Immeasurably More

Often in the classroom I have witnessed what I will call ‘reluctant learners’.  If you are a teacher, you might be able to recognize this student.  He grumbles as he shuffles into class, slumps in his chair, complains about every assignment, disputes every grade, and rues the fact that he even ‘has to take this class’.  As a teacher, it is tempting to write this student off — to say, “his loss; I’m doing the best I can here!”  It’s tempting to do that, that is, until you recognize that you have been that ‘reluctant learner’.

This past week I got a full dose of the ‘aha’ moment as I recognized the reluctant learner in me.  It probably started on Friday morning.  I got a phone call from a dear pastor friend (if you’ve been following my blog, this is the man who gave me the book on healing). He wanted to check in, walk down memory lane a bit, and pray for me.  He reminded me, as he often does, of a day way back in 1990 when my husband and I were planning to relocate to Jackson, Michigan — just temporarily — so that my husband could complete his internship in professional counseling.  We spotted a Lutheran church on a hill as we drove into Jackson to sign our six-month lease.  We had a little extra time, so my husband pulled up the long drive, and we decided to see if anyone was inside.  Indeed, this same pastor was inside.  As he tells the story, he had been praying and praying for someone to come partner with him in ministry to work with the broken families in the congregation.  He wanted someone who could walk with these families through times of divorce recovery and other personal issues they were facing.  We walked into his church and said we were moving to town temporarily and were looking for a place to worship while we were there. This pastor, who is now in his 80s, says that at that moment, he knew his prayers were answered.

Now, when I look back on that moment, I think, “Wow, he must have been desperate!”  We were, at that time, two young, selfish, immature individuals who were on a path to something — who knows what! Certainly we could not be the answer to anyone’s prayers.  In fact, the first time we worshipped at that church, I leaned over to my husband and said something like, “I don’t see myself here at all!”

That’s pretty funny when you consider that we ended up staying for twelve years!  Yes, I reluctantly shuffled into the place that would become my classroom. I learned a lot of lessons in that place — many of the lessons that I have written about in this blog!

I learned that God provides — not in ways that I demand that He provide, but in His own breathtaking ways.  Just after we joined the church, before we knew many people at all, I was getting close to delivering our first daughter.  We didn’t have much income at the time and didn’t really know how we were going to meet all the needs of a new baby.  But God knew.  Over forty women who had just met me gathered to throw me the baby shower of all baby showers.  Their gifts barely fit in my car!  They gave us everything we could have ever needed for that baby!  On the day she was born, my husband left me at the hospital with a heavy heart.  He knew what our bank account looked like — empty.  How was he going to put food in the fridge before we got home?  He had no idea.  But God did.  When my husband dropped by the counseling office that day, he found a check for over $500 in his mailbox from insurance payments that had ‘just come through’.  On the day he brought me home, members from our church met us with a footlocker full of groceries and stocked our fridge to bursting.  I could tell story after story of how God used that body to teach us that He would provide.

I also learned that I didn’t know everything.  That lesson involved a very long series of painful mini-lessons.  I learned that I didn’t know everything about parenting when I judged other parents and then watched my own children misbehaving — even biting and hitting other kids!  I learned I didn’t know everything about teaching when my Bible studies flopped and I offended some of my students who just happened to be members of the church!  I learned that I didn’t know everything about event planning when I planned a women’s retreat that lasted too long, didn’t give women enough time to relax, and didn’t honor the people who served.  I learned I didn’t know a lot about forgiveness when I was put in the position time after time after time to need it so desperately.

I learned that God is gracious at this church.  I learned this lesson because despite all of my failures and ugliness, these people continued to lavish love upon us.  I mean– lavish.  Eleven years ago when my husband announced that we would be leaving that church to go to the seminary, that body simultaneously wept and celebrated.  They planned a send-off to top all send-offs! They helped us pack up our house.  One member, a realtor, listed and sold our house, refused to take a commission, and then gave us a monetary gift! Another member came over, took all the items off my walls, wrapped them in paper and packed them in boxes.  Dozens showed up on moving day to load all of our possessions, Tetris-style, into a U-haul truck. Then, they paid my husband to go to the seminary.  Yes, that’s right.  They covered our medical insurance for a long time, and they sent monthly support to help us with living expenses.  When I had unexpected surgery, they paid our share of the cost! They prayed for unceasingly! Dozens trekked to St. Louis to encourage us while we were there. And, when it was time for my husband to be ordained, they threw open the doors and hosted the ceremony and a meal to follow.  I am telling you, these people can lavish the love!

