Love’s Rose

The rose that lifts its lovely head
To smile at golden sunshine
And nod approval at the gay antics
Of a gentle summer breeze.

Has drawn life from a cold rain
That fell on a dreary stormy day
And has pushed its roots deeper in the dark earth
On a day when the wind blew harsh and bitter.

These years together, we’ve had our share of
Sunshine (warm) and breezes (gentle)
And there’ve been enough rains, cold winds
To drive our roots into the ground of faith.

So lift your head and smile
Not the smile of an orchid, wilting at a touch
Nor a daffodil bright and brief
But a rose blossoming over and over

Growing (then trimmed) and growing again
From spring to snow of winter, blossoming
With rich, fragrant flowers of caring
Petals of tenderness
Stem of strength
Perfume of joy.

Roses are my favorite, I suppose
And a rose lasts a long, long time.

Written for Jean Stephens on her birthday in about 1978

Passover Easter Egg Hunt

The whole Stephens–Smith–Blackett clan is gathered at the Smith residence for three days of Easter Celebration.  It’s been great so far!

Last night, Good Friday, we celebrated Passover with a Passover Seder designed by Jean and prepared and participated in by the whole family.  It was good and I think meaningful for us all to slow down and process through the ancient Passover meal with its rituals and rhythms.  The roast lamb shank, the charoses, the moror, the roast egg, the matzo, the chicken soup, and turkey!  The Israelites probably didn’t have turkey sandwiches on the way out of Egypt, but we took a bit of liberty with the tradition.

The explanations, the recitations, and the prayers were significant to the youngsters, even if they didn’t understand all the detail of it.  I’m not sure I understand all the detail myself!  We finished with communion and cake!

So this morning we took the grandkids on an Easter Egg Hunt.  Bethlehem Lutheran church, a sort of traditional mainline church in a very non-traditional Tacoma neighborhood hosted an “everyone’s invited” Easter Egg Hunt on the spacious church grounds.  The candy-filled plastic eggs were hidden in plain sight for the younger kids and on the fence, in the trees, and beside the “No loitering or trespassing” signs on the edge of the parking lot.

It was pretty clear that we were among the few “outsiders” and that most of the attendees were Bethlehem Lutheran regulars and their grandkids with a few neighborhood unchurched folks thrown in the mix.

The Easter Eggs, including a few Golden Eggs with prizes, were snatched up in no time and then we all gathered in the church basement for a post-hunt debriefing and to empty the plastic eggs so they can be used again next year.  Good stewardship!

One of the hunt organizers was making her way around from table to table welcoming the guests and reminding us all about the Easter Service tomorrow morning.  She said, “If you’re looking for a church, we’re looking for people!”  Makes sense to me!

Another lady approached Jean and asked if she’d had one of the cupcakes.  Jean said, “No thanks, I’ve had a cookie and some coffee.”  The lady said, “I baked them myself!” which in Bethlehem Lutheran is translated, “Eat a cupcake if you know what’s good for you!”  We shared a cupcake.  Bit dry, actually.

I think it was a good effort on the part of a group of mostly elderly, mostly introverted church people to reach out to the changing population of their changing neighborhood.  God bless them.  God bless Bethlehem Lutheran Church!

Remember Me

On the night before his death, Jesus took a cup of wine and a loaf of bread and shared it with his closest friends. He said, “After I’m gone, do this often to remember me.”

I think people want to be remembered after they’re gone.

Some people have done big things that affected lots of people and they are remembered by history, by a nation, or even by the world. Columbus discovered North America, Lincoln freed the slaves, Salk discovered a vaccine for polio, Mother Theresa defined compassion, Stalin murdered more people than Hitler.

Some people have done smaller but significant things that mean they will be remembered by a family, by friends, or by a special interest group of people. “He really established our family name.” “She was always first to respond when any of her friends needed help.” “He was a great fisherman, wasn’t he?”

Some people live their lives in near obscurity, interacting with only a few others, and perhaps never doing anything that real seems to make a mark. They never actually do the thing that causes people to say, “Oh yes, I remember him. He’s the one who…” or “You know what I remember most about her? She always…”

So how do we remember an ordinary person? We look at photos. We tell each other stories of our experiences and interactions with the person. If the latter years have been hard, we look back to happier times and choose memories from among the best we have.

If the best memories aren’t perfect, we sometimes mentally edit the memories and intentionally adjust the stories so that they make the memories good and pleasant and worth remembering. We’re free to do that.

Everyone wants to be remembered well.

If Only

Then Joshua cried out, “Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! (Joshua 7:7 NLT)

Israel had crossed the Jordan River by God’s power, conquered Jericho by God’s power, and now, in the battle for the little town of Ai, thirty-six Israeli soldiers died in a shocking defeat! We know it was because of Achan’s sin at the conquest of Jericho and we know there are some great life-lessons to be learned from this story. However, Joshua didn’t know all this yet and his immediate reaction was, “If only we had been content to stay in the wilderness!”

