Category Archives: Meditation

THE RIGHT QUESTION

Anyone who knows me well will tell you I am a wannabe minimalist. Stuff suffocates me. I daydream about living in one of those newfangled tiny houses. Whatever neurotic disease hoarders have, I have the opposite.

Thus, when Dan started getting rid of outdoor items he didn’t want to store for next summer, I jumped at the opportunity. Out went the grandkids’ plastic swimming pool and turtle sandbox, the rusted plant stand off the patio, the cracked lawn chairs, a leaky hummingbird feeder, holey gardening gloves, faded pool noodles, and pots of scraggly marigolds, once yellow and orange but now brown and leafless.

What else? I queried. I scoured the yard and patio for more potential victims of this autumnal cleansing. Then I spied it, one tiny splash of color in a landscape growing drabber by the second: my potted pink geranium.

Yes, the same geranium which has inspired the writing of more than one blog post over the past few months, the great-great-great grandchild of the geranium for whom my website is named. The geranium I almost tossed out weeks ago when I thought its life was at an end.

There it sat in the center of the round table on my patio where it had resided all spring and summer. I approached the plant with the aim of finally doing away with it.

Yes, it had been a good and faithful plant, had given me more than my money’s worth, and had spurred the writing of several articles, but all good things must come to an end. Mustn’t they?

I approached the plant. What yet do you have to give? I asked it.

It moved not a single leaf, offered no defense, no plea for indulgence, no request for more time.

“I am yours to do with as you choose,” it seemed to say.

Well, this is just great, I thought. One more thing to feel guilty about.

Did I really want to be the woman who tossed out a plant that had done nothing but pleasure her for months and still had life in it?

“You know the frost is going to get you, don’t you?” I asked it. “One of these mornings, and very soon, I will find you limp and icy, your head drooping over the side of this pot.”

Nothing.

“You knew when I placed you here that it wouldn’t be forever, didn’t you? You knew this day would come.”

Nothing.

“Most people would have thrown you away weeks ago and replaced you with a basket of artificial fall leaves and plastic pumpkins. You realize that, don’t you?”

Still nothing.

I stood with my hands on my hips and took a deep breath.

“Why would I save you?” I asked.

A leaf moved.

Had I finally asked the right question?

I leaned closer and turned an ear to it.

I listened.

“Because you can,” I thought I heard it say.

I watched Dan pull his truck out of the driveway, spilling a torn screen from its overcrowded bed.

And what of the geranium?

That geranium sits now in the middle of my kitchen island, illustrating once again an ageless truth: Grace is not extended because it has been earned. Grace has little to do with the recipient.

Grace is bestowed because someone has it to give.

 

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NEVER ONCE

I cut my teeth on the back of a pew in a small country church. My siblings did the same. I can take you to the church and show you the teeth marks.

In that church I learned that motives count. Not only should I give, but also I should want to give. I learned that honoring my parents meant more than being good in their presence. I learned the meaning of words I never encountered anywhere else: sanctification, regeneration, propitiation.

I knew from day one I was imperfect but God loved me and Jesus wanted to save me.

Qualities taught to me at home were reinforced inside that little church. Qualities like integrity, patience, and kindness.

God poured His grace down upon me, the little girl who wanted so passionately to be good but knew she would never be perfect.

My mind often wandered during church services. Sometimes I silently reviewed the memory verse I would be asked to recite in Bible class. I looked at pictures in my Bible of blind Samson breaking the pillars of the temple and Moses talking to God in the burning bush.

I studied my fingernails, picked at my cuticles, and passed an occasional note to my sister. I thought about what I would be doing that afternoon. I listened to my grandma singing alto in the pew behind me and tried to copy her.

I fanned myself with a paper fan provided by the Leland Carter Funeral Home. I watched mud daubers whizzing outside the window. I heard baby cousins fussing just a few rows back.

I watched my mother tend to my young siblings. I struggled not to laugh the Sunday my brother held chewing gum in his hand and eventually created a sticky, pink spider web between his fingers.

I tried to pay attention if the preacher wrote things on the chalkboard. I tried to focus as he pointed to places on one of the big Bible maps that stood on an easel near the podium.

Once, in a sermon about the tabernacle the Israelites built on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the preacher flipped the map pages to one that showed the route they took. And right there, right in the middle of the map’s desert, a mud dauber had built a brown, crusty nest.

The preacher chuckled and said, “Well, there’s the tabernacle right there!” and everyone laughed.

I thought about going to college. I dreamed about someday driving a car, being a teacher, and having babies. I wondered if I was pretty.