Well, yesterday we went back to that church to worship again. It had been a few years since we had seen many of them, but from the moment I walked in the door I didn’t stop hugging people.  It felt like we had returned home after a long time away.  So many smiles.  So many memories.  As my husband preached a message of God’s ability to do ‘immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine,’ I looked around the sanctuary and was reminded of time after time when He did just that.

That first time I walked into Redeemer, Jackson back in 1990, my imagination was very limited.  I didn’t see how in the world God could bless us in that place.  Maybe it would be ok for six months, I guessed, but stay for twelve years?  Come on, that was not gonna happen.

Thankfully, God is able and willing to take a reluctant learner like me, hold me in the palm of His hand and guide me through lesson after lesson to give to me a life that is immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine.

Thanks, Redeemer, for allowing Him to use you to touch this reluctant learner.

Ephesian 3:19-20

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Being Held

I’ve been putting a lot of things together over the past couple of weeks — connecting a lot of dots — writing things down in indelible marker — trying to nail these lessons home.  But, even as I type this, I know that these are lessons I am going to have to learn over and over again.

I’ve written so many sentences, paragraphs, and blog posts about my soldiering — how I’ve marched through battles, brandishing weapons, kicking butts and taking names.  I’ve confessed that my years in the battlefield of my own making have wreaked havoc on my body.  I’ve vowed to put down my weapons and rest in the palm of the hand of God.  Yet, I gaze longingly at my fatigues that are propped up over in the corner.  I long to get back in the game, to live the life of my former self.

I mean, wasn’t it great? The camaraderie with the troops — working side-by-side to tackle issues like failing students, families in crisis, and new programs for success? The daily soldiering — lesson planning, writing exams, reading essays, and teaching grammar? The little skirmishes — with students, with parents, with colleagues? The victory parades — parent/teacher conferences, faculty parties, graduation?

Yes, it was great.

So what went wrong?  Why couldn’t I hang in there like some who have been marching for forty years or more? Why did I have to take my honorable discharge so early?

Perhaps because there is work for me in the reserves? Could I be as effective as a reservist as I was while on active duty?  Could I use the same skill set? Could I meet with a different population this way?

I mean, let’s be honest, I’m certainly not ready to retire. I have ideas, opinions, and strategies formulating in my mind all day long. Yet, it’s obvious that I can no longer sustain active duty.  A few hours of interaction with students and I am ready to put my feet up.  Sometimes I sit down at 3:00pm and don’t get up again for the rest of the evening.

Last Thursday as I lie on the bed at the physical therapy office, I heard the therapist say, “Your body is kind of twisted in on itself, as though you were holding yourself together so that you could move forward.”  I was silent as I thought about that for a moment. Actually, I keep thinking about that one sentence.

Perhaps the reason I couldn’t sustain forty years of teaching is because I exhausted myself in just ten years by simultaneously attempting to hold myself together while kicking butts and taking names. And don’t I feel foolish for attempting to do what has already been done? I could never hold myself together anyway. Nor did I have to.  I am, after all, being held together in the palm of His hand.

Silly me.  Let me get out that Sharpie.

Colossians 1:16-17

all things have been created through him and for him.17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Integrative Medicine

About a year ago I saw a doctor who practices integrative medicine for the first time.  Although I had experienced some progress through acupuncture, massage, and nutritional counseling while we were still living in St. Louis, I didn’t really know what integrative medicine was.  However, after almost three years of symptoms — fatigue, joint pain, psoriasis, and multiple issues with my eyes — and little help from traditional medical practice, I figured I had nothing to lose.

