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.


Suspicion vs. Faith

The phone on my desk started ringing. The readout said Mitchell Publishing. I answered, suspecting that it was a solicitation call from someone who would try to sell me textbooks or an assessment product. When the caller stumbled over his words and asked how I was doing, I said with irritation “Is this a solicitation phone call?” “No!” he said. “I’m calling about my son.” I gave him the information he needed and then he asked, “Why did you think this was a solicitation call?” I explained that I had jumped to that conclusion based on the caller ID. He laughed, I laughed, and we said goodbye.

Later I thought about how quickly I had become suspicious and drawn the wrong conclusion. Was I crossing the line from healthy skepticism to unhealthy skepticism? My knee-jerk reaction had been to distrust the intention of the caller. After all, we do live in a world where all claims cannot be believed and we are inundated by stories – some true and some false – of scams, fraud and deceitful behavior. I could see how I was being conditioned to expect the worst.

I want regain a trustful approach to the world! I was raised in a family with an optimistic mindset and I am an optimist still, but I realize how my optimism can be undermined over time, worn away by repeated exposure to blatant lies, willful ignorance, fear-mongering, and a steady stream of sensationalized information that passes for news.

Taking positive action is one way to build up my reserves of optimism. So is prayer, reading scripture, and worshiping with a community of positively-oriented people. Being selective of what media streams I tune into is another way, and supporting local journalism is yet another way to resist the narrative that says that the sky is falling in. Reaching out to friends, going for a walk outdoors, cooking something from scratch – all are good ways to claim and proclaim God’s abundant goodness in our world.

Lord, give me faith that conquers distrust. Thank you for your light that casts out darkness. Amen.


As I poured myself a bowl of granola this morning I smiled in anticipation of how good it would taste and how much I like to eat it. Yet even as I finished pouring I thought to myself, “I shouldn’t eat this today. I should save this granola for a morning when I’m on the run. It’s the weekend and I have enough time to make oatmeal.” Then I caught myself. “Granola can be eaten only during the week and when I’m in a hurry? Says who?!”

Recently my son and I watched The Maze Runner, a movie about boys who have no choice but to make their own society. “Those are the rules,” Thomas, a newcomer, is told by the other boys when he wants to challenge the status quo and do something different. There is no awareness by the boys saying “those are the rules” that they made the rules and they can change the rules. The fear of change, of destabilizing the current set-up, keeps the rules in place, even when a change could help their situation.

I know that I have plenty of rules that run my life, rules made by me or made by others and internalized by me; some helpful (“look both ways before crossing the street”), some not. There are plenty of rules in the Bible, some helpful in our present day (“pray without ceasing”, “love your neighbor as yourself”), some not. Jesus was a big questioner of authority and he upset the status quo by holding people to the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. Next time I hear myself saying “I should (or should not) do this-or-that” I will try to stop and ask by whose authority the rule was made and whether I need to follow it in this case. Rules of the road? A good idea to follow them! Rules that are habits, put in place because “we always do it this way”? Maybe it will be time to shake things up, toss out those rules, and feel the freedom from judgment that Christ’s example provides.

Lord, help me to focus on the spirit of your law rather than the letter of my rules. Help me to give up the “shoulds” and “should nots” that limit me in artificial ways. Amen.

Changing plans

Changing plans

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:11-12.

How important it is to stay flexible and fluid, especially when it comes to driving in winter! My plan for this morning was to pick up my son from the bus in New York City, spend time with him, and then hit the road to Maine where I will spend Thanksgiving with my “Maine man” and his kids. As of last night the impending nor’eater was putting a crimp in those plans, with its rain projected to turn to snow, steadily precipitating throughout the day and into tonight. I was thinking that it would be smarter to stay put today and make the 400 mile drive tomorrow, still arriving on Thanksgiving day.

The phone call last night, an update from my son about a mix-up with the bus ticket, meant that I’ll be driving to Philadelphia today to pick him up. Weather forecast: rain, no snow south of here. Good news! I’ll get to spend more time with my son, and Plan B (drive to Maine tomorrow) still is in place. No worries, no upsets, and (I hope) no accidents along the way.

I am well aware, however, of the saying “When we make plans, God laughs” so I know that my plans may have to change yet again. Like trees that bend in the wind but do not break, being both flexible and steadfast today will help me to weather this storm. I will pray for safety for everyone who is traveling to spend time with loved ones, whether their travels take them on plane, train, bus, car, boat, bike, or on foot.

Lord, today I will cherish the journey and the destination, blessing the strangers along the way as well as my loved ones at the end of the road. Amen.

Inspired by humor

Inspired by humor

Driving home this evening I listened to NPR – as I often do – and was touched and inspired by this story of using humor to reach across cultural differences. A Muslim researcher from Chicago gets some humor training from a Jewish comedienne from New York City. Heartwarming and lovely, thanks to Judy Carter and Dalia Mogahed for their laughter and courage in trying new things!

Seriously (lol), listen to this now – 9 minutes of great radio.

Finding what I’m looking for, or not

I was sifting through the kitchen drawers, looking for the lobster crackers. You know, the shiny silver colored kind you use to crack open the hard shells of the lobster claws (or mixed nuts, if you prefer.) I looked in one drawer then another with no luck. I checked and rechecked. I knew they were there somewhere, as we had used them before. Shiny, silver, . . . nothing. So I asked my friend, in whose house we were cooking the lobsters, to look for them. He dug around in the drawers and found them. One was black and one was maroon, the plastic kind.

As I was digging it had occurred to me that I wasn’t finding them because I was looking for what I thought I would find. I wasn’t really seeing what was in the drawers, just what wasn’t. But I hadn’t stopped long enough to reframe my view. I kept on looking for what I thought I should find!

How often do we do that? How often do we see what we are looking for, instead of what’s really in front of us? When I am looking for it, I can see trouble, bad news, bad luck, or “evidence” confirming my side of the story.  My pre-conceived ideas can lead me see what I want to see, or to overlook something else. And I can be so sure of what I think I know that I don’t stop to consider that my assumptions may not be accurate.

I need to be careful to set my viewing filter to a setting that is less focused on what I think I’ll find, and more on what is there. I need to be more willing to see what’s possible, instead of what I’ve already decided is there.

Lord, open my eyes to see so that I can see all the good that you have set before me. Thank you for your gracious abundance and forgiveness.

Prayers for people, pets and property

Prayers for people, pets and property

As Hurricane Sandy churns its way north through the Atlantic Ocean heading toward the New Jersey coast, I am in a hotel in Indiana getting ready to participate in an assessment conference. Some people may prefer to be in the middle of a hurricane than in workshops about assessing student learning, but I am looking forward to the professional development.

Keeping my mind on assessing student learning will mean that  I have to put aside my fears and worries about how my loved ones will weather the impending storm, how much water will be in my basement, and when I actually will get a flight home.  So I turn to God and admit my fears, which is a scary thing to do because it allows me to truly feel the impact of those fears and it reminds me of how helpless I am to control what will happen with the hurricane. I know that it will happen and that it will be big, but I know that God will be with us all during and after the storm, and that God is much bigger than Sandy.

I will let go of my fears for now and hold on to the promise of the rainbow. And when my fears return, as they undoubtably will, I will turn again to prayer and the assuracne that God is with us always.

God of power and love, keep my family and friends safe, watch over our pets and all your creatures, and keeps our homes, schools and businesses safe as well. Amen.