Long Term Joy: The Art of Bonsai

For Easter, we gave each daughter her own bonsai tree kit to grow little trees from seeds to then prune and shape for the next several years. It’s a skill we decided to learn together.

We laughed when we realized that, by the time we begin our pruning, Sarah will have left for college and Kate will be in her senior year of high school. But thinking this long term has brought us a new kind of joy. It’s a waiting, patient kind of anticipation of the bonsai trees coming.

Just this last week, a few of the seeds we planted on Easter morning have sprouted. Some will take several more weeks.

Every morning, we check our seeds, assess the moisture of the soil, and live in the long-term joy of bonsai trees.

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“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” –Louisa May Alcott

This little line in Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, makes me smile today. I don’t know much about sailing, but I love the idea that sailors don’t fear storms because they know how to sail in them. They know how to harness the power of the wind and make it work for them to push or pull them in the direction they wish to go.

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

When I’m discouraged by my circumstances or fearful of any of life’s storms, I want to remember what it means to live as a sailor who knows how to use the storm to sail.

And maybe this strong, fearful wind has come into my life to get me where I’m supposed to go.

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Special Moments with Barbara Bush

When I heard that Barbara Bush’s journey here ended, I pulled out two old photos.

In the first, I stood beside her at a special gathering of school children in 1987 to celebrate her Reading is Fundamental Program. In the second, the teenage me stood by Barbara Bush during a party at her vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine because my best friend at the time had a father in the White House Press Corps. We tagged along.

I remember how special I felt. I remember thinking about Barbara Bush as a role model and inspiration back then, and I’m grateful for these moments as a child and as a teen.

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It’s Just a Day

When my daughters aren’t having the best day, we often say, “Well, it’s just a day.”

It’s just a day.

It’s OK that we needed to nap all afternoon or that we just wanted to watch TV till bedtime. It’s OK that we ate too many cookies or didn’t finish our homework. It’s OK that we shouted at our sister or never made our bed. It’s OK that everything went wrong at lunch or during an exam. It’s OK that our hair looked awful and we felt uncomfortable in our clothes.

It’s just a day. Tomorrow is a new day.

We hug each other and say, “It’s just a day.” Let’s snuggle up and start a new day tomorrow.

It’s just a day.

It’s just one day out of thousands of thousands of days.

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The Snare Has Been Broken

Yesterday, I spent time considering Psalm 124 and David’s praise to the Lord. He writes in verses 7-8:

We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 

I took a few moments to think about all the “snares” God has broken in my own life and all the ways He has allowed me to escape that which would have destroyed me. I thanked God for breaking the snare of despair and bitterness. I thought about being set free from bad relationships, harmful activities, and a whole list of entanglements that might have suffocated me.

God releases you from the snare. He gives you power, resources, and insight to do so. He sends wise counselors to help. He strengthens your faith to make hard decisions. But first, He shows you where and what it is that’s beginning to trap you or already has you in its grip. I read God’s word daily for this very reason: it exposes lies, deception, and dark and slippery paths. God’s word heightens my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and helps me hear the voice of the Shepherd directing my steps. I often ask Jesus to show me any hidden snares, especially as I embark on new projects.

God breaks the snare. We cannot do it alone. So many times in my life, I’ve cried out to Jesus, “Only you can release my foot from the snare!” as David does in Psalm 25:15.

The snares hide. They disguise themselves so the birds cannot know. But God can open our eyes–even right at this moment–to know what will ensnare us. And then, He provides our way of escape. He breaks the snare.

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Instantly Regained

Today I read something that reminds me of my research on shame all those years ago. Hannah Whitall Smith writes about sin and how, instead of collapsing under discouragement that “all is lost,” we come to God in repentance and start fresh again on the journey.

Yet so many of us live as if it’s “game over” when we make a mistake or find ourselves entangled in sin. We hide in shame. We don’t talk about it. We stop connecting with people because of our shame. I’ve seen this behavior in my own life and in the lives of so many students in my role in campus ministry.

