the usual trappings – no flowers or romantic meal for two; no hastily purchased card sealed with a kiss.

It’s not that her other half is remiss, but that on May 16, 2015, when the PR consultant took her vows on the steps of Brighton’s Unitarian Church, the person she swore to cherish for eternity was, well, herself.

Welcome to sologamy, or the practice of marrying oneself. This trend has been around for the last ten years. Is it catching on? We certainly hope not.

So far, this practice has been confined mostly to women as part of a woman’s empowerment statement. A 36-year old woman named Erika Anderson, from Brooklyn, famously married herself last spring. She said she got tired of people asking her why she wasn’t married, as if there was something wrong with her. “I think it’s hard not to adopt whatever society’s messages are … and I certainly think that one of the messages is, ‘You are not enough if you are not with someone else,’” Erika Anderson said of her decision to self-marry. The 37-year-old, who lives in New York, wed her university sweetheart in her twenties but the pair split when aged thirty after growing apart. Committing to herself, she said, was “an act of defiance.”

Some years earlier, another young woman named Dominique, at age 22, also married herself.  While Anderson had a public self-marriage ceremony modeled on the traditional kind with friends, a wedding dress, and a ring, Dominique got married in her bedroom by herself.  She had a ring also, but it didn’t go on her finger. She put it in her nose saying, “I breathe my vows every day.”

Dominique went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada in 2011, where she helped about one hundred other women get married to themselves. Now, of course, she is a self-marriage counselor and minister of something called the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow. Through her website, you can purchase a ten-week, self-marriage, self-study program to prepare yourself for the huge step of getting hitched to yourself. If you want one-on-one private lessons with Dominique, it costs $50 per session. Not that she’s trying to cash in on the self-marriage concept or anything.

Whatever it is called, it is not legally recognized.  That is, you can’t marry yourself and then file a joint tax return or claim benefits. At least not yet. Outside of the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow, I’m not sure any so-called religion would recognize self-marriage either. However, that is small potatoes to someone who loves themselves enough to self-marry. Erika Anderson says that when people ask her if she’s married now, she says yes and then introduces them to her other half.[1]

This self-marriage phenomenon is just one more evidence of the seriously misguided people our society is churning out in record numbers. More troublesome are a significant percentage of today’s young adults who have been raised to think the world revolves around them. They have no clue of the long-term consequences of their immaturity. All of their lives their parents have told them they are special, apparently just for being born. A child coming down a slide is praised by his mother for being a hero (for allowing gravity to work?) Teachers in some public schools are forbidden to give failing grades even if students turn in no work or flunk their tests. (This is not hearsay: a current teacher told me this.) After all, we don’t want anyone to feel he/she is less valuable than another student.

Welcome to the self-entitled generation.

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Photo by Infrogmation – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1701065

It’s no wonder that twenty-somethings have no budgets, still live at home, and complain about how difficult “adulting” is. You cannot build a strong nation on people whose major accomplishment is beating their friends in video games or drinking the most alcohol. They have never been taught right from wrong and therefore they bristle when you suggest that their choices are inappropriate. They defy authority while imagining that the benefits that authority provides them are owed to them. You can rewrite history and delete from your textbooks the things and people you don’t like, but it’s still true that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Although flooding America today, self-entitled persons are nothing new. The world has had its share of those who flagrantly live as though rules don’t apply to them. I think we could say Absalom, son of King David, the first King of Israel, was self-entitled. He grew up in the palace where there were few rules and no consequences for those who broke them. He fostered rebellion against his father, slept with his concubines, and eventually had himself crowned king while David was still on the throne. The Old West spawned gangs of criminals. Italy famously produced its mafia called “Cosa Nostra” (Our Thing). Today’s cyber terrorists delight in wreaking catastrophe. All of this vividly demonstrates how society implodes when people are only concerned about themselves and their comfort.

Whether its professional football players dishonoring our flag or people who think that their Johnny-come-lately whims have more value than the eternal truths of scripture, I’m afraid that we may only be seeing the beginning of family disintegration and the unraveling of justice.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Most of us gripe about it. We commiserate together and roll our eyes about how society is going to hell in a handbasket. We spend our time lamenting what people wear (“I Saw it at Walmart” web site), we ridicule their so-called careers, and cluck our collective tongues at their never-ending stupidity, all the while praising ourselves that we at least have some sense. By the way, the “Going to hell in a handbasket” phrase has been in print since at least the 1800s.

