Open-handed Living

                When we hear about celebrities and philanthropists donating large sums of money to various charities, it’s easy to think, “When I have more, I’ll be more generous.” But true generosity is not about giving large amounts of money or other resources; it’s about giving liberally from what we have.  

           2 Corinthians 9:6 says that the one who sows generously will reap generously.  A farmer needs to open his hand, letting go of what he has, to scatter his seed.  We, too, are called to hold loosely to what we possess, and to be willing to share (1 Timothy 6:18).

           Becoming a generous person begins with open-handed living, with an awareness that all we have comes from God, and a confidence that He will provide seed for the sower. We don’t become generous by occasional, random acts of kindness.  Generosity is a habit of the heart. 

What prevents us from living generously?  Fear of not having enough, our desire to hold on to what we have, and forgetting that everything we have comes from God can keep us from generous living.
Abraham models generosity in Genesis 13. Because of their growing families, Abraham and his nephew, Lot, need to part company and each settle in his own land.  Although Abraham is the patriarch and it would have been customary and within his rights to choose first, he insists that Lot select his land first.  Abraham was confident that God would bless him wherever he was, and did not demand the best for himself.

Jesus tells a parable about a rich man that gives a large offering at the temple entrance, and a poor widow that gives all she has, though only a couple of pennies.  He then asks His listeners which one gave the more generous gift.  The widow gave more in proportion to what she had, and her gift pleased God.

Remember the “Golden Rule?” Well, Jesus came up with it!  After teaching about various topics, such as giving to the needy, prayer, fasting, and judging others, Jesus says that one principle sums it all up.  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”  
(Matthew 7:12)

Steps to cultivate generous hearts:

·         Gratitude: recognition that everything we have comes from God

·         Open-handed living: hold loosely to what we have and be willing 
      and ready to share

·         Trust: Confidence that the Giver of the seed will supply our needs

 As is true with many areas of spiritual growth, the hardest place to begin is at home. Too often, home is the place where we fight for our rights: the most comfortable chair; the biggest piece of cake; which T.V. show to watch.  It is usually easier to be generous with our friends or with perfect strangers that with our brothers, sisters, and spouses!

Practical Tips:

  • ·      Next time you go for ice cream or fries, ask your child to share with you. Depending on their response, use the moment as an opportunity to explain that just as you provided the treat for your child, God provides everything for our enjoyment.  When He asks us to share and be generous, He is only asking us to give from what He has so generously given to us. 

  • ·       The common advice, “One child cuts the piece of pie, and the other one chooses” may be good for avoiding conflicts, but it does not encourage generosity.  Try “Abraham’s way” instead: tell one child to allow the other to cut and to choose.  Talk to both children about Jesus’s golden rule that sums up all of his teachings: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

  • ·      As parents, we need to model generous behavior and attitudes.  Our kids will learn volumes from watching the way we” hold on” to what we have, either tightly or loosely.  

  • ·      Insist that your children treat their family members as well as they treat their friends. 

  • ·      Serve together as a family.  Volunteer at a food pantry, sponsor a child through Compassion International or World Vision, or serve at your local church.  Even young children can color pictures to include in a letter to your sponsored child, or they can give a gently-used, much-loved toy to a child in need at Christmas.  Exposing our children to the needs of others can open their eyes to the world around them, open their hearts to the joy of giving, and help them live with open hands.      


Pros of Pressure

                What would you do if you won the lottery?  I’ve heard people say that they would quit their jobs and just live the good life: sleep in; go on one vacation after another; eat, drink, and be merry.  I wonder if it would ever get old?  I wonder if all that freedom from responsibilities and pressures would breed any emptiness or purposelessness?

                Each year, no matter how great our summer vacation was, I welcome the routine of a new school year.  Summer is filled with late breakfasts, leisure mornings, vacations, and generally speaking, the pace is a relaxed one.  If there are teenagers in the house that translates to sleeping in till 11:00, skipping breakfast and going straight for lunch, and alternating between laying by the pool and laying in front of the T.V.

                I exercised the other morning and realized that I haven’t stepped on my treadmill since school was in session three months ago. You’d think with the more relaxed pace I would have been even more diligent and consistent with my work out routine.  Not so.  I could blame it on the kids – all the running around and having to feed them so frequently.  But the truth is, I slept in plenty, skipped a few breakfasts myself, and enjoyed the leisure of not having to be anywhere at any particular time.

