Last month, I enjoyed the band concert of a lifetime. Steve and I were in Ashland, Oregon. On the third night of our stay, we went to a concert performed by students of the American Band College of Central Washington University. Imagine a stage filled with band directors who’d come from all over the country to earn a Master of Music. We’re talking about a lot of talent! The music was beautiful and powerful, but here’s what struck me—the applause.

We, the audience, applauded after each piece, of course. But those accomplished musicians did a wonderful job of applauding one another as well. In most cases, they had to use their feet. Their hands were full of trumpets and violins, flutes and cymbals. Their feet, tapping back and forth on the stage floor, stood in for the hand clapping they couldn’t quite manage as their fellow band members completed solos.

  • They appreciated one another’s efforts in spite of their own expertise.
  • When inconvenience stood in their way, they just found another way to applaud.

The recipients of such odd, foot-tapping encouragement seemed truly touched, reminding me of the documentary I’d watched in a vintage Ashland theater just one night earlier. It was Pavarotti, a documentary about one of the most famous tenors ever to have graced our planet. Scene after scene showed him ending a performance to ear-splitting applause. Yet every time, he looked relieved and delighted, surprised and almost tearful.

Despite riches and fame, Pavarotti never lost the need for appreciation and encouragement.

A few days later, I hopped in an Uber to the airport. The driver and I chatted a bit. My nearly-last words were, “This was a five star ride. Thank you.” I was a little surprised by how much that comment mattered to him. (And it wasn’t just about earning a tip.) I’m ashamed to say that I usually just say, “Thanks,” as I’m handed my bag and head into the airport terminal. What does it really cost me to add a few words of commendation?

Appreciation matters, even in the small things.

Yes, we serve a loving Lord, and his approval is all we really need. Yet band leaders, famous tenors, Uber drivers and the rest of us find our spirits lifted when we’re appreciated by another human being. Thus it falls on us to look for ways to dole out applause wherever we can, in whatever form is available to us at the moment.

Not long ago, I challenged you to add enthusiastic greetings to your daily habits. Today, I’m asking you to add applause!

And just for good measure, here’s an interesting quote from Jan Karon’s lovely book, “A New Song,” page 29. “The old man [who had just told a joke] heard the sound of applause overtaking the laughter and leaned forward slightly, cupping his hands to his left ear to better take it in. The applause was giving him courage, somehow, to keep on in life, to get out of bed in the mornings and see what was what.”



Judgement Free Zone

pixabay handcuffs judgement free

I joined a group of women for coffee this morning. We were there to share our lives, our needs, our gifts and our prayers. The woman who brought us together had posted a sign on the wall that read “Judgement Free Zone.” (And one that said, “’Fix-It’ Free Zone” too, but that will have to wait for another day.)

Do you ever feel like the Lord is poking on you? Well, that sign was one more way he used to tell me I need to work on my awful tendency toward judgement. All of life should be a judgement free zone! Still, I struggle to ignore those nitpicky little notions that pop into my head when I see someone doing life wrong (aka not MY way). I’d like to share a few quotes that help me steer clear of judgmental muck and mire. Actually, the first should be enough for us all.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2).

“Give people room to be human.” (Joel Osteen)

“Carry a shield. And treat others as if they don’t.” (Rachelle Gardner)

Carry a shield? Yes, indeed! Since, sadly, we don’t live in a judgement free world, we’ve all got to be wary of allowing the judgment of others to wound us or, worse yet, to dissuade us from following the path we believe the Lord has laid out for us. While we are surely called to serve one another, we aren’t necessarily called to please one another.

Truth be told, though, the person on whom I often exact the toughest judgement is myself. I read these wise words a few nights ago:

“Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone you love.”

And how do we handle our fiery self-judgement when we’ve absolutely made a wrong choice? Here’s what my pastor says:

“Religion says, ‘I messed up. My dad is gonna kill me.’ The Gospel says, ‘I messed up. I need to call my dad.’”  (Ky Faciane)

Anytime we make the mistake of judging ourselves harshly, the best and only answer is to go back to our Lord, confident that he still loves us and can cover all our misdeeds. ‘Same goes for the misdeeds we see going on in other people’s lives. We can and ought to pray. Sometimes we may be called to counsel. But I’m ready to start building more judgement free zones. Join me, won’t you?!?

Grandchildren and Puppy Dogs

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One of my favorite words is “Nana” or, to be more specific “Nana!!!!” That’s the way my grandchildren say it. I have two who are old enough to talk. Every time they see me, they call out my name as if we’ve been apart for months (even though they live just two doors down.) Unless there’s a fence between us when we catch each other’s eyes, they’ll usually start running for me at full tilt. (And, yes, “Pop” gets the same treatment.)

When did we adults stop greeting one another with unbridled enthusiasm?

No, I’m not suggesting we start yelling and running, but why don’t we exude great joy when we meet one another? There’s no need to reserve such delight for those we haven’t seen in ages. We have it in our power to convey a sense of love, acceptance and importance to those we greet. It only takes a little bit of extra effort.

Steve used to tell our kids that a person’s name is the sweetest word anyone will ever hear. I don’t think that’s about ego. It’s about connection. I challenge you today to expand your “Hi, how are you?” to include a name, a buoyancy of voice, and a hug or handshake whenever appropriate. We never know who needs that sort of encouragement on a given day, so why not be prolific in our affection?

In the marketplace or office, we often deny one another the simple human touch of eye contact—reviewing our lists or sending out texts as the checker, bagger, waiter and courier take care of their responsibilities. We really do have the few extra seconds it takes to treat them like people instead of machines. (And many of them are wearing nametags—another opportunity!)

