Kari's Blog

Simple Gifts

Phil 4:8-10: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I recently read about how in the 1800s, Lutheran women placed a small box in a special location in their home as a visible reminder of the graces they received.  Women would add coins to the box almost daily as they noticed these reminders of God’s blessing.  

They called it a thankoffering.  And eventually, these boxes became the origin of what is now an annual event for many Women of the ELCA groups around the world– their Thankoffering service.  

I didn’t know this was how the Thankoffering service got started until I read this article.  In fact, I didn’t even know what a Thankoffering service was or that there was such a thing in the history of the Women of the ELCA until I became a pastor.  

But I like this idea of having a visual and tangible thing that reminds us to focus on the ways God’s grace is made known to us in our lives each day and giving a thankoffering for them.  I haven’t been in the habit of giving a thankoffering myself, but I do have two items in my kitchen that help me remember to focus on God’s simple gifts and give thanks for them.   

The first one is a post-it I’ve had on the inside of one of our cupboards for quite a while.  Too often for me, out of sight means out of mind, so a couple of years ago I put this question there to prompt me to find at least one thing each day to be grateful for.  

At the time, I was going through a period where I was struggling to see God in my everyday life and I had to be intentional about noticing glimpses of God’s grace and giving thanks for them.  Having this post-it up didn’t fix things overnight, but whenever I did see it, it was the reminder I needed to turn my thoughts in a particular direction.

The second visual reminder I have is more recent.  It’s a jar that sits in my kitchen windowsill.  Sometimes it sits on our kitchen table if I need it to be even more obvious.  

But several months ago, a friend shared with me how he and his wife had the practice of writing down something they were grateful for each week on Sundays when they had dinner.  They then shared with one another what they had written down, and put the slip of paper in a jar.  

He said that at the end of the year, what they’re going to do is read through all the slips together as a way of remembering all the things they had to be grateful for and the ways they had seen God at work in their lives.  

Personally, I don’t always remember to have our family do this every week, but I keep the jar visible anyway.  Because each time I look at it, it reminds me to be on the lookout for God moments and to express my gratitude in writing. 

I share the idea of the Thankoffering box, as well as these reminders I have in my own kitchen to be on the lookout for God moments, and God’s goodness, because these days, I think we can use all the help we can get to remember to notice the little things and to focus on the good we see in the world.  And to me, that’s what focusing on the Simple Gifts of God is all about.

Because the thing is, though God is huge and beyond imagination, God is also in the simple things, and God shows up in our lives everyday all around us.  And the more we are on the lookout for those ways, the more I think we’ll see.  

But doing so doesn’t always come naturally, so we might need to train our eyes and our ears to notice God at work in the ordinary and everyday events and details of our lives.    

That’s part of the reason I appreciate the words from Philippians, chapter four.  Because the thing is, there are so many voices that come our way each day that try to distract us from the promise of God’s steadfast love and provision.  Messages that are filled with an underlying sense of fear, anxiety, mistrust, even hate and scorn.  And it can be easy to chase any one of these things down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed.  

But doing that never seems to lead to a sense of peace, or a feeling of calm.  And to me, that is one of the greatest– and even simplest– gifts of God that there is.  But that sense of peace doesn’t just happen, and whether we experience it or not is closely related to what we allow to fill our thoughts and screens.  

That’s why I think it is so important that we keep coming back to the things that are of God– and train our eyes and our ears and our hearts to notice the ways God’s love and light show up in the world.  

Be Still

I came across an intriguing quote that I want to share with you tonight.  Though it was attributed to the very popular Anonymous, it goes like this: “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart.” 

I find this quote so fitting for this time we’re in, because pandemic or not, we live in a world where there are countless messages, voices, activities, and things vying for our attention, our allegiance, and our time.  So much so that if we do not take some time to “be still,” and to allow ourselves to be present with God in an uninterrupted way, that time will never find us.

