Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Pennies on a Tombstone

We visited his grave when we were all together for the holidays. We gathered together, huddled together.

It was the cold that drew out tears and made eyes red. It was. Wasn't it? The blowing, biting wind? The chill of remembered loss?

A nearby tombstone boasted an array of pennies, spread out so you could see them all. So many visitors.

Maybe next time we could pass out tokens before we visit. Not just pennies, though. Not just to say we'd visited, but that we remembered.

Maybe next time we leave Hershey Kisses and sticks of Big Red gum.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hide and Seek

We used to play hide-and-seek-in-the-dark with the whole family, nowhere in the house taken off limits. We found some fantastic hiding places-- like when my dad stashed my youngest sister into the space between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. Or hiding the trash  can somewhere else, and tucking oneself into that cabinet it belonged in. Or just standing so flat and so still between a wall and a door. Or behind a dresser that had just enough space behind it. Or under a bunk bed, pulling everything back into place under the bed behind oneself, careful to breathe quietly.

It sometimes took quite a long time to find each other. On occasion, we've even given up looking, and the hider came out when we all had our eyes closed, and they got to keep that hiding place.

Sometimes, like Adam, we hide from God. (Gen 3:8-10). Perhaps, like Adam and Eve, we hide out of shame, or perhaps there are other reasons. But God loves us and comes lovingly looking for us. And there's no where we can hide that He won't be right there with us. It's like God doesn't understand how hide-and-seek works... how you're supposed to let the little kids think they've got a fantastic spot and wait for them to pop out and scare you.

"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." (Psalm 139:7-12). 

But, do you know what I consider more wonderful than God always finding us? When we seek God, we'll always find Him. God, who created the whole universe, probably knows some pretty epic hiding places. But he doesn't use them. His goal isn't to be undiscovered, as in our little game, but to be found.

"You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD." Jeremiah 29:13-14a.

And God decided that just being found by us wasn't enough. He ruined his best hiding places. He came right to us, right into this world, right into our hearts.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Very Good"

It's hard enough for me to understand that the very creator of the universe, the most perfect and holy being, God Himself, would forgive us of our sins, that he would make a plan to allow us to continue in blessed relationship with Him, but that's not even the extent of God's mercy. 

Not only does God forgive, He redeems. 

He takes what is broken, messed up, and torn, and He makes it into something good. 

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good," (Genesis 50:20a) ESV

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) ESV

After all, God created all the earth and everything in it and surrounding it out of nothing. It would be no small task for Him, King of Kings and Lord of lords, to take something evil, to take a sinful past, to take that which is wrong, and make it, somehow and divinely, into something good. Not only good, but very good.

Connected Quote? How about this one?

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Next Time

So maybe this time you messed up. Maybe this time you missed that opportunity.

What are you going to do next time? Make a plan, make it today.

Once, I heard someone say that living a holy life is just obeying God the next time he prompts. And then the next time, of course, and then the next. But rather than looking at the daunting 'for ever and ever', just focus on being prepared 'next time'.

The plan is the important part. The plan, covered in prayer. Because without a plan, you'll fall into the same things. At least I do. After all, it's easier to do something you've already done than to try something new.

"Fail to plan," they say, "and you plan to fail."

So use the motivation from this missed opportunity, this slip (or jump) into sin, this attitude-- use it for fuel for next time.

Only, don't wait for next time to make that plan.

Connected Quote?

Friday, December 05, 2014

When Business Gets in the Way

A couple weeks ago I had a meeting with one of the parents of a student, but they had to cancel last-minute due to a family emergency. I didn't get any details, just 'family emergency'.

And the next day, when they picked up their child, I asked when they thought we'd be able to reschedule.

About five seconds later I realized that wasn't the right question to ask. I should have asked how they were doing. I should have asked how I could pray for them. Instead, I was so focused on business, on getting things done that I thought were important.
Fast forward to this Wednesday when I left school before lunch feeling terrible and sick and altogether bleh. And Thursday morning, feeling better again, calling students to my desk to recite the week's memory verse.

"Do you know this week's memory verse?" I asked one boy.

"Yes," he said quietly without hesitation, "But I'm just glad you're back."
Sometimes, business can wait. Usually, actually.

People themselves are more important than whatever needs doing.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Autumn. Fall. Any other name, might smell as sweet.

The genuine colors of fall.

Music wafting through the air,  like comfortable and familiar memories.

Books. Books that walk the tightrope between tragic and lovely. Books that open a chasm, a craving for words.

Smooth, rich, sweet honey. Dripping gently, soaking softly, sticking determinedly.

Cider thick with flavor and warmth. Comforting cider on the early-morning drive to work.

Sitting, whispering, talking, giggling with sisters home for a visit.

Autumn, the poetic and sing-song name. Fall, the casual and trite name. Connotation is incredible. Roses might smell the same even if they had an ugly, disagreeable name-- but would we approach them for the smelling?

Cleaning nooks and crannies, diligently. On a mission to avoid grading, avoid bedtime, avoid the busy next day.

But always the brisk air, the sky crowded out by clouds, the leaves cut off from water and falling from the trees. Expendable leaves. Always the sweaters and scarves, the thick leg-warmers and wool socks. Always the ticking of time, the predictable switch of seasons, the patterns. The patterns that, year by year, look a little new and a little familiar.

