Lenten Thoughts: Soil

I don’t have a green thumb.

I have told people throughout my life who might be buying me plants: I need ones that thrive on blatant neglect. I was quite happy to find that someone planted bulbs and plants around my house that keep coming back year after year in spite of me.


So, you might see the irony like I do that my first real job as a teenager was at a nursery. If that alone doesn’t bring you a chuckle, let me add this: the store was Frank’s Nursery and Crafts. It only gets worse when you know I left there to go to work at McDonald’s.

Tina’s terrible trifecta: Plants, crafts, and food. Perhaps it was good to learn at a young age, I have no gifting in these areas.


People who knew plants and gardens would come to the Nursery and expect me to understand their plant related dilemmas. Why wouldn’t their impatients grow on the fully exposed side of their house where there was no shade? What kind of fertilizer should they use? How can they correct the Ph balance of their soil? I became adept at reading the plastic identification pics we put in plants that have planting and watering instructions. I also learned to read labels, and when I couldn’t find an answer, I found a manager.

The Nursery survived and thrived on people wanting to have beautiful and productive gardens. We sold soil, and we sold the stuff to make it better. Making sure the soil was ready to plant seeds or plants was essential for successful growth.


Jesus must have counted on a few farmers and gardeners being in the crowd the day he told the Parable of the Sower. The key piece in this parable is the soil and its ability, or lack of ability, to receive the seed. We immediately catch the absurdity of expecting the seed to grow in soil that is not able to receive it or nourish its growth. A hard packed path, rampant weeds, hungry birds, rocks that block, all inhibit the soil’s ability to do its job.

We usually associate this parable with salvation, make it all about receiving the seed. Anyone who has planted a garden or tended a flowerbed knows the work is not done when the seed goes into the dirt. Plants need watered and weeds need pulled. Often the soil needs to be loosened up or aerated. Then as winter approaches fields, beds, and gardens must be prepared for the great work of rest.

I’ve heard people ask other believers, “How is it with your soul?” Today, I’m wondering, how is it with your soil?


You’ll find the parable in Mark 4:1-9

Lenten Thoughts: Naive


On more than one occasion, I have been accused of being naïve, so I went and looked up the meaning.

According to dictionary.com:
1. having or showing unaffected simplicity of nature or absence of artificiality; unsophisticated; ingenuous.
2. having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information; credulous: She’s so naive she believes everything she reads. He has a very naive attitude toward politics.
3. having or marked by a simple, unaffectedly direct style reflecting little or no formal training or technique: valuable naive 19th-century American portrait paintings.
4. not having previously been the subject of a scientific experiment, as an animal.
I think I’m okay with that. Especially the part about not being used as a part of a scientific experiment.  But that wasn’t always the case.


Back in the mid-nineties, I decided to pursue my Doctor of Ministries degree. It seemed the logical thing to do. I applied to the denominational seminary of the church where I held my ordination. I completed the first seminar and was totally in love with being back in school again. I raced into the second course with all kinds of enthusiasm and anticipation.


Unfortunately, I ran headlong into a professor who rigidly held to a specific position and style of teaching. In his opinion, I wasn’t deep enough or reflective enough. I didn’t see things his way. I got the impression he wanted to fail me. I worked hard in the course, and tried to present my position and perspective. He told me if I hoped to advance in the program I would have to learn to “jump through the hoops” placed before me. I’m not a very good jumper, so I dropped out of the program.


As I have reflected on being naïve, I’ve changed my opinion. I began to see being the characteristic as not completely negative. Sealing the deal for me came when read Matthew 18. In that passage, it seemed to me, Jesus expected a certain level of naiveté from his followers. His response to the disciples when they argued about who was most important solidified this for me.

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4, NIV)

I’d rather be simple than cynical, or arrogant. I’d rather be real than artificial (reminds me of Paul’s instruction in Romans 12:9 that their love was to be without hypocrisy). I want to be credulous. I want to be ready to believe and to trust. I especially want the kind of relationship with the creator of the universe who invites us to be so close to him that we can call him, “Daddy.”


Lenten Thoughts: Routine


Do you have certain things in your routine you just have to do or you feel disjointed or incomplete? For some, they have to read the morning paper or watch the early news first thing in the morning. Some can’t get going without their first cup of coffee. Others have a bathroom routine that is scripted down to the minute. The same can be said for how they face the things of work or how they wind down in their day.


Right before my husband and I got married we saw a movie about an ice skater who went blind. It was called “Ice Castles.” As she practiced with her partner, over and over, to drill the performance into her body, he reminded her that she could do this. As they skated out on the ice at competition, he squeezed her hand and whispered the word, “Routine.” When Nelson and I were married that is what he had engraved on the inside of my wedding band.


Now, there are some who might see that as negative or sarcastic. I mean, really, who wants their relationship to become “routine”? People are always looking for fresh and new. Manufacturers understand that and are always seeking to make their product “new and improved.” Routine typically carries with it connotations of complacency and boredom. I don’t agree.

