Archive for the ‘My Life in the Kingdom’ Category

Life Lessons From Crazy Town

Friends, it has been a week.

Greg had Impact all week; I taught literacy classes; Luke had his 7th birthday party; two friends had babies; Greg baptized three teens; I had foolishly signed up to make lunch for 80 people at Y.E.S.; my mom came in town; we went out to dinner with new friends; we saw lots of old friends and teens at Impact; we had play dates.  It was nuts.

Oh, and you may have heard that there was a scholarship competition going on during this time.  During the competition, Greg and I joked that this was actually his first grad school course:  Mass Communication.  Even though we hardly got to see each other, we would have impromptu planning sessions by phone:  What about a picture?  It would have to have a link attached…What about a Facebook page?  Maybe Y.E.S. could send out an email.  Maybe so-and-so could tweet about it.  Have you reached out to him?  Have you done your afternoon update?  We’re up a percent.  No, half a percent.  Now, we’re down a percent.  Could we put a link on that church’s Facebook page?  Have you sent your daily email reminder?

Crazy Town.

It felt like we were losing more than we were winning, and that pushed us to keep thinking and brainstorming new ways to reach out, to spread the word.

And yet, that’s not why we won.

My biggest lesson in this whole scholarship brouhaha was that mass communication tools alone can’t take you where you need to go.  We didn’t win because of a picture or a particularly potent post.  We won because we have amazing people in our lives.

We won because my mom and dad beat the bushes just as much as we did.  Also, because of the way they have lived their lives, their friends voted with them, no questions asked.  Even on one of Greg’s posts on the Facebook page he made, a woman we didn’t know commented, “You go Dave Sparrow!”  I’m not sure she ever fully realized that she wasn’t voting for my dad.

We won because Greg’s family supported him 100% and shared with everyone they knew.  Greg’s mom, in particular, talked his cause up to anyone she met.  A high school friend from Murphy messaged him and told him that while she was in the bank, she heard people behind her talking about the contest.  She turned around, and it was Greg’s mom!  At Impact, Glenda took a bunch of fliers and went around passing them out to youth ministers to get them and their teens to vote.

We won because Mr. Rob, the preacher at my parents’ church in Macon, showed Greg’s video in Sunday morning worship and said very sweet things about us, urging the congregation to vote daily.  It appears that they did!

We won because, Jim Yates, the preacher at Radnor, in whose building our church meets, told his congregation about the contest as well.

We won because people like Daphie Sellers and Maria Bunyi took the time not only to share our link, but to write heartfelt pleas begging people to vote.

We won because women from Brentwood Hills Church of Christ, like Leslie Fisher and Jenni Whitefield, and Amy Bowman, voluntarily took up our cause and rounded up votes for us.

We won because our Woodbine teens and our Summerville teens spent their free time at Impact getting votes.  (See also:  the counselor for our Jr. High kids, and several different teens from Greg’s past Workcamp crews.)

We won because Pat Ford…oh, Pat Ford.  We won because he not only shared relentlessly, but helped on the technical side with voting troubleshooting, page maintenance, and basically whatever else we needed.

We won because Bryant Bumpus kept the tweets coming for us.  And so did Jeff Walling, David Skidmore, David Rubio, Zac Smith, and Dave Clayton.

And because family members like Sharon Pogue (and family) and Alan Kirby and Rhonda Gray shared and/or emailed daily reminders to vote.

Because people like Kevin Harris and Rebecca Claypool helped solicit votes daily.

Because Daniel and Jiff Burnell took up our cause wholeheartedly, even though they had a baby during the contest!!

Because Caroline Aly recruited her whole family as active campaigners and at one point got us hundreds of votes by going to Pancake Pantry with an iPad and soliciting votes from people in line.

Because DeRon Rogers is the best cheerleader a team could have.  “THE POWER OF ONE!”

Because Amy Games asked for a daily reminder so that she could share about the vote every single day.

Because Matt Suber shared with his 2,700 friends even though he doesn’t even know Greg.

