Still my Soul

Time change.  Spring Forward. I did not want to wake up this morning.  I stayed up to watch the end of a basketball game last night. You know, March Madness.  It’s the first weekend of our Spring Break and I guess I was feeling a little like celebrating.  I made popcorn and baked muffins.  I wanted to snack, sip wine, and watch collegiate basketball. It wasn’t terribly late, mind you, but when my husband gently woke me this morning at 7, I grumbled.  Ugh.  “Five more minutes.”

I’m not great at morning.  It seems I used to be.  I think I used to bound out of bed ready to face my day, but this has changed.  I’m a morning grumbler.  My husband is good in the mornings.  He is cheerful, kind, thoughtful, and ready to face his day.  Poor guy.  He unsuspectingly tries to engage with me, and I snarkily reply.  Before he knows it, my snark has inspired a response from him.  That’s when I notice that I’ve been less than kind.

So, yes, this all happened this morning.  By the time we were in the car making our way to church, the banter was a little testy.  I feel bad because he’s on his way to church to preach, and I am going to sit in our church’s coffee house for about two hours doing whatever I choose to do.  I can read, grade papers, blog. I have time to shed the snark before I go to the second service; he is going to walk right into serving.  He has to quickly use whatever skills he has acquired from twenty-six years of living with me to shed the snark and return to his normal cheerful self. I know he is able to do it, but still feel badly.

While he’s doing whatever he does to prepare to greet people and deliver the message that he’s been working with all week, I shuffle down the stairs to my corner seat, unpack my bag, open my computer, and begin to review an essay that I’ve been helping one of my students with.  I’m reading through her claims, her analysis, and her evidence when I find myself singing with the coffee house’s piped in music,

Be still my soul, Lord make me whole

Lord make me whole*

I pause.  Hm. Yes, that’s why I am snarky this morning.  My soul is restless. I’m tossing around complaints and worries. I’m holding them in my hands and examining them over and over.  Perhaps you know what I’m talking about.  I’ve gathered items all week — the health issues of family and friends, the knowledge that people in my life make choices that I don’t agree with or approve of, the constant barrage of the ‘news’ feed, my own persistent health issues, and countless other gems.  I’ve been caressing them all week, and I haven’t changed their reality one bit.  I involuntarily join the plea of the song, “Be still my soul, Lord make me whole, Lord make me whole…”

The song ends, and I go back to the essay.  I give the feedback I promised then order a pot of extra strong tea.  I can feel the snark hanging heavily on me, so I know I can’t turn right to my blog.  Come on, Kristin, you know the drill.  Turn to the Scripture, first.  That’s where you’ll find your truth.

If you aren’t convinced yet of the power of a regular reading plan, let me share with you what I found today. It was waiting for me — Day 132, Psalm 66.

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.  You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; 

As I’m reading, I’m shaking my head.  I’m embarrassed. It’s not like my worries and troubles are a crushing burden.  Yes, I do have concerns that are real. However, in the grand scheme, I have been very gently ‘tried’.  In just this past week I have heard stories of others who have had true ‘crushing burdens’ on their backs, who have actually felt like ‘men [were riding] over their heads’.  Comparatively, my troubles are small.  I read on.

yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.  

I just have to sit here for a minute.  Indeed, I have been brought to a place abundance. Even if I didn’t have a church I loved to come to every Sunday, even if I didn’t have a committed husband who wakes up happy each day, even if I didn’t get to live in a community that energizes me, even if I didn’t have my dream job, even if I didn’t have four children that make me very proud, I would still have much abundance to write about.

I’m convicted, obviously.  I examine the gems in my hands and realize that they are mere pebbles. I exhale and continue to read.

I will come into your house with burnt offerings; 

I mean, I’m already here.  In just a little while, I will ascend the stairs and enter the sanctuary.  I will carry my pebbles up with me and leave them there for You.  I think You’ll probably be more effective with them.

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.  

Truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. 

Guys, I can’t make this stuff up.  Mere words transform my snark into confession, humility, and gratefulness.  It’s a miracle –one that I don’t want to overlook today.  He cares enough about me and my ‘burdens’ to speak directly to me. He has stilled my soul again.  May He still yours, too.

*The Brilliance. “Dust We Are and Shall Return.” Brother. 

