Can written words expose hidden, heartening truth?

I contributed the following on Good Friday to the 2019 “PictureLent” daily devotional series, written primarily for adults. PictureLent is a ministry of the Rio Texas and the Michigan Conferences of The United Methodist Church.

Each day’s devotional is based on a word found in the Lectionary scripture, which for Good Friday was John 19:14-22.

My word was “Write.” Here is my devotional. I hope that you find meaning in it. May Easter be a restorative time for you.

The daily word is “write”?? Where does that word show up in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion?

A slow re-reading reveals the answer:

Pilate wrote a sign and put it on the cross. It read: ‘JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS’   (John 19:19, ICB).

Showing the placard on the cross above Jesus' headDid you know that it was customary at a crucifixion to attach a placard above the condemned person, with their name and their crime?

This makes sense. Romans performed crucifixions in public locations as a deterrent.

To ensure that everyone could read an edict, it was composed in the three major languages of the time—Hebrew (Aramaic), Greek, and Latin. Those observing would want to know what sorts of activity to avoid!

Written words proclaim Jesus’ identity: The King of the Jews.

John’s gospel reports that this phrasing caused consternation among the Jewish Temple leaders, who protested to Pilate. They didn’t want Jesus labeled as their King, giving the impression that this claim was in fact acknowledged.

They told Pilate: “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews.’ But write, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews’” (verse 21b). Pilate’s answer: “What I have written, I have written!” (verse 22).

It was as if Pilate issued a proclamation of the gospel: Here is your King!

Follow this thought: Perhaps Pilate was constrained by the size of the piece of wood. What if he had a bigger piece? There could have been so much more to write! But Pilate was also limited by his understanding. With our post-Easter view of the situation we would add more, writing:

Here is your suffering King. (But see how this means he understands your suffering?) Don’t worry, death will not be the end; it will be a new beginning! You can live free from the hurt and pain of your past! You are forgiven! All is grace. Welcome to the new you!

What words do you wish could be written about who you are – this new you?

Undertake another exercise with me: Imagine you have died. (Don’t worry; it was painless.) Your family and friends have gathered together to write your obituary. In the manner of Pilate’s defining epithet, what would you like them to write—not what do you think they might write about you—but what truths do you long to hear?

For me, I would hope they could write:

Creative Carol, a survivor, a life-long learner, one who embodies a meaningful picture of Jesus for others, who bravely points out God-present, and always with us.

Many of us lack healthy self-worth. Today, let the cross change you!

Who do you aspire to be?

Me with 'who I am' words written on a clipboard

Surprise: God already sees you that way!

A Short Prayer:
Nurturing God, the words that you use to describe us are so different than the ones we use on ourselves! On Good Friday, when darkness and death take center stage, may we be reminded that our old ways of thinking can change. Help us to see ourselves with the same delight and expectation with which you see us. Amen.

An Action Challenge:
For friends and family that you encounter today, consider what sign would be placed over their head.
Name a positive trait you see in them. Tell them about it.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:
1. Who is Jesus to you? What would you write on the sign above Jesus’ head?
2. Do the obituary exercise. (Don’t worry about the exact sentences; just write key words.)
3. Write some of these better-feeling thoughts about yourself on a piece of paper. Take a selfie holding your new words. Share on social media tagging #pictureLent


Photo credits…
Placard above Christ by Luciano Ramos Solari from Pixabay, released under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
Selfie with defining written words, copyright from my archives.

How I survived All Saints’ Day with help from an impenetrable fog

The day’s first light disclosed a thick, soupy fog. My initial thought:
Drat! Another bleak, dreary day; so common in autumn around these parts.

The weather matched my mood.

A foggy day on the lake

How appropriate, I thought, for this to be my window-view…

On the day we celebrate “All Saints’ Day” in church – an event that I wasn’t sure I could handle.

But then…

(surprisingly)… upon closer scrutiny of the dark greyness…

I discovered…

amiable beauty in this somber landscape!

Curious coloration.
A softness to edges.
An almost mysterious misty-look.

So what is All Saints’ Day (United Methodists? Celebrating Saints?)
and how does it relate to an impenetrable fog with uplifting elegance?


