Resolving to Return, a re-visit

I wrote this on January 1, 2017…and here I sit on January 1, 2020, resolving to return once again. This year, I have a little support — our faith community has committed to reading the Bible through chronologically, following The Bible Recap reading plan and podcast. Maybe you’d like to join me.

My daughter and I spent yesterday morning together at a “Breathe out 2016, Breathe in 2017” yoga class and afterward talked briefly about resolutions — the positive thrust toward change and the set-up for unrealistic expectations and imminent failure. The yoga instructor, intentionally or not, seemed to suggest that we could will good things to come to us by just opening our arms and our spirits to them.

Oh, that it were so.

Last night, at a New Year’s Eve worship service where my husband was filling in for local pastors away for the holidays, we sang the words, “Christ has done away with sadness,” and my daughter turned to me and cheekily said, “has He really done away with sadness?”

Oh, that it were so.

Truly, we don’t need to look far to see sadness. Every day we witness hatred, violence, murder, poverty, chaos, and, yes, sadness. Just last night in Turkey, thirty-nine people were senselessly murdered as they attempted to ring in the new year. The past year has had more than its share of sadness. Indeed, the coming year will not be immune.

So what are we to do? Wear sackcloth and ashes? Walk around wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth? Shall we shake our fists at God in anger, demanding that He do something?

Nah.

We should do the same thing He’s been telling us to do since the Creation of the world — return to the Lord our God. That’s all. Our salvation is not in losing our holiday weight, in getting our finances in order, or in building a better portfolio. It’s in recognizing that God is still God even when He hasn’t done away with sadness.

When my husband asked the congregation last night to write down one way to connect with God in the coming year, I wrote down the same thing I wrote down last year: return to daily Bible study, return to daily prayer, return to regular writing. I had to write it down again this year because, as we have established, I am bent on turning away and am in constant need of returning.

The world, which is full of sadness, needs Jesus followers to immerse themselves in the Word and in prayer, because when we do this, we can’t help but reflect His mercy and His grace. We become beacons when we allow His light to take residence within us. We point to our Source of Hope and spread love rather than fear.

Will you commit with me to return to the Lord and allow Him to use us to shine His love into the lives of those around us? Imagine a new year that is filled with hopefulness that comes from Christ’s light shining in the darkness.

Behold I am doing a new thing…I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:19

A Study in Contrasts

We’re back in the states.  After seven days in South Africa, we spent about twenty-four hours traveling to Michigan.  We got home, unpacked our suitcases, started laundry, and tried to re-acclimate ourselves to our former lives before reality struck this morning.

Several hours later, I’ve already taught three sections of students and interacted with a number of people who wondered, “Well, how was your trip?”  I’m really glad they asked, because as I answered people, I began to learn what impact this trip to South Africa has had on me.

It became rather clear early in the journey that our purpose, or at least my purpose, was to be an observer.  This was a new role for me.  Often I am a leader, presenter, director, and planner.  This past week, I was a follower, listener, observer, and receiver. In this role, I was free to take in South African culture, to hear the stories of a variety of people, to let go of responsibility, and to bear witness to the contrast between my life in the United States and the lives of the people I met in South Africa.

First of all, although I often think I need more, I recognize now how much I have in contrast with many of the people I saw.  For example, I complained at the beginning of my semester because the classroom where I teach didn’t come equipped with dry erase markers or an eraser, even though it did come equipped with a computer, projection, and wifi.  I easily purchased a pack of markers and an eraser for less than $5, a textbook was provided to me, and I am paid a fair salary to teach under 25 students in each of my three classes.  In contrast, my colleagues in South Africa have no internet in their classrooms at all — not even dial-up.  They have a few mostly outdated textbooks, worn posters on the walls, drying up markers, and classrooms crammed with up to 40 students — and that was in a kindergarten class!  And guys, despite the fact that they earn very little, they aren’t complaining.  They are teaching and learning.  The instructors are engaging their students.  The students take pride in their work.

Yes, the contrast was palpable.

It was also evident in the ways that I noticed people interacting with one another. Each time people see each other during the day, they greet one another, “Good morning!  How are you?” Even if they have seen each other several times, they still  formally greet one another before they move on in conversation.  This was a challenge for me!  I am known to jump right in with “Hey, did you get my email?” For a week, I practiced acknowledging the person in front of me instead of the task that he or she could perform for me.  The simple practice of speaking a greeting shifted my perspective.  That, plus the fact that I had no real responsibilities, allowed me to see people and listen more carefully than I am typically apt to do.

