Friday, November 9, 2018 comes the rain

When we first moved to the farm, I tried to grow a garden. I had big plans for fresh veggies, and I planted a lot: tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and honeydew. The lady we bought the property from had scattered seed for lettuce.

I harvested a handful of tomatoes, a single head of broccoli, maybe two honeydews, and a lot of the lettuce...the one thing that I didn't plant.

I guess I should have known how it would work out. When I was in school I helped my mom plant flower bulbs along our front walk. Not a single thing that I planted even so much as sprouted.

Mom told me that I have a "black thumb" instead of a green there's that.

It hasn't changed a lot as I've gotten older. I killed a cactus. I've had a peace lily and a pothos both die at my hand (yes, I know--the easiest house plants to grow).

I don't know a whole lot about growing plants, but I do know one thing: if you want a plant to grow, you need to water it.

Growth. It is something all of us want. We want our faith to grow stronger, but we tend to want that to happen through times of ease and peace. We want the sunny skies to make us grow, but we forget that the rain is required every bit as much as the sun.

"Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith,
we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God
through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King.
 Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace
where we are able to celebrate the hope
of experiencing God’s glory.
 And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering
because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,
 which shapes our characters.
When our characters are refined,
we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. 
And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need
because the Holy Spirit that was given to us
has flooded our hearts with God’s love."
Romans 5:1-5

"Seasons of suffering"--the rain in our lives that lead to growth. It's the hard times that sink into us, that get to our roots and sink into our core. When the rains come, they teach us to endure (or persevere, which is probably the word you're more used to hearing in that passage).

When we learn to endure, that's what changes our character. I don't know about you, but I haven't mastered the concept of celebrating in my sufferings. I struggle with my focus--I see the storm instead of remembering that the rain brings growth.

I want to be someone of character, someone who can be counted on to do what God wants no matter the circumstances. Here's the issue, though--to make sure you will do what God wants in every circumstance, you have to actually be put into those circumstances and required to make a choice about what to do.

That's the part that's not so much fun.

It's easy to say that I will trust God with my life when I haven't had to rely on Him to preserve it. It was easy to say that I trusted God's plan for my brother in Iraq...before that plan was revealed to those of us who were left behind here. It's easy to say that I trust God to have a plan for my life until my future doesn't play out quite as I expected.

The only way I can be known for the character I want to be known for is if I develop that character. As Helen Keller said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

And here's the real kicker: the development of our character isn't even the end goal. We learn to endure so that we can develop character, but then we still have to go a step further.

Character has to be refined.

When you refine something, you get rid of any impurities in it. For a lot of things, that means putting it through the fire.

Even after I develop the character that I want to be known for, that character still needs to be refined. God wants to rid me of all the impurities in my heart and mind. He wants to burn off all the doubts, fears, and self-reliance. He wants me to fully trust in Him, no matter what gets thrown my way. He doesn't want me to be swayed by my circumstances.

Dear God, help me to remember that rain leads to growth. Help me to see the challenges in my life as opportunities to endure and to develop the character You want to see in me, the type of character that points to You. Keep me on my toes, so that I don't slide into complacency. Remind me that You are there with me, even when the refinement fires come. Keep me focused on You, no matter my circumstances...and thank You for not giving up on me when I mess up.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Do I know God?

Dear God,

I hear You--really, I do. I'm sorry that I haven't been listening, but thank You for repeating Yourself over and over (and over...) so that it finally got through my thick skull.

Remember, I tend to be a "lesson from a 2x4" girl. The subtle stuff tends to get lost on me, even though it would be a lot easier if I could just learn to hear You when You whisper.

You keep telling me to let go, and I don't know why I find that so incredibly hard to do. Everything and everyone around me lately is reminding me that I need to stop worrying and start trusting.

I know You're greater than anything I can imagine. I know that Your promises are true. I know all the right words and all the Sunday School answers...

...but I've realized that I must not truly know You, because I haven't been truly trusting You.

If I knew You, I would know that my fears are pointless and unfounded. I would know that You have me--You've written me on the palms of Your hands--and there's nothing that can pull me away.

If I knew You, I would know that Your plan will be accomplished in my life (in spite of my efforts, as the case may be). I would know that Your words do what You say they will do--You aren't just speaking to hear Yourself talk.

If I knew You, I would realize that if You know when a sparrow falls, You know all the difficulties in my life. I would know that if You take the time to keep track of how many hairs I have on my head, You will keep track of me.

If I knew You, truly, I would stop wearing myself out with stress over the day-to-day struggles of my life that are so insignificant in the long run. I would stop worrying over all the things that are so far out of my control--but firmly in Your hand.

So God, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for doubting Your power and Your plan. I want to know You. I want to draw close to You. I want to trust You.

*I don't own this song or the pictures...

Friday, October 12, 2018

Let go?

