16 February 2019

Five Minute Friday ('cept for me, it's on Saturday) ~ Confident

While I was never a person who thought I knew it ALL, when I was a young mother, I was pretty confident I knew an AWFUL LOT.

As folks here in Quebec commonly say, "Ouff!"

Because now, as far as what I KNOW, I'm not nearly so
  • self-assured...
  • sure...
  • presumptuously puffed up...
  • arrogant.
At least I don't think so. I'm not in my head.




I hope I'm not (at least not most of the time) in the attitude I present to others. 

(Feel free to call me out on that one if you this attitude screaming out in my life.)

Mommy-ing, teaching littles at home and at school, have shown me so many things
  • More often than not, I make judgments - and I'm confident of the righteousness of said judgments - without a clear or complete understanding.
  • I have a hard time seeing how my words, my actions or what seems so clearly obvious and true to me, can be perceived totally differently (and often rightly) by somebody else.
  • The more I think I know, clearly the more I need to humble myself to learn more.
I'm presently living two "situations" right now where I'm grudgingly thankful for the "humble-pie" on which I'm "dining.

One is much easier than the other (so I'll start with that one first).

In an effort to model teachability and encourage a more positive classroom climate, this past week one of my colleagues and I had "circle time" with her class. I led the time and our goal was to discuss the fact that we all have strengths and weaknesses and part of loving others means supporting and noticing others around us when they use their talents for the good of others... and lovingly confronting them when they refuse to work on their weaknesses and thus hurt others.

So, using myself as the model, I asked this group of students (early elementary aged) what they saw as my strengths and my weaknesses when I was with them, working with them, at school.

According to a group of six and seven year-old kids, they appreciate and know that I love them because I'm willing to draw near and help them with hard things, whether their problem is not getting some academic concept, not getting along (or worse) with a friend, not listening to their teachers or other authorities as they should, or not treating others like they want to be treated.

Can I pat myself on the back for that one? 

Nope. Not yet. ...keep reading -

Then, they said I have two things on which I need to work:

1. Improving my ability to speak French 

No surprise there... and we had a mini-lesson right then and there on how I should be pronouncing "Dieu" - which for this old, English-speaking tongue - well, "Ugh!" My attempts provoked much laughter and I felt like an idiot. I think I finally got it write twice. They all clapped! I smiled while silently nursing my pride.**

2. I need to give more hugs. 

In other words, even though my attitude and my attention communicates clearly to them that I do love them, they need even more - especially when I'm working with them in a difficult moments. In all sincerity, my very young friends were able to tell me today that my biggest strength, the thing they appreciated most about me as a teacher - they appreciated not because I was consistently doing it well enough that they actually "felt" loved. Rather, because of God's grace and his work in their little hearts, they understood and accepted my intention even when my words and actions didn't clearly communicate the message. 

Wow!

Ouch.

Outta the mouths of babes.

The second situation is much more difficult for me to swallow.

Because I've unintentionally offended and hurt someone. In my confidence that I was acting rightly, I didn't consider that what I was doing could even be misconstrued. My lack of awareness of the other ways that those actions could be received, perceived and interpreted has been rather glaring. In this situation intentions just don't matter, and there is no way to undo damage done.

Next week, I will have the opportunity to apologize - in French, mind you (Remember, communicating in that language is not one of my strengths. Neither is humbling myself and publicly admitting error.)

And I get to do all of this in the presence of my boss. By God's grace (and me decreasing so that His presence in me increases), maybe forgiveness and a measure of reconciliation and healing will result. Maybe even restoration.

But I can't worry about the result at this moment. I can only pray that the Holy Spirit softens and gentles as I pray (and rehearse hundreds of times in my head) about the words I will say and the attitude I need.

As I've reflected and prayed about this, I'm so thankful for the following two truths.

I can be "confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1.6)

And

"...whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in a Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him ...Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."



