I’d recently heard a podcaster recommend a certain drama-comedy series, so I suggested to Jim that we watch it that evening. The first episode only annoyed me. I found the story depressing, the main character mean-spirited, and the language vulgar at times, so I chose to stop watching. But today I came into the den while Jim was watching the next episode to see if the story would improve. This time, something about the characters captivated me, and I soon sat down next to him. We watched through the end of Season One! I now understand the value and merit of the storyline and characters.
As the story progressed, we learned the reasons for the main character’s depression and the deeper meanings behind his hateful actions. I began to appreciate the kind friends and coworkers who cared for him, despite their own troubles. I savored the wisdom of a few sages who had walked similar difficult journeys. Best of all, I began to see a resurrection, a new hope restored in this troubled man. I felt joyful, even emotional, as his spirit began healing and he started changing his ways. In the last episode we watched today, he was making things right with those he’d hurt, doing kind deeds for others, taking new chances, finding new opportunities, and smiling more often.
I’m glad I gave the show a second look.
As I stood and returned to my writing desk, I suddenly thought: This is God. This is God’s love. This is God’s healing.
And this is how we are meant to live.
God always gives us the benefit of a second look. Yes, God looks at this first, current episode of our lives, but with the awareness of our previous ones and the insight for our future ones. God sees beneath our superficial qualities or blemishes because God looks at our deeper souls. God understands our flaws and frailties because God understands our histories, our wounds, our genuine stories. God sees our inner needs and provides healing, forgiving, uplifting power accordingly.
And through this comforting, accepting, second look – this loving gaze – we can see ourselves as God sees us, precious and beloved. In the wisdom of God’s deep and healing insight, we can discover our genuine selves beyond any superficial, overlooked, or previously held image. In the generous grace of God’s viewpoint, we can see beyond our current messiness and witness our own resurrection – both our wholeness and our holiness.
Then it’s our turn. God can also transform us into people who offer second looks. God can help us begin searching beyond the obvious; seeing beyond our preconceived judgments, moving beyond our usual reactions, growing beyond our status quo. Our second looks help us search for the real answers to such questions as…
Why is that man being so hateful?
What is that student trying to hide behind his bravado?
Is there heartache beneath that surly attitude?
Will I find any wisdom in those hurtful words?
Why am I feeling disgruntled today?
Should I reconsider this invitation?
What might I learn from this experience?
Through our daily resurrections, we can become tenderhearted, hopeful, helpful, generous, merciful, grateful people who are willing to take a second look, offer a second chance, and live the second life that God has so graciously given us.
Where might you take a second look today?
Photo by Karen
(The series is “After Life”, with Ricky Gervais. 2019. Discretion advised.)
QUESTIONS FOR THE LEAVES
Tucked into this sheltered corner
away from wind and rain
this little pile of withered leaves
brings questions to my mind.
How long have they been waiting here,
how long will they remain?
If leaves could speak to me today
what lessons would I find?
Are they content to gather close
and linger in this place,
to live each day in quiet joy,
allowed to simply be?
Or do they wish to take a risk
and leave this cozy space
to be tossed about, trampled on,
or scattered randomly?
Do they hold an inner longing
to leave this sheltered frame?
Does wisdom call them to the wind
with peace, and not with fear?
For life well-lived returns them to
the soil from which they came,
and the very wind that scatters
once brought them safely here.
(Photos by Karen)
Growing up near my grandparents’ farm, I soon learned how the seasons of northwest Ohio guided and governed their lives. In summer months, I’d see my grandpa, uncle, and cousins out tending the fields during the long days of sunshine. They woke early on market days and settled to sleep soon after the sunset. Autumn brought the last busy weeks of harvesting and selling, with my grandma canning vegetables for their own larder, as she called it. I imagine they were relieved for the restful time that the winter season brought. And sometime near the end of February, my aunt would find my uncle poking around the soil of her houseplants, eager to get back to the garden!
For most of us, the changing seasons may have little impact on the way we live our days. We continue to work the same hours, rest and rise at the same times, and keep our usual routines. Could we be missing some of the ways these natural rhythms and cycles enhance our wellbeing? How might we benefit from treating the various aspects of our wellbeing in light of their seasons?
A brief self-survey revealed these seasons in me:
My body is aligned with the winter season, as the aches of aging increase. My bones hurt when the weather is cold, so I’m walking shorter distances. When I can, I love staying in my flannel pajamas a while longer or remaining at home after dinner as the early darkness sets in. When warmer weather returns, I’ll once again enjoy longer hikes and more time outdoors, and become more active and sociable in the evenings. Sometimes I’m tempted to walk too far or push myself too long, but I’m trying to honor my body’s need for a slower pace and warmer space!
Yet, other areas of my life seem to be in different seasons. As I learn more about writing and have more time to write, my creative season feels like summer – abundant, productive, flourishing. This is my summer season to tend and toil in this craft.