I'm a stubborn and highly independent person. I want to always be able to do everything myself, and I've been that way since I was little. I hate having to rely on anybody else for anything--if I'm not capable of taking care of whatever needs to be done on my own, then I make it my goal to figure out how to do it.

Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes, though, it gets me into trouble.

I've talked quite a bit about how I have a hard time trusting. The thing is, lately I've realized that my issue isn't with trust, exactly. Instead, what I have a hard time doing is giving up control. When things start to go wrong, I grab on a little tighter. When life knocks me for a loop and I slide down to the end of my rope, I put all my strength into holding on with everything I've got.

But what if I'm not supposed to hold on?

We drive by Rule Baptist Church on Sunday mornings, and last week this is what their sign says:

At the end of your rope
is the hem of His garment.

If you don't remember the story about the hem of Jesus' garment, here's a quick reminder: Jesus was in the middle of a crowd of people when He stopped and asked who touched Him. I'm sure the disciples thought He was being a little crazy. After all, there were people all around them. So you've got Peter (I brought him up again, I know) who opens his mouth and says, "Okay, Jesus, that's a pretty weird question. You've got this huge crowd around You, and all of them are bumping up against everybody. What do You mean, who touched You?" ...okay, so I paraphrased a bit.
Jesus, though, says, "That's not what I meant. Somebody touched Me, and I felt power flow out." ...again, a bit of a paraphrase.

So this woman speaks up. She knows she's been found out, so she steps forward and falls at Jesus' feet. She tells Him that she had been bleeding for years, and she knew that if she could just touch the hem of His robe, He could heal her.

Down in the dirt, at her lowest, she stopped trying to control everything herself. She stopped searching for the next cure, and she reached out for the hem of His robe.

Maybe, when I'm at the end of my rope, I'm not supposed to be desperately struggling to climb back up. Maybe I'm not supposed to be focusing all my strength on getting back to where I think I'm supposed to be.

Maybe, when I'm hanging by a thread and straining to maintain my grip--maybe that's when I'm supposed to let go.

Maybe I'm supposed to let go of my desperate attempt at holding on to control and reach out for the hem of His garment.

"When struck by fear, I let go,
depending securely upon You alone."
Psalm 56:3

Friday, September 28, 2018 of little faith

The first time I ever remember Pop getting mad at me, I was sitting in a tree. I can't tell you exactly how old I was, but it was early elementary school some time. I was on a limb, wanting to get down, so Pop reached up for me and told me to jump.

I wouldn't.

He kept telling me to jump, assuring me that he would catch me--I had nothing to worry about. All I needed to do was let go of the limb and push myself forward. Instead, I was in tears, sitting in a tree. No matter how many times Pop assured me that he would catch me, I couldn't do it. He had never let me down, never given me a reason to think he would let me fall.

I couldn't just trust him.

Trust. That's something I still struggle with, despite all my efforts. I know that God is worthy of my trust. I know His promises are true, and that when His word says that He guides my steps--well, that's true, too.

The problem is, I just can't get my feelings to line up with my knowledge.

We just finished talking about Joseph at church. A few years ago, Pop sent me a sermon series by Tony Evans about Joseph called "Detours to Destiny." It was 2014, and I felt lost. Grad school wasn't going according to the way I had planned. I felt like somehow I had messed up God's plans for me, and I was going to miss out on His purpose. I felt like a huge failure. I had uprooted my family and moved them to Toledo, Ohio, to pursue what I thought was God's clear plan for my life. I was going into Medical Physics, which seemed like the perfect fit for me.

Until life happened, and I couldn't make myself fit.

I can look back throughout my life and see how God has worked, even in the hard times. I can see how things that I thought were going all wrong worked out to put me right where I should be at the right time.

So why in the world do I still think I'm messing up God's plans?

There's a quote I ran across a while back:

"If you think you've blown God's plan for your life, rest in this.
You, my beautiful friend, are not that powerful."
~Lisa Bevere

When Joseph's brothers decided to sell him off into slavery, they were pretty sure they were keeping him from a destiny they didn't like. They didn't want to bow down before their little brother. They sold him off, and that was the end of things.
Here's an excerpt of the post I wrote when I finished listening to that sermon series:

"He wouldn't have been able to provide for his brothers if he hadn't been second in charge in Egypt.
Joseph wouldn't have been second in charge over all of Egypt if he hadn't interpreted the Pharoh's dream.
He wouldn't have interpreted Pharoh's dream if he hadn't met the cup bearer and baker.
He wouldn't have met them if he hadn't been thrown in the dungeon.
He wouldn't have been thrown in the dungeon if he hadn't been falsely accused by Potiphar's wife.
He wouldn't have been falsely accused if he hadn't been put in charge of Potiphar's household.
He wouldn't have been put in charge if Potiphar hadn't bought him.
He couldn't have been bought as a slave if he hadn't been sold to Egyptian slavers.
He wouldn't have been sold if his brothers hadn't thrown him into a pit.
He wouldn't have been thrown into a pit if his brothers hadn't been jealous of him.
His brothers wouldn't have been jealous if he hadn't been showing off the coat his dad gave him."

