Posted in garden, Moments of grace

Amaryllis Blooming: A Reminder to Slow Down and Enjoy Life’s Simple Pleasures

They are sneaky. You forget all about them for most of the year. Then suddenly, one day, BAM! There they are. The amaryllis.

I didn’t even notice as the plants began poking their heads through the pine needles and bark much. Even when they were a foot tall, they blended in with stalks of hibiscus and other plants that had died when the temperature dipped below freezing for a few days. The perfect disguise.

One afternoon, walking through the backyard, a tiny glimpse of red caught my eye. I couldn’t ignore them any longer. They had blown their cover. They weren’t coming; they were here.

The next day it looked like someone had run through the garden with leaking buckets of bright red paint. Flames shot out in every direction from the stems. The colors shouted from the brownish-gray backdrop, “It’s spring!”

The brilliant hues make me laugh out loud. I can’t contain the joy inspired by sudden spring color. I have to stop and look and look and look again. They are beautiful.

The red ones are the first wave. The big pink ones won’t be far behind. And then – the lilies!

Posted in Moments of grace

The joy of a sandbox

In the sandbox with my grandson

I never had a sandbox as a kid. Don’t feel too sorry for me. I had dirt. I got to dig tunnels, create mountains, and build roads for Matchbox cars in my backyard. I tracked plenty of dirt back into the house when I was done.

I never had a sandbox, and maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed playing in a sandbox with my children and now with my grandchildren.

The sandbox is magic. In it, you are a god. This is your realm. You create and destroy. You become one with the medium, shoveling, dumping, molding, and smoothing with your hands. It yields as you sweep it aside. It sifts through your fingers. It blows away with your breath.

Mountains are first. The pile rises higher and higher with each shovel full of sand. Some of it runs down the sides, defying your efforts to make something taller. But you have an ally. Water. Just the right amount of water stirred with sand becomes the substance of a “dribble” mountain. As you let the mixture slowly run out the bottom of your fist, spires ascend where there were none before.

Suddenly, this is no longer just a mountain. It is a castle. The dribble forms walls and windows, towers, turrets, and battlements. Inspired by this sight, I fill buckets with moist sand. Turning them upside down, I carefully lift them to create cylinders upon which to dribble more sand.

Roads are next. Roads that pass over the hills. Roads that slice through the mountains. Roads that circle the castle. Roads that are smooth, packed down, and ready for small cars and trucks.

Sometimes the mountain will not have a castle. Instead, a crater will be hollowed out of the top. It will be a volcano. Dormant for now, it may just erupt at any time. Cars or figures that wander too close to the edge may find themselves at the bottom, or worse, buried! Anything buried becomes treasure to dig for or a rescue to engineer, so it’s all good.

Whether topped by a crater or a castle, the side of my mountain is perfect for a cave. A shovel handle is the perfect tool to excavate a passage into the side of the hill. How deeply can I burrow into the sand before it begins to collapse? Can my tunnel reach one started from the other side? There’s only one way to find out.

Most of my efforts are leveled by small feet and loud giggles. Children find it nearly impossible to resist stomping on a mountain, a castle, a road, or a volcano. Our young are by nature bent on destruction. They delight in the power they have in the world of a sandbox.

Just like me.

Posted in Moments of grace

A box of rocks

So this post is both a product review and a story of unexpected grace.

On our way to fast food for lunch and the community center playground to burn off some energy, my wife and I took our grandson to Hobby Lobby for craft supplies. We had spent the morning creating art with uncooked rice and penne pasta glued to cardstock. We wandered down a craft kit aisle hoping to level up for the afternoon.

He decided on Sea Life Rock Art distributed by the Horizon Group USA out of Warren, NJ. The painted rock on the box with a dolphin caught his eye and that’s what he wanted to make. The box promises everything you need, including two pounds of premium stones, paint (even some that glows in the dark!), a paint brush, and easy-to-follow instructions. We couldn’t wait to get started.

We did get a nice bag of rocks, but they looked pretty average to me. No matter, we were going to paint them anyway.

