Whatever you do…

“whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.”

I Corinthians 10:31

Last night at dinner sat a student, a teacher, a pastor, a cardiologist, and a soldier…It sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?  It’s not a joke.  They were all at our table last night.  It was interesting to hear each tell about a ‘day in the life’ — the good, the bad, and the boring.  The soldier asked the cardiologist, “so what exactly do you do?”  The cardiologist answered, “the sexy answer is that I stop heart attacks and save lives, but the reality is that I take a lot of measurements and do a lot of diagnostics.”  The soldier answered, “well, my sexy answer is that I jump out of planes and blow things up, but the reality is that I do a lot of paper work and a lot of cleaning.”

We wanna give the sexy answer, don’t we? “I’m editing a novel and coaching a Harvard graduate student.”  But, we gotta face the reality, “I do laundry and pick up dog poop.”

As each day goes on, I become more convinced that although our professional roles are important, the “goods” are in the interpersonal exchanges.  It makes no difference if I am a student or a janitor; if I cared about someone today — listened, answered, provided, encouraged — that is the money.  It doesn’t matter if my house was clean, my clothing smart, or my bills paid; if I was available for another human when she needed me, my day is made.

Why do I forget that so often?  I chase after position, title, paycheck, prestige, authority, when I have been given simple instructions:

Carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind…love your neighbor Matt. 22

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. I Cor. 10:31

He didn’t tell me to get a job, or a degree; He said to use my gifts to the glory of God.  Sometimes I interpret that to mean that if I am not using my writing than I am not giving glory to God.  But, He has given all of us many gifts, among them the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control…These gifts don’t require position or prestige…just willingness.  Am I willing to love the person in front of me?  Am I willing to be patient?  Am I willing to be gentle? To exercise self-control?

Sometimes I think that following God’s simple commands is much more difficult than having a career.  His commands require me to lay my own needs aside.  I am not always willing to do that.  I want to be able to give the sexy answer.

However, when I look back over my life, the people who really made a difference for me weren’t too concerned about the sexy answer.  The professor who held my coat for me on a cold winter day in the mid 1980s, the friend’s mother who responded “I love you” to my fierce “I hate you!”, the college nurse who listened kindly every day when I weighed (and judged) myself, the friend who came to my house to care for my kids while I had the stomach flu, the church members who loaded our possessions into a moving truck…Nope, not too sexy, but so meaningful.  Each was willing to give of themselves — time, attention, energy, love, patience, kindness — for me.  And I can honestly say that I knew, in each of these instances, that God was motivating, providing, using these people to love me.

That is some powerful stuff.  When we acknowledge that God, who is God, cares enough to provide someone to care for our stomach flu, to help us on with our coat, to notice us in the vastness of life…that’s not sexy, it’s breathtaking.

I wanna be that someone that God uses, to His glory.

Advertisements

Thanksgiving in the Next Chapter, the rest of the story

I gotta tell you that Thanksgiving in the Next Chapter is different!  I really was planning on making the green bean casserole and baking the pie on Wednesday.  I was!  But it didn’t happen.  And it was ok! Let me tell you how it went down.

Wednesday I did go to the Post Office and I did try to look the clerk in the eyes, but he wouldn’t have it.  I swear he is a cyborg.  Every time I go in he says the exact same thing, moves in the exact same fashion, and perfectly avoids all eye contact or casual conversation.  I did manage to say, “Have a great day!” I think his automatic response was “You, too.”

I did hit the gym — thirty minutes on the elliptical, a few reps on the weights, ten laps in the pool, a short sit in the jacuzzi, a run through the shower and I was on my way.

I drove through Starbucks en route to the grocery store thinking to myself, “Really? You planned all week to go to the grocery story on the day before Thanksgiving?”

My daughter joined me on the phone and walked with me round the store, up and down the aisles, back and forth as I remembered and forgot different items on my list.  I let others go ahead of me and intentionally moved slowly. I think I was there for almost two hours.

I got regular text updates from my other daughter as she made her way across the country to join us for the holiday.  And I did pray over and over that her trip would be safe.