God works out all the details of our lives, even when we can't figure out what's going on. Proverbs 16:9 says,
"We can make our plans,
 but the LORD determines our steps."

I don't know why trust is such a hard thing for me. I get so hung up on trying to control my life, and I forget that control is just an illusion. I make plan after plan, searching for purpose, but I lose sight of the fact that God is the only One in control. He has a plan for me, and who am I to think that I can change that?

"So it is when I declare something.
My word will go out and not return to Me empty,
but it will do what I wanted;
it will accomplish what I determined."
~Isaiah 55:11

I wonder how often He looks at me, shakes His head, and says, "You of little faith. Why can't you just trust me? Why do you always try so hard to control everything, despite all the times I've shown you that you can't? When are you going to learn that My plans are best for your life, and I will make them happen? Just jump when I tell you to, and trust Me to catch you."

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

spring follows winter

"Those who trust in their wealth are headed for great disappointment,
but those who do right will sprout like green leaves in the spring."
Proverbs 11:28

Spring doesn't last forever. Life isn't always full of cool breezes, bright sunshine, and new flowers. Instead, spring only comes after the winter. New life only follows after the old life has died. Green leaves come after the cold winds, after the trees have had to stand against the barren winter.

Too often, it seems people think the Christian life should be one of ease and comfort. We have the thought that God's promises mean that our reward starts here and now--our work should pay off and our every effort should be blessed. We even hear it preached--God wants us healthy, wealthy, and wise. It's the prosperity gospel in a nutshell.

Yes, we are promised new life--but that only comes after the old life has died. We are promised the spring, but that doesn't mean that we won't have to face the winter. Sometimes the circumstances of our lives become cold, harsh, and barren. We watch as everything dies around us: finances crumble, relationships become strained, dreams fade. The "winters" in our lives are hard, lonely times.

But we aren't alone in that. We are called to live a life modeled after Christ, so why are we surprised by the winter? Jesus faced a winter in His life that most of us can't even fathom. He was betrayed and abandoned by those closest to Him. He was beaten, mocked, and spit on. He faced the agony of the cross, even though He could have stopped the pain and suffering in a heartbeat. He was buried in a borrowed tomb--He didn't have a home of His own, let alone a burial place. He faced a winter so bleak that Creation was plunged into darkness in the middle of the day as a result.

Yet on the other side of His winter, Jesus found spring. His new life sprouted on the other side of death.

For some of us, our spring will start on this side of death. Some will get to see the end of the cold, harsh winter and the blooming of new lives. Some will see earthly prosperity and the wonder of dreams fulfilled. For others, spring may come like it did for Christ--on the other side of an earthly death. Either way, God's promise is the same.

...those who do right will sprout like green leaves in the spring.


Thursday, September 20, 2018

14 years...

Grief is a funny thing sometimes. This year was the first year I wasn't in classes on the anniversary of Michael's death. I thought that was going to make it really hard--I wouldn't have anything to distract me, and usually that means my mind goes into overdrive. The thing is, that didn't really happen.

I have to admit, it felt a little strange when I thought about it. I felt a little guilty, to be honest, because it was almost as if that day came and went without the memory of Michael's death bothering me. And then my thinking changed--maybe it was a good thing. Maybe I was learning how to deal with the loss (after 14 years...I know that may sound crazy, but it really is just a start for me, even after all this time).

So that was a Wednesday.

Sunday rolled around, and I wasn't thinking about anything that had to do with August 15th. It was a normal Sunday morning at church. We started with coffee, breakfast, and doughnuts while everyone sat around and talked about how life is going. I have to tell you, I really love my church family. We are a small group (around 20 people), and that lets us all dig deep into each other's lives. Our mornings start with everyone sitting around the table, just talking about anything and everything that is happening.

Then we moved into our normal routine: somebody reads a Psalm and opens in prayer, we sing, somebody reads a verse that meant something to them during the week, we sing again...

During the first medley we sang, a specific song caught me off guard. It wasn't a sad song--but all of a sudden I was choked up and couldn't sing. What, you may ask, was the song that suddenly ripped my heart up into my throat and made the tears well up in my eyes?

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. I know--a real tear-jerker, right?

The thing is, when we were teenagers sitting in the pew and singing that song, Michael and I would lean against each other (maybe that should say "push against each other with our shoulders but pretend we were just leaning") every time the word "leaning" came up.

So there I was, choked up over a song and the memory it stirred up.

And remember, this is 14 years after the fact.

