At the Gate of the Year

gateAnd I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.  And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

—  Minnie Louise Haskins

The Art of Loving Well

This photo by Eric Yoder of his parents, Sam and Frieda Yoder was taken on the day of Sam’s passing. They shared 67 years of marriage together. 

As we enter 2017, let’s make it the “Year of Loving Well.”  As Peter Scazzero says, “The art of loving well is the essence of true spirituality.”   May your new year be deep and rich, and may your depth and richness be measured in love.

Here are a few points to ponder about what it means to love well:
1.  Love is a verb —  proven by action.
2.  Love is mostly expressed through kindness and understanding.
3.  We must first experience love before we are able to act on it.
4.   We cannot truly love until we begin to understand how deeply we are loved.
5.  Love is not something you fall into.  It is something you climb into.
6.  Love is not self-centered.  It is an out-flowing energy.
7.  Loving God with all our hearts multiplies our love for others.
8.  Love is not a scarce commodity to be hoarded or divided.  When you love abundantly, you find more love to give.
9.  It is impossible to love through a wall.  The first act of love is removing the wall.
10.  It is possible to have an outer glaze of love without it being at the core.  This is artificial and rings false.
11.   Although artificial love appears to be the real thing, it eventually proves to be self-seeking and hollow.
12.  Sometimes, speaking painful truth is the most loving thing to do.
13.  God placed every person in your life for a reason — and that is so you can love them.
14.  From infancy onward, every human being needs to be treasured, held and loved.
15.  Emotional wounds from the past can block our love pathways.  As these wounds are discovered and healed, our love flows more freely.
16.  If love is our motivation, we don’t need to live by fear, pressure or obligation.
17.  Love willingly shares the burden.  The willingness shows the love.
18.  The more we love — the less it feels like a burden.
19.  Love listens without assumptions and doesn’t judge motives.
20.  Love covers a lot of shortcomings.
21.  Love accepts imperfections and doesn’t expect the other person to be God.
22.  Love doesn’t push.
23.  Love means traveling at your companion’s pace.
24.  Love sometimes means giving up the need to have the last word.
25.  It’s hard to love others if you’re unwilling to embrace who you are.
26.  Love goes the whole distance.  It is a marathon, not a sprint.

Clarence the Thrifty Sermon Harvester

“Clarence checked out of Pastor Ingqvist’s sermon early.  It was about the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the ones who came late getting the same wage as those who came early and stayed all day, a parable that suggests that you need not listen carefully to a whole sermon from the beginning but can come in for maybe the last sentence or two and get the whole point.”

— Garrison Keillor, Leaving Home

Teach Them to Soar

eagleHow many had I taught . . . to climb the the high places of true vision?   I had filled hundreds of students’ minds with knowledge; how many souls had I filled with faith? Many bachelors of arts had passed through my classes; how many prophets had I inspired? I could count those I had given passing grades by the hundreds; in how many had I awakened the hearts of poets? Many were the athletes I had coached; how many had I made into athletes of the spirit?” (Glenn Clark, 1937)

Glenn Clark was Professor of English at Macalester College in Minnesota in the 1930s.

(Thank you to my friend, Dr. David Wright, for this nugget of gold.)

In the Bleak Midwinter

winter-deck In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.  In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

Some people come to Jesus like the shepherds.
Out in the fields, minding their own business — and kablammo!  Something big happens!

Angels show up!  a huge angel choir!  Glory to God in the highest!  Life change in a moment!

The shepherds drop everything and run to Bethlehem, where they find the Christ-child lying in a manger.  They rejoice, celebrate and end up broadcasting the good news everywhere they go.

Glory!  Glory! Hallelujah!

Others come to Jesus like the wise men.

They see a distant star in the east and are puzzled by its appearing.  “What does this mean?”, they wonder.  After a long pondering, they begin a long, winding journey of faith.

It takes them quite a while to figure things out — with plenty of detours along the way.  But, eventually, they, too, end up in Bethlehem.

Departing, they did not cause a big scene like the shepherds –but had the experience of inner transformation as well (though of the “still waters” variety.)

I like the manger scenes where wise men and shepherds are all together at the manger.

Though most Bible scholars say otherwise, as a hopeless romantic, I imagine love to imagine it just like the Christmas cards.  I picture them kneeling before Jesus side by side:  rich and poor, wise men and shepherds, locals and tourists — all worshiping Jesus together!  It’s would be just like God’s timing to arrange it that way.

The important lesson here?  It doesn’t matter whether you are a shepherd or a wise man.  Shepherds aren’t better because they dashed dashed to Jesus.  Wise men aren’t better because they took a longer,
thoughtful, more reflective route.  The only thing that matters is that they both ended up worshiping Jesus in Bethlehem.

God’s Blanket

Awakening to a beautiful blanket of snow this morning, I was reminded of these words from Edwin M. Johnson, legendary Northwoods poet:

God laid a blanket on the hills last night,
A quilt all fluffy, downy and white,
He tucked the edges round flowers asleep,
Warned the litte one burrowed down deep,
Not to awaken until the Spring,
When thrush and robin and bluebird sing.

Yes, God unfurled a blanket last night,
And He looked on earth and loved the sight,
The spruce and the flowers fell asleep with a nod,
I think they were thankful for the goodness of God.
When I saw how He tenderly cared for a tree,
I just knew He would care for you and me.

(This beautiful picture of the trail in winter woods was taken by my friend, Sue Bartz.)