It’s Not Just A Leafy Branch

Palm branch

Photo courtesy of Scott Webb of

For Christians the world over tomorrow is Palm Sunday. It marks the day that Jesus made his way back to Jerusalem for the last time. He had spent the prior three years performing miracles, healing the afflicted, and preaching the tenets of the Kingdom of God.

Tomorrow we’ll wave our palm branches as we process into our churches.

But why? What’s the significance of palms? The gospels tell us that the crowds who had lined up for Jesus’ triumphal entry waved palms while shouting Hosanna as he rode past them on a donkey.

Biblical scholars offer several explanations. I lean strongly toward the answer that the Jewish people were thinking, “THIS IS THE GUY! The one we’ve been waiting for. Here comes Jesus of Nazareth, KING of the Jews. Our King! He’s going to rescue us from this Roman domination system. He’s going to free us from this tyranny and life will be good.”

And so they waved their branches of palm trees—a sign of victory fit for a king. In those times, victors of battle were greeted and honored with waving palms. It was also an old custom to receive persons of great authority in this manner.

Hosanna (from the Hebrew hosianna) was an age-old cry for help or saving. We now use it as a proclamation of joy, but clearly the people were longing to be rescued from domination and were crying out for help as well as acknowledging that this was the chosen one who would make that happen.

It’s believed that people expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman government by force in order to establish his own kingdom. Really? The most loving and compassionate human being (because we must always remember that Jesus was a real person) who ever lived on this earth was going to use force? They heard the words but they didn’t get his message.

And it’s clear that not even his disciples, the twelve who had traveled with him, experienced the teachings and healings and lessons first-hand, truly understood the meaning of Jesus establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.

With Billy Graham’s recent death, there have been many stories and programs about him. One of my favorite stories is his crisis with faith. Yes, you heard me. Billy Graham, surely one of the most secure men of God ever, had a faith crisis.

His grandson Will shares the story in the link at the end of this post. But here’s a quote about his grandfather and the crisis: “….he walked out into the woods and set his Bible on a stump – more an altar than a pulpit – and he cried out: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions…others are raising.”

So yes, we do have questions. We don’t understand it all. For instance, science has proved that the world is 4.5 billion years old, yet the age of the world according to the Bible is 6000 years. We can believe the creation story of the world and all that’s in it being created in seven days as we think of days, or we can believe that a “God day” of creation wasn’t just 24 hours. Or we can believe that God created the big bang and later inspired the writer of Genesis to tell the story in a more understandable way.

I love reading the story of creation each year at the Easter vigil. No science gets in my way of understanding that, however it happened, creation was by God’s hand.

I think God intends us to think about our faith deeply and talk about it openly.  And if the disciples and Billy Graham had some trouble understanding it all, I think we’re in good company.

Here’s the link to the story by Will Graham.






Let’s Have a Heart-to-Heart Talk


Photo courtesy of

The traditional symbol for heart is, of course, this: 

Even though the real human heart looks nothing like that.

My guess is that this symbol, a stand-in for the word love, is the most easily recognized and most-used shape in America.

We see bumper stickers that read I    (fill in the blank) such as NY, my Border Collie, or mountain climbing. Symbolic onscreen confetti hearts flow when you love something on Facebook. Our kids display their affection by making us heart-shaped construction paper cards in kindergarten.


Photo courtesy of Anna Kolosyuk on

We take photos of ourselves making hearts with our hands, and we see hearts in nature.


Photo courtesy of Omer Salom on

Some of my friends have seen hearts in the foam of their caffe latte.

There is a whole website devoted to the heart emoji to help us express the exact type of love we’re feeling.

We use compassionate phrases such as, “My heart goes out to you.” In happy times we say, “My heart was bursting with joy.” In grief and loss, we describe ourselves as being broken-hearted. Feeling fear, we offer up, “My heart was in my throat.”

I think we’re in love with hearts. That would be: We ♥  ♥♥♥.               

The word heart is used over a thousand times in the Bible, as in “Create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

Marcus Borg’s book The HEART of Christianity reminds us that in the Bible, the heart is a metaphor for the self at its deepest level—our spiritual center. God’s purpose is for us to live our lives with open hearts; to be compassionate, kind, and loving people.