I'm part of a Gold Star Siblings group on facebook, and the other day someone posted something that broke my heart a bit. She was talking about the loss of her sister, who will be gone for a year this December. Read that again--1 year this December. She was worried because she's still having a hard time dealing with this loss, and the rest of the world seems to think she should be "over it" by now.

Less than 1 year later.

A relationship with a sibling is something no one else really understands...and as a result, the loss of a sibling fits into that same category. It isn't something you "get over," especially in less than a year. My goodness, 14 years later a simple song still brings me to tears (and that's not even talking about the songs I still can't listen to in public). If you've lost someone, please hear me: you don't have to be "over it" in any arbitrary amount of time.

Sometimes, "leaning" can still choke you up 14 years later.

Friday, July 27, 2018 all hinges on a tree

In the Garden of Eden, God put everything in place to take care of His creation. He gave us the fruit of every tree except one--the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan knows Scripture, and he knows humanity. He twisted God's command, playing into the idea that God is keeping the good stuff from us and setting up a list of rules we have to follow. He preyed on human pride--you are smart enough to decide right from wrong; you don't need God to tell you what to do.

With the fruit from that first tree, sin entered the world. all hinges on a tree. The blood poured from the raw, open flesh on Jesus' back and soaked into the wood of the cross that He was forced to carry to Golgotha. The sacrificial Lamb took on the weight of all the sins of mankind and carried that burden to a second tree. His death bridged the gap between humanity and God that had been created when sin entered the world.

With His death on that tree, sin was paid for. all hinges on a tree. In the new Jerusalem, a river that shines like crystal flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. This river flows down and splits the street. A more spectacular view in my opinion, though, is the tree of life. This tree is so big that it straddles the river and stands on both banks. Its leaves provide healing, and it grows 12 different types of fruit that grow all year long. Throughout eternity, we will no longer have to toil under the curse of sin.

With the fruit of that tree, God's children will live forever with Him. all hinges on a tree.

Friday, July 13, 2018

faith like a dog

Dogs are pretty incredible. It doesn't take much to make them happy--the smallest pat on the head, and they're good. Our two follow us everywhere, even when it is 95 degrees and sunny and they would be much more comfortable hanging out in the shade with the goats. They go blackberry picking with me, even though they don't eat blackberries. Stella is on my heels first thing in the morning when I go up to milk, and she follows me back to the barn every evening. Knute thinks the best place in the world is beside me.

I don't have to convince them to follow. I don't have to tell them where I'm going or what my plan is. If I get on to them, they know they've done something wrong and want nothing more than to please me again. "Good dog" makes their day. They greet me with tails wagging every time I come home, no matter how much (or how little) time has passed. They would follow me into danger if I told them to, even though they wouldn't understand my reasoning. They see mas as their master, and that's good enough of a reason to do anything I tell them.

God, give me the faith of my dogs. Help me to trust You to take care of me simply because You are my Master and You have promised to provide for me. Give me the desire to want nothing more than to be close to You--not because I want something from You, but just because being close to You is the best place in the world. Help me to follow You, to go where You go even when it would be more comfortable to stay where things are easy. Make pleasing You the desire of my heart--not because I have something to earn, but just because I long to hear "Well done" when this life is over. Let me come to You with joy every time I meet with you, simply because You are the One who makes my heart joyful. Let me see you as my Master and trust that You have my best interests in mind when You lead me, even when I don't understand Your reasoning.

***Thanks, Pop, for using this illustration. It has stuck with me for quite a while now...

Friday, June 15, 2018

a letter to my kids

First of all, whether you like it or not, "my kids" is how I will always think of you. No matter where you go in life or what you do, keep that in the back of your head. Hear my voice telling you "You're better than that" when you're thinking about doing something dumb, or "I knew you could figure it out" when you've pushed your way through to doing something spectacular that nobody else noticed.

My first year of teaching was hard, and when I left those kids it broke my heart a little. So when I started teaching you guys, I told myself that I would keep my distance. But then, you all pushed aside the barriers I had put in place like they were nothing. It didn't take long for you all to get into my heart.

I know I frustrated you beyond belief by saying, "I don't know--what do you think?" when you asked me questions in class. I hope you know that I said that because I had faith in you and knew you could figure it out if you worked just a little harder. Remember that going forward, because it's true about most things in life. If you'll work just a little harder and push yourself just a little more than you think you can, you can figure out how to deal with just about anything that comes up. I believe in you.

That's why it breaks my heart now to leave you. It wasn't something I planned to do--I figured I would see all of you through to graduation. The thing is, quite often God's plans for us are different than the plans we make for ourselves. And when He opens a door, no matter how scary or how far out of your comfort zone it is, you need to step through.

The last three years have meant so much to me. It has been a privilege to be your math teacher, even when you were asking me when you would ever use math in your future (and I hope my voice pops into your head every time you use math in the real world, telling you "But you never use math in the real world...!"). You guys have challenged me in ways I never thought possible, both good and bad.