How Many Times do I have to Tell You?

“How many times do I have to tell you?”

I’ve said it to my children.  “How many times do I have to tell you to rinse out your dish and put it in the dishwasher?”  “How many times do I have to tell you to hang up your wet towel?” “How many times do I have to tell you to call me when you get there?”

I’ve said it to my students. “How many times do I have to tell you that MLA format requires you to double space and use 12 pt. font?”  “How many times do I have to tell you the due date?” “How many times do I need to tell you to document your sources?”

But today I am hearing the words myself, “How many times do I have to tell you?” But while I growl my words in exasperation at my children and my students, I am hearing the words spoken gently into my heart as my chin is lifted tenderly by gentle fingers that draw my eyes upward.

How many times do I have to write the same blog?  How many times do I have to admit that I am “bent on turning” and that I did it again, I turned and went my own way.  In this very busy semester, I went back to what I know — soldiering.  Ok, fine, it has been a milder version of soldiering.  My regimen now includes daily doses of rest, reading, and recovery.  It mandates several repeats of yoga and walking.  It requires completing responsibilities to family such as laundry, cooking, and bill paying.  On the surface, it looks pretty healthy.  But it’s subtle soldiering.  Want to know why? Because I’ve been relying on myself and listening to the voices in the trenches.  How do I know? Because I’m surly.

There, I said it.  I’ve been surly.  Again, it’s a subtle surly.  I’ve been able to be fairly pleasant to the people in my life, but my internal monologue is grumbly and negative.  That’s part of the reason that I didn’t blog last week or the week before.  I sit down to type and the interior pops onto the page. It’s the only thing my fingers know how to do. I mean, they try to produce a positive message, but it ends up sounding saccharine — not at all genuine.  And I can spot fake from about a mile away.  Even when it’s coming out of my own fingers. Yuck.

So, today I’m waiting for student papers to come in.  I’ve graded everything that’s in my possession. I have nowhere to be today.  I’ve got the day to myself.  Yes, I plan to do some baking, but I feel the pull to my Bible and prayer journal.  I feel the need to catch up on my YouVersion reading plan — I’m about three days behind.

Being my surly self, I got diverted several times on my way to my reading, but finally I plunked down on the futon and opened the app on my phone.  Yes, I know, even getting caught up on YouVersion is a bit like soldiering…shhhh…it got me there, ok?

I was scrolling through the daily readings…blah, blah, blah,….fine, Isaiah, I see you. I kept reading and scrolling, reading and scrolling, Isaiah, my friend, you have so. many. words. Like a true soldier, I continued to read and scroll, gonna get caught up, you know. But then something happened.  My soldiering self sat down when I heard a voice that I recognized.  It wasn’t a voice from the trenches.

It wasn’t saying “do more, be more, get more;” it said, “he will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms.”

It didn’t say, “be the greatest, prove your worth;” it said “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” (Hop. Flit. Jump.)

I’m tired of hopping and jumping, I thought.  And almost immediately I read, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

What must that be like, I grumbled weakly, to not grow weary?  And I read, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.”

Oh, yeah.  I’m not alone, am I?  The world does not spin because I’m trying so hard. “Fear not, I have called you by name; you are mine.”   I am His.  I don’t have to prove my identity through my performance.  “I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember my sins.”  Really?  You don’t remember that I was just blogging about my propensity to turn and here I am again, confessing to the same exact sin?

“I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”

I hear you.  I’m turning. How could I not?  You are speaking directly to me.  How did you manage to do that through the Bible reading plan on my phone?

“I call you by your name.” Yes, you sure do.

“I name you, though you do not know me.” You’re right.  I haven’t been acting like I know you.

” I am the Lord your God. I am God and there is no other.”

Yes, yes you are.  And let’s just get it out in the open.  I’m bent on turning, so you’re probably going to have to tell me again.

“Fear not, I am the One who helps you.”

Isaiah 40-44, selected verses

Shifting Gears

Once upon a time, a middle-aged woman took a break from work to rest and assess some health issues.  For six months, she barely worked at all.  Instead, she cultivated friendships, attended Bible study, exercised, read, wrote, and rested.  For another six months, she gradually eased back into the working world. Through trial and error she learned what amount of work was enough and what was too much.

Or did she?

