A Hoot Of A Christmas Mystery

It began with one. Out of nowhere, it appeared.

A small owl made of straw-like material, decked with holly berries, greenery, and tiny pine cones. Stuck at the end of a wire, placed in the lawn close to the house.

I immediately thought of Ethan, seventeen and possessing a very dry sense of humor. One of his joys in life is teasing me, so I did what any other person assured of their solution would do.

I told him I figured out he was the one who had done it.

He looked surprised. “Who, me?’

Sly boy. It was a show to confuse me. I laughed, figuring any hesitation on my part would give him more fuel to keep up the sham.

“Sure, it was you. Who else would put a Christmas owl in my lawn?” His response was a head shake.

I thought I had him.

By Saturday the owls had multiplied. Where there had been one there were now seven. Their little owl faces smirked at me.

I texted Ethan. “I know it’s you. There are more owls this morning.”

He texted back, “I woke up just before 7 and had to be a volunteer at an event at 7:30. I had no time.”

I believe the boy protested too much. Isn’t that an indication of culpability?

Trying to nail down this allegation, I talked to his mom. Where Ethan can pull the wool over my eyes with his straight face, my daughter isn’t at all good with carrying on a deception. She looked surprised when I asked her if Ethan had put the owls on my lawn.

“Are you kidding? He hasn’t had any time–tests this week, soccer practice most nights, and helping with the soccer tournament we’ve worked. He hasn’t even slept enough.”

Was my daughter part of the scheme?

This was crazy. I know what I saw, what I was experiencing. But I had no explanation for what was going on.

That’s what Christmas is about. People saw something unexpected, a Baby born in a small town without fanfare. But angels heralded His arrival, and wise men came from the east to honor and celebrate Him, for they understood Him to be a King. The local ruler was so bothered by the prophesy of His coming and the response of the wise men to His arrival that he had all boys two years of age and under killed in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

King Herod had no explanation for what was going on, and he didn’t like what he saw.

People today struggle with what to do with Jesus. His followers are so committed that multitudes have been martyred for their faith in Him. Where His message has gone, hope springs forth. He promises forgiveness and love.

People can’t explain it.

But His coming was real. His promise of eternal life is real. His gift of forgiveness for all our mess is real.

I still don’t know where those owls came. I may not find out.

But I do know what Jesus has done in my life; He’s freed me from guilt and shame and filled me with a certainty of His love for me.

That’s nothing to hoot about.






Can You Guess That Carol?

“We three kings of oranges are, bearing gifts we travel so far;

Field and fountain, mores the mountains,

Follow the wonder star.”

I knew what she was singing–she was spot on with her pitch. But Brooklyn, at four, didn’t have context for some of the words for the Christmas carol. So she adjusted.

She wasn’t far off, but listening to her sing made me smile. Her enjoyment of the music didn’t lessen the reality of not knowing all the words.

She rode in the backseat, and I hummed along with her as she belted out one carol after another. This gal had knowledge. She knew the second verse of some of these favorite Christmas songs.

But not all the right words.

The melodies were familiar, old favorites that I’ve sung since I was a child. What made them special was her passion, her conviction that this was the song. Those were the words.

I do the same thing with songs where the melody catches my attention but I never get around to learning the words. I don’t have the best ear for discerning lyrics–I often make a mess of them, but that never lowers the decibel level at which I sing.

Like “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John. I enjoyed his music and could sing along with them fairly accurately. Not karaoke-worthy, but close to what the tune sounded like.

Not “Benny and the Jets”.

Music is communication understood by people all over the world, even if they don’t speak the language is used in a song. Music stirs us in our souls, sometimes kindly, other times with toughness or passion, still other times with heavy-handed intent.

Music is as unique as all who sing.

King David fully understood that truth. As a shepherd, he would sing to the sheep as he passed his time in the fields with his wooly charges. Some of the most beautiful and meaningful songs in all of history are the Psalms, written from passionate hearts by David and others who shared their souls and hearts, their fears and joys, questions that had no complete answers, hopes that had yet to be seen.

Words mean something.

