A Life of Its Own

A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions.

Frederick William Faber

My wife Terry recently spent a week at a conference and retreat center near Baltimore, Maryland.  She gathered with colleagues who also serve presbyteries throughout the country.  Honestly, I really hoped she bring home a fresh Maryland crab cake but, equally honestly, I knew that was not too realistic.  What she did bring me was a decorative magnet that included the quotation, “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions.”  I surely would have enjoyed a crab cake—I cannot deny that!  But this quote really struck me and will definitely stick with me longer than even the best crab cake!

A single act. That is all. Sometimes we succumb to the notion that we must do a lot or do something big and bold or do something everyone will consider the best.  But when it comes to kindness a simple act is not only enough but can impact others exponentially.

A single act can be easy and then again it can be hard.  Sometimes it is easy when it comes naturally for us or it is directed to someone we love.  Sometimes it is hard when it requires more from us—more time, more energy, more sacrifice.  Regardless, the impact of kindness can be so profound.  Sometimes even though it is easy for us it comes to someone at just the right moment—when they feel overlooked or overwhelmed.  Our single, easy act of kindness really makes a noticeable difference in their lives.  Another time, when it is hard for us, it can equally change someone else’s life for the better possibly in a way we never know.

Throws out roots in all direction.  I like the idea of kindness taking root in a person’s life or in a family or a community or a congregation.  Acts of kindness are not fleeting.  They last—likely beyond what we witness initially.  The compassion experienced in kindness becomes rooted in the recipient’s life and becomes an ongoing source of strength.  It also then fuels their ability to act in kindness toward others.  Acts of kindness multiply themselves touching and transforming more and more lives.  That is how kindness spreads in all directions.  We act in kindness a single time but the kindness moves well beyond that person, that place, that point in time.  It keeps going and going and going—to people and places we can never know.  Kindness takes on a life of its own.

If you ever garden near a tree you learn quickly how expansive its root system is.  Countless times when attempting to plant a new perennial flower in our yard I have ended up working around tree roots unexpectedly.  I cannot really fathom the expansiveness of a root system of a single tree.  The same is true of kindness—it may appear singular on the surface but much more is happening than I can perceive.

I invite you this week to recall an act of kindness directed to you.  How did you feel?  How did it impact you?  How did it affect others in your life?  And too, consider how you can act in kindness toward someone else and be mindful of the impact of your kindness beyond that one singular act.

We are all recipients of the good, compassionate kindness of God.  May that be the source of our acts of kindness that take root in the lives of others.

Look Up!

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.
Psalm 19:1

On the last Monday night in September the planet Jupiter moved within its closet position to the earth in fifty-nine years at 367 million miles from Earth. It is hard for me to consider 367 million miles as close. Yet, as Ian and I gazed at the eastern sky on Monday night we were both amazed and delighted by Jupiter’s brightness. We tried to draw it in closer with our binoculars but they were no match for such a distance. Yet despite that we still found it special to see Jupiter in all of its splendid light.

I find it important to look upward. Too often my eyes are focused straight ahead as I am determined to get from one point to another. When I do pause and look up—whether it is the deep blue sky and brilliant sunlight of day or the expansiveness of a starlite night—I find myself reminded as did the psalmist that the heavens are telling the glory of God and proclaiming God as Creator. It is simply my task to notice—to see what nature is saying. When I do take the time I receive not only a reminder but a wonderful remembrance of the goodness of our kind Creator.

As we all learned from our earliest days in school, Jupiter is the biggest of all the planets. Consider that 1,300 Earths would fit inside Jupiter. THAT IS BIG! Yet it appears at 367 million miles away as quite small—a single point of light. Yet consider though the wonder of how that light travels that far—far enough for us to see it and distinguish it from other planets and stars. And consider just how bright it is—bright enough for us to notice it.

People, like me and you, find ourselves in times of darkness from time to time. We need light, even the simplest and smallest point of light, to give us hope. We need light to remind us that we are not alone; that there is a Creator who made us and a Creator who cares for us.