I’m entering my third year here at the little house by the river. That first fall I had so much time on my hands!  My house was so clean and uncluttered! I prepared meals fairly regularly. I took time for coffee and lunches with friends. I traveled to see family regularly.  I exercised several days a week.  I started most days with Bible study and blogging.  It was a lovely season.

I’ll admit I was a little bored.

I’m not bored any more.

My new challenge is to offer myself grace when my house is cluttered and in need of a deep cleaning, when my husband and I have to scrounge through the fridge to find leftovers — again, when I turn down one more offer to meet a friend for coffee, when it’s been weeks months since I’ve seen some of my family, when I miss a full week of exercise, or when I’ve failed to make time for daily Bible study and prayer.  Because, honestly, this has become the norm for the moment.

I know it’s just a moment.  I agreed to a heavier course load for a semester — not forever.  We are taking two international trips in the next four months, but then we probably won’t go anywhere again for years!  It’s a season, just like many other seasons we have weathered.  It’s just for a moment, but in the moments, it feels overwhelming.

So, instead of taking time to pause, reflect, and pray, I spend those moments online ordering travel pillows and earplugs.  In place of going to the gym, I fit in an appointment for immunizations.  Rather than meeting friends for coffee, I spend the morning grading papers and preparing for the next class.  When I could take a day trip to visit family, I find myself on the couch recovering from another hectic week.

It’s a season, I tell myself. Yet life is made up of seasons, is it not?  Do I wait for the next season, when I’ll presumably have more time, to fit in the disciplines and pleasures I love so well?  Or do I adapt so that I can taste them even in this season?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

I’m in the sixth week of this semester.  So far — yes, it’s Tuesday — I’ve managed to start my week off with worship, connections at church, a completed stack, time with my husband, a couple of prepared meals, an hour of Pilates, a physical therapy session, and, this morning, an hour of Bible study, reflection, prayer, and blogging.  Ahhhh. Now, see, isn’t that lovely?  Why don’t I keep this rhythm every day? Every week?

Well, because I am human.  I am bound to be buried in the to-dos very shortly.  After all, I am not only planning for tomorrow’s classes and grading yesterday’s papers, I am also preparing my students for the fact that I will be gone for a week.  As if that weren’t enough, I’ve also planned to see seven private students this week and travel to see our granddaughter this weekend.

As my husband would say, “Every bit of it is good stuff!” I love being in the classroom!  I love reading student writing! Watching students learn is what feeds me!  And, certainly, squishing that little granddaughter is second to no other activity in my life!

Yet, I remind myself, if I want to be able to do all of the stuff that I love, I must take time to oxygenate myself first. I can’t be an effective wife, mother, friend, or teacher, if I let myself get completely depleted.  And that’s what happens when I neglect my personal disciplines and my social interactions.  Let’s be honest — the messy house isn’t gonna kill anyone. And, truly, there’s enough cereal and chunky soup in the kitchen; no one is going to starve.

I’m learning, guys.  Something has to give.  If I want to teach more and — gasp — travel, I’ve got to shift my expectations of myself.  In the past, I’ve sacrificed self-care in order to maintain an orderly house and the appearance that all is well.  What I’m learning is that being truly well is less about appearances and more about my daily disciplines and meaningful connections.

Hang in there with me folks, I’m shifting gears and trying to enjoy the journey.

I Timothy 4:8

 

 

It’s all about that grace…

It’s been week-long lesson time over here at the little house by the river.  It all started last Monday when I arrived twenty minutes late for my first class of the semester.  I had made a mistake — missed the mark. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I fumbled through that first class making apologies and praying that my students wouldn’t base their opinion of me on that gaffe.

The same class met two more times last week, and truly, my students were gracious.  They arrived on time (mostly), they did their assignments (pretty much), and they engaged in classroom activities.  They, from all appearances, had offered me grace — undeserved favor.  My performance didn’t earn respect, but they gave it to me anyway.

So, I went forward through my week and offered the same to everyone else I interacted with, right?  That would be a nice way to end the story, wouldn’t it?

However, as humans go, I’m pretty run-of-the-mill.  I have a short memory, and I don’t like to apply the same rules to others as I do to myself.  I want everyone else to be perfect and to earn the favor that I give to them.

Turns out that most humans are pretty run-of-the-mill, aren’t they?