There are different kinds of music, varying styles, a plethora of artists who write and sing what their hearts need to express. I’m the first to admit I don’t enjoy all forms of music, though my taste is eclectic. I most appreciate music that moves my heart and yet causes me to think past my emotions.

People long to hear songs of love and acceptance, a desire that comes from being created in the image of God.

God chooses to sing over us with delight, a song of His heart that tells us of His love and commitment to us.

If we choose to listen to His soft and gentle words of tenderness. Words of truth, hope, and promise. A melody of unsurpassed beauty.

Brooklyn may not get all the words right, but her heart sings out of sheer joy. She loves what she hears.

Allow God’s melody to play in your heart so you can experience His joy in you.

He’ll teach you the words.







The Ugly Underbelly Of Regret


It wasn’t something I expected to see, something so unusual.

Isley ran into the house, yelling for me to follow her outside. Wondering what was so important, I followed.

Behind the tree in our backyard, a good-sized female turtle was, we hoped, laying eggs. It was the only reason we could come up with for her behavior. Her head seemed to extend as far as it could go, and she was perfectly still. Isley and I were within two feet of her. I thought she might be dead–I’d never experienced such stillness in a turtle that near people. We walked away, figuring she needed privacy no matter what was happening.

Within the hour, Isley tore back into the house, yelling for me to follow her, and we raced to the tree.

Where the turtle had been was a shallow bowl-shaped hole. Two tiny eggs were partially exposed. We gently pushed dirt over them, covering them from prying preying eyes.

Isley’s idea was to put a security cam on the tree to scare off any would-be thieves who’d want the eggs. I had to say no to that, but we committed to making sure those eggs would be safe. We thought of covering it with chicken wire or some little safe house.

We didn’t.

Two days later, Isley came inside, a single tear coming down her cheek. “They’re gone. All the eggs are gone.”

She was right. The nest had been dug up.

It bothered me more than I thought it would.

Isley and I talked about what we “should” have done. What “might” have saved the unborn turtles.

We hadn’t done anything. I felt regret, for not responding to Isley’s forethought to do something to protect those unborn turtles who couldn’t do anything for themselves, letting her down, and not realizing that acknowledging a situation at the moment may be the only chance I’m ever given.

Life doesn’t work that way. We don’t get “do-overs”.

Regret is not a friend. It comes around and grabs me from behind when I’m “too busy” to respond to the need of a family member or friend, and then realize I might have been able to help. Too late.

It pokes at my mind with all the would haves, should haves, could haves that I dwell on after the fact. With no ability to change anything in the past.

Jesus came to deal with my regrets, my oversights, my blatant errors of choice. He carried the burden of all that–mine and all else who will accept such an amazing payment–to a cross where the ultimate price was paid.

I’m not going to minimize the significance of baby turtles; they’re a picture of the bigger things in my life that I allow to be a heavy blanket of guilt and regret to weigh on me with no possible hope.

But God.

I still consistently mess up; that won’t change. Regret will still try to shadow me if I let it.

Giving it over to Jesus saves me a lot of anguish.

It’s a lot safer than being a turtle egg in my backyard.




And I’m Expected To Say Thank You?

It would never be considered a sacred space. A place of contemplation and thoughtful introspection.

But it is somewhere I go frequently, some seasons more than others.

My laundry room is a place I experience success. With six kids, I taught myself a system that could get a lot of laundry done quickly and consistently.

In the pauses of each day, I’d put in a load. When dried, I’d fold and put the clothes in a basket. Everyone was expected to put away their own things. I did the laundry because it was cheaper for me to do full loads than having each child do small loads. Our water bills were already astronomical.

I got grief from parents who said I wasn’t teaching my kids responsibility. My kids learned; today, they wear clean clothes they’ve washed.

My laundry room is where this sign hangs. Every time I go in there, I’m confronted with the reality that there is always something for me to be thankful for.

I don’t always feel that way. Especially about laundry.

I live in a first-world culture, and I have the benefit of many things I too often take for granted. Hot, running water. An indoor toilet. The availability of food that satisfies the desires of a family with different tastes. A home we’ve been able to enjoy and use for hospitality. I have family and friends I love, people I work with whom I enjoy, a job I value.