Borg’s own examples of open-heartedness include those above as well as being alive to wonder, remaining grateful, and maintaining a passion for justice for all people.

The author makes the point that closed-heartedness can be termed (from the Greek) sklerokardia – a hardening of the heart.

We can believe that people who commit truly horrific acts of violence, hatred, and greed are the best examples of hard-heartedness. But Borg is clear that this type simply represents one end of the spectrum; there are other ways of being hard-hearted that are not so extreme.

Consider this: What behaviors, acts, or words do we use when we’re being hard-hearted? We may display impatience or simply want our own way. Maybe we’re unwilling to truly listen to someone with a different viewpoint than our own. Our hard-heartedness could show up in our labeling or name-calling of another person even if that happens only inside our heads. It’s looking away from someone with a physical or mental disability. It’s being too busy, too involved with our own lives, to be mindful of the world around us. When we’re critical or sarcastic, that’s our hard-heartedness on display.

The evidence of hard-heartedness in my life may not be the same as in yours. It’s up to each of us to identify and replace our closed heart with an open heart.

 that idea.





Just Where Do You Think You’re Going?

The Path

A path to Grace Church, Goochland, Virginia — Photo by Brian French. Used with permission.

Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous risks, and embracing challenges at every step along the way…You are on the path, exactly where you are meant to be right now… And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, beauty, wisdom, power, dignity, and love.    Used with permission of author Caroline Joy Adams.

I’m part of a faith formation group at church. A dozen of us meet weekly, talking openly about our faith and discussing reactions to and thoughts about faith-focused books.

In a discussion on discernment (how to know when we’re listening to the voice and will of God or…wait, it that just my ego shouting?), I shared that one of the ways I hear God speak to me is when I receive the same focused message in various formats. (And no, it’s not Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.)

Here’s a current message I’ve received several times over the last three months: Follow the path.

On the stand next to my desk lies a book I bought in December: The Path…a Journey Through the Bible.

In January I was cleaning out a stash of paperwork from past projects. One page explains the spiritual aspects of a labyrinth. It had been a handout I gave middle school students before we walked a labyrinth. The above opening quote was the first paragraph of the labyrinth page. And the next line on the handout was this: We are all on the path.

Not a path, mind you. But THE path.

By this time I’m answering God. “OK, I’m getting the message of the Path. But what path?” Receiving no immediate reply, I let it slip from my conscious thought.

In February as I spoke with business people in town about opportunities to add my public speaking classes to leadership and management training programs, several responded with, “You should talk to The Path Foundation. They do training for non-profits and hire instructors from various fields.”

The Path Foundation. The Path.

Are you expecting a happy ending to be inserted here? Sorry.

I haven’t contacted them yet. Letting my insecurity of “Am I good enough to do this?” get in the way of action, I’ve hesitated.

Even though late February’s mail brought me The Path Foundation’s Year in Review brochure, I’ve still held back. I’m usually a highly confident person and so I’m struggling to explain why I haven’t acted upon this.

I’m calling them on Monday because I got one more message the other day.

On pet therapy duty, we entered a hospital room where a woman was sitting up in bed, some personal effects arranged on the bed table in front of her. And what item do you suppose was facing my direction? It was a small black nylon bag with the distinctive Path Foundation logo.

I inquired about it. The woman’s grandson had given it to her after volunteering at Path the prior year. As the woman petted the therapy dog, I kept staring at that nylon bag and the colorful logo. I mean, what were the odds?

In sharing this story with my friend Philip, I said, “It’s as if I’m so dense that God had to keep sending me the same clues over and over.”

He replied, “Here’s my take on it. God loves you so much that he hasn’t given up on your following where this leads.”

I like Philip’s version better than my own.

Maybe I’m intended to be an instructor at Path. Or maybe I’m intended to cross paths (no pun intended) with someone there that will lead in another direction. We’ll see how this unfolds.

Oh, and one more thought from the labyrinth handout: “With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not.”

I’m choosing to enter.

