Thursday, October 31, 2013

Childlike Dependence

Us grown-ups are dependent on God. We just don't acknowledge it because we don't like to be reminded of what is out of our control, and our weaknesses.

We started out like dependent children (dependent on others for literally everything), but gradually we learned to do everything for ourselves, and it seems so pathetic, now, and weak to be dependent on anyone, even God. Paul saw that, too, when he realized God's power was "made perfect" in his weakness-- because then everything points to God.

Too often I find myself trying to live independent of God. And get this-- I get into the mindset that he wants me to. But as I read my Bible I realize he doesn't.

Nope: God wants us to acknowledge our dependence on him. He's the one who sends rain. He's the one who sends us blessings. He's the one that provides for us. And if you just take a moment to read about the life God wants us to lead, (1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, for example) you'll soon realize you can't.

You can't.

You just plain can't. But don't give up. That's the whole point. Paul even says so in the next verses (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)!

Later, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells Christians that we can't be saved by our works (because our lives are never good enough), only by Jesus' love-sacrifice on the cross (because his life was).

Usually, Christians get that. But then, as they live life, they forget. The Galatians did this, too. Paul speaks pretty harshly to them "You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?... Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?" (Galatians 3:1a, 3).

Once they became Christians by faith they started trying to live on their own means, not relying on the Spirit, on God.

The second graders come to me at lunch with water bottles, fruit cups and well-closed Tupperware. They just look up at me and hold out their food. So I stop my own eating, take up their problematic lunch portion and open it. Once, I asked one of the 'regulars' if she'd even tried to open her water bottle and she just looked up at me, almost amused, and her 'no' came out half-laugh. Now, I'm all for second graders learning to open their waters and tie their own shoes, but can you imagine if we came to God like that? Without first trying to solve the problems ourselves?

They are dependant. And they know it. 

"If you're happy dependent and you know it clap your hands pray to God. If you're dependent and you know it pray to God. If you're dependent and you know it then your prayers will surely show it, if you're dependent and you know it pray to God."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How Seven-Year-Olds Pray

It's a breathtaking, head-shaking wonder when students become teachers. Even more so when they don't even realize it.

Every two weeks a new student gets the 'job' of praying before snack, lunch and at the end of the day. I am blown away when I hear the prayers of these second graders, and I've begun to learn how childlike praying looks.

When they share prayer requests and praise reports in the morning, it often turns into plain-old sharing. There isn't really a request or a praise involved, if you know what I mean. And honestly, at first it bothered me. I wanted to get on with the business of praying. And then one day I had an epiphany-- all too often in my own prayer life I am trying to do business, and not sitting with God and sharing life with him, like these little children do.

A few of the students pray scripture. Let me tell you, your heart does a sort of flip-flop when it hears a seven year old say, "God, please help us today to not turn to the right or to the left. Help us stay focused on our schoolwork, and on you, and to be kind to each other." Wow. They may not know many scriptures, but they make use of the ones they know. What if us knowledgeable, capable grownups took the word of God more seriously, like these little children do, and believed it to the point of praying it over ourselves, our coworkers, our friends?

They pray over things so small they seem inconsequential, and then turn around and pray about things that seem insurmountable. Both are examples of huge faith. They are signs of the little children acknowledging their dependance on God, their trust he hears them through Jesus, and their confidence in his character. They realize nothing is too small for God, nor to big. The catch is, as seven-year-olds, they haven't learned to be independent like the rest of us. They know nothing but dependance, and their prayers show it.

And the beautiful thing is, even us grownups can learn to pray like Little Children again.

"Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:4 (read the story here)

What prayers have you heard Little Children pray that amazed you?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things Kids Say

Kids don't think they're kids anymore. Eight-year-olds start stories with, "When I was a kid...", and I have to turn my face to hide my snicker. They may not always act as old as they build themselves up to be, but they want to. They dress up in their parent's clothes and tell stories about when they were kids and don't appreciate being treated like kids, or being babied. There is something about adulthood they like, from afar, and they yearn for. 

One day, not too long ago, I was in charge of a group of kids. A few of them were playing Store, as nearly all kids have at one time, and one seven-year-old in particular kept trying to move too fast.The poor kid wasn't watching where he was going, and tripped over chairs and toys.Finally, I stopped him. I said his name in that warning tone I've begun to master, and informed him that he wouldn't trip so much if he moved slower.

 "Mrs. DeVries," he said (the kids have married me off-- I've stopped correcting them because saying, "Miss DeVries" to them makes them think about what they call me and then they forget what their questions were), so "Mrs. DeVries," he assured me with a huge smile on his face, "don't worry about me. I'm a man. I'll be okay."

Thursday, October 10, 2013


I love words. I like combining them to voice thoughts and ideas, finding words with just the right sounds to fit the mood of the topic. Words are meaningful because they impart meaning. These shapes and symbols we have given meaning, sound and purpose to evoke a message and bring images to our minds and spur us to more thoughts of our own.