When I pulled out the paint pots, I realized we weren’t going to be able to paint a dolphin. We didn’t have any black to mix with the white to make gray or paint an outline. But we could paint the rock in a background color first. I scooped out some blue onto a mixing tray and tried to add some red to make purple, but it had already dried up in its little pot. No problem, we’ll just paint the rock blue. It took a while using the world’s smallest brush, but we got it done. But we used all the blue we had to barely cover one medium-sized premium rock.

While the first rock dried, we tried to paint another rock glow-in-the-dark green. 4.4 ml is not a lot of paint. And it didn’t really cover the rock. We did what we could and set it aside to dry.

Okay, maybe it’s me. Maybe I should read the instructions. I looked in the box and found a small piece of paper. No pictures, no patterns, no diagrams. Just these instructions:

  • Work on a flat surface.
  • Paint the rocks with the brush.
  • Let the paint dry overnight.
  • Show your creation to your friends and family.

By this time, I realized we weren’t really going to make any sea life rock art today.

But here’s the moment of unexpected grace. My grandson was enamored by the rocks. He picked out his favorites and set them aside. He sorted them by size, by color, and by shape. He gathered up his favs and took them outside to play with in the yard. Then he brought them inside to play with alongside Pokemon characters. Just a few premium rocks kept him busy all afternoon. Now that’s a win!

I’m going to get some actual acrylic craft paint and some sealer and we will make sea life rock art next week, including a dolphin, sea turtle, and starfish.

Every hear someone say, “Dumber than a box of rocks?” Don’t believe it. A box of rocks turned out to be pretty clever way to spend the afternoon.

By the way, the box had this tiny invitation. I’m going to contact them and give them some feedback. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted in Moments of grace

Open the door (it might be someone with fudge!)

Bang, bang, bang, bang, BANG!

I thought I was pretty clever, disconnecting the doorbell to avoid the pleas of door-to-door salespeople. No longer did midday rings wake me, the dog, or my grandkids from our much-needed afternoon naps. However, this post-pandemic breed of street vendors is passionate. No audible ring? No problem. Five or six knocks on the door, each one louder than the last, should get my attention.

Wrong. My two cars are in the driveway. The garage door is open. The dog is snarling. I can see your form through the frosted front door window. But I’m not even looking up from my book. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not interested. Better luck at the next house.

But today, something feels different. Maybe it’s not a stranger. Maybe it’s my neighbor. Let me sneak a peek out the kitchen window. Yep, it’s my friend from across the street. When I open the door, he’s holding a plate of homemade fudge!

Sometimes a check arrives in the mail. Other times, the sun breaks through the clouds after a thunderstorm. And once in a while, someone shows up at your door with fudge. Suddenly, it is a very, very good day!

I wanted to make sure I fully experienced the moment, so I immediately ate a couple of pieces. A milk-chocolate piece had some walnuts. The dark-chocolate variety had none. Both were delicious.

In the wake of this day-changing moment, I said to myself, “Perhaps I should open the door more often. Who knows? It might be someone with fudge!”

Sure enough, ten days later, I heard a knock at the door. It wasn’t a loud knock, nor did it sound urgent. But I had my radar on. In fact, I had casually mentioned to my neighbor just a few days before, “I’m all out of fudge.” Without hesitation, I answered the door and there he was, my friend with two small bags of fudge.

How many life hacks have I read over the years? Hundreds. How many micro-habits have I adopted to become the best version of myself? Plenty. How many insights have I stumbled upon that I could share with others? Very few. In fact, this might be the first one,.

So rather than callously ignoring the irritating knock at my door, I’m going to remember this moment. I know, it could be another security system salesperson hoping my dog isn’t as vicious as he sounds. It might be another pest control company warning of an impending locust plague in my neighborhood. It could be someone with new religious insights to share with me.

But it might be someone with fudge!

Posted in Moments of grace

What if no one shows up?

I usually get to church about 6:30 on Sunday mornings. I like to be there early to run through my sermon once, make sure everything is set up for the morning and enjoy some quiet before the church comes alive when everyone arrives.

The first wave of people to show up is usually some of our musicians, followed by other volunteers who help make Sunday mornings possible. But yesterday, 7:30 am arrived and no one had arrived. No one was tuning, warming up or setting up music. I was the only one here.