And Jaima Schutt shared with her 20,000 followers on her blog’s Facebook page.

And Kelsey Eaton voted and solicited votes from the hospital while experiencing a significant health crisis.  Seriously.  There are no words.  Plus, her mom, Nancy, and sister, Lindsey, got in on the action, as well!

Because Viviana Elizalde, Michael and Heidi Peters and Alison Winstead begged multiple times a day for votes and got their families voting.

Because the entire Salley/Brown family got involved:  Larry, Ann, Erica, Tommy, and David shared the link, and Jacob actively campaigned for Greg at Impact!

And also, the Kendall/Steed family:  Penny Kendall, Adrian and Courtney Steed, Joel and Amber Caillouet, and Kayli Kendall all shared Greg’s link.

Because old family friends, like Connie Bedwell and Vickie Rector and Tammy Behel and Whitney Behel Skellie, took the time to post regular reminders.

As did Drea Braddock, Allyson Gaither, Erik Spell, Page McCurry, Kristie Oliver, Nick and Leah Wilson, Jerry and Beverly Bryan, Kari Brooks, Marchelle Cox, Linda Kunkle, Allison Roberts, Doug Wallen, Chris and Lena Lovingood, Audrey Miller, Ron Jones, David Matthews, Jeff Wright, Jeff Carter, Shawn and Holly Duncan, Jonathan Bradley, Kevin and Molly Griggs, Justin Moore, Cortney Seaton, Shana Edinger, Stephanie Strunk, Zack Robinson, Whitney Young, Kari Waltz, Kevin Appleby, Cyndi Albach, and Candi Miller.

As well as former youth groupers like Stephanie Beaudry, Lauren Young, Melissa Price, Vanessa Helbig, Brittni Shannon, Olivia Todd, Olivia Cook, Taylor Dement, C.C. Garland.

C.C. shared from Afghanistan, Penny Kendall and Jesse Mook shared from the Philippines, Dave and Sharon Dement shared from Germany, David and Caryn Henniger shared from Nicaragua, and Keith O’Neal shared from Switzerland.

And there are more.  Oh, so many more.  I keep scrolling through my news feed to try to look to see who all shared, but there are so many posts that I can’t see past a couple days before Facebook gives up and starts showing me highlights from 2013.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ve left out some wonderful people who were huge helps.  If I didn’t mention you, please let me know because I do want to thank you!  

And I know that you didn’t help us so that I would mention you on a random blog post, but I wanted to write the names down.  I wanted to see them and to think about them.  This list of names includes people from my childhood; dear friends from college; family members from Macon, Murphy, Memphis, Kentucky; our church family at Woodbine; brothers and sisters from Summerville; friends from around the world; and people whom I don’t even know.   I write them because your names represent the lessons I learned during this contest.

I learned about the power of relationships and how we are so connected to each other.  Throughout the contest, we had people voting for us whom we had never met, but who had heard about the contest from several different sources from several different states!

I learned that our friends are a really generous, thoughtful group of people who will spend time and emotional energy on causes from which they will not personally benefit.

But most of all, I learned that the most valuable asset in life is community.  Technology didn’t win this contest.  Desire didn’t win it.  Perseverance didn’t win it.  Our friends and family won it.  Our church won it.

Thank you for showing me how powerful community can be.  And thank you for giving this opportunity to Greg, to our family, and ultimately to our church.  My memory fails me, and words fail me, but please know how deeply grateful I am to all of you.

“If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You, They’re Not Big Enough”

I’m not going to lie; I like to be comfortable.  I think most people do…but I also don’t think that most people are as terrified by  newness and change as I am.  See, change makes me very uncomfortable.  I like predictability, routine, security.  That’s part of why our drastic move a year and a half ago was so traumatic to me.  I was excited, of course, to begin the ministry that God seemed to really want us to do, but I also mourned the comfortable and beautiful existence that I had worked so hard for eight years to create.  In fact, this blog started as a kind of catharsis for me to work through all my Big Feelings about our new life.

