“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!

What Do Bella Swan, Harry Potter and Superman Have in Common?

I remember once trying to explain to my husband the appeal of Bella Swan, the heroine of the Twilight series.  He had watched the first movie (very much against his will) and came out quite unimpressed with ol’ Bella.  I, too, was (and am) somewhat mystified by her success as a relatable character, but there was one part of her personality that stood out to me.  In the book, I explained to Greg, the vampire hero, Edward, can read people’s minds…but he cannot read Bella’s.  That makes Bella very mysterious and attractive to him and hints that there is something special about her, even though Bella outwardly does not seem unique in any way.  My theory then was that the phenomenon of what I call “unmerited special-ness” really appeals to girls.  I think that we hope that there is something very special about us that one day, someone will be able to see…even when nothing outwardly shows that we are special.  Thus, Edward’s inexplicable fascination with Bella is deeply appealing to us.

Now that I’m reading Harry Potter for the first time (don’t judge me), I’m starting to think that this longing is not just limited to girls.  Indeed, one of the most striking aspects about the first Harry Potter book is that the reader gets to vicariously experience Harry’s unmerited special-ness.  See, Harry is famous–a legend, even!–for an event that he doesn’t even remember or understand.  Somehow, as a baby, he survived a deadly attack and seemed to simultaneously vanquish a powerfully evil man.  Because of that, Harry is famous and admired, and a heavy sense of destiny surrounds him.  Apart from that central event, however, Harry is just as normal as can be.  He displays all the emotions–the longings, the pettiness, the love and hatred–of an ordinary human being.  As book 1 continues, we see more explicitly that Harry’s power derives not from his own merit, but from the love of his mother.  In other words, his lineage is what makes him special, not his inherent goodness of character.

Thinking about Harry’s inherited power makes me think of Superman.  Even though I have never really followed the Superman character through comic books or movies, I know the rudiments of his story line (plus, the trailer for the upcoming movie was a good refresher).  As with Harry Potter, Superman’s power–his special-ness–does not come from some inner merit, but instead is in his bloodline.  Put simply, he is an alien of a superior race, and because of this physical heritage, he is powerful and special.

What’s interesting to me is how well that archetype of this special-by-birth hero plays in America.  I can see why it would resonate in Europe, for example, since their histories echo with concepts like inherited nobility and divine right of kings.  But America, with our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, Protestant-work-ethic-inspired “American dream”?  You would think our superheroes would all look more like Batman, who changes the world through determination, rebellion, and full use of the earthly resources available to him. You would think that the image of an inherently special hero, blessed through no merit of his own, would not be so appealing.

And yet it is.  I wonder why that is so.

I have a theory.  My theory is, simply, that people want to think that they are special.  They want to think that they are destined for greatness somehow.  And yet, they also know themselves.  They know that they are, in general, ordinary people with the ordinary amount of strengths and weaknesses, and that, on the surface of it, there is not much about them that seems uniquely special or predestined.  And yet…they still hope.  We still hope.

What’s cool is that, as Christians, I think we have a story that speaks to that hope.  The story of the gospel is that we are that archetype of unmerited special-ness.  We were created as children of an all-powerful God, who has a destiny in mind for each of us.  And that destiny is nothing more or less than a chance to have a relationship with Him and partner with Him to further His Kingdom on this earth.  As Christians, we are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  God’s workmanship?  Is that not unmerited special-ness?  Good works prepared in advance by God?  Is that not destiny?

So often, the people I talk to–even Christians–lack this incredible vision for themselves.  We love Harry Potter and Superman, not because we relate to them, but because we long for what they have.  Instead, I think we should read about Harry Potter and Superman and think, “Hey, that’s me, too!”  I think that having that vision is so important.  Without it, we become stagnant and hopeless.  My goal a witness for Christ is to share that vision with the people with whom I come into contact.  I find that people these days don’t simply want to “be saved.”  They don’t want to just stay in line and follow the rules.  They want a purpose, a reason to be here.  I believe wholeheartedly that the Bible supplies that purpose.  Our challenge is to communicate that purpose in a way that gives them hope and excites them.

Like the Harry Potter series and Superman comics, the Bible has  good story to tell.  Unlike those first two, though, the Bible’s story invites real participation.  I think that as a church, we need to give that vision to the world.

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.

“May God Bless You in this New Year!”

I saw this on a friend’s Facebook wall and had to share:

“May God bless you in this New Year!

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide,
be with you and remain with you, this day and forevermore.
AMEN”

http://www.allsaintsbrookline.org/prayers/prayer4.html

Divine Kindness and Grace, Blah Blah Blah

Okay, I have a confession.  It is a confession that I did not realize I had until just now as I read Ephesians 1.  My confession is this:  I have stopped marveling at the grace of God, as shown by His forgiveness and acceptance of me.

See, my “big thing” that has consumed me for years is the idea of the kingdom of God.  I have explored it, studied it, asked others about it, prayed about it, blogged about it (obviously), and generally meditated on the concept for awhile now.  What most excites me about the kingdom of God–and what I think we so often miss–is that, not only does it exist to some degree right now on earth, we have a job to do within it.  We are citizens of this kingdom, created for a specific purpose–for our “good works,” as Paul describes them in Ephesians 2:10.  I find that idea of a purpose, a job, in God’s kingdom to be very energizing.  The idea of Christianity being a set of rituals or a group of rules and regulations drains me, but the idea that Christianity consists of work in a kingdom meant to draw people to their Creator…well, that’s just cool.

