Wednesday, April 30, 2014


At 3:19 this afternoon, my daughter will officially be eighteen years old.


You're probably expecting me to say time has flown, but it hasn't. Or that it feels like yesterday I was giving birth to her . . . but no, it feels like it was eighteen years ago. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I very rarely have that sentimental sensation everyone talks about of the days passing so quickly. I seem to have chewed, savored and digested each day of her life sufficiently to be quite conscious of the fact that it has been eighteen years since we welcomed her into the world at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.

Eighteen years.

That means I'm "middle-aged" now. Which is also not a shock to my system. I feel like so much has happened in my life that I would have to be at least middle-aged by now. I enjoy my age. I'm old enough to have some experience in life and to be taken seriously by people, but not old enough to be out of it and therefore no longer taken seriously by people. If any of that makes sense.

My daughter, on the other hand, is now a legal adult.

THAT is the shock to the system.

She will be able to vote this fall. She is going to be driving herself around on her own soon (God willing . . . ) in her own car to her own job. She is going to need her ID with her to get on the plane tomorrow when we fly back to Sioux City for her prom, because she is no longer a minor.

Cuz she's eighteen.

Right now, I'm grateful that she's not going away to college. I'm not ready for that hole in my life yet. If it were happening, I suppose I would get ready, but I'm glad to not have to be getting ready for that. I'm glad I don't yet have to worry if I did a good enough parenting job that she's ready for that.

Actually, it's not really that I don't trust her to run her life. (I don't think.) It's more that I don't want to not be in the middle of the life she runs. I hate to think of significant things happening to her -- or even piddly things -- and I'm not a part of it. I'm on the outside. The fringe. That would make me very sad. For eighteen years now, she has been there, and I've been there, and our existences have been tied up together, and I know those threads will need to loosen (they already have), but tight ties feel stable and looseness feels like lostness, and I'm having visions of the clips I saw in the previews of the movie "Gravity" where the astronaut is floating off into outer space (a clip that literally gave me heart palpitations and confirmed that I never want to see the movie), and in my head I'm watching my daughter float away among the silent stars, and I'm screaming, "No! No! Come back! Give me your hand!"

Yes, that's over-dramatic. But surely it's normal to feel that way when your oldest daughter is turning . . . sigh . . . EIGHTEEN.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lovin' Technology Today

My first significant trip away from home, away from family, was a week at church youth camp some summer in the middle of my junior high years. I remember being very nervous before we left and very nervous for the first couple days when everything was new and awkward. But by the middle of the week, I was adjusting to new stuff, even the stuff I didn't like (public bathrooms with mass showers? Ew . . . ), and having a great time. But by my last night there, I was done, ready to be home again, which is a good point to get homesick if you're going to.

My youngest had her first big trip away from us last week: a week in Washington D.C. with her class at school. They stayed at a bed and breakfast outside of the metro area and took day trips to Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, and three times into the D.C. mall area. They saw the Capitol, the National Archives, the Supreme Court building, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian's U.S. History Museum, the Crime Museum, Arlington Cemetery, and several memorials around the area. And probably more that I'm not remembering now.

They had an amazing whirlwind trip, and my daughter loved it. She also was homesick and ready to be done by the last night, but it was a great experience for her.

But the big difference? Cell phones. And social media.

When I was at camp that week, I had NO CONTACT with my parents. None. I sent them a letter while I was there, but I think I got home before the letter did. That was hard on me, but now I'm thinking about how hard that was on my parents. To have no idea what I was doing, how I was doing, if I was enjoying myself or miserable, if I was sick or injured . . . were they stressed out? I wish I could ask.

My daughter, however, had her cell phone with her. We were able to text her at almost any time during any day and find out exactly how she was doing. She and several others from the group posted photos to Facebook every day, so we knew exactly what she was doing and where she was going and what she was seeing and how much fun she was having. Her dad was even able to send her a short video of her dog when she started missing him.

And I'm wondering, is that better than a week with no contact? I'm sure it was easier for her (and us), but was it better? Did I get something out of that week of complete separation in junior high that was good for me (and maybe my parents) and that would have been good for her (and us) to experience? Might we all have learned to worry less and trust more if we had been forced to let go of each other more completely for that week?