Now, however, a year and a half later, I’m comfortable again.  I love the community we have here through our church, and I love the mission that we all share.  I especially love how that community has woven itself so comfortably into our daily lives.

I love, for example, that the kids and I could come home from a ten day trip and pick up right where we left off at a church community night:

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I loved that as I walked up to the cookout, I knew that I had friends–good friends–waiting there for me.  It was a nice, comfortable feeling.

And yesterday morning, I was so excited to get my first opportunity to teach the literacy class at Y.E.S. that I wrote about here.  My friend and a Y.E.S. intern taught while I was out of town, but now it was my turn:

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Being that it was a new class, I guess I should have been uncomfortable, but since I knew most these kids already and taught them in the same room in which I have so often taught Sunday school, it felt more like coming home than embarking on a new journey.  (It also helps that I’m a language arts nerd and absolutely love discussing phonograms with young kids).

Class went really well, and the kids and I left straight from there to go swimming with Greg and a bunch of middle-schoolers from Y.E.S.  We went to a pool that my kids had never been to, but I had been there several years before on a mission trip to Y.E.S. with our then-youth group.  Going to the pool brought back so many memories, as I looked at the picnic spot where we had had an afternoon devo so many years ago, and remembered how I had been learning to like Hot Cheetos at the time.  Back in the present, I bummed some Hot Cheetos off one of the teens at lunch, and she told me, “Mrs. Kim, I’ve never seen an adult eat these.”

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I watched my kids playing with their Daddy and one of our interns, Antwan.  I watched how comfortable they were with Twan, using him as a human jungle gym, and I remembered all the teens from our past that they’ve had that same kind of relationship with.  Now, they have it again.  We are comfortable.

Maybe my favorite part of the day, though, came in the evening, when I got to take my friend, Viviana, out to celebrate her getting her driver’s permit:

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Regarding the permit itself, all I have to say is that, having been born in the U.S., I had no idea how much work this can take for people.  But even more than that, as Viv and I laughed over dinner, I realized how easy it was to talk with her.  Back in the day, Viv was a teen at Y.E.S. while I volunteered there during college.  Now, she is my friend, and I genuinely enjoy her company.

It’s all very comfortable.

Here is what’s not comfortable right now.

If you are friends with Greg or me on Facebook at all, you know the craziness that has gone on alongside of all this comfort.  Greg was recently named a finalist in a video scholarship competition to win full tuition for his MBA from Lipscomb University in non-profit management.  For his entry, he had to make a video, explaining why he wants this degree.  If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, I highly recommend it:

Our church has lots of dreams and plans for our community, and an MBA would go a long way to equip Greg for those plans.  It goes without saying that without the scholarship, there’s no way we could afford an advanced degree from Lipscomb.

Honestly, grad school itself is a daunting prospect that threatens to bring change to our stable and comfortable lives.  It will make life more uncomfortable, absolutely.  However, it is that same kind of discomfort that came from plunging into ministry at Woodbine, and it is an opportunity that we long for, even though it will bring change.

What makes me even more uncomfortable right now is the means of making this dream of a scholarship become a reality.  See, the contest is decided by popular online vote.  You can vote every day between now and June 20, and you can use every email address you have, according to the official rules.  What that means for us is that we have been begging, badgering, pleading, and pestering everyone we know to please, please, PLEASE vote daily and share the link with all their friends.

To some people, maybe that’s not a huge deal, but I’ve really had to overcome my discomfort with…well, with a lot of things.  With begging, for example.  With putting myself out there.  With appearing–and in fact, being–desperate.  With throwing myself on the mercy and grace of my friends.  With feeling like I’m imposing.  With asking for favors.  I have had to swallow pride I didn’t know I had!  For their part, our friends have come through beautifully, doing much more to help than we had the right to expect.

Also, I am thankful for the past 24 hours, which have reminded me exactly why I’m beating the bushes for Greg to get this scholarship.  The truth is, we love our community, and we want to invest in them.  We can (and will) do that without the scholarship, of course, but it would provide a great opportunity to further our church’s goals.