I pondered unanswerable questions about whether or not Adam had a belly button and if God could make a box so tiny he couldn’t get into it. I contemplated trying to use faith to move a mountain.

I checked often to make sure my slip strap was not showing. I looked down and reaffirmed that I hated my old black, patent leather shoes.

Sometimes in church, I listened and learned. But, truth be told, much of the time I daydreamed and wondered and contemplated and planned and pondered and imagined and questioned and resolved.

But never once in all those Sundays did I worry that a lunatic with a gun might walk in and blow away my entire family and me.

Three Stories

STORY #1

My sister Joni is a book-lover. Yesterday she went to a large book sale, looking in particular for picture books for her grandchildren. After shopping for a while and selecting quite a stack, she took the books to the check-out desk and asked the clerk to hold them for her while she continued to shop.

When she finished shopping, she went to the desk to pay for the books she had chosen. The clerk looked at first flustered and then apologetic.

“Another woman told me we were holding those books for her,” she said. “She has already paid for them and left the shop.”

STORY #2

I once worked with a young woman who loved nice clothes. One Monday morning she was wearing a new mid-calf sheath that looked especially nice on her. I complimented her on it and then noticed something awry. The price tag was sticking out of the neck opening in the back of the dress.

“Ooops,” I said. “The price tag on your dress is sticking out. Let me cut it off for you.”

“No!” she snapped. “Don’t cut it off. I bought this dress to wear to church yesterday for Easter. I’m wearing it again today. Then I’m going to return it to the store and say it didn’t fit. I do it all the time.”

STORY #3

When I was teaching English to adults many years ago, a student came to me at the end of class. She told me she could not submit her term paper, though it was due.

As she was driving to class that day, she said, she had car trouble. She stopped at a garage to have a mechanic look at her car. For some reason, she took her term paper into the garage with her and accidentally left it there. Since the paper was still at the garage, she wanted me to excuse her from turning it in on that date.

I said, “Go back to the garage and get your paper and turn it in to me before the end of the day.”

The student called me later in the day and told me she went back to the garage and found her paper, but it had gotten covered with grease. She knew I wouldn’t want to read a term paper that was messy.

I told her to bring the paper to me anyway. I would evaluate only its content, not its appearance.

I never saw the paper, and the woman eventually stopped attending class.

The untruths described above are fairly insignificant. But, if I know nothing else about the women depicted, I know they are not completely honest. This proves the saying, Tell a lie once and all your truths become questionable. (Pinterest)

When I was a little girl, the words lie, liar, and lying were not used in our house. An untruth was referred to as a story. The one telling the story was a storyteller, and the act itself was referred to as storytelling.

 If my mother suspected I was being less than truthful, she asked me, “Are you telling me the truth or are you telling me a story?”

In the three scenarios above, the woman who took the books that were not hers, the woman who “borrowed” a dress from a store, and the woman who failed to turn in her term paper all told stories.

I wouldn’t ask either one of these storytellers to housesit for me or to hold my purse while I was in the restroom. Trust that has been broken is hard to put back together.

Luke 16:10 reads, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

That is why a mom drags her kid back to the convenience store to return a swiped candy bar. She knows that a stolen candy bar today may be a stolen car years later.

Limit your storytelling to the sweet fairytales you tell your children at bedtime. Demand complete honesty from them, and from yourself.

 

Count the Costs

Relationships are expensive.

Ask any mother. A mother loves her children “to the moon and back,” as she often tells them. She spends years nurturing, protecting, feeding, clothing, educating, consoling, encouraging, disciplining, and every other ing word that can be applied to child-rearing. She would have it no other way.

But ask a mom if motherhood has cost her anything and she will tell you it has indeed. She sacrifices time she would like to spend doing any number of other things. She sacrifices money to buy textbooks and bicycles when she wants to spend that money on a new couch or an outfit for a special occasion.

Ask any married woman if being married has cost her anything and she will tell you it has indeed. She is no longer living only for herself. Her husband’s needs and wants become as important as her own needs and wants. She doesn’t buy a family car or even redecorate their bedroom without including him in her decisions.

A woman who is fortunate enough to be married to a good man pays less in the marriage relationship than the woman who is married to a not-so-good man. But both women sacrifice something of themselves in the marriage relationship. That is what “the two become one” means.

Friendships are costly. For example, I occasionally surrender my restaurant preference and eat at a place I don’t particularly like because my friend enjoys eating there. I sacrifice time with my family in order to spend time with my friends. My friends do the same things for me.

Of these three costly relationships, friendship offers the most flexibility. Parenthood and marriage are lifetime commitments and deserving of extreme sacrifices, when necessary.