7:35. No one has arrived. This is really strange. Now the thoughts start racing through my head. Is someone sick? I check my phone. No calls or texts. Is my watch right? The time on my phone matches. It’s not the fall equinox, when if you fail to turn your clock back, you are an hour early. It is Sunday morning, right? My guitar is at home. Are we going to have to sing a cappella this morning?

7:40. The bass player arrives with news that dozens of police cars had closed off the interstate and one of the main thoroughfares through town. He had to take several miles of detours to make it to church.

7:41. Music director arrives with a similar tale of diversions and detours.

Soon after, others arrive, all of them taking different routes to church.

When our church was closed for COVID quarantine, I had indeed worshiped all by myself in front of my iPhone set up on a tripod. But that was over a year ago. A weird flashback to a time I hope we never have to repeat.

Later that afternoon, I learned that the highway and bridge going over it were closed as sheriff’s deputies rescued a suicidal woman attempting to jump. They saved her and made it a much better Father’s day for her family.

Posted in Moments of grace

How about a jump?

I had just parked the truck in a spot at Home Depot when a woman came up next to me and asked, “Excuse me, sir, would you be able to give us a jump?”

Well, she got a jump out of me! I was startled because I hadn’t seen her come up behind me. I’m usually more aware of those around me. She seemed to be a few years older than me, was dressed like she had been out working in the yard, and seemed friendly enough. Unfortunately, the folks who come up to you in parking lots are typically selling something or asking you for money. I really hate the fact that I’ve become wary of everyone around me.

I stuffed my fear and put on my “be strong and courageous” pants and said, “Okay.” She pointed to a van a few parking lanes away where her husband stood with the hood up.

“Do you have jumper cables?”


“OK, I’ll pull over in that spot right next to you.”

I had only had my truck for a few months and I don’t think I had even opened the hood yet to know which side the battery was on. I’ll figure that out when I get there. I pulled up as close as I could, popped the hood and felt around for the latch. I felt pretty foolish when I had to get the manual out of the glovebox to see where the latch was. Apologizing for my ignorance, I propped open the hood only to find that the battery was on the opposite side. Sigh. Maybe it will reach. It did! Just barely. Whew.

Their battery must have been really dead, because it took about five minutes of idling to get the engine to turn over. Everyone’s face lit up when the engine turned over and roared to life.

We chatted for a little bit. They had a home in the Hammock (part of our town on the barrier island), but were spending most of their time at their place in Colorado. Because of the COVID quarantine, they hadn’t been back for nearly a year, and they had a feeling the battery didn’t have too many starts left in it. But they had made the run to Home Depot anyway.

As they and I pulled away to go about our errands, I thanked God for the reminder that most people aren’t up to something. And even if they are, they’re worthy of a few amps of help. Oh, and thanks to all who have and will give me a jump start, too.

Posted in Moments of grace

For the first time in forever

Photo by Daniel Lee on Unsplash

Now that folks are vaccinated and venturing out again, I’ve got another wave of people I’m visiting that I haven’t seen in fifteen months. Every church has what I call “homebound” members. I used to call them “shut-ins” but I found out people don’t like that label. It makes them feel old. Anyway, as the pastor, I try to visit my homebound members about once a month and bring them communion since they can’t be with the congregation for Sunday worship. It seems like everyone has a recent story about seeing friends and family for the first time since COVID quarantining. Here’s one of mine.

So B. is going to turn one hundred years old this fall. Her daughter, whose name also starts with a B, so I’ll call her B-two, is her caregiver. The last time I saw them was February 2020. Fifteen, no wait, sixteen months ago. Wow, that is a long time. That’s just nuts. Because of B’s age, B-two was hyper-cautious about going out and bringing home germs of any kind. B-two went to the grocery store twice a month. When she got home, she took off her clothes, put them in the laundry, took a shower, and wiped down her purchases. She brought the mail in from the mailbox wearing latex gloves, and let it sit on the dining room table for a day or two before opening anything. Hyper-cautious is an appropriate word. They went nowhere and saw no one for over a year. They are not tech-savvy, so they did not watch any worship services online. They just. Stayed. Home.

