Canopy bed

I always wanted a canopy bed, a canopy bed with a frilly dust ruffle and tons of fabric draping over me as I dreamed perfect, happy dreams. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s I believed I would have everything if only I had that canopy bed. Well, a canopy bed and Tretorns. Not necessarily Tretorns but at least some kind of name brand footwear—Keds, Sebagos, Nike Pegasus, something like that. Instead, we had what my friend Jenne called “buddies,” knock-off K-Mart sneakers with an empty white rectangle on the back of the shoe that my sisters and I would fill in with a blue marker, which unfortunately was nearly always a dry erase marker so it would be worn away by the end of the day.

 

When we would sing that song in church about the lilies of the field and how “they toil not…and neither do they spin,” I had an idea that the lesson I was supposed to be learning was about how that stuff doesn’t really matter. “And yet I say that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these,” we would echo each other in a swelling finale to the hymn. It was moving and I knew better, but I still wanted a canopy bed.

 

If you go back to the Biblical text of that hymn, you’re transported to a mountainside where Jesus is teaching people a variety of relatable principles—don’t worry, don’t judge others, help the needy, lay up your treasures in heaven. His Sermon on the Mount is compared to Moses delivering the law to the Israelites so many generations before. In the middle of Jesus’ sermon, he offers this object lesson. Birds are flying above his head, and He says “God takes care of them. Don’t you think He’ll care for you?” Then He says, “Look at these flowers. They don’t have to do anything to be beautiful—even more beautiful than the clothes worn by a fancy dresser like King Solomon—and God did that. And He did it for these flowers which will be gone in no time.”

 

The next part of Jesus’ sermon is pretty convicting, especially if you’ve been enviously eyeing someone else’s car or home or other possession. Jesus says if you’re eaten up with worry over what to eat, what to drink and what to wear, then you’re no different than those who don’t know the Secret of the Gospel. He says to calm down, because God knows you need those things, but worrying over them isn’t the answer. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)

 

I don’t think He’s saying that we shouldn’t work hard at our jobs or never go grocery shopping. Jesus actually got frustrated with the people who were following him around later on because they seemed to only want Him to feed them again, like the time He divided a little boy’s lunch into enough food to feed thousands. Instead of getting caught up in the details, He advises us to begin by seeking His kingdom. As Eugene Peterson puts it, “What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving… Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

 

Now that I’m an adult and not an adolescent pining away for name brand shoes and a canopy bed, I’d like to think I’m beyond the reaches of such immature, materialistic transgressions, but I still have those moments where I’m tempted to futilely toil and spin my heart out. So today I’ll choose to be grateful for what I do have and focus on the God who makes it all possible.

Like a child

I work at a preschool a couple of days a week. I know that these kids ranging from one to five-years old will eventually grow up to be adults with jobs and receding hairlines and mortgages and wrinkles and car payments, but right now they’re just as quirky as can be, and I adore them.

 

It’s crazy to me that every grown-up—every accountant, cashier, librarian, car mechanic, U.S. senator…everyone—started off as a weird, funny kid. They all had a favorite thing that held no real value but meant the world to them. Maybe it was a lovingly shredded baby blanket or a ratty stuffed animal or book they demanded to have read to them so frequently that it had to be taped and re-taped back together again. As a toddler, each of them probably had a day where they just wanted to carry around this one matchbox car or tube of chapstick or empty tissue box, and if someone tried to peel it from their chubby little fingers, they would howl and carry on like it was the end of days. They all refused to eat some type of food which they would eventually tolerate if not grow to like. (It’s curious how often those same kids who turn up their noses at broccoli try to eat the dryer lint they just fished out of the trashcan.)

 

For about an hour of the time I’m working at preschool, I sit in a big playroom and watch classes of kids cycle through. It’s meant to be a break for their teachers and an opportunity for the kids to practice sharing and cleaning up and, most importantly, learn through playtime. They are absolutely fascinating to observe. I love to see how they work together or play alone. As long as they’re being kind and thoughtful, there’s no wrong way to build with blocks or play in the kitchen center or line up the Fisher-Price animals.

