Is It As Easy As It Looks?

Having just spent some delightful time with Sloane, Ward and their mom, I came away with some reminders of family and living in real life.

What you think you see isn’t always what it appears to be.

These two siblings are close. Ward, two years younger, wants to be with Sloane and do everything she does.

At times Sloane relishes that closeness. She’s very caring toward her brother and often watches out for him.

These moments are idyllic; these are the times where others watch the two of them and marvel at their sweet relationship.

Until Ward disrupts her plan. Then she keeps him at a distance.

Not a response he enjoys. Or tolerates. Ward lets her and his mom know about his dissatisfaction with dropped shoulders and a genuine demeanor of sadness. At one point Ward wanted a book Sloane was reading, and he became cranky when she wouldn’t give it to him. She’s good about sharing; this time she didn’t want to do it.

Being a mom as well as a nana causes issues; there is a fine line between stepping in as a parent and being invited to speak as a grandparent. This was a time to keep my mouth shut, to allow my daughter to do what she needed to do for her children.

I watched as Melody dealt with her kids, with a gentle tenderness that comes from loving those two well. It didn’t matter that she’d been trying to do something else; she took the time to focus on them and kindly correct them for the how they could have made better choices.

They received their discipline well–that’s not always the case. Kids will be kids, and sometimes there’s a lot of kicking and screaming.

Not this time. Melody hugged them both, assured them of her love, and they then shared the book they both wanted.

There’s something very freeing about knowing you don’t have to earn someone’s favor to be loved. Often kids feel a sense of “I need to” in order for them to feel accepted by their parents. Or friends, teachers, or others.

We all tend to feel a sense of “I need to do something” in order to earn or keep someone else’s favor–someone we love, respect, or want to become closer to.

God never requires us to “do” for His favor. Once we are His, we live from a place of received favor, of being fully accepted and loved, even though He knows we’ll blow it consistently. That’s what grace is–a gift of favor because of what Jesus did for us that we don’t have to earn.

Every other faith/religion in the world is based on earning favor from God or a group of gods through actions. Jesus alone offers grace; He receives us freely and gifts us with His goodness which makes us fully acceptable to God.

No contingencies. No loopholes. Favor bathed in love.

Sloane and Ward don’t struggle with wondering if their mom or dad love them. They’re secure in their full acceptance, no matter what they do.

Full and free favor. In Jesus.

It’s easier than you think.

When Life Is Plain

I have the joy of being in Washington, DC to help my daughter with her kids while her husband is away.

Being at the capital in spring has always been a desire of mine. This is the season of the cherry blossoms.

With the wackiness of the weather, I missed their peak by a week.

Four-year-old Sloane’s response: “I don’t like those blossoms. They’re plain now. I don’t like plain. It’s boring.”

Her assessment is correct; what were beautiful pink blooms that at one time appeared like a pink tapestry over the Tidal Basin is now rather drab, white, faded and falling to the ground.

They’d been duped by Mother Nature. A warm spell encouraged the cherry blossoms to burst into bloom, but a cold snap shortened their life span.

Not the beauty I’d anticipated.

Sloane is a bit sassy and has a flair for the dramatic.

She also has a practical, contemplative side.

I told her I was sad these trees lost their color. She nodded and then added with unexpected wisdom, “Nana, you need to look at ALL the flowers and trees. There are beautiful colors all around. Just look. You’ll see.”

She was right. Spring has now come to the DC area, and the grounds are awash with brilliant colors from the tulips, daffodils, and many varieties of flowering trees in the area.

It is indeed beautiful.

Even though it wasn’t what I wanted.

It’s easy right now to become overwhelmed by what feels plain and boring. We’ve lived with restrictions for over a year, with disappointments piling up like so much dirty laundry. Missed graduations and proms. Weddings reduced to appropriate sizes for restrictions. Gatherings of friends and families limited by what the CDC says is right. Hospitals limiting visits of all kinds.

Sloane is right. We need to see beyond disappointment to what is around us.