When I arrived at the office on the west side of Ann Arbor, I found it to be understated; it didn’t have all the glitz and glamour of the powerful University of Michigan.  It was a small suite of rooms in a strip mall.  The receptionist called my name, weighed me, took my temperature, found my blood pressure, and asked me to fill out some forms. Some of the forms looked familiar — family history, insurance information, etc. — but mixed in with those were others that were asking me questions no doctor had ever asked me before — questions about diet, mood, temperament, lifestyle, and sleep that went beyond the quantitative I had experienced in the past.

The doctor, an unassuming middle-aged woman, talked to me for over an hour.  She took notes, asked questions, examined me, and then gave me a place to start. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that last December I followed the Ultra Simple Diet on the recommendation of this doctor.  She ordered some blood work and also had me submit saliva samples — yes, saliva samples– to a lab to determine my level of adrenal functioning.

I followed her recommendations, and then — bam! — life got a little crazy at our house for a few months.  I kept eating wisely, but I worked too  much, lost track of my exercise plan, and stopped seeing this doctor.

By the end of summer, I had taken a few steps backward health-wise.  I had fallen into some of my old soldiering habits, ignoring my symptoms and pushing through for the sake of family, work, and, most honestly, selfishness.  My fall visit to my rheumatologist at the U was very disappointing.  I was told I had fibromyalgia and that I should find a doctor who would help me manage my symptoms.  Period.

Well, that was the impetus I needed to go back to the integrative medicine specialist.  I limped into the examination room complaining of pain, fatigue, and — a new one — hot flashes!  I was having up to eight extreme hot flashes during the day and that many again at night.  They stopped me in my tracks during the day and woke me out of a sound sleep at night. Furthermore, I was nearing hopelessness because of the verdict from rheumatology.

Step by step, Dr. Mary Greiner, addressed my concerns.  She used homeopathic medicines to address my symptoms. (Some other time I may write about how affordable these remedies are in comparison to pharmaceuticals.)  She also encouraged me to re-adopt my healthy practices of exercise and rest in addition to the dietary changes that I had been following — no gluten, no dairy, no soy.  And, she said I needed to get in to see a physical therapist in Chelsea, Michigan.  She said it would take me a while to get in to see her, maybe months.  However, I needed to see her because she is the one who could help me.   In fact, I’m pretty sure that Dr. Greiner recommended I see Marcy Boughton during that very first appointment almost a year ago.  I didn’t follow through initially, but finally around August, I called and made an appointment.  Last week I met Marcy for the first time.

Just like Dr. Greiner, Marcy listened to me for over an hour.  She wanted to know my physical history, yes, but she also wanted to know about major life events — my parents’ divorce, my experience with anorexia nervosa, the births of my children, our relocation to St. Louis, my reentry into the work force, and our relocation to Michigan. She wanted to hear how I had managed the stressors and, get this, she wanted to applaud my resilience.  Then, she wanted to affirm that this is a good time to allow my body some time to recover.

Yesterday, during our second visit, after having evaluated my personality type and some other socio-emotional factors, she had me listen to some audio teaching while she was gently applying pressure to assess my body’s needs and address some areas of concern.  Hers is a very gentle practice.  She felt my pulses as my acupuncturist had in the past.  She applied gentle pressure to my neck, my skull, my shoulders.  And, by touch, she found the most troubling area, my right hip.

As she applied gentle pressure to my femur, she played two audios.  The first spoke to my personality — my tendency to do, to achieve, to push, to take charge.  The audio celebrated the strengths of these traits — people like me get things done, they lead people, they have what seems to be unstoppable energy and enthusiasm.  However, the audio also identified the weakness — the tendency to overlook the interior, to neglect self-care, to lose touch with the personal.  The information I was hearing resonated.  On just the second meeting with this practitioner, the dots that I have seen clearly on the page, were being connected with an indelible black Sharpie. The second audio was the next step.  The speaker invited the listener to speak words of affirmation celebrating this driven personality — the strength, the vision, the ability to accomplish.  Then, it invited the speaker to heal, to acknowledge the areas that have been overlooked, to give myself permission to set down my weapons,  to slow down and be kind to myself.  As I listened, Marcy continued to apply pressure to that femur, gently attempting to release its torque.  When the audio was done, she said that during the second half of the second audio she was holding my femur when she felt a snap as though my femur broke and then repositioned itself. Interesting.

