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.

Reminders All Around

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Mark 1:9-12.

[Note: I wrote this post in August, then forgot about it in the swirl of the start of the school year. It resurfaced recently and I thought it appropriate for the beginning of Lent, when we remember Jesus’s journey in the wilderness. Jesus was accompanied by the Holy Spirit and so are we as we face our wilderness in its many shapes and sizes.]

While driving my son to college – his first year, my first kid – I passed beneath a road marked Watson Road. One of my best friend’s last name is Watson so seeing it made me smile, and then I teared up as I thought of all the friends and family I have in my life. This has been a teary time in my life as I’ve prepared to send Conor off to college, saying farewell to the younger part of his life and this part of my life as his parent. I’ve commiserated with friends who have taken their kids to college, and who I’ve encouraged as they’ve faced this milestone. I know I will be fine and he will be fine, and that this is what we’ve been planning for and working toward for years. Still, or maybe because of all that, it is an emotional time, and I have gotten weepy at reminders of loved ones, special events, and ordinary events.

Seeing my friend’s name on a sign along the road was a good reminder, albeit a moist-eyed one, of the love that surrounds me each and every day. If I look, I can find reminders all around (as I typed that, we passed beneath a road sign for Lover, PA. I am not making that up!!) How blessed I feel and how thankful I am for the presence of a loving God in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. It is a privilege to raise children and to see them grow. It is a joyful (and challenging, tiring, exhilarating) journey that we are privileged to take together. The reminders of God’s love and the love of others are great companions on my trip today and everyday.

Gracious God, watch over all of us who are taking sons and daughters to college this season. Bless all those who work at colleges and universities too. Amen.

e-cards and greeting cards

e-cards and greeting cards

After listening to “All Tech Considered” on NPR today I thought I’d re-post this essay from my former blog.  Are you sending Christmas or holiday e-cards or paper cards? It doesn’t matter, it’s the thought that counts! – Anne
I haven’t been a big fan of e-cards. I think it might have something to do with the ease with which they can be sent. This tells you something about my family’s Puritan roots and our adherence to a strong work ethic. (Translation: if it takes hard work, it has value.) My aversion to e-cards also may be related to the fact that they come into my e-mail inbox which I often feel is overflowing already. One more e-mail, I sometimes think, is not what I need!

Today, however, as I started to think about sending Valentine’s Day cards, I thought of how greeting cards might have seemed when they were created. Prior to greeting cards, people sent letters or notes, and they had to come up with the words all by themselves. Greeting cards added pictures, and that probably was a welcome addition. They also added words. What a revolutionary idea! All you had to do was add your name! But I’ll bet that not everyone thought greeting cards were such a hot idea—so impersonal, you know? Someone else wrote the words. All you had to do was buy one, sign it, and send it. And so it goes. New ideas gain traction—slowly at first. Maybe greeting cards were for birthdays first, then cards were added for sympathy, thank-you’s, anniversaries, and weddings. Now you can buy a greeting card for almost any occasion or day of the week. And now I can see how an e-card is no less a message of love than a greeting card that arrives in the mailbox at my house. It has been selected just for me and sent because someone was thinking of me and wanted me to know. Not only that, but e-cards are free! My ancestors would be proud.

Lord, thank you for prayer, which is the epitome of fast, free, loving communication. Amen.