We’ve been amazed by how we’ve had to pivot and work remotely–and many have flourished there. Others are finding ways to interact with people in unique ways. Creativity has forced us to think outside the box. Not wait for someone to hand us a solution but to be challenged to find one for ourselves.

God has granted each of us a wonderful sense of creativity, one many haven’t used for a long time because we let social media and technology do it for us. Too often we’ve become observers instead of participants in life.

Life is anything but plain and boring. It’s filled with individuals we can choose to get to know, opportunities to grow beyond our coziness and comfort zones, and possibilities that can make us each better people. Jesus gives us the capacity to dream, hope, and find renewed strength and joy in Him.

It’s easy to fall into a habit of dismal disappointment. Of constantly feeling let down, of never achieving what we thought we might.

God often uses our challenges, hurts, and despondency to redirect our paths and show us something new and different. To encourage us to move on.

Sloane is right. There is so much beauty, so many possibilities of good things, that all we need to do is look.

God will surprise you.

Then There Was Light

Who knew we could be influencers?

A short while ago we had the tree in our front yard removed. A sad but necessary action to prevent further damage done by the root system.

Recently I heard a cacophony from outside.

It was our neighbor having his tree cut down.

He had shared with me how his tree had caused costly repairs with roots growing into pipes and causing problems with water coming into the house.

What surprised me was the increase of sunlight to both of our yards.

We do have lots of sun here–we are after all the Sunshine State.

When you’ve grown accustomed to shadow and shade, the sun is beautiful.

There will be times when I will renege on that statement. When temperatures hover in the high 90’s and humidity is close to 100%. When it feels like my skin is melting off my bones and staying hydrated is a challenge.

I will mss the shade.

What I don’t want to do is live in that darkness. The kids come into our home and often comment on how we choose to live in a bat cave–blinds closed, little light. I grew up understanding that the darkness makes the room cooler.

Too often it hides what I don’t want seen.

I’ve become aware of how often I default to the permanent shade, to the darkness in me that doesn’t want to do the next right thing. In our more isolated condition, it’s easy to press hurt and frustration down rather than deal with it. Easier to hide my wounds rather than expose them and let them heal.

With Easter just past, this is the story. Not just Jesus tortured and hung on a cross for the wrongs we all do; not just His resurrection three days later.

He paid the price for all those things we choose to do and hide in darkness so we may have the Light of a relationship with God.

We all struggle with making good choices. I’m learning not to criticize individual attempts to do the right thing; many try to do what is good. My own challenges aren’t anyone else’s fault. I can’t blame shift or point fingers at any other person.

My biggest hindrance in life is me.

Rather like the trees in our yard and our neighbors, there was beauty in both. They added much to the landscape of our homes. In the end, they were also the problem.

I’m my biggest problem in my lack of success to do what’s honorable. I’m not being self-deprecating; I have some stellar qualities. I’m also mindful of my own darkness. And much of that is hidden where no one else can see it.

Jesus came to bring light to what can’t be seen, to expose what has been hidden, to free us from those habits, those lies that hold us captive. Easter isn’t just a celebration of Jesus conquering death.

He did that to give us Light and Life. That we might live without the weight of blame, shame, and guilt that we and others load onto our hearts and souls.

Fully forgiven. Fully loved.

No hidden roots to poison hope.

Only Sonshine.

Life From Death

My one hope on our trip to Santa Rosa was to see the Armstrong National Forest, home to the California redwoods. They’re magical in their magnificence, with height and age that supersedes other local flora.

We weren’t able to go because last year’s forest fires in northern California did a lot of damage to the park, and the trails aren’t safe to hike yet.

I was disappointed until we began driving down the coast and found redwoods scattered throughout the area. What we all noticed quickly was that they seemed to be in groups, some sharing space so close to each other they appeared to be like family with shared roots.