                The kids are back at school, which means my husband and I are able to actually have a complete conversation for the first time in two and a half months.  And though I am enjoying the quiet house, I feel like I’m in some sort of boot camp.  Early mornings, rigid schedules, never-ending forms to fill out, responsibilities galore.  It’s not an easy adjustment, but something about it feels right.  Because while good for a season, I have found that this sort of smooth-sailing, loosy-goosy way of living doesn’t produce the disciplined, balanced, healthy lifestyle I desire.  The external pressures of having to set the alarm clock, pack lunches, shower early, plan out meals, make coffee dates with friends, etc… means I am more intentional about making healthier choices. Truth is, I need this kind of structure. 

                And these aren’t the only kinds of external pressures I find beneficial.  Stress on the outside seems to bring out stuff on the inside that needs to be addressed. Challenges show me where I need to grow.  Experiences that push me out of my comfort zone give me opportunities to confront my fears so I can live in increasing freedom.  I need limitations so I can live in greater dependence on God, and it’s in moments of loneliness that I fully experience that God is with me.  God knows me.  And He loves me.

                Hebrews 12:11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” 


A Little Perspective, Please

                It started happening about a year ago:  small print growing fuzzy, arms extending to make the letters readable.  Without warning, it seems I’ve crossed an invisible line and inadvertently joined millions of other farsighted people in their late thirties and early forties.  My eye doctor says it’s not time yet for reading glasses, so for now, I just stretch my neck back and extend the arms, happy that a little distance usually clears things up.

                Not long ago, I found myself pulled into a conversation that caught me off guard and left me feeling defensive and confused.  As I worked through my tangled thoughts, asking God to help me sort it all out, and after sleeping on it, I realized that just like extending the arm, a little time and distance in real life often helps to clear things up a bit.  We’ve heard that time heals all wounds, and while I can’t fully subscribe to this notion, I do think that time gives us perspective, which can be healing.

                In the early years of our marriage my husband and I had an on-going disagreement, and ironically it had to do with the way we resolved conflicts. We were familiar with Ephesians 4:27 which says not to let the sun go down on your anger.  We had heard many sermons on this verse, and I pulled this scripture out every time we had a nocturnal argument. Usually after arguing and getting nowhere, Bernie would announce that he was going to bed.  I would protest, telling him that I couldn’t possibly sleep when we were so upset with each other.  In response, he would roll over and cruise on into dreamland, and I would lay sleepless in bed, seething, making up all kinds of stories about my heartless husband.  And believe me, Bernie would always hear about it the next morning, but he was right about one thing: we were usually able to figure things out after he got a good night’s sleep. 

                One day Bernie came to me and said, “Hey – check out this verse.  I’ve never seen it before, but I think it’s a good one.”  Psalm 4:4: “Don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you.  Think about it overnight and remain silent.” (NLT)

                Huh.  It may seem like this verse contradicts the verse from Ephesians, but I think that instead of an “either/or,” this is a “both/and.”  Wisdom and maturity says, “Don’t hold on to your anger.  Be quick to forgive.  AND don’t just react and say whatever comes to mind.  Stop talking and take some time to think about your response. “James 1:19 brings both concepts together with very simple (though not easy) advice: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

                For me, this has meant taking the time to ask myself questions like, “What is this about for me?  Why am I feeling defensive?  What is getting triggered inside of me?  Is there room in my thinking for the possibility that I may not be 100% right in the way I’m seeing things? Is there room for empathy?  Am I seeking first to understand the other person’s point of view?”

                Sometimes, after taking time to think things over, I realize there is still a conversation that needs to happen.  Sometimes I have to accept that no amount of conversing will bring resolution.  And many times I am able to let things go.  I’m not talking about sweeping things under the rug, or stuffing my feelings.  I’m talking about letting go of resentment and walking in freedom.

                Empathy can lead us to understanding, and that can help us to let go.  In the conversation I mentioned earlier, I was able to empathize and understand that the person talking with me was sharing a personal experience, was passionate about the topic, and had good intentions.  It wasn’t really about me.  That was enough to help me loosen my grip and let it go.

                I still have trouble falling asleep during a disagreement, but I’m getting better at the both/and.  I now try to say, “I am really upset, but I agree that we can figure this out tomorrow.  But I still love you, and I know you love me.”  Sometimes I read a little to take my mind off things, until my eyes (and my extended arms) get tired.