But a friendship can grow and thrive or it can lessen or even end. There are people with whom I choose not to be a close friend because their friendships cost too much.

Some of these “friends” expect me to become who they are; they want me to think, talk, and act exactly as they do. I am not willing to pay that price.

Other “friends” lead me slowly to sacrifice my established life values. They encourage me to spend too much money, to be hypercritical, or to be less than truthful. With friends like that . . . well, you know.

Still other “friends” live lives of nonstop drama and ask me to be their great “fixer.” They beg for my help but refuse to accept the help I offer. Mostly, they want a sympathetic ear and my permission for them to remain in their chaotic, unproductive lifestyle. I finally conclude that such people are not looking for friends. They are looking for enablers.

I don’t, of course, ignore or demean these people. I am kind to them and help them when I can. But I cannot afford to be a close friend to them.

I must not conclude this discussion of costly relationships without mentioning the cost of following Jesus. In Luke 14 Jesus cautions us that the cost of following him is high. He uses sobering phrases like “hating your own father and mother,” and “giving up everything you have.” Those words sound severe, but we must remember that securing a relationship with us cost him everything.

Pray that God will give you wisdom as you establish relationships with people. Pray also that he will never allow you to put a relationship with anyone above the one you have with His Son.

Lessons from an Aging Geranium

I bought only one geranium this spring. It has sat on the picnic table on our patio for a few months now.

When I brought the plant home and placed it on the table, it was full of rich, healthy, bright pink blossoms. I treated this plant the way I treat most of the potted plants under my care. I neglected it. I watered it when I thought to do so. I picked off dead blossoms when I noticed them.

I am not the best of caregivers.

Despite my neglect, the plant flourished, which is one reason I love geraniums. Unlike more delicate plants, they require little care.

I appreciated the plant’s beauty, its determination when it came to surviving, and its uncomplaining nature.

But now the geranium is fading. Fewer and fewer new blossoms appear. Several of its leaves have died and others are turning brown. Its life is almost spent.

As the plant’s caregiver, I will one day decide the time has come to remove it from my patio table.

I studied the aging geranium for a few minutes this afternoon to see if I could learn some lessons from it. Some, of course, are obvious: Bloom where you are planted. Be what (or who) you were designed to be. Strive for independence and do not expect special treatment.

 Good lessons for any plant or any person.

As I have grown older, I too have faded a bit. Much of my beauty, strength, and independence are gone. I now move more slowly and think more slowly. I forget things and repeat myself. I also repeat myself.

I am losing my sharpness and my ability to think on my feet and respond quickly. I relied heavily upon those assets when I was young, and I refuse to let go of them easily.

I know age brings additional knowledge and hopefully even some wisdom, but much of the knowledge I once had I have now lost. My husband asked me today if I remembered how to find the hypotenuse of a right triangle. I lied and said I did but at the moment I was eating an ice cream bar and didn’t want to spoil the experience with a conversation about math.

As for wisdom, I am no wiser than most. I know enough to come in out of the rain, to take good care of my teeth, and to sacrifice style in order to be comfortable in my shoes and clothes. I know my grandkids would rather have my time and attention than any toy at Wal-Mart.

Admittedly, I didn’t make all these discoveries by staring at my geriatric geranium. But I did learn this. No matter how old that geranium gets, it is still a geranium. Though it is now weaker, it draws upon strength from within to keep blooming.

I will not say of it, “That plant is not the geranium it used to be,” because that is blatantly wrong. It is exactly the same geranium.

The same is true of me. Though I may not appear as sparkly and zestful as I once was, I am still the same woman. The way I look on the outside does not reveal who I truly am. That determination is made deep on the inside. It is my core, the compilation of all I have learned, experienced, and chosen to be.

It may take more effort, and the results may not be as awe-inspiring, but I will continue to bloom until my caregiver, the One Perfect Caregiver, removes me from the spot where He placed me.

 

What’s the Difference?

Older people like me enjoy talking about when we were kids. We reminisce about playing outside until after dark and paying a nickel for a candy bar. Then often the conversation segues into a lamentation about how those days were better than these days.

Were those days better and if so, why were they better?

I have tried to compare my life as a child of America in the 1950s and ‘60s to the lives of children today. The comparison is not based on any documented research but rather on what I remember to be the facts of then and what I observe to be the facts of now.

I grew up in a rural setting, the oldest of four children, with a mostly stay-at-home mom, and a dad who went to work five or six days a week. We kids went to school just as kids today do, and we went to church three times a week. We rode bikes and played hopscotch, but rarely alone. We played with whatever kids showed up to play.

