Many and Bitter

I love Psalm 71:19-21, and I even scribbled it on a page from my prayer journal to give to a friend who is having a hard time today. It says:

Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
    you who have done great things.
    Who is like you, God?
 Though you have made me see troubles,
    many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
    and comfort me once more.

As spring bursts forth in every direction today, I like thinking about God restoring, bringing back from the depths of despair, increasing honor, and providing comfort. Why not pray for a new season for the people in your life who are having a hard time today? Pray that, though they see troubles, many and bitter, God would call forth springtime in their soul.





Anaideia Praying

I’m reading in Luke 11:8 where Jesus tells the story of the shameless, imprudent, bold, rash friend who dares to make a totally selfish and inappropriate middle-of-the-night request for bread to feed his guests. Jesus says that we should ask God for what we need in this same manner.

Essentially, Jesus invites us to ask outrageously for what we need.

I don’t do this. I’m reserved. I’m proper. I’m full of appropriate, orderly prayers.

But this guy? Oh, he’s ridiculous. The passage reads:

Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

I just love this passage! I love that the friend is unprepared, obviously disorganized (there’s no food in the house!) and approaches someone at midnight with shameless audacity. The Greek word for this kind of asking is “anaideia,” and it translates as “shamelessness” and “imprudence.” Most translations say “persistence” or “boldness” as well.

I grab my prayer journal and begin scribbling down outrageous and shameless requests. I don’t censor myself. I don’t worry about what’s selfless, self-sacrificing, or even possible. I just go to God and ask Him for what my heart wants because He will give “as much as you need.” He knows and isn’t shocked or shaming. He opens the door and gives.

How fun to think that God invites outrageous praying.




What You Need Might Be Different From What They Need

It’s been a wonderful parenting opportunity to let Merlin heal.

My daughters have to remember that to him, the isolated bathroom is peaceful and lovely. It’s a cat’s dream.

To us, it’s lonely, dark, and terrible. To us, it’s misery.

My daughters want to storm the room and snuggle Merlin. They want to smother him with kisses and pets and treats. They want to compliment him with their high-pitched, sing-song love.

I remind them that what they would like isn’t what he would like. It’s so difficult to consider another’s point of view. We project everything we want and value and need without pausing to inhabit the experience of the person we so desperately want to love and comfort.



Intensive Care: A Lesson from Merlin the Cat

Our dear cat, Merlin, has vertigo from what the vet thinks is an ear infection. He can’t walk and just falls over to one side. He won’t eat. He won’t socialize. The vet gives us medication to heal him and help him eat, and then he provides the instructions for healing. 

We’re told to keep Merlin in a quiet, dark, comfortable area that’s safe from any intruders. We’re to provide delicious, enticing food along with refreshing water. We’re to deliver the medication he needs in an easy way. Even more, we’re to remove any obstacles that could cause him to fall or harm him. We stock a guest bathroom with everything Merlin needs.

His healing might take a week or two.

All day, I think about how relaxing it all seems as Merlin heals. Quiet, calm, comfort, nourishment, and all the love of a family. I used to learn all my healing lessons from our one-eyed cat, Jack, but Merlin’s been teaching me all about intensive care.

When we’re in a season of healing–for ourselves or others–I think about peace, nourishment, the removal of obstacles, and the blocking of intruders. I think about all the love and comfort needed that we can provide lavishly.

We follow our instructions for healing.


Taking the Post, Singing the Song

My husband and I stand at the kitchen window and watch the return of the Northern Cardinals who have nested in our backyard for at least 5 years. They feed seeds to one another and sing the most beautiful songs. Soon, they’ll build that nest and lay those exquisite eggs.

I discover this video below (from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) about the song of this beautiful bird. The narrator says, “You see that male cardinal dashing across your yard to take up a post and sing its brilliant whistled song.” I’m now watching every day and listening for the brilliant whistled song. I’m told to listen carefully for the “purring” the bird often makes after his song.

I also learn about the “paired structure” inside a bird that lets them produce two sounds at the same time–something humans cannot do.

I remember my friend Sandy telling me, “You never have to worry about being rich; you have the riches of nature always available to you.”

I thought of the Northern Cardinal taking up a post and singing, and I love the idea of that kind of determination to announce spring, to proclaim new things, and to bless a whole neighborhood who hears the song.


Why It’s Good

My students discuss why it’s often so difficult to articulate why we love or don’t love some film, product, song, or book. We know we love it (or don’t) but we can’t say why. Furthermore, we discuss how our criteria for evaluation showcase interesting points about what we value as a culture. When I survey students regarding why they love certain works of art, they often point to universal standards that nobody–no matter what culture or circumstance–would oppose.

It’s fascinating.

For example, students agree that we should value those things that build community, that transcend social class or education, and that foster hope. Community, accessibility, and hope. 

My family loved the American Idol finale last night. It brought us back to all those years, in various neighborhoods, when we were all watching Idol together. Years ago, that’s what we talked about in grocery stores and in classrooms. It didn’t matter who you were, where you came from, or what was happening in your life, you were, at least in the United States, most likely watching American Idol. I think about how it brought us together and how hopeful it felt that someone like Carrie Underwood could sing her heart out and see her dream come true. As we watched the show last night, neighbors texted their thoughts, and I followed the commentary on twitter.

I hope another show or experience comes along that brings people together like this. It reminded me of the day I waited in an airport when the last Harry Potter book came out. Every person I saw was leaning against a wall, sitting on the floor, or slumped in a chair reading that book and talking to complete strangers about it.

