Gathering my things is a way to bring together the various items that have been toted here and there, to take stock of their location and condition, and to remain aware of their usefulness. It’s a way to make sure I have what I need before I get halfway through a writing assignment, a recipe or a home improvement project. Gathering my things makes getting my work done easier and more pleasant, and it prevents me from buying new items unnecessarily. Perhaps I’m more grateful when such gathering reveals the material bounty already present in my life.
But I want to take the reminder to gather your things beyond the literal sense. I want to practice gathering my thoughts and feelings, my shortcomings and my talents. I want to recognize what is mine to offer or withhold, to honor the boundary between my own stuff and what belongs to my neighbor. I don’t want to burden others with what is mine to bear, and I don’t want to assume burdens and tasks that belong to others. In churchy words, I want to take up my own cross, offer my own gifts, and live the God-given life that is uniquely mine. I want to encourage others as they do the same. And I want to be a good companion while we all walk through this time and place together. And for the many things that require more than one person, I want share what I have and accept the gifts of another. If I can do that, I’ll live a blessed life.
Lord, help me gather the things you have made mine. Gather my hours and days, Lord, for your purposes. When my time ends, gather me in your arms and bring me home. Amen.
[This is one in the series, Every School Day. Click above for more information.]
Give us this day our daily bread…feed my sheep…whenever you eat this bread, remember me…
At my high school, I needed a paper ticket to get lunch in the school cafeteria. Every day, I handed over my lunch money, got a ticket, chose an entree, and handed the ticket to the cashier on the way to a table. But for many students, this daily activity was a source of embarrassment: the paper tickets were color coded – free lunch, reduced lunch, and full price lunch each had different color tickets. What was (most likely) an easy way to keep track of how many free, reduced, and full price meals were consumed had (most likely unintended) social consequences; the financial status of every student who ate school lunch was on display for anyone who cared to take a look. And apparently, many did look: it was humiliating enough that some students chose to go hungry rather than stand in the lunch line with the “wrong” color ticket.
[Fortunately, this doesn’t happen very often these days. School children key in a number and the computer keeps track of the finances. It’s still not a perfect system, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be. Perhaps fewer go hungry as a result. ]
That break in the middle of the day, the time to nourish the body and give the mind a break, shouldn’t come with a side of humiliation. If all things come from God, food included, shouldn’t it be respectfully and kindly given? If I am unable to give without punishing the one who receives, it reveals more about the sad state of my spiritual affairs than it does about the financial straits of someone else.
Lord, help me remember that your prayer isn’t just for my daily bread, but for ours. May I be a respectful giver and a grateful receiver. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Everyone knows that children need a break from school work and the classroom environment. Halfway through the morning, it arrives: recess. Children get out of their chairs and head outside to run around and play. Recess brings exercise that builds a healthy body, and unstructured play that restores the mind. Just a few minutes makes all the difference. Learners return to their desks with renewed ability to learn and grow. Recess is the frosting on the cake that is a good school day, and the relief from drudgery and stress that a bad day brings.
The benefits of taking a break in the work day are well known. So why do I act like skipping recess is a better, more virtuous choice than skipping rope outside for a few minutes?
How do I reply to someone who asks me an insulting question, an upsetting question, a question that at best is beside the point of whatever conversation it arose from? On good days, I answer with respectful disagreement, supportive correction, and a bridge between question and context. On days when I’m irritated or tired, I set the facts straight without thought or regard beyond factual accuracy. If I’m grieved or frightened, I return personal insult for personal insult with a roll of the eyes and click of the tongue. For the person on the receiving end, it won’t matter what words I use: it’s the ugliness of their delivery that remains. Insult for insult is still insulting.
On the days I remember that God embraces whomever I meet in conversation, I’m aware that questions are often beside the point. The crux of the matter is the encounter with a living, breathing beloved child of God. Language provides a bridge between soul and soul. If such a one constructs a shaky bridge from insults or ignorant words, perhaps those are the only materials available at the time. Now the choice is mine: do I answer by tearing down the poorly made span, or do I use my answering words to shore it up?
It could be a vocabulary quiz or an math test; it might be directions for an experiment or a list of things needed for a holiday party. Every so often, perhaps a picture or article just for the sheer pleasure of seeing or reading something beautifully created. Whatever it was, it wasn’t meant to be hoarded by the one or two learners who were handed a whole pile of them. Whatever the teacher handed out was meant for everyone – the fun ones as much as the worksheets that required mastering a new skill or a significant time investment. No one needed two or more: one was more than sufficient.
I wonder if there’s a profound life lesson in this ordinary practice. What if I took only one of what was necessary for me to learn and live well? What if the rest I handed on to my neighbor, offering the opportunity to learn and grow, to work and play? Can it be that almost everything I’m handed is meant to be handed down the line?
Lord, give me the strength, wisdom, and generosity to hand on what was never meant for me to keep. Amen.