Sometimes that light might literally be a light that we view in the night sky. Maybe looking at Jupiter can remind us that we are not alone; that the God who made this universe is with us in ways both known and unknown, both seen and unseen. Other times that light comes from other sources—the glimmer in another’s eyes, the smile on someone’s face, the familiar voice on the phone, the arrival of loved one. However might the light arrive we are filled with the same sense of hope—hope that we can live the fullest of life as intended by the God who made us and loves us.

So, look up and look around. Take in the light. Take in the hope. Then let it shine through you into another’s darkness.

Switch Tanks!

Late on a recent Saturday night Terry and I sat in “Blue,” our 1976 Chevy pickup truck, wondering why it wouldn’t run. It had run—earlier in the day and only moments before. But now nothing. Just endless turning over but no firing of the engine. The truck sat in our front yard under a tree. We parked it there earlier so Jadon and his friends could line up their cars and take pictures before heading out to the Homecoming dance at the high school. They had of course all pilled in the truck and on the truck. Yet why it would not start perplexed us. But it would have to wait until the next day.

After lunch on Sunday I called our friend Paul who knows his way around old car and truck engines. He came over to take a look. He quickly determined that there was no issue with the cranking but there seemed to be no fuel reaching the engine. He sprayed some starter fluid into the carburetor as I turned the ignition switch. She fired but still would not run. Thus we knew getting fuel to the engine had to be the problem. As I sat in the cab it suddenly dawned on me. The truck has two, yes, two, gas tanks and a switch that sends the fuel to the engine from one or the other. I quickly looked at the switch; and, yes, it was switched to the empty tank! A quick switch to the other; a turn of the key; a few pumps on the peddle and it was running just fine again!

We then deduced that while the boys were in and out of the truck one of them had out of curiosity or unknowingly hit the gas tank switch. Once it was switched to the empty tank no amount of anything would have got the truck running. It had to be switched to the tank that had the fuel.

No fuel. No go. Isn’t that how it is! We can try our hardest. We can wish and want to. But without the gas to go we won’t get anywhere! How often have I tried and tried to get going and simply could not. My tank was empty. My tank was empty. Maybe like “Blue” we all have two tanks—one that is our own which we try to fuel our lives with our own efforts and strength. The other tank is not our own but holds the strength and abilities given to us by God. We like to be self-reliant; so we use and use and then exhaust every ounce of our own strength. Then we wonder why we can’t go anywhere. Maybe it is then that it dawns on us that we must switch to the true source of our strength, our Creator God. And that source is one that will not run out! There is always an abundant supply when we rely on God.

Tired? Exhausted? Out of gas? Realize you cannot rely solely on yourself alone. If you do, you will not make it. Instead, switch tanks! Go with the supply of strength that God can provide. And remember, it’s okay to sit in the yard over night in order to figure this out. A good night’s rest is always helpful too!

Let Me Tell You What To Do

I came down with covid last week. I am, thankfully, improving now and due to vaccines and boosters never experienced any severe symptoms. I do wonder if I will deal with lingering fatigue and if I might later learn of other impacts of the virus on my body yet unknown to me. Several times I found myself pondering the fact that I carried a virus within my body that killed countless people and severely sickened many others before me. I also noted to myself the power of vaccines and my immune system to both keep me alive and fight off the virus and return me to full health. All in all it is a lot to consider especially when you are sick and tired. For the moment I am simply grateful to be regaining wellness and strength and to be surrounded by the good compassion, care and prayers of others.

I seem to learn more so with each passing day, month and year that life is best lived with good doses of humility and gratitude. With so much to comprehend and understand; with so much to figure out and determine; with so much dependence upon others for life’s necessities and life’s many joys; with so much realization that I am small and though capable of much I am limited as well—I get it more and more each day that I need to approach living with a great deal of humbleness. Too, so much—and I do mean so much—comes my way as sheer gift. Sure, I work at things; sure, I gain some things through fortune and privilege; but, for the most part, the essentials of life are gifted to me. This leaves me realizing and wanting to be more grateful. How can I not live life without an enormous volume of appreciation for God and others?

I am not one for telling people what to do—for one, it’s not the best strategy. But if I would—and I suspect that I kind of am now—tell you what to do I would tell you live life with humbleness and gratitude. Begin with accepting your limitations. From there look at your life as a culmination of many good gifts brought to you both by the miraculous work of our Creator and by the generosity of others. Then commit to keeping a grateful attitude. I think once you realize just how little is really in your personal control and how really good God and others are gratitude will come more easily.