Just when you think that there is nothing sweeter than holding your newborn in your arms, she grows into a toddler, and your heart grows with her. And when you know that there is nothing more adorable than seeing her toddle, than hearing her speak her first words and then form her first sentences, she learns to read and write, and becomes a young artist. And you are sure that no 5 year-old child on the planet has ever created such masterpieces. And with each passing year, each dance recital, she looks a little more like a real dancer until one day you realize she is tap dancing like Marie Osmond.

Becoming a Mom, for me, means becoming the person I was always meant to be. It's as if there are all these places and pieces of myself locked away in a treasure chest with several compartments. And each of my daughters has a key that opens up a new part of me.

The joy of raising young children is followed by the wonder of watching them become: developing their own senses of humor, style, talents and temperaments. I'm sharing this poem that my oldest daughter, Katelyn, wrote about the day she was born. It is beautiful, and quite honestly, far better than anything I could have written about that day. Because while the day of her birth was amazing, it was not the grande finale. It was only the beginning of her becoming.

Beginnings: September 1998

As autumn leaves begin to change
to brilliant reds,
fiery oranges,
and yellow-greens,
gently drifting down from treetops,
I come along.
I come out kicking,
doing a little jig,
a preview of a young lady,
doing kicks so high
I fear I might hit my face.
Feet gliding,
Footwork so complicated
I can’t wrap my head around it
half the time.

Mom says I was the prettiest baby she ever saw,
but in my opinion,
she only says that
because she’s my mom.
She says
it was the longest night of her life
considering she checked into the hospital
in the afternoon,
and didn’t have me
until nine-fifty the following morning.
Ever since then,
I have slept until about

At birth,
for the first and last time in my life,
my size was above average.
With eyes like coffee,
and hair like toffee,
just like my dad,
and a taste for reading,
just like my mom,
I am me.

A fondness for numbers
and logic puzzles,
inherited from neither parent,
is uniquely mine.
My comments are as dry as the desert
and as numerous as the grains of sand within them.
And my parents have given up hope
of making me talk less
because they know it’s useless.


How fitting that we celebrate Easter in the springtime. Any other time of the year would not do. Falling leaves and bare branches do not speak to us in the same way as purple magnolias and budding trees. And while Easter is about many things: bunnies and jelly beans; new dresses and shiny shoes; breakfast casseroles and honey hams; colored egg hunts and family gatherings; marshmallow peeps and my favorite, Cadbury mini eggs, isn’t Easter really about One thing? New Life. And the bible tells us that Easter is a game changer. Resurrection changes everything.

A situation I cannot change. Wish I could, but it’s out of my hands. Weariness. Daily striving to live and love in a broken, fallen world. But my heavy burden is temporary – outweighed by the glory to come, when every tear will be wiped away by my Maker’s nail-pierced hand. Sadness gone. Death obsolete. Joy unspeakable and life immeasurably more than I could ever dream of or imagine. Strength and grace enough for today, and hope for tomorrow. Resurrection changes everything.

I had a hard day. Too impatient. Angry, irritated, critical. Setting a tone that promotes more irritation and impatience. Falling short. Can’t measure up. BUT…I am forgiven! My sins are forgiven! As far as the east is from the west He has removed my sins from me. He took my punishment. A crown of thorns, a sword in his side. By blood and water I am forgiven and cleansed. He was broken, I’m made whole. I am accepted and loved by the God of the universe. The perfect, holy God of everything that is, has ever been, and ever will be. I live forgiven. Jesus paid my debt, and that changes everything.

Like a vapor…like fading flowers. Life, fragile and fading.

Shock. Grief. Surreal. Crushing floods of fear. Dreams unrealized. Loss of a life dearly loved and wanted. Gratitude for life that remains. Clinging to Hope. Choosing to trust. But… Jesus is risen! Comfort and peace imparted. He really is alive! And that changes everything. An empty tomb fills us with HOPE. Death overcome. The grave conquered. Eternal security. The spirit does not fade. Life – new life. RESURRECTED LIFE in the very presence of GOD. Hope of HEAVEN. The truth of Easter…Jesus is alive! Love has made the way for RESTORATION, REDEMPTION, and REUNION. All things will be made right. Jesus made the way, and that changes everything.

Revelation 7:17

Psalm 103:12

Isaiah 53:4,5

John 14:6

John 11:25-27



LOL is probably the most overused, underwhelming texting lingo of our day. And the funny thing is, it hardly ever really means “laughing out loud.” Most often, it means, “I found that mildly amusing. One corner of my mouth went up just a tad and I might have even let out a little snicker.”