In fact, I noticed today, here in Michigan, that I was looking at people in the eyes a bit more, listening a little more intently, worrying a little less about getting to the next task on my list.  I hope it lasts.

The third difference I will note today is the energetic spirit I saw in the people of South Africa — particularly the black South Africans.  Apartheid ended a number of years ago, but the differences and division between whites and blacks could not be more obvious. In one week’s time I noticed that black South Africans have less — less status, less power, less money, and less opportunity than the white South Africans.  Yet they do not seem defeated.  Their spirit propels them to walk great distances along red clay paths — rain or shine — to work and to school.  They sit up tall in their classrooms, raise their hands high, and open their mouths to sing as they work, whether their tasks are menial or meaningful. Rather than seeming angry or sad, they exude joy!  Their worship was filled with dancing, clapping, and even marching! They smiled, laughed, and played with one another — despite their seeming disadvantage.  I was struck by this.  I have not experienced the kind of disadvantage that all of them have experienced.  I have led a life of plenty.  I have not gone one day without food, clothing, or shelter in my fifty years of life.  I have had every opportunity for education, employment, and entertainment that I have ever desired.  Yet I am often discouraged, stressed, and even angry about what I don’t have.

So, you know what’s coming, don’t you?  I opened my Bible study today and turned to the reading in Psalm 37.  (I really can’t make this stuff up.) When I read the words, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” I pictured my new South African  friends smiling, clapping, and dancing — delighting themselves in the Lord.  They are happy and celebrating the fact that they have Him, regardless of the things that they don’t have.

I can learn a lot from these people.  I think I have begun to.

Psalm 37: 23-24

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way;

though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong.

 

Grounded

We’re halfway through day three in South Africa, and I am not surprised that my body demanded to be ‘grounded’ today. I mean, we left Ann Arbor less than 90 hours ago and with all we’ve done, you’ll wonder why I didn’t get benched sooner.  I already know the reason why — I have been flying high on adrenaline and intrigue. I have not stopped being amazed since I got here. And, you know, I’m not even upset that I’ve been plunked down on a couch for the day. I am enjoying the time to reflect and process all that we’ve seen and heard. Want to join me?

For forty-eight hours before we left on this trip, I kept telling people, “I’m a bit anxious about being on a plane for fourteen hours straight.” I was worried about claustrophobia mostly, but I was also concerned about the wear and tear on my body.  As it turns out, it wasn’t terrible!  We had a little hiccup in Detroit when I made it easily through the security lines only to see that all the machines had shut down just as my husband’s backpack went into the x-ray machine. Not to worry, within fifteen minutes, someone restored the machine and we were on our way to our gate.

We were also a little concerned that although I had purchased side by side seats for the long leg of the journey our boarding passes had us sitting one behind the other.  We checked with the gate agent in Atlanta, but he said he was unable to help us.  Not to worry, the woman sitting next to me, a nurse on a mission trip, offered her seat to my husband even though she had already wiped it down with disinfectant, unpacked her belongings, and situated herself.

Then, when it was time for take-off and everyone was comfortably seated with their items stowed, the captain informed us of a delay — the baggage compartment wouldn’t lock. We waited and chatted, wondering if we would have to de-plane and reload before we took off. Not to worry, the problem was resolved and we were on our way. I will say that flying coach for fourteen hours is a bit cramped and sleeping is difficult; however, we both did sleep for large chunks of time — even without taking the melatonin we packed. We ate well (they even provided me with all gluten-free trays), we chatted, we read, and we watched three movies each as we crossed the Atlantic.

We arrived in Johannesburg and wondered how we would connect with our friend who was picking us up. We didn’t think our cell phones would work in South Africa. We didn’t know how long it would take to get through customs or how long we would wait for our bags. Once again, not to worry. We waited in line at customs for what seemed like fifteen minutes; our bags arrived in about that much time, too. When we exited the secure area, our friend was right there, waiting to buy us bottled water and tea.

We had arrived unscathed in South Africa.

You would think that after twenty-four hours of travel we would have collapsed.  Not at all. We arrived at our guest house and met our new friends. This couple, retired teachers/administrators from Texas, have volunteered three months of their time to come alongside the teachers here in Middleburg. They are observing, evaluating, coaching, and supporting these teachers. Over glasses of South African red wine, we discovered our shared purpose and kindred spirits.  We chatted late into the evening.