Community, accessibility, and hope. We’re talking about these things in class and finding more criteria about what makes something good. 



Fret Not

I found another great verb in Psalm 37: fret. Three times in this psalm, we’re told to “fret not” or “do not fret.” I learn that to fret means to burn inside like fire. It suggests becoming angry, vexed, and kindled.

I love the command do not fret. David tells us we don’t need to worry about anything as we trust in the Lord. We can “enjoy great peace” (verse 11). The Lord helps us and delivers us from anything and everything that tempts us to fret as we take refuge in Him (verse 40).


The Joy We Found: 10 Ideas for Your Neighborhood

Last night, I shared some ideas for building a neighborhood with a friend who will move to a house in a few months. After all these years, I rejoiced about so many beautiful things that happened in the one-mile radius around my home in Pennsylvania. Oh, the things we’ve all experienced together because we chose to believe that God searched out the exact place where we live (Acts 17) and how loving neighbors was one of the best things we could do with our time.

I remember these 10 ideas that our neighbors have enjoyed together (some initiated by me and some planned by others):

  1. Saturday Morning Pancakes: Invite everyone over! Arrive in pajamas if you want. Drink coffee and bless the children with pancakes.
  2. A Walk to School campaign: Call all the parents and walk!
  3. A Neighborhood Fitness Night: Get jump ropes, balls, bikes, kites, and a Frisbee and arrive on someone’s front lawn, nearby parking lot, or school yard.
  4. A Neighborhood Monday Night Dance Party during the winter: We danced to favorite tunes for one hour.
  5. Potluck lunches or dinners. The Italian Mama lunches changed my life. I had never felt so loved and pampered.
  6. Creative Writing Nights: One year, we met to help each other with manuscripts and writing ideas
  7. Guy’s Night Out. They go to local restaurants and enjoy a night together.
  8. Gathering to watch a television show or sporting event
  9. Holiday parties like Gingerbread house making, Easter Egg Hunts, and Halloween parties.
  10. Service projects to help the local elementary school or shelters

Based on the personality of your family, you can do different things. The family down the road hosts a game night on Friday night and viewing parties for certain television shows. Other families host the block parties and BBQ’s in the summer. Some families help with gardening, bake bread for neighbors, and even help clean houses.

With evolving technology, our neighbors have a GroupMe morning text check in about walking and general hilarious banter about what’s happening with our families.

Community and connection won’t happen all at once. For me, it took a few months–even a few years–before I felt so deeply connected to people that I just couldn’t imagine a happier, more fulfilled way to live.

Spring is a great time to gather the neighbors! May God bless your neighborhood! Not everyone will respond to your efforts, but some will. And your life will never be the same.



The Fishmonger and the Note

Something really nice happened to me today as I was buying fish.

Yes. Fish.

I needed fish for a dinner party, and the fishmonger (I’ve never used that word in writing before)–the fishmonger–asked me how he could help me. He stood there in his big white apron with all the fish smells wafting about him, and he listened intently to my elaborate dinner plans and how I might prepare the salmon I was thinking about buying.

You know how some people make you feel stupid and act impatient and distracted in these kinds of situations? Well, this fishmonger didn’t. He listened and listened and then went out to a big truck where a salmon delivery was happening, and he rushed everyone so he could get the perfect salmon for my party. And I told him all about my budget, so he made it work for what I could afford. Then he talked with someone who could offer multiple suggestions for preparation and presentation. It was just simple, regular customer service that most people have come to expect, but something about the whole exchange made me so happy.

I felt valued. I felt valued because of the time spent, the listening, and the extra work on my behalf. I felt so important and cared for. Nobody rushed me or made me feel like a bother.

The other day, a saleswoman noticed how one of my daughters was really struggling trying to find the right kind of shirt. It was stressful and difficult. The saleswoman was so patient and fun and encouraging. She wouldn’t give up on my daughter; she brought us so many options and stayed with us the whole time. We eventually found a shirt after redecorating the whole fitting room area with clothing. We purchased the shirt and returned to the car.

Then, my daughter notices a little card inside the bag. She pulls out a handwritten note from the saleswoman, on beautiful stationery, about my daughter and how wonderful she is and how she hopes the shirt works well.

My daughter was so touched. “Why would she write this to me? When did she have the time?” She kept the notecard in a special place in her bedroom.

I know she felt valued.

I think of kind fishmongers and loving salespeople who interacted with complete strangers as if they were the most special people in the world. I want to treat others like that.

Time; listening; extra work for someone; pretty notecards: all ways to love someone with flair.




Slow of Heart

This morning in Luke 24, we learn about the disciples who walked on the road to Emmaus with Jesus, but they could not recognize Him. They walked, with downcast faces, and talked about how hopeless it all was now that Jesus was crucified.

It feels like one big complaining party right there on the road. And Jesus was there with them the whole time! The Risen Lord was there, and they couldn’t see Him. I think about myself and my friends and what we talk about on our worst days. I feel like I’m often on that road, downcast and hopeless, because I just can’t see Jesus.

Jesus calls them “slow of heart.”

I think about the expression all day long. When I’m “slow of heart” to believe the great promises of God and to experience Jesus right here, it’s usually because I, too, am downcast and hopeless. I’m looking at everything that’s going wrong instead of everything that’s going right.

I love how Jesus directs them back to the scriptures and hangs out with them until they recognize Him again. It’s such a funny account in the Bible, and I’m glad I read it again today.