And by the time I got home from the grocery, I didn’t even have the steam to unload. Bye-bye, pie.  Bye-bye, green bean casserole.

I did have the presence of mind to purchase a rotisserie chicken, some deli cheese, assorted crackers, and such, so that I wouldn’t have to make dinner, but I had to lie down and rest before I could even think about attempting to put out the spread.

My son carried in the groceries, and he did also vacuum.  No one dusted.  And, you know, I watched as the new Kristin was ok with all of this.  She sat in bed watching three episodes of Gilmore Girls.  She closed her eyes for a while.  When she felt she could, she rose out of bed and put out some food for supper.

After hugging, eating, and chatting, everyone slept.

On Thanksgiving morning, we all rolled leisurely out of bed.  I put the turkey in the oven and made the green bean casserole.  The stuffing was a group effort with three people contributing their expertise.  A daughter made cranberry sauce expertly and whisked gravy like an old pro.  A boyfriend owned the pumpkin pie.  A son mashed potatoes and set the table.  The husband did the heavy lifting and much of the pre-, during-, and after-dinner clean-up.  Everyone helped get the feast on the table. We all chatted and enjoyed one another. And ultimately, everyone was delightfully stuffed.

We had no schedule.  No pressure.  No disappointment.

I climbed in bed with a book around 6:30.  I read and rested for a few hours before I was finally ready for sleep.

For the forty-eight hours of Thanksgiving, I didn’t once rush, and it all went perfectly.  Why didn’t I figure this out twenty years ago?  Because I thought my soldier strategy was working just fine, thankyouverymuch.  Let me be clear here, my soldier strategy sucked. (Sorry, Mom — she hates when I say ‘sucked’.) This is one more lesson in process over product, journey over destination, being over doing.  I’m getting it, guys.  It’s taking a while, but I am getting the message.  I can be still and know that He is God.  I can rest in the palm of his hand.   And, it’s much better for everyone when I do.

Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Thanksgiving

Today is the day when women across the country are in motion.  If we haven’t already, we are cleaning our houses, picking up groceries, preparing our turkeys, and getting the guest room ready.  Even the slow-risers among us, yes, even me, fly out of bed on a day like today to start the to-do list in order to be ready for the big day tomorrow — Thanksgiving Day.

  • run to post office
  • exercise
  • get groceries
  • make pie
  • change sheets in guest room
  • prepare turkey
  • make green bean casserole
  • dust
  • vacuum

Does your list look similar?  We hustle and bustle to get things just right.  We may get a little snippy with the people around us, but, come on, we have a lot to do!  Anybody can see that!  Do they think that golden turkey just magically appears in the middle of a beautifully decorated dining room table?  Did that pie make itself?  I don’t think so!

Been there?  Yeah, me too.

Can today be different?  I hope so.  It has started out differently already.

I did burst forth from my bed and prepare several packages to be mailed.  But, while I was doing that, my husband tackled the ant invasion in the kitchen (ants?!?!? in November!?!?), then changed one set of sheets and cleaned the bathroom.  (Yes, I do realize I have a winner.)  I put sweet potatoes in the oven to roast and then read my devotion.  In a bit, I will drop off those packages on my way to the gym, then pick up the items I need from the grocery store. I’ll come home and prepare my green bean casserole and make a pumpkin pie.  I can probably convince my son to vacuum, but I will likely have to dust.  And then, I think I will sip tea while I wait for the arrival of our daughter.

Yes, it’s still going to be a big day.  And, I have to admit that I’m already in a significant amount of pain before the day has even started. But, I am going to try to take a different approach.  In the past, I have launched forth, guns blazing, conquering my to-do list as though I was in mortal combat.  Today?  Today I am going to move slowly. I’m going to look in the eyes of the postal clerk when he asks me if I’d like to insure my packages. I’m going to smile at the gym attendant who swipes my card when I enter.  I am going to allow others at the grocery store to go ahead of me in line and not get exasperated with the ones who are cranky (I’ve been there).  Then, I am going to come home and play my music loudly while I do my cooking.