We had everything we needed and many of the things we wanted.

We had grandparents and aunts and uncles nearby, and any one of them was free to discipline us. We knew personally practically every person who crossed our paths on any given day. We also knew our boundaries and when we were expected home for meals and bedtime.

We watched television on Saturday mornings and on some evenings when it was too dark or too cold to play outside. We also read books, played card games, put together puzzles, and did some household chores.

We got new shoes and coats when we needed them. Clothes were passed around between siblings and cousins, and we thought nothing of it.

When it came to buying or giving us things, our parents’ motto was “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

With the exception of breakfast, which was staggered based on differing schedules, we ate 99% of our meals at home together at the table. We almost never ate at a restaurant.

We were unfamiliar with the term “fast food” and the drive-through window idea had not yet been conceived. The only “drive through” experience we were familiar with was when our Aunt Linda, when learning to drive, drove through our front yard fence.

We had one or at most two vehicles. When we went to church or anywhere else, all six of us rode in the same vehicle. I never had my own car.

In summer, the first thing our mother said after we were dressed and fed in the morning was, “Go outside and play.”

She did not say:

  1. “No electronic devices until after supper.” We had no electronic devices.
  2. “No lying around the house channel surfing.” We had two television channels.
  3. “No hanging out at the mall.” We didn’t know what a mall was.
  4. “No conversations with strangers.” Who was a stranger?
  5. “No spending your money on junk.” We had no money, and the general store sold nothing much except hog feed, groceries, and gas.

Without making any judgments, here are some differences between my world as a child and the world of the typical school-age child today as I perceive it.

  1. Most children do not have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living nearby.
  2. Most children cannot safely play outside unsupervised.
  3. Most children have moms and dads who both work or parents who are separated or divorced.
  4. Most children are surrounded by strangers much of the time.
  5. Most children have many electronic toys designed to be played with alone.
  6. Most children have spending money.
  7. Most children don’t go to church. Those who do probably go once a week or less.

Are any of these differences important?

You tell me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph

Saturday night Dan and I were on the road, returning from a visit with my siblings in Cherokee Village, Arkansas. Around 8:00 p.m. we pulled off the road to find a place to spend the night. Because a Toby Keith concert and several big weddings were taking place in town, vacant motel rooms were hard to find.

We finally located one, lugged in our overnight necessities, ate dinner, and settled down to watch some TV.

The TV didn’t work.

Dan fiddled with the set and the remote for about half an hour. Finally, he called the front desk. The night manager came to our room and repeated the same procedures that had failed when Dan tried them. She called for help.

A man came through the door saying, “I’m Security. I’m not Maintenance. I don’t know how to fix the TV.”

This man worked for a while. Unsuccessful, he and the night manager left our room, with sincere apologies.

Resolved to being unable to watch TV, Dan took his book and settled into the chair in the corner of the room. He switched on the reading lamp.

The lamp didn’t work.

We looked at each other, shrugged, turned off the lights that did work, and went to bed.

I was ticked. We paid good money for the room. We were tired. We didn’t ask for much. Just a clean room, a TV that worked, and some good lighting that would allow us to read. I went to sleep.

The next morning, after we were dressed and were preparing to leave, someone knocked on the door. It was Maintenance. “Joseph,” his name tag read.

A thin, older, slightly grizzled man came in. “I hear your television don’t work,” he said, smiling.

“Neither does the light in the corner,” I informed him.

He went to work. “You know I can’t fix things unless someone tells me they’re broke,” he said, still smiling.

“That was a big storm we had last night,” Joseph said. “Struck right at 3:00 a.m. I know that because I had my alarm set to go off at 3:00.”

“Oh, yeah?” I said, uninterested.

I finished working with my hair, Dan zipped the suitcases, and we went to breakfast.

When we returned to the room, the TV was playing and the light in the corner of the room shone brightly.

We dropped off our door keys at the front desk. There we ran into Joseph again.

“You folks have a good day,” he said to us, a pleasant expression on his face.

We went on our way. I thought about Joseph and the broken TV and lamp.

It was easy to be mad at the unseen, obscure people who stuck us with a room that had faulty equipment. But it was hard to be mad at Joseph, an old man who got up at 3:00 a.m. to fix things, then made polite small talk, and wished us a good day.

I hope I remember Joseph the next time service is slow at a restaurant or the library fails to have the book it promised me. These places are run by people who get up and go to work to serve people like me who are often short-fused and unappreciative.

I wish I had been nicer to Joseph.