But you see, my excitement over my job presupposes that I am already a citizen in God’s kingdom–which I am–but it tends to overlook the sacrifice that allowed me to be a citizen in the first place.  I saw this reality clearly tonight when I was reading Ephesians 1:1-14.  There were several parts of this section that I liked, but I got really excited about the middle section:

 God has now revealed to us his mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill his own good pleasure. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

Wow!  Isn’t that amazing??  The mystery of God’s will, which He has revealed to us, is that He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ!  And I believe that that process has already started in the lives and Spirit-led actions of believers!  It is so exciting!  In fact, it was so exciting to me that I thought I would copy that whole section.  And that’s where I realized something:  to get to verse 9, you had to go through the previous eight verses, in which Paul marvels at length about how amazing it is that we even get to be citizens in God’s kingdom (he calls it children of God).  Without paraphrasing at all, here are some things that God has done for us, as elaborated and celebrated by Paul:

1.  “God…has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.”

2.  “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes.”

3.  “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ.  That is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.

4.  “So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son.”

5.  “He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins.”

6.  “He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”

That, my friends, is the text of Ephesians 1: 3-8.  As I copied, I was so eager to get to verse nine that I found myself getting impatient with the way that Paul was going on and on about how wonderful it was that God chose us and forgave us and gave us grace and blah, blah, blah.  Let’s hurry up and get to the part where I have a job!

And that’s when it hit me.  I have gotten so focused on my role that I have stopped marveling at the fact that God has even given me a role in the first place.  That’s the real miracle.  

I decided to stop copying at verse 8 and just focus on those verses for awhile.  I think I need to revisit their message.

A Mass of Hope and Longing (My New Year’s Post)

By all accounts, 2012 was a good year.  We settled into our life in Nashville, enjoying both our new church and all this city has to offer.  Greg loves his ministry job.  I taught my first college classes in years, and didn’t embarrass myself.  We made the decision to homeschool our children, and have loved it.  We grew closer to our church family and made some great memories with them.  We went to Washington D.C. for a week and also to the Chattanooga Aquarium and Rock City.  My best friend moved to the middle Tennessee area, and so did Greg’s grandmother.  Anna learned to read, and Luke learned to multiply.  We found a great gymnastics program for Anna, and Luke received his yellow belt in tae kwon do.

It was good.

On the resolution front, I met my running quota and read through the Bible (although, I admit I had to finish early, as I can only take so much of the esoteric carnage of the minor prophets and Revelation.  I know you should not rush through the Bible, but I struggle to understand that last bit).    I blogged about my desire to live a life of love, and while–shockingly–I don’t think I mastered that, God did teach me a lot about loving this year.  Particularly, He brought to light some selfishness and pettiness in my own heart that keeps me from loving others like I should.  This year, I long for freedom from such pettiness.  I know how to love deeply, but I long to love selflessly.

In fact, I have several longings as I start the new year.  I guess that’s weird because I’m not coming off a bad year, so shouldn’t I be more content?  I think that I am content in the important ways…but I still have hopes for the new year.  I hope, for example, that my new semester of teaching goes well, and that I’m able to successfully balance it with homeschooling.  It’s only one class, two days a week, so my hopes in this area are high.  I hope we are able to sell our house in South Carolina and do so without losing tons of money.  I hope that Luke and Anna find some real friendsthis year.  Not just people they get along with, not just people I set up playdates with, but friends who love them and actively want to spend time with them.  I hope to actually do some writing on that book that has been in my head for three years.  I hope to lose five pounds.  I hope that all the disparate parts of our church continue to congeal into a family–a family who is open and transparent with one another, a family who spends lots of time together, a family with one clear mission.   And most of all, I hope that God leads me deeper into Him and His will.  I hope that He teaches me more and more what it means to live every second of my life for Him.  I long for that.  I hunger for that.  But with all my longing and hunger, I still spend a lot of time confused and with a vague sense of failure.

So basically, I am a mass of hope and longing as I watch the last of this year ebb away.  To clear my mind, I am working on action steps, trying to noodle out my own role in resolving all this hope and longing.  Here’s what I have so far:

–Pursue God daily in tangible ways–and have someone hold me accountable in my relationship with Him (I am already working on this one).

–Pray daily for our church and for friends for our kids…and put into action several of my ideas for both.

–Run 175 days this year, and do some form of other exercise daily.  (We’ll see how that one holds up.  I’m okay with the running, but I have grown to loathe exercises.)

–Prepare thoroughly and in advance for all teaching endeavors.  (I have already started on this one, but it’s still too early to figure out exactly what that looks like.  At minimum, my goal is to have all classes and homeschool lessons prepared by the start of each week.  No “night before” stuff.)

–That leaves writing.  I may come back to update this, but right now my goal is to do something for my writing every weekday.  It could be as simple as jotting down an idea or looking up a verse.  Hopefully, it will usually involve more than that, but that’s the minimum.  It’s such a daunting task for me, and small steps give me strength.

I have also been really convicted lately about acting justly, especially in the realm of my role as a consumer.  Honestly, though, my fire died out in the holiday season, as I found myself doing things like running to Wal-mart at the last minute and buying M&M’s for my Christmas game at a kids’ party.  And also, I must admit, the seeming apathy on these issues from the Christian community often dampens my resolve and makes me wonder if I am crazy for thinking my purchases are something God cares about.  That’s why, for me, the issue of acting justly folds into my first resolution.  I must continue to purposefully seek God and ask Him what He wants from me, and I must have accountability both to help me interpret Him correctly and to make sure I obey the instructions I read in His word.

And I think that about wraps it up for my hopes, longings, and resolutions for 2013.  What about you?  Do you have any hopes or resolutions?

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