**Five minute time limit reached
photo credit: NevilleNel Perseverance via photopin (license)



01 February 2019

just one of those days where I don't like very much what I've signed up for

We signed a lease today.

That means this July, we will make our 32nd move in 25 years of marriage. Thankfully several of those were "smaller affairs" back before we had lots of kids. But it will be our fifth move in the last 10 years - and two of those were international.

I'm a little sad. 

Actually, if I'm going to be "authentic," today I'm a lot sad.

I'm also a lot tired, just thinking of all that now has to happen between now and then.

As followers of Jesus, we learn to hold dreams, hopes as well as the people and things we love close to our hearts, but loosely with open hands, offering all back to God. 

Today, I'm wishing that God will let me stop learning that open-handed heart position.

Almost two years ago, when we moved into the rental house where we are presently living, I fell in love. With all those moves, I've lived in quite a few different places. I'm usually pretty content. I've found things to love and enjoy about every house we've ever had. I don't think I've ever been unhappy with any of our living spaces.


This house was different. For me, it has been a head over heels love affair. It's cute. It has personality. It has been well-lived in, with "scars and stretch-marks." There's a pool surrounded by a deck about to collapse. A fireplace. Enough square footage to really stretch out and breath deep. Space to invite friends and family to visit. An older neighborhood with huge trees, great paths to walk, the golf course (or cross-country ski trails, depending on the time of year) right across the street, a cute little "centre-ville" and the St. Lawrence River just down the hill. I love living here. It doesn't just feel like another in a long list of houses. It has felt like home. The day we signed the lease for this however, I knew we'd be moving again, sometime. I forgot to hold this home loosely. During the past 20 months, without really realizing it, I've clenched tightly my metaphorical hand around the idea of staying here, for several more years.

God has been prying my clutching fingers away, one at a time over the past several weeks... and I'm a little sore from clinging too tightly.

It all started when we began praying about the possibility of moving. The church plant project of which we are a part has a community church as its goal. It is much easier to invite people to a community church activity when you actually live in the neighborhood. We started wondering if God might be asking us to move into that area of town. Tim and I told each other we were going to pray about it. Instead of praying for wisdom regarding such a big decision, however, I spent more time asking God to pry my hands back open because the idea of packing everything up just seemed to suck all the energy right out of me.

Then, my desires became a bit of a mute point. We received  notification that the owner of our current home had decided to sell. We could renew our lease, but that means living in a house with regular visits from prospective buyers, potential inspections and probably work that needs to be done as a result. Eventually, we'd be given notice, and we would have a certain period of time during which we would have to find another place to live so we could vacate the property.

So we started to look in earnest. Every morning, every night - I would scrutinize the housing ads on six or seven different web sites. I'd write and find out if renters really didn't want dogs or if they just didn't want big dogs, if rental prices included utilities or not, what neighborhood the house was actually located in, if the house was even still available and if could we arrange a visit. Then came the visits. Last Monday night, neither agent showed up to show us the house, so we uselessly drove around for two-ish hours. The visits are almost always a bit of a let down. The house never looks quite as big or nice as it does in the publicity photos.

Yesterday, we had it narrowed down to two places: one close to the church plant neighborhood, farther from school and work, a lot smaller, less expensive, an indoor parking spot and access to a community pool as part of the deal; the other possibility was a bit farther from the church plant neighborhood but walking distance from the kids' school, an almost new and lovely home with significantly more space, more bathrooms, almost no yard and a steeper rent. 

We talked and prayed. And we decided. I left the school's staff retreat today a little early so I could drive by the first choice above and sign the lease. 

I wanted to cry. Not because I didn't like the choice - our two choices were pretty equal in my mind, each with different positives and negatives. I was just sad that we had had to make the choice. I don't want to move.

Even if it is what I signed up for.

I signed up for this when I promised Jesus as a little girl that I "wanted to be a missionary for him someday, when I grew up."

It is what Tim and I signed up for when we moved to Niger, and then to Quebec.

Part of serving God is counting the cost and this is one of the costs.