We know what comes next in this pattern: figid air, snow, Christmas.
But it's not here yet. Don't let this present pattern piece pass before squeezing out every single thing it has to offer.

Don't ignore this autumn.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Using your Eyes

I haven't seen a Blue-jay in months, until the other day. Because I hadin't been looking. Well, now I'm looking.
real-life sunsets

fall-shaped sugar cookies

Doctor Who magnets 

sewing project

a settled morning mist

Saturday, September 20, 2014

An Elijah Complex

Christians who feel like they are all alone in their convictions or their devoutness to God have the Elijah Complex. I've had it before-- and maybe you have, too. Or perhaps, ironically, I am all alone in this.

This Elijah Complex, this sense that you are unique in your level of commitment or concern, is not healthy for the body or for the soul. It leads to discouragement, a mixture of depression and despair, and complaints to others and to God.

Elijah had thought he was alone, too. He complained to God about it: "I've been so devoted to you, God! " I'm paraphrasing. " But these people, they threw you away, and killed everyone who stood up for you. Now there's only me and they're out to get me, too" (1 Kings 19:14/ Romans 11:3). God wasn't too impressed.

Not only is this complex unhealthy, it is a lie.
Sorry: you're not as alone as you feared/hoped.

Take a God-eye view of your situation and realize you are not alone, and be encouraged that God has preserved others, somewhere. In Elijah's time, God had preserved 7,000 others who had stayed devoted. The knowledge that you are not alone, that God has preserved others, even if you never see or meet them, and that he will in fact preserve you, too, leads to determination and endurance.

So don't give up. Listen to God's gentle whisper, and endure with confidence.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


The simple life has its roots in obedience.

Our lives-- at least, my life -- gets chaotic when we pile up clutter. Too many things to do, think about, and fix. Too many irons in the fire, not enough focus. And a lack of obedience to God.

I've posted about obeying immediately, completely, and without complaint before, and I want to take it a step farther because I'm learning that obedience simplifies life.

I tend to try to think things through before I act on what God seems to be telling me to do. I try to think it through, to figure it out, even talk God out of asking me to do something so out of my comfort zone. Some of the time I do obey, and some of the time I miss the opportunity.

This summer I heard a sermon on Luke 17:1-19. This section is divided into four, and I usually read it as such. But this pastor connected the dots, contrasting the disciples with some lepers. See, Jesus tells the disciples to rebuke the brother that sins, forgive the brother that repents, and continue forgiving even if they keep sinning. Their response? "Increase our faith!" or, "I don't know if I can do that!". But when Jesus tells the 10 lepers to go show themselves to the priests, they go. And they still had leprosy when they went. But Jesus told them to do something, so they obeyed, even though it didn't look like it'd work. Yet as they went-- as they obeyed-- they were healed.

Our response to a command from God ought not be to theorize, to justify, to consider how to apply, to marvel at the impossibility of it, but to obey. Anything short of, "Yes, Lord," followed by obedience is disobedience.

And to determine for yourself that you have no alternative to obeying God's commands makes your life incredibly simpler because you know exactly what you're going to do. You don't have to come to each command and determine how exactly and to what extent you're going to obey, you just obey.

Now obeying God sometimes doesn't look like it'll work, or like it's worth it. I'm sure it's going to be difficult in the coming days and years, and many things won't make sense, but I'm determining to obey-- with God's help.

And you know what else? Not only does obedience simplify, it frees. I've heard it before, and experienced it, but I'm looking forward to living it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

I still don't have a teacher's immune system, and other kindergarten observations

The five-year-old and I both have cold-induced headaches. She gets to go home: I get to keep teaching.

There's a lot more to putting a classroom together than bulletin boards, desks arrangements, lesson plans, and welcome notes.

I taught a math-science connection cutting open a peach, an apple, green grapes, and a red pepper. We talked about the seeds being inside, or outside (after I removed them, of course). The grapes happened to be seedless. Oops.

But the next day, a student was cleaning up his lunch and showed me what was in his fist. I let him share with the class. He explained that he was excited when he saw that his mom packed him red grapes and he carefully ate one open and searched for seeds. Which he found. The whole class was enthralled. (Win!)

Teacher's Aides are miracle-workers. They are blessings from God. My aide is the only reason I get half the things done each day. She's also the result of prayer (thanks, everyone who prayed for that last student!)

I hate taking :)s away from students, even though their behavior warrants it. But it makes the day that they keep their smiley ten times better!

I dance a little inside every time the kinders remember how to do a procedure, or return to the classroom quietly, or correctly execute a routine. Yay! They listen!

As I teach kindergartners to print, I'm getting extra practice, too. I write notes on their printing practice extra slow and neat, because it just wouldn't be right to use my 'normal' chicken scratch...

I really need to finish this Sub- Binder, in case this cold escalates...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Spiritual Growth

Take a look at Moses in Exodus 3: 6

And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

and 3:12-13

Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak." But he said, "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else."

Now look at Exodus 33:15, 18

And he said to him, "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here"... Moses said, "Please show me your glory."

And be inspired.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vain Repetitions

Back in high school I had to get this blood test where, over a few hours, the nurses drew samples of blood. In between the pokes-and-sticks I had to sit in the waiting room, with not much to do besides think about it. My mom was there and we played some card games while we waited, but all the while I was distracted by the upcoming punctures.