I’ve been struggling with a few humans in particular.  Their actions, or lack thereof, have left me fussing and fuming.  I have not been quiet about my disdain for these few individuals.  Their decisions, in my opinion, have been less than ideal; they have missed the mark.  In fact, most of the people I have fussed and fumed to have agreed with my assessment.  I have every right to cast judgment on these people because of their poor choices.  Certainly they have been wrong and should be held accountable.

It’s true.  All of us, in fact, have been wrong and should be held accountable.

So, a companion of mine (who shall remain nameless) and I were recently driving on the highway.  We were missing church to go to a family event, so the thoughtful driver (no names, I promise) had brought a devotion along to read in the car.  While the driver drove, I read the devotion about grace — this was not orchestrated; it was just the devotion for the day.   When I read the words, “Remember, grace is not given to us because of our goodness, but in spite of our sin,” I gave a hard gulp.  How many times have I received grace in spite of my sin? So many times. Each day. Today. Yet, I withhold that grace from others — maybe because their sin is different from mine, maybe because I have decided that they are unrepentant, maybe because they have hurt people whom I love.  I decide that they are not worthy of my grace.  They haven’t earned it.  But grace, by definition, can’t be earned.  Or deserved.  My driving companion and I mused on this for a moment and acknowledged how each of us had failed in this arena.  We had failed Grace 101.

Not long after I finished reading the devotion and  we had finished our musings, said driver had what we like to call “the pedal to the metal” when we flew past a Michigan State Trooper stealthily resting in the median.  Just as we zipped past him, the trooper flung himself out into the lane behind us.  My driver said, “He got me,” slowed the speed of the car, and moved toward the right lane in anticipation of being pulled over.  One other car separated us from the trooper when his flashing lights went on.  We watched the other car pull to the shoulder, fully expecting the trooper to move forward and pull us over, but instead, he pulled onto the shoulder behind the other car.

My driver and I looked at each other and exhaled.  “That,” I said, “is grace.”  We had been breaking the law after all; we had missed the mark.  We deserved a ticket but received undeserved favor.  Just in case we needed an object lesson to go with our devotion.

So I moved forward from that car ride and spread grace lavishly, right?

Have I mentioned that I am a run-of-the-mill human?  Within forty-eight hours I had meted out harsh judgment on others in my life. I had determined what mark they should reach and, noticing their failure to meet it, had poured on scorn and disfavor — exactly what they deserved.

But God, being ever gracious and merciful, gave me the lesson once more this morning.  He reminded me, through the gentle words of my physical therapist, of His great love for me and His great love for others.  Not only that, He reminded me of the privilege I have of bearing witness to His grace in the lives of those who desperately need to hear it.

I’ve missed the mark so many times, yet He continues to pour grace on me — through students, through pre-packaged devotions, through State Troopers, and through physical therapists.  Perhaps I’ll be able to bear witness to that this week.

John 1:16

For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

Beloved, regardless of wallowing

This must be anti-wallowing week!  What is it about February that induces the blues like no other month on the calendar? Yes, it’s cold.  Yes, it’s gray.  But, come on, it’s only 28 29 days.  How bad can it be?

Well, for an experienced wallower, it can be pretty bad, can’t it?

And I’ll admit, I’ve been a wallower this morning.  I woke around 8am.  I always feel the worst right when I wake up.  Every joint and muscle aches, and I feel somehow attached to my bed.  It typically takes me 30-60 minutes to convince myself that I will feel better once I get out from between the sheets.  Today it took closer to 90.  I didn’t have to stay in bed, but I chose to lie there, read Facebook, Twitter, and email, and take my turn on a dozen or more games of Words With Friends.

That, my friends, is professional-level wallowing.

I am not saying that to judge anyone out there with chronic illness — I know it’s rough, and I know that sometimes bed is where you need to be — I am just saying that for me, today, my first 90 minutes were spent wallowing.

It sounded something like this: “I don’t feel good. I ache. I’m tired. I’ll just lie here a few more minutes. I don’t have anywhere to go this morning anyway. My first appointment is at 3.  I need the rest. I’ll get up soon.”

Thank goodness I have a bladder. It recognized the situation and fired off a red alert.  “Emergency! Emergency! You need to get out of bed now!!”  I can always count on my bladder.  It forces me to pause in my wallowing.