First, All Saints’ Day…

  • Actually occurs on November 1st but is celebrated on the first Sunday in November.
  • Got started for the Western church, around the 4th century, initially honoring those who had died, who had led holy, laudable lives for Christ. (Think of the capital-S-real-stuff Saints.)
  • Later expanded to include everybody – dead or alive! Anyone who has shared their faith; who has leveled the path before us. Often referred to as the great cloud of witnesses.
  • For United Methodists, “saints” are different than those in the Roman Catholic tradition. In the FAQ about what United Methodists believe, it clarifies our tenets on this matter.
  • Includes in particular remembering those who have died in the past year who were members of the congregation, and… well… those who were close to you who have recently left this earth.

The latter point ties the fog to the memory of saints.

I lost both my parents this past summer. Five weeks apart. I wasn’t ready to face (again) a remembrance of so-close, lost saints. (Are we ever?)

It has been hard. Sort of like being in a deep fog.

But then I remembered… As he receives the Ten Commandments, Moses goes up the mountain and “approached the thick darkness where God was.” Exodus 20:21.

Darkness can contain the presence of God.

The fog this morning was a reminder. In what could be seen as dreary darkness, when I looked closer, I found reason to give thanks for beauty. God was with me in my darkness.


Photo credits:
An as-it-was, un-retouched photo from my archives. Shared at Flickr; licensed under a Creative Commons (BY NC-SA 2.0).

What happened to me on a night full of beautiful miracles

ambulance in action

When the kids were little whenever we heard the siren of an ambulance or a fire truck, I would always say, “Make way for the helpers!”

One Saturday night, eleven years ago this night, I needed those helpers.

I don’t remember much about the eve of November 19, 2005 but I found out later that there were miracles happening left and right – even before the ambulance and the fire truck got there. (I was told later that the fire truck arrived first.)

I was home alone and I sustained a burst aneurysm in my brain; usually a fatal event.

When an aneurysm — a bulging, weakening in the wall of an artery — ruptures, it leaks blood into the space around the brain. Things did not look good.

The first miracle: At the moment it hit, I was on the phone. I was talking to my husband, Greg, who was over in the western part of the state, for a hockey tournament with my son. Greg was just passing the phone to my son, when he heard a slight gasp — the aneurysm hit and I lost consciousness. Not hearing any response from my end of the conversation, they thought the connection had been lost. Redialing. Busy signal.

The second miracle: My high school daughter was out babysitting and came home early(!) I think the story was that the parents she was sitting for had decided (for some unexplained reason) to call it a short night.

The third miracle: She had left her phone on the floor by the garage door. (Hidden under stuff?) I guess in those days a phone was not as important? The timing of events was about to get unbelievable.

The fourth miracle: My daughter walked in at the instant my husband — continuing to get a busy signal when calling me — dialed her phone. The phone was ringing as she walked in and of course, she answered. I often think of what would have happened if a minute had passed between her entrance and his call. She (being a teenager) would not have looked for me (situated in the back office); she’d have headed straight upstairs. She would not have gotten the call.

The miracles continue… Needless to say, my daughter called 911 and the neighbor — a nurse. The rest is a blur of activity and more miracles. The best brain surgeon at the University of Michigan, the best nurses in intensive care, friends and family who believed in prayer…

I had a 5% chance of living. And it turns out that I kept defying those odds. Friends have told me that the surgeon came out and said, “We’ve done all we can.”

And yet I survived.

Then they would say, “Well, she may never walk again.”

And then, I would. (After much physical therapy!)

The next dreadful prediction was that I may never talk again… or have fine motor control or… and on and on. Each one gradually torpedoed.

You all prayed. And here I am.

praying peopleThis experience has taught me to believe in prayer!

The miracles continued to come. Released from hospital after 6 and a half weeks. Friends and neighbors who decorated the Christmas tree for our family, drove kids, and brought meals. A dear friends who drove an hour just to get me outside for a short (very short in those first days home) walk!

