The Easter legend of the dogwood

My mom and I were discussing dogwoods recently. They’re the state flower for North Carolina and the state tree/memorial tree/floral emblem for several other states (Missouri, New Jersey, Virginia).

We’re fortunate to have two pink dogwoods growing in our yard, and they’re in bloom right now, just in time for Easter.

Have you heard the Easter legend of the dogwood? I thought I’d share the version I’ve always heard with you today, this Wednesday of Holy Week. Perhaps you’ve heard a different version? Or never heard the legend at all? It goes a little something like this … Continue reading

For Ash Wednesday: Ashes and 30 pieces of silver

I hope you don’t mind if I revisit an old post (from March 2014) this Ash Wednesday. I don’t remember the exact timing of how everything fell into place March 2014, but I’m pretty sure I wrote this post shortly before my husband came home and told me his company was asking us to move. And move we did, all the way across the country. Talk about your seismic shifts.

I still find I want to dust myself off when I’m covered in ashes. I yearn for an easy answer and search for that shiny, clean (happily ever after?) place. I needed to revisit this post for myself, and it occurred to me that some of you might welcome this reminder, too?

Blessings to you this Ash Wednesday, as we enter into Lent and a season of penitence and waiting for the joyful message of Easter.


I had a lighter post planned, but it somehow didn’t seem appropriate for Ash Wednesday, a day of ashes and penance, the beginning of Lent, the time we set aside in the Christian calendar to remember the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, the weeks we set aside to draw closer to God in advance of Easter.

Last night, I became restless and couldn’t sleep, instead pondering the ways we live in ash heaps and sell our lives and dreams short for 30 pieces of silver. We settle for less than what God has planned and even resort to forcing events in our lives that were not what God hoped for us.

Judas Iscariot did this when he betrayed Jesus. Scholars say he was hoping to force Jesus to finally take up his sword and become the warrior Messiah that Judas and others had been awaiting. Judas betrayed Jesus in exchange for 30 pieces of silver, an amount that equaled four months’ wages. Not worth much, considering the outcome for Judas, who tossed the money back at the high priests before going out to hang himself.

One of my favorite stories involving betrayal is The Great Gatsby. Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald considered naming it something entirely different: Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires? Fitzgerald recognized, and wanted his readers to see, too, that the separation between millionaires and those living among the ashes isn’t as great as our society might want us to believe. Jay Gatsby was popular and enigmatic but couldn’t escape the ash-heaps and betrayal in the end, despite all that his money could buy.

Sometimes we all end up covered in ash. And whether it’s the freeing ashes of penance or the weighed down ashes of our past, we rarely feel comfortable or comforted when covered in ashes.

And maybe that’s why we’re quick to sell out, to dust ourselves off for a mere 30 pieces of silver, to think it’s so easy to grab hold of our dreams and get to a shiny, clean place. But is the place we end up as clean and as shiny as we expected?

I’ve felt a disconcerting seismic shift in my life in the last few months, as if God is moving the underlying plates in my life, and last night, I wrestled to name the shift. I think it has to do with being covered in ashes from the past (not just my own past but others near me, too) and not wanting to take the 30-pieces-of-silver, forced way out. So I’ll wait to see what God has planned for me next. The waiting here is hard.

Just because I’m pondering ashes doesn’t mean I should leave you there, too, right? So if you recall last week’s post and my joy of an orchid bud, here’s what happened this week.

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I couldn’t resist sharing it, even if it has nothing to do with ashes and 30 pieces of silver. It does have everything to do with embracing life, though, and that’s what I plan to do while I’m waiting for God’s next move.

A virtual Easter basket

The last two weeks have brought some dark days for me. I’ve struggled with “Love thy neighbor” and the call to forgive. Wrath, fear and sadness have threatened to overwhelm me. Maybe you’ve been going through dark days of your own?

Holy Week marks Jesus’ darkest days but also His greatest triumph. Our messed-up brokenness nailed Christ to the cross but could not keep Him there. God’s grace is stronger than our greatest failings in ourselves and with each other.

Because of that first Easter Sunday, we are heading through the dark with a promise of light and an empty tomb on the other side.

I’ve been clinging to the beauty of Easter and its cheerful celebrations. Growing up, we always dyed Easter eggs and then hunted for them and for baskets full of delightful goodies.

Today, I give you a virtual basket of Easter goodies. There are no dyed eggs or foil-wrapped chocolates, but these Easter colors are vibrant and worth savoring. May they bring a bit of light into whatever darkness you’re facing, and may they remind you of the unconquerable Light in the garden of the empty tomb.

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Peace, blessings and joy to you this Easter, my friends!

Easter gardens

Easter has long been one of my favorite holidays. The weekend leading to Easter was always a whirlwind of fun when I was growing up. My aunt, uncle and cousins drove down from Maryland, and we spent Saturday afternoon painting Easter eggs. I can still smell the boiled eggs and feel my burning fingertips as I raced to dapple on the egg dye before the egg cooled too much to hold the paint.