Of course, when it comes to “being still,” there are lots of reasons that we may have for why it is hard to take that time- whether it’s school, work, kids, caring for aging parents, activities, meetings, and social commitments, each of us has our own blend of things on our to do list.  

Some people may think that only introverts need quiet time.  Others may thrive on the need to be needed.  Still others are downright uncomfortable with the idea of silence or being alone with your own thoughts.  

Yet whatever the case may be, I’d like to invite you to consider that if we don’t learn to stop, be still, and in that time, be reminded of who and whose we are, eventually, our primary relationships, our health, and even the quality of our work will begin to suffer. 

Several years ago, in order to keep better tabs on all of my own commitments, I started to color code my calendar; pink was for birthdays and anniversaries, orange was for work, yellow for Thomas’s commitments, etc.  And what I eventually discovered is that there is a direct correlation between the amount of color on my calendar and how I feel about life in general.  

When there’s too much color without many breaks in between, I start to feel stressed, and even strung out.  In contrast, when I make- and even schedule in- time to be still and to literally take a few deep breaths, I almost always feel calmer and more at peace– both with who I am and with life as a whole.  

And what I realized is that this is largely because that time to be still and allow God to minister to me helps me remember that before anything else– before being a wife or mom or pastor or daughter or friend, I am a beloved child of God.  This reality means that it’s not up to me to keep the world spinning; that always, we begin anew; and that even when we mess up, our mistakes are not what define us.  

Just like our physical bodies need water, food, and exercise in order to thrive, our hearts need time to just be and to connect with God.  Some days, finding even a spare five minutes may seem impossible, but the reality is, if we don’t make time for these moments, we’ll eventually dry up and have nothing left to give.  

Sometimes, giving ourselves a few moments of stillness will mean marking that time off on our calendars, going for a drive and listening to music, or taking a walk in the woods.  Sometimes, it will mean putting down your phone, turning off your screens, and simply being present with the people around you.  

But in this day and age when doing nothing is all too often thought of as being lazy, and when technology breaks into our thoughts, our attentiveness, and our interactions with others repeatedly, we all need reminders that we are worthy of time to be still, as well as moments that help increase our appreciation of silence. 

For me, taking these small breaks are what make it possible for me to remember that my identity comes from God and from who God says I am.  And when I do that, it not only makes me a better mom, wife, and pastor, it also makes me better able to respond to whatever comes my way with a clear head and with the awareness that no matter what happens, God is with me and for me.  May the same be true for you.

The “Best”

I love trying new recipes and often search for new ones online. One of the things I often notice when I do is how many of the recipes that are posted have the title, “The Best Ever” or “The Perfect”- whether it is for meatloaf, banana bread, or taco seasoning.

Sometimes this holds true, as was the case when I found a sloppy Joe recipe my son actually likes. I know this is meant to attract the attention of people like me, in hopes of gaining more clicks and page likes. But more often than not, it seems a bit of an unnecessary addition.

Even though I’m no stranger to looking for the top recommendations in a certain location or when searching for kids’ athletic gear or something like that, I can’t help but think that our fixation on being, having, and doing the best isn’t very helpful. In fact, I could be wrong, but it adds to the general sense of frenzy that many of us feel on a daily basis.

And there’s no doubt this carries over to our kids and our expectations of them. Even though we mean well by telling them to “do their best,” our emphasis on best makes average seem somehow less than. I used to tell our kids, “Your best is the best for you,” which is slightly different, but it still implies that our best is always achievable.

But I’m beginning to think that sometimes, especially for those of us who tend to have high expectations of ourselves and others, it’s enough to just get through what needs to be done and be okay with it. I’m not saying we should encourage our kids to slough off and be social loafers- far from it. But I am saying that expecting them- or ourselves- to always give our best or be the best is unrealistic and rather unhelpful in the long run.