We worry about it. It’s easy to allow these disturbing trends to dislodge our security and steal our sleep at night. We fret who’s going to run the government when these disorganized and dangerously imbalanced people land in public office. We fear that our nation’s moral fabric—already shredded beyond comprehension—will totally disintegrate. We are afraid of those who are different, imagining that they are no longer motivated by human emotions like ours.

We despair of the future, forgetting that God is still God and that there may be other viable futures for us that we haven’t even imagined. We cut off communication with the world and isolate ourselves as though the rest of the world has been bombed and we alone are left in our nuclear fallout shelters.

Could we try this?

Stop seeing others as “them,” and see them as individuals. When we group people together we tend to forget they are humans like us who want to succeed, to be loved, and find meaningful lives. Resist the tendency to jump on the bandwagon when others lump people together and blame them. Instead, look for and find one person you are writing off and start praying for them. Start a conversation. Send a card. Discover what would make them happy and try to make it happen. If you don’t know anyone who you would classify as self-entitled or a lost cause, maybe it’s time to find one.

Ask yourself about the history of the person of whom you are most critical. There are reasons people turn out the way they do. It doesn’t excuse bad choices, but it can explain them. Can we reasonably expect our fractured society to produce emotionally balanced offspring? Concentrate not on what they’re doing, or what you assume they’re doing, but on what you can do to build a bridge to them. Should they be cold to you or sluff off your attempt, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to build trust, and most of us could use some practice at building new relationships. Ask about the meaning of a tattoo or what they love about coloring their hair purple. You will surely learn something you didn’t know as well as starting up a conversation.

Cultivate a positive spirit. It’s so easy to see the dark side, or the glass that’s half empty. It takes work to see what is right. You may light a lot of candles before one stays lit, but that’s still a good thing. Ask God to alert you the moment you begin to criticize. It probably won’t take more than a minute or two. 😊 God still believes the world is worth saving. People determined to do right have rescued the world more times than history can record it. But they usually do it one person at a time.

 

[1] Thanks to my neighbor, Christopher Zimmerman, Whetstone, AZ, 2017 for the info. about self-marriage. Used by permission.

 

 

The Most Beautiful Things

Peacock Feathers
Peacock feathers

Beauty overflows our world. From the lush, sun-dappled rain forests to the moon-swept deserts, the earth surrounds us with astonishing beauty. Magnificent animals, exotic birds, and, above all, people are everywhere. In this exquisite world  people create, and have created, magnificent things that inspire us.

What would you say are the most beautiful things? I was going to begin with “The Ten Most Beautiful Things.” But it was a ridiculous task. So I set up categories of things like buildings, animals, gardens, and, of course, people. You no doubt have different tastes and would choose differently. I hope you enjoy my collection.

As you look and wonder, worship God’s creations and marvel at the giftedness of architects, artists, and everyone who lifts a paintbrush, designs a robot, and creates a garden. Our ability to create is a God-given gift that provides a more beautiful world and deep satisfaction for those who create. Enjoy!

The Earth

You are here.  That fragile, impossibly beautiful and achingly vulnerable globe hanging all alone out there in the star speckled dark… that is home. That is Earth.

Earth from space
NASA image

 

earth sunrise

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NASA image of earthrise from the moon

Animals

They leap across the savannahs,  glide through coral reefs, and wing through the trees.

 

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Bengal tiger

 

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Mandarin duck
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Horses are so beautiful! Perhaps Arabian?
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Jellyfish
leafy-sea-dragon-yellow
Sea dragon, a tiny seahorse that camouflages itself as seaweed
peacock
Peacock
Mandarin goby fish (be sure to double check)
Mandarin Goby fish
macaw
Catalina Macaw parrot, a hybrid between “Blue and Gold” and “Scarlet” Macaw

Flowers and gardens

Yep. Just five for now. I am showing remarkable restraint here.