So, in closing, let me put myself out there, and desperately beg, badger, plead, and pester you to please, PLEASE vote each day for my husband to win this scholarship–and, if possible, share the link with your own communities.  It’s uncomfortable for me to do so, but the most worthwhile things in life usually are.

Click here for the link to vote.

Thank you so much!

1 Corinthians 13, Craft Cabin Version

IMG_9627It’s that time of year for the church world:  time for camps and VBS’s across the land.  Being a youth minister, Greg’s schedule is packed with week-long events such as Workcamp, Impact, and mission trips.  In fact, he’s at Workcamp this week.  In the meantime, the kids and I are attending Camp Canaan, a day camp that my parents’ church has run for over twenty years now.  I have many fond memories of attending Camp Canaan as a camper, volunteering as a counselor, and writing curriculum for it as a college student.  And now, in one of those “I feel old” moments, both my children are attending for the first time.  While they are campers, I have been helping my mom in her legendary (yes, it is, mom) craft cabin.  It’s been so neat to see the amazing group of women that she has assembled over the years to help her with all the wonderful crafts she teaches the children.  It’s very important to her that all of her workers come in with a spiritual focus, so one of the jobs she has given me is to lead a little devo each morning before we all pray together.

For our devo on Tuesday, I had one of my cheesier moments where I re-wrote 1 Corinthians 13 to fit our tasks in the craft cabin.  I wrote it more as a reminder for myself than for the dedicated ladies there; it is always a struggle for me when planning and executing events to remember that the number 1 priority is to show God’s love to the children.  It is so easy for me to get caught up in the jobs themselves and in making sure that all goes smoothly that I miss the main reason I’m there in the first place.  See, it doesn’t matter how smoothly I execute my role if I’m not reflecting the love of God to the kids.  That’s the whole point of camp and VBS!  And as much as we might like to think that kids learn about the love of God from hearing a story or memorizing a verse, I believe wholeheartedly that we truly know God’s love when we experience it from others.  And that’s why I needed to look at 1 Corinthians 13, from the viewpoint of my role in my mom’s craft cabin:

If I give out the same set of instructions 37 times, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

If I have the gift of painting* and can help children paint anything they want, and if I have the perseverance to wash out every single brush afterward, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I make sure that the kids get all the crafts done and even organize the shelves afterward, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude to the campers, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of obnoxiousness or disrespect.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects the campers, always trusts in God, always hopes for the best, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

But where there are painted  crafts, they will fade.  Where there are “God’s eyes,” they will be lost.  Where there are bird feeders, they will probably not last the winter…But what remains when those things are gone is faith, hope, and love.  And the greatest of these is love.

Camp and VBS present great opportunities to get to know kids and pour God’s love into them.  My challenge is to remember that showing love is more important than all my other camp jobs.

What would your 1 Corinthians 13 look like?

 

*I don’t have the gift of painting.  That was a hypothetical.  As I have no crafty gifts, there wasn’t anything to put in that blank.  I can wash out paint brushes, though!

Did You Know God Answers Prayers? No, Seriously.

This first part might be silly to you.

See, for weeks, I’ve had this worship song on the tip of my tongue.  The only problem is that I can’t remember…well…any of it.  I remember that it has a part where the girls echo.  I remember that it is kind of upbeat.  That it might have the line, “I need you.”  I remember learning it in Summerville and singing it around a bonfire.

That’s all I remember.

And for weeks, whenever I’ve been singing around the house or in the car, I’ve tried to remember that song.  I have racked my brain, you guys.

Well, last Thursday, I was driving the kids to Chattanooga to meet my mom, and I was singing some worship songs (the drive to Chattanooga will do that to you.  It is gorgeous!). The kids were content with their i-devices, and I was up front, singing softly through my repertoire, when that song-I-don’t-know came back into my head.  Again, I tried in vain to tease it out of my brain, to no avail.