My little sister had heard them referred to as fairy rings. We did some research and discovered it’s a group of redwood trees growing in a circle, usually around the stump of a tree that’s been chopped down. A new generation of trees sprouts from the roots of these fallen trees, like parents who nurture their children. The fallen tree provides nutrients for the young trees which thrive because there is an established root system.

The more we drove around, the more of these rings of redwoods we discovered, family units together in the wild. There’s something about the intimacy of relationships in nature that defies explanation. How plants become stronger while relying on one another in a way that’s organic and positive. When a parent tree dies, the sprouts coming from that root system will be stronger and more stable than those sprouting independently.

At this time of year, with Easter just days away, the redemptive aspect of a parent tree providing the necessary nutrients for healthy growth for its sprouts reflects a sacrificial perspective on what real love is.

Easter is the ultimate picture of love and sacrifice, of life given for life, of love conquering death. It’s the reality of a loving God wanting those He’s created to know Him and the power of His love. To do that, He had to become like one of us that we could see and experience grace, forgiveness, and unconditional love.

Jesus came to this world to show us God.

The parent tree.

For us to have access to God, we have to have a renewal we can’t provide for ourselves. A perfecting that we can’t achieve on our own. So God came in the flesh, not just to show us God, but to die for us as His Son.

Providing the nutrients we need for spiritual wholeness and the hope of heaven.

Redwoods thrive from the established root systems of older trees. Life comes from life well lived, and the one flourishes when life is over for the other.

Jesus has established a lifestyle for us to embrace, one where He has provided exactly what we need for eternal life and the guarantee of heaven. He died so we might live.

The longevity of the redwoods is a finite picture of the hope of heaven. An assurance that we are more than this world sees of us.

Take a page from the book the redwoods wrote. Sink your roots deep into Someone who matters, who cares about what you are and who you become.

Life now and then will be richer.

Family Matters

We are so very different.

We disagree in politics. Our views of global issues don’t always coincide. We look at the world from different perspectives.

When the five of us are together none of that matters.

Family isn’t always easy. Siblings disagree. As kids, we had unique ways of fighting with one another. Dad always reminded us that blood was thicker than water.

Getting together for a couple of days, the five of us had enough laughter and conversation to fill our familial tanks for a bit. We met up in California and rediscovered the truth to the saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

We get into each other’s business, having the freedom to tell one another what we’re thinking, what we see, how we might worry. I hear their concerns that others don’t often voice to me. There’s safety in having a lot of history together, in understanding that what is said is done so in love. 

It’s the way families should be. Enjoying each other’s company, recognizing that our differences add to the depth and richness of the relationships, and seeing each other as important and needed in my life. Honesty matters, so being able to be real and still tender is significant.

We three sisters had more time together. We’ve developed a deep bond, where they’re not only blood-related sisters but sisters of my heart. Women who know me and love me enough to tell me the truth. What’s often hard to hear from others, I will hear from them. They’re invested in me as a person. We’ve been through a lot together, and we’ve found each other to be loyal and persevering no matter what the circumstances.

It’s what we all want. A family that knows us, cherishes us, who will tell us the truth even when it’s hard because they care that we live out our best self.

It’s what God does for each of us. As our Father, He knows us perfectly, with all our warts and wounds; none of that deters Him from loving us. He’s honest with what He requires of us. He disciplines us in love, allowing us to experience the consequences of poor decisions, but He’s faithful to be with us in the midst of those self-created messes. He stays the course with us when no one else seems to care or be present. 

As in any family, discipline is often seen as punitive and not loving. Hard times are often bemoaned rather than seeing what it is we can learn from them. Family members–those people around us who may or may not be related but who pass judgment on our actions or words that hurt deeply–are too often seen as the enemy instead of someone whose remarks should be considered, may be helpful.

How different it would be if we knew and never doubted that we are loved unconditionally. If we could embrace the hard times in life as opportunities for growth through being loved instead of taking everything personally and dismissing what we don’t agree with.

God is present and available, a Father who cares for us better than anyone else ever could.

Just talk to Him.

He’s family.