February is a month of special days. It’s Black History Month. It’s midwinter break month to get away for some skiing or sunshine. The midpoint of this 28-day month is Valentine’s Day followed by Presidents Day. And, of course, it all kicks off with Groundhog Day.
I’ve never been to Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2nd, but I’m intrigued by the annual tradition that has put that small town on the map. The yearly pursuit of Punxsutawney Phil searching for his shadow has earned that cave-dwelling rodent celebrity status.
Thirty years ago Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell, earned a place in popular culture. Ever since its release, just the mention of Groundhog Day calls to mind the plight of being trapped in a 24-hour time loop.
Although the plot of that 1993 film is far-fetched, for those who have jobs that offer little variety or change of pace, life can seem like a perpetual Groundhog Day. But it’s not just those who deal with repetitive job functions who feel their life journey is lived in cruise-control.
If we are honest with ourselves, our day-in-and-day-out routines and rituals can render our daily lives devoid of a sense of adventure and creativity. While many find comfort in facing the familiar, most dream of doing something different.
This Groundhog Day, instead of being preoccupied with looking for shadows, why not focus on looking in the mirror? What do you like? What do you wish you could change? What will it take to bring about the change you desire? Chances are it will require rebooting one’s routine.
I can’t remember where I first heard it, but I’ve never forgotten it. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
It’s true! And yet we are guilty of acting insane a lot of the time. We fall into mindless behavior patterns without thinking about the consequences for others or to ourselves.
But looking into the mirror instead of looking for shadows is only the first step. Once you take a good hard look at what you see, you will need to decide what to do with what seems out of place. It will require acting on what you’ve discovered.
There’s a memorable verse in the New Testament that underscores the importance of following through on what we understand needs to change. The Epistle of James chides the first-century faithful to not simply give mental assent to something they claim to believe, but to actually put feet to their faith.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:22-24)
A month into this new year, some resolutions have already been coded and carried to the morgue. But it’s not too late to establish some new action steps to make the most out of 2023.
We still have time to breathe new life into our diets, revisit our fitness routine, revive our spiritual disciplines, alter our schedule with family, renew our volunteer commitments and establish sacred times to take care of ourselves.
Speaking of shadows, there is one shadow I would suggest looking for and attempting to follow. As a person of the cloth, throughout my life I’ve attempted to take my cues from a first century rabbi who began his career as a carpenter.
Jesus of Nazareth offers me a great example of one who cared for others and himself while refusing to be defined by inflexible routines. Maybe following his shadow would be a worthy pursuit for you as well. Not just on Groundhog Day, but every day.
This past weekend was not only Easter Sunday filled with a weekend of meaningful commitments, it included a milestone birthday. In addition to starting my tenth year as chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores, I began my eighth decade of life.
In the midst of a busy weekend I found an hour to reflect on lessons I’ve learned in seventy years of living. Some are quite obvious. Others are deeply personal. Some are borrowed from people I respect. All of them provide a peek into what I value.
1. George Bailey isn’t the only one who’s had a wonderful life. 2. Years go by faster the older you live. 3. Parents know more than we give them credit for. 4. Everybody has a story worth sharing. 5. Asking questions is the key that unlocks a person’s story. 6. The Creator desires a personal relationship with us. 7. Jesus is the means by which that relationship is made possible. 8. Change is hard. 9. Change is inevitable. 10. Beauty can be found everywhere. 11. Work that you love isn’t work. 12 Worry empties today of its strength. 13. Today is a gift. 14. Gifts are meant to be unwrapped and enjoyed. 15. Memories are a lasting treasure no one can steal. 16. Debt is a heartless seducer. 17. Living life in 24-hour capsules brings time-released joy. 18. Sunsets and ice cream make for cheap dates. 19. Stick trees silhouetted against a sunrise redeems winter blahs. 20. Working out helps our bodies work better. 21. Physically fit people die healthier. 22. Adversity makes us strong. 23. Love is a universal language. 24. Every memorial service we attend in one closer to our own. 25. Music is oxygen for the soul. 26. Children are a gift from the Lord. 27. Adult children keep you talking to God. 28. Grandchildren provides the joys of parenting without the responsibilities. 29. Poetry that rhymes is easier to understand. 30. Walking in the woods allows you to walk with God. 31. Pets provide a picture of God’s unconditional love. 32. The death of a pet is equivalent to losing a member of your family. 33. Grief is the price you pay for really loving someone. 34. Christmas doesn’t mean a thing without Easter. 35. Easter is not possible without Good Friday. 36. Eating humble pie requires swallowing pride. 37. It’s more blessed to give than to receive. 38. Receiving is harder than giving. 39. Bad things happen to good people. 40. Good things happen to bad people. 41. You can never tell someone you love them too often. 42. A shared joy is a doubled joy. 43. A shared sorrow is half a sorrow. 44. Spending time with older relatives is a priceless gift to them (and you). 45. Memorizing Scripture pays dividends now and later. 46. Taking the initiative to restore relationships takes courage. 47. Handwritten letters and notes are more valuable than e-mails and texts. 48. Mementoes on a desk or a shelf recall moments we dare never forget. 49. Forgetting God’s faithfulness is the most common kind of memory loss. 50. Those with the most money often have the most worries. 51. We begin our lives and end our lives wearing diapers and sleeping most the time. 52. Family traditions sustain values and perpetuate memories. 53. There is nothing more sad than watching alienated siblings at a parent’s funeral. 54. Learning the love language of your mate does not require a degree in linguistics. 55. When you get married, you marry a family as well as your mate. 56. You tend to sleep better with a window cracked open. 57. Making small talk with strangers can lead to big opportunities. 58. Shopping at a thrift store is like going to a museum. 59. Furnishing your home or wardrobe at a thrift store saves you money and benefits others. 60. Beginning your day with coffee and prayer makes you alert to life and the Lord. 61. Taking time to visit a relative’s grave gives cause to pause and reflect on the brevity of life. 62. Taking pictures with a smartphone is an inexpensive way to express one’s creativity. 63. The church is a community of people not a building or a certain denomination. 64. There’s nothing like a pandemic to unmask what really matters in life. 65. When you lose your job unexpectedly you discover flavors of grace you didn’t know existed. 66. Unbelievable offers generally are. 67. Gratitude is the prelude to worship. 68. Mulligans aren’t just for golf. 69. It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. 70. Birthdays are a necessary rest stop on the interstate of life.