Finally, I decided to pray about it.  What made me want to pray was that the kids and I had recently read a biography of George Muller, the guy who started all the orphanages in Bristol in the 1800’s.  That guy prayed for everything.  It was nuts.  He never asked for a dime for his orphan houses.  He just literally prayed every day that God would supply their needs, and…God did.  Seriously.  It was insane.

The thing is, Muller just had such faith in prayer.  Like, he prayed and expected God to answer.  I mean, really answer.  You know?  So, although my request was a far cry from feeding the orphans, I decided to pray about this song, just to see.  I tried my best to think like George Muller and to really have an eager expectation of God answering my prayer.  So even though I felt more than a little sheepish, I laughed nervously and asked God, “Please, tell me what that song is.  I really want to sing it to You!”  Then I waited for a second.  When nothing popped into my head, I sighed and started to sing another song.  Midway through, I stopped.

“I love You.  I need You. Mmm-hm hm-hm-hm, I’ll never let you go.”

I paused.  Yes!  Yes, that’s how it went.

“You’re my savior.  My closest friend.  I will worship You until the very end.”

Within a minute or two, the whole song had come back to me, and I was happily singing,

“Jesus–you’re the lover of my so-ou-oul./ Jesus–I will never let you go,” 

with a big smile on my face.  I had finally remembered the song.  “Thanks, God.”  I said.  “That was killing me.”

That’s the silly part of the story.  But it gets better.

The next day, I went to a homeschool convention, which was so much fun.  I went to lots of sessions and got various tips about the benefits of notebooking and the importance of including art in your curriculum.  It was the last session of the day, however, that really rocked my world.  The session was called, “The Logic of English,” and it was taught by Denise Eide, the author of a phonics curriculum by the same name.  Her 60-minute session blew me away.  She really explained the nature of the English language to the packed room, and her thesis is that even though English is a complex morpho-phonetic language, it is not inherently inconsistent.  We only think that it is because we don’t understand the rules for it.  Using enough specific examples to convince me, Denise argued that the knowledge of 74 phonograms and 30 spelling rules will explain 98% of the English language.  Even more than that, she used statistics to highlight the reality that our nation is experiencing a literacy crisis.  She showed how literacy greatly affects one’s path in life (and the likelihood, for example, that one will end up in prison or on welfare), and she issued a stirring call to the church to step up and stand in the gap.  She claimed that it is the duty of the Christian not just to teach our own children in our little nest, but also to make the world a better place.

Not surprisingly, this all set my hair on fire.

I drove home that evening, mulling over the implications of her talk and trying to figure out some way to bring her program to the kids at Youth Encouragement Services, an after-school program that is closely linked to our church.  Should Greg and I buy the curriculum for Y.E.S.?  How much would it cost?  Would Daniel, the Y.E.S. director, even be interested in using it?  Would it work well in a group setting?  I had so many questions!

That night, I prayed about it.  And the next morning, I prayed some more.  My song prayer had really bolstered my faith, and so I prayed what I call a “for-real prayer.”  As in, “For real, God, I am expecting an answer to this–today.  I need You to make this clear to me.”  After I prayed, I talked to Greg about my conundrum.  See, we had some money set aside to do something else for God’s kingdom, and I was wondering if God wanted me to use it instead for this curriculum.  It wasn’t much, but enough to buy a teacher manual and some of the manipulatives.  Maybe we could make our own workbooks?  When I told Greg about it, he suggested, “Well, why don’t you ask her if she would cut a deal for Y.E.S.  It’s a non-profit, after all.”  Huh.  I had never thought of that, but the more I considered it, the more sense it made.  If Denise would work with us, then maybe we could use our money to do both things.  That settled it.  I asked God to let that be my sign that He wanted me to pursue The Logic of English.  It seemed like a fair test:  Denise had been so passionate about serving the community in her talk.  We would see if she was in real life, as well.