And the miracles continued. A friend who recognized my need for additional Physical Therapy and fought for me to get it! Another friend who took me with to one of his “stretching” sessions with Coach James Henry, and solved an aftereffect of surgery — deliberating pain in my toes!

Eleven years in and I am still recovering and still receiving miracles. Praise be to God!

a blue line

Photo credits:
Moving ambulance by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, from Pixabay, and praying people,adapted from clipart by algotruneman. Both of these images are licensed under a Creative Commons Public Domain License.

What will it take to notice a powerful God at work?

Do miracles still happen these days, or did miracles only occur in Biblical times?

Like the story of Jesus turning the contents of a young boy’s lunch into plentiful food for more than 5,000 people. That sort of miracle.

I needed to know, because I was in need of a miracle.

I had driven nine hours east, not knowing exactly what I would be grappling with. My 89-year-old mother was to be discharged from the skilled nursing unit and could not return to her two-bedroom apartment. She needed down-sizing into an assisted living arrangement – NOW! An unscheduled, huge endeavor; a seemingly insurmountable task. How could I do this?

It will take a miracle to pull this off.

a collage of moving chores

Decisions, decisions… Donate, keep or toss? Lots of text messages flying to family members afar: “This mirror is up for grabs.” “Anyone need any kitchen stuff?” Yikes! How will it all fit into a much smaller space?!

I was operating under a time-crunch and not sleeping much… a situation which could be incredibly straining. Since I tend to be a glass-is-half-empty sort of person, I was surprised to find myself not excessively alarmed. Instead, I made it a point to daily set my intention…

Take notice; a powerful God is always at work.

It started the next morning with a nature-note from God. How did I miss seeing bright, red tulips outside her old apartment? A hopeful reminder springing-forth. God clearly saying, “I am about to do something new. It is beginning to happen even now. Don’t you see it coming?” (Isaiah 43:19)

The God-at-work memos continued… When the box supply dwindled, a thought just popping into my head: Load her luggage with no-longer-needed pots and pans. Storage here they come!

how it would go back togetherAnd, hey! Here’s another useful idea: I can snap a photo to later remember how furniture assembles.

I was hundreds of miles away from my usual cadre of companions. A chance to hire helpers… but would they require too much direction to be useful?

a helper packs boxesmoving day

Unfounded! A smooth, nothing broken, nothing lost move!

Because I was watchful for God at work…

  • I was attentive to precisely planted pansies — God throwing in plentiful gentle reminders of his presence. A reinforcing boost!
  • I was grateful for cousins who shared a Sunday afternoon of their spruce-up talents to make mom’s new place look homey.
  • I embraced chances to squeeze in visits with my mom, thankful that age had not diminished her brainpower as I listened to family stories.

Assisted living sign  

I began to see a miracle happening, both within me and around me.

A miracle can be described as a moment when, as a result of an unexpected and surprising occurrence, one becomes aware of the presence and power of God at work.

But first, I had to take notice.

What will it take for your family to recognize God at work?
I’m willing to bet that once you start looking, you will see!
Can you add the reporting of such instances to your family dinner table, or perhaps your bed time routine?

By choosing to notice glimpses of God, I saw him all over!
And there were many miracles.

Photo credits:
Photos from my archives.

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What sort of fascinated fan are you raising?

Young sports fanAre you raising a “Go Blue” sports fan? (Or perhaps a “Go Green”?) If you are a fan of a certain team, it’s very likely that your kids are too.

You are probably not intentionally raising such a child – drilling the Michigan fight song every night or teaching them player nuances – it just sort of happens doesn’t it? Because you are interested, they become predisposed.

What about raising a Jesus fan?

Is that just “happening” in your household without any effort on your part?

I’ll admit, when my kids were young, I did not focus much on raising them to be disciples of Christ. My thinking went along the lines of:

  • Who me? I can’t do that. (That’s the church’s job.)
  • I don’t know enough. (I didn’t go to Bible school.)
  • I’ll screw them up / turn them off to religion. (I’ll probably say something wrong!)
Raising a Jesus fan takes some intention.

Does it help you to know that Jesus struggled with the role he was to play in God’s plan of redemption for the world?