 

When our youngest son Ezra was around 7 or 8, anytime we were on a family trip and we had to stay in a hotel, Ezra would get so excited when he saw the room had a desk. He would instantly want to play “Office.” We would unplug the desk phone (so no random calls would be placed) and line up to talk to the “Office Man.” Ezra would ask us, “What’s your problem?” and we would make up some dilemma. It was amazing. This same kid who struggled to tie his own shoes (assuming he could find them first) was solving problems like it was his full-time job (which, according to him—Office Man—it was). Lost dog? Office Man would call up somebody who could find that dog in no time. Feeling under the weather? Office Man would find medicine (which looked a lot like torn-up pieces of hotel stationery) that would cure you in an instant.

 

Unfortunately, this hotel-office-vacation game, along with so many of the things we enjoyed when we’re younger, fails to captivate us in the same way when we get older. We become too mature, too sophisticated, and too busy for such childishness. Maybe that’s one of the best things about being around young children. Even though I’m absolutely in the adult phase of my life, I can still pretend and play. I can lose myself in a silly game. For a few precious moments, I can recapture the feeling of being a child, care-free and quirky and limited only by the boundlessness of my imagination.

Say “You-hoo!”

When our girls were little, one of their favorite games to play was hide-and-seek. They would tell me or my husband Brent to hide our eyes and count to 30, then they would scurry off to hide, giggling and tripping over each other. Nearly every time, the girls would hide in the same spot over and over again—behind the sofa, in their bedroom closet, under a blanket on the floor of the bonus room.

 

Though we knew just where they were hidden, Brent or I would play along. We’d say in a loud, exaggerated voice, “Where could Ella be?” or “I can’t find Lucy anywhere!” After a few minutes, we’d find them. “A-ha! There you are!” we’d shout, triumphantly.

 

When we would switch places, with mom and dad doing the hiding and the girls doing the seeking, they would count to 30, then start their search. I can remember many times when we’d be hiding in our spots, waiting to be found. Then we’d hear a little voice squeak out a plaintive cry, “Mommy…Daddy…” Even though we had only been concealed from sight for less than five minutes, they would begin to get nervous. We’d know they were really about to go berserk and notify the authorities when they’d call out, “Mommy, say yoo-hoo!” They’d want us to reveal our complex hiding locations—under the kitchen table or behind a door—with the comforting call of two, simple syllables. They needed to hear our voices and follow the sound to discover where we were. So we would call out yoo-hoo. Then they would scurry to us, relief and victory displayed on their sweet, little faces.

 

As we enter a new year, I see so many of us searching for something which seems completely hidden. Often our search is futile and aimless, so we desperately want to hear a voice directing us where to look. It’s like the prayer of the afflicted person in Psalm 102: “Lord, hear my prayer! Listen to my plea! Don’t turn away from me in my time of distress. Bend down to listen, and answer me quickly when I call to you.”

 

As we begin 2022, let’s all tune our ears for the yoo-hoos of Scripture and the Author of words like: “Seek and you will find…” and “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” There are also you-hoos which tell us we’re neither alone not forgotten, whether we’re deliberately hiding in a seemingly inaccessible spot of our own choosing or one where we find ourselves by surprise. Either way, we are being pursued by a loving Father who is revealing His location multiple times every day, if only we are willing to listen and seek Him out.

We are the champions

Last weekend, our youngest son’s soccer team played in a tournament in Gatlinburg. Back in August, when they first listed it among the other scheduled games, I thought, “Outdoor soccer in the Smokies in December?! Brrrrr!” But in true Tennessee fashion, it was weirdly warmish, with the main precipitation coming in the form of pea-soup thick fog on Sunday morning.

 

I’m an introvert by nature, preferring to avoid the spotlight in favor of watching others somewhere along the fringe. And whether you’re there for a sporting event or not, Gatlinburg is a prime people-watching location. Actually, it’s stimulus overload. But with all that we saw over the two days we were there (this includes the hordes of visitors traversing the main strip of shops and restaurants and a big black bear which wandered right up to the window of the cabin), it was the faces of the players and their parents which I was most interested in.

 

As I’ve been writing fiction for several years, I’ve become fascinated by learning what makes people tick and using this unscientific data to influence the arc of my storyline and the backstory of my characters. Anytime a person stands in front of you, presenting himself in some particular way, there are actually thousands of experiences at work in his words and actions and choices. The smile which doesn’t quite meet his eyes or that tiny twitch in the corner of his mouth or his fingers tap-tapping on his leg. People are just so complicated.