My daily routines look more like the autumn season. I’ve begun surrendering a few “leaves”, as I’ve retired from my job and volunteer ministry. I’m now busy filling my emotional and spiritual larder with mindfulness in my tasks, joy in homemaking, tender care for others. I notice my soul gently maturing, softening, releasing, for an eventual winter season, the resting time of old age and beyond.
And springtime? My grandchildren are sprouting fresh joy! I want to tend and nurture my grandmother role as a mentor and friend to my grandchildren. I want to savor my time with them, encourage and honor their parents, learn new ways to support them all.
Understanding the different seasons of ourselves will help guide our decisions for wellbeing. What aspects of our lives need the rest of a winter’s pause? How might we find more time for our summer areas of abundance and productivity? Do we have something to surrender and allow for new growth? Do we have something that needs our patience until its proper season? What might need just a few finishing touches to be ready for harvesting? What is our greatest need as we restock our larders?
Recognizing that some seasons are decided for us (for example, the year-long summertime schedule of careers, the unexpected winter rest of an illness), how might we balance ourselves in other areas? We can honor each different area of our wellbeing with the rhythms of its season.
Thank you, God, for the seasons of the earth and for the seasons of ourselves. Give us the wisdom to appreciate, attend to, and honor every season of our lives.
(Photos by Karen)
Let your light so shine for others
this is my daily prayer…
to radiate God’s lovely light
through hope, and love, and care.
But my lamplight is a small one,
often shining just on me,
and at times it’s bent and broken
so the light is hard to see.
Please shine your light within me, God,
reveal how I may grow
in your bright and loving kindness
so others see your glow.
For you are able to do more
than this lantern of my own.
I need your power and your strength
for love more brightly shown.
I may be bent and broken, but
your perfect light will shine
each time I let your love flow through
this faulty lamp of mine.
(Photo by Karen)
“Let your light so shine…” is from Matthew 5:16.
WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE SIGNS?
I had originally intended to use this photo for a reflection on negativity and pessimism, using Looks Like Rain as a humorous post about leaping to the worst conclusions. Instead of appreciating the blue sky on a lovely day, we could focus on the only cloud and worry about rain. But then I recalled a few times in my life when I discounted some seemingly insignificant signs that ended up being really important (such as minor health issues that indicated my eventual cancer diagnosis).
What might be the best way for us to consider the incidents that capture our attention – the things we notice and then wonder if they are signs of something more to come? Whether these signs might be related to our weather, health, vocation, or other discernments, how might we regard them with the wisdom of Jesus’ instruction, “Do not worry about tomorrow”?
Perhaps these incidents can best serve as “You are here” signs. You may have seen these indicators on maps of hiking trails or layouts of buildings; they show us where we are in relation to our larger surroundings. When something catches our attention, we might consider it an invitation to note where we are, to assess how we are feeling about being where we are, and to open ourselves for greater awareness about where we might go or what we might do from this point. The things we initially notice may not give us direction, nor necessarily foretell a certain future, but they can invite us to pause and be fully present to what is.
In the wisdom of Christ, we can learn to regard these incidents without optimism or pessimism, but to say, “Here I am, God!” This will help to keep us from fearing or worrying about tomorrow – but also from ignoring or discounting what may be important – as we remain attentive for more information to come. Our prayer could be, “If I am called to do something more with what I have noticed, please show me and guide me.”
As we walk along in the joy of a beautiful day, we can see a cloud and run for shelter or grab an umbrella. We can also ignore every cloud and eventually find ourselves in a storm. Or we can be present to the moment, grateful for the day, watchful for the future, and aware of God’s presence with us through it all.
(Photo by Karen)
“Do not worry about tomorrow” is from Matthew 6:34 (NRSVUE)
The barren tree stood silently
yet spoke to me of pain,
when branches once were cut away
and only stumps remained.
But now new shoots are growing forth,
while reaching up and out.
The stumps became the firm support
for all new growth to sprout.
When my best dreams are thwarted,
when obstacles impede,
when criticism cuts me down
and I’m ready to concede –
may I keep on reaching upward,
seeking your holy grace,
until new growth begins to sprout
from my strong and sturdy base.
(Photo by Karen)
I was about a mile into my daily walk when the gentleman came out on his porch to greet me. Over the years, he and I have regularly greeted each other as I pass by his home. Our encounters have never been more than a “Good morning!” with a smile and a wave, perhaps a word about the weather. But this time he added, “I haven’t seen you in a while.” I explained how my schedule and route often change according to the seasons and weather, so we must have just missed each other.
Then he went on to say, “I asked my neighbor if he had seen you, because I was wondering if something had happened.”
His words were a tender blessing. This kind man, who doesn’t even know my name, cared enough to ask another neighbor about me. I was so surprised and touched by his concern – and by the new awareness that my presence mattered to him. This happened weeks ago, and yet the warm feelings remain.
I have found two insights from his gift.