The next morning, (and, yes, we slept that first night — despite our confused body clocks), we made our way to St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Church for its 27th Anniversary Celebration Worship.  I’m pretty sure that this service should have its own dedicated post, but let me summarize here by saying that for three and half hours my eyes were wide and my smile was broad as I witnessed these people singing, dancing, celebrating, and worshiping.

From there, we walked a short distance to the elementary school, which is called St. Peter’s Lutheran College. At this site, we were ushered to VIP seating inside a tent. Many people were acknowledged and recognized, we were entertained by a local jazz/brass ensemble, and then we were fed. I suspect a whole post will be dedicated to the food and beverages we’ve enjoyed, but just know that the red carpet has been rolled out for us — this group of about a dozen Americans who have come to celebrate what God has done and dream about what He has yet to do here.

After the meal, we were entertained by a local group of male dancers and then a group of female dancers. By this time, I will admit, I was utterly exhausted. The festivities were wrapping up, so we headed back to our guest house where I decided to lie down for a few minutes. After a short but intense power nap, I was whisked away to visit our friends, the Bersons.  We enjoyed snacks and more South African wine, played with our soon-to-be five year old “niece”, and were then delivered back to our guest home where we ‘slept the sleep of the dead.’  And that was just day one!

Yesterday, day two, we toured the preschool and the elementary school.  The schools are just several years old and have grown from several dozen students to almost 900 between the two sites. Classrooms are crammed with bodies and very few resources, yet the children are well-behaved and very attentive to their instructors. Classrooms are continuously being built.

We ate lunch, then traveled about an hour to the home of a local naturopath — a doctor who uses nutrition, herbs, and the like to treat maladies. He is partnering with one of St. Peter’s pastors to build a worship location where people can receive not only physical but spiritual healing. Right now, about forty people are worshiping in his home/clinic every Sunday while they plan to build a worship site.

The doctor and his wife joined us for dinner and then we began our journey home. My body was already in distress, but I was drinking in all the details. Over dinner, I heard the stories of a couple from Chicago who are on their third trip to this ministry. I chatted with my husband and a friend from MI as we sat in the back seat of a van. When we arrived back at the guest house, we sat up until late again, sipping great South African wine and sharing our observations and our hearts.

My body cried all night long; it wouldn’t let me sleep. I wasn’t angry or disappointed  but rather apologetic. “Yes, yes, I know.  I have expected so much of you, haven’t I? Shall we stay home today to rest, reflect, and recover?” A resounding yes could be heard throughout Middleburg.

Most of our group traveled today to another site — a location that wants to build an orphanage. They will drive a bit, tour the site, eat lunch, then visit another site. I am sorry to miss these experiences, but I am looking forward to joining the group this evening to hear their stories.

Right now I am drinking in details.  I am filing evidence in folders called ‘juxtaposition’, ‘contentment’, ‘vision’, and ‘commitment.’  I am learning, to be sure, but the fullness of the lessons has not yet been made clear.  I will keep you posted, but right now, I am going to put my feet up and enjoy being grounded.

Psalm 34:8

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Answered prayers left and right

Does God answer prayer?  Yes.

How do I know?  Because I have been writing down my prayers since November 17, 2014 and I have evidence of things asked and answered.

On November 29 I prayed that two family members would resolve their issues with one another — issues that were prohibiting them from even being in each other’s presence for any amount of time.  In fact, I didn’t just pray that prayer on November 29 — I prayed it over and over and over. On December 22 I asked that these two would turn to each other. On March 30 I asked that God would breathe new life into their relationship.  How did God answer that prayer?  He turned arguments into agreements. He turned yelling into laughter.  He turned suspicion into trust.  He turned avoidance into partnership. He answered my prayer beyond what I could ask or imagine.  I was hoping for a truce; He provided an alliance.

I’ve also been praying consistently that I would find the right kind and the right amount of employment in light of my current health status. On February 26 I asked God to put me and keep me on His path.  On March 30 I prayed that God would show me how much to do and when. On April 21 I prayed that He would help me find my rhythm. On April 22 I asked that God would give me the wisdom to live within the boundaries He has set for me. On May 7 I prayed that He would grant me discernment in my work and in my family. On May 28 I asked that God would give me His pace and direct me to His work.  On June 6 I asked for the physical strength to do the things that He is calling me to. On June 30 I prayed for God’s pace and His way for me.  Lately I have been asking over and over for God to show me how to best use my time in ways that give honor to him.