I am loath to call it a sacrifice because I will have a roof over my head, our gang of 4 plus 1 (when she gets done with her Bible program this year) will all have a bed and we will be together. We will figure out a way to cram the big kids, my parents or other family in if and when they come to visit. We'll have people over, lots, just because we do that, and we'll be snug and laugh lots. I will choose to be content and I will probably learn to love this new space.

Signing the lease today, however? 

I didn't want to do it, even if I had signed up for it. 

It felt like a heavy, burdensome sacrifice.

It gets old not knowing from one year to the next if we'll be in the same place. It gets old realizing there are still boxes I've not unpacked from the last two moves. It gets old not having the stability of a house we own.

Then I remember one of Paul's prayers for the Ephesians.

"...having the of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe." (from Eph 1) 

This is nothing more than a momentary impression of something that today, feels like a sacrifice. I've an eternal home awaiting me in the future. Once there, I'll never have to move again.

09 November 2018

of alarm clocks and such

My kids have a favorite radio station and they always ask to listen when we are commuting back and forth from school. It isn't a Christian station - the organization Tim works with has an application in with the government and they are just waiting on final approval from the government... I think - and so sometimes we turn the volume down for a song or conversation (and then discuss why we needed to turn it down). For the most part, however, the station tends to be family-friendly, is great French practice and is often downright hilarious, especially when the radio hosts begin to share interesting tidbits they've run across in the news, on the internet, etc.

Such was the case yesterday afternoon on the way home from school.

Apparently, a study has been done about the most effective way to get kids out of bed in the morning. 

As a mom of more-than-a-couple-still-remaining-at-home and even with the heavy traffic through construction zones, I instantly tuned in to the conversation. For, as most mamas know, especially those who have teens, sometimes you literally have to grab that young'un by the leg and physically drag them out from under the covers for even a groaning/moaning response. This week, I became a 23 year veteran of this parenting gig, yet I don't have this one near figured out. So, I was all ears to learn what the researchers had discovered. 



One conclusion was that, especially for kids and teens, alarm clocks are simply not effective. Younger bodies sleep longer and usually much deeper than the old folks with whom they rub shoulders. It is documented that children and youth often (if not usually) sleep through alarm clocks, fire alarms, emergency sirens, tornadoes... Hence sometimes, one of our basement dwelling teens' alarms will wake me, all the way up on the 2nd floor, before it ever causes them to stir. 

Yes - I write truth - even if they later deny it.

I also know for a fact that every single one of my kids is delighted when I wake them up by quietly entering their room leaving the light off, sit on the side of the bed (or snuggle right down under the covers with them), stroke their hair, scratch their back, and whisper softly next to their ear. The researchers found that this method was not only more pleasant for the child, but that youth are awake, literally with in seconds, when awoken gently. Compare that to the minutes, on average, required to drag a child from sleep when an obnoxious, obtrusive and very loud noise began to sound. It's also important to include that the gentle, rapid awakening resulted in happier, more compliant little people in the morning as well.

Also interesting? A female's voice - a mother's voice - was the voice that was effective. Dad whispering just didn't have the same impact.

Interesting eh?

As I've been mulling this over, I was also struck by just how God often uses that same, gentle approach when waking us from spiritual sleep. 

Sometimes, it feels like I am slapped in the face with truth or a need to change. But more often, it is the gentle whispering of the Spirit when I feel wrapped in the love of godly, encouraging friends, a surprising comment from one of my kids hidden in the humor of our family life, a passage of Scripture that replays over and over in one of the songs we listen to almost every day, a simple word that repeatedly comes up in all of the above and other situations that reminds me to return to God's truth and His way.

This shouldn't surprise me. After all, the Word teaches that all the flashy, amazing and brazen have little effect if not also smothered with tenderness and love: 
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails..."

