A new job! And so much more.

This is an overdue thank you – to God and to the people who sustained me through my job search. I started a new job in July! It is a great job at Rutgers University – Newark, one that is allowing me to use my experience, skills, and dedication to increase student success. My family, friends, and local church community were with me in the ups and downs of the months I was out of work. Colleagues recent and those from years past stayed in touch and suggested leads. Church communities as far away as Florida, North Carolina, and Ontario were praying for me too. What a blessing it has been to know that I was not alone in my journey.

In the meantime I got married, my husband moved from 400 miles away to live with me in New Jersey, he started a new job, and two of our kids graduated from college. What a whirlwind it has been, and in some ways it was nice not to be working during that time. There was a lot of packing, moving, and driving to be done! To help manage my stress, Luna (my dog) and I walked for miles and miles, I sang with my church choir, I talked to many friends and cried on some shoulders, and I prayed. I was offered the opportunity to write a series of devotions for These Days: Daily Devotions for Living by Faith, published by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, and I welcome those readers to my blog!

I am so grateful for the many blessings my family and I have, for the generosity in spirit of others who share their journeys through their writing and songs, and for a reformed protestant Christian faith that is grounded in love to all, forgiveness, and grace.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord for the Lord is good! God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Amen.

Excellent fertilizer

Sh*t makes excellent fertilizer. That’s what I thought of after a friend I had not heard from in a long time wrote to me and apologized for being a sh*tty friend, not returning my phone calls or texts. I was happy to hear from her and responded that she is a friend, period, without qualifiers. Was I disappointed that I had not heard back from her earlier? Yes. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want to hear from her whenever she was ready to reach out! In that moment the story of the Prodigal Son became real in my life. I was happy to hear from the person who I thought was lost, but now was found.

Then I read a terrific blog post by Jen Hesse, titled “God never wastes the space between.” It got me thinking about my own in-between spaces – those times of waiting for the next step, of wondering what the next step will be or what it will bring. It is wonderful to celebrate the end of the waiting – the joyful reunion of friends or family members, the new relationship, the new job, the return of good health – but sometimes, unfortunately, we have a long period of waiting. The season of Lent in the Christian church is a season of waiting, remembering the decades that the Jewish people spent wandering in the wilderness, following Moses, before getting to the promised land. The season of winter feels like a season of waiting for the sun to return to prominence in the hemisphere, waiting for leaves, grass, and flowers to emerge in springtime. Waiting can be a lonely, dark, dispiriting time. I am a person who loves to have a plan. Waiting for a plan to emerge has been difficult.

Fortunately, the seasons of Lent and winter also bring the assurance that the waiting will end. God’s people did not wander in the wilderness forever, it just seemed that way to them. Winter does not last forever, spring does return. It does not return in the same way that it did last year, and my future will not look the same as my past, but I will not be stuck in my present state of waiting forever. It is reassuring to be reminded that God is with us in the waiting, in the wilderness, when it is hard to hold onto faith and hope. I am thankful for friends and family members who reach out, for writers who share their stories of struggle and faith, and for my church community. Even when I cannot see what is ahead, I can take comfort in the knowledge that I will be surrounded by faith and by opportunities to live out my faith.

And what does fertilizer have to do with any of this? With the emergence of spring it is time to turn over the earth, dig into the dirt, and prepare the garden and flower beds for planting! If you’ve ever lived near a farm you may know that cow manure (sh*t) makes excellent fertilizer, much in the same way that vegetable scraps make excellent compost. But cow manure and vegetable scraps do not become excellent fertilizer or compost overnight! They need a lot of time to decompose and change their physical properties into something that will provide nourishment to other plants. Something that is a waste product can, over time, become a new and valuable commodity, contributing to our well-being. Similarly, the parts of ourselves that we fear are used up or out-of-date can be renewed over time.

Reading the scripture verses about the “parable of the prodigal and his brother”, as it is called in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, I am reminded that there are two brothers in the story. These days we could call them siblings. One has stayed at home caring for the family farm/property, the other has left home with his/her inheritance money and wasted it on decadent living. When the prodigal returns after years of no contact the father rejoices but the other sibling is annoyed, feeling unappreciated for the years of loyal work that they have provided. The father’s words to both of the siblings can provide comfort to us, whether our period of waiting has seemed productive or not. To the first he says, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31.)  You are always with me. How much I need to hear that in my times of darkness and waiting! Then he goes on, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this [sibling] of yours was dead and has come to life; s/he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32.) In God’s world the old becomes new, the dead come to life, the waiting ends in rejoicing.

Lord, thank you for being with me always – in the waiting, and in the rejoicing to come. Amen.

 

 

 

Unfailing love

It is ironic that I am not working now that my kids are in college. I worked through the summer, saving my vacation days to tack on at the end of my employment and I stopped working as they went back for their fall classes. Now that I could be considered a stay-at-home mom they are away. But parenting doesn’t end when kids go to college or enlist in the military, or get a job and move out. Even when I don’t see my kids often I can encourage them with cards, emails, texts, and the occasional phone call. One of my kids usually responds quickly, the other sometimes doesn’t respond. Without much prodding one tells me about classes, friends, activities. The other is less willing to divulge any news. Some days I wonder if it matters that I am trying to stay in touch but I know that the absence of any attempts would be noticed. I ask questions and then do my best to listen and to be open, not judging.