This is integrative medicine, folks.  I’m not going to tell you that my pain is gone today (although I will say I am no longer having hot flashes!). But, I’m feeling much better as a whole.  I feel like I am understanding myself — my whole self — a little more fully.  We are, after all, complex beings — we are body, soul, and spirit.  Addressing the needs of the body without attending to the soul and the spirit is, at best, a partial fix.

I’d like to tell you more of this story, but I’ve already used more than enough words for one day.  Perhaps tomorrow I will be able to tell you what I am learning about holding it all together.  For now, though, it’s enough to say that we are complex beings created by an even more complex Creator.

I Thessalonians 5:23

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reunited, and it feels so good!

One of the blessings of moving back to Michigan has been the chance to reunite with people we hadn’t seen in a long time, or at least hadn’t seen as often as we would’ve liked to for a long time.

When we lived in St. Louis, a trip to see our parents, any of our parents, took thoughtful planning, time off from work, and lots of time in the car.  Now that we are in Michigan, we can be with parents in as little as 2, 3, or 4 hours.  Any of those trips can be done at the drop of a hat.  And often, when we visit our parents, we get to see siblings as well.  In fact, we have four siblings living in Michigan, plus five nephews and their families and two nieces!  In the past year we have been able to attend birthday celebrations, family reunions, and informal gatherings with all of them!  We’ve also been able to visit with aunts, uncles, and cousins on many occasions.  After ten years in another state, we are truly enjoying the ability to see our family so frequently.

Additionally, we have been able to reunite with friends.  Proximity has allowed us the privilege of seeing friends we hadn’t seen for, in some cases, as many as twenty years or more!  Several months ago, my husband preached at the church where we were married — there we saw friends who remembered us from when we were dating.  Some of them had actually helped us with the details of our wedding.  A few weeks ago, my husband participated in the wedding of a young man who was part of the congregation where we served before moving to St. Louis. Last month, we attended my high school homecoming festivities and laughed with friends I have known most of my life. Just two weeks ago some old friends brought their son for a campus visit and ended up joining us for dinner.  Even after a year of living in Michigan, I keep getting pleasantly surprised by seeing people I haven’t seen in years.

You know, I don’t remember being so happy to see these people before I couldn’t see them whenever I wanted to.  When I was around them every day, I’m sure that I took their presence for granted.  I know that I brushed people off, moved past them in haste, and was even annoyed by them fairly regularly.  But after having been away for so long, every reunion — yes, every reunion — is filled with smiles, hugs, joy, and gratitude.

This past weekend, my sister, who lives in Texas, flew into Detroit, picked me up, and drove me to our mother’s house.  There, our brothers joined us for a weekend of eating, laughing, and casually hanging out together.  We didn’t go to any events.  We had no milestone to celebrate.  We just had time to sit together.  We poked fun at one another.  We hugged each other.  We shared stories to make one another laugh.  We were impressed with one another.  We enjoyed one another.

When I was a little girl, I would sometimes lay in bed at night and think about heaven.  I think since I said my prayers in bed, I was under the assumption that God lived in my bedroom.  So, when my prayers were finished I would often think about what would happen when I die.  Little-girl-me often got very scared — what if I didn’t like it there?  what if all we did was sing and worship?  forever is a very long time!  I would get myself totally terrified of the unknown and be afraid to fall asleep.

Sometimes still today I think about heaven and I get a little worried. It’s still unknown territory, isn’t it?  But all the reunions of the past year, including the one that I just finished this weekend, make me picture that heaven is going to be one big reunion.  I will see my great grandmother who probably is in charge of one wing of a particular mansion.  She’s got it spotlessly clean — the beds are made with freshly pressed 100% cotton sheets, and the smell of freshly baked cookies is wafting through the hallways.  I’ll see my grandfather who is very happy to be singing in four different choirs in between coffee and donut sessions with all of his friends.  My grandmother will probably greet me, unassumingly, at the gates.  She’ll smile her sweet smile, hug me, and ask what she can get for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll find my friend John telling colorful stories to his buddies. Twila will be buzzing around, smiling, laughing, and looking into the eyes of everyone in her path.  My dear friend, Win, will look over her glasses at me and utter sarcastically, “What took you so long?”