No matter how much I have to be thankful for, I have areas of discontent. Where I want more or different.

I’m not proud of that. A lack of gratitude can feel selfish and shaming.

Then there are those things that seem beyond the possibility of genuine appreciation.

Losses that blare the absence of loved ones, especially on holidays. Disappointments in family, job, life that make it challenging to see past the pain to the hope. People who have hurt us or let us down. Friends who have betrayed us.

The list can be overwhelming.

How is it possible to be thankful, to find a spirit of gratitude, when life throws us a curveball?

It isn’t possible.

Apart from God.

For me, I so often look to my own satisfaction, my happiness, to create a sense of gratitude in me. But thankfulness isn’t based on things or people or workable circumstances.

Gratitude is a choice.

Life is a journey that can’t avoid pitfalls and detours. There are so few choices we have that can make a difference, that will positively impact our world and others’.

Being thankful at the moment acknowledges God is in the details. In His wisdom and knowledge, He sees a bigger, more complex picture of life than we do. He alone understands how the pieces fit together for our good.

If we allow Him into our lives.

We celebrate Thanksgiving, not just as a recognition of a historic event. It’s a valid reminder of the things we have to be thankful for. Even if it’s simply another day with the possibility of impacting our world with who we are.

May you find joy this Thanksgiving apart from your circumstances.

Even if it’s in a laundry room.





The Case Of The Wandering Pumpkins

We have five pumpkins that have wanderlust.

This is not a metaphor for anything in life. We have these pumpkins left over from Halloween that we never got around to carving. They’re still healthy, not showing any signs of mold.

They don’t stay put.

We started with four, and I’m not quite sure how we got that many. The fifth one appeared one day, and nobody is owning its presence. Part of me wonders if multiplication happened on my porch in some odd pumpkin way.

We thought it fun to keep them through Thanksgiving. A reminder of that first Thanksgiving, though I’m not sure at all if pumpkins were present. A little decorative touch that I typically don’t do.

They don’t seem to stay put. I come out some mornings and they’ve moved. Scattered. At times appearing to be running away, other times pretending to hide in unexpected places.

Like the one that climbed a tree.

It’s becoming fun because Ryken, at five, came in one evening and whispered to me, “The pumpkins are moving.” Wide-eyed, he pointed to the now newly displaced pumpkins, shrugged his shoulders, and came in the house.

There are several explanations for the mobile pumpkins. Almost two-year-old Mason loves to roll them. He pushes them around like medicine balls. The challenge of the heavy doesn’t deter him. If anything, he doubles down and pushes harder.

The other culprit is Ethan, our oldest grand. He has a sense of humor that is quite dry and a sense of fun that is cerebral and quick. His ability to find new places and new ways for these pumpkins to “act” has been a source of delight for everyone.

It took all of us a long time to find the one that climbed the tree. There was one at the base of the three that appeared to have been the buddy to give him a boost up.

It’s ridiculously funny and fun.

Nothing a pumpkin could ever really do.

There are many times in life when we’re confronted with an impossible situation. Yet in our high-functioning society, where entrepreneurial vigor is esteemed and high-risk situations are valued, it’s easy to feel like a failure if a challenge isn’t accepted, if the opportunity isn’t taken.

We all have limitations.

I hate to admit I have limitations. I don’t want to admit I’m weak or needy.

I am both.

The difficulty in owning my weaknesses is a fear that I will disappoint others or won’t be accepted for who I am.

God has chosen to craft me with a skill and talent set that is uniquely me.

In His eyes, I am celebrated for all that I am.

I have definite limitations. I’ve failed at things I’ve wanted to do. But who I am isn’t defined but what I can’t do.

I’m defined by Who I belong to.

In God’s power, I can be the best person I can be. I have no need to compare myself to the success of others; to try to measure myself by another’s standards.

My worth is based on the impossibly perfect standard God has set forth and Jesus has satisfied for me.

More amazing than a traveling pumpkin.