Let’s digress for a moment to remind ourselves that since April I have been experimenting with employment.  After my ‘time of refreshing’ last fall — a period of time where my health was fairly well-managed, I took a position doing what I love to do — working with children.  For over four months I have been learning and growing along side some exceptionally professional coworkers and some inspiring students at an agency that does intensive instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic.  But, if I’m going to be honest, the pace has been a little much.  It might have been ok if I hadn’t taken on about a half-dozen students outside of work,  but I just love those students — the ones I meet in libraries and their homes. They are adults, mostly, and some high school students, who need one-on-one coaching in writing and English. Interacting with them feeds me.  I have loved working both at the agency and through my tutoring service, but I have also been exhausted — too depleted to offer much to my family.  Hence, the prayers.

“Show me what you want me to do!” “Teach me how to pace myself.” “How much is enough?” “How much is too much?” “How can my gifts be best put to use?”

I had determined that as we moved into fall, I would reduce my hours at the agency and continue working with six to eight students on my own each week.  That sounded like a workable plan.  And then, amidst all those prayers and cries, came an email offering a direction I wasn’t expecting. It threw me a little.

Over the years, my oldest daughter has often come to me for advice with a Scenario A and a Scenario B — which option should she choose?  She spends time telling me the pros and cons of each alternative and then I usually say something like, “Is there a third option?”   In the last couple of years, she has started to say the same thing to me.  When I say “Should I A or B?” She will say, “What’s the third option?”

In all my prayers, I was thinking I had the answer.  I knew the current situation, A, was too much; I had determined the alternative, B, would likely solve the problem.  And then, God provided C.

I didn’t know what to do, so I enlisted the battalion and my husband in prayer and dialogue. I tried to stick with option B — my solution.  I really did.  But then I started seeing scenarios in my head that weren’t there before.  I started imagining myself in option C.  I started seeing how option C would provide a pace that I could live with while still providing the interactions that feed me.  I started to see the barriers that I thought existed evaporate.

This morning I told my husband my plan to move toward option C.  A few hours later I sat down at my computer to take some steps in that direction, but as I did so, I shot out a text to the battalion saying that I was moving forward but inviting God to step in and block the way.  It was at that moment that I paused to do my Bible study.  I am not making this up: the theme of today was to ‘not put God to the test’.

He has provided an answer to my prayers.  He has affirmed it through my husband and my prayer support.  Why would I invite him to step in and block the way? Do I need more proof?  Why? Because my faith is small.  Even after He blew my socks off with the answer to my prayers for the family situation.  Even after he provided over and above what was expected in financial aid for our daughter.  Even after he provided a job for our other daughter — one that she didn’t even apply for, doing exactly what she wants to do, in the major city where she wants to live. Even after all that, I still have a very small faith.

He answered my prayer.  He gave me a gift.  I shall say thank you and receive the gift. I won’t second-guess it or put God to the test.  I will trust that this answer is His.

Ephesians 3:20-21

 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

Praying for healing, pt. 2

A week ago I wrote about a book that had been given to me by a trusted pastoral — How Can I Ask God for Healing? When I left you, I was headed to that pastor’s house to return the book.  I read all the way there and still had about 100 pages to go when we walked into his house.  I handed the book to him and said, “I want to return this to you; you can see by the book mark how far I made it.” He said I could keep it longer to finish it.  I replied, “Doesn’t somebody else need it?”  He said, “I only loan this copy out to special people; I would really like you to finish it.”

Well, what do you say so an octogenarian pastor whose speciality is prayer?  Do you tell him, “No thanks, I’m good.” And, to be honest, by that time, I had kind of become attached to the book, I did want to read the ‘rest of the story’.  So, I thanked him and brought the book back home.

While we were in his presence, he pulled me aside and shared several stories of how prayer had changed the lives of people he had been working with.  He wasn’t trying to build his argument; he was simply sharing his awe at the power of God.  I was reminded of his rich history in ministry and of the authority he has in terms of spiritual things.

This week I finished the book.  This morning I turned back to the introduction and started reading again.