Dinner on the go that became the Passover meal. The wedding at Cana. There are lots of dinners in scripture, but not near as many breakfasts. Even in our day, there are so many more special occasions celebrated over dinner than ever there were over the day’s first meal. We do lunch, have power lunches, meet for dinner, and go out on the town for an evening meal: save the once-a-year Mother’s Day Brunch, breakfast doesn’t factor into the big events on our calendars. Breakfast is skipped by many in a literal sense, and also in the gathering together sense. It’s a quick bite before everyone begins the day’s activities.
I love breakfast. I look forward to granola or a PBJ rice cake every morning. Eggs, potatoes, and a yogurt parfait make a weekend breakfast a delight – add some bacon and pancakes and it’s as enjoyable as any dinner I’ve had. Some of my family’s best conversations have been over these foods, nourishment for body and soul for every one of us.
Unless I’m eating breakfast with others late in the morning, it’s easy to forget giving thanks to God for the food on my plate and for the hands that worked to provide it. I’m not ungrateful so much as unmindful. It’s taken writing this piece for me to notice this. Have some breakfast will now mean more than getting out the cereal bowls and coffee press: it will be taking time at the very beginning of the day to remember that I cannot live on granola alone. I come to the day by the grace of God, shown in the beauty of the world and the simple bounty of the breakfast table. Perhaps that’s why the risen Jesus shared breakfast by the sea with the disciples he loved so well.
Can any day begun this way be anything but a grace?
I entered my local library twice yesterday, and each time met a mother. The first was crowding up against her preschool daughter, trying to get her to walk faster. Come on! she said, her words full of exasperation as she physically pushed her daughter. The second was standing a few feet from the library door, keeping an eye on a sleeping toddler in her car just a few feet away while observing her two sons as they checked out books for school projects. Come on! she said, her face lighting up with a smile and her words full of encouragement. The same words, different actions, and a whole different experience for the children.
As I left the library, it crossed my mind that every single sentence in this Every school day series can be turned from a positive to a negative meaning – it’s all in how it’s said.
The power to wound and the power to strengthen are held by everyone who uses words to connect with others. Which will I wrap my words around today? Which will you?
You made your bed, now lay in it…
I’ve never heard it used in a positive sense. It’s often said by someone who wants to reinforce the feeling of guilt or failure already haunting the person it’s aimed at – an additional prick for someone hemmed in by thorns.
I’m not opposed to someone accepting the consequences of bad, destructive, or unwise actions. Sometimes the best thing friends and family can do is to refuse to fix things. Mistakes faced and damage repaired require taking responsibility, and that is a necessary step in growing up. But it’s hard enough to take that step into maturity without adding an extra little bit of weight to the burden. Is it really worth a moment’s satisfaction to make such a remark? Best to keep silent.
But make your bed isn’t the same thing, is it? Make your bed means leave the place in good shape. Make your bed means take the time to create a place that welcomes you when you return. Value yourself highly enough to put in the time and effort to create a hospitable resting place, just as you would for an honored guest. When you flatten out the sheets, as you straighten out the blankets and fluff the pillows, you are doing more than making a bed: you are loving yourself as you would a neighbor.
Dear God, help me to love you this day. In acts big and small, help me love myself as my neighbor. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
When I was a baby, my parents did them for me. When I was able, they taught me to do them for myself. When I had my two sons, I repeated the pattern. They are signs of the love others have for us, and they are signs of our self-regard. They require touch and glance, time and effort. When done with intention, they wake us up with a loving touch and give us a joyful start to the coming day. Such simple tasks, such monumental acts.
My niece and her husband will welcome their first child into the world this October. They will do these things for him, offering their love in these practical tasks. It’s a legacy worth more than any trust fund: a welcome to the day, the world, and the family.
When you rise tomorrow to wash your face, brush your hair and teeth, remember how much you are loved.
I’m a morning person, so this is a happy sentence for me. For my husband and sons, not so much. They do not bound out of bed, ready to engage the world. They prefer waking slowly, staying in place until the world comes into focus, then getting out of bed. They rise and they shine, but not right after opening their eyes. They more than make up for it on the other end, though – late night comes, and they are going strong long after I’ve run out of energy.
Rise and Shine doesn’t have to be limited to this kind of interpretation – the clock bound, literal kind. In the larger sense, I think it means something like this:
RISE You are a unique gift from God to the world. Stand up and claim your space. Offer your gifts, your insight, and all the love you have to a time and place that desperately needs them (every time and place needs them!)
AND There’s a whole world out there that you haven’t seen. Don’t settle for what has already been, resting on laurels or living in the past. The story of your life continues: make every chapter the adventure it’s meant to be, and…
SHINE You are a beloved child of this universe and the God who continues to create life. Trust that love and fearlessly grow in grace, wisdom, and holiness. The light you shed can illuminate the world in ways you never realize or expect.
Rise and Shine!
sunburst by Margaret Hill.