Throughout it all I am going to be praying — for safe travel for our daughter and all others who are on the roads or in the air today, for a cloud of thankfulness to cover our celebration tomorrow, for special blessings on the family who can’t be with us, for health and healing for everyone we know and love, and for peace beyond my comprehension to cover me as I move through my day.

And I’m also going to be thanking — for this grace period, for a beautiful immediate and extended family, for a husband who cleans the bathroom and conquers ants, for my little house by the river, for this next chapter. 

Philipians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything,

but in every situation, by prayer and petition,

with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

God loves me dearly

God loves me dearly, grants me salvation

God loves me dearly, loves even me…

I was standing in the front of the church dressed in my Christmas finest — floor-length dress with plaid skirt and white ‘blouse’ top, black patent-leather shoes, white tights, and a bow in my hair.  The place was packed.  We had practiced and memorized each word to each song and all the words of the Christmas story…”And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field…” Our grandparents had driven an hour to see the event.  This. Night. Was. Special.  The most important night of the year.

He sent forth Jesus, my dear Redeemer

He sent forth Jesus, and set me free…

Mrs. Hollenbeck had stood in front of us week after week making sure that we knew each word, enunciated clearly, and sang as loudly as we could. She smiled when we sang and always said, “Good job!”  One by one we stood in front of the microphone and shared our lines as loudly and clearly as we could…”For unto you is born this day in the city of David…” The most important night ever.

Now I will praise you, O love Eternal

Now I will praise you, all my life long…

When every song had been sung and every line had been said, we processed down the middle aisle to the back of the church where the elders stood smiling at us and holding brown paper lunch bags that were filled with peanuts in the shell, one big orange, one beautiful apple, a candy cane, and a few other Christmas candies.  This bag was pure gold.  The narthex (usually called a fellowship hall now) was crammed with families and coats and hugs and smiles.  We bundled up and were transported from bliss to bliss…from church to Christmas Eve merriment at home.  The best night of the year.

Therefore I’ll say again, God loves me dearly,

God loves me dearly, loves even me.

Yesterday we were visiting my in-laws and worshipping with them at their little country church in the middle of Michigan’s Thumb.  We sang this song, even though it’s not Christmas, even though it’s not even Advent.   As we sang it, I was transported back in time to the front of Zion Lutheran Church in the early 1970s.  I was standing with all my siblings and all the other children of the church, saying lines and singing songs that would sink down into the fabric of my soul and would begin to define who I am.

I was reminded yesterday of that — of who I am.  I am more than wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, writer, teacher…I am a child of God.  And God loves me dearly, loves even me.  And you.

For God so loved the world [and me. and you.]

that he gave his only Son,…

John 3:16

Saved from our distress

Psalm 107:10ff

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners in iron chains

because they rebelled against God’s commands

and despised the plans of the Most High

That sounds serious, doesn’t it?  Certainly no Christian would rebel against God’s commands or despise the plans of the most high.  Come on, after all that God has done for us, would we go against His will?  Probably only out of ignorance, right?  We wouldn’t willfully rebel….

Would we?

I have lost track of how many times I have used this blog as a confessional.  I think what started as a chronicle of my journey after teaching in St. Louis has become an expose’ of my internal life.  I wasn’t planning on that.

But, as I have mentioned, I am a little obsessed with telling the truth…whether or not you, or I, want to hear it.

So, you know that book on prayer that I picked up at the library?  Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer?  Yeah, well, I think it was written with me in mind.  It was copyrighted in 2013, before I knew that I would be moving to Michigan, before I knew I would be leaving my job, before I knew that I would be given this grace period.  Yet, it seems that each day the message is specifically for me, designed to call me back from whatever it was that I thought I was accomplishing in my soldiering years.

I knew better.  I knew that what I really needed was daily time in God’s Word, daily prayer, regular support from friends, but I chose, over and over again, to ignore those facts and keep soldiering on by my own strength. And I found out I am pretty strong, but not strong enough.