Love never fails. I don't think that means love is like a fairy godmother's magic wand... I never realized until just recently that I've always treated those words like that, thinking, "Just gotta love enough and things will somehow work out." Rather, I've now come to think it means that love just keeps on keeping on and keep on and keeping on. Regardless. Regardless of the result or lack of result.

And, I'm challenged once again, even though I always fall short, to love like that.

I can be okay with falling short because where I am weak, He is strong. I can also rest in the other verse that came to mind as I reflected on that alarm clock study: "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me... my hope is in the Lord, forevermore." (Psalm 131)



photo credit: WORLDTHROUGH1EYE Monday Mornings via photopin (license)

20 July 2018

Another way

The phrase "soccer mom" generally refers to a married middle-class woman who lives in the suburbs and has school age children. She is sometimes portrayed in the media as busy or overburdened and driving a minivan or SUV. She is also portrayed as putting the interests of her family, and most importantly her children, ahead of her own The phrase derives from the literal, specific description of a mother who transports and watches her children play soccer. It was also used in names of organizations of mothers who raised money to support their children's soccer teams. The first reference to the phrase soccer mom in the US national media has been traced to 1982. In that year, the husband of the treasurer of the "Soccer Moms booster club" of Ludlow, Massachusetts, stole $3,150 raised for the benefit of a local soccer league. (from Wikipedia)
I don't remember the first time I heard the term "soccer mom," but I swore I'd never become one. I also swore I'd never drive a minivan or say, "Because I told you so!" to my kids. 

Yeah, well...

Then my son played soccer... softball... my daughters discovered that they liked volleyball and cheerleading (ugh... I still sigh over that one) and I tried to be present at as many of their sporting events as I could reasonably and feasibly attend.

Basketball has been the sport this school year. Five kids, five different teams. Some weeks, in between practices and games, it felt like all we did was basketball.

I loved it, even though it was exhausting.

Anna's basketball team played for the title in the final season tournament for their division. They played hard and won the bronze medal, second year in a row. Not bad for a team that never plays a home game (the gym at the school is not a full-sized gym) and only has access to that gym for one two hour practice per week.


However, their semifinal game broke my heart, and not just because they lost: 44 - 47.

They were playing a very good team, one with more resources, lots more opportunity to train, deeper bench and generally more skilled. However, our girls play with a lot of heart and had beaten this team in regular season play, in another nail biter of a game.

This game, however, there was a scoring/record keeping mistake. 

One of the gals on Anna's team drove for a lay-up, literally threading the needle to get to the basket, and scored. The electronic scoreboard showed the score immediately. But a few seconds later, the official scorekeepers took those two points away from Anna's team and then added them to the opposing team's total.

Friends, family, parents and other spectators cheering for Anna's team started immediately asking why. The ref went over to check the score sheets. Apparently, those two points had been marked... and tallied... in the wrong place and the ref left the score as it was: instead of 14 - 15 (leaving Anna's team one point behind), the score was now 12 - 17.

When one of the parents tried to insist, he was ejected from the game.

Is it possible that the other spectators present, all of those there and cheering for the other team, did not observe what happened? 

Yes, that is a possibility.

Is it believable that the other team's coach really didn't know what had just happened? 

Yeah... I guess, although I have a harder time swallowing that. In all honesty, however, I must add that I'm not naturally inclined to think the best of said coach as I was not impressed by the "coaching" demonstrated. 

Is it possible that our entire group of EVZone (Anna's team) supporters misunderstood and/or were mistaken and that the change was a just one? I guess - but I don't really think so. That's clearly some of my own bias showing.

The score remained 12 - 17. Our girls rallied, played hard, even had the lead a couple more times in the game - but in the end lost and ended up playing in the semifinals rather than the final game. 

I guess I don't know for sure. 

However, I hope that had the shoe been on the other foot, had a similar mistake been made that would have given Anna's team the advantage, that I would have chosen a different way. That I would have been the first to approach the refs and share my memory of what had happened.

For in my mind, herein is the real tragedy.

An opportunity was lost.