Once I had taken care of the first order of business, I made my smoothie and my tea, and I sat down to my work for the day.  I was able to help a student on a couple of documents she needs to submit for a class and interact with a few friends on Facebook before I got a notification from a friend reminding me that my husband had given the message today at Concordia’s chapel service.

And then I was tempted to resume wallowing. “Seriously, Kristin, you couldn’t get yourself up and dressed in time for a 10:30 chapel service? What’s the matter with you?  You aren’t that sick!  Stop wallowing!”  You got it, my wallowing was perpetuating more wallowing!

And right then I had a choice — go down that path, or turn.

Today, I turned. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you will know that I was once again ‘shocked’ that my Bible study for today directly applied to this situation. The words “I’m sorry” jumped right off the page at me.  Of course there were many other words, but I think “I’m sorry” was bolded and in 24pt font.  And what am I sorry for?

I’m sorry that I have forgotten to be content in all circumstances.  I’m sorry that I have forgotten the blessing of this next chapter — yes, I am not the person I once was, but that gives me an opportunity to not be the person I once was. You know what I mean?

I am no longer functioning at my best when I leap out of bed at 5:30am to conquer the world and everyone in it for fourteen or more hours.  I am now at my best when I amble into my day at a slower pace, when I notice who is posting what on Facebook, when I am aware of what is happening in the world, when I can offer encouraging words to a graduate student I have never met face to face, when I can sit next to my dog, read a devotion, and reflect on the thoughts I am having and the way I am feeling.

I didn’t take the time for any of that in previous chapters. I was busy trying to achieve, trying to manage it all, trying to be perfect.

I needed to pause from my wallowing this morning to remember that I was not meant to be “be-perfect”; I was meant to be “beloved”.

I am beloved even when I wallow. I am beloved when I stop wallowing.  Nothing I do can change the fact that I am beloved.

Hebrews 13:5

be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

not perfect

I’m not perfect, but sometimes I try to be.  It’s not really a conscious decision; in fact, if you ask me, I will tell you that I have many faults. I know I am not perfect, yet when I make mistakes, which I am bound to do, I am pretty hard on myself.

For instance, I met a new student last Wednesday night.  I had made some assumptions about her ethnicity based on the name she used on her online profile.  I met her in person and began to talk about her language issues.  I asked, “Is English your first language?” “No.” “Chinese?” “No, Korean.” Ouch.  That’s the second time inside of a month that I had mistakenly assumed that a Korean student was Chinese.  Of course both times I apologized, but that didn’t release me from the guilt, judgment, and reprimands that I heaped upon myself for hours —  ok, days –afterward.

Shall we continue? My husband and I had been planning a trip to Cincinnati for Valentine’s Day.  We had offered to watch our granddaughter so that our kids could get away overnight.  He adjusted his schedule so that we could leave as soon as my class ended at 2pm.  I had a test scheduled for my class, so that should be no problem.  I would give them the test, then we would be on our way. Well, my test required a lot of writing.  The class is only fifty minutes long.  I spent the first five minutes discussing the next assignment.  Then, I passed out the test and gave instructions. As I sat there, I realized that my test was taking much longer than I had planned.  Only ten minutes remained in the class when the first speedy student turned his in.  At the end of the allotted time, I still had about ten students writing.  I probably should’ve cut them off.  Class time is class time.  However, I was doubting my ability to gauge how much time it should take to complete this test, so I let them continue.  Some students just needed an extra minute — no big deal.  However, a couple continued writing.  Against my better judgment, I allowed one student to continue writing long past the scheduled class time.

Then, when he finally turned it in, I felt so uneasy, that I stopped to ask a senior professor what he would have done.  With no thinking whatsoever he said he would’ve cut the student off.  The allotted time is the allotted time.  So then I felt awful.  I had forced some students to rush in order to get to their next class on time while this student had the luxury of writing and writing.  Add to that the fact that my husband was now waiting to leave on our trip — bags packed and loaded, coat on, car running — and I felt like I had made a pretty substantial goof.

But that’s not all, folks.  We started driving amid what looked like flurries.  Well, the flurries got pretty intense.  Visibility was limited.  Traffic was heavy. The first portion of the trip which usually takes about one hour, took an hour and forty-five minutes.  We decided to pull over and re-group.  As we approached the exit, we had a mere twenty yards of visibility.