Nobody is, really.  We were designed by a Creator who wants to continue to help us, who wants relationship with us, who doesn’t want us to go it alone.  He’ll let us give it a try, yet He won’t leave our side while we are trying.  Even more, miraculously, graciously, He will be ready to talk even before we are ready.  He will be placing things in the path that direct us back to Him.  But, you know, sometimes we want to sit in the darkness, in chains, because we’re being willful.  And stubborn.

And, even then, He pursues us.  Psalm 107 says that He sometimes “subjects [us] to bitter labor”, or maybe lets us get utterly exhausted in all our striving and soldiering.   We “stumble, and there [is] no one to help.”  So, finally, (sheesh), we “cry to the Lord in [our] trouble, and he [saves us] from our distress.”

Yup.  That was my Bible study today.  The only thing is, I didn’t quite get to the point that I was crying out in my distress…He met me before that.  He swooped in and took me out of my soldiering. He gave me some time to be still, so that I would know, more than ever, that He is God.  Let Him be exalted.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love,

and His wonderful deeds for mankind.

Brrrrrr!

In the back of my mind I am thinking it is going to be a long winter.  It is only November 19 and I am already freezing! Now, granted, we have had some weird polar vortex cutting across the country, and we do have a promise of a slight warm up over the weekend, but guys, I am not used to Michigan winters!  The days are shorter and colder than they are in Missouri.  Yes, I realize that it’s cold in Missouri right now, too, but it won’t last.  There will be random warm-ups all winter long. Not so in Michigan.  It’s gonna be cold until March.  Brrrrrrrr!

I am a little worried that I might decide to hole up in my little house by the river wearing yoga pants and hoodies, ordering necessities online, drinking endless cups of tea and coffee, and getting all my socialization virtually.

I know what you are thinking — “January 5, Kristin.  You said you would be willing to go back to work on January 5.”  What was I thinking!?!?!?!  Why would I set my start date for the middle of bleak winter?

Because if I don’t have a job to go to by January 5, it is incredibly likely that I won’t leave my house until March!

Winter can be difficult, can’t it?  It can seem dark and cold and miserable.  Especially once Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are over.  The family has all left, the celebrations are over, and it’s only January 2nd!  What are we supposed to do until March?  Many, myself included, are tempted to stay in yoga pants and hoodies, watching hour after hour of Netflix, not wanting to leave the house.

When we were kids we would wake up on snowy winter mornings, turn on the radio, and wait hopefully for the announcement that school was cancelled so that we could stay home. We could stay in our pajamas all day watching TV, eat junk food, or go outside and play in the snow. One winter, after more than ten days had been cancelled, we were practically begging to go back to school.  We couldn’t take one more day at home!

I have to remember that.  I wasn’t designed to stay at home.  I thrive when I am out with people.  Or in with people.  We had a handful of friends over for dinner last night to celebrate our son being home.  Most of them were young adults who had been working or studying all day. They came in shivering and I offered them steaming chili and hot cocoa.  As they oohed and ahhhed over the comfort that the warmth brought,  I jokingly told them that I was going to stay in the house all winter and that I would have to make them meals from time to time so that I could get my socialization needs met.  They were all willing to commit to ‘letting’ me cook for them as often as I want.

I don’t actually think I will stay inside. Though it is bleak out there, and cold, I think I’m willing to brave it in order to be with people.  But, it’s nice to know I have a back up plan.

Hebrews 10:24- 25

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,

not giving up meeting together [even if it’s cold outside]…

but encouraging each other….

Relentless, pt. 2

You won’t believe what happened yesterday afternoon.  I had already ordered my Bible study on prayer from Amazon, I had already blogged, I had done my editing work and a few other tasks around the house, so I decided to drop by the library and pick up the books that were being held for me.

Remember how I said I had been looking for a Bible study and I had even checked the library for one, to no avail? Was I surprised when I got to the library, picked up my ‘held’ books and found among them a Bible study called “10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer”.  He is relentless!

God knew that I would find the online study with email reminders yesterday, but a week or so ago, He had me request another study (I think I actually requested two or three and this is the one that arrived) because I am just – that – thick and He wanted to be sure I got the point! He wants to hear from me every day!!!