 

At a big tournament like this one, you see what Jim McKay, the late ABC sports announcer, would call “…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…” The thing I realized about myself as I watched a nearby game conclude on an adjacent field to the one where my son was warming up with his team, was that I was actually more interested in the faces of the losing team than those of the winning team. The winners jumped and cheered and hugged each other as they celebrated a hard fought victory. Not much variation there. But the losers…that’s where you see the range and depth of emotions. Some boys dropped to the ground and pounded the dirt with their fists, some offered a hand to help those teammates up on their feet, some cried unrestrained tears, and some stood motionless in despair. Then there was one 11 or 12 year-old kid who approached a player from the opposing team to congratulate him. He extended his hand in a friendly handshake, then he went along and continued shaking the hands of the rest of the team. His teammates noticed and joined in. No doubt this is his coach’s customary instruction after a game, but he did it with maturity and grace.

 

It stinks to lose. Even someone like me who never played sports and usually shies away from competition can own up to the fact that it’s no fun being on the losing side. But when we teach our kids about integrity and good sportsmanship and perspective, and they can be consistently honorable in the face of winning and losing, they are true champions no matter the final score.

Line of dominoes

A few weeks ago, I heard an unmistakable chirping sound as I walked through the basement to the laundry room. We had recently changed the batteries in the various smoke alarms, but we had overlooked the carbon monoxide detector mounted high on the wall. As I climbed a chair to take it down, from my high vantagepoint I noticed that the thermostat situated just below and to the right of the carbon monoxide detector was blank. Nothing was on or running. The HVAC unit for the basement doesn’t see a lot of action since the cave-lake rooms down there mostly remain at a consistently pleasant temperature, so who knows how long it had been out. I called an air conditioning repairman, and he alerted me to the fact that the drain pan which the unit sits in was full of water, resulting in the unit cutting out. Otherwise, it was operating perfectly fine. He also showed me where a slow but steady drip was winding its way from somewhere upstairs, hopping from one wire or cable or pipe to another, then eventually landing in that drain pan. Later that evening, my husband and I took turns being the upstairs-listener or the downstairs-tapper (the basement person poking a broom handle on the spot where we thought the leak originated), until we located the leaky culprit—the water line to the refrigerator. Next to enter, a plumber who had to cut a bit of the drywall behind the refrigerator to get to the spot in need of repair. With his task accomplished, our last domino fell in this particular home repair saga.

 

The whole sequence of events—innocent chirping to blank screen to full drain pan to refrigerator leak—presented a few what-ifs. What if I were taller and didn’t require a chair to get the detector down, making me less likely to notice the thermostat? What if the drips hadn’t chosen that particular path (into the drain pan), but instead dripped behind a wall where it would go unseen, eventually causing real damage?

 

The experience was a reminder to me that things are happening behind the scenes everyday which I am absolutely oblivious to but still affected by. For instance, how many times have I been on my way out of the house and then I’m forced to run back inside for some forgotten item making me a fraction later, but also making me miss being involved in an accident? There’s just no way to know.

 

You can approach this reality two different ways: You can see life as a wild ride, unchecked and uncontrolled by anyone. Everything is just coincidence and good or bad luck. Or you can breathe a sigh of relief and know that my life and the lives of every single soul I encounter are tethered to a plan. There is Someone in control, and (Thank goodness!) it isn’t me. For many people, their favorite scripture is Romans 8:28, and for good reason. During those times when things seem to be spinning out of control, it’s encouraging to read: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

A little help

As I was sitting on the sidelines of one of my sons’ soccer games recently, I heard a familiar question, “A little help?” It was part request, part heads-up. A ball had rolled from one of the nearby fields and was heading toward ours. The kicker wanted us to stop it from rolling onto the area where a game was being played, but also he wanted someone to toss it back to him.

 

A dad scooped up the ball and sent it back to the boy, and play continued on our field. Though the exchange was commonplace and unremarkable, I kept thinking about the phrase: a little help? It wasn’t formulated as an actual question, but it was a request for assistance.