Even puppy dogs know how to make us feel important by the way they greet us. Surely we can all do a better job than our pets! So, how about it? Are your ready to make a difference every day, just by changing the way you say “Hello”? I hope so. It’s a simple way to follow our Lord’s command to love one another. Try it out! And let me know how it goes.

Love Muscles by Beth Smith (my mom!)

john arano unsplas weight training

At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote that we should desire the highest and best gifts from God.  And he said the best gift is love. This love is not some mushy, worked up, pretend or temporary love. It’s real. And if you know Jesus as your Savior, you already have it! I know that’s true because Romans 5:5 (NIV) tells us, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” It’s poured in. It’s there. All we have to do is use it, exercise it. Here are five areas where we can exercise God’s love – five love muscles we need to use. They come from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.

  • Love is patient. How can we exercise this love muscle? We could stop being in such a hurry all of the time, maybe stop and listen to someone else’s ideas for a change, or be willing to be uncomfortable in a situation and still keep a good attitude. (Grocery store check-out lines are a place where I need to practice patience.)
  • Love is kind. Kindness is a lost art in our modern world. Simply being nice makes such a difference! What exercises can we do here? Pick up someone else’s mess. Help fix dinner. Turn off the computer or the TV to listen to our mate, our children or our friends. (Just pushing the mute button doesn’t count.)
  • Love is not jealous or self-seeking. Jesus said we should lose sight of ourselves and our own interests. That’s so hard to do, especially in tough times. Do it anyway! Call someone. Send an encouraging email. Help. Give. If, everyday, we would think, “Who can we bless today?” our bent toward self-centeredness would be cured.
  • Love is not boastful or proud. Love is humble. Jesus is our great example of humility. He went from the throne of heaven to a manger and then to a cross. What can we do? Serve others. Look to give instead of to get. This should be especially true in our homes. Sometimes that’s the hardest place to exercise humility.
  • Love keeps no records of wrongs. Love forgives. We need to remember how many times God has forgiven us, and then go and do the same to others. What should we do when we are offended? Just drop it. Let it go.

Exercising love isn’t always easy, but we do it by keeping our eyes on Christ. We can be patient, kind, encouraging, humble and forgiving. The more we exercise these muscles, the stronger they’ll become. When we don’t want to exercise those love muscles, we can still do it for Jesus’ sake. That will be the best muscle building exercise ever!

I’d love to hear your comments here.

Boxing Day

box and dog Erda Estremera Unsplash

December 26th is known in many parts of the world as Boxing Day. Why?

  • Because it’s the day we haul all our now-empty gift boxes away? Nope.
  • Because it’s the day we’re allowed to slug those who irk us? Absolutely not.
  • Because it’s a day to give to those less fortunate? Bingo!

Also known as St. Stephen’s Day, and tied to a rather varied list of international traditions, December 26th is supposed to be a day to bless those with less (without expecting anything in return.)

And so, it’s also a perfect day for me to give you the highlights of my pastor’s recent sermon about the Good Samaritan. (Thanks, Matt!)

• The Good Samaritan made the sacrifice of stopping. He gave up his plans.
• That same man, undervalued in the land where he was traveling, didn’t let his position influence his willingness to help.
• He basically opened his wallet, lavishly offering his possessions to whatever extent they might be needed.

Jesus asks us to love totally and completely at all times, sharing that love with all people in all situations, in the same way that we love ourselves. He is the ultimate Good Samaritan, and we are asked to follow him.

But can we do it? No, no way. Unless…unless we’ve asked him to take control of our lives. Then Christ, working in us, can provide lavish love to others—even those who hate or misuse us—regardless of the cost.

Boxing Day is here. And the New Year is coming. So it’s time. It’s time to ask the Lord to empower us with a new and mighty measure of love, generosity, compassion and understanding. May the True Good Samaritan change your life today!

Photo by Erda Estremera via

The Snapping Duck

ducks annie spratt unsplash.comNick is a pro at feeding goats at petting zoos. Flat hand. Bravery. Gentle goats. No problem. Ducks are a different deal, as he discovered, and he can demonstrate the proper feeding technique now—throw the food. And if you ask him what happens when you do it the wrong way, he will stick out his index finger and say “Hurt you!” He wasn’t really injured and recovered quickly. The whole thing got me to thinking, though.

Nick learned—the hard way—that he can’t treat all animals the same way, even when he’s trying to be kind to them. Don’t we need to learn the same lesson when it comes to how we treat other people? Most parents would be quick to tell us how they have to take each child’s needs and characteristics into consideration as they relate to them each day. Surely adults aren’t any different.

But we live in a rushed society, and one-size-fits-all is faster. Today I’m trying to internalize the lesson I learned from the ducks and the goats, and from Nick. Look before you leap—or feed, or speak or…Take time to look people in the eye and listen to their voices and to assess who they are and what they need. Then respond, sometimes slowly. Some people need advice. Others need a listening ear, or silent companionship, or a true promise of prayer coverage, or a simple meal…But we don’t all need the same thing.

And a corollary lesson for me: Sometimes, if I get it wrong, perhaps by moving too fast or making an assumption too quickly, I’ll get snapped at. That duck was just doing what it thought it needed to do to eat, to survive if I stretch this analogy a bit. And so, when the response I receive isn’t the response I expect or think I deserve, well, maybe I can learn to take that in stride as I slow down and try to see the “snapper’s” point of view.

So, back to the Bible we go again: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another…” So many ways to do that! May God bless your efforts today.


Photo by Annie Spratt via