We see it prominently in the Garden Of Gethsemane, the spot where Jesus and his followers went after the Passover meal (the one we now call the Last Supper). Jesus knew he faced imminent distressing events — arrest, torture, and death on a cross. At this critical juncture, Jesus is compelled to spend time with God in prayer.

Spend Time in Prayer.

Share your feelings of uncertainty with God. Jesus did. Matthew describes a time of intense agony in amongst the olive trees, with Jesus’ words expressing his anguish:

Open quote markMy Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me.

This is like Jesus saying: “If it is possible, can’t we do this in some other way?”

Christians believe that in Jesus, God became fully human; he was a human being who faced temptations and feelings of anxiety! Isn’t it freeing to realize that we don’t have to stand up to pressures and trials with super-sized strength? It is okay to be fearful, questioning, angry, and to feel agony.

It is okay to struggle!

We know from the prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden, that in the very same sentence of asking for a different path, Jesus turns and submits completely to God, “I want your will, not mine.” This is not an admission of defeat; he says it with a cadence of perfect trust.

Acting as Jesus did can be a tough pill to swallow. Here’s what I tell myself when faced with something I’m unsure I really have the guts to do:

Do the next thing. Do it with prayer.

a blue line

Here’s something to pursue this week: Be on the lookout for a “trigger” which prompts a short burst of prayer.

A collage of green thingsTaking a cue from the Garden of Gethsemane, when you see something green (a houseplant, some produce, a stray toy) thank God for the ability to speak openly with him in prayer!

Try this out yourself for a couple of days. Then report back to your kids. Get them onto the hunt for a little green prompting.

What spiritual practice can you include in your family’s life this Lent? How will you plant seeds of faith in the lives of your Jesus fans?

Stay tuned for other Lenten prayer hints.

Photo credits:
Young sports fan by PublicDomainPictures, and the collage of green things – from other artists – all who licensed these photos on Pixabay under a Public Domain Dedication.

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How quiet contemplation revealed a hidden need?

purple paramentsWith the start of the season of Lent, a sharp-eyed churchgoer/church on-line watcher will spot changes in the Sanctuary. Ask your family members what they notice. First up, the colors have switched! The purple paraments are back. (Paraments are the hangings that adorn the pulpit, or the extra “garments,” the stoles the clergy wear. Did you know that each season of the Church Year has a different color?)

Wonder with your family: why purple for Lent?

cross in the sanctuary on Ash WednesdayAnd secondly, the empty, “old rugged cross” is back… watch it progress slowly—week to week—on it’s Lenten journey from the back of the church all the way to the front.

Do you wonder what if it blocks your view in church?

Discuss with your family what the recurrence of this on-the-move cross says to you.

Both of these alterations are relatively innocuous.

Or are they signals of something bigger? Something like…

Hey, it’s Lent! It’s time to intentionally put God at the center of your life.

But how is that suppose to happen?

Going into Lent I was conflicted. I knew that I needed/wanted to “do” something specific to mark my travel through Lent, to turn my thoughts toward the reason why Easter is important… but I wasn’t sure what to do. Give something up? Take something on? Then I got my answer at last night’s Ash Wednesday worship service.

It was a Taizé style service, consisting of meditative, repeated songs and scripture interspersed with periods of silent contemplation.

And in that quiet… I found peace.

Ah ha! I needed an injection of peace—some sacred time.

I needed to pull back from my day-to-day stuff and experience the divine.

imparting ashes on Ash WednesdayAt this service there were the sacred rituals of the sharing of bread and juice in Holy Communion, and the imposition of ashes—the part where “dust” gets etched onto our foreheads with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe.”

Lent begins with this sign—ashes. The ashes are symbolic of death. I need to let my old ways die. I need to try something new.

So I went home and created an “altar.” On an old board I placed a few “special” rocks, a sprig of fake flowers, a pinch pot made by my son when he was 5 years old… It is a place for me to linger, to allow my soul to be in quiet contemplation.

I plan to add and subtract from my holy space as I feel the whim. I plan to “visit” every day.

Lenten altar

How will you create your sacred Lenten space?


Photo credits:
Copyright photos from my archives.

How to respond to the in-your-head monologue with grace?