Granada rose 2015
Granada hybrid tea rose
Pink Cattleya Orchid Flower Picture 91
Cattleya orchid
Stargazer lily
Stargazer lily
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Sunflower. Note the incredible geometric detail
poinciana blossom
Poinciana blossom
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Keukenhof Gardens, Lisse, Netherlands
Versailles gardens
The gardens at Versailles, France

Buildings

People create such amazing, complex, and inspiring structures and decorate them in so many fantastic ways. These are some of my favorites.Chapelle_Palatine2

Chapelle Palatine, Palermo, Sicily. Incredible mosaic tile inlaid with gold leaf.

gold-inlaid mosaic in Chapelle_Palatine, Palermo, Sicily
Chapelle Palatine, Palermo, Sicily
Hearst Castle - Roman Indoor Pool
Roman pool, Hearst Mansion, San Simeon, California. Walls, ceiling, and floor are entirely covered with mosaic tile.
Glory window 2
Glory window in the Thanks-giving Square Chapel, Dallas Texas
light streaming through stained glass
I don’t know where this window is, but I love the way the light streams through the glass. I like the story of the little boy who explained to his sister that saints are the people the light shines through.
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Palau de la Musica catalana concert hall, Barcelona, Spain (photo by Jiuguang Wang)

 

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Ceiling stained glass, Palau de la Musica catalana, Barcelona, Spain

 

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La Sagrada Familia Basilica by Antonio Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain. Read the story of this amazing cathedral, still under construction
taj mahal
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
then-there-are-the-simpler-beauties-like-the-aptly-named-ribbon-chapel-located-in-japan-it-opened-just-over-a-year-ago
Ribbon Chapel, Onomichi, Hiroshima, Japan. Hiroshi Nakamuru, architect.
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Ribbon chapel. Two spiral staircases provide the building’s support. There are no other walls.
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Ribbon Chapel
Neuschwanstein01 winter
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
Versailles Hall of mirrors wide
Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, France

Sculptures and works of art

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16th Ave. tiled steps, San Francisco, California
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King Tutankhamen’s funeral mask
peacock pebble mosaic sidewalk
peacock sidewalk
pieta by michelangelo
Pieta by Michelangelo

People

Young or old, the human face is the most expressive part of any creature in our world. Alike but so different, we are made in the image of God.

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Elevated Baby (6-12 Months)Celeste_Sloman_Faces_Moscow_001elderly coupleJodi in sunglassesmother-teresa-smileo-GRANDMA-BETTY-facebook2015-09-13 17.22.47791372_8019657213164217_1058425834250947_548777410094119033_n13256371_10206739501067983_4615847793714102466_n13267806_10153787475782874_2100160693751106630_na35_00540529Amazing-Eyes-And-Cute-Child-Beautiful-Eyes-Imagebaby 2baby 3baby 4fish-story-still05IMG_0218japan_2013_rcerrotti-12jenni and Joacob westman 2016Kolette and AlexMawuna-Remarque-KOUTONIN_avatar

Regard-Khawar-Naqvirisa

 

 

The Things of Home

 

It was an old 78 rpm record that contained one of my favorite stories. I still can hear the lovely voice of Loretta Young tell the heartwarming tale, “The Littlest Angel,” about a four-year old boy who doesn’t quite fit into heaven because there’s simply “nothing for a little boy to do.” The Understanding Angel takes the cherub onto his lap, wipes his tears, and asks what he misses most. At the end of the story we find that it was the ordinary but irreplaceable things of home: a butterfly with golden wings, captured one bright summer day on the high hills above Jerusalem, a sky-blue egg from a bird’s nest in the olive tree that stood to shade his mother’s kitchen door, two white stones from a muddy river bank where he and his friends had played like small brown beavers, and a tooth-marked leather strap, once worn as a collar by his mongrel dog, who loved him with absolute devotion. The box containing these simple things was the littlest angel’s gift to the Christ Child and the gift that pleased God most.