Let me clarify here that I was not actually looking for a Bible study on prayer — that would require yet another change in my life, another commitment, another step in acknowledging that He is God and I am not; a daily confession that He is in control and I am not.

Have I mentioned before that I am stubborn?  It is no small miracle that at this moment I am open to receiving this message from God.  It is no small miracle that I am willing to act on it.  But it is a HUGE miracle that I am actually excited about this next part of the journey.

Seriously, I am a changed woman.  It’s almost laughable!  It’s 8:43am.  By this time last year I had been at work for almost two hours, had prepared my classroom for the day, reprimanded any number of students for uniform violations, missing homework, or eating in the hallway, coached a couple of students on writing projects, met with another administrator, returned a dozen emails, and possibly even had a meeting with a parent.  And I had eight more hours to go! This morning, I rolled out of bed around 8:00am, made my tea, had a cup of homemade granola (delicious, by the way), fed the dog, had a devotion (which was about how we get far away from God — I can’t make this stuff up), and am now sitting in my mis-matched pajamas with disheveled hair trying to decide if I should shower or not before my 9:30 walking date.  On today’s schedule?  A walk, a haircut, and a half-dozen young people for dinner. That’s all.

It’s because of this shift, this opportunity to be still, this grace period, that I am able to see that God is God and I am not — to see that He has been holding me the whole time — to know that I am rescued by grace.  It’s because I am not soldiering on that I can see that the fight was never mine.

Today’s scripture verse?  I had a little trouble finding Micah, but it was worth the search.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy, when I fall, I shall rise;

when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me…

He will bring me out to the light…”

Micah 7:8-9

I have fallen many times. God has been relentless in His pursuit of me.  He has rescued me by grace over and over again.  He has brought me out of my self-constructed darkness and placed me in His light.

Relentless

The past couple of weeks I’ve been a little anxious about a tiny detail in my life — my Bible study.  Ok, it’s not a tiny detail.  It’s a major part of the structure of my day.  I’ve told you again and again about how I get up, feed the dog, make my tea, do my Bible study, and write my blog.  It’s my routine.  And, guys, I got to the end of my Bible study! It was an eight-week course that required homework five days a week and a weekly gathering with the girls!  Now, we are going to continue meeting, but our weekly gatherings are lagging a little behind the daily study, so we need a couple of weeks to catch up in class before we start the next book.

And I need homework — now!

I’ve been looking online for a book study that I can do on my own.  I’ve also checked at the library.  But, I just haven’t found anything.

I got up this morning and had some time to do my routine when I realized that (gasp!) I don’t have a Bible study!!!

So, I thought, certainly there is a solution.  I went to my old standby Biblegateway.com and clicked on ‘devotionals’.  And, a few clicks later found a study for women that drew me in.  It’s topic? Nehemiah and prayer.

Yes, yes, I hear you, God.  I know that it’s good that I have added back the spiritual discipline of Bible study, and I am also aware that although we have spoken to each other recently, we need to start having some daily conversations. 

Isn’t it amazing that after all this time God still wants to hear from me every day? I really used to be pretty faithful in prayer.  In fact it was pretty standard for my husband and me to join the prayer team about the minute we joined a church.  Not sure why it was at the seminary that my prayer life faltered, but it happened.   Sure, I still prayed at the beginning of each class period with my students and I bowed my head in prayer at church, but I wasn’t having those daily bare-my-heart to God conversations.  And I’m still not.

But that hasn’t kept God from pursuing me, has it?  A few years ago, my husband was pressing me and pressing me to have a small group Bible study in our home.  Our family was a bit of a mess at the time; our marriage was a bit of a mess, too, if I’m really going to be honest.  Why, on earth, would I want to welcome people into that?

My husband was tired of me putting him off, so he finally said, “this Monday, three guys are coming over at 7:00pm for Bible study, you can join us or not.”  Well, ok, then.  You should’ve seen these three young single guys — a future pastor, a future doctor, and a future physician’s assistant — standing in my kitchen, grinning.  I asked if they had had anything to eat, of course they hadn’t.  Before I knew what was happening, I had committed to making dinner for them every Monday.