It seems to me that those who are good at gratitude are also good at giving. That is crucial. Since we are all so dependent on each other we really need to be willing to give—even given sacrificially at times. So, it is important for us to recognize the good gifts we receive from others, but it is equally important that we recognize the significance of our giving in the lives of others.

All this does require a certain degree of mindfulness. I need to be mindful of the generosity of God and others toward me while being mindful of the needs of others and how I need to respond to those needs. So, I guess that makes a third thing I am telling you to do—be mindful.
One of the lessons of the Scriptures is God’s mindfulness for God’s people. This is seen from the beginning and fully illuminated in the person of Jesus Christ. We can indeed describe Jesus as mindful, humble and grateful and by doing so can claim him as model of how to live these virtues. Consider for yourself how Jesus exhibited mindfulness, humbleness and gratitude; then consider how you can emulate those in your own life.

As days, months and years continue to unfold before me I do sincerely hope that I can live life with a greater mindfulness; a consistent humbleness; and an ever-deepening gratitude. May that be true for you too. And as others reflect upon our living may they see and name how we walked in the way of Jesus and be drawn to living in that same way.

Walks After Supper

I spent last week at the Presbyterian camp and conference center in Montreat, North Carolina, situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I grew up not far from western North Carolina and often enjoyed time in the area. Last week, I kept a busy schedule while attending a conference. But I did break away one evening after supper for a hike along Flat Creek that runs through the valley where Montreat is located.

The trail is called Elizabeth’s Path and meanders alongside the stream and among the lush green trees and plants that inhabit the landscape. As I walked I took in the sights and sounds around me while keeping an eye on the path ahead. I found myself at ease again as I listened to the babbling brook and took notice of the late summer wildflowers that grew in the rich soil along the stream.

As I walked I imagined what it must have been like for Adam and Eve to walk in the cool of the evenings with God in the garden. I found myself wondering about such things as who chose the path they would take or did they decide together? Did they walk side by side or in a straight line and who led the way? What about creation caught their attention? What did they talk about or laugh about or wonder about and did they sometimes simply walk in silence? Did they always take long walks or sometimes short walks? How often did they take the same path and did they sometimes make a new path in the garden?

I don’t have answer for these questions. But I do suppose that those walks were meaningful and memorable. And I would bet that once sin separated them they all missed those walks together.

The good news is that God kept at it and keeps at it still. God is still our traveling companion along the paths of this world. Sure, it’s not quite the same as a stroll with the Creator of the universe in person after supper; but it is still meaningful and memorable. There is still time together; there is still determinations about what path to take; there is still good conversations and laughter and silence.

As you walk this life I hope you’ll find that God is still walking with you—sometimes taking the lead; sometimes taking you by the hand; sometimes following you with words of encouragement.
And I bet that if you take a stroll outside sometime after supper you just might find God waiting there for you—maybe he’ll speak through the babble of the brook or the breeze through the leaves; maybe he’ll show you something beautiful and inspiring; and maybe in your mind and heart you’ll get a good sense that he is with you and will never let you go.

Whatever and whenever you are walking just remember we travel not alone for the God who started it all with evening walks in the garden is walking with us still.

The Same Starry Sky

As I ventured outside early Monday evening, I soon spotted the beautiful crescent moon in the southwestern sky with Venus shining brightly above it. Together they shinned brightly through the barren tree in my front yard. They seemed suspended as from a delicate thread in the vastness of the winter night. I felt warmed by their light.

A short time later a friend from Missouri posted a picture on social media of the moon and Venus from where he stood. It really struck me. I truly needed the reminder that he and I dwell under the same sky. Our perspectives from the ground differ but we share a common view of what lies above. In the midst of such divisions in the world something about remembering that commonality moved and encouraged me.

Long ago shepherds outside of Bethlehem gathered under our same sky. With the absence of modern light pollution I imagine that that night sky shone brightly with stars, planets and distant galaxies. I would like to think that those shepherds never grew tired of gazing upon the starry sky.

Yet one night stood out from the rest. On that night the stars seemed to dim as angelic messengers filled the sky with their celestial glory. They came to the shepherds with a message—the birth of a Savior—that they revealed as good and joyful news for everyone. For everyone.

