Sunday, November 8, 2020

When Winter Comes Early

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Luke 12:27 (ESV)

Our first snowfall cam a bit early this year. In many ways, the year 2020 has seemed liked an endless winter. During the COVID-19 lockdown in the spring, I was grateful for the refreshing beauty of our Idaho garden. Throughout the summer, I wanted to hold onto the colors and fragrances of the roses, mock orange, day lilies and — most of all — the purple lilac.


Purple lilac is the state flower of my native state, New Hampshire, and its sweet fragrance always triggers fond childhood memories. This year, the memories were especially poignant as my mom moved into a nursing home after a heart attack in July. The restrictions of COVID-19 made visits few and far between. I spent many afternoons sitting in our backyard, talking to my mom on the phone while looking at our beloved flowering shrubs and vines. 

When my mom passed away in October, the dwindling daylight hours matched my darkened state of mind. Grief became a heavy blanket that threatened to smother me. I desperately looked for a sign of hope. 

I found that sign in our lilac shrub, which holds springtime in its branches, even when winter comes early! You see, lilacs begin to form next year’s flower buds soon after they finish blooming. If you look closely, you can see these buds at the ends of the branches. 

It’s like seeing next spring in the middle of winter! I love that about plants — when the landscape looks dead and dreary, good things are already happening. 

“The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.” Song of Solomon 2:12 (ESV)

Just as we can picture buds forming in the dead of winter, we can have faith that new beginnings are already underway. Grief, disappointment and other difficult passages bring winter’s chill into our lives. But hope has a way of sneaking up on us, even if we can’t see it at the moment. I see next year’s lilac buds and remember new life, resurrection, unexpected joy. 


Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Whole of Creation

“God created us 

to praise, reverence, and serve God 

and in this way to save our souls. 

God created all of the rest of creation 

to help us achieve the purpose for which 

God created us.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola


I read this quotation this week in an online retreat offered by Creighton University. My spiritual director recommended the retreat a few weeks ago, after I mentioned that I couldn’t seem to find a spiritual practice that was a good fit for my life. I’m so glad she did!

This quotation sparked a sense of wonder and gratitude for my relationship with God’s creation. I was struck by the different ways we can interpret the statement that God created the rest of creation to help us achieve God’s purpose for our lives. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that creation — animals, plants, natural resources — should be at humanity’s beck and call. 

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.“ Genesis 2:15


What if we recall our role as caretakers of the Garden? What if we read and take to heart the Bible verses that proclaim God’s love for all creation? 


“I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.” Genesis 9:9-10


“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,

or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,

or let the fish in the sea inform you. 

Which of all these does not know

that the hand of the Lord has done this?” Job 12:7-9


“You will go out in joy

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

will clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12


Perhaps, as St. Ignatius wrote, the rest of creation helps us when we see ourselves as part of the whole of creation. Maybe the earth, as the verse in Job tells us, really is waiting to teach us. For example, what if instead of exploiting natural resources, we learn to act as caretakers? 


“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20


If we are “without excuse,” then we are able — with God’s help — to use our resources to nourish and heal. Then we can indeed join every living creature, the mountains, hills and trees, in praise and joy. We will clearly see the ways in which the rest of creation can help us.




Monday, April 27, 2020

Our Own Worst Enemy?

As I read my Bible-in-a-year chapters the other day, I was struck by a couple of verses in Psalm 69. With online Easter worship still fresh in my mind, the verses reminded me of the power of Christ’s love, sacrifice and resurrection.

We’ve been living through strange and frightening times with this pandemic. As we shelter in place, it’s easy to feel besieged — by loneliness, boredom, fear, viruses. Our fears loom large after yet another sleepless night.

“Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.”
Ps 69:4

Yet when we feel overwhelmed by it all, we remember the love that led One to “restore what He did did not steal.” We can loosen our grip, even if it’s just a little at first. As my 12-step program teaches, we can surrender to our higher power “just for today.”

“Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me.” Ps 69:15

But can’t our own thoughts behave like enemies? We worry about loved ones, opinions of others, even the next Presidential election. I know that when I’m tired or overwhelmed, my own thoughts seem to “engulf me” or “swallow me up.” Can you relate?