In an age when most of what is posted on social media shows forth the shiny edges of our lives, we tend to have a distorted idea of what other people’s lives are really like. Based on what is often posted, it would be easy to think that my kitchen is the only one with crowded counters, that my kids are the only ones that argue over many little things, that my pantry is the only one loaded and not labeled alphabetically.

Of course, I’m being extreme, and I know that I’m not the only one for whom this is the case, but I also think it could be worthwhile for us to take the pressure on ourselves down a notch and accept that perfection is over-rated. To tell our kids that while doing their best is admirable, it’s okay for them to not be the best at everything. To know that their worth isn’t based on their performance or achievements but rather on who they are as a child of God.

I don’t know about you, but I certainly have days when I’m not particularly enthused about what I’m doing and feel like I’m just going through the motions. It’s not my favorite feeling- I’d much rather feel energetic and upbeat- but it’s not realistic to feel that way everyday. Some days I just get by.

Rather than see this as a deficit, I’m learning to approach it as a day to offer myself some grace, to verbalize to my kids my thought process on those days, and to rest in the reality that in Christ, I have enough, I do enough, I am enough- even if it’s not perfect or the best.

Turkey Run

I was walking my dog the other day, as I do most days at lunchtime, and all of a sudden, a female wild turkey came running through a row of hedges onto the path we were walking on.  It was moving fairly quick, and it seemed as though the turkey clearly knew she was not where she was supposed to be.  She kept turning her head right and left, looking for a way out, yet unable to find one. 

As I watched the turkey run down the path ahead of my dog and I, I got to thinking how this pandemic has made many of us feel a lot like her: out of place and not really sure how to get back to where we want to be.  There is a sense of each of us being thrown out of life as we knew it.  

Of course, this isn’t the first time most of us have been thrust out of what is familiar and comfortable into what is new and unsettling.  Sometimes, that happens because of our own choices; at other times it’s more arbitrary and the result of living in a broken world.  

In the case of the pandemic, it’s a little bit of both, but whether we are old or young, whether we live alone or with someone, whether we like following the safety guidelines or not– our lives have been turned upside down in the last six months and those of us who are working or going to school or have young kids have especially had extra challenges added to our already full plates.

In response to all that has been happening because of the pandemic, David Brooks of the NY Times wrote an article a while ago in which he wrote, “Life and death can seem completely arbitrary.  The only thing that matters is survival.  Without the inspiration of a higher meaning, selfishness takes over.  

“This mindset is the temptation of the hour,” he says, — “but it’s wrong.  We’ll look back on this as one of the most meaningful periods of our lives.”

He then mentions Viktor Frankl, who, when writing from the madness of the Holocaust, reminded us that we don’t get to choose our difficulties.  But we do have the freedom to select our responses.  Meaning, Frankl argued, comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give, and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering.  

Brooks concluded his piece by saying that meaning will also be created by the story we tell about this moment: about the way we tie our moment of suffering to a larger narrative of redemption.  About the way we then go out and stubbornly live out that story.  

As people of faith, one of the ways we can create meaning in this moment– and one of the ways we can stubbornly live out God’s calling in our lives in this time– as Brooks puts it, is by tending to our heart in the frenzy of life.  Taking time to breathe, be still, and remember God’s promises in our lives is what is going to sustain us through this time and help us stay centered in who we are created and called to be.  

These practices are a way to find peace and wholeness in the midst of the ambiguous loss we are all experiencing.  They also offer a counter-narrative to the negative and often hate-filled messages we hear from so many sources.  They are also a way to stay connected to the people we love and the God who loves us most of all.

When you start to feel like the turkey who was frantically searching to find her way, thrust from what is familiar and comfortable into what is new and unsettling, what I want you to know is that God is there.  God will create a way forward for you.  And perhaps most importantly of all, God’s promises to care and provide for you remain intact. 

Peace in the midst of fear

I read an newsletter article recently that spoke to what many of us are feeling.  The author of the reflection, Dr. Kathie Amidei, spoke of how real and abundant fear is these days.  “The more I look for peace in the world, the more I find some peace, but not enough to allay my deepest fears,” she writes. 