My resolve wavered several times before I got a chance to talk to her at her booth.  Maybe that wasn’t such a good test after all.  What if they weren’t willing to play ball–did that really mean that I shouldn’t use their curriculum at all?  I lingered around the booth for awhile, and finally got a chance to talk to her husband about everything.  He was open and supportive, and said they would be willing to work with us, but he wasn’t very committal on specifics, which honestly made sense to me.  As I walked away, I pondered.  Was that enough?  Was that my sign?  God knows that I need bright neon signs–We’ve been through this, time and time again, and He usually supplies the electric signs when I need them.  Because of that, I just wasn’t sure that this was it.

Later, I wandered back  over to the booth and ended up talking to Denise herself.  When I mentioned Y.E.S., her eyes lit up, and she asked me all sorts of questions about it.  What really intrigued her was that we had the kids every day.  That’s what she kept coming back to.  This program works so much better if it is taught daily, she kept saying.  She also seemed incredibly excited about the opportunity to partner with us.  I knew from talking to her husband that their company was new and not really on its feet yet financially.  Denise, however, waved off those concerns.  She explained that she was friends with the head of the National Right to Read foundation and felt confident that she could get a grant for whatever we needed.  As we kept talking she finally said, “Even if we can’t get a grant, we can make this happen.  If we have to donate it ourselves, we will make this happen.”

And that was my bright neon sign.

Or maybe it was this:

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This all came today, just one week after I prayed for a sign that God wanted us to use The Logic of English at Y.E.S.  It is everything we need to launch a K-2nd grade class this summer, and we didn’t pay a dime for it.  Denise donated it.  She and I are also going to work on a grant proposal this summer for money to start a more extensive literacy program in the fall, one that includes more age groups.

This past week has involved a lot of scrambling on the part of Daniel (the Y.E.S. director), Denise, and me, as we tried to figure out how to maximize this opportunity and start as soon as possible, without stretching our resources too far.  Implementing a new program takes a lot of work, and I had to chuckle a couple of times as I thought, “Be careful what you pray for!”  However, this is the type of work that is totally worth it, and it feels amazing to be doing something that seems so clearly in God’s direct will.  I have no idea where this all will lead (right now, I’m focusing on doing “the next right thing”), but I am so thankful that I serve a God who does answer prayers, a God that lets us partner with Him to accomplish His purposes on this earth.  

Sometimes, I need to be reminded of that amazing reality, and I’m sharing this all with you, just in case you need to be reminded, too.

In Defense of Dandelions

IMG_7959We have a dandelion problem in our yard.  Perhaps it could be because my daughter obsessively blows dandelion seeds across the lawn whenever we get a chance.  And perhaps it is because Greg and I can’t muster up the concern to address that tendency.  Regardless of the cause, the result is that bright, round dandelions are scattered across our backyard.

I’ve been amazed at how fast they grow.  Greg mowed the yard on Saturday afternoon.  When I pulled in the driveway after church on Sunday, there were more than a dozen seemingly full-grown dandelions waiting to greet me.

“Oh my goodness!”  I exclaimed.  “Look at how fast dandelions can grow!”  The kids and I marveled, but I also couldn’t help shaking my head and sighing.  Luke asked why I did that.  I explained that dandelions are weeds, and that people try to get rid of them.  It was then that Anna piped up:  “I would never try to get rid of dandelions.  They’re so beautiful!!”  

Her comment made me pause and think.  Why is it that we disdain dandelions so much?  Yes, they use up too many nutrients and keep one’s yard from being uniformly green…but why must we have uniform yards?  Who decided that uniformity was beautiful?  Besides, dandelions are pretty–really!  If they were a rare flower that took lots of work, I think we would admire them a lot more.  And yet, because dandelions take no effort, because they grow overnight where we don’t want them to grow, we resent them.  Isn’t that curious?  We love flowers that we control, that we work for, that we coax into blooming.  We love the ones that stay in our neatly ascribed garden boundaries.  But wild dandelions, which don’t ask our permission before gracing us with their beauty, draw our wrath.

That’s an interesting phenomenon.