“Remember to say thanks,” Mom said. It’s easy to forget. ‘Cause gratitude does not come naturally. Those magic words we learned as kids acknowledge we’ve been blessed. So let’s say thank you each and every day.
Remember to say thanks because it’s easy to be still and never let someone know how we feel. That special thing they did or said reminding us they care, deserves acknowledgment. It’s a big deal!
Remember to say thanks for when we do so we extend an honor to the one who honored us. And while it takes some effort to be grateful, it’s a key that unlocks a growing friendship. It’s a must!
Long before “The Lion King” was released as an animated movie or a Broadway musical, another lion reigned in the hearts of children in the English-speaking world. His name was Aslan, a Christ-like figure who ruled an imaginary kingdom in the Chronicles of Narnia.
Seventy-one years ago, a British novelist by the name of C.S. Lewis first introduced the world to a lion that was good but not always safe. On October 16, 1950 Lewis published “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in which Aslan was the ever-present guardian and provider. It was the first of eight books in which the kingly lion pointed the reader to a benevolent Creator.
My introduction to Aslan was in the form of a play performed by a drama troupe from Seattle Pacific University in the fall of 1974. I had just graduated from this outstanding Christian liberal arts institution and accepted a position in the university relations office. My job found me arranging tours for various performing groups on campus. When the Chancel Players were presented the opportunity to perform “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis at Expo ’74 in Spokane, I traveled with them.
Never having read any of The Chronicles of Narnia in my youth, I was intrigued by the character known as Aslan as presented in the Lewis’ story. Thirty-five years later I found myself depositing two of my daughters on the campus of Wheaton College in suburban Chicago. Having helped them unload their belongings, I went about exploring the campus.
I was delighted to discover the Wade Center named for the founder of ServiceMaster Company. Within this attractive brick building is contained archived materials and memorabilia related to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and G. K. Chesterton. The writing desks of Tolkien and Lewis are displayed along with the wardrobe from Lewis’ childhood home after which his most famous of all the Narnia chronicles is named. I was thrilled by what I saw.
I looked beyond Lewis’ wardrobe to see a beautiful framed painting of Aslan hanging on a wall. It reminded me of the lion sculpture that graces my desk in my office. By now I had come to an informed understanding of Lewis’ symbol. The lion is a powerful reminder of an ever-present God who was committed to my wellbeing. I loved the fact that Aslan was capable of making appearances without fanfare. It seemed as though he was always present even when not visible. He was a means of salvation when all seemed lost.
A dozen years after that self-guided tour of the Wade Center on the campus of Wheaton College, COVID threatened our world. During this time of lockdown and restrictions as well as fear and anxiety, I noted a number of coincidences that focused my perspective in a heavenly direction. These happenstances reminded me that in spite of being socially distanced, I was not on my own.
My friend SQuire Rushnell refers to such serendipities as Godwinks. In fact, SQuire is the one who coined the term. And during the difficult months of COVID, God, like Aslan, made His presence known at just the right time in unanticipated ways. I began observing Godwinks all around me. I started to sense the hot breath of an uncaged lion on my neck. I knew Aslan was near.
During lockdown, I resorted to my favorite pastime. Sitting at my laptop, I painted word pictures while dusting for divine fingerprints. The result is a collection of poetry in which I celebrate the presence of God in our everyday lives. I’ve called this volume “When God Speaks: Listening for Aslan in Everyday Life.” It’s an interactive workbook in which each poem is paired with a prompt or question and the space for the reader to reflect and respond.
Copies of “When God Speaks” or of my other books, can be ordered from links on the BOOKS menu.
After two decades of writing a weekly poetry blog known as “Rhymes and Reasons” for the Partial Observer website, I have decided to branch out and write my own blog on my own site. Appropriately it will be called “My Rhymes and Reasons.”
While I will maintain my tradition of posting a weekly poem dealing with current events, popular culture and faith, this new site will allow me the opportunity to post on a more regular basis. I hope my faithful readers who have followed me since my first post in the fall of 2002 will continue to look forward to my words.