You've tested my patience and pushed ALL my buttons. I've stayed up late more nights than I can count, trying to figure out how to get through to some of you. I've prayed for you. I've cried tears over you, believe it or not. My heart has broken for you all time and time again. I've seen you all hurt each other (and told you that you know better) and I've seen you deal with hurts kids should never have to deal with. You've pushed me to the edge more than once, leaving me struggling to hold on to my sanity.

At the same time, though, you all have brought me so much joy. You've made me laugh and smile even on my hardest days. I've seen some of you all grow from awkward junior high kids trying to figure out who you are to young men and young women who are finding your places in this world. I've seen you stand up for each other and push each other to be better. I've watched you work through math problems you never thought you could handle, and I've seen the pride in your eyes (even if you wouldn't admit it). I've seen you become better people, and it has been an amazing thing to get to watch.

It hurts to think that I won't be with you guys all the time as you finish your high school careers, but it eases my heart and mind to know that I'm leaving you in good hands. My sister is an amazing math teacher, and she will love you guys as much as I have. Don't give her too hard of a time, but push a little bit--she needs that from time to time. I know you all are going to love her and find your way into her heart, too.

Know I'm always here if you need me. I'm in the phone book (or stop by--most of you know where we live) or shoot me an email or facebook message. I know I'm a little hard to read sometimes, but know that I love you guys. Sometimes it's tough love, but sometimes that's what you need. Like I said at the beginning, you're my kids and you always will be. That means I want nothing but the best for you. You will still be in my prayers and my thoughts, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you.

Monday, May 21, 2018

when God seems slow...

Why is God waiting? Why does He watch this world as it falls apart, just sitting back while it spins out of control? Why does He let bad things happen? why doesn't Jesus just come back already?

In the midst of all the chaos and unrest and fear, God is still at work. He is there with those who are in the fire. He is there with those who sink down into the pit. He is there when the earth shakes or when the flood waters rush in or when the stars fall from the heavens.

Because the thing is, if even one soul turns to Him in that moment, it was worth it. If one person sees the waves crashing around him and cries out like Peter did, "Lord, save me!" then who are we to say that God should have held back the flood waters?

Or, on a more personal side, if there was one single person who was drawn to God's side in part due to my brother's death, who am I to say that God should have spared him on that August day in Najaf? I know where my brother ended up. Why would I want to take that chance away from someone else?

It's easy to look at how things seem to be spiraling down and think that God should simply have the angels sound the trumpets and bring all His children home. It's easy to ask why He lets bad things happen to good people. What's hard to do, though, is to see the big picture. It's hard to see the good that can come out of something bad, the lessons that are learned in the waiting, and the light that shines brightest in the midst of the darkness.

"Now the Lord is not slow about enacting His promise—
slow is how some people want to characterize it—
no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you,
not wanting anyone to be destroyed,
but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path
and to turn toward God’s."
2 Peter 3:9

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

to the class of 2018

I have high hopes for you. I don't wish you fame and fortune, and I hope that's not what you spend your life chasing.

Instead, I wish you a good life.

I don't mean an easy life. Easy lives have a tendency to make weak people.

I wish you enough hard times to help you develop the grit you will need to become a strong person. Helen Keller once said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." 

I wish you people who will stand against you, because it is only then that you truly develop an appreciation for the people who stand beside and behind you.

I wish you times that knock you flat on your face, because sometimes those are the only times that remind you of the importance of being on your knees before God.

I wish you boredom, because it is only when time seems to slow down that you take the time to look around you and notice the blessings of quietness.

I wish you hard work. Very few things in this life that are worth having come easily, so I hope you have the chance to work really hard for something incredibly important...even if the rest of the world thinks it doesn't matter.

I wish you love. Not the fairytale, happily-ever-after type of love. Instead, the 1 Corinthians type--a love that is sacrificial and protective and forgiving. A love that "can walk through fire without blinking," like Alan Jackson sang. A love that stands true through the ugly times and the hard times.

I wish you a goal you can't reach. I hope something you want stays just a little bit out of reach, because that's what keeps you striving to be better.

I wish you two sunrises--one you see because you stayed up all night, and one you see because you got up early. There's a different type of beauty in each.

I wish you tears over the loss of someone dear. As much as it rips a hole in your heart, you don't know just how deeply you love people until you've lost someone you never thought would be gone. I wish you the kind of sobs that leave you breathless, because it is only after the tears have finally stopped that you realize the importance of smiling through the memories that once hurt your very soul.

I wish you the opportunity to become a hero to someone, but I hope you don't do it for the recognition. I hope you brighten someone else's life just for the sake of it, because you want to make someone's day just a little brighter.

I wish you the chance to defend your faith, because it makes you stop and actually think about what you believe--and why you believe it. Blind faith is often dangerous faith, so approach God with your eyes wide open. I hope you are able to defend your faith with grace, humility, and clarity.