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” 2 Peter 1:2

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

Whether a threat is external or internal, God’s grace and peace never change. We are the ones who come and go, who hold tightly to our fears. But the more we seek knowledge of God, the more we can recognize God’s grace and peace.

Grateful for the One who paid what He did not owe, restored what He did not steal.

I hope this post finds you well!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

He Has Set My Feet in a Spacious Place

Call it what you will: “shelter in place,” “lockdown,” “stay at home,” “self-quarantine.” Our individual worlds have become smaller due to a microscopic but deadly enemy. Shopping trips have dwindled to nervous visits to the grocery store, complete with face masks and social distancing. Hugs between friends are forbidden. Even medical appointments are postponed as hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed with COVID-19 concerns. We wonder, is there any way out?

I’ve been participating in a Bible-in-a-year study this year, and was struck by one of today’s readings, Psalm 31. At first, the Psalm impressed me as a fine example of King David’s laments. But I didn’t really identify with it on a personal level, since I am not persecuted or running for my life. 

Or am I? After reading the Psalm several times, one verse jumped out:

“You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.” Psalm 31:8 (NIV) 

I took another look at the word “enemy,” and thought of the coronavirus. But then I looked looked inward. Aren’t there enemies that attack us from within? Fear, boredom, resentment and greed can devour us from the inside out. Don’t we need God to deliver us from these enemies, too? 

“A spacious place.” Now more than ever, we crave space to travel freely. We’d love to browse through our favorite bookstore or eat in our favorite restaurant. Yet there’s also too much space between us, as visits with friends and colleagues are relegated to FaceTime and Zoom. But God can draw hearts closer in spite of social distancing, and give us a broader perspective while we’re sheltering in place.

I love this translation, too:

“You have not handed me over to my enemies but have set me in a safe place.” (NLT)

Whether it’s more space or less space, we look to God for a safe place — a place that transcends circumstances. We feel less isolated and resentful. We begin to notice opportunities for compassion for others as well as ourselves. 

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 (NIV)

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6 (ESV)

There’s no getting around it: we still dream of get-togethers with loved ones, birthday parties for kids. We long for the day when we won’t have to say, “stay safe!” In the meantime, however, God enlarges our vision and reworks our plans. Knowing that we can rely on God’s goodness and mercy, we find respite in that safe and spacious place within. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Earth Day 2020: Digitally Taking Care of the Garden

Tomorrow, April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day! And what a difference 50 years makes — namely, this year brings the first all-digital Earth Day. Social distancing is a must during the coronavirus pandemic, but environmental issues need addressing now more than ever.

It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been 50 years since the first Earth Day in 1970. Every year since then, people have marked Earth Day with protests and other events highlighting environmental issues. Topics have ranged from smog to acid rain to recycling. This year, the first all-digital Earth Day will focus on climate change and will include a variety of activities:

  • Citizen Science
  • Advocacy and Volunteering
  • Arts and Education
  • And much more!

Since human activity has dramatically decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all seen the images of stunning improvements in environmental quality. People in India can see the Himalayas for the first time in decades. The smog over Los Angeles is dissipating, and marine life can be seen in the clearing waters of the Venice canals.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15

If these improvements have happened unintentionally in a matter of weeks, what could intentional, sustained effort could accomplish? What if we were faithful to our call to “take care of the garden?”

The current pandemic has brought fear and suffering. But it has also given us opportunities to act with compassion and concern for our neighbors. The young activist Greta Thunberg said it well, when commenting on the healing of the earth during the coronavirus pandemic: 

“The coronavirus is a terrible event…But it also shows one thing: That once we are in a crisis, we can act to do something quickly, act fast. Though it must be in a different way to how we have acted in this case, we can act fast and change our habits and treat a crisis like a crisis."

You can be part of the 50th anniversary by visiting Earth Day Live. We may be miles apart this year, but we can still join together to help the planet heal!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Tarnished Silver Lining?

I had big plans for the COVID-19 stay-at-home period. I would stay positive and savor the renewed sense of fellowship and caring I was witnessing in our community. Neighbors ran errands (and still do!) for their at-risk neighbors. Stores offered cure-side delivery and set aside shopping hours for elderly and high-risk customers. Brightly colored, encouraging chalk art appeared on local sidewalks. 

In short, we counted our blessings and noted how staying apart was drawing us closer. It was easy to find a silver lining to this dangerous time. 