“It doesn’t get at the fear I harbor, that makes me ache for a world in which all children are protected.  Or the fear we will lose the vision for unity of humanity…in a time when it seems divisiveness determines that there must be winners and losers.  Or the deeply personal fear of losing the people I love.”

She goes on to speak of Jesus’ response to fear, and then concludes her article with what I believe is a profound and powerful statement.  “I am so clear about what I can’t do.  Faith is to be a student continually learning what God can do.

With this statement in mind, I am reminded of the many times throughout the Bible and my life that Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid.”  Some of his last words to his disciples were, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not let them be afraid,” (John 14:27).

My question for you today is, do you still believe that Jesus is able to calm storms, like he did for his disciples?  That he can raise you from death to life, daily?  That evil and the power of darkness has not overcome the Light that comes from God?  If so, how are you living out that faith, that trust, in the God who was and is and is to come?  

There are a number of faith practices that can help you do so: sharing highs and lows, keeping a gratitude journal, even taking a few deep breaths while praying, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”  

However you do it, taking a few moments each day to connect with the people you love and the God who loves you most of all will keep you grounded in peace, hope, and love.  It will help you remember that your first calling is as a child of God.  And it will remind you that no matter what your fear may be, God is bigger than that fear and can overcome it.

Finally

Today was the first day since mid-March that I have five hours to myself, in my own home. For someone who needs quiet to be replenished and who cares for others in every other aspect of her life, this is a big deal.

I still have a sermon to write and a funeral to get ready for, so a big chunk of my time will be spent working on those. And I know not everyone has this opportunity and that each family has its own rhythm. But for right now, I am going to simply enjoy this moment and not overthink it.

That’s the rub though, isn’t it? Giving ourselves permission to enjoy what we have, in the moment we have it, to not have to rationalize it or compare it to what other people have or don’t have. To not not let a “should” get in the way, such as, “I should do the laundry…I should go to the store…I shouldn’t be enjoying this as much as I am.”

It’s almost like we think that if we don’t feel bad about having some time to ourselves, time to do whatever we want without having to care for someone else, we should feel guilty for something, so we find something to feel guilty for, which distracts us from the moment and eventually becomes a method of self-sabotage.

That’s why for right now, I’m trying to not think of the things I should be doing; they’ll get done. I’m trying to not think too hard about how to describe how I’m feeling or what I want to say to God; “thank you” is enough. And I’m trying to not compare my situation to anyone else’s, because that too, is a way to zap the joy of a particular moment, fast.

What I’m reminded of right now is how much I need this time. Over the last several months, when it has been in such short supply, I’ve made do, like a whole lot of other parents. I’ve tried to make the best of things and have found small moments of respite to get me through. But I’ve needed more. I’ve needed time to sit. To truly relax. And honestly, to not be needed.

Finally, after a long, long period of pouring out, a little something is going back in. And right now, that feels really, really good.

When it feels like everything is falling apart

I know various traditions view this differently, but the way I look at it, there is some suffering in life that simply does not make sense.  And it likely never will.  We live in a broken world and as a result, there is suffering that is both caused by us and that comes our way for no good reason.  

But instead of trying to make sense of it all, I find there is a sense of peace that comes when we learn to accept this reality, when we are able to give thanks in spite of our circumstances, and when we come to realize that no matter what happens, and whether or not things make sense, God is right there with us.

This is part of what I hear Job saying in Job 28, the part referred to as the “wisdom chapter.”  In this chapter, Job compares searching for wisdom to mining for various kinds of precious metals and stones.  He acknowledges that though there are many things humans can do, there are limits to our understanding, and human beings are wise to accept them and admit that only God knows the way to wisdom. 