Having a routine helps me feel grounded and safe. I like the predictability and security of knowing what is supposed to come next. Thankfully, though, I’m not completely locked into that. Some people absolutely loose it if you change their routine. In their minds, the whole day is shot if their routine is disrupted. Somewhere along the way I developed the ability to toss my routine and be adaptable and flexible. It’s helped me survive.


I believe that God wants to offer us this balance between predictability and adaptability. We can count on him. The Word tells us that he is the same “yesterday and forever” and he will “never leave us or forsake us.” Knowing these things about him, we learn to trust in the “no matter whats” of life. We can trust when we are hit with an unexpected curve-ball in our health, finances, career, or relationships because God becomes the source of stability that gets us through the uncertainty and back to what feels “routine.” Often in the process, we learn to create a new routine, new patterns and rituals, based on the new growth we experience as a result of trust.

There’s an old hymn that reminds us: “We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll. Fastened to the rock that cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” As you move through your day, and your daily routine, be thankful for what you can count on, and open to the possibilities for growth and grace.

Even an openness to new can become routine!


Lenten Thoughts: Stuff


There used to be a show on TV where a team invaded a pack rat’s home and decluttered them. They typically picked two rooms in the home to clear and reorganize. It was called “Clean Sweep.” I watched it regularly, hoping to catch some hope for my own over-packed home. Secretly, I must confess I hoped they would show up on my doorstep.

There have been times in our lives when in preparation for a move, my husband has taken the lead in helping us declutter and downsize. He also did this as he faced surgery last year and the subsequent loss of his job. But he didn’t just clean out and downsize our stuff, he also downsized our bills and our spending. His ability to do this a good thing and I’m impressed daily and blessed by his commitment to the project.


I remember watching him work his magic. Right before we moved the last time, he took a course on improving our financial situation and it truly inspired him. He found resources to sell my books and he got good money for them. I went through the shelves and pulled out boxes and boxes of books that I no longer used and couldn’t foresee needing in the future.

Watching him gleefully sell the books hit me unusually hard. I chose the books to get rid of. I made the decision to let go. But that night it wasn’t books I saw going. It was dream. It was hope. It was me. And in that moment, I understood some of the tears that I saw people shed on “Clean Sweep” as the crew worked to wrench open their hands to release their hold on stuff that was squeezing the life out of them.


Part of the problem for these people, and sometimes for me, is that we find our identity in our things. The things we keep take on meaning and symbolism that never was intended. For example, I had lots of books, therefore I was smart. I always wanted lovely furniture because I thought it would tell people coming into my home I have taste. I have three chairs in my living room, several Nerf guns, and dog bones. It’s pretty easy to see who gets welcomed here. Around my dining room table there are no fancy chairs. We use plastic lawn chairs. They work inside and out.  As a result, I live with an odd tension between what is and what I wish could be.


Thinking through this I was reminded of Paul’s message to the Philippians. He’s been assuring them of his pedigree when he tells them what he really values: “7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him (Phil. 3:7-9a, NLT).”

Having books doesn’t necessarily mean I’m smart. Having nice furniture in an impressive house doesn’t mean I’ve got it all together. I am not my stuff. And having stuff or wanting stuff (or more stuff), if not held in the proper perspective when it comes to my relationship with Christ is just clutter and crap. Paul went so far as to call it dung. When we get a hold on this and it gets a real hold on us, we will find so much more room in our heart for God. Letting go of our stuff, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, opens us up—frees us to receive more of Christ. And what he has to give us is so much better than the garbage we’ve been holding onto.

Is it time for a clean sweep in your heart? I’m working on mine.



Lenten Thoughts: Starting


I’m a good starter. I attribute that to the gift I believe God gave: I see possibilities.

My MBTI personality profile supports this theory. I walk into a room or a work situation and immediately start thinking of ways to improve the situation. I thrive in work situations where I can think of new ways to do the job. Working this way is plays to my strength of starting, but reveals all too quickly my boredom with follow through.


Now, while this can be a strength at work, it has a tendency to make my husband moan and roll his eyes at home. Every now and then I’ll get a creative bug in my bonnet and I’ll start some project. Currently, it’s a cross-stitch I started in December for my brother’s birthday in January (yes, I know, it’s almost April). I carry it with me everywhere I go just in case that bug should decide to show up again. It’s almost done.

I just need to bring myself to complete it.

Most of us are good at starting things. How many books have we started but never finished? How many have started college but never completed the degree? How many craft projects sit in bins waiting to be finished? How many diets have we started and given up on?


In his letter to Timothy, Paul declares, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.” I believe this verse holds the key to why we tend to give up and not finish what we start. It’s all in the word FIGHT. As soon as the going gets tough, we’re done. It’s true with classes, diets, jobs, and relationships. When it starts to feel like work, we walk away.