Note to my readers: I’m making a change in how I provide opportunities for you to learn more. So that you have the choice to mindfully read each post in full without clicking on links throughout my story, links will be provided at the end. And of course, soon I’ll be writing on what prompted me to make this change. Stay tuned!

Here are the links to learn more about what I’ve written today:


 Author of opening quote

 The Path Foundation    








A Pebble in a Pond


Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash

A great teacher once challenged me to consider the effect caused by tossing a pebble into a pond.

While it’s calming to watch the ripples in the water gently moving outward from where the pebble entered the pond, most of us watch for a while, and then move on.

But think about those tiny surges we set in motion by that one action. The rings move outward and onward until they touch the shore on the other side with an almost silent splash.

The teacher suggested that we are the pebble and the pond represents our life.

We show up (enter the pond) and the initial ripples we create, the strongest ones, are the people whose lives we touch the most.

Those would be our immediate family, our close friends, the people we strongly interact with every day at home or school or work or the neighborhood.

The next outward-bound ripples are the people we still interact with but not as frequently or closely as the first set. These would include casual friends, our child’s teacher, or extended family we don’t see or talk to regularly.

The third set is still part of our universe but even further removed such as people we know to speak to (a clerk in the grocery story, the mailman) but who do not play an active role in our life.

We have an effect on all of these people by how well we treat them. Regardless of which set they’re in, when we interact with people, we have an influence on them.

But there are many more rings still extending across that pond.

They represent the people who are influenced by the people from our rings.

Think about that: You have an effect on people you don’t even know.

When I taught this lesson to middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club, I used my husband as an example.

Spending twenty years as a volunteer paramedic in our town meant that my husband interacted briefly with many people he didn’t know and never saw again after the emergency.

I told the kids a story of his saving the life of a teenager who had been trapped inside a crashed car. The boy recovered and went on to live his life. Think of the people in the boy’s circles who were influenced by my husband because without him, the boy likely would have died.

Every single person that boy (now grown up) ever impacts the rest of his life goes back to the moment when he appeared in a ripple in a certain pond.

And everyone in the boy’s life goes on to influence their own set of people, and so on and so on.

We each have a tremendous responsibility to be the best person we can be to the world at large. The pond is depending on us. Love is the only answer.







A Different Way of Seeing

“A circular rainbow”…Photo by Blue Mountains Nature Photography. Used with permission.

The group discussion was on a paradigm-shifting topic. While I enjoy being challenged to think outside the perimeter of my entrenched attitudes and thoughts, this particular idea was causing me some distress.

When the facilitator asked the group for feedback, I said, “I’m disturbed.” After the group enjoyed a friendly laugh (assuming I was kidding), I admitted that I was serious. The analogy I gave was this:

Many years ago someone (I don’t know who) televised what felt like a long public service announcement. It demonstrated how easily we can be swayed to think differently on a long-held attitude or belief. Part of the program dealt with children and the American flag. It went something like this:

The scene opened with elementary school children and their elderly grey-haired teacher reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Suddenly a group of men came in and led away the teacher. The replacement teacher was a young, pretty blond. She acted as if she had no idea what the children were doing and engaged the children in conversation with questions such as: Why do you say this pledge? What is so special about the flag?

Pretending to accept and agree with their explanation, she said, “Well, if the flag is so special, let’s take it down and cut it up so we can each have a small piece of it!” And so they did, quite happily.

Ending the story, I told the group, “That’s how I feel right now—as though my understanding of how I think about this has been cut up into pieces.”

The group took in my story thoughtfully. Then the facilitator said, “Instead of cutting the flag into pieces, let’s take it down and move it to the front so we can all see it better.”

Someone else said, “Or let’s move it into the center of our circle so we can all be closer to it.”

A third person contributed, “Let’s wrap it around you to comfort you.”

The final comment was, “Or even if it had been cut into pieces, we could sew it back together.”

What meaningful responses from a group of casual friends!  One could imagine the answers as coming from life-long friends who know, love, and understand me.

It would have been easier for me to have kept silent. Many of us shy away from admitting what we perceive as a personal failure or from asking for help, even when we really need it. It can be scary.

But it’s so worth the risk.