But now, that silver lining has tarnished. Terror seeps in as the death toll continues to rise. On the news, we see field hospitals in New York’s Central Park. We hear reports of thousands of deaths in nursing homes — more than we previously realized. We worry obsessively about vulnerable loved ones. We miss seeing friends at the coffee shop, church or the gym. We carry out the surreal tasks of making protective masks, rationing toilet paper and wondering if the grocery shelves will be stocked today. In fact, it’s been weeks since I’ve set foot in a store.

How do I “stay positive” when each day looks less and less like the life I took for granted? The truth is, I can’t. None of us can, and we don’t have to because we can’t hold it together indefinitely.

We’re in good company, in fact. Even faith heroes of the Bible had moments when all they could do was wring their hands and sit with their pain. King David said it well, many times:

“My heart is afflicted, and withered like grass;
I even forget to eat my bread.” Psalm 102:4

“I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.” Psalm 6:6

Then we are reminded that we are not alone:

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Sometimes all we can do is lean on the One who can carry all our burdens. We still can’t see beyond the next report of confirmed COVID-19 cases. We still don’t know when we’ll be able to browse in a bookstore or celebrate a friend’s birthday in person. 

All we can do is take God’s word for it — that we are loved with a love that is bigger than we can comprehend. Somehow that love keeps us hanging on,  giving us eyes to see our present day sacrifices as acts of love. 

So we get out of bed another day, still bewildered by the statistics and warnings that bombard us. Who wouldn’t be? 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I’ve often relied on this verse when my soul needs rest and refreshment. But today, I am struck by the words, “learn from me.” During a time of sheltering in place and social distancing, I certainly have the time and space to sit at His feet and listen, as did Martha’s sister Mary:

“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said.” Luke 10:39

For now, I will take Jesus up on His offer, not just to find rest, but to learn from Him. Maybe the lessons will come during prayer, or quiet moments in the garden, or even in the midst of worry. 

“I will give you rest.”

We sure need it.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Every Green Herb: Dandelion — Herb of the Year

“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.” Genesis 1:29-30 (KJV)

Now and then, it’s a good idea to take a fresh look at old ideas. Our ideas about life have certainly been turned upside down by COVID-19. Maybe this is a good time to take another look at gifts hidden in plain sight. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of them in backyards, vacant lots and roadsides everywhere. I’m talking about one of the greatest blessings of God’s creation, the dandelion (Taxicum officinale).

Now calm down. Did you know that in the 17th century, colonists planted dandelions for food and medicine? This often reviled plant is a rich source of nutrients, including iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A, B1, B2 and C. For centuries, herbalists have treasured the entire dandelion plant, from flower to leaves to roots. And the leaves are delicious raw in a salad, or cooked and drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.

Herbalists study a wide range of “helping plants,” but many will advise you to pay special attention to a particular herb each year. Dandelion is my “green ally” for 2020 — the herb that I will focus on, sit with and pay special attention to this year. I’ll write a series of posts about dandelions this year, on topics ranging from recipes to medicinal properties* and folklore.

Take heart when you observe the dandelion. The object of disdain and scorn from many directions, repeatedly poisoned, dandelion is as indestructible as we are foolish. Bright and confident, she graciously offers her healing gifts to friend and foe. Could it be that we can’t “get rid” of her because she knows that she was created with a purpose?

This afternoon, I picked a few very young dandelion greens from our yard and ate them raw. The youngest greens have the mildest taste and are best for a salad. The larger, mature greens have a more bitter flavor that becomes milder when cooked. To get started on our journey with dandelion, here’s a recipe for tasty dandelion greens:

Tasty Cooked Dandelion Greens
(Adapted from  Allrecipes)

2 tsp salt
1 pound dandelion leaves, torn into 4-inch pieces
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon


Place dandelion greens and 1 tsp salt in bowl of cold water. Soak for 10 minutes and drain.

Fill a large pot with water and add 1 tsp salt. Bring water to boil and add the greens. Lower the heat to simmer and cook the greens until tender, 3or 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir onion until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Increase heat to medium high and add dandelion greens. Cook and stir until liquid evaporates, about 3 or 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle with lemon juice. 

Be well and be blessed!

*This post is for information only, and does not provide medical advice. Talk to your doctor before trying medicinal herbs.