Once our kids get to that later high school/young adult stage, adults (parents included) must earn the right to continue to speak into their lives. Here, the adults present had an opportunity to teach a better, most excellent way - a way that sets personal desire and brief moments of glory aside, delighting instead in what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, true - and sometimes very difficult to do...  by denying self and choosing the other first.

I pray that the way my daughter saw modeled by her daddy and me, as we responded to what transpired at this game, fell into that better way category.

Because it is awful easy to get caught up in a soccer mom mentality, willing do whatever it takes to see my kid succeed.

Winning the battle.

But what do I risk losing when I choose the temporary and immediate satisfaction of a less excellent way?

12 March 2018

Blown Away

You know, there are at least 153 synonyms for that expression. I just looked it up. Of course, that includes many different nuances, not all of which are applicable to the sense in which I'm using it tonight, but still...

I digress.

Sunday, the sermon at church was drawn from a passage of the Bible that I love. It's a passage I've studied and taught several times and the lessons drawn are always fresh, always applicable, even though they're old lessons , they are still things I'm still in the process of learning. Maybe I'm just a slow-learner, but I'm starting to expect that from God's Word. 

After all, truth is always truth 
and 
God's truth never becomes trite or cliche 
when 
I approach it with a teachable spirit.

So, as I said, this passage and I have a history (more than 10 years worth, now). It's one of the first passages of Scripture that I memorized: "Amma goy-teerey kaŋ na haro kaa wo bay... " Yohanna 2.1-11(in Zarma), so that I could teach a ladies' Bible study at the church we attended - so I'm probably a little sentimental, too.


So what passage is it? 

It's Jesus first miracle, performed at a wedding in Cana, and found in the beginning of John 2. 

I always used to wonder why this was the first miracle John recorded. But the richness of the lessons in this account - and they just keep piling up - well, blown away! Those are the words that come to mind as I try to describe how I feel as I meditate once again on these words

I knew it was coming up, as our pastors are preaching through the book of John right now. And I was looking forward to it - because I was sure I'd learn something new.

First, a quick review, though:

We don't know why Jesus and his mother were at the wedding - most figure it was family, or friends like family. But this passage first began to make sense after I'd attended a few weddings in Niger. Culturally, 1st century Jewish weddings were much more similar to how weddings are celebrated in there than how we "do" weddings in the West. First, the civil ceremony, then a celebration after can last several days. Anyone walking by can decide to attend - and expect to eat and drink. There is no way to know exactly who or how many will attend.  But beware: Running out of food at a huge fête generally leads to shame and embarrassment. Similarly, running out of wine at the wedding in Cana would have been shameful and humiliating for the host family. 

I love how Mary knew she could come and share this need with Jesus. Clearly, there was no doubt in her mind that there was something very special about this man she'd watched grow from a boy: His birth announced to her by an angel, the incredible circumstances of His arrival and the ensuing hullabaloo, His wisdom and ability to teach learned ones in the temple as well as other things that she would have certainly seen as He grew up in her home. The Bible tells us she had the habit of gathering these things up and pondering them in her heart (Luke 2.19). Mary knew her son was unique and very extraordinary, but did she realize just how special? I don't think even she could have recognized the significance of all that He had come to earth to do. Yet she knew Him well enough, and had sufficient confidence in Him that she knew she could bring this need before Him.

Jesus responded to her... I love that fact. Do you ever wonder what Mary might have thought He'd say? I imagine the answer she received was probably not exactly the one for which she was hoping. But He heard her and He did respond. The things that concern us concern Him, too. And He will respond for the best. 

Mary somehow understood this, because while Jesus' response may not have been what she was hoping to hear - she trusted that He would do something and that what He would do would be right. Thus she tells the servants, "Do that which He will tell you to do." Seeing this side of Mary's faith in Jesus both challenges and encourages.

Six stone vases... each able to hold about 120 liters... 