Then there is ROTFL – is that even right? Rolling on the floor laughing – but of course nobody is actually rolling on the floor. This just means that the person is highly amused and probably let out one solid “Ha!”, but I would bet they didn't even LOL, for real.

So that’s my question: When was the last time you laughed out loud? Laughed so hard that you cried? Couldn’t fall asleep because every time you thought about whatever made you laugh, you laughed all over again?

Recently, a couple of episodes of Friends made me LOL. The one where they all go on vacation to the beach and the humidity makes Monica’s hair frizzy. With each scene her hair gets increasingly frizzier, the rest of the gang cracks jokes, and by the end of the show (she is probably wearing a wig) she looks like Bozo the clown. I laughed so hard I cried. Or, (click to view)“The One where Joey speaks French.” My hubby and I were both crying over that one. Or my absolute favorite, “The One with Joey on The Pyramid game show.” It’s like there’s a switch in the deepest part of our psyches that can move us from laughter to tears and back again, like the switch on a railroad that sends the train on a different track. And I don’t know what happens, or the science behind it, but laughing that hard is cleansing on a very deep level. Refreshing release. It feels so good to laugh.

Nothing beats the “I can’t breathe” kind of laughter. And a close second is hearing someone you love laugh that hard. Recently I was on the phone with my sister, Kari, and she told me to check out some funny postings from a mutual facebook friend. Here’s what I read:

"I don't want to make anyone jealous but....I can still fit into the earrings I wore in high school!" Bahaha!

"Oh I'm sorry...did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?" Bahahaha!

"Welcome to Hollister, would you like a gas mask and a flashlight?"

“Sunglasses: allowing you to stare at people without getting caught. It's like Facebook in real life!"

Kari had already read these quotes, but she didn’t want to end our call because it was so much fun hearing me laugh out loud.

And is there any sound more divine than hearing your children belly laugh? It is irrelevant whether or not you find the object of their laughter worthy – hearing or seeing others laugh is contagious and immensely enjoyable.

Makes me wonder if God laughs? I usually think of Him in more serious terms: Loving, Holy, Sovereign, All-powerful, and rightly so. But Laughing? Does He really laugh? I think He does, and I think He loves to hear His children LOL. One of my favorite paintings of Christ is one where his head is thrown back, and he's laughing out loud. The gospels describe Jesus as being "full of joy," and great with children. And we know that anyone that is great with kids has to have a sense of humor.

This Christmas, some friends and I took our children Christmas caroling at a nursing home. After visiting a couple of the residents in their rooms and serenading them with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” my friend and I overheard this conversation in the hall between two six-year-old children in our group:

“How long do you think before all these people die?”

“I don’t know, maybe two years?”

“Yeah, probably two years.”

Before Christmas, my husband, Bernie, and I did a little shopping. We made our purchases and then headed out to the parking lot. Next stop: lunch. I stood by the passenger door of our silver Toyota Sienna, waiting for Bernie to unlock the door. I tried the handle a couple of times, listening for the “click” of the locks and wondering what was taking him so long. I finally looked through the passenger side window to give him a “what’s the hold-up?” gesture, and there he was – two cars over, laughing his head off in the driver’s seat. I joined him, in our minivan and in laughter, because life is more fun if you can laugh at yourself.

Laughter is the best medicine. Isn’t that what Reader’s Digest has been saying all these years? Their humor column, now called, “Life’s Funny That Way,” is the first thing I turn to when I pick up a copy in the doctor’s office waiting room. I’m sure that the articles, Instant Ways to Energize Your Life, and Inspiring Love Stories are very good, but I only have a few minutes, and I need to laugh. These are from the Feb. 2012 issue (read while waiting for my daughter at the orthodontist’s office.)

I finally convinced my mother that it was a good idea for her to learn to text. Her first message to me? “Whereisthespacebar?” –Cindy Roden, Dallesport, Washington

After one glance at my updated driver’s license photo, I said the first thing that came to mind: “Ugghhh!”

“What’s wrong?” the DMV clerk asked.

“I look ancient in this picture.”

“Well look at the bright side: In five years, you’ll love it.” –Andrea Raiter, Milford, MA

The topic for my third-grade class was genetics. Smiling broadly, I pointed to my dimples and asked, “What trait do you think I passed on to my children?”