“To fear God is wisdom,” Job declares (Job 28:28).  And it’s helpful to know that the Hebrew word for “fear,” used here, literally translates to “awesome.”  That is to say, true wisdom lies in breathless reverence for God’s mystery and expansiveness, in acknowledging God as the Creator and accepting our place as one of God’s created beings.

To me, this is the thing that brings peace.  Because in those times in my life when it has seemed as though everything is falling apart, or when that has been the case for someone I hold dear, the thing I most need to hear isn’t why those things were happening.  It was that I was not alone and that God was there in those times with me and would help me through, especially when I couldn’t see the way.

With this in mind, one of the things I can’t help thinking about when I read Job is how in our modern culture, the concept of being blessed has become synonymous with privilege, wealth, health, and happiness.  

We label everything from the birth of a new baby to finding a close parking spot with the hashtag blessed.  And we talk about the fact that we are blessed with healthy children or a number of grandchildren or some other thing that we can point to, to prove our blessedness, as though it were a state of being.

And although it has variations, there’s a message in a lot of our Christian churches today that if we just do enough of the right things, we will be blessed.  That is, if we pray or believe or try hard enough, good things will come.  Yet in Christ, blessing is not something meant to be equated to material possessions or a particular set of circumstances or even a reward for particular behaviors.  

Certainly, there are benefits that come from putting effort into reading our Bible, praying, making time for God, and participating in worship.  But those benefits are related to a greater sense of purpose and identity and peace, not fortunate circumstances or a life free from struggle.

Certainly, there is something attractive that if we just do things a certain way we will have a good life, one of which is it feeds into us thinking that we have more control than we probably do.  

But problems arise when we start to think that because we are doing those things, no harm will come our way.  Problems also arise if we connect God’s presence in our lives to an absence of suffering.  

After all, the God who has created and claimed us didn’t avoid or demolish or erase suffering by sending Jesus came into the world, but rather entered into it.  And in so doing, showed us what true love and faithfulness and compassion looks like.  

So rather than think about blessed as an answer to “what” we are.  Today, I invite you to turn that around a bit, and to think about blessed as being “who” you are.  And more specifically, it’s who we are, because of who God is.  

To put it another way, blessed is an identity, it is who we are as children of God.  And then out of that identity, no matter who we are or what our circumstances in life may be, we are given a sense of purpose and meaning and intention that gives shape to our lives.

Though we may never know this side of heaven why certain things happen or the answer to the elusive question of why there is undeserved suffering in the world, what I hope you take with you hear today is the reminder that you are have already received the greatest blessing there is: the blessing that says, you are loved, forgiven, and made whole.  You were yesterday.  And you will be tomorrow.

There is a peace that settles us when we are able to look steadily at this truth, and accept that life is not always as we want it to be and stop pretending it is something it is not. 

Yes, there will be times when we do not feel particularly blessed.  And yes, there are times when life is inexplicably hard.  Yet even in those times when everything seems as though it is falling apart, we can be confident that God is with us and will see us through.

Sometimes Life Just Stinks

The other day I took our dog for a walk to a quiet place not far from our house. While I was walking– trying to let go of some stress and worrisome thoughts, to be honest– I started to smell something rather unsavory.  

It wasn’t super strong, so I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but it wouldn’t go away either.  This was sort of in the periphery of my mind, until I turned the corner again (it’s sort of a circular route) and passed by a spot that smelled stronger than others.  This caused me to look down, and sure enough, there was an offering from a dog that had been there for awhile.  

Since I could see it wasn’t a fresh offering, I knew that it on its own should not have been the reason for the smell.  So I looked down, and as you may have guessed, there was evidence of that offering on the bottom of my shoe.  All of a sudden, it made a lot of sense why I hadn’t been able to get away from the smell.  

While I admit this isn’t the most savory example to start off with on a Sunday morning, it does seem to be a pretty good illustration for some of the things that have been happening lately.  Because the reality is that there are things in life that stink.  And sometimes, unlike me being able to wipe off my shoe, you just can’t make that stink go away.