I’ve noticed the same thing with weather.  Lots of people like crisp air in autumn.  Others love beautiful snowy days in winter, or warm spring days, or the hot days of summer.  But what no one seems to be able to stand is summer days in autumn, winter days in spring, or overly warm days in winter.  In short, we like the various types of weather, but in our minds, they must be in their proper season.  Case in point:  this chilly spring has been driving everyone crazy.  If the calendar says April, daggonnit, then it’s supposed to be warm!!  A cold day is all well and good when it is January; then we might make a fire and sip hot chocolate and enjoy it.  But in April??  Forget it!  Basically, we like our weather patterns to be predictable, controlled.  And when they don’t fit into our preconceived notions of seasonal appropriateness, we rail against them.

But a cold day has just as many possibilities in April as in January.  And a warm, balmy one should be no less enjoyable in October than in May.

And a dandelion is beautiful.IMG_7958

Even if we can’t predict and control it.

Pondering the dandelions yesterday afternoon made me realize the different “dandelions” that pop up in my life:  those things of beauty that I resent, just because I can’t control them.  Take waiting, for example.  So often, my life seems so busy, so chaotic, and I would just love a chance to sit and be quiet, to calm my thoughts and ponder and reflect.  Such moments seem to be in short supply, and I am constantly scheming of ways for my life to slow down.

Until it does slow down, at a traffic light or a carpool line at tutorial or a waiting room.  Then, suddenly, I have a few seconds to myself–moments where no chores beckon, with no items on my to-do list able to be knocked off. I have a few moments to sit and think.

And do I enjoy these moments??

No.  I don’t.  These moments are dandelions.  I can’t control them; I didn’t choose them.  Thus, I don’t want them.  Apparently, I want quiet time on my terms, when I am fully prepared for it.  I want quiet time on my couch, surrounded by my books and notebook, not here in my car in the middle of traffic.  Yes, they are moments to think, to pray, to ponder, to refocus.  But I don’t appreciate them.  I find myself resenting these “time dandelions” instead of marveling at their fleeting beauty.

Or take moments with my kids.  I love times of connections with my children, times of snuggles and good conversations.  That’s a big part of why I homeschool.  I love to spend my days reading to my kids, talking to them, and playing with them.

Unless, of course, I’m in the middle of another task.  In that case, I grow impatient when they need me, and resent when they persistently demand my attention.  Often, these spontaneous interactions, these dandelion moments, could lead to bonding and beauty–if I have the wisdom to embrace them.

And that’s my challenge for myself today.  I want to appreciate the dandelions in my life, the little moments beyond my control.  I want to see the beauty in a life that I can’t fully plan, a life that keeps surprising me.  I want to embrace opportunities to rest and opportunities to love, even if they aren’t in my perfectly manicured garden–er, I mean schedule.

Because dandelions are beautiful.

My daughter taught me that.

I’m Going to Die Soon (and So Are You)

Four years ago today, my brother died.  After a long battle with bipolar disorder that stole his sanity and severely tested the rest of ours, he committed suicide.  This morning, I put up a picture of him on Facebook, being silly with my son:

mike and luke

The picture garnered a silent stream of “likes” throughout the day, and I was oddly comforted by my friends and family’s acknowledgment of his death.  Because that’s what those “likes” were to me:  an acknowledgment.  I know it’s silly, but with just a simple click of the mouse, they said to me, “Yes.  That happened.”  And there is something in me that doesn’t want others to forget.

Alongside the silent “likes” on Facebook, quiet snowflakes fell outside all day long.  I have never experienced anything like the weather today:  it snowed and snowed, but nothing stuck.  That’s because it was 34 degrees all day.  And yet, the big, fat snowflakes kept tumbling down from the gray sky, refusing to turn into rain.  They were peaceful and beautiful, and I took their presence as heaven’s acknowledgment of this significant day:  Peace and beauty, falling from the sky.

The thing is, today was not a sad day.  I wasn’t tearful (for the most part); on the contrary, I was very busy.  This morning, I had our church’s first curriculum meeting, where I sat around a table and discussed with several other wonderful people how to best equip our children for the Christian life.  On the way home, I stopped by the grocery store.  Then, I came home and started working on the house:  I mopped, I scrubbed baseboards, I vacuumed, I spot cleaned, I did laundry.  You know, all those little things that make it so I can open my house to others and welcome them in.  This evening, I attended a benefit to support some friends who are in the process of adopting their third precious child.  No…I wasn’t sad.