To try to get my mind off the inevitable, I recited to myself a verse I had picked out that morning. Over and over I recited it, trying to calm myself. My mom wasn't too eager about the verse I'd picked-- she thought it would have been better for me to pick something more... positive. But to this day I can still recite it: "He is not afraid of bad news, his heart is firm trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady, he will not be afraid," Psalm 112:7-8a. (Perhaps she was right.)

I'm not sure how much it helped. Yes, it gave me something to focus on besides the repeated tests, but, if I remember rightly, I was still pretty nervous and, well, 'afraid of bad news'. I tried reciting the verse to help me pretend this scary thing wasn't really happening at all.

So, when I had to get two cavities filled yesterday-- novacaine included-- and I started getting nervous, I picked another verse to memorize and recite to myself. This time it was Romans 1:16. I know think it starts, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the ___ of God..." but I never quite got around to finishing it.

See, before they gave me that dreaded shot, the nurse said something. It probably wouldn't have meant anything to you, just as she probably had no idea it would mean so much to me, so I'll keep that part a secret. Suffice it to say, she said 'something' that reminded me that God loves me, cares for me, and is right there with me.

And suddenly my desire to memorize and recite Romans 1:16 to help me through the moment dissolved. *poof*: gone. Suddenly, I just wanted to talk to God. The doctor and nurse left for a moment to let the numbing medicine settle, and I was left in the room with a big smile on my half- numbed face, looking out the window and praising God. And suddenly I wasn't as concerned about the whole process. I admit it, I was still a little nervous, especially when they had to give me another shot for the second filling, but immediately I ran to Yahweh and found rest.

I'd been trying to get away with turning to God's word rather than God himself. It reminds me a bit of Jeremiah 2:12-13, "Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold not water."

We don't need to use supplements when we can go straight to God.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Time Counts

I've had a few days home alone recently that left substantial time for thinking.

And here's what I think:

We need to be intentional. I need to purposefully spend time with my friends and family, not living alongside them but hardly interacting. I ought to more frequently initiate conversations, get to know them better, and do things together we both/all enjoy. No more of this being near each other but not being present with each other. No more 'ships passing through the night', or wasted time. We need to make the time count.

We need to be intentional. Not just when I'm around people, but when I've got time alone. If I don't stay focused and have purpose, suddenly all that time has slipped away on Netflix, books, sleeping, or even Solitaire. Moderation. Sure, spend some time on these luxuries, but don't get caught up in them. I ought to simplify, and do things on purpose. We need to make the time count.

Everything happens in a moment, even if it was built up to through many moments.

What are you doing with your moments?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

When the Marvelous Becomes Commonplace

That first bald eagle we spotted after landing in Alaska sent us rapidly rummaging for our cameras. We clicked away, capturing every angle and not wanting to miss a shot. We'd stopped walking, the whole family standing on the sidewalk gaping and capturing the moment. Eventually it swooped away, and we recommenced our journey.

Then, we saw another bald eagle! We hurried for those cameras, marveling at our luck-- two bald eagles, in one day.

It did not take long for us to realize that bald eagles are not as rare in Alaska as they are in Illinois. After just a few days we could pick out the newly-arrived tourists, gawking at those overhead eagles. But, more experienced, we didn't do that anymore. After just a couple days we had stopped pointing them out. We expected to see them, and hardly reacted when we did.

Those first times God answers our prayers, we marvel. We excitedly write about it, and tell people about it. But as we get more accustomed to meeting with God and seeing Him intervene in our lives we begin to take Him for granted. Sometimes we even fail to see Him working at all because we're so used to it.

There is a balance in praying in faith, without doubt, expecting God to answer, and worshiping him in reverent wonder when he does. But it is an important balance, one that we ought to pray that God cultivate in us as we take intentional steps (like keeping a prayer journal, and sharing answers to prayer with friends and family) to make sure this marvelous intervention on God's part never seems commonplace.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The Mysterious Affair at Styles~ Agatha Christie

It's the middle of World War 1 and Hastings has been sent home on sick leave. He is staying with an old friend, John Cavendish, at John's step-mother's estate: Styles. 

After several weeks, they are all woken up to find that Mrs. Inglethorp is dying, having been poisoned. They might not have gotten to the bottom of the poisoning if Hercule Poirot had not been in town. Emily herself had helped him and several other Belgian refugees to safety, and they were living nearby. Poirot feels indebted to her, and is determined to find the murderer... but it could have been anyone...

Emily Inglethorp herself, a wealthy old woman and the mistress of styles.
Alfred Inglethorp, her much younger new husband.
John Cavendish, her elder stepson who still lives at Styles because Emily does not give him and his wife a large enough allowance to live anywhere on their own.
Mary Cavendish, John's wife who seems to be hiding something.
Lawrence Cavendish, John's younger brother who, for some reason, keeps insisting the death was natural?
Evelyn Howard, Emily's companion who packs her bags and leaves in a huff because of an argument with Emily about Alfred Inglethorp.
Cynthia Murdoch, the orphan who lives with Emily and is consistently reminded of her dependency.
Dr. Bauerstein, a suspicious doctor who studies poisons and has become a friend of Mary Cavendish.
Dorcas, a maid a Styles.