We have plenty of recent examples of this reality related to COVID-19: people unexpectedly losing their jobs, the incredible pressure on healthcare professionals, the vast number of people who have gotten sick and died. There are also plenty of examples related to systemic injustice, political turmoil, and natural disasters. 

There are no easy or simple answers to all that is happening and has happened.  The reality is that there are few areas of our lives that this virus and the tension in our society hasn’t touched.  And often, lives are touched in ways that we don’t necessarily see.

That’s why, in addition to taking necessary steps to protect yourself and those around you, it’s important to take some time each day to breathe deep, to take notice of the things we have to be grateful for, and to allow God’s Spirit to minister to us.

When I am feeling overwhelmed by worry or anxiety related to the uncertainty of these times, I need to get out of my own head to be reminded of God’s truth and God’s goodness.  One of the ways I do that is by listening to uplifting music, and I am often struck by what a difference doing so can make.  

Another thing that often helps– although it does require a bit more intentionality– is surrendering my worries, fear, and anxiety about what I can’t control to God.   Surrendering doesn’t mean that we give up or that we give up hope.  Rather, it means that we accept what we cannot change and focus instead on what we can do to be healthy, manage our emotions, and take the actions that will move us to being calmer and more at peace.  It means, as it says in 1 Peter, to “Cast your cares on God because God cares for you.” 

This is an important verse to keep in mind, because it reminds us that, despite any evidence to the contrary, God is near; God is in control; and God will provide. 

Even for those who are in Christ, there is no getting around the fact that some things in life really stink.  Or that sometimes, there is nothing we can do to make that stink go away.  But it’s in those times, that the promise of the resurrection is most real.  

In fact, sometimes, it’s when we have nothing left to lose that we learn most fully that there really is nothing that can separate us from the love of Jesus, and that our hope in Christ is not in vain.  May that truth hem you in behind and before today.

Looking for the Good in Others

“Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” Psalm 150:6

Our kids have enjoyed the PBS Kids show, Wild Kratts, for many years. The cartoon explores the creature powers of all sorts of wildlife, from sea anemones and harpy eagles to orangutans and swamp dragons (the biggest predator of mosquitos). I can’t tell you how much I have personally learned from this show about a variety of creatures I had barely heard of before. I love hearing my kids tell me about something they have learned on the show and the way they are learning to appreciate the vastness and greatness of God’s creation. 

Since we live in a culture of judgment, in the world where it is not uncommon to villainize the “other,” it’s sometimes easy for this mindset to get lost, or overruled. As much as might want to focus on the good, there is so much noise and negativity around us, we can get easily get swept up into it.

On top of that, I recently learned that the amygdala– the part of our brain that holds our fear response– lights up when we think of the “out group,” those people who look, think, or live differently from us. Unless we are intentional about recognizing this and centering ourselves in God’s loving kindness, the temptation is to keep fixing our attention on what makes us different from others, rather than on our shared humanity and what we might be able to learn from one another.

When I think about this, I’m reminded of Martin and Chris Kratt and the way they invite viewers to appreciate the amazing powers of the earth’s creatures, big and small.  As Psalm 150 puts it, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” and the Kratt brothers have a way of helping viewers see the gifts, strengths, and uniqueness of each creature. As we read these words, we are invited to pause and ponder the same.

It’s fitting to me that this psalm is the conclusion of the songs and prayers included in the book of Psalms. In a way, the end is a beginning, an invitation to be on the lookout for and to give thanks for God’s presence in our lives through all of life’s twists and turns. What if we lived our lives in such a way that praise was never far from our lips and the way we ended our day?  

Granted, every interaction and every circumstance is not going to fill us with awe and a sense of wonder that leads us to praise. There are and will be times we are discouraged, upset, and filled with sadness. In those times, it may seem like a stretch to praise God with lute and harp, with tambourine and dance, and with loud clashing cymbals, as Psalm 150 extols.  