 

I suppose the phrase stuck with me because I’ve been pondering how much help I’ve needed help lately myself. I started using a hearing aid a few weeks ago to help with the hearing loss in my left ear. I had told myself for a while that I could live with the constant buzzing and the muffled sounds on that side of my head. I’d just work around it and pivot my good ear toward what I wanted to hear, I told myself. It was just an annoyance. Eventually, with the encouragement of my husband, I saw a few medical professionals and now I can hear pretty well again.

 

It’s funny how many of us refuse to ask for help. It’s silly, really. I’ve been blessed many times to be on the giving side of the arrangement, so I know there are plenty of people ready and willing to step in and help, so why am I so reluctant to be on the receiving end?

 

Maybe it’s because we’re taught to be independent D.I.Y.-ers who just need to figure it out. Maybe it’s a control thing, and we don’t want to give the task to someone who’s going to botch and blunder his way through it when we could get it done so much better. Or maybe we’re afraid of what others will think. “Will they say I’m a bad ____ (mom, wife, daughter, employee, neighbor, Christian, etc.)?”

 

There are plenty of excuses not to ask for help, but there’s also countless reasons why our reluctance is complete foolishness. That’s why we have to ask ourselves the tough questions: Are my claims of independence and high standards actually plain arrogance? Is my worrying over what others will think superficial and, let’s face it, such a waste of time? Am I harming the people I’m in charge of caring for when I don’t seek assistance for myself?

 

Another important question I’ve had to ask myself is this: Does my refusal to ask for help from the people in my life translate to how I petition my Heavenly Father through prayer? In other words, if I don’t use the help memuscle with the loving humans around me, can I be expected to use it with my loving God? In Timothy Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he says that “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.” I sure could use more of God’s presence, and prayer is the door to enter into it.

 

So, in case no one has told you this today, it’s okay to ask for help. Actually, it’s not just okay, it’s a holy command. We read over and over in Scripture, that we should cry out. And Isaiah 30 gives us an example of God’s willingness to help: “So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help…He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries.” Take that first step to get the help you need.

Stockpiling God’s blessings

Our two sons are both on travel soccer teams. This means that they seem to be playing ball all the time. In the winter, we’ve watched them play in high school gymnasiums and indoor soccer facilities, but most of the action is outside. We’ve stood under umbrellas watching them play in the rain. We’ve stamped our feet to keep warm at spring tournaments where there was still snow on the ground. And there have been plenty of games where we have sat, sweaty and sunburnt, in the blazing heat. This was our experience the last weekend of August.

 

Last Saturday, our older son played in Murfreesboro on those beautiful new turf fields. As nice as they are, that hunter green rubber grass also seems to draw in the heat, creating an atmosphere similar to the surface of the sun. Now I’ve been watching him play soccer for more than a decade, so I was mostly prepared for the magnitude of the heat. I started the morning drinking from my water jug, hours before I ever sat in my camping chair in the noonday sun. I had chugged 32 ounces by 10:00 a.m. and brought along more to drink during the game. I knew from experience that once you begin sweating, it’s almost too late to start drinking water. You have to start before you even feel thirsty.

 

This idea of storing up what you need before you get to a moment of crisis isn’t particularly profound. You can see it exhibited in the grocery stores at the first sign of a snowflake. The bread aisles left bare, with only a few loaves of raisin bread remaining. But there’s more to stockpiling necessary goodness besides just water and other staples. We can also store up sweet memories and miraculously puzzling developments. The light of these reminiscences brightening future darkness.

 

You have to wonder if Mary, Jesus’ mother, did just that as she held her newborn in her arms. She couldn’t have known the scope of Jesus’ ministry or the horrific death he would suffer, but the Book of Luke paints a beautiful picture of a mother treasuring the sweet moments in her heart.

 

Mary had given birth. Then a pack of shepherds came bursting inside the stable where Jesus was born. They must’ve blurted out crazy stories about an angelic choir announcing the Savior’s birth. They were joyfully spreading the news all over Bethlehem, and people were listening. Then, in one brief verse, we read that “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.” (The Message) She tucks away the image of the shepherds and the story that they told about the hillside concert, almost as if she knew she might need this precious memory for later. Perhaps she knew she’d need to take out the sweetness of that night and hold it, turning it over in her mind to escape a challenging time.