I know it’s only a fanciful tale, but I think the author, C. Tazewell, understood how God values the things we treasure since they bring us joy, and since the cherub’s simple gift contained the very things the little boy Jesus would also play with when he wandered the Galilean hills.

joyful Hummel figureSeveral months ago, our daughter walked over to our china cupboard and opened the door. There sits “Joyful,” a small Hummel figure of a girl playing her guitar, her legs straight out before her. Jodi said, “When I see this figure, I know I’m home.” Joyful was an engagement present to Karon and me long before Jodi was born and she has never known our home without it. How is it that this little piece of pottery can evoke such powerful feelings? It is one of the “things of home.”

The familiarity of furnishings and objects warm our hearts. In many cases, items in our home have stories behind them. Just like “Joyful” suggests home to Jodi, seeing a picture or item immediately reminds us of a good period in our lives, a beloved friend, or an event that symbolizes something, like our marriage.

My things of home

Right now I’m sitting at my desk where I write, read the Bible (on my computer), pray, design greeting cards, and connect with the world. My desk itself is a sterile IKEA piece that’s cheaply made. But the objects on and around it make it “home.”

bookHolding the computer monitor one and a half inches higher (so I can sit properly) is the “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening.” I haven’t used it in more than a decade and its most useful function now is that of a block. But seeing it there each day transports me back to the Midwest where I pored through its beautiful pages, reaped landscaping ideas, and sought answers for marauding Japanese beetles. Its beautifully photographed pages are bright in my mind’s eye.

karon and other photosPhotographs, of course, are of my beloved wife and family. My kids and their spouses smile at me from a Florida restaurant where we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Karon’s smile lights the room, the trilogy of photos taken for her mother when Karon was a teenager. For fifty years that smile has lifted and blessed me more than she knows.

Chinese lampA Chinese carving of an old man that my father fashioned into a one-of-a-kind lamp casts a warm pool of light. My parents purchased this carving in Trinidad, our onetime home in the British West Indies, and it has been a part of my childhood home ever since I can remember. Just to see it ignites wonderful memories: smells of curry wafting in the evening air, exotic flowers in the yard, and sultry breezes billowing mosquito nets at bed time.

The red, white, and blue afghan was lovingly crocheted for us by Helen Ford, church secretary at South Bay Church of God in Torrance, California where we entered the ministry as youth and music ministers. She and her husband, Frank, were wonderfully supportive toward us, and even loaned us the down payment for a car!

pencil holderSome other sentimental things surround me: a coaster made by Kimmi Lyon, my granddaughter; while a graphics major at AU; a pencil holder with an inset photo of Curt, my grandson, sitting on my shoulders at Disney World. (He now is 22, an engineer, a weight lifter, and engaged to be married.);  and a beautiful hardwood chiming mini-grandfather wall clock, a farewell gift from North Anderson Church of God after completing a nine-year pastorate.

M&J StitcheriesElsewhere in the house are a cross stitch of two ducks made by my mother when I was a boy, some needleworks made and given by my two daughters when they were young, and many more family photos.

Karon’s Things of Home list is mainly photographs of family and our piano, given to her while she was in high school by her Mom and Dad, John and Flo Neal.

What are your favorite things? I’m not talking about food, music, or sports, but rather the simple, little things that make you feel at home.

Is it wrong to enjoy things?

Sometimes we may almost feel guilty for feeling such affection for “things” when the Bible tells us to treasure things in heaven and not of this earth. However, don’t you think that being comforted by things is far different than worshiping and hoarding them, as misers do? I do. I can easily imagine how wonderfully it comforted Jesus—with no home of his own—to stay with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. I can see him taking a nap in the back of the house while the ladies fixed dinner, awakening to the marvelous fragrance of baking bread and the sound of clinking dishes down the hall as they set the table. The dour Pharisees criticized him for attending banquets, but Jesus didn’t care because he enjoyed life. I’ll bet he knew a few good jokes, and we know he attended wedding receptions since He provided more wine when the host ran out. He was a human as we are human, and gave us the faculties to appreciate the beauty of His world and the comforts it provides. He strolled the beautiful Judean hills ablaze with wildflowers and surely took pleasure in the singing of birds at sunset. As God He rebuked the wind and the waves, but as a man he needed a cushion to sleep on in the back of the boat.