One student called out “Wrinkles!”– Lynn Gragg, Woodbury, Tennessee

And what about the times we laugh inappropriately at certain happenings? Like the YouTube video of the woman who fell into a mall fountain because she was texting? I watched that video over and over, laughing harder with each viewing. I laugh when people trip. I laugh when my husband can’t get the leash on our puppy – she’s biting him, he’s yelling, “Stop biting me!!” and I’m laughing out loud. Does this make me a bad person? Sometimes something strikes me as funny, and I don’t really know why. Like this picture I found:

I wouldn’t have use for a book like this, and I can’t think of anyone I’d like to punch in the face, but it still made me laugh. Out loud.

If you’re like me, you could probably use a little more laughter in your life. So find a show that makes you laugh; spend time with people that make you laugh; make someone LOL.

A couple more, because it’s hard to stop:

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the heck she is.” ~Ellen DeGeneres

Me: "Every time I look at this table, there is more and more C-R-A-P on it..."
My 6-yr old, about 5 seconds later: "Why don't you just say crap?"

"Wow, that's a nice lookin' pair of crocs." said no one ever.


Happy Old Year!

I have a ritual that I do in early January, sort of an Old Year tradition. Rather than looking ahead to the coming year, it involves looking back at the one I just finished. Instead of tossing my old day planner when I buy its replacement, I carve out some time to reflect over the past 12 months.

With steaming coffee in hand, and a pen and journal next
to me, I start in January and work my way through the days,
weeks, and months. I’m reminiscing, observing patterns,
watching dreams and friendships unfold.

Most of what is scribbled on the pages is ordinary – the stuff of everyday living:
soccer practices and dance classes; pay days and ‘pay bills’ days; dentist appointments,
play dates and writing deadlines; Bible verses referenced in margins.

Some things are noteworthy: the blizzard of 2011 and subsequent snow days, my oldest daughter getting braces, family camp, and our trip to Mexico in the summer.

And a few things are extraordinary – monumental, life-changing events─some we have chosen and some we have not. In 2011 we attended two weddings and a funeral. Our dear friends moved to Colorado (what’s so great about Colorado anyway, besides the mountains and the great climate?). My niece gave birth to a daughter. We got a puppy. A whole page of my planner is filled with names we considered, like Flo, Taffy, Chica, and Nola. We finally agreed on Lila. Did I mention that some decisions turn out to be more life-altering than you originally thought?

I made some fun observations: My oldest daughter, Katelyn, wrote me several notes throughout the year, thanking me for being her “chauffeur” and telling me, “Mom, you rock!” Seeing the frequency of her encouraging notes reminds me how important words are to her. This is why my husband and I still write thoughts for her on her white board every night before she goes to sleep. Words are the way she likes to give and receive love.

My first-grade daughter started writing notes too, but they were different in nature. Some said, “I love you, Mommy” but others revealed how important quality time is to her. On November 9th, she wrote, “Spend time together with Brenna.” And on November 23rd, “Pante Brenna’s nails. Brad Brenna’s hair.” This, of course, was the day before Thanksgiving, when we were preparing for a houseful of out-of-town guests. She wrote herself into my schedule because I kept saying, “Maybe later…”

My middle daughter, Claire, doesn’t write notes, but I see her all over the pages of my planner, in the “What’s for Dinner?” sections. She has half-joked that food is her love language, and will often say that dinner is the highlight of her day.

I was shocked to see how often we had Pesto Pizza, with Rachael Ray’s Mile High Lasagna a close second.

Scattered throughout my weeks are intentional “me” moments. Coffee with a friend. Weekly bible study. Time with my husband. Time alone. Exercising. I took a class at Harper college and attended a 4-day writers’ conference. Time for growing, serving, developing friendships, working and resting.

On my 2012 calendar, some things will continue and others will end. Pesto pizza is on the menu again tonight - a double batch - one for us and one to share with another family. But our Almblad Taco Salad Nights will be few and far between with our friends now living half-way across the country. And I plan to stay as far away from my physical therapist as possible in 2012. Our days will be filled with ordinary moments, extraordinary moments, and most likely a few surprises – joyful and painful. Only God knows what this year will bring, and I can say, like David, “But I trust in You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” Psalm 31:14-15b

How about you? When you look over the last year, what are you especially thankful for? What do you want to continue? What do you want to change? What do you need more or less of? Is your heart at peace because you are trusting in Him, knowing that your times are in His hands?