 

How are you preparing your heart for future difficulties? What’s the spiritual equivalent of building a Y2K shelter? Make a list of the good things God has done for you, counting your blessings and thanking the One who provided them. Commit Scriptures to memory, giving yourself an arsenal of God’s Word to have at the ready. Store up treasures, just like Mary. Ponder them and then share them with a thirsty world desperately in need of relief.

The Invention of the Microwave

When I was 6-years old, my dad bought our family’s first microwave oven. It was a giant behemoth with its own designated piece of furniture, a cart made of lightly stained oak which sat on little caster wheels and had a cabinet underneath to store all the sundry accouterments a microwave might require. This included cookbooks full of recipes designed especially for the microwave, such as the Betty Crocker one which contained such favorites as “Parmesan Sole with Mushrooms” and “Chicken Fricassee with Parsley Dumplings” and “Egg Foo Yong Casserole.”

 

If memory serves, my grandmother wasn’t overly pleased with it, at first. Those of us who do a lot of cooking aren’t always quick to embrace newfangled gizmos when it comes to making our tried and true, ordinary weeknight to special holiday recipes, but my mom was sold. She used the microwave for everything—from cooking eggs to making meatloaf, boiling water for iced tea to browning meat for spaghetti sauce. In the years that followed, it became a regular occurrence for Mom to leave a side dish in the microwave. We’d finish up our meal, and then she’d remember it—the  covered Corningware dish full of corn or the broccoli slathered in now-congealed blobs of Velveeta still sitting in the microwave. Disappointed, she would place the uneaten dish in the refrigerator to be eaten at the next meal, easily warmed up in the…yeah, you guessed it…the microwave!

 

Microwaves are fairly commonplace now, but when they first hit the scene in American homes, the major selling point was their ability to simplify our busy lives. This rationale was revealed by the ad slogans for some of the brands: “Life becomes more convenient when you have one of the Easy Waves from Toshiba” and “Whirlpool…making your world a little easier.” The commercials would show frazzled housewives who can barely keep it together. They had to deal with various disasters and distractions, simultaneously: the son knocking over a lamp with his baseball in the living room and the daughter screeching away on her violin and the dog running through the kitchen with muddy paws and the phone ringing incessantly. Enter the microwave…ta-da! In spite of her crazy household, she now has a perfectly roasted chicken, in no time!

 

With school starting back for my four kids and all that goes with it, I feel a little like that woman before she gets her time-saving microwave. I’m always in a rush, always behind, always wondering what I’m forgetting. But I’m finding that the easy way isn’t always the best way (just like microwaved Egg Foo Yong Casserole might be fast, but not so tasty!) There’s something to be said for taking it slow when we can.

 

I love this passage from Isaiah: “The path of right-living people is level. The Leveler evens the road for the right-living. We’re in no hurry, God. We’re content to linger in the path sign-posted with your decisions. Who you are and what you’ve done are all we’ll ever want. Through the night my soul longs for you. Deep from within me my spirit reaches out to you…In the land of right living, the wicked persist in wrong living, blind to the splendor of God.” (The Message)

 

I’m pretty sure there are way too many times when I am “blind to the splendor of God.” I think I need a microwaved day, quickly done and over with (and not cooked all the way through in the center), but then I’d miss the contented lingering our Father offers. Microwave ovens have their good points, but don’t zip through life too quickly and miss out on one of God’s guiding sign-posts.

Worst Enemy

I had a friend in elementary school named Jill who was allergic to chocolate. I knew she tried to avoid it, but I didn’t know exactly why or what would happen if she ate it. That is until we were in the same homeroom in the 3rd grade…

 

Without any warning or explanation, Jill jumped up from her desk and ran out of the room. She just bolted like a flash of light. My teacher instructed me to go after Jill and see what was wrong. Now, had this been any other teacher, I would’ve asked where I should look for my friend. I would’ve requested more guidance as to how I should best care for Jill, but this was Mrs. Yells-A-Lot. She was mad all the time and not so very fun. I was a ball of anxiety for all of 3rd grade, because this teacher was as predictable as a tornado. You could see her coming across the horizon, but you didn’t know which way the funnel would swerve, toward you and your paper without a name at the top of the page or toward your neighbor who had forgotten to clean up his crayons. (Crayon Kid was probably Kevin, a boy who was a bit disheveled and indifferent to learning and always in her path of angry destruction. To make matters worse, when the teacher would holler, “Kevin!” it would inexplicably sound like she was saying my name and I would answer. Then she would yell, “Is your name Kevin?!” I was so anxious I would say, “I don’t know!” and start gnawing on my Smurf erasers. Yeah, I was a stressed out 8-year old.)