Hercule Poirot and Hastings try to solve the murder, Poirot constantly reeling in Hastings who keeps jumping to conclusions. The clues are fed, one by one, and it's quite a feat to piece them together. Of course, as I expect when I read an Agatha Christie, I had many theories over the course of the novel, but none of them were quite right. I was astonished when the murderer was revealed, and, of course, felt like I ought to have figured it out. 

I had fun with this one, reading it out loud to my Grandma. There was a teeny bit of language, which I skipped over. I enjoyed making up a Belgian accent for Poirot, to make it easier to tell the characters apart when they were speaking, since speaking tags (said Poirot, said Hastings, said Cynthia etc) were not always used. It would have been easy enough reading it to myself, but in the event of a read aloud those things get muddled. There is a map of the house and of the crime-scene in the book, which helped clarify a few details. (Note: the poison noted repeatedly is strychnine. After a meadly of attempts at pronunciation, I asked Grandma if she knew, and she said, "oh! That's what you've been trying to say? It's Strick-nine." Well, it seems obvious now, but I'd had no idea, before). Grandma and I each shared a few suspicions and drew attention to clues and facts that we thought were important, and when the murderer was revealed we were a little disappointed we hadn't figured it out ourselves.  

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie is recommend for those who enjoy reading mysteries, other Agatha Christies, those who enjoy figuring things out, and readers who like historical fiction especially ones set during World War 1.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why I Love Thunderstorms:

Photo of lightening over Magician Lake, in MI. Taken by Ruth Irons
In his old age, king David reflected on how God had rescued him time and time again, and he used the imagery of a thunderstorm to try to explain how God heard his prayers and came to save him, stopping at nothing.

 There are so many things I appreciate about this poem (while the whole passage is a favorite, I underlined parts that stick out to me), but I particularly appreciate how, now, every thunderstorm I experience is a reminder of God's concern, power, and determination to rescue me (us).

It's recorded both in 2 Samuel and in Psalms (with slight variations).
Below is the one from 2 Samuel. It's chapter 22 and verses 7-20 to be precise.

In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I called. 
From his temple he heard my voice, 
and my cry came to his ears. 

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations of the heavens trembled
and quaked, because he was angry. 
Smoke went up from his nostrils, 
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him. 
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet. 
He rode on a cherub and flew;
he was seen on the wings of the wind. 
He made darkness around him his canopy, 
thick clouds, a gathering of water. 
Out of the brightness before him
coals of fire flamed forth. 
The LORD thundered from heaven,
and the Most High uttered his voice. 
And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
lightning, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen;
the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the LORD, 
at the blast of the breath of his nostrils. 

He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy,
from those who hated me, 
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the LORD was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On Dangerous Prayers

We caution each other about our prayers with annoying regularity.

"Ooh," we warn, "that's a dangerous thing to pray."

"Careful what you pray for," we urge. 

I think it's half a joke. Or at least, I hope it is. We call them dangerous prayers because of our confidence that God will answer.

God might actually send you opportunities to be his ambassador.

God might actually teach you patience, or joy.

Or, *gasp* give you vision for your life, your family, or your church.

There are countless examples of prayers whose answers would take us out of our comfort zone and change us.

Careful, we prompt.

That's dangerous, we say.


Instead : "That's a dangerous thing not to pray.", "Careful, make sure you're praying for that."

Rather than cautioning, I believe we ought to start encouraging each other in this.

Encourage these prayers with annoying regularity.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The clouds are resting on air, and have flat bottoms like mashed potatoes on a glass tabletop.

The groaning honk of a goose dissolving into the air above the pond.

Decisions are not inherently good or bad; they either pan out the way we expected or they don't.

My computer crashed-- to the ground. It makes progress on novels and editing cousin camp movies rather impossible.

The Bible does not come alive when you read it, but when you apply it. God does not seem real when you read about His character, but when you experience what you have read about.

Do we like the season of summer itself, or the things summertime allows?

"Empty chairs at empty tables."

Strawberries are sweeter when fresh.
Homemade bread turned buttered toast.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Passing Time with a Time Lord

I used to waste hour upon hour of long car-trips. Since I can't spend the time reading, writing or drawing due to motion sickness, I used to just sit there, listen to music, or try to strike up a conversation.

Recently, I remembered audio books, and it helped solve my problem. Now, I can listen to a book while along for a ride in a car trip. I've learned not to do this while driving, though, since I get awfully distracted.

I've listened to many kinds of books, often from my library's website. Sometimes fiction, sometimes nonfiction, sometimes sermons. The past few have been incredibly exciting to me: Doctor Who episodes! Apparently, they made audiobook adventures on top of the TV episodes.

And, they are read by the Doctor in the story!

The Jade Pyramid- Martin Day (Read by Matt Smith)

The Doctor and Amy Pond go to medieval Japan in response to a distress call. The tribal leader takes them to the temple, where the Doctor and Amy think the distress call is coming from. The Emperor of Japan knows there's something powerful there, too, and sends some Samurai to bring it back to him. Some people in the tribe want to resist, some want to comply, and the Doctor wants to find out what the distress signal was about.