Yet in those times, Psalm 150 invites us to look for the goodness in the people and world around us. To turn our attention to the way the bees pollinate our plants, the sound of the crickets chirping (even if one is stuck in our garage), and to the ways the person who seems so different from us is using his or her gifts. As we do, perhaps we’ll be reminded of the psalmist’s words, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” and be inspired to join our song of praise with theirs.

Who You Are

Our neighbor recently loaned our kids a book that I haven’t read in ages.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve read it to them since they were babies.  It’s one that may be familiar to you, but it’s message is one that we probably need to be reminded of daily.

The book is titled You Are Special, written by Max Lucado, and it tells the story of a group of wooden people, called the Wemmicks, who are all carved by a woodcarver named Eli.  No two Wemmicks are the same.  Yet instead of this being celebrated, the Wemmicks give each other stickers based on what they think of one another.  The ones with smooth wood and pretty faces are given star stickers.  Those who are less pretty and rough around the edges are given gray dot stickers.

The same thing happens when it comes to talent.  Some talents are thought of more highly than others, and so the Wemmicks who can do things like lift heavy sticks or sing pretty songs are given stars.   Those whose talents are not as obvious or valued are given gray dots.

Punchinello was one of the Wemmicks who had dots all over him.  When he did something clumsy, or said something silly, the other Wemmicks would give him more dots.  And sometimes they gave him dots for no other reason than the fact that he already had so many.  Because of all the dots, Punchinello didn’t think he was a very good wooden person.

But then, one day, he meets a Wemmick who has no dots nor stars on her at all.  In fact, if one of the Wemmicks tried to give her a dot or star, it simply fell off.  This is so strange to Punchinello that he asks her how she does it, and she tells him simply, “It’s easy.  Every day I go to see Eli.”

Eli is the woodcarver, the one who made each of the Wemmicks in the first place.  And though it takes him awhile, out of curiosity, Punchinello eventually goes to see Eli.  He isn’t sure what he’ll find or what he’ll say when he gets there, but when he arrives, Eli knows exactly who he is right away and greets him by name.

At first Punchinello feels like he has to defend the gray dot stickers that he has all over him, but Eli interrupts, and tells Punchinello that what matters most is what he, Eli, thinks of Punchinello.  “And I think you’re special,” Eli says, “because I made you.”  

Punchinello asks Eli why he matters to him, and Eli replies, “Because you’re mine.”  He then goes on to tell Punchinello that the more Punchinello is able to trust in Eli’s love for him, and what Eli thinks about him, more than anyone else, the less the stickers will stick to him.  Punchinello isn’t really sure about it at first, but as he is leaving Eli’s shop, and thinks in his heart, “I think he means it,” one of his dots falls to the ground.

In my opinion, this is a message we all need to hear.  That we matter to God.  That we belong to God.  That we are beloved, forgiven, made whole and redeemed, because of who God is.  So often, our worries, our fears, and our sense of insecurity keep us from living in and out of this truth.

What’s more, we live in a world where there are numerous messages coming our way every day trying to tell us who we are or what we need to do in order to be important, special, worthy, and enough.  But just as it was for Punchinello, striving for affirmation from external forces or people will never make us feel whole.  Because, it’s what the One who created us thinks about us that matters most.  And it’s who God says we are– and the identity that we have received in Christ– that leads to life.  

The more we trust in this identity and in God’s love for us– the more we turn to God for affirmation and to be reminded of who we are rather than seek affirmation through success or wealth or power– the more we will experience the freedom and the fullness that God desires for us.  It’s there that our hearts are tended, we experience peace, and where we can let go of the pressure we’ve been putting on ourselves to be and do it all.

It’s by being filled up with God’s love for us, warts and all, that allows us to be generous and compassionate in our interactions with others rather than get caught up in competition, comparison, and other things that deteriorate our sense of community and shared humanness.  As God says to each of us through the prophet Isaiah, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)  May this reality be the one in which you live and move and find your being.