Jesus told the servants to fill them with water. They filled them up to the brim! I love that detail. Servants are usually quite in tune to what's going on around them. They "sense the vibes." Perhaps they picked up on Mary's confidence in her son. Maybe they were just exceedingly obedient and did exactly what they were told. The Scriptures don't give that detail, but for whatever reason, they filled those vases as full as they could... and that allowed others to receive a blessing.

Sandy Winter wrote these words about Jesus' response: "Jesus chose an act ...truly extravagant and exaggerated.... We would have thought that Jesus would recommend moderation. What does it mean, then, that He responded so excessively? 720 liters of rich and intoxicating wine...? This, then, is the true question. What was He trying to demonstrate by His nearly scandalous extravagance in this, the inaugural event of His ministry,... especially knowing that later miracles would deal with desperate needs: healing, provision, security, life?"[1]

Why? 

Why would He love to delight by responding extravagantly to even seemingly insignificant things (in the grand scope of life) that concern us? Think back to the first time we read of a miracle where water is changed into something else. God, working through Moses, changes water into blood, ushering in law and judgement. This, the first miracle of Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to usher in salvation by grace, was water changed into wine in super-abundance. Jews familiar with the Scriptures would have understood that this abundance of wine heralded a celebration for the Messiah's arrival. (See Amos 9.13,14 & Isaiah 25.6-10.) The passage does later say, "He manifested His glory and His disciples believed in Him." And, of course, we can't forget Revelation 19 - a wedding supper no one will want to miss, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

Or was His motivation simply because He loves and it was within His capacity and His Father's will to give such a gift?

Whatever the Savior's reasons, the man coordinating details for this wedding was astonished. Not only was there an abundance of wine, but it was really high quality stuff. It impressed him and he called the bridegroom to essentially ask, "What's up? No one goes about it this way..." He doesn't get an answer, for the bridegroom did not know.

No one knew except for one particular group of people: "...the servants who had drawn the water knew very well..."

It was this phrase that first grabbed my heart as I began studying this passage. I want to see my Lord working miracles. I want to see them regularly.  Thus I need to be in a place of humble, unquestioning service, doing that which He tells me to do.

From this Jesus encounter come five applications that touch my life almost every single day: 
  1. I can approach the Lord with whatever need, big or small.
  2. Jesus will respond.
  3. I can have confidence in Him - whatever His response, whatever He chooses to do, it will be very good.
  4. Jesus' responses are often extravagant - far and above what I might imagine or dream up on my own. He lives to demonstrate His lavish love.
  5. To see God working, I too must be found in the heart position of a servant - immediate and unquestioning obedience.
It's that last one, there, that usually hits me square between the eyes on an almost daily basis, challenging me to remain teachable, humble, gentle...

But, as the preacher taught from this text last Sunday, two new "things" became clear.

The first - a reminder of the purpose of the book of John - "...these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20.31)" caught my attention. John, as he wrote this gospel, included the account of the wedding in Cana for this reason - to help readers recognize that Jesus is the promised Messiah. I was thinking about that while someone in the congregation read the text aloud. When he  got to the the part where the bridegroom is questioned about why the best was saved for last, it hit me: clearly this wedding miracle points to God's best, most extravagant gift. Consider these words: "On many past occasions and in many different ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets. But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe, (Hebrews 2)" the high priest of a new covenant (Hebrews 8).  The provision of a better wine in this story rescued the host family from certain social shame; Jesus, by his once and for all sacrifice, ushered in new covenant and the opportunity to be rescued from the shame and sin that separates men from God.

Also, the speaker probed a little deeper into Jesus' response to his mother - suggesting that distance in Jesus' response could have been a way to communicate to Mary that he was not just her son, but also her Savior and that she, too, needed to trust him for her eternal salvation. Faith, not the fact that they were family, would be what saved her.

Blown away!

By God's Word. By how His Word never fails to speak. By how perfectly timely and applicable it always is.

I'm so thankful!

*******************************

Are there any lessons from these verses that particularly speak to you?




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