This episode was decent. Being the first episode I listened to, it was very novel to me and I couldn't get over the fact that they actually had Matt Smith read it. Although I can't remember anything particularly unbelievable (for a Doctor Who adventure) it just wasn't one of the better ones that were able to suspend my unbelief.

Pest Control- Peter Anghelides (Read by David Tennant) 

The Doctor and Donna Noble are on a different planet in the middle of a war between two races, the TARDIS gets whisked off, and there are giant bugs. Then, a giant robot shows up having a sole purpose of destroying the bugs (and anything that gets in the way). Not interesting enough? Well, something might be turning the people into the bugs, and Donna might be next.

Somehow, putting radically impossible events like this on another planet makes it ok. I didn't particularly like the episode, but that might be because I've never really been a fan of Donna Noble.

Dead Air- James Goss (Read by David Tennant)

A recording of the Doctor's voice is found on the wreckage of pirate DJs from 1966. It starts, "Hello, I'm the Doctor. And, if you can hear this, one of us is going to die." He had tracked a weapon called the Hush to the floating radio station, and enlisted the 3 DJs on board to help him trap and destroy the Hush before it can escape the boat and destroy everything on earth that makes noise.

This was by-far the best. It was presented as an audio-recording so it made perfect sense that I would be listening to it. I loved this episode, and I've been on a sort of quest to find one just as involving, creative, and hard-to-push-pause.

Do you listen to Audio Books? Do you watch Doctor Who? Tell me about it below!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I don't have a testimony.

I was raised by loving Christian parents in the suburbs. I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 6 years old. I went to summer church camp every year, I loved putting my quarter in the offering plate, and once I even wrote a letter to a neighbor friend telling her about Jesus.

I was fairly convinced I didn't have a testimony.

After all, as everyone knows, your testimony is when you tell a non-Christian what you were like before Jesus, how you met Jesus, and how your life has changed since then. At least, that's the impression I got.

And that may work for some people, but what if you're only six when you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and, because you've been trained in godliness for ever so long, things on the outside don't look that different. What then? And on top of it, what if you've never really had a rebellious spirit? What if, generally speaking, you've been faithful as long as you can remember?

Ah yes, what then.

Of course I could gush to non-Christians about how God has saved me and freed me from this sin or that thought process or those attitudes, but I don't quite think that's the end of it.

See, a testimony is when a witness shares their experiences. They don't tell their Life Story, they tell about their personal experiences related to the Question at Hand.

This week I've decided to change my personal definition of a Testimony. Maybe I don't have a 'traditionally' exciting testimony committing every sin Paul identifies and more, but I do have an exciting testimony. I've seen God come through countless times.

There was the time I lost my dorm key, and God continued to provide a way into the building (God provides).
There was the time I was still looking for a teaching job, mid September, and God provided the perfect opportunity for me (God is never too late).
There was the time I was struggling with resenting another person, and God brought me to the a passage in the Bible that challenged that attitude and helped restore the relationship (God cares; God knows; God transforms)
There was the time I only got four and a half hours of sleep (I don't know about you, but for me, is very little. I try to shoot for at least three more hours than that.), and God gave me stamina the next day at work, and kept me alert (God supplies all our needs).

And so on.

But do you know what else I realized? It's not just about telling non-Christians how God has revealed his character personally to you; we should also tell our Christian friends. What encouragement to hear how God is living and active in the lives of people you know!

So, yes, you do have a testimony. Maybe you have one about your initially being saved, but I certainly hope that wasn't the last time you saw God move in your life! Pray that God would open your eyes to how he is working.

And when you see it, tell someone.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

On Poisonous Lotion

Back in December, one of the gifts I received from a student was a wonderful orange-ginger lotion.

I would use it every once in a while, and I would notice a red, itchy patch on my hands. But it wasn't too irritating, and I wasn't certain they were connected, so I ignored it. After applying it, I would absently scratch the red spot, too busy to take any real notice.

Finally I read the ingredients. And what do you know? Buried in the list of sweet smells, nourishing aloe juices and other goodies was some sort of hydrated milk protein.

And I'm allergic to milk. No wonder I had red, itchy spots.

I did not apply it again once I realized what it really was: poison to me.

Thankfully, there was an easy solution: I got rid of the poisonous lotion (it has a happy new home with my mom - who is NOT allergic to milk)


Sins tend to sneak up on me the same way.

Maybe it was a gift- a good intentioned gift. Maybe it was just packaged nicely.
Maybe I'm too busy to notice what happening.

Maybe I decide it can't be that bad-- after all, there's only a little; it's not all poisonous.

But sooner or later the poisonous qualities show through. The side-effects.

Once you recognize the toxicity it has towards your relationship with God and others, don't foolishly keep living that way.

Get rid of the poison, whatever form it takes.

Even if you're the only one tossing it. 

Even if it's okay for others to keep it. 

Are YOU going to get rid of the 'poisonous lotion', or keep applying it?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Shadow Watchers

The radio was telling me this week about those in New York who are upset about shadows. (read more here)

Developers are building very tall, and thin, skyscrapers, which are casting shadows on the public parks.

And while the shadows don't last very long, since the skyscrapers are so slender, some are concerned about what will happen to the plants and animals over time.

Good question.

