Identifying The Apple

Every person alive has quirks.

With six children, I’ve seen my share of quirky behavior. Each child had their own brand of unique conduct. Many times it made me smile; sometimes it was annoying.

When Melody was growing up, she quickly learned the concept of “options”. She was great at making decisions, but she preferred having many options from which to choose.

We travelled to Colorado, where we relocated our jobs for two months. We all packed enough, if somewhat sparingly. We didn’t need as wide a variety of clothing for the summer as we might have back home.

Melody, however, felt compelled to bring a variety of choices, just in case. She brought more shoes than the rest of the family put together. And she managed to include a formal dress should a proper occasion present itself.

It didn’t. But not having the ability to decide her preference was unthinkable.

Fast forward several years (or more). Melody is now a mother to two wonderful children. Sloane, almost five, is mini Mel. She has the same significant presence, the same amiability.

The same need for options.

A few days ago, Sloane laid out ten skirts in order to choose the one she wanted to wear, finding five tank tops to determine the best combination. She told her mom she needed options–and then asked if Melody understood what options were.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

There are those times when we’re delighted our children or others want to imitate who we are or what we do. We see our strengths, recognize talent, and celebrate that we can have a positive impact.

When they mimic my questionable behavior–critical attitudes, arrogance, entitlement–I want to shrink to nothing and slip through the cracks.

We all follow somebody. Intentionally or unintentionally, we pattern our behavior after those we look up to, respect, or possibly are jealous of, those who seem to have more or are more.

The old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” doesn’t reflect that we often choose the tree whose fruit we want displayed in our own lives.

We all have options to choose from. Who is worthy of our imitation? Who or what do we want to reflect in our behavior that matters?

At times it’s not even a person. Some choose power, fame, or fortune to be the image they present.

Who or what we choose to pattern our lives after matters.

When I chose to follow Jesus, I did so because of who He is. God who came to earth to save, forgive, and love me. I had many options of who I wanted to be, and for awhile I followed popularity and people-pleasing because I wanted to be liked.

I didn’t appreciate who I became.

When I chose Jesus, I didn’t have to become anybody else. He sees me, and He chooses me to be His. My options became eternal.

On any given day I decide who I’ll be, what behavior I’ll reflect. I’m not perfect, so I wander into paths that aren’t as satisfying, aren’t things I’m proud of.

But Jesus has chosen me. I’m His.

That’s an option that will last. Permanently.

It’s A Doggone Loss

Companionship is one of our highest values as people; knowing we’re not alone, that there’s a warm and listening presence that is with us, for us, no matter what.

So often that companion is a faithful dog.

My daughter and son-in-law just lost their beloved Foster, an amazing Australian Shepherd who loved well and faithfully.

Michael got him while still in college when Foster was only twelve weeks old. He grew up with Michael, being the forever friend that was always there, to go for a hike or cuddle up.

Having an affable friend willing to do what you want them to do is an incredible gift.

When Michael and Courtney became engaged, Foster moved in with her so they could get to know one another better. He soon became her friend, protector, walking companion. When Courtney and Michael married and set up home together, Foster shared love with both of them. Always present. Always loving.

When their son, Beck, was born a few years ago, Foster once again became the protector and companion, watching over Beck’s crib, vigilant and kind. His love for this little guy was so expansive that Beck could crawl on him, and Foster patiently allowed it.

When another puppy was added to the family, Foster patiently dealt with the energy and shenanigans of a young sheepadoodle, a cross between an English sheepdog and a poodle. Wally was bouncy and flouncy and soon grew bigger than Foster. But he learned from his elder, and settled into a routine more quickly because of his older friend.

When Courtney and Michael went on vacation, they left Foster with Michael’s brother, who loved him almost as much as his brother did. While they were gone, Foster died in his sleep. This was a huge loss for the whole family. Foster had loved everyone well.

Our need for close friends, people we trust, who are there for us without judgement or criticism, is a necessity that’s part of our humanity. God made us for relationships, for community, where we can connect with people, be loved by others, and be fully accepted no matter who we are.