Words impact me.  When I read words, strung together by an author with craft and intentionality, I pause  in admiration at the skill and the effectiveness in relaying the thought. I keep them nearby to be reminded how someone else phrased something. I have them on my walls, and in binders, and saved in documents. I collect words, and quotes.

Mostly the quotes are about the Christian life. "The brutal, soul-shaking truth is that we are so earthly minded we are of no heavenly use." Leonard Ravenhill.

A good chunk of those quotes are on prayer. "The great souls who became mighty in prayer, and rejoiced to spend three and four hours alone with God, were once beginners." Samuel Chadwick

Several speak about the way life is. "Any idiot can face a crisis. It's the day to day living that wears you out." Chekov

Some are just amusing. "Small choice in rotten apples." Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew)

A few are about words themselves. "To find your own writing style, you have to understand and love language. You have to read, listen to, and obsess over words, syllables, vowels, phrases, short and long sentences, the timing of periods, and endless other details." Becky Broadway & Doug Hesse

Words take time. Time to find, use and rearrange. Time to read and soak up. Time to record and remember. You can't slop them together and expect them to resonate the same way. And how unfeeling to gloss over all the hard work of others.

So I collect quotes. And I write.

But I found Philippians 3:8-9 this week, and I'm having trouble coping.

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For this sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness form God that depends on faith."

Now, what am I supposed to do with that?

Count everything -- even literacy-- as loss because it's more worthy to spend my time getting to know Christ Jesus my Lord? Surrender the time spent reading and writing and obsessing over words to the more worthy cause of gaining Christ and being found in him?

(It's true that I'd survive just fine without reading. It's also true that the world doesn't need another book. It already has over 22 million.)

God, give me grace, because I don't know if I'm ready.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Books Start as Ideas

Joseph Bruchac has written more than 120 books for children, adults and teens. He was written fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Nearly, if not all, of them are about Native Americans, or are retellings of Native American stories. Becoming the author of such a wide variety of stories is not a simple task, and Bruchac's secret might be his dedication to his ideas.

When the idea for a song, poem or story comes to Bruchac, he writes it down. He knows that it is easy to forget ideas, so he gets them written down right away, "even if it means getting up in the middle of the night." The spark for this array of ideas might be a job he had, or a Native American story, or any number of other things. Bruchac says, "for example, I was a volunteer teacher for three years in Ghana, West Africa and that gave me tremendous insight into African history, culture and music as well as helping me see my own country in a different light by living abroad."

Bruchac says, "I'm always getting ideas," but I do not think he somehow gets more ideas than beginning writers, other authors, or anyone else; I think he is simply attentive to them, and acknowledges their worth. Many beginning writers throw out an idea before even giving it a chance.

But it doesn't stop with the ideas. Bruchac puts in a lot of work to create his stories, writing a minimum of two hours every day. He shows strong dedication to his writing, and he lets his excitement for it drive him to write for many audiences.

Bruchac has penned picture books, juvenile and young adult fiction, nonfiction, poetry, songs and even articles. Because Bruchac works with so many of his ideas instead of discarding them, he is able to produce such a wide variety of literature.  I asked him about this variety, and he said each type "is different and special in its own way. I just like writing what  I am writing when I am writing it." He also told me that his favorite part about writing a piece is "when that story or poem is literally telling itself to me and I can barely keep up with writing it down."

Even with these ideas and words coming to him at such a feverish rate, not everything Bruchac writes gets published. "I just write what I write and see what happens. Then if I finish something I let my editors decide."

Before Bruchac submitted to editors, before over 120 of his pieces were published and he won awards, he was a little boy writing poetry for his second grade teacher. But it wasn't until college and creative writing classes that he began to focus on the craft of writing. "My father was sure I was making a terrible mistake when I switched my major in college from wildlife conservation to English. He thought I could never make a living as a writer." And yet, it was there, in Cornell University's student literary magazine, that Bruchac's poetry was first published.

That first poem sparked a desire to write more. Since then, Bruchac has become the proof of the adage "write what you know." He looked back on his Abenaki heritage and found a world of possibilities. "I was lucky enough to know many native elders who shared stories with me over the years." says Bruchac, and these stories were the seeds for many of his books.

Every book starts with an idea. Bruchac keeps all those ideas and with excitement creates a story. And after much hard work, those stories become books. Bruchac has been working very hard, then, because he is "just finishing the text of a graphic novel about a young Kiowa man in 1875 who was taken as a prisoner of war to Florida and drew pictures to illustrate the things he experienced and saw. It's working title is Zo-Tom's Sketchbook" But that's not all. Another of his books was just published on October 1st. It is a "steam-punk post-Apocalyptic novel, Killer of Enemies, which has a young Apache woman named Lozen as the main character".

So keep collecting those ideas, no matter what you think of them in the moment. You never know what they'll grow into.

Click here for Joseph Bruchac's website. You can listen to him read his own poetry!
Click here to see the list of books comes up with as written by Joseph Bruchac.