God calls us to live without certain behaviors and attitudes in our lives. But maybe you think they aren't that big of a deal. They seem so small- so slim. Maybe you're rolling your eyes at the fuss everyone is making over this little shadow over your spiritual life.

Have you thought about the long-term effects as much as these irate citizens and park-goers? It may not seem like that big of a problem right now, but down the road of time they might cause quite a dilemma.

Maybe we should be a bit more concerned about the shadows in our lives.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Does This Job Make Me Look Fat?

Really, I'm convinced it does.

When I tell people about my job, and the different things I've done and grades I've subbed in and the responsibilities I've had, they usually respond with,

"That's good experience to have under you belt."

And I've grown a lot as a person and an educator since taking this job as a teacher's aide, and the experiences have been exceptional. I've just been storing them on paper and in my memory, not under my belt.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Do as I Say

Am I a hypocrite?

I expect the second graders to not fidget and listen with focus to lessons and read all the directions all the time.

I talk to them about their disrespectful, prideful acceptance of rewards, and remind them that it's an issue of the heart. I speak to the ones who seemed to receive their awards respectfully and humbly and suggested they spend some time talking with God and making sure they were not hiding pride in their hearts or thinking they received that award out of their own strength.

I talk about prayer, and how wonderful and important and potent it is and realize as I'm getting ready for bed that I hadn't kept God at the forefront of my day, and I hadn't asked him how I should serve or act, and I hadn't maintained a conversation with him.

I don't sit still when I listen.

I skip the directions.

I don't examine the pride in my own heart.

But, just like the second graders, I'm learning.

Let's not judge works in progress.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Every day.
Every day, he waits.
When the other second graders pack up their backpacks and put on their coats and wait impatiently to be picked up at the end of the day, he does, too.

Except most days, he doesn't get picked up right when school is out. Since his parents both work, he goes to the After Care program-- three or four of my students do. Maybe once a week this boy gets picked up right at the end of the day.

But every day, he puts his coat on and waits expectantly.

"Miss DeVries-- have you seen my dad yet?" He exclaims, a grin plastered on his face.
"No, but you'll be the first one I tell when I see him coming," I confide.

"Are you sure you haven't seen him yet?" He presses, after a few minutes.
"I'm sure."
"Okay," he says, some days he turns away saddened, but most days he bounces exuberantly back to his seat.

Every day he waits expectantly, prepared.

If it were me, I'd probably not put the coat on. We have heat in the building, after all, and it's got to get hot and stuffy sitting there wearing a winter coat for fifteen minutes or more.

And that's the problem. I tend to have that approach to my spiritual life, too.

Don't get tired of waiting on the Lord, brothers and sisters. Wait upon the Lord, even when it seems like he's not going to show up.

Because, I've got to tell you, the days I shake my head at him sadly and wonder when he'll give up-- those are the days his dad picks him up right at the end of the day, and that little boy's face lights up as he rushes out, calling 'Daddy! You came! I knew you'd come!".

Have confidence in our God, wait upon the Lord, and let yourself be delighted when he shows up.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

And God Knew.

"And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel -- and God knew." Exodus 2:24-25

In the midst of Israel's slavery in Egypt, God heard their groaning. God saw them, and he knew what was going on.

And he already had a plan.

This verse is put in the story after Moses was born, after he was prince of Egypt, after he had murdered a man and fled, after he had married Zippora, and, even, after he had had a son.

No one IN the plan knew yet, including Moses himself, but God had positioned Moses.

He had a rescue plan in motion.

God hears your groaning. He sees you, whatever you're going through. And God knows.

Friend, do not despair. God knows.
And he's got a plan.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Neighbors and Vines

Romans 12 says to let brotherly love be genuine.
Well, that's easy enough with my friends, isn't it? When I love the people that are easy to love and who love me back...
But God didn't leave it at 'let love be genuine'.
God said to love our neighbors. Not the person living next door, but the person-- whoever they are-- who needs forgiveness, or who needs mercy or help.

Well, that narrows it down, doesn't it?

We're supposed to love everyone, then. And we're supposed to love them genuinely.
And that means sacrificial love.
Sacrificial love for people who, in our flesh, we might not really like.
But they are God's children, whether they acknowledge it or not, and God loves them.
And we're supposed to be the extension of that love.

Which is a good thing. A really, really good thing.
Because I can't sacrificially, genuinely love my friends all the time, much less people I find hard to love.
"Good news?" you say. Yes, good news.

Because if I'm the extension, I'm not the source.

He is the vine, I am the branches.
God is the source of that love, and in order for me to sacrificially, genuinely love My Neighbor I need to be tapped into him. Sacrificial, genuine love isn't easy. It takes energy and effort. And an act of God, literally.

God showed us how much he loved us. He did not decide to play it safe and enjoy heaven but to come to earth and live life with us. And let us kill him. He died for us, and in so doing saved us from ourselves and our inadequacies.

God died for you.

God loves you.

And now God wants you to share that love with Your Neighbor.
To share it with anyone who needs forgiveness, mercy or help.

And the only way you can do that is by staying connected to the source of all forgiveness, mercy, help and love-- God himself.

Let love be genuine.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Once, God had a Problem

Imagine a courtroom, it is huge and has dark beams showing in the walls, intricate vent covers and the judge sits behind a high, mahogany desk. Now add all the people (you may need to imagine a bigger room)- add people of all ages from all walks of life, all times in history and every country under the sun. Now add the stench of all those people, nervously waiting together.