As we grow older we must downsize, which means ridding ourselves of things we no longer need. My parents had a house, attic, and two sheds full of things when they finally made the plunge to sell the house and move into something smaller. What was hardest for them to relinquish were their many souvenirs from around the world. They were flabbergasted that others placed no value on their Indian and African artifacts. Even after we children and grandchildren took our favorites, many were given to a local charity. Wisely, Mom and Dad kept their favorites; a couple of these stayed with them through two more downsizings until the end. That’s the way it is with the things of home. What has value to one is unimportant to another. How could it be otherwise? Yet they have inestimable value.

The gentle ticking of a clock and the faded photo of a young couple on their wedding day speak to us of home, where we are at peace and can shut out the madding, noisy world. To wake up in the morning among familiar, timeworn surroundings and to have those we love greet us with a friendly gaze: these are true riches. We can easily let go of a big house as long as the accommodations into which we move have space for a few favorite reminders of the wonderful life we have lived.

If you are a caregiver for the elderly, inquire about their things of home. Make sure some familiar belongings accompany them to a new apartment or facility where everything may be strange and intimidating.

Does God have favorite things?

You and I are the “things of home” to God. The Bible brims with the story of God and His desire for honest companionship. Eden in its incredible, pristine beauty was created for one reason: as a beautiful home for the ones He loved. When careless behavior and selfishness sabotaged and destroyed that plan, God found a way to salvage the original dream that flowed longingly from his big heart. His astounding self-sacrifice restores to us and to God the chance to be together and to have loving, honest companionship. He keeps us and will take us with him forever!

CW & Ree 1938
Claire and Retha Shultz, around 1938

This old song was my Mother’s favorite. She and Dad—in their younger days— often sang it as a duet.

My God And I [1]

Austris A. Wihtol and I.B. Sergei

 My God and I go in the field together;
We walk and talk as good friends should and do;
We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We’ll walk and talk just as good friends do;
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.
[1] © 1935 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

 

Green Thumbs and Parenting

I love plants. I always have. From infancy our homes in the tropics were surrounded by glossy, split-leaf philodendrons winding up the trees in whose shade Anthurium lilies grew. My mother often had hanging baskets of orchids on the verandah where their exotic colors and shapes swayed in the warm breezes. Our neighbor’s house was hung with gigantic, lush ferns that she watered every morning. Riotous hibiscus plants bloomed outside our dentist’s windows. Whenever I catch the heavy, moist fragrance of growing things I get homesick for those idyllic days.

2014-06-16 12.29.34Perhaps my love of plants stems from wanting to recreate this green environment. In any case, everywhere we have lived I have planted, fertilized, landscaped, mowed, pruned, and potted. And nature has richly rewarded me with bright nodding flowers bordering our houses, brilliant daffodils heralding the arrival of spring, and fragrant crab apple trees along the driveways.

People have told me I have a green thumb. They mean it as a compliment and it makes me happy to think I may have some special ability to help plants flourish. But, if truth be told, I don’t really have any unique gift. What I do have is a love of plants that motivates me to learn what they need to flourish and work hard to provide it. We have lived in many climates and I am always rewarded with a beautiful yard because I study up on climates, rainfall, hardiness zones, and the individual needs of various plants and flowers. Then I try to meet those requirements.

I remember reading in a gardening magazine that the difference between a nice yard and a beautiful yard is whether or not the gardener will get up off the couch and water the clematis when it’s dry. And perhaps people who shrug as they smile, saying they have a “brown thumb” are describing someone who has other priorities than not overwatering or underwatering a plant and making sure it is getting the proper amount of light.