It’s sad that so often dogs do this better than we do. They don’t judge, they tolerate a lot of disruption, and they’re faithful.

Those are the friends we long for. The ones who don’t question how we show up. Those who may not condone our behavior but won’t condemn us for failure. Or distance themselves in embarrassment.

That’s the kind of friend Jesus is. Faithful, dependable, persevering even when I choose poorly or act unseemly. Once forgiven, He never takes it back, never stops loving me, never ceases to provide the strength I need to live each day.

There’s real freedom in being loved unconditionally. Without strings attached. Without having to prove myself day in and day out or make sure my works and efforts outweigh my mistakes.

The reason Foster’s loss was so great for his family was because he was that faithful and dependable friend who stayed the course with them no matter what.

Jesus does that for me. For the long haul.

I don’t have to worry about losing Him.

The Pause That Teas You Up

In Sweden it’s referred to as “fika”. It’s so significant there that it’s actually protected by law.

It’s a laid-back chat over coffee. A time to pause, refresh with friends, taking a break from routine.

It’s not a grab-and-go where you phone your coffee order into your local barista, pay on your phone app, drive through and pick it up. It’s not slurping coffee at your desk or over your computer.

It’s a twice-a-day chance to create an interlude in the schedule.

No gulping is necessary.

Americans aren’t used to a dedicated break time for the purpose of conversation and enjoyment of people with a hot beverage. Around the country, however, tea shoppes are opening, and taking a page from our British friends, afternoon tea is becoming popular here.

I’ve been working with these amazing women this past year, and wanting to express my appreciation of them, I took them to tea.

It wasn’t just showing up and having a cuppa. We had to make reservations in advance for their specified seatings.

It was well worth it.

Upon entering, we each chose a hat from a vintage hat tree to remind us of unhurried times, when face-to face conversations were the norm. No texting. Seated at a table where we could easily converse with one another, we were regaled with sweets and savories, as well as scones with clotted cream. Each of us chose our own tea. I chose Butterfly Lavender because it sounded magical.

We talked.

We shared typical information that begins conversations, but we quickly went deeper and spoke of meaningful things. It’s been a challenging year to connect with COVID, so this felt like a sacred pause, a chance to breathe for a moment, and enjoy each others’ company without interruption.

I enjoyed the sense of “fika”, creating space with people I care about. We’re in a busy part of our year, but this was necessary.

Rushing is a way of life for me. Sitting still is close to impossible, especially if things need to be done.

Busyness is addictive.

We’ve elevated workaholism to a desirable level, honoring those who accomplish and produce more. That creates so much noise in our heads that it becomes difficult to turn it off. Quiet disappears, and even if we did find it, it feels uncomfortable.

Busyness leads to weariness. Weariness leads to an inability to sustain necessary relationships. Broken relationships lead to more work to fill up vacuums in our lives no longer held by people.

It’s a lose/lose situation.

Jesus never hurried. He took time to talk to people, to be present with those who needed Him, to bring the children to sit on His lap. The religious leaders were upset by His refusal to follow the letter of the law and their dedication to details.

Jesus followed the law of His Father. He saw people as more important than things.

When He was tired, He pulled away to be alone with His Father.

We do ourselves a disservice by filling up our time with activities that don’t satisfy us when what we long for is that pause. A holy pause.

And a chance for a cuppa.

What Is Worth Remembering?

As a child, the day heralded the approach of summer and the end of school. It was a day where we had neighborhood picnics and went to a parade where I didn’t pay much attention to who was marching but who was throwing candy.

We also visited the cemetery, which felt ghastly as a child. We tiptoed between graves so as not to step on dead people.

Memorial Day is a purely American holiday. It began as Decoration Day and was first celebrated spontaneously after the Civil War to commemorate all the soldiers who died in the war. We had more casualties in that war than in any war America has fought and required the creation of our first national cemeteries.