I wish you have a burden too heavy to carry on your own. Even the most introverted of us was made for community, and communities are made for helping you when you have too much to handle.

I wish you exhaustion, both physical and mental, because you don't know how far you can push yourself until you've reached what you thought was your limit--and then pushed further.

I wish you laughter that makes your stomach hurt, and I hope you share it with someone you thought you had nothing in common with.

I wish you the chance to get so lost that you have no choice but to rely on the kindness of a stranger.

I wish you the opportunity to spend time with somebody's grandparent, and I hope you take the time to really listen to the stories they tell.

I wish you a glimpse of this world through the eyes of a toddler, someone whose view hasn't been dimmed by cynicism and who still knows how to run without fear of falling.

Most of all, I wish for you to spend your life. Don't try to save up all your living for some far away tomorrow, because we aren't even promised the next breath. So take every gift that God has given you and pour them all out into those around you. Let Him use you, because His purpose for your life is so much more than anything you can imagine. Strive to become more and more like Christ, to follow in His footsteps even when--especially when--it's hard, to love the unlovables and reach out to the untouchables.

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Matthew 6:33&34

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

the agony of Christ

Have you ever prayed for rescue? I don't mean a nice, neat, "Dear God, please help me get through..." prayer wrapped up with a pretty "Amen." I'm talking about a gut-wrenching, tears streaming, no real words forming type of prayer, one without any real sentences and that's poured out in between sobs.

I've cried and begged, full of the knowledge of God's power. I know that He is the One who has the ability to control everything that happens around me. If He can speak this universe with all its intricacies into existence, it would be simple for Him to put a stop to whatever it is I'm needing to be rescued from--whether it is physical, emotional, financial, or psychological. I know that He can reach down and pull me out of any bad situation, so I pour out my heart to Him through one of those ugly cries, begging for Him to take away the pain.

And if God hears me, if He is truly listening and if He's truly good, He'll swoop in and rescue me. If I don't see things work out the way I want and expect, my human nature tells me that God didn't hear my pleas.

It's easy to forget that we aren't alone in our tears. When Jesus was in the garden, His own tears fell as He begged God to spare Him from the agony of the cross. His anxiety was so intense that His sweat was mixed with blood, a condition known as
hematidrosis which occurs when the tiny capillaries that feed blood to the sweat glands rupture, letting blood seep into the sweat. This condition is said to leave the skin feeling tender. Growing up under Roman rule, Jesus would have seen crucifixions. He would have known all about Roman punishment and all that it entailed. He knew what lay ahead.

He lived His entire life with the knowledge of the cross looming before Him, knowing that the prophet Isaiah was talking about Him when we wrote,

"Indeed, who would ever believe it?
Who would possibly accept what we've been told?
Who has witnessed the awesome power and plan of the Eternal in action?
Out of emptiness He came,
like a tender shoot from rock-hard ground.
He didn't look like anything or anyone of consequence--
He had no physical beauty to attract our attention.
So He was despised and forsaken by men,
this man of suffering,
grief's patient friend.
As if He was a person to avoid, we looked the other way;
He was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of Him.
Yet it was our suffering He carried,
our pain and distress, our sick-to-the-soul-ness.
We just figured that God had rejected Him,
that God was the reason He hurt so badly.
But He was hurt because of us.
Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed Him.
He endured the breaking that made us whole.
The injuries He suffered became our healing.
We all have wandered off, like shepherdless sheep,
scattered by our aimless striving and endless pursuits;
The Eternal One laid on Him the sins of us all."
Isaiah 53:1-6

In that night in the garden, Jesus was in agony. He knew He was about to be beaten, bloodied, and broken by the very people He came to save. So He spent the night in prayer, begging His Father to rescue Him, to put a stop to the pain.
"When Jesus was on the earth,
a man of flesh and blood,
He offered up prayers and pleas,
groans and tears to the One who could save Him from death.
He was heard because He approached God with reverence.
Although He was a Son,
Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered."
Hebrews 5:7 & 8

"He was heard..." Jesus was not spared the pain of the cross. His tears in the garden didn't end there--they once again mixed with sweat and blood as He hung on the cross, the blood pouring from just about every inch of His body. It coated the wood of the cross, probably mingling with the others who had hung on that cross before Him. His blood mixed with the blood of thieves and murderers, the worst of criminals in Roman eyes, and He died the death of a criminal. He was ridiculed and spit on, beaten and mocked.
"He was heard..." Despite all He suffered, Jesus was heard. God didn't rescue Him from the bad situation. In fact, He put Jesus right into the middle of the worst punishment the Romans could think up. Jesus watched His friends abandon Him. He looked into the agonized eyes of His mother as He hung on the cross.

"Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things He suffered." When I've gone through hard times--the times that have left me crying those ugly cries that make your stomach hurt--there have always been lessons. I haven't seen the lesson in everything yet, but I'm slowly learning. That's not to say that I accept the suffering like Paul, saying that I rejoice in it. I still wallow in self-pity, asking "why me?" and begging for rescue. I'm still working on that lesson, I guess.

What I'm trying to do is learn from Jesus. I don't think it is wrong to pray for rescue. After all, Jesus begged for that very thing. What's important, though, is what He added to His prayer--
"Yet not My will, but Your will, be done."
Luke 22:42

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

the classroom as a basketball team...

You're a basketball coach. You got into the field because you wanted the chance to work with kids, to give back by helping kids develop into the people you know they are capable of being (because let's face it--coaches do so much more than shape players. They shape teenagers into the young men and young women they will become.). You know the superstars will be few and far between, but that's okay. You're happy to spend most of your time helping your players develop the basic skills they'll need to be effective on the court. You know that they can't move forward to accomplish big things unless they grasp the fundamentals.

Over time, though, something changes. Instead of having players who understand responsibility and the importance of self-discipline, your players start getting lazy. They stop coming to open gym and shooting around to practice on their own simply because that takes extra effort that they really don't feel like putting in. Basketball just isn't a priority to them any more. At first, that's okay. When someone stops trying, you can cut them from the team. But then, someone decides that every kid should have the chance to play and they do away with cuts. No big deal--you can just bench those players who refuse to work. If they don't put forth the effort, they don't get to play--it's as simple as that. You give everyone the workout and you teach them all the fundamentals, but if they choose not to work, that's not on you. The players are responsible for their own effort, because that's not something you can control.

Then one day, you're told that your focus has to change. You are told that there are too many players who aren't getting playing time. You explain why those players are on the bench, how they are skipping practices and barely working when they show up. You talk about the kid who doesn't even try when the team is shooting free throws in practice; instead, he stands at the line and plays around, tossing the ball up in the air but not actually shooting. Obviously, that explanation should be enough. You can't control whether or not a kid actually tries in practice, especially since the school has done away with cuts. And then they make another change--since basketball is something everyone should have some knowledge of, they are going to push every kid to play. Now, you will have a full team from 9th grade through 12th grade because 4 years of basketball are required for graduation.

And oh yeah--you are supposed to get 80% of those kids to master the game. That means they should be hitting 70% of their shots from everywhere on the court. It doesn't matter that some kids have the ability to shoot 3s and other kids struggle just to make a shot from right under the basket. You, as a coach, should find a way to reach each and every kid who comes through your gym. You should be able to find a way to motivate each one and encourage them enough to make up for any differences in ability levels, right? It's not just shooting, though. Your players should master everything about the game of basketball, including everything from dribbling around defenders to stealing the ball to running plays, and everything should be done with 70% accuracy.

By the way, you should really start using the internet to teach them these skills. Technology is a wonderful tool, and we should include it in every aspect of practice. Your kids should be able to learn just as well that way. After all, the school sunk a lot of money into programs that claim to increase accuracy and even make learning the fundamentals not seem like work. And we all know how much people (especially kids) value things they don't have to work for, right?

You know this isn't going to be what's best for the kids, but you're told you don't have a choice. You either do what's required, or you find a new job. So you do your best. You take those kids who have never been able to dribble, and you start working with them. Not only do you have to get them dribbling, though, you have to get them shooting 3s. So while you're trying to get them caught up on the basics, you're also trying to get them to understand the nuances of a good shot, an effective screen, and that 2-1-2 defense. You should also get them to develop an incredible court awareness. It's not enough for them to be able to do the skills when you tell them to; a good basketball player should be able to see the game as it unfolds and figure out which skills are needed and when: zone vs. man-to-man, or driving to the basket vs. setting up a 3.

It doesn't matter that you have a bunch of kids who have no interest in basketball. Even if they are an accomplished musician bound for Julliard, they still need to master advanced skills in basketball. That math genius who is doing Calculus at 14? Doesn't matter--basketball is required for her. Or the kid who is a computer aficionado and hacked into the Hubble telescope? Yeah, he needs basketball, too. That's part of a well-rounded education, and we need to show that all of our kids (not just the ones who want basketball to be part of their futures) are better at basketball than every other set of kids in the world.

It doesn't take long before your whole team starts to suffer. Since every player is supposed to get the same amount of playing time, your former stars are riding the bench more than they're on the court. In practice, you're stuck having them help the kids who are struggling with the basics, because you have to figure out some way to teach everybody separately, at the same time. The higher-ups have a solution, of course--simply have those more talented players move on and practice on their own. They should obviously be able to teach themselves the more advanced skills, right? Why should they need an actual coach when they have all these other resources at their disposal? Just give them some videos, diagrams, and a court, and they'll go on to develop their talents on their own.