Sin is, indeed, serious. I would never undermine its destruction and pain. It’s so great that Someone died for it, to bring us to God, to make us holy before Him. We stand condemned and guilty apart from Jesus. But in Christ, our guilt is gone.

But shame lingers. We keep punishing ourselves for our failures.

If you find yourself punishing yourself and believing you’ve destroyed everything by your sin, Smith helps us think of it as that which “momentarily disturbs” your journey on the path of sanctification. Smith says it like this: “We may for a moment turn aside from the path, but the path is not obliterated by our wandering and can be instantly regained.”

In parenting, we “start fresh” after arguments, disobedience, or bad attitudes. We repair any damage and get right back on the path. We don’t hold grudges or punish ourselves for our shortcomings.

We turn back to God, and we instantly regain the path. He makes everything right; He points the way back; He can turn our wandering into something beautiful. Day by day, we return to Him in confession and repentance. We don’t live in shame. We live in intimacy with a Savior who already forgave us and knows we are much worse than we can even imagine. Yet, He loves us!

He walks beside us on the path, and He’s never surprised by the fact that we’re human.

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Back in the Day

When I pick my daughters up from youth group, a girl in Dr. Martens boots and a Nirvana t-shirt and flannel shirt approaches me. She heard that once, I wore shoes like that and listened to the kind of music she loves.

I play it cool. I remember when Nirvana came on the scene and we all sang “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in our flannel shirts. She wants to know if I’ve heard of a band called Nirvana.

Have I ever heard of Nirvana? I play it cool. All she sees is the old and preppy teacher, the one in glasses who makes after school snacks and wears responsible shoes.

Now, she wants to know if I’ve ever heard of a band called The Cure or Depeche Mode or The Smiths.

Again, I play it cool while she tests my knowledge of albums and hit songs, and I answer smoothly. When I mention the song, “There Is a Light that Never Goes Out,” she comes closer.

I’m now in. I speak her language.

“What about Panic! at the Disco?” she asks, testing me again.

“No,” I say. “I don’t listen to that band.” She smiles. I let her have something original for herself.

“Cool,” she says.

“Cool,” I say. And 30 years ago, I was.

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Morning Pep Talk: Anything Can Happen Today

I wake up thinking about Mark Twain’s quote: “Apparently, there is nothing that cannot happen today.” It fills me with joy and expectation, with a shimmering hope that carries me through a tired morning.

As we sit together and fill out the Morning Prayer Journal, I tell my daughter about “waiting in expectation” of what God will do during this very day (Psalm 5:3). I tell her about how those who trust in the Lord, who put their hope in Him, “will not be disappointed” (Psalm 22:5). And why is this so? Because God’s presence goes out with us, and He is always working. He always positions us to worship and to experience His loving presence.

Anything can happen today! Go on out into this day! Wait in expectation and scan the day with joy and hope. God is with you. I cannot wait to hear about how you saw Him working today.  

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Morning Pep Talk: Finding Good in People Who Annoy You

I’m learning that everything and everyone annoys a pre-teen. Maybe it’s part of development; they differentiate by being annoyed. It’s almost comical.

This morning, I find myself praying that my daughters live in peace with people. I want them to fulfill the Biblical command to “live in harmony with one another” (1 Peter 3:8) and to spread blessing, not insult, as they interact with sympathy, love, compassion, and humility.

But what are we to do when people in our lives just annoy us? I tell my daughter to find the good thing, the strength, and the unique skills of that person who’s driving her crazy–especially her sister! I tell her that sometimes the very thing that bothers us about others hides a hidden blessing for us in friendship. The controlling friend often blesses us with her organization and planning. The confident friend that seems a little boastful blesses us with her joyful assurance and models security when we feel insecure. The one complaining all the time shows us how not everyone views life like we do; they push us to help improve our circumstances.

If that person that bothers us left our lives, imagine what we’d lose! Find the good in that girl. Consider how the thing that annoys you offers a strength that blesses. And now, go into your day and enjoy the gift of friendship! 

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