(Note to my children and any former students, this is a prime example of my favorite saying, “Anybody can change.”)

Here is the journey so far:

I have an autoimmune disease — or at least something that looks like one. For the last three years I have struggled with extreme fatigue, psoriasis, joint pain, inflammation, and eye irritation.  These symptoms limit my life and have caused us to make major life adjustments — change in careers, relocation to a much smaller home, significant financial decisions, and numerous lifestyle changes including diet, exercise, social life, etc.

Some positive things have come from this situation. We move much more slowly; I have experienced significant emotional and spiritual healing;  I have been freed to write again, which brings so much value to my life. We have praised God in this disease for the ways He has used it to alter some patterns that have needed to be altered for years.

But the truth remains, I do have a disease. Why wouldn’t I ask God for healing?  Let me clarify by saying that I have prayed for healing.  It is a regular prayer of mine that God would heal my body, mind, and spirit.  In fact, shortly after my symptoms started, we gathered many trusted members of our faith community to pray over me.  As I look back and remember all those hands on me and tears rolling down my cheeks, I picture myself hoping God would heal me, but actually feeling that these prayers were step one in accepting the fact that things were going to be different from now on.

Let me further clarify by saying that my husband is a faithful man of prayer; I doubt that a day has gone by in the last three years that he has not asked for my complete healing.  He, and our pastor friend, and probably my mother.

Me, I regularly pray that God would heal my body, mind, and spirit, while at the same time accepting the fact that I am walking in a new reality. And I want to affirm that accepting reality is, by its own right, rather healthy.  Acknowledging that my symptoms are real and not fabrications of my mind has been a struggle in itself.  I really do have limitations even though it may not appear from the outside that I do.  Saying out loud, in the presence of others, that I “can’t” do things has been a monumental step in this new chapter. Is it possible for me to know that I have a disease while at the same time praying for and believing God to heal me?  I think that is the conflict of the moment.

So, as per usual, I read my Bible study this morning.  Joshua and the Israelites marching around Jericho seven days in a row, because God said so, and making the walls “come a-tumbling down”.  As I was reading it, a page from How Can I Ask God for Physical Healing popped onto my brain screen– it’s actually a chart, two pages long, of all the healing stories in the Bible.  Shriveled hands, blindness, leprosy, paralysis, fever, death — all healed because Jesus said so.

Again, I know God can heal me, at His word.  Do I trust Him enough to ask boldly and believe that He will? Or will I continue to pray, “Well, if you want to, it’d be great if you took away this disease.”

I’ll keep you posted.

And the prayer, offered in faith, will make the sick person well;

The Lord will raise them up.

James 5:15

Praying for Healing?

So, a few days ago I ended my blog post with the scripture from Matthew 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”  Sounds simple, right?

I mean, didn’t I just write on Thursday about all the prayers that had been answered?  I have seen the beauty of ask and receive, but in one area I am struggling.

My husband and I have a dear pastor friend — no, he’s more than that.  I will call him a spiritual father — especially to my husband.  He is a prayer pioneer who has spent more hours on his knees than anyone else I know. Since he heard about my illness he has prayed for me every day.  Every. Single. Day. Several months ago he passed a book to me through my husband called How Can I Ask God for Physical Healing? So, knowing that it was from the man who we deeply respect and love, I opened and began reading it immediately, right?  Nope. I actually stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it.

Why?  Well, my reasoning has been that although my physical health is suffering, many areas of my life are much healthier than they have ever been.  Why would I beg God to take something away that He has used to create dramatic change in my life?  I mean, if He heals me, I will probably just go back to my butt-kicking, name-taking habits, right?

When I received this book I thought to myself, “(Sigh), I am not one of those name it and claim it type of people. If God decides to heal me, great.  If He decides not to, that’ll be ok, too.”  I mean, yes, my life is very different than it once was.  I move more slowly, my thoughts get a bit cloudy, some of my activities are limited, but I’m not dying over here.  I could live like this.  I don’t love it, but worse things could happen.  “I don’t need to read a book about healing; I am just coming to terms with the new realities of my life.”

So I was at work the other day when my husband sent me a text asking if I was done with the book; our friend wanted it back. Gulp. No, I hadn’t actually started it.  Later in the day, my husband told me that we had been invited to this friend’s house for a family dinner — today.