During the winter break each of the kids made a gift for someone else and it was a joy for me to be able to assist them. I helped to pick out the materials they needed and showed them how to do different things – using the sewing machine, staining a wooden board, cleaning the paint brushes. Their acceptance of my involvement was a gift to me! We spent time together working with our hands. They gained skills and confidence, and I gained time with them and a feeling of connection.

Sometimes when I am longing for connection with my kids I think of my relationship with God. I read devotions daily and scriptures often, and I am very involved with my church, but I don’t always take my prayers to a deeper level. When this realization comes to me I imagine that God is waiting for me to turn and seek God’s presence. Some days it is hard for me to accept the idea that God wants my attention and connection just as I am. I don’t have to do more or be more to be loved by God, and God loves me even when I’ve been absent for a while! God doesn’t say “what took you so long?” although I may be thinking that.

Reflecting on my relationship with God helps me to think about my relationships with my almost-adult kids. I am grateful for whatever time we spend together and I don’t need to interpret any lack of response as rejection. I can commit to reaching out with love, consistently, and being receptive to their response whenever and however it comes.

Lord, thank you for your example of unfailing acceptance and love. Amen.

Psalm 13:1, 5 – “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? . . . But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.” (NIV)

New names

My word for the year is love. Other words have come to mind – faith, hope, trust – but as the scriptures point out, “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2.) Being confident that I am loved allows me to step out in faith. Drawing on love allows me to be patient with myself and others. Love is the path to forgiveness, and the way out of fear. Love is God shining in me, and through me out into the world.

You may have noticed that my last name is Love. That became my married name many years ago and although we later divorced I kept the name. I shared it with my kids, and Dr. Love has been an awesome name to have. Students and parents alike smile or laugh when they hear it. Store clerks and TSA workers comment positively about it. The play on words for my blog and book title has been fun.

This year, however, I am marrying John Van Der Karr and I am choosing to change my name again. It is important to me to signify this new phase in my life, to embrace this new beginning! Throughout the Bible people take on new names as a sign of God’s promises – Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah; Jesus gave Simon a new name, Peter, when Simon met Jesus and became a disciple; after his conversion Saul became Paul. These are name changes that represent dramatic changes in the lives of these people, and a reminder for me that a wedding is the start of a dramatic change in life too. A marriage joins families, brings different groups and customs together, and reminds us to be steadfast in love throughout the ups and downs of our lives.

I like the symbolism of love being my word for the year in the same year that it no longer will be my legal name. My blog title will remain the same, as I don’t have to have the last name of Love to be Inspired by Love. And neither do you. What new name or word might you claim for yourself this year? Write it in the “comments” section below to share it with other readers and to let your light shine brightly. Go ahead! (You can always change it later. 🙂 )

Lord, thank you for being the living word in my life. Amen.

A new shoot

The thermometer outside my kitchen window read 0.9 degrees (F) this morning, well below the average for January in New Jersey. And it’s not just in the northeast; much of the U.S. has been gripped by severely cold weather since Christmas. Although it was sunny and bright yesterday it was the coldest day yet this winter, barely getting out of the single digits. The start of the new year has been bleak from that perspective.

How happy I was to look closely at my orchid later in the morning and to see a new shoot! This orchid was given to me by the Deacons at my church in June last year as a “thank you” for the three years I had served as a Deacon. The white flowers lasted for months and when they died off I cut the stem short and put the plant, pot and all, into a clear plastic dry-cleaning bag to preserve the humidity, then placed it out of direct sunlight. More months passed without any sign of new growth yet here it is, the little piece at the top of the old stem, pointing to the left! What a timely reminder that new growth is happening even when it cannot be seen. What a timely reminder to have patience even in times of darkness and cold.

new shoot - orchid

This brought to mind the prophesy that a king would be descended from David: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1.) A stump may not look like fertile ground for the future beauty of an orchid, or of the Lord, but a stump is almost all that is needed. Add a trace of water, don’t burn it out in direct sunlight, and be patient. Even when I cannot detect any movement, a new thing is happening!

Lord, thank you for signs of new life and growth. Amen.

Hopeful expectation

For much of the world Christmas has passed. The Christmas trees have been put out at the curb or packed away, the decorations taken down. Radio stations have gone back to their standard programming. Shelves in stores are displaying Valentine’s Day items. But in the Christian church Christmas is a season, not a day, and and it is still here! The expectation of God come to earth in human form, the waiting for God’s peace to rule over all creation – these are things we look for daily, not just on December 25.

I thought of expectation today as I plan my wedding. It will be a joyful occasion for two families to come together and meet, extending the love that my fiance and I have for each other. I am making hotel reservations, expecting the arrival of family members from near and far. Some have just started new jobs and they may not be able to make the trip but I expect that they will come. I don’t hold this expectation as an obligation to be fulfilled, but as a hopeful desire that they can be with us for this very special event.

