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.

 

 

 

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.