When things go badly, I tend to default to the “If only!” mode. I micro-examine everything and get tangled up in thinking, “If only I had..!” or “If only she hadn’t..!” The other thing I’ve especially got to watch out for is “What if!” Looking forward anxiously thinking, “What if that doesn’t work!” or “What if it all goes wrong?”

“If only’s” and “What if’s” will paralyze me. Looking back with hopeless regret and looking forward with fearful anxiety get me stuck. “If only’s” and “What if’s” render me ineffective as a leader or as a follower and keep me from taking steps of obedient faith.

Overcoming “If only’s” may require repentance and recalibration or forgiving and forgetting. Overcoming “What if’s” requires careful attention to what God has told me to do and what he has promised to do.

God is helping me to learn to live in the moment – to think, feel, pray, and act in the present moment where there are no regretful “If only’s” from the past, no anxious “What if’s” from the future. In the present moment I am free to ask “What now, Father?” Then I’m free to respond to his direction as Mary and then Jesus did, with a simple, faithful “Yes Father! May it be to me according to your will and your word!”


Father, Please forgive me for the sins that cause me to look back with regret and think “If only!” Free me from the anxiety that causes me to look forward and think “What if?” Please fill me with your good Spirit and remind me of your good promises so I can push past the “What if’s” and walk in hopeful, joyful, obedient faith. Amen!

An Opportunity Missed

Recently Jean and I attended the memorial service for Oren Aldritch, our neighbor across the cul-de-sac.  He had been ill at home for quite a while and receiving hospice care for several months.  He was 85.

Oren was old when we moved into the neighborhood nine years ago, but still able to drive and to take his dog for a walk each day, down to the post boxes on the next street.  As he weakened, I would go over and shovel his driveway the morning after it snowed and once, near Christmas time, Oren and Helen invited us over for coffee and cake along with some of the other older neighbors.  We enjoyed meeting them, but never followed up.

I watched the progression of Oren’s aging and weakening.  I watched as his old dog Cody had to be put down, then as they got Tuffy, their miniature poodle, whose owner had died.  Gradually, Oren went from being able to drive and walk the dog, to taking short walks down to the corner with a walker, to riding down to the mail box in a little electric scooter, to being house-bound, then hospitalized, then back home under hospice care.  Once Helen came to the door and asked me to come over and help Oren.  He had fallen in the back yard and she couldn’t get him to his feet.  I helped him up and to his bed.  It wasn’t long after that they began hospice care.

I became accustomed to seeing the hospice care-givers’ cars parked in front of Oren and Helen’s house.  Then one morning a couple of weeks ago, I saw the van from the funeral home back into the driveway at 6:30 AM and soon they took Oren’s body away.  We spoke to Helen and told her how sorry we were for her loss.  She said his passing was peaceful and she had no regrets over the final season of Oren’s life.

Family came and went, plans were put in place for the memorial service, and yesterday we went to the Bend United Methodist Church for the service.  We sure saw a lot of old people at the memorial service!

As the service progressed and we sang old hymns, as old friends told stories of Oren’s life and interests, and as I read the obituary and listened to the eulogy I began to feel such a sense of loss, of missed opportunity.

I found that Oren was an amazing man, deeply spiritual, strong in faith, and passionate about discovery and learning!

Oren had written books of poetry that revealed his love for God, for God’s creation, for his family, and for people near to and far from God.  His poems were passionate, descriptive, and challenging.  His friends spoke of him as the most spiritual man they knew.

Here I had sat in my house across the cul-de-sac from a treasure of insight, wisdom, and creativity.  The sense of missed opportunity hit me hard as soon as I began to learn about Oren and his life.  The sense of missed opportunity continued to grow as I listened to one person after another speak of Oren’s life.

Here’s how I felt:  I felt like I had come into town and grabbed a quick burger at McDonald’s and then later discovered that there was a Black Angus Steak House two streets over.  I felt like I had sat home watching reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos when Johnny Cash was giving a free concert across town.

I was so aware of my own violation of the personal values that I have begun to speak often and emphatically about.  Just this past weekend I spoke to hundreds of people in the weekend services at Westside church about realizing the treasure of wisdom and insight that God has placed in the lives of the older people among us.  I challenged the old to reach across the gap to the young and the young to reach out to the older folks.

For nine years I had sat in my living room, looking across the cul-de-sac at the living room windows of Oren and Helen’s house, never knowing the treasure in the life and heart of the man who was spending his final years just over there on the other side of the street.  I could have learned so much from him!  I could have shared so much with him!  It’s an opportunity lost and it’s a lesson learned!

What a lesson for me!  In this case, learned too late.  Maybe I can apply the lesson learned to my life going forward from here.

Father, this lesson hits me hard and digs deep.  May I not merely shake it off and move along in the busyness of my life.  May I not miss the next opportunity, should there be one.  Amen.