Less Can Be More

A single rain drop poised in the bend of a shepherd’s hook. Photo by Norma Thatcher

When I took my husband to his first Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert, he thought he would be hearing Russian symphonies. Uh, no. TSO is a rock group.

If you’re not familiar with the TSO name, you still likely have heard their music during the Christmas season. Their signature song is Christmas/Sarajevo but it’s better known as Carol of the Bells, a BIG song. And it’s a HUGE number as their concert finale replete with fireworks and a laser light show.

You can also find various videos on You Tube where homeowners have synchronized their outdoor Christmas lights to the TSO version of the song.

While I’m a huge fan of the group and that particular rendition, it can be auditorily overstimulating. (Especially if you listen to sixteen versions of it trying to find the best one to link in a blog.)

Sometimes I just need to listen to quieter music such as Yo-Yo Ma on cello accompanied by Kathryn Stott on piano.

Even less sound that produces more stillness within me is that of my large wind-chime on the front porch. I hear just a few notes now and then and I find that less is more.  

The same is true with visual stimulation. Many of us truly enjoy the stunning nature photographs posted online – mountains, waterfalls, sunsets, sunrises, forests, the ocean, and flowers. How beautiful the world is!

And yet, there are times when the focus of close-up photography calms my brain and soul in a way that a masterpiece landscape shot of a mountain range cannot.

Both of these “less is more” examples say to me, “Slow down. Breathe in a long breath. Take notice of right now.”

Many of you likely have your own practice that reminds you to slow down and savor a moment. If so, please share. And if not, feel free to borrow mine until you find your own.

Photo by Norma Thatcher






Regrets Only? Please, No


Photo courtesy of JJ Thompson on Unsplash

For eight years Australian Bronnie Ware worked for a company that supplied people to provide personal care of the terminally ill. Her job description as a palliative caregiver included items such as manage medications, assist with showering and toilet needs, ensure patient’s meal needs are met.

She was quite competent in the work but she was even better at something else: listening.

In an interview she said that around the end of the first year in that line of work, she realized that most dying people—those who know they have three days to three months left to live—have deep regrets.

Bronnie began keeping a journal about her talks with those she attended to. She felt called to write about these last conversations in the hope of providing some guidance to the rest of us who still have time to change our lives. In a TED talk, she said that even though she was witnessing the heartache of regret, she felt blessed with these lessons and knew she must pass them along.

From her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, here they are:

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” This most common regret is lack of courage in making dreams a reality.
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” Ware said that nearly every man she cared for expressed this regret of losing time with their family and friends. The women had been of an age where most of them were not a primary bread-winner, so it wasn’t as common then with women. That likely has now changed.
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” They had settled for a life of mediocrity and never reached a level of being the best they could be.
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Getting caught up in the busyness of their own lives, they let relationships fade away.
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Like me, Ware believes that happiness is a choice. Many of those with this regret just settled for pretending they were content and lived lives without joy.

We’re each going to die; there’s no getting around that fact.

The question is, in our last few days, do we want to look back at our life with regret or with overwhelming joy of how we chose to live?





Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Loves Me

Photo courtesy of Susanne Karl of Unsplash

The wall plaque on display in the store produced a spontaneous laugh so loud that several other shoppers turned to stare at me. I just pointed at the sign that read, “Jesus loves you. But he loves me more.”

A beautiful message followed by an arrogant zinger…hmm, I have to now question why that struck me as funny.

I’m guessing it reminded me of sibling rivalry where we compete for mom’s or dad’s time, attention, and gifts because, surely, whichever one of us gets the most means we are loved the best. Right?

I don’t have a single friend who, as a parent, holds that mindset. We love our children as individuals, treasuring the extraordinarily different gifts they bring to the world.

At my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday party, my husband paid tribute to his mom by saying, “You treated each one of the six of us as though we were the one who was most dearly loved.”

There was a moment of my daughter’s childhood that I vividly recall. She was standing on her bed as I helped her to get dressed. As a five-year-old, she took faith quite seriously, and we were talking about how much God loves us.

With confidence she said, “But God loves good people more, right, Mommy?”