This season we really need to hear and remember that message—a Savior born for everyone. We are divided but live under the same starry sky with the same need—the need for a Savior. We cannot fix or make right this world on our own. We need the One that only God can send.

That good and joyful news spoken first to some shepherds remains good and joyful news for you, me and our shared world. Let us believe that good news; let us, like the shepherds, act on that good news; and may we, like that angelic choir, proclaim that good news for all who dwell under the same starry sky.

Photo Credit: Buck Green, Mexico, Missouri

The Same Sunrise

some mornings
we see the same sunrise
the fifteen-year-old
on his way to school
the thirteen-year-old
as he bounds into the room
my beloved from where she sits with the cat
in her cozy morning chair

some mornings
we see the same sunrise
the ripples of cloud
layered in new light
of pink and rose and white
catch our eye
and absorb our attentions
if even for a fleeting moment

some mornings
we see the same sunrise
a common view
accompanied by a unison awe
that the day is indeed new
and so are the possibilities
that with hopes renewed
life too can be brighter

some mornings
we see the same sunrise
and it dawns on us
that we are all family
children of God
who are seen and beloved
by the Maker
who makes us one

some mornings
we see the same sunrise
and not us alone
but you too
for it rises for all
even when unnoticed
to shine on
with light and promise

Root Bound

The onset of cold weather meant it was time to bring the potted succulent plants indoors. With cats around the house potted plants rarely make it undisturbed. So I decided to take the plants to my church office where they would be unbothered and also receive more sunlight from my office windows than they would at home.

The two succulents were planted in small clay pots. I decided to transfer them to another pot with sufficient space for them that would also make it easier to water and care for them. As I went to remove them from their little pots, I found it a difficult task. I had to carefully loosen them from the confines of the pots while not damaging their fragile foliage. When I finally removed them, I found them to be root bound. Their roots had grown extensively and wrapped around themselves with no additional space to grow and move. With caution I loosened the roots to give them room to spread out as I placed them in the new and bigger pot. I carefully packed the soil around the roots and gently watered the plants. I did this with the good hope for the possibility of new growth and flourishing life for these delicate but resilient plants.

This makes me wonder about my life and maybe it gets you wondering about your life too. How are we “root bound”? How are we restricted, confined and limited? How might we need to be transplanted from a situation, circumstance or habit to a place where we can thrive? Maybe the old way of doing things or ordering our lives now prevents us from growing into our fullest selves. What then needs to change?

We can ask these same questions of a congregation too. Churches like people outgrow what once worked and then need to consider where and how we might really thrive as followers of Jesus.

I am going to really give thought to these questions for myself. I would invite you to consider them too. As well, let us reflect on where God might like to replant us as God’s people so that we can grow and flourish. May we then trust that our Gardener God will tend us well.

I Am Taking It Slow Today

I am taking it slow today

I take in the morning air in darkness
while the moon is high overhead
and all is quiet at the school bus stop

I am taking it slow today

I say good morning to the cricket
that chirps in the garage
who is eager to welcome the morning

I am taking it slow today

I spread the seeds of the coneflowers
on the ground around
and pray for a few more next spring

I am taking it slow today

I watch a spider scurry
as I water the chrysanthemums
of rusted red and brilliant yellow

I am taking it slow today

I notice the sparrow
hidden in the leaves of the mock orange bush
find nourishment in seeds I can’t see

I am taking it slow today

I see the sun illuminate the tassels
of the ornamental grasses
in their early autumn splendor

I am taking it slow today

I see a world of wonder
created and ever creating
by the One who beckons me to not to rush

I am taking it slow today

Surely as the Sun

rising in the east
the sun seems reluctant
bashfully hidden within the morning clouds

slow to wake
not in a hurry
another Monday morning on earth

the darkness overwhelming
hard to overcome
on the horizons of sea and plain

yet deeper still
and difficult to displace
is the darkness in the hearts of them

they who curse the light
and its truth
its way of setting things right

they hide in shadows
afraid and fearmongering
from their place in the fog of lies

yet as surely as the sun
will rise and shine
and dispel the morning gloom

so will the light
of truth and good will
bring an end to the darkness soon