~ We will never be aware of all the goodness around us…
Recently, my husband Jim was told by a friend that he had been in his daily prayers. The other day, I happened to see a runner stopping to pick up trash along her route. Right now, someone is lying in a hospital bed, unaware of the prayer vigil being kept for him outside the door. People are quietly making good differences all over the world. In every moment, someone somewhere is bringing goodness to another; we simply cannot observe it all.
~ With just a few moments and a few words, we can help others become more aware of this goodness surrounding them…
We can share with others any complimentary, appreciative words we have heard about them. We can let others know how often we have thought of them or prayed for them. We can remind others that they matter, why their lives have blessed ours, and of the gifts we have received in knowing and loving them. We can point out other acts of kindness and generosity we have noticed along the way.
When we become discouraged by the confusing ways of the world, grieved by the distressing headlines, or frustrated by the overwhelming challenges before us, we can turn our focus to the goodness we see and trust in the goodness we do not see. God is also and always working to bring about good.
When we pass along any of the goodness we have witnessed or received, we help to illuminate God’s goodness – and become beacons of peace and hope for others.
(Photo by Karen)
There’s a glow behind the foothills –
a new day is about to dawn,
but down here in the valley
we will keep our porch lights on.
For even as we sense the hope
of an ending to the night
we are essential keepers
and bearers of the light.
(Photo by Karen)
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:28-29, NRSVUE)
Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore. ~ Andre Gide
I enjoy the practice of prayerfully choosing one word to help guide my decisions, purposes, and reflections each year. My word for 2023 feels a bit uncomfortable, and I hope it will stretch me in new ways. My guiding word will be VENTURE.
Venture – to make or embark upon a venture; dare to enter or go; to take a risk, dare, presume
As I wrote in an earlier post*, my days have been more protected, isolated, and comfortable in these recent years. I have largely followed my usual routines, mainly spent time with family and dear friends, and generally adhered to my usual writing formats and projects. In doing so, I may have neglected opportunities to try new ways of living and being, to become part of a community, or to expand creatively. I question whether I have been fully embracing this gift of the abundant life Jesus meant for us.
Venture serves as my invitation to be more daring, to challenge myself more often, to expand my horizons, to explore new ideas. Although I am not certain how this will unfold, my first steps will be to listen for inner inspirations, and to pay holy attention to outer invitations before accepting or declining them.
This passage about Peter beautifully guides my hope for the year. As he sees him walking on the water, Peter asks Jesus to command him to walk out there, too. And Jesus says, “Come.” Even though Peter eventually falters and fails, he earnestly wants to follow Jesus and is brave enough to take the first steps. And when he does not succeed, Jesus is there to help him up.
Peter’s example then becomes my daily prayer.
“Lord, if it is you…” to discern if the invitation I am sensing is holy and genuine,
“command me to come to you…” to discern where I am to go,
“and help me to be brave enough to take the first steps…” to ask for courage and trust.
Like Peter, I may falter and fail, but I will trust that Jesus is always here to take my hand.
The risk in reaching for great things is that they might elude our grasp. But have we considered that the ‘reaching’ might in fact have been the great thing? ~ Craig D. Lounsbrough
Thank you always, dear friends. May you notice many blessings in this new year!
(Photo by Karen)
Definition found at https://www.dictionary.com
I imagine there could be a number of blog posts about what Jesus meant by his words, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NRSVUE). His words encompass the many ways life can be lived richly and fully – in his love and because of his love. Through his words and his life, Jesus gives us new perspectives that make life abundant, such as the promise of eternity, the hope of new life in every day, the freedom from fear, the security of love, the sacredness of creation, the assurance of his guiding presence, and the joy of living because of these gifts.
In this time of reflection before the new year begins, while I consider resolutions and goals, this idea of abundant life keeps coming to mind. How will I live my days more abundantly? What will make 2023 an abundant year? How might I fully embrace this life that Jesus offers?
There is a subtle treasure in this word, abundant, in that its meaning can be understood and applied according to our unique perspectives and intentions. For example, some of us may serve an abundant number of people, while others may serve a few people abundantly. One person may make an abundant difference in our world, while another may share an abundant number of small kindnesses. Our days may be filled with abundant activities or abundant conversations, abundant productivity or abundant reflection. God’s love shown in Christ can help us to live abundantly – and guide each of us to determine how our unique “abundance” will look.
Abundant life also comes through seeking and finding more of the sacred in our daily living. We find abundance as we notice God’s loving presence in our everyday moments, glean deeper meanings and insights through ordinary experiences, savor and appreciate all of creation, hold gratitude for these precious days, and remain mindful how we live them. Finding God always and in everything, the insignificant moments become significant. The smallest incidents become meaningful. The random inspirations become profound. The menial tasks become gifts of grace. The simple joys become priceless. The ordinary days become divine.
This new year is an opportunity to recognize God’s abundance and to live in the freedom of that abundance. This year is an opportunity to live so that others will not only witness, but also benefit from, this abundant life we have been so graciously and generously given.
Our abundant life is a life filled with the abundant goodness of God.
Happy New Year, dear readers!
Definition found at https://www.merriam-webster.com/
(Photo by Karen)