 

Back to Jill…I also ran out of the classroom to search for my friend. Using the detective skills I had learned from The Bloodhound Gang, I determined which way to look for her: to the right which would lead toward an outside door and eventually the nurse’s office or to the left toward the bathrooms? I found the clue I needed when I saw a trail of blood on the linoleum floor to the left. I followed the little red drops to the girls’ restroom. (The restroom which, according to school lore, was home to the Bell Witch, a ghost who could be summoned if you said, “I hate the Bell Witch” three times while staring at the mirror. Then she would savagely claw your face with her razor-sharp fingernails. Childhood is such a magical time.) When I threw open the restroom door, I saw Jill standing at the sink, her blue and white romper with the smocked pictures of hot air balloons across her chest now covered in blood. She turned to look at me, blood dripping from her chin, and I scanned the room for any sign that the Bell Witch still remained, but Jill just squeaked out, “I ate chocolate! I know I shouldn’t do it, but I did it!” And then she broke down and sobbed.

 

Just like Jill eating chocolate even though she knew it would cause her to have a severe nosebleed, most of us do the opposite of what we know we should do. In this way, we’re all too often our own worst enemy. The Apostle Paul knew this. In the Book of Romans, Paul says, “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I can’t. I do what I don’t want to—what I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience proves that I agree with these laws I am breaking…I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to, but I can’t. When I want to do good, I don’t; and when I try not to do wrong, I do it anyway.” (Living Bible)

 

But thankfully that’s not the end of it. “So there is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit—and this power is mine through Christ Jesus—has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.

 

Praise the Lord that we aren’t stuck slouching over that nasty sink in a haunted bathroom with the temptations and anxieties of the world keeping us on a never-ending loop of our own foolishness. There’s a better way and a heavenly prize waiting for us. “For all creation is waiting patiently and hopefully for that future day when God will resurrect his children. For on that day thorns and thistles, sin, death, and decay—the things that overcame the world against its will at God’s command—will all disappear, and the world around us will share in the glorious freedom from sin which God’s children enjoy.”

Deadheading

I enjoy being outside in the summer, especially in the morning before the sun sends down the full force of its intensity. One of my favorite tasks is watering the potted plants on our front porch.

 

I like a variety of colors and textures in these pots—stalks of purple salvia, fuchsia trumpets of million bells, and petit bouquets of pink and yellow lantana. But one of the easiest flowers to care for and find at the store is petunias. They’re so simple and cheerful. And they come with an added bonus for people who like fussing with things, like peeling off labels and picking at stickers. I get to deadhead the petunia blooms nearly every day.

 

It’s amazing what a difference it makes to pinch away these shriveled, brown blooms! In the space of just a few days, my petunias can go from looking like they’re ready for the compost pile to full and lush and beautiful. Even the most unassuming plants are more complex than they may seem. Little Petunia is constantly trying to keep itself alive by passing water and nutrients throughout its maze of roots and stems. When I take away those dead blooms, Petunia can concentrate on its healthier parts. It can conserve energy. It can send out new blooms.

I see a similar reward when I deadhead bitterness from my life. I can wake up early, before the heat of another busy day has worn me out, and choose to do what Ephesians 4 instructs: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” This may look like cutting back on social media or being open to the Spirit’s nudges to serve in a particular way or limiting my exposure to people who radiate bitterness like the sun on a hot afternoon in July.

 

Then I can put my energy into doing some more of what I read in Ephesians: “…put off your old self…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” I can receive the reward of fresh, new blooms. Oh boy! I can feel the contented sigh rising up through me already! Why does it too often take so long to cast off that yucky burden and exchange it for something so much better?

 

When I’m done deadheading my petunias, I look down at the handful of sticky, brown flowers. I wad them up into a smooshed ball and throw them out into the yard. They’re gone, on their way to transforming into the dirt where my grass is growing. There’s no reason to hold on to them, not with better than bitter alternatives waiting for me. See ya later, old self!