It’s been said that expectations are premeditated resentments, meaning that we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and resentment if/when an expectation is not met, but that implies expectation as an obligation, not a hope. It is the same kind of expectation that we have in Christmas – not that Christ was obligated to appear, but that he did. My expectation of his presence in my life can be one of hope, even in the dark periods of my life, because Christmas happened. At Christmastime and throughout the year I can be hopeful, knowing that Emmanuel – God with us – was here not for a day but for always.

“and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:5.

Lord, I am grateful for the gift of hope that came to earth at Christmas. Amen.

First day of winter

Sunrise was at about 7:20 this morning and sunset will be at 4:32 p.m. The day with the shortest amount of daylight in the northern hemisphere heralds the approach of longer days, although it will be months before warmer temperatures arrive. People in the northern hemisphere celebrate Christmas in the same season as the earliest Christians, and the theme of light overcoming darkness has this seasonal touch to it. I wonder how Christians in the southern hemisphere experience the theme of darkness at Christmas time. Do they revisit the Christmas story in June when they are having their winter solstice?

Of course, we can experience darkness any time of the year. Our hearts can be heavy with grief or fear at any season. Illness, homelessness, betrayal and disappointment can come at any time. The fact of God coming in human form to live among us is one we recall every time we come together to worship, and anytime, anywhere in prayer and praise, not only at Christmas. Just as there is no season specific to our experience of darkness, there is no season when the light of Christ is not present. Some days the light of God may seem like a barely discernible ember not strong enough to offer warmth, but we are assured that it is here. We have the ability – and the responsibility – to bring together our embers (or our flames – whatever the strength of our faith today) so that we can build a strong source of light and provide warmth and care to each other.

Dear Lord, fan the spark of light that is within me so that I can share it with others who need some extra light and warmth in the darkness. Amen.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

Trying new things

I don’t like this.” That’s what I thought when our choir director introduced a new piece of music. It was a Nigerian tune with Nigerian words, the rhythm was difficult for me to sing, and I just didn’t like it. I could feel my face tensing, my eyebrows pulling together, eyes narrowing, nostrils pinching, lips puckering. “I don’t want to sing this song,” I said to myself.

But I did sing it for the six or seven minutes that our director led us, and I sang it again for a little longer at the next rehearsal, and again that the rehearsal after that. The rhythm became more familiar and the tune was peppy. I focused on the notes and the syllables and I stopped frowning. I didn’t know the song well enough to sing it without the written music in front of me, but singing it with the choir was pleasant.

As I recalled this process of getting past my initial reluctance I was reminded of myself as a child who needed coaxing to eat her vegetables some days. I resisted for all kinds of reasons, screwing up my face and saying, “Yuck!” This new music took me right back to my five-year old self, and to an appreciation for the people in my life who have helped me to try new things. The familiar things in life may be comfortable, but unfamiliar things, people, places, and jobs can be enjoyable too. With practice and patience they too can become familiar, even loved.

As I think about trying new things I am reminded of this verse from Isaiah: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19.) In this time of year as the winter solstice approaches, with shorter hours of daylight and colder temperatures in the northeast, it can feel as if nothing new is happening, or worse – as if God is far away. I am thankful for the reassurance of scripture, music, and the people in my life.

Lord, keep my close to you, and to the people who encourage me to be open to new ideas, roles, and experiences. Amen.

Saving the good stuff

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.’” Exodus 16:4

I was really happy with a devotional I had written and I thought I’d post it to my blog. Then I thought of the devotionals I had committed to writing for a publisher and I wondered about copyright issues. If I posted it here I might not be able to send it to the publisher, so maybe I should hold onto it and save it for that purpose. The problem with that, however, was that the essay wouldn’t be published for almost a year. Was I really going to wait that long to share it? Waiting really meant that I wasn’t confident that I’d have more good ideas to write about. A lack of confidence had me thinking about saving the “good stuff” in fear of a future scarcity. What if I couldn’t write more essays that I was happy with to send to the publisher?

Fortunately, my faith teaches me that God’s inspiration and grace are not finite resources. I do not have to live with a mindset of scarcity, but can live with a belief in God’s abundance. Like the Israelites who were given their daily manna and quails, I can give of myself each day and be confident that the well of inspiration will not run dry.

Are you saving your good stuff (love, talent, money, time), fearful that if you share it with others you may not get any more in the future? At Thanksgiving we are reminded to give thanks and share our abundance with others, but at other times of the year (or even the next week!) that mindset slips away. With repeated practice can we change our minds and our habits. We can do so by surrounding ourselves with stories of faith, remembering acts of bravery and good will carried out in the face of ill will, and giving thanks for the daily blessings and grace we receive.

Oscar Hammerstein wrote the following lyrics and they remind me to be generous in sharing: “A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it – A song’s not a song ’til you sing it – Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay – Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”

Happy Give-thanksing to you!

Lord, give me the confidence to live with faith in your abundant grace and love. Amen.