It wasn’t long before three guys turned into twenty young adults — seminarians, med students, scientists, and young professionals. Every week they sat around my livingroom — in furniture and on the floor — studying the Bible,  eating, petting Chester, singing, and praying.  I’ve told them, but I’m sure they don’t fully understand, that they were a tool of God to begin the healing in our marriage and in our family.  They were the most difficult group for me to leave in St. Louis.  They were an unexpected gift from God.

And so is my group of sixteen or more lovely Wednesday morning ladies.  This, from the self-described butt-kickin’, name-takin’ soldier who doesn’t need anybody thankyouverymuch.

I read the devotion on Nehemiah and prayer.  At the bottom of the page, part of the actual devotion, were these words…”consider joining our free four-week Bible study on prayer…it starts today, November 17.”

Seriously?  His pursuit is that relentless? Yup.

I went on Amazon, I bought the book, I signed up for the daily email reminders. Guys, I think God wants to hear from me every day.  Starting today.

I Thessalonians 5:17

pray continually

Jumping in

I Samuel 15:25

Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me,

so that [we] may worship [and serve] the Lord.

Sometimes I get excited.  It’s kind of like when I was a little girl and our family drove to a nearby lake to swim for the day.  As soon as the car was put into P for Park, I leapt from the car and ran for the water.  I was too excited to think about applying sunscreen, grabbing my towel, or helping to carry the picnic basket or blankets to the sandy beach.  I was focused on getting in that water. Period.

This past week a friend mentioned a project she was getting involved in with another mutual friend — making hygiene kits for school-aged girls in Kenya.  She explained that it is not unusual for young girls to miss up to two months of school because they have to stay home when they menstruate due to lack of feminine supplies.  These girls use whatever is available, which may even be leaves, to protect their clothing. Such arrangements hardly make school attendance feasible. So, an organization has created a way to provide enough supplies in a small drawstring bag to be used, washed, and re-used for up to three years!  My friend explained that our mutual friend was leading the charge to complete as many kits as possible by March.

Later that day she sent me a link to a website and I was off and running!  Before I knew it, I had friends in three states enlisted for the cause, a Google spreadsheet to chart our progress, and a donation through Paypal to get us started!  Yesterday I took that money, went to a thrift shop and bought enough fabric for several draw string bags and ordered enough flannel to make a ton of pads for the waterproof liners that my friend is getting started on.  I heard about this project on Wednesday and by Friday night I had cut out enough fabric for 10 bags!  I was in the water!

My friend emailed me this afternoon and told me that her sister, in yet another state, would like to be involved, too!  And then it hit me.  This is my friend’s project, and I had bulldozed my way into leadership!  I had forgotten my sunscreen and towel! Now, my friend is very gracious — she hasn’t mentioned that she feels bulldozed, but my little internal red flag has popped up and is waving like crazy.

When I was a little girl, my mom would make sure I had a towel, lunch, drinks, and maybe even sunscreen (it was the 1970s, come on!) so I didn’t usually pay too high a price for my lake-side excitement.  Over the years, though, I have learned that when I don’t pause before I run in, I sometimes trample people in my path.  Now, I have made some pretty cool things happen in my life, but not always without hurting the feelings of the people around me.

So, let me go on record to say, I’m sorry if I’ve ever bulldozed you.  I love being excited, and I love when you are excited with me, and I really do want you to join me in making cool things happen.  So, I’m sorry that instead of joining you in your project I grabbed it and made it my project.  At least in this case, can it be our project?  I’ll try to calm down a little bit so that I can enjoy the journey and the people God has placed on it with me.  After all, it’s really His project, isn’t it.  Yes, Kristin, it’s my project. Not yours.  Oh, right.  It’s just a small part of my current assignment.

But guys, I am so excited about this project!  Maybe you want to get excited, too!  Here’s the link: http://www.daysforgirls.org/

Luke 3:11

Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none,

and anyone who has food should do the same.