It sounds insane, right?

Sadly, that's what is happening every day in classrooms across the nation. I'm a math and physics nerd, and I love the puzzles and beauty of those subjects. I think it would be wonderful if everyone loved what I love, but I know that's not the case. In fact, some people actually hate both of those subjects. And you know what? That's okay. Part of the beauty of people is that we were all created with different interests, strengths, and weaknesses. That's what makes things so amazing. If you are interested in something, that becomes your focus and your passion. If you don't like something, you leave it to others. You don't have to become 70% proficient in every topic. You try some things and fail spectacularly; you try other things and become an expert.

In our schools, though, somehow the people making the decisions don't see things that way. Teachers are expected to find a way to take a lack of ability and take all the apathy that gets thrown at them from kids who don't care and turn all of that into mastery of the huge list of topics that gets thrown at us.

We need to focus on individualized education, but not in the way that is being pushed right now. If a kid is interested in trade school, why can't that start in 9th grade? If we have a kid who is gifted with welding, or wiring, or engines, or a whole host of other things that I can't wrap my brain around, why do they need to sit in a classroom learning Algebra II or American Literature or (as much as it hurts me to say it) Physics? And if we have a student who is planning on medical school, shouldn't that student be given the chance to be in advanced math and science courses without having to be that kid who pulls everyone else along?  What about our writers? Singers? Artists? Farmers? Architects?

I completely agree that there are basics that every student should get. It's a throw back to the "3 Rs" of "Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic" that we used to see when compulsory school went to 8th grade. But when did we decide every student needed to be an expert in every subject?

And when are we going to realize that those making the decisions about education are pushing a system that isn't in the best interest of our kids, and start pushing back?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

let them be kids

I was at the park one day, watching my kids play. They were enjoying rolling around in the grass, climbing & jumping off the rope tower, running, and simply being loud. I sat on a bench nearby, letting them be kids.

A little boy ran by and then sat down in the middle of some clover and started looking for that perfect one. Almost immediately, his mom swooped in. "We don't sit on the grass--it's dirty," she said, pulling the hand sanitizer out of her bag. He was crushed. I can't say for sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if he had been searching for the perfect clover to show his mom.

That same day, I watched parents who stood right beside their kids the whole time. They were there in case of the smallest bobble, intent on catching them before they fell. After all, it would be horrible for that precious little one to get a scraped knee or a bruise, right?

Parents seem to swoop in at the slightest sign of trouble (or even when there isn't any real trouble), ready to save their kids from experiencing bruised feelings, bruised knees, or bruised egos.
  • Little Johnny didn't get invited to Little Joey's birthday party? Mom immediately calls to make sure the school knows her precious baby was left out, and soon the rule at school is that invitations have to include everyone (or at least all of the boys) if they are going to be handed out at school.
  • Sweet Susie gets cut from the basketball team and feels like she might somehow not be as good as the others, so pretty soon there aren't any tryouts anymore--everyone gets to play, and they all get equal time on the court.
  •  Poor Petey got a bad grade, and his parents automatically decided it must have been because the teacher doesn't like him (nevermind the fact that he never turned in a single homework assignment), and soon schools put "no zeros" policies in place--because we wouldn't want to discourage any of the kids.
Here's a novel idea: we should let our kids experience hurt.

My kids have fallen and scraped knees. They've been left out at school or not invited to parties. They've earned bad grades for turning in assignments late. They've found out the hard way that not everyone wishes you well when we had to deal with bad neighbors. They've dealt with the deaths of 3 different dogs. They've spent their whole lives with stories of an uncle they'll never meet on this earth. Most recently, my little girl has cried huge crocodile tears over a dying baby goat, one we brought in and bottle fed all weekend because she was born so much smaller and weaker than her twin brother.

And like every parent, it breaks my heart to see my kids hurting. I want to shield them from this world in so many ways because I know how much this world hurts. At the same time, though, I know that what my kids face now will determine who they will become in the future. If I shield them from everything that might hurt them now, they won't know how to deal with those things in the future. What's more, they'll miss out on incredibly important lessons:
  • When you get left out, you learn empathy.
  • When you fall down, you learn to stand back up.
  • When you make a bad grade, you learn to work harder.
  • When you deal with loss, you learn to appreciate those you have and love.
  • When you're let down, you learn to lean on the only One who always stands true.

As parents, we are supposed to protect our children. Most importantly, though, we are supposed to teach our children. Some of those lessons are wonderful: we get to teach them the beauty of the mountains, the peacefulness of the country, the magnificence of the ocean, the joy of laughing so much your stomach hurts.

But as much as we would love to focus on the good things and keep them away from the bad things, those hard lessons may just be the most important things we teach our kids. For us, a lot of those hard lessons will be learned on the farm--and for that, I am thankful.

Because, you see, facing hard times can build strong people.

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