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.

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.

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.

Be bold!

“And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness . . . .” Acts 4:29

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” This is the question that greets me every day on a little sign in my kitchen. Some days I hardly read it, some days it stops me in my tracks and I wonder, “What would I like to do with my life?” One recent morning I allowed myself to admit that I’d really like to pursue inspirational writing – really pursue it, not dabble in it once every few months – and I was overwhelmed by a sense of God’s presence, a feeling of awe and gratitude. God’s spirit seemed to be saying “Yes! You can do this. You must do this.” Later that day I received an invitation to write a series of devotionals for a Presbyterian publication. When I described to the person who had sent the invitation what I had experienced that morning we both were amazed at the timing of God’s grace.

I invite you to contemplate, prayerfully, your response to that question. Let God work in your heart to reveal hopes and dreams you haven’t yet discovered, or been willing to admit. Be bold, shutting down the voices of doubt that immediately will crowd out any timid response. It may take some practice, so go ahead and make your own sign and put it in a place where you will see it every day. And let me know what happens!

Lord, thank you for your awesome, amazing grace. Amen.

Beware

“[The scribes and the Pharisees] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew, 23:4

Last week I was in Florida, sitting along the shore of Lake Pierce, at the Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center, an educational retreat center where I was leading a workshop for faculty members and administrators from Florida Southern College. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not humid, with a light breeze. I watched an egret on the shore and a great blue heron that was chasing the egret from place to place along what must be good fishing grounds. There were occasional splashing sounds in the reeds and water in front of the dock on which I was sitting. Those sounds made me a bit uneasy, thanks to the big sign warning about the alligator. By the time I heard the splashing and looked in its direction I couldn’t see any movement, not even ripples on the water’s surface. I wondered if the sign meant that there is one alligator to beware of and I doubted it. In this context I’m guessing that “alligator” is the plural as well as the singular, similar in an odd way to “moose.”

Beware of alligator sign

What were my “take-away” thoughts from this peaceful-although-occasionally-anxious setting?

  1. Danger is a part of life, whether we can see it or not. Depending on the kind of danger (an alligator) we can take preventive measures and be pretty confident that we will be safe. Other kinds of danger (illness, loss of income) can arise regardless of what we do or don’t do, and their unpredictability brings its own anxiety.
  2. Some people have more resources to deal with danger and its accompanying fear and anxiety than other people, depending on the form of the danger and the type of resource.

I should add here that I’m reading David K. Shipler’s book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, a very sobering account of Americans whose lives are different than my own. My parents remain married to each other (and celebrated their 63rd anniversary this year!), still are healthy, and both earned bachelor’s degrees before they had children. My dad had a steady job as a teacher and my mom was a full-time mom for my brother and me. We were well cared for and loved, got great educations, and were raised with a Christian faith that emphasized God’s love and minimized God’s judgment. I could believe in the American dream because that was my family’s experience.

Given what I’m reading, I have to acknowledge that for me to write about danger in life is like me writing about playing football – I’ve sat on the bleachers watching many games but have never played the game. So I’ll bring this essay to a close not by providing a happy, Pollyanna-type ending, but by being thankful for what I have been given in life (lots of advantages, including good health); praying for peace and justice in our country and our world; and committing to take action, in addition to prayer, for the same.

God, thank you for your loving grace, freely given and not earned. May all your children experience it every day. Give me humility and compassion, and the courage to work for justice for all. Amen.

Lake Pierce

Photo of Lake Pierce

Leaving the party

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35

The gift of time alone. That is one of the things I got after my divorce. Time alone when the kids were with their dad. Not just for a night or a weekend but regularly for four or five days at a stretch. Painful at times, but also an opportunity to read and think and write. If it were not for those times of being alone I don’t think I would have written any of these essays. With other people in the house I think I would have filled my time doing things with them and for them, and for myself, but probably not writing.

Fortunately it is possible to find time alone without getting a divorce but it may not be easy. It involves choosing one thing over another, and building up the discipline of making the choice consistently, over the long term. Who wants to leave a party when people are having a good time? Or who wants to get up early, crawling out from under the warm covers or leaving the warm side of a loved one in the bed? Yet making these kinds of decisions provides other spaces to open up, spaces that are needed to accomplish other things: getting in extra hours of studying, getting to work early (or on time), exercising, reading, thinking, writing, praying. The discipline of leaving the party early (figuratively speaking) takes time to practice and repetition to strengthen, but it is not a magical skill that some people have and some do not. It is a choice made hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, until it becomes more like a habit than a disruption.