Well, that was the nudge I needed.  I read about a hundred pages yesterday and picked up the book again when I got home from church today. Here’s what I have so far — the book does not outline a 12-step process that ‘guarantees’ healing; I don’t know why I thought it would.  It doesn’t tell me all the things I am doing wrong in my life or ways to change so that God will provide me with healing.  It doesn’t say that God will heal me; it does say that God can. 

Of course I knew that.  I have said that all along.  But, further, it challenges me to take a good long look at why I became sick in the first place — I have done this to a degree, but this gives me some additional areas to consider.  It also challenges me to examine my relationship with God and what I believe about Him.  I am fine with all of that, but I am getting to the sticky part of the healing prayer topic– you may have heard this language before, I know I have. Trusting God for healing. Using authoritative faith. Believing God for his promises.

Now, to be fair, I am judging the second half of the book before I have read it…and I am planning on giving the book back to its owner in just a few hours. I am not sure I will finish it.  So, why am I blogging instead of reading?  I think because I am not sure I want to totally invest myself in ‘believing for a miracle’.  I mean, I do tend to invest 100%.  And the book has already told me that God may choose not to heal me.  What if I ‘believe for a miracle healing’ and I don’t get it?  Will I be angry with God and give Him the silent treatment — again? I don’t know that I want to take that risk.  I think I would feel better about just accepting what I have been given, walking in this path, and not questioning it.

You know what I mean?

But nagging in the back of my mind is this thought — why don’t you just finish reading it?  will it kill you? is it possible that you could learn something or reshape your thinking? why are you so closed to this topic?

Ok, ok…I have another hour before we have to get in the car.  Let me read a little further and see what I find.  I’m trying not to be stubborn over here.  I’ll let you now what happens.

John 16:23-24

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name…

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

January 5th-ish

Today is the day!  In less than two hours I will clock in at my new job!  I am excited, and nervous!  I’ve probably felt this way every time I have started a new job — and I’ve had plenty of them!  I’ve worked everywhere from a dress shop to McDonald’s to summer camp to pubic schools to day care centers to residential facilities.  I like to work. I also like change.  So, why am I nervous?  I have been thinking it’s because I don’t know how my body will handle the demands of consistent work after eight months or so of concentrating on improving my health.  But I got up this morning, had the parade of beverages, read my devotion and realized that this is an opportunity I haven’t had in a while. Now I’m a little more nervous than I was before!

Since 2005 I have been working at a Christian high school.  Almost all of my colleagues were Christian, and the majority of our students were, too!  In fact, daily prayer with our students was encouraged, each day started with a devotion read over the public address system, every day included twenty minutes for a chapel service or devotion, and issues of faith were freely discussed in our classrooms.  Our Christian beliefs were on display at every turn.

What a blessing, right?  Right!  It was an incredible privilege to work in an environment that was supportive of my faith and in which I could freely share my faith with my students.  However, it was also a bit of a safety zone.  My students and I, I believe, took this for granted.  It was a given.  We started most conversations on an even and familiar playing field. We knew, to some degree at least, where the other was coming from.  Conflicts were in the minutiae, not in the big ticket items.  Parents counted on that; so did we.

Here in Ann Arbor, which is, as a whole, a very diverse environment, we sit on a small Christian college campus that is very similar to the high school environment where I taught.  The majority of employees/faculty/staff are Christian and I would say that more than half of the students are, too.  So, again, we are operating in a somewhat predictable environment.

My tutoring experiences have allowed me to interact with students from a variety of backgrounds for one hour at a time. In the one hour that we are bent over my students’ school work or writing we spend very little time on personal matters–we joke a little, talk about sports, or share our plans for the weekend.  We don’t often have time for deeper conversations.  But today —  today I enter an unknown environment.

I have been in the office once.  Situated on the second floor of an office building on the south side of Ann Arbor, the learning center is very professional.  All employees are in business attire (khakis are only allowed if they ‘appear to be professionally laundered’), students and parents buzz to get in and are greeted at the door by an employee.  The waiting room is clean and orderly.  The rooms within the office suite are tastefully furnished and impeccably kept.

The employees I interacted with during my two-hour interview were very professional.  They taught us a strategy and then practiced it with us, coaching us in the ways that they would coach students.  I have no idea how many employees there are.  I have no idea what backgrounds they come from.  I don’t know what students and parents I will be working with.

I just know who I am.