You're in this courtroom, too. You are the defendant.

There's a bad taste in your mouth and your head seems to spin and your eyes can't focus. The judge has just given the verdict: guilty.

Penalty? Death.

You stumble out of your seat to take your place in line with all the others who have been found guilty. Your insides feel splintered, and you see the same brokenness in the faces around you. 

Imagine the Judge, God, looking around the massive room at all the people condemned to die, imagine the distraught look on his face, the pain, as he realizes the problem. He deeply loved everyone in that room, having breathed life into them himself. Not only that, he had a covenant with them. But they had each broken the law, at varying degrees, and must be condemned to death. And God's judgment was Just.

But God isn't only Just.
He fixes things. He overflows with loving-mercy.

So God created a plan where he himself would take the penalty for all those people, including you, a plan where he would die in their place, return to life, and invite them to live life with him, forever.

Once, God solved the problem.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I'm A Good Person

We tell the students to 'be nice', and remind them what we're learning in Bible class about being friends. Being kind, being loyal... acting like the Bible tells you to.

But that's not enough, is it?

Being a good person isn't enough. You- we- I still fall short of the glory of God and his righteous requirements.

Learning what the Bible says and obeying its Directions On Living is the beginning-- but it's not an end. It's not enough.

We need to obey, yes, but our heart has to be in the right place. Remember-- God looks at the heart, at your intentions. Are you being moral to please people? To make people stop lecturing you? Because you know it's right? Because being moral is good? Or, are you acting the way the Bible directs because you want to worship God and glorify him?

At some point you realize you can't do it on your own. You realize there are people that push your buttons, but you still have to be nice. There are times when you want to keep the whole slice of cake for yourself, but you know you should share it. There are times you want to complain or gossip or whine, yet you should still control your tongue.

LORD, have mercy.

Little-human-me isn't strong enough to make these selfless, sacrificial, God-honoring decisions moment after moment after moment. It's frustrating and infuriating and makes me feel like I'm burning out.

Hopefully you don't have to get to that point before you know what to do.

Pray. Ask God to help you, to continue to train you, to give you the guard over your mouth that you need and all the other fruit of the Spirit.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Naming Crayons

The kindergarteners sometimes have trouble finding the crayon color they're asked to find. Now that they know how to read, it's no longer good enough to identify a crayon by its color, they want to read the color. 

And whoever named those colors wasn't doing kindergarteners a favor. I spent several minutes telling students if their crayon 'counted' for blue, or yellow, or brown. 

It got me thinking-- if, someday, a Christian decided to make their own brand of crayons, and name them accordingly, what would they be called? To amuse myself, I came up with some...

Burning Bush? That'd be orange. 
Manger Hay? Yellow. 
Jordan River? It could be a blue crayon-- or a brown one. 
Light On A Hill? Another shade of yellow, of course. 
Gideon's Fleece? White
Alter Stones? Gray.
Jesus' Blood? Red. 
Blood of the Martyrs (this you probably wouldn't put in the package for Kindergarteners...) Red.
Green Pastures-- green. 
Still Waters? Dark blue. 
The Fine Linen of the Woman Who Fears the LORD? Purple. 
A Time To Love? I'm going with Pink...
Wiseman's/Magi's Gold? Gold- the kind that looks metallic. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp

I've heard that creative people are crazy-- eccentric. I've heard that they get carried away with their projects, are tortured artists and in the end they mess up their lives.

Maybe I read too much fiction.

I'm not sure what to do with that assumption about the person whose livelihood comes from their creativity, not now that I've read Twyla Tharp's book "The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life." 

I saw a bit of that strangeness in Twyla through her book and at times it caught me quite off-guard. On the other hand, I was inspired. Don't worry- I most likely wont take the 'tortured artist' route in life. However, I was reminded at length that creativity doesn't just happen, you have to work with it.

Most of Twyla's examples had to do with ballet, since that's her career, but she often made connections for other types of Creatives. For myself, I was reading for ideas on writing, drawing and painting.

What did I come away with? In the case of writing, I was reminded, at length, that a book won't write itself. And it's much, much more than typing words into a document and sending your first thoughts away to a publisher. It's not all fun and games, but having a love for writing sure helps. I'ts like Hemingway said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

Essentially, Twyla Tharp convinces her reader that if they want to be creative, they have to make it a habit. With the bait established, then, you can tap into the ideas when you want or need them.

I mentioned being inspired. Let me explain: I've tried getting up earlier to do writing exercises and such. I was even using some of the examples and suggestions Twyla Tharp's book is peppered with.

Creative habits are harder than they sound.

And I still haven't gotten around to filling more pages in my writers journal.

But I'm going to keep trying.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Certain July 15th

I used to keep a writers journal.

If I had my way, I would still keep a writers journal, but it is much harder to find time to jot down ideas than you might think.

I enjoy going back and reading old entries, though. They're full of
Snippets of things I've seen or imagined.
Thoughts about plots.
Thoughts about books that I've read than can be applied to books I want to write.

I can never seem
to convince myself to write each day. I'm too busy, too tired, too comfortable with everything I've seen that I don't feel like describing it.