I was just mindful.

Whenever I think about the fact that my brother is in heaven, I am comforted by the idea that I am going to see him soon.  Maybe that sounds morbid, but it’s true.  You and I are on this earth no longer than a minute.  Our life is a breath.  We are the fog that appears in the morning and vanishes.  We are the grass that quickly withers.

We are the snowflakes that don’t even stick to the ground.  That’s how ephemeral our presence is.

Is it weird that that thought comforts me?

Is it weird that it energizes me?

Sometimes I think, “I AM ALIVE ON THIS EARTH AT THIS MOMENT!”  And that thought blows me away.  It makes me want to live my little moment to the fullest.  It makes me want to live for things that MATTER.  It makes me look with disdain on all my petty concerns, like the big world map canvas I want (but can’t afford) for my living room and like the pounds I still want to lose.  It makes those little frustrations seem like the pointless distractions that they are.  And it makes things like loving my neighbor and serving others and dying to myself seem like they are the only things that matter.

Because they are.

No, the awareness of my mortality doesn’t sadden me; it invigorates me.  And that makes sense, I guess.  At least, it does to C.S. Lewis, who observed,

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

I believe that Lewis is absolutely correct on this point.  It’s when I forget that my life is a breath that I get distracted by wall decorations and weight gain and all manner of other meaningless junk.  My brother helps me remember that.  And so does the Bible.

I’m going to die soon.  And so are you.  Let’s start living like we understand what that means.

The Next Right Thing

Last weekend, I took seven middle school girls to a Girls’ Conference at a church in Memphis.  While there, I experienced some serious sleep deprivation (a 4:30 am-to-midnight day will do that to you), but also heard some good messages.  One speaker made a really simple point that was able to make sense even to my sleep-addled brain.  She said something to the effect of, “Obeying God simply means doing the next right thing.”

That’s it.  Earth-shattering, right?  But for me, it kind of was.  I often get overwhelmed by the big picture:  what does God want me to do with my life?  Is He pleased with me?  What are His plans for me?  And am I following them?  Am I walking in obedience??  Ahhhhh!!!!  Someone get me a Magic 8 ball!

My little brain can’t piece all that together.  But it can handle “the next right thing.”  The next right thing that day was to stay awake (drat) and to get to know these wonderful girls who were with me.  The next right thing was to really listen to them, and as a result, to get a true glimpse into their lives.  And the next right thing after that was to feel really convicted about how fervently I pray for my children, but don’t pray for these girls.  Another mom has shared with me the idea of “praying circles around my kids.”  On our trip, God gently asked me, “Who is praying circles around these kids?”  And so the next right thing was to start praying for these girls as often as I pray for my own kids.  And the next right thing after that was to write them an encouraging note before school.

The next right thing.

Similarly, I’ve been overwhelmed with the task of figuring out what and how to teach our children at our church.  I’ve had to realize that I can’t figure that whole picture out right now; I just have to do the next right thing.  The next right thing in that task was to organize the hand-me-down curriculum we have for the spring semester.  And the next right thing after that was to talk to our teachers and realize that they don’t like that curriculum, so I need to look for something else for the fall.  And the next right thing after that was to do online research.  And the next right thing will be to do some in-store research and hopefully find some samples to show our teachers.  These tasks are small, insignificant.  They are not the “great” things I dream about doing for the kingdom of God.  But maybe “great” things are just series of “next right things” that are allowed to continue to their natural conclusion.

The next right thing.

I have also been overwhelmed by the idea of this blog sitting here, unused.  I don’t really know what I want from it.  I don’t have any big picture of its purpose.  But I know that the speaker’s message during the Girls’ Conference was a good one.  I know that this idea of simply doing the next right thing has really helped me in my Christian walk.  So I’m going to share it.

Because sharing it is the next right thing.

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