This morning’s devotion said that when Peter referred to believers in his letter I Peter, he used the word lithos, which is the same word that was used for the stone that was rolled away from the tomb. Beth Moore, in this study, said, “Wouldn’t it be something if our lives became living stones exposing the empty tomb…what if people were convinced we worship a living Savior simply by watching the effervescent life of the Spirit within us?”

What if in this new environment, where we don’t start with morning devotions over the public address, where I don’t attend chapel with my students, where I don’t start every session with prayer, my students and their parents and my coworkers can still see evidence that I “worship a living Savior”.  What does that look like?

I don’t know.

So that is my prayer today.  My prayer is that I will not be focused on how my physical body is feeling but that I will face each student in front of me as a gift, that I will recognize the awesome opportunity I have been given, and that I will see God working in all of it.  Stay tuned.

2 Corinthians 2:14

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere.

Continue reading “January 5th-ish”

Just a Dot

Once upon a time, way back in the 1970s, I was in confirmation class.  The pastor drew a long line down the length of the chalkboard (Kids, a chalkboard is a pre-historic white board). Then he took his chalk (marker) and placed one dot on that very long line.  He said, “Imagine that the long line is all of eternity and that the dot is your life.”  He wanted us to understand that in the grand scheme of all creation we were but blips. Actually, I think the point was the immensity of God, not the brevity of man, but as an adolescent, my focus was all on me — the little dot.

David must have realized he was just a dot when he said in Psalm 39, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man’s life is but a breath.”

Little old ladies echo this sentiment when they approach young mothers who are weary from the endless hours of parenting and say, “Honey, treasure these moments, the years will be gone before you know it.” When I was a young mother, toting three children aged three and under, I could barely control myself in the presence of these senior ladies.  I so wanted to reply, “The years may fly by, but the minutes are killing me!”

Yesterday my father-in-law turned eighty.  Today we are meeting with all of my husband’s siblings to take him out for dinner. He was born in 1935 — before television, computers, cell phones, and the Internet.  I wonder if his years have flown by.

I wonder if when his mother died before his second birthday the year flew by.

I wonder if when his step-mother was abusive toward him the years flew by.

I wonder if when he left home at thirteen the year flew by.

I wonder if his years of service in the Army flew by.

I wonder if his years of working the third shift in an automotive factory flew by.

I wonder if his years of parenting four children, who were born within the space of five years, flew by.

Perhaps I will ask him tonight, because he has never told me.

Here is what he has shown me in the twenty-five years I have known him:

He loves life.  He had his first heart attack in his forties and never expected to make it to sixty, let alone eighty.  He gets out of bed each morning, does whatever exercises he is able to do, showers, dresses, and tackles whatever tasks are on the agenda for the day.

He loves people.  The man spends his days interacting with others.  In his younger days he worked all night and spent his days advocating for other union members and even running for public office.  He still, at 80, spends many days at retiree luncheons, city council meetings, church functions, and family get-togethers.

He loves helping.  He’s served in the Army, worked for the United Way, volunteered for the Red Cross, and serves his local congregation.  He’s done home repairs, provided financial assistance, given advice, and simply shown up for absolutely everything.

He loves family.  He and my mother-in-law have no greater joy than chatting with family — around their kitchen table, over the phone, or wherever they can find them.  Each Monday morning, he writes an email — he calls it ‘the update’ — and sends it to everyone in the extended family — siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins.  He shares the news and often an extra-corny joke to help us start our week.

But mostly, this man loves God.  Maybe it’s because he, like David, learned early on that his life was just a dot — just a handbreadth. Each time I’ve eaten breakfast with my father-in-law for the past twenty-five years, he has started with Luther’s morning prayer, the reading of a devotion, and the Lord’s prayer.  Each time I have eaten dinner with him for the past twenty-five years, he has ended with Luther’s evening prayer and the reading of a devotion. He is at church every time the doors open — often standing at the door, greeting those who enter, shaking a hand, telling a joke, or pulling someone aside to share concern over a life event that hasn’t gone unnoticed by him.  His life is a testimony to God’s faithfulness.

Since 1935 my father-in-law has been carried in the palm of the hand of God. And he knows it.  He understands the frailty and brevity of life; I can tell because of the way he squeezes every drop out of every day. I can see because of the way he leans in and listens, the way he looks in my eyes, the way he laughs out loud.

He sees the value in his little dot of a life.  Let’s go and do likewise.

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.