Waterloo, New York is often credited with the first Decoration Day celebration, May 5, 1866. Businesses closed, and people were encouraged to decorate the graves of all those lost in battle during the Civil War. It was later moved to May 30 in 1868, not to celebrate any particular battle but the spirit of those who were willing to give their lives in a battle that often pitted brother against brother.

Now we remember all those who have fought and died for us in all the wars we’ve participated in. It doesn’t give glory to war, but it respects and honors those who sacrificed their lives to allow us freedom in this country that we often take for granted. We celebrate to remember, that we are where we are because of what others have done on our behalf.

It’s so easy to forget that our stories aren’t singular in nature, just about us. We have people who have invested in us for years, sacrificing for us, wanting more for us than they had for themselves. I remember the Viet Nam War, the first televised war for us, giving people at home a bird’s eye view of what war was like.

We didn’t like it. Protests happened around the country. I had friends opt to go to Canada to become conscientious objectors. When our troops came back, they were often vilified instead of honored for doing as they’d been asked. So many of them today still struggle with not only the terror of war but the shame they returned home to.

Jesus understood shame and sacrifice. He knew what it meant to be marginalized and misunderstood. It didn’t keep Him from doing what He’d come to do–die in our place to pay a price we can’t ever hope to pay. He didn’t deserve the treatment He received, but He did it out of love for us. To give us a chance to know real hope.

Recognizing the sacrifice of our men and women who have fought in wars so we could have a quality of life that provides chances to redraft our stories is an act of honoring them with gratitude and respect.

Remembering with respect should be a small compensation we give those who have sacrificed so much.

If we will do it.

This Is A Bug’s Life

I won’t touch them, their sound is annoying, and they pretty much need to be stomped on to end their existence.

Cicadas.

Some of those bugs come out every year, and we can hear them as they make their noise during warmer weather. Others come out every thirteen to seventeen years, waiting underground to live their short and frenzied lives as they emerge.

This is their year to emerge.

We’ve been fortunate. They haven’t hit Florida as they have the midwest. Other parts of the country are experiencing them, and not all are pleased.

They’re loud and annoying.

Ward, at three, isn’t afraid or bothered by the plethora of these noisy creatures around his home. He is fascinated with them, and with great courage picks them up and plays with them. They’re his friends.

Maybe it’s his youth; possibly it’s just who he is. But those things that are new and different don’t bother him. Fear isn’t part of his thinking.

Curiosity is.

Bugs aren’t a choice. There are many species, many as annoying as cicadas. Several can be hurtful. Most just want to be left alone.

Several in my family have a huge distaste for spiders. A few are unnerved by wasps and hornets. Mosquitoes are on everybody’s most disliked list.

They exist. And we either learn to deal with them, protect ourselves from them, or learn how to exterminate them.

Too often we view people just like we perceive bugs. Annoying, unnerving, needing to protect ourselves from them.

Some we’d like to see exterminated.

The recent rise in anti-Semitism in this country, combined with how we choose to deal with any ethnicity, color, or thought pattern we don’t like, brings to mind senseless killing, ugly hatred, and uncontrolled violence because not everybody looks and acts the same.

History records how this has happened in the past with several different groups of people–those who have been unfairly judged by others because of what they believe or how they look.

We don’t get to choose who is worthy to live and who isn’t.

I love Ward’s approach. Curiosity because he’s captivated and intrigued by what he doesn’t know. A willingness to engage with the unknown without fear.

Jesus taught the value of people. In His time, lepers were seen as dirty and people refused to associate with them, would not even have them in the town limits. Samaritans were hated by many because they were seen as half-breeds, and good people shouldn’t mix with them. The tax people were Jewish but hated by their own kind because everyone felt they were in the pockets of the Romans and out to get more for themselves.

Jesus taught the need to love our neighbors as ourselves–and everyone is a neighbor. To not judge unless we ourselves want to be judged. To be willing to help others who can’t help themselves.

Giving value to others, not being afraid of what we don’t know, being intrigued with those who are different gives us a chance to learn what we don’t understand.

And discover that there is so much to appreciate.

Ward’s attitude is amazing.

Try to get to know what you don’t understand.

You may find new friends.