God loves us even when we screw up.

I don’t know why, but this always amazes me. Really? God is still willing to take a chance with me? In spite of my crummy choices?

It’s not what I typically tell myself. My internal dialogue runs along the lines of…

  • I can’t risk that. I might fail.
  • I can’t do that. I’m not good enough.
  • Who do you think you are, that people should do as you suggest?

But God keeps trying to help me replace this grinding, degrading voice. God reaches out to me, reminding me again and again, with a message of grace-filled love:

I’ll give you another chance.
Try it. I’ve got your back.
Hold my hand when you are afraid.
You are mine. I love you!

In our Rotation on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we hear others suffer from wounding self-talk:

  • The younger son was telling himself a story: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21b).
  • The older son also had a story: “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends!” (Luke 15:29).

Jesus shows us how God responds to these storylines:

It’s not about deserving; it’s about receiving.
Open your heart to receive my gift.
It’s all about grace.

Can grace guide us to counterclaim our hurtful head-chatter?

a gift is brought by a little bird

Perhaps you have heard it said during a Baptism:

All this is God’s gift to us, offered without price.  [1]

Grace is a free gift from God. There is no way to earn God’s forgiveness. Sins can’t “go away” by performing lots of good deeds to make up for the bad ones. Grace is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves.  [2]

What story are you telling yourself?
Try changing the words you say to yourself; make it be your remade mantra.

God loves me no matter what. Can I treat myself the same way?

Grace isn’t only a truth about the way God operates; it transforms us. As we open up to God’s continuing offers of grace, we can find ourselves responding by becoming more Christ-like in character and conduct; more loving… even towards ourselves.


[1] The Services of the Baptismal Covenant are found in The United Methodist Hymnal.
[2] I don’t know who first said that but it sums it up nicely don’t you think?

Photo credits:
A delivered gift by LaughingRhoda, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Are you hiding your talents and skills? Take courage!

Third servant digs a hole
After hearing The Parable of the Talents, we pondered what was the most surprising thing we learned.

The hands down winner (in a crowd of 1st graders) was that the third servant chose to bury his “talent.”

Indeed, who today would bury something valuable?

I explained that the people who heard Jesus tell this parable would have approvingly nodded their heads when told of this concealing effort. In those days, to bury money placed into your care was considered a secure way of protecting a treasure. This third servant had done what everyone would have expected – gone for his shovel!

Except, according to the parable, the master wasn’t happy with this choice.
What resembled a smart decision, delivered a sad outcome.

How should we be guided by this parable — this story used by Jesus to teach his listeners about living in God’s kingdom?

Don’t bury your talents.

And here we aren’t only talking about the first century use of the word “talent” which referred to a large sum of silver or gold. Our use of the word “talents” encompasses much more — all of our resources including our money, our skills, our abilities, our time, and our stuff! Don’t hide these aptitudes; use them!

Making use of our talents? Easy, right?

What is holding you back? Are you allowing your “inner voice” to control your actions?

Do you explain away your behavior with…

  • I’m too busy.
  • My efforts are too small to make a difference.
  • I’m not ready.
  • I am afraid.
  • What will people think?

I’ve bestowed all of these excuses upon myself. I need a daily reminder to banish my fearfulness.

Everything is a gift.

Today, marks the ten-year anniversary of my near-fatal brain aneurysm. Because of an incredible story of everything happening at just the right moment, and lots of prayer, and skilled medical care, I survived. I received a precious gift: a second chance to do my best with the gifts God has given me.

Yet I don’t always act in this manner. I behave like the third servant in our parable.

Unlike his fellow-workers who were emboldened by the chance to make something of themselves — to serve their master faithfully — this third servant was afraid.

He forfeited opportunities to risk investing his gifts.

God asks only one thing for giving us the gold coin of life: Use what you have to facilitate God’s kingdom here on earth. We are not told how to use our talents, just that we should use them.

How will you make use of your resources, your gifts, your money, your skills, your abilities, and your time?


Photo credits:
An illustration from my favorite kids Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible, used under an educational fair use category. (Link goes to Ann Arbor District Library holding.)

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