Parenting is a lot like gardening

Sometimes we look at families who love each other, support each other, and in which everyone flourishes and we think “they must have a special gift.” We see well-disciplined children and young adults who readily pitch in around the house and wonder how it happens. It’s not rocket science. Good parents work hard to understand their children. They study psychology and understand how important it is for Mom and Dad to always present a united front. They read the Bible and have incorporated the dignity and worth of the marriage relationship into the home. They are committed to discipline even when they’re tired and it’s late. They set good examples for their children in their devotional lives. They plan family times together. They attend their kids’ events and programs. In other words, like a gardener studies plants, good parents learn what makes children flourish and then work consistently to ensure that their family’s needs will be met.2014-03-25 06.42.38

My wife, Karon, has helped me learn this lesson. The girls were in high school and middle school and Jon was in elementary school when my job required a lot of travel. I was gone almost more than I was home, sometimes for three or more weeks at a time. One time after a weekend trip, I drove home from the airport, walked into the house, and saw Karon and the kids playing Monopoly on the floor. The dishes were still on the counter and my obsessive-compulsive nature surfaced. I said something like, “When are you going to do these dishes?” Karon never moved from the floor and sweetly said as she locked her gaze onto me. “Somebody has to raise these children.” It hit me like a bombshell. The lesson was doubly powerful because I deeply loved my children and was working hard to provide for them. Yet I was failing the family because of my absence. I was out of touch with what they were doing and with whom. Worse, distance was growing between us all. Not too long after that we had a family council. It was unanimous. I should return to pastoral ministry so that I would be home with the family.

Several years later I was again consumed. This time it wasn’t traveling, but a building program. They girls were older and pretty much on their own. This left Jon with lots of time alone after school and I was in meetings almost every night. We were blindsided when a good friend of ours from church confided that Jon was planning to run away and stay at their house. We cleared our calendar, took him out to dinner, and tried to understand what was going on. The upshot of his thinking was that he was not needed in our house. We both had our careers and were too busy for him. I get choked up just reading about this, and I am deeply grateful that Jon was open with us and gave us a second chance. It can happen so innocently. But it’s a lot like gardening: if somebody doesn’t get up off the couch and water the clematis, don’t be surprised when it’s dead the next time you look for it.

Assault

Never before have our families been under such assault by a hyper-busy culture further intensified by electronic communication on every side. If they are to survive, parents will have to break the cycle and value their children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Many parents who deeply love their children are practically slaving to provide for them. But are they giving them what they really need? They do not need entertainment, gaming, or the latest cell phone. They need family time around the table when everyone sits down and electronics are banned until the next morning. Parents are often the worst offenders, always available to the office but never available to their kids. Children and teenagers need consistent discipline and loving role models. They will survive without designer jeans, but they will not survive your absence. They are very forgiving when they know you love them. Sometimes that love must be tough.

A-family-pray-before-bedtimeOne exemplary family I know did not allow their kids—even in high school—to own a cell phone. There are many reasons for kids to have phones, but here’s the point: the good influence of their family was being destroyed by the constant effluence of disrespect and godlessness pouring into their minds, and so they removed the source of the garbage. Another powerful habit that was nonnegotiable was church attendance. They always sat together every service; Mom, Dad, and the kids. One might expect those children would be rebellious and eager to get away from home as soon as possible. Just the opposite. They are wonderful young adults.

Don’t feel guilty

As I write this I am keenly aware that many parents—and many of them are raising their children by themselves– are fighting to keep their heads above water. The pressures of society are staggering. Peer pressure in the teen world can be suffocatingly powerful. If you are one of these parents, my heart goes out to you. Please don’t feel guilty about anything that I have said. Pour out your heart before God and He will help you. Even a few moments each day in His Word and in prayer will keep you steady and provide emotional energy. Bring your kids before him constantly. Ask Him to send his angels to guard them. Pray for your kids. Pray with them. Do the right thing. Seek support if you need it. Be consistent.

At the end of the day

There are times our kids make poor choices and we can’t do a thing about it. We can love them, pray for them, and do our best, but they will leave us, embrace sin, or make a mess of their lives. Just as the best gardener loses plants, flowers, and even trees, the best parent may lose children. I can’t think of anything more painful than this. For such parents I say, do not play the “If only” game. Do not keep asking, “Where did I go wrong?” Think about this. Even Jesus was singularly unsuccessful with some people. Judas was his trusted confidante but turned against him. Many Pharisees never understood Jesus and until his death they were convinced His miracles were empowered by the devil. And, like the Father, we keep praying, waiting, and hoping that someday the prodigals will come home.

People-Watching

The other day I was at Tucson Orthopedic Institute waiting to get two spinal injections. Karon had a concurrent dental appointment and I was alone in the lobby with my cane to steady me. It was a perfect time for people-watching.