I have a friend who has always been an inspiration to me, but I’m not sure she knows how much. She’s a doctor, professor, wife, mother, friend, and sister. Oh, and she’s also a quilter. She makes quilts. If you’ve ever done that you know how exacting and exhausting it can be. Her life has been spent on others, in work and “recreation.” There just doesn’t seem to be any quit in her.

As I think through my friends, there are many people who are inspirational. They face down illness, their own and the illnesses of loved ones. They open their homes to troubled children. They pour out their lives in thankless jobs. They stand by discouraged mates and face down their own fears. The list could go on and on.

Emily Dickenson is quoted as having said, “I dwell in possibilities.” I can relate. But I want to finish, too. I want to finish craft projects. I want to finish jobs. I want to go the distance in my relationships. Most of all, I want to finish the race of faith.

So, excuse me while I put down my pen and pick up my needle. Maybe I can get this cross-stitch done before my brother’s next birthday.


Lenten Thoughts: Self-denial


Lent mode, self-denial, has been an on-going theme in my life. I’ve been living without some indulgences due to money crunching. Living on a budget forces us to really think about what is necessary, what can wait, and what can’t even be considered.

Doing without crowded my mind on my way to work. I passed the gas station where I occasionally stopped for a tasty cappuccino. Before I knew it, I was driving by McDonald’s and I’m almost positive I heard a hazelnut iced coffee screaming out my name. But I just kept driving; and thinking as I drove.


As a child, I heard of people speak of “giving up” chocolate or pizza for Lent. This year, Church Leaders were recommending to the faithful that they give up technology (computers, internet, and texting). I had trouble then and now making the spiritual connection between the items given up and God.

Did you give up something for Lent? Why? The purpose of giving something up is to make room for something else. Just as when we fast, we forego food to focus on God. Pondering these concepts, I was reminded of the time when the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out the demon by the power of Beelzebub. Through the story we’re warned of the danger of simply casting out something, in that case evil, without filling it up with something of God.


When I was in college one of my dearest friends challenged me to consider self-denial. She made reference to Jesus’ instruction to the disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross (Mark 8:34). While many point to the cross as burden or pain, it has also been suggested that it is about mission and purpose. Understanding this began to help me put the pieces together.

I guess it could be about chocolate or the internet if the pursuit of those things keeps me from fulfilling my purpose. To know that, though, I believe I’m going to have to know what my mission is. Many years ago, as I began my ministry I felt directed to verse in Colossians as a guide for me as a pastor and as a person. Paul wrote: 2My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ (Colossians 2:2).


These days, I have more time to live into what I think this verse is calling me to do and be. Each day as I reflect, I’m shone the things I have planned that can keep me from fulfilling my purpose. If I am going to live as true follower of Christ, I’m going to have to give those things up, deny my selfish interests, and live on purpose for Christ. Personally, I find this is something I have to do daily, just as Jesus invited me to do.

Do you know what your purpose, your mission is? Have you thought about what is holding you back from fulfilling your calling in Christ?

Set it down and let Him fill you up!



Lenten Thoughts: Accountability


The first time I went to seminary, I took a preaching course with Dr. Charles Munson. I was pastoring my first church and felt like such a rookie. One day in class, he made this statement: “There are no secret disciples. Either the disciple will kill the secret, or the secret will kill the disciple.”


Dr. Munson’s quote came to mind recently as I was reading my latest edition of Writer’s Digest. The article catching my attention referred to their spring writing contest. I thought to myself: I could do that. The longer I thought about the contest, I felt my resolve become: I’m going to do that. Later that day, after doing some research and writing, I told my husband about my plan. Now I’m locked in. He won’t let me forget. And that’s exactly why I told him: he will hold my feet to the fire of accountability.

I was taught the ABC’s of faith were: accept, believe, and confess. We can do the first two privately, but the third sends us straight into accountability.


When I was still working as a family counselor, I worked with an agency that had several therapists at differing levels of experience and licensure. One woman in the group had “Independent” status. She chaffed at the suggestion someone needed to supervise her. She bristled at the thought of someone looking over her shoulder. I was a rookie at the time, so I was used to having my work scrutinized. Later, lack of accountability became my undoing.

One of my favorite Bible stories finds the disciples hanging out in the Upper Room until Pentecost. Imagine the scene. These folks had to learn how to be together. There were so many different kinds of folks. Trust was the furthest thing from their minds or experiences. Zealots, tax collectors, ex-prostitutes, and fishermen had to learn to get along. Miraculously, it worked. They were able to connect and when they did a power came on them like one this world had never seen.

What happened in that room? I think they learned to tell their story, the story of what Jesus had done for them, done in them. And they learned to listen. They talked about their dreams and what they hoped to accomplish with their lives for God and for the Kingdom. They told their secrets and became accountable to one another.

And it changed the world.

What secret desires has God been wanting to unwrap and unleash in your life? Tell someone. Get accountable. Allow God to work. You may be surprised at what power you free up to blow through your life and the lives around you!