But when I do, sometimes they turn out well.
Like this one:

Monday, July 15th

A dark orange fence, a stained-wood color, with lumps of healthy ivy toppling onto the street side, nearly to the grass. 
Older Brother Complex- protect, defend, control
Older Sister Complex- logic, sense, mothering, guide

Powdery snow looks like a flour coating. 
The villain makes promises and they are empty, merely bait. 

For a long time ,it seems as if evil will win. It seems as if good has no hope of survival and the world will be overtaken with blackness and despair. At this point, many desert to save themselves. The good who still stand against the evil may not have hope of winning. They fight and stand on the principle of the matter, accepting they may be silenced, imprisoned, killed. But they will not defect. 

When you see the size and strength of the approaching enemy and your eyes widen, your stomach sinks, but somehow your heart hardens and your resolve rises. 
Yellow: the color on the evergreen shrub in the sunlight. The color of the stripes in a Tiger Lilly flower. Of the slides at Northview Park, the stripe on the flag, the title of the book. 

I should have learned it by now: Hard work now pays off later. You might not want to do it, but you should. That's what I learned, looking back on that certain July 15th and my reflections.

Be diligent. It pays off.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

When Practice Doesn't Make Perfect.

They say that when you practice, you'll become perfect. 

I haven't found this to be true. 

Once, I was practicing a song on the piano. I can't read notes and I don't know which keys are which, but I wanted to learn a particular song so I tried. I agonized over the notes, counting up and down the lines and spaces, running through the alphabet. Then, I pecked the keys trying to get the piano to sound like the song. 

I thought I was doing marvelously! 

Then my sister, who does know piano, and how to read notes, and which keys are which, came over to me. 

"Want help?" she asked. 

"What's that supposed to me?" I scoffed.

"It doesn't sound right." 

"It does too. Leave me alone, I'm practicing."

She wouldn't go. "Play it again," she said. She watched my hands and glanced up at my sheet music as I played. "You're supposed to play a flat for all those notes."

"A what?"

"The black key. That's what that symbol at the beginning of the song means."
I tried it her way, and it worked. But I'd practiced it so many times the wrong way it took a very long time to unlearn what I'd practiced. 

So, you've got to practice right to get better. 

There was a golfer named Ben Hogan. I don't know much about him, except that he was quoted in a book I'm reading as saying, "Every day you don't practice you're one day further from being good." He doesn't say 'you're one day further from being perfect," but "one day further from being GOOD."

And we've got to start somewhere! 
So start by practicing right. Not to become perfect, but to become better. To become good. 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Take Solomon's Word For It

Have you ever received something worth more than gold and silver, without even asking for it? 

Proverbs claims that Wisdom is more valuable than gold.

Why so valuable? Proverbs (again.) promises that Wisdom will protect us (help us make good decisions) and honor us (help others make good decisions). And all it takes is being wise? 'Well', I thought. 'Sign me up for this!'

But, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Wisdom is not one of those valuable things you are given, without even asking for it. 

It takes work. 

Solomon asked for Wisdom, and God gave it to him, yet even for him it wasn't that easy. 

God gave him Wisdom, but Ecclesiastes shows us that quite a lot of it came from experience. In Proverbs, our dear friend Solomon says you have to get it.

He doesn't say hope for Wisdom. 
He doesn't say ask for Wisdom. 
He doesn't say wait for Wisdom. 

Solomon advises us to get Wisdom. 

He tells us to be active about it, not passive.

You have to work for Wisdom. 
And then you have to work to keep her. 

Solomon tells us Wisdom will protect and watch over us-- if we do not forsake her and if we love her (Proverbs 4:6). She will exalt and honor us-- if we cherish and embrace her (Proverbs 4:8 emphasis mine)

These (not forsake, love, cherish, embrace) are things that take effort. 

I used to avoid hard work, inventing all sorts of excuses. But a couple of years ago I realized that hard work is rewarding. There is nothing quite like a satisfied exhaustion. When you know you worked hard and accomplished a lot and are very tired now, but you have confidence that your work was very purposeful. 

Working for Wisdom is like that-- hard work, but satisfying. 

Thursday, January 02, 2014

You Just Can't Compare Them

One day, several years ago, I brought plain paper to the art museum. In the past I had been content gazing at the masterpieces, but today I was eager to capture them myself. I sat myself down on a bench in front of Degas' Ballet Dancers and just looking at it I knew I wouldn't sketch the whole thing. So I focused just on one dancer hoping to make the ballerina on my page a replica of the one Degas had immortalized in paint.

As you can see from the picture I dug out just for you, things didn't go so well. Sure, it's a ballerina, but it isn't even comparable to what inspired it. I couldn't find the exact painting, but this is one that would be similar.

What we humans do compared to what God does is similar to me trying to copy a great painter. Look at the contrast between these two verses:

"Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun."


"And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good."

Now, it doesn't take an expert to realize that 'very good' and 'a striving after wind' are different.

God does things differently than we do, and although what he does may seem bizarre (for example 'instead of attacking that city, march around it without talking.') but I have to admit God's way ends up working while my way doesn't.

We've often got very different ideas about how to get the same result.

And from my experience, and hearing about the experiences of others, I'm going to trust God's way not my own.