A few weeks ago, their elder let me know that they were ready for a visit. They were vaccinated. I was vaccinated. The door was open. (Elders are folks in our congregation who help me keep in touch with all our families.) Nice. I called and set up a time to visit. Bonus: they would have lunch for me, too!

When I walked in the door, it seemed like no time had passed at all. I felt like I had just been there one month ago. At the same time, I could see (and they could probably see too) how much we had aged. So much and so little time had passed! A time-space anomaly (as often said on Star Trek).

We talked about my grandchildren that had been born, church members who had died and some who were still alive. B is the oldest member of our congregation. I asked her what kind of party she wanted this fall. She’ll probably have a weekend drop-by event for all those she hasn’t outlived. That’s the problem with living a long life. You outlive everyone who you wanted to celebrate with you!

I was there for about 2-1/2 hours today. Lunch was shrimp cooked in a wine sauce, with a green bean bacon side, a nice spinach salad, some peas and rice, and a frozen angel food/sherbet cake for dessert. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I made sure I did a thirty minute Peloton ride when I got home.

Fifteen months later, I got to see a few members of my church again. They got to see me. I think I got the greater blessing today.

Posted in Moments of grace

“What a waste of time.”

Joe L. was a friend of a friend I got to know a few years ago. I think he was a little younger than me, a United States marine, and had done quite a bit of work with the homeless before he had to retire with disability. Because of a variety of ailments, I occasionally visited him in hospitals, rehab facilities and at his home.

He knew I was a pastor, but we never talked too much about God. He was straightforward about what made him angry, what he wanted, what he needed and what he thought about others. I enjoyed that about him. I knew where I stood with Joe. No games. No pretense. No pretending.

One time I thanked him for that. He replied, “Why are you thanking me?”

I said, “Well, most of the time people tell me what they think I want to hear.”

Joe said, “What a waste of time.”

I have often thought about that conversation and that gem of wisdom. It is so true. There are precious few people with whom we can be completely honest and say what’s on our minds. We harbor far too many fears about what others will think of us, so we rarely express how we feel. And if Joe’s perspective is correct, we waste a lot of time telling people what they want to hear.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone this past year. Some people are still distancing from worship at church, so I just call and say, “Hi. I was just checking in to be sure you were well. What can we do for you?” After a while, the responses are predictable.

“Oh. Hi, Pastor. We were just talking about how we need to get back to church.”
“Don’t worry Pastor, we are mailing our offerings to the church.”
“I know we haven’t been to church lately, Pastor, but don’t worry, we still pray every day.”
“Pastor, we are still staying home, just to be safe. We don’t go anywhere, except for our doctors, the grocery store, the post office, physical therapy and the veterinarian.”

All I wanted to know was if you’re healthy and have everything you need.

Of course, we in ministry are guilty of the same thing. How often do I tell someone what I am really thinking about them? How often have I dulled the edges of my preaching so as not to offend as few people as possible? How often do I simply keep my mouth shut? It’s a skill you learn early in life and perfect as the years go on.

A lot depends on how you say something. There’s a time and place for honesty, but it’s also important to listen and understand before you speak. I believe you also need to examine your motives. Why are you telling someone something? To help them, or to hurt them? Is it for their benefit, or to make yourself feel good?

And of course, the more important skill is listening. Listening is never a waste of time. I always learn something. And I often hear what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear.

Posted in Moments of grace

Ice water, meal trays and a corpse

When I was sixteen, my mom got me interested in being a volunteer at Taylor Hospital in Ridley Park, PA, where she worked as an RN. It was a different medical world back then, nearly fifty years ago. The nurses all wore white dresses and white shoes, along with caps which identified where they studied nursing. My mom proudly balanced her Philadelphia General Hospital double-frilled cap on her head each and every shift she worked.

The nurses were the caregivers in the hospital. They made beds, bathed patients and changed their gowns, took vitals, dispensed medications, started IVs, changed dressings, and recorded everything by hand on paper charts. They hung glass bottles of IV solutions and took temperatures with glass oral thermometers. There were no aides or techs that I remember. The nurses handled everything.

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