Now some of you  may think, “Bummer.  Bad weather.”  That would be logical.  However, after we decided to turn back for safety’s sake and forfeit our weekend with our granddaughter, I did the shoulda, coulda, woulda game.  I shoulda cut that student off.  Why did I let him take that long?  We coulda left right at 2 like we planned and been ahead of the storm (although I don’t know that to be true.) If I woulda written a better test, we could be in Cincinnati right now.

Been there? Guilt inhibits logic.  Regret twists the facts. Self-condemnation clouds judgment. And then we wallow.  And, as an experienced wallower, let me just share that wallowing is not of God.

As it turns out, my ‘bad test’ was effectively handled by all of my students.  Not one of them failed it.  In fact, the majority made it out with As and Bs. Further, our kids got their weekend away after all when a sibling stepped in to care for the baby.  The husband and I got a much needed weekend at home with no obligations.  And, we got to worship together at the church that we are now calling home.

Making lemonade? Nope, just being beloved.

Let me explain.  I often find myself still on that treadmill of trying to do the right thing — of trying to be-perfect.  It’s silly.  I know. But I do it.  And when I fail, I beat myself up.  But when I listen, I hear the words of God.

I heard them this morning.  I sat down to work through my Bible study on Hosea and I read these words, “God has not called you to be the ‘be-perfect;’ He has called you to be the ‘beloved’!”

Did you hear it? We are not perfect; we aren’t expected to be.  We are beloved — this is evidenced by the fact that in the midst of my faults, the Lover of my soul turned us around, carried us home, gave us a weekend of rest, and most importantly whispered into my self-condemning thoughts, “You are my beloved.”

I’ll take that.

Jeremiah 31:3

…I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

 

Bent on turning

Why am I amazed every single time that God reveals Himself.  I mean, He does it so often, you would think I would begin to expect it. Yet, I am always surprised.  Consider this.

Way back in November, my Wednesday morning Bible Study battalion started discussing what we would study next.  Several studies were suggested, so we considered each of them as we made our decision.  Right before Thanksgiving we decided to study Jennifer Rothschild’s Hosea: Unfailing Love Changes Everything.  Well, that was November, and then Christmas happened, and I forgot all about what we would be studying.

God took me on a journey through December that landed me in January, longing to turn back to my good practices of Bible study, prayer, and blogging (read my post ‘Turn at any Time’).  In fact, this idea of turning starting churning around in my head last January when a couple of friends and I were meeting once a week for what I’ll call ‘prayer talking’.  Each of us was embracing the idea of repenting, or turning.  We were deciding together that we had been walking the wrong way and that we were willing to turn around and walk back toward God.

Actually, I just took a scroll through my previous blog posts and saw that like the thread of ‘healing’ that I mentioned yesterday, there is also a thread of repenting — of turning.  Perhaps you, like me, find yourself learning the same lessons over and over again.  Learning and forgetting.  Straying and turning.

So, when I joined the battalion this morning to start our study, the one that we chose last November, I could hardly keep myself from gasping when our leader paraphrased Hosea 11:7: My people are bent on turning away from Me.  Yes, Lord, I am!  I am bent on it!  And you see it!  You’re speaking to that tendency in me!

God used Hosea to speak to this tendency that is common to humans.  He knows us!  He knew that we would take his love for granted, that we would wander to look at any little shiny thing that caught our eyes.  He knew that when we did this we would feel guilty, helpless, unloveable and beyond hope. So, He gave us Hosea.

Hosea was a man of God, who sought out Gomer, a prostitute, and continued to love her despite her unfaithfulness.  This, my friends, is a picture of God’s covenant relationship with us.  God, who is God, seeks out unfaithful humans and continues to love us!  He keeps both sides of the covenant!

Hosea is a love story, friends.  It’s a tale of the unconditional love of God for His people. A love that pursues the wanderer. The kind of love that steps into squalor to find us.  It’s a story of  God’s love that is bent on turning away from anger in order to save us. A love that welcomes us back and embraces us.

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled…

return to the Lord…

I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them… 

They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;

they shall flourish like grain.

Hosea 14, selected verses

Now, come on, why wouldn’t we want to return?

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.