At the hospital

Chartreuse phone-croppedA lady in black with a chubby little dog named Yoda talks on her chartreuse phone. (The little dog looks just like Yoda!) A star tattoo embellishes her shoulder.

A hollow-eyed man seems to be with her. A red lanyard circles his neck dangling some kind of badge. His crutches lie beside him. He tries to talk with Yoda’s mommy, but is cut off with her curt, “Shhhsss! I’m calling Mother.”

A gravelly voiced gentleman with silvery bed hair wheels into the discharge area. Although the aide who brought him leaves, he carries on a conversation about predicted thunderstorms and parking meters.

A harried, olive-skinned young man in faded green scrubs hurries by in squeaking tennis shoes as a well-dressed matron makes appointments on her cell phone.Lady on cell phone

A lady recently treated with spinal injections tries to stand up. She waves off the nurse who offers to steady her and promptly collapses on the floor. Some men rush to hoist her up and settle her into a chair. Twenty minutes later she tries to stand again. Again she declines assistance. Again her legs crumple like wet spaghetti! Two different men lift her into a chair. I left before she tried a third time. (Usually such reactions are temporary in case you’re worried about her.)

Two men opposite me (I’m guessing navy vets) chat while waiting for their wives. I overhear them assigning a type of ship to each lady as she arrives. “Yep. She’s a battleship.” “Destroyer.” One slow-moving gal wobbles by. They look at each other and smile. At the same moment they say in unison, “Aircraft carrier!” and break into chortles. Funny stuff to pass the time.

I suddenly remembered another time I watched people and wrote about them. I was in my 30s at a lunch counter in Wisconsin…

At the lunch counter

She sat, stretched to the full height of her six years. Her fragile fingers, smeared with too-pink dime store polish, clutched a fork and partially-demolished piece of cherry pie which gradually spread from the plate to the counter top.

Her mother chain-smoked the time away, nodding periodically to her bright-eyed magpie’s chatter. Behind the almond-shaped, black framed glasses her eyes reflected some other place. Her mind seemed to be far away. Perhaps she was tired.

A young man whose face was cratered with acne perched opposite me like a robin come back too soon. His eyes were full of winter, and his bony hands huddled around the empty cup which had long ceased to give warmth.

An old man in a green sweater had been cornered by a balloon-cheeked woman whose false teeth clacked like castanets.

A frail creature with soda straw hair peered through ashtray glasses at the menu in studied ritual before ordering a small coke. She alternated princess-sized sips with puffs of cigarette smoke aimed through wrinkled lips at some unseen target on the ceiling.

The teen-aged waitress bustled about with ice cubes and napkins, making excuses for dirty spoons. A hair net clung like a refrigerator magnet to her head, her once-white uniform apologizing for being a size too small.

I caught sight of myself in a mirror, hunched over some cherry cheesecake I didn’t need.  I noticed with embarrassment the frayed tee-shirt I was wearing.

We were a semi-circle of strangers from different worlds, careful not to look each other eye to eye, pretending interest in the backs of menus instead.

Now, as then, my thoughts were interrupted by God’s gentle voice, “I love these people.”

God’s interruption

How quickly we judge and criticize those different from us: “Too fat!” “Anorexic!” “Filthy!” “Snobbish!” “No taste whatsoever!” “How can they appear in public like that?” We can be merciless and unrelenting unless someone—or God—stops the flow of our criticism to remind us that we fit right into this group of oddballs.

People sitting in waiting room
People sitting in waiting room

From God’s perspective, everyone is a masterpiece of his loving creation. Each face windows his divergent touch. Every flaw to him is inexpressibly precious.

In our world where so many loud people are building walls and we are encouraged to divide people into groups I need to remember that we all are God’s handiwork. He knows every detail of every single life in every single country in the world and yet he loves each of us completely and unconditionally. When the prophet Samuel was selecting a king for Israel, he had a hard time finding the one God had chosen. That’s when God told him, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height….The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1]

What does God see in my heart? It is not my place to label and divide but to accept and love. When God is so hugely gracious to me can I not be gracious to those he loves?

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7