Sunday promised homemade bread for breakfast; a spectacular, joyful service; and a race home, where the aroma of lamb and herbs roasting in the oven greeted us before we even got inside. Dad hid Easter eggs, and after the egg hunt, my mom and aunt hid Easter baskets.

Eggs and garden flowers are inextricably linked in my memory, especially the pink azaleas that often bloomed right in time to conceal an equally pink egg. I was a terrible egg and basket hunter, while my brother was always the champion, but I always knew to check the pink azaleas for the pink egg. Somehow, Easter doesn’t feel quite the same without a hunt of some sort.

The joys of Easter Sunday always wiped away the somber Maundy Thursday service with its black draped cross, the haunting solo of Where you there when they crucified my Lord?, and the darkened sanctuary.

At this point in Holy Week, we have the somber moments yet to remember and ponder before we celebrate the joyous Easter. And as I look around at my own garden blooming, I am reminded of the two Easter gardens: one of darkness and betrayal, the other of light and joy.

Tomorrow will mark the point in Holy Week when we revisit the darker garden, the garden full of grief and trembling and betrayal, the Garden of Gethsemane.

When Jesus spoke had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples.
– John 18:1

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.
– Matthew 26:36

To read the full events of that night in the garden, read Matthew 26:36–56. The upshot is this: Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake while he went a little ways off to pray. He begged God to change what was about to happen, but Jesus also submitted to God’s will. He scolded the disciples for falling asleep in the face of his distress. He prayed again; they slept again. Judas and the soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus, and the disciples fled.

The second garden is joy-filled. It’s the garden where an empty tomb awaited visitors Sunday morning:

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.

And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
– John 20:11–16

I love John’s account of Mary mistaking for Jesus for the gardener. Her eyes and brain and heart weren’t ready yet to see the risen Jesus standing in front of her, alive, in the garden. Are your eyes and brain and heart ready?

I’ll leave you today with a tour of my Easter garden. Most of these flowers I can identify, but I need your help with one of them. I hope you enjoy them. May these blooms remind you of the joy of Easter.

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A few blooms still remain on the tulip magnolia, but some days, it looks as though the tree sneezed and shed many of its blossoms.

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I was delighted to see that some gardener before me had planted pink azaleas here. Yay!

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An iris blooms amid a mass of leaves. The clump of bushes is taller than other irises I’ve seen, and so I was surprised to discover this bloom. I’m enjoying the almost daily surprises in my new Easter garden.

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The Jerusalem Sage I planted recently is now blooming. You can see the second whorl starting to bloom, too.

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We still have a few oranges left to eat, but the trees are already beginning to flower.

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Any idea what these are? I’m enjoying their red/yellow and pink/white color combinations.

Happy Easter, my friends! I’d love to know what’s abloom in your Easter garden and how you celebrate the joyous day.

When the (holi)days pile up

Did August zip by in a blur as fast for you as it did for me? Here we are in a new September, a new school year already underway. Soon enough (or maybe not soon enough if you’re living through a heat wave like I am), the days will turn cool and crisp, leaves will fall, and children will dream of costumes for trick-or-treating.

What follows is the headlong tumble through November and December, and before you know it, plastic eggs and marshmallow chickens will decorate store aisles.

Walking by a neighbor’s house earlier today, I had a horrible reminder of how quickly the holidays can pile one on top of another:

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Santa and ghosts and the Easter Bunny, oh my!

I am not even making this up. (!)

Other than straightening and cropping the photo and adding a watermark, I did not alter the photo. Do you see the scared Thanksgiving turkey peeking out from behind one of the trees? I felt like hiding, too.

I drove past the house on my way out of the neighborhood so I could take pictures. This is a view from the other side.

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There’s even a birthday cake in the shadows for an extra “holiday” into the mix. Happy Merry Thankseastereenmas, everyone!

When I walked by this morning, I thought, “Garage cleaning?” Maybe they were testing all the decorations to make sure none had holes?

As it turns out, someone in the house is celebrating a big milestone birthday today, and I guess her family (and friends, too?) decided this would be the perfect way to announce the occasion.

I’m grateful all of our celebrations don’t happen at the same time and not only because of what the big celebration would mean for our neighborhoods. I like holidays spaced out with time to anticipate, prepare for, and enjoy each one in its own special way.

I’m also grateful that my family celebrates birthdays in a quieter way.

In case this post has stirred a little whisper of panic in your heart or head about the approaching holidays, let me arm you with this Bible verse:

So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

—Matthew 6:34

Each day has enough trouble and, I would add, enough to celebrate, too, without worrying about the holidays lining up on the calendar ahead.

I have a long line of loved ones’ birthday celebrations coming up, all before I even have to think about buying giant bags of candy, and I hope to celebrate each one without worrying about the next. What’s the next special occasion you’ll celebrate? And do the holidays ever feel like they pile up on you as these pictures suggest?