There will be so. much. hugging.  And smiling. And laughing.

And I haven’t even mentioned the reunion that I will have with Christ.  Although I haven’t me Him face to face, I know I will know Him the minute I see Him.  He’ll be the one running to meet me, arms outstretched, smile wide, eyes sparkling.  He will wrap me in His arms, and all my childhood (and adulthood) fears will fall away. The tears will be wiped from my eyes.

That doesn’t sound scary at all.

John 14:1-3

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

The overflow of the heart

“…on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak..”

Matthew 12:36

Well, didn’t that just stop me in my tracks this morning? I got up, brewed my tea, made my smoothie, and sat down to my Bible study thinking, “It sure would be nice to blog this morning…” I usually read my Bible study first, you know, so I don’t go off all half-cocked spouting nonsense as I have been wont to do.  I try to ground myself in Scripture before I let my fingers fly, hoping that they will be directed toward His purposes, at least a little bit.

But didn’t He just step into my process and say, “Well, you know, not many people can speak about careless words quite as authentically as you can, dear.” Oy.

Ok, ok, I admit it.  I have spoken a few careless words. Ok, fine.  I’ve spoken a few careless words every time I have opened my mouth. I just love to hear myself talk, apparently.  So things just fly out of me!  All kinds of things.  Careless things.  They fly out of my mouth so quickly I sometimes surprise myself.  When I say, “did I just say that out loud?” I really am asking out of disbelief.  I shock myself.

Sure, sure, over the years, through some very difficult ‘learning opportunities’ I have acquired an ability to filter.  Sometimes.  But often, a thought pops into my head and out of my mouth before I even know what happened.  I have tried and tried and tried to control my tongue.  But here’s the thing.  The problem isn’t with my tongue.  It’s with my heart.

Matthew asks, “How can you speak good, when you are evil?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Have you ever met someone who truly has a pure heart?  I actually have.  Perhaps you know someone like this.  They have something kind to say about everyone, in every situation.  And, guys, they aren’t being fake.  They really mean it!  They have compassion, understanding, patience, and true humility in their hearts. So, when they open their mouths, the words that come out are compassionate, kind, understanding, patient, and humble.

If you listen carefully to my words, you will occasionally hear kindness and sometimes compassion, but often what you will hear is judgment, cynicism, distrust, and impatience.  Our mouths reveal us for who we really are!  And, in my case, it can be downright embarrassing!  I really want to think the best of people.  I really want to be encouraging, but I look at a situation, toss it around with what is inside my heart, and out of my mouth comes what I am thinking.

So, what can I do? There is only one solution — a heart transplant.  Or at least reconstructive surgery.  God has been in the business of remodeling my heart for going on fifty years.  He’s done some miraculous work, actually.  That’s why I am, at times, able to open my mouth and offer encouraging, compassionate, and thankful words.  However, the full remodel won’t be done for quite some time, and occasionally I get trapped in one of the back rooms that haven’t been touched yet.  If you try to talk to me when I’m in there, I’m likely to spout frustration, anger, and even hate. It ain’t pretty.

I’ve got to learn not to walk into those areas alone.  When I go alone, all I can see are the problems — the holes in the wall, the stained carpets, the mold, and the broken windows.  But, when the Designer comes with me, He shows me all the work that He’s already done — He’s poured a new foundation, He’s demolished strongholds, He’s got a plan.  When He comes with me, all that frustration, anger, and hate melt away.  All I can see is His goodness and compassion — His ability to rebuild what was once deemed condemned.

At those moments, my heart is full of hope, love, and understanding; when I see the transformative power He has had in my life, I am able to humbly speak that transformative power into the lives of others.  However, when I wander off on my own, my heart gets full of fear, anger, and resentment.  And in those moments, if I’m careless enough to open my mouth, I’m likely to regret it.

Sounds like a simple problem to fix, doesn’t it?  Remind me of that later today when you hear me say something careless, will you?