And, it helps to have some kind of accountability. The weekly phone calls with my “writing buddy” have been going on for years, providing encouragement and holding me to my self-imposed deadlines and goals (thank you, Jerry!!). It is easier to “leave the party” when you are not the only one leaving! It is easier to put in that extra hour of studying or work or those extra steps/laps/sit-ups when you are not doing it/them alone. I need to be alone to write but I do not have to make that choice a secret.

Lord, in this era of constant communication, remind me to seek some time for stillness and reflection. Thank you for the sustaining power of prayer, and for strength to focus on long-term goals. Amen.

Moving

Moving

“See, I am making all things new.” Rev. 21:5

I’m moving offices and although I’ve been in my current office only three and a half years I’ve accumulated lot of files, reports, and books. Between the sorting and packing the other day I took a break to talk to a colleague about a new project. Our conversation led us to the subject of organizational change. We speculated about how a bold new initiative can generate energy and enthusiastic action, then ever so slightly fade over the years as it becomes institutionalized. It gets seen as normal, as “the way we do things here;” new ideas and energy are directed elsewhere. People are curious and as much as we like patterns and routines we also like new things and we like to be creative, creating. Both for our minds and our bodies, we have to keep moving to stay lively, limber, and flexible.

I imagined a lobster trying to grow without shedding its shell. It would be squeezed, constricted, stifled, and unable to move because of the weight of all the new shells formed over the old. While it is disruptive to pack up my office and move to another building, it also is an opportunity to shed some baggage and possessions that are old and no longer useful. If I were to drag to the new office all my old files, books, and mementos, I too would be weighed down and unable to move, unable to grow or change or to do new things. That printout of the presentation I made in 2000? It was a good presentation but now it’s out of date, and the printout doesn’t make it any more current. The national norms from the 2001 survey? They probably are on the web by now, if I ever really need to see them. It is okay to give up old things (old habits, old ideas) so that there is room in my new office (new year, new life) to think and do new things.

What is it that’s holding you down, keeping you from being able to move? Is it possessions? Things you’ve signed up for or agreed to do? Attitudes? Things you think are supposed to be so? What new things could you be doing, what new friends could you be making, if you had some freedom to move, to breathe, to stretch and grow?

It doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t have to be done all at once. I started with one file, then another. Then one drawer, and a shelf. It felt great! It was liberating to let go so that I can move on.

Which will you be – the lobster with all its old shells, weighed down by their gradual accumulation? Or the lobster with a new shell, growing and changing?

Gracious God, thank you for the example of nature, ever growing and changing. Help me to resist the temptation to stay the same. Let me follow your lead toward newness of life. Amen.

The soaker hose

The soaker hose

“But the Lord said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Recently I was debating about whether to turn on my soaker hose in the front yard. It has been extremely hot and dry for the past month so the plants definitely needed water. But I thought about how the soaker hose might not be enough because it doesn’t get close to some of the geraniums I’d planted this spring. I didn’t want to spend the time to water those separately, so I caught myself thinking that maybe I wouldn’t turn on the hose at all.

What?! I may not be able to do all the watering so I wouldn’t do any?? That makes no sense, yet that’s what I was tempted to do. Tempted, as in temptation, as in a lack of resistance to the voice of doubt (the voice of laziness?) telling me not to even try. And it almost sounded logical! Why start a job if I may not be able to complete it? Why put forth a bit of effort if it may not be enough? Thankfully, I caught myself entertaining this bit of twisted logic and I went outside and turned on the hose.

Where else in my life does this thinking show up? When I think about exercising or house cleaning, or on a larger scale when I think about how I can make a difference in addressing the issue of poverty, or trying to influence our political process. Will my five dollar donation make a difference? Will an email to the Senator make a difference? One thing is for sure – no action will not make a difference.

Where do you stop yourself before you even get started? What action can you take today to push back at the temptation of inaction? I encourage you to shut down the voice in your head that says it won’t be enough. For today, it will be.

Lord, with you all things are possible. Help me to take one step toward what you want me to accomplish today. Amen.