A Strange Lesson from My Mother’s Day Candle

My mother was the first to teach me that candles have “memory.”  When you light a jar or pillar candle the first time, you must let it burn for a few hours until the wax pools all the way to the edges.

You see, the candle remembers how far the wax pooled that first time, and it will only burn to that boundary every time you light it.  A small wax pool means your candle will tunnel as it burns.  It will waste the majority of the wax.  It can’t break free of that early pattern.  It remembers.

This morning my family comes into my bedroom with presents for Mother’s Day. Two scented jar candles, wrapped in tissue, roll out on the bedspread. My oldest daughter has breakfast on a tray for me, and as I look at this little family around me and light my candles, I think about candle memory

Will I ever break free from old patterns?  Am I doomed to candle memory in my own soul?  

Sometimes life feels so limited by our destructive patterns–set deep in stone–that we cannot change.  But I don’t want a narrow life!  I don’t want to tunnel down–bringing my children with me–because of old patterns set by the world, the flesh, and the devil (as Scripture teaches).  All morning in church, I think of the hopelessness of that candle memory and of a life that cannot ever break free from a set pattern or false belief.

I need to recover from the patterns of thought–lies I believe–about where my hope and security originate.  
 
In church, I look and see rows and rows of folks in recovery from drugs and alcohol.  A few minutes before, I shake hands with a woman who tells me (in the same breath) her name and her reality:  I’m in recovery.  She’s been clean two weeks. 

What can break the old pattern?  Who can erase the narrow boundaries and set us free?  That new friend knows her name and her reality.  She’s in recovery.  Day by day, she embraces a new reality, a new pattern.  It’s Jesus in her–the only One who can set us free from the prison of ourselves.  

That’s what I think about when I light this Mother’s Day candle.  Candle memory may seem final, but there’s a Light that knows no boundaries and can expose any false pattern.   I invite Jesus in–all the way to the far edges–and let my heart melt and pool deep and wide. 

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Journal:  Do you ever feel trapped by an old pattern?  

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This Isn’t Normal

I’m standing in my clothes, waist high in water.  I’m baptizing, with my husband, a great friend.  I’m invited to join in this ancient ritual, this sacred symbol of the old person buried and rising to new life.  I suddenly realize how average I am, how mortal, as I participate in this divine act.  This isn’t normal. 

All morning, my concept of normal gets pushed aside, flicked far away.  First of all, I’m at a worship service in somebody’s front yard, overlooking the mountains.  I’m slapping my thighs to the beat of the Bluegrass band.  I’m drinking root beer.  There’s a banjo, even.  Can this be worship?  If not, then why am I overcome with the sense of God’s presence? How is this normal?

Then, the woman sharing a picnic blanket with me starts talking about her children.  A teenage girl lounges against her, and little girls play with her purse and makeup.    She tells me that she always wanted a big family. But these aren’t her biological children.  These girls have other mothers.  But ask her about the sleepover parties she hosts, the children she loves, and her dreams of running an orphanage and providing foster care.

“Right now, I have so many children, it’s ridiculous.  And I’ll have so many more,” she tells me. 

She’s a mother in the fullest sense of the word.  She has a divine calling to mother.  I look around the worship gathering.  I can’t even find my children.  Then, I see they are with another mother doing a craft.  And then, another mother’s daughter lies back into my lap and touches my face.  She gazes up at me, and I stroke her hair. 

My definitions are so narrow in scope.  When I broaden them, let out the hem, loosen the strings, and release the word, I find that what I think is divine, what I think constitutes worship, and what I believe motherhood means changes considerably.

What other words need broader definitions?  Living with flair means I don’t limit the meaning of the words that define my life.

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How to Relax in Church

I walk into the sanctuary today, and, like a wave coming over me, I’m hit with the reality of my own frail self.  I’m not good, I’m not peaceful, and I’m not close to God.  He’s somewhere over there, and I’m struggling against the current to reach Him.  I’m flailing my arms and legs.  I’m taking in water.  I’m choking. 

But then I remember what it was like to teach my daughter to float on her back.  “Just rest your head on the water, like it’s a great pillow, and relax.”  She couldn’t do it.  Her little neck strained, and her arms and legs thrashed about.  I need to train her, day by day, to relax into the water.  Her instinct is to somehow contribute to this process, but really, she just needs to be still. 

So I’m standing there, listening to the worship music, and I’m frantic with what to do.

I’m my daughter, flailing when I need to be still.  For once I lay my head back and relax into what I know.  God is with me; God sees me; God knows and loves me.   And then, I’m just worshiping, pure and simple.

Later, I’m with friends at a state park, and I’m invited to ride on a waverunner.  I put on my life jacket, hold on to the handles, and I’m off to see the most amazing sights: the expanse of water bordered by mountains and sky and banks with baby geese just testing the water.  I’m nearly crying I’m so happy to ride these waves in this sun and with this wind on my face.

I tilt my head back against the sky, like it’s a great pillow.  God’s training me to relax.

He’s right here, and I pause, floating on the waves with flair.

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The Blessing We Need

A girl with a stuffed unicorn stood by the restrooms at church this morning. I’ve been seeing unicorns everywhere, and each time, I have a little flair moment. Here’s why.
I learned recently that a gathering of unicorns is called a blessing. I just love that. Animal groups have some strange names. Alligators are a congregation; barracudas are batteries (did you know that?); sea birds are called wrecks; bullfinches are a bellowing; zebras are a crossing; rhinos are a crash, and owls are a parliament.
But a group of unicorns is a blessing.
The gathering of beautiful creatures, more divine than earthly, isn’t just the stuff of lore and legend. As I left the bathroom, I walked into the worship gathering of our church. It suddenly occurred to me that I was in the presence of the divine, the holy–in the people.  
It suddenly stuck me how much I loved the people.  I knew all those people, and all those people knew me.  I could probably raise my hand and ask anybody for anything and the answer would be, “no problem.”   
One man had broken his ankle and, on crutches, rose to the applause of the rest of us as we cheered in hope of his full recovery.
 And those people–those creatures more divine than earthly–were my blessing.  They were my group and my joy both.  
People go crazy in isolation. People die in isolation; they can lose their vitality and their strength. But in groups, they thrive, they enhance one another, and they accomplish more together than they could alone.   They bring forth the glory of God.  
In the Scriptures, Satan drives people to solitary places. In fact, his best work is accomplished when we are alone.  For example, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man who “drives the man into solitary places” (Luke 8: 29). And we learn in the book of Peter that the enemy of our souls “prowls around like a roaring lion waiting to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).   He must search for the loner.  When I watch nature shows, I’m always struck by the skill of the lion. He preys on the lone gazelle, the one that gets away from his group.  The isolated, the ones separate from their group, are the ones in the most danger. 
If only we could see that left-out person as part of ourselves.   If only we could boldly move forward, extend a hand, and invite a stranger into our blessing.  Our story has many more characters to include.   
If only we could see the divine calling to participate in each others’ lives. 
We are interdependent at our best, much like tiny streams that, when we link up, become mighty rivers that nourish entire landscapes.
I need to join my blessing. Whatever it takes, I need to. Living with flair means seeing my community as more divine than earthly and part of my own self. Within my blessing, I gather in the stray gazelles when I’m strong. And when I’m weak, I look to the others to circle around me and bring me to safety. 
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