The “does not compute” look of puzzlement spread across her little face as I shook my head no. “No, he loves everyone just the same. He loves people who do bad things and aren’t sorry, people who are mean, and even the people who don’t love him.”

I think up to that point she may have felt that God was like Santa, keeping a list of who’s naughty or nice. And who wants to purposely end up on that naughty list?

In his meditation of January 11, Richard Rohr notes that one of the ways we can awaken our core identity is by “fully recognizing God’s image in all creatures, without exception.” Wow.     

Too often we want to write off people by labeling them as something distasteful or unappealing. I know that I have commented more than once that I prefer not to be around negative people. What if, instead of focusing on the negativity, I looked for God’s image in the person? What will I find?

Loves me, loves me not, loves me, loves me, loves me. And loves you too.




The Faces of Christmas

Photo courtesy of on Unsplash

About half a dozen years before my mother-in-law Rosalie died, I interviewed her to preserve her life story not just for those of us in this generation who loved her, but also for the future ones who would never have the opportunity to be part of her life.

One of my interview questions was, “Tell me about your favorite Christmas.”

It didn’t take but a few seconds for her to reply, “The last Warrenton Christmas when Honey was still alive.”

Honey was her beloved husband of 67 years when he died in 1995.

And a Warrenton Christmas referred to Christmas at my home. My husband and I had the youngest grandchildren in the family as well as the roomiest house, so it made sense for everyone to meet at our home. And the tradition was cast.

In Christmas of 1994 Laura would have been eleven and Tim was eight; just the right ages for their faces to show joyous anticipation of all things Christmas .

Around the table many faces portrayed happiness at seeing one another. Some faces were tired from having worked busy schedules right up to the big day. A face or two showed the strain of trying to do too much in the week leading up to December 25.

The faces of the matriarch and patriarch of the family showed overwhelming love for each one of us, and there was something else there too.

I call it thoughtful appreciation. It was as if Rosalie and Carroll realized how deeply they were blessed, and they didn’t want a single joy to go unnoticed.

You know, I’m a proactive hostess, doing as much ahead of time that I can. I think each year that THIS Christmas I’ll have time to sit and visit with each person before dinner, but then the day arrives and there seems to be a constant flow of “one more thing” to do.

This year, really…I mean it. I want to be like Rosalie and Carroll were on that day from my past and be thoughtfully appreciative of every single blessing that surrounds me.

I am wishing the same for you.





Because That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It!


Photo courtesy of Otto Norin on Unsplash

My sister Bev shared that as her whole family sat around their Thanksgiving table, someone asked, “What are we doing for Christmas?”

Bev’s grown son (who himself has adult children) looked as though someone had just made an inappropriate remark. “Why, we’re coming here, of course. Just like always,” he replied.

Many kids, even grown-up ones, really like to hold on to the traditions of the Christmas season.

I recall that after my own children were out of high school, I suggested altering the Christmas Day breakfast. My son Tim threw a fit. How could I even suggest NOT having cinnamon rolls as part of breakfast on Christmas?

Sometimes the cycle of life breaks traditions for us. As little ones grow up, get married, buy a home, and have their own little ones, going “over the river and through the woods” to Grandma’s house may lose some of the original appeal.

And as the Matriarch of the family herself ages, cooking, cleaning, and baking for a group of people (even those she loves dearly) begins–as the years unfold–to be a bit too much. I’m actually dreading the year that I start to feel those twinges that, “maybe this is the last year for this.”

We expect life to go on status quo. This time, this present, feels as if it will last forever, even as logically we know that to be untrue.

My Episcopal church uses handmade kneelers, and each one tells its own brief story of the person for whom it’s dedicated. Looking at the kneelers you can guess from the dates of his life and death, that this sailor did not survive World War II. And that young girl didn’t even make it to age eleven. This woman lived to 97.

After spending thirty years at St. James’ some of the people named on the kneelers I recall. But many I do not. That makes me feel a bit sad. These people, regardless of how long they lived, each mattered tremendously to their families and friends.

During the Christmas season we especially remember all those who are no longer part of our earthly family. They are a deep part of our traditions and in this way we feel a special closeness.

So yes, the Thatchers will still be serving cinnamon rolls for Christmas Day breakfast.