Maybe. But right now, I'm just grateful as all get-out for cell phones.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Longing For the Snake Oil

So, my neighbor invited me to an event to hear about these wonder products she has been using for about a year from Genesis Pure. I don't need to go into detail about it all with you. Health and nutrition stuff. Juices, supplements, super fruits -- you know the drill. I went mainly because I thought it would be nice to spend some time getting to know my neighbor a little more. I had no intention of buying a bunch of expensive nutrition products.
But as I sat there hearing all these people talking about the health problems they had and how this stuff took care of everything . . . how much energy they have now . . . how they're not having to take medications anymore . . . how they haven't been sick for months . . . and yeah, I felt myself getting sucked in.
I mean, the premise sounds plausible, you know? That we have all sorts of toxins in our body that need to be cleaned out. And we don't get the vitamins and nutrients we need from the food we eat, even if we try to eat healthy. Clean out the bad, pour in the good, and you have to feel better, right?
So, yes, I was tempted. And I still wonder if I shouldn't get a month's worth or so and see if it makes any difference in how I feel. I wrote recently about all the health issues (minor health issues, but pesky ones) that hubby and I deal with that doctors can't seem to fix for us. The promise of a daily juice or pill that would fix everything is quite alluring. And I believe these people are sincere in their testimonies – it obviously works for some folks. Then again, it also sounds like a bunch of snake oil. I mean, how many different companies out there are making claims like these? How many similar wonder products and diets and such have swept the nation and then faded into obscurity over the past several decades?
When I was struggling with all my sleep problems, I went to about nine different doctors, I believe, looking for help. General practitioners, neurologists, sleep specialists, psychiatrists, and yes, an alternative medicine kind of guy, too. I was given all sorts of medications and all sorts of herbs and all sorts of advice. And every new thing I tried was a moment of hope: maybe this was the answer!
That was the familiar, heady feeling I had at my friend's meeting: maybe this is the answer . . .
And then there was the familiar, heavy feeling: no, there is no answer.

Hope is so essential to life. I wish God hadn't made it so fragile.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Daughter Thinks She's Courting

When I got home last night, hubby and our eldest were watching "19 and Counting", the episode I've heard a lot about lately where one of the daughters is starting to court and they're setting up all the rules for that.

Courting is something I'm familiar with now that I've been a part of the homeschooling world for a decade or so. I haven't experienced it, but I'm familiar with it. I've known families who have done it, in a variety of forms, with their kids. But I had other friends who saw this episode and were astonished at the idea.

For her part, my eldest was horrified. She said, "If you ever made me do this, I'd probably leave home." Her biggest beef was the fact that this couple never got to talk alone together. She'd go crazy if she could never talk to her boyfriend alone, she said.

It all led to an interesting discussion, though, about dating and courtship. Because my daughter believes that if you set aside the ultra-stringent requirements about never being alone so there's little temptation to impurity, she thinks dating someone and courting someone is about the same.

Hubby and I disagree with her strongly. Dating is casual. Dating is not focused on a future goal of marriage, at least not by definition. Dating is a form of entertainment -- at least, that's what it has become in our society. People date folks that they would have no intention of marrying, and might date them for years, even getting very physically serious with them.

But apparently, that's not how our eldest thinks of dating. Sure, there are people out there who misuse dating that way, she says. But dating is supposed to be about finding a mate. She's had a couple other boyfriends before this one, and she says that once she realized this was not a guy she was interested in being with forever, she ended the relationship. Essentially, she said, she's always been "courting". She's "courting" her boyfriend now.

First of all, I'm impressed that my daughter has such a mature view of relationships. But secondly, I'm surprised she doesn't realize how unique she is in looking at relationships that way.

I also need to explain to her today (because I couldn't think how to explain it to her last night) what I see as the major distinction between courtship and dating. One doesn't start courting until you are ready to be married. She and her boyfriend are quite aware that they are not ready to be married right now. They have not completed their educations, they have no income, etc. etc. If she was really courting and not dating, they would have held off having any kind of romantic relationship until marriage was an imminent possibility -- because a romantic relationship that goes on and on for years and years without tying the marital knot puts you in a position of being seriously tempted to go too far physically, for one thing.

Plus, it's kind of "playing" marriage. You're "committed" to someone, but not really. You expect a kind of faithfulness from each other without the maturity or intention to be genuinely faithful as faithfulness is defined. Your faithfulness ends when your interest ends . . . and that's not faithfulness at all: that's training for divorce. You really have no right to make claims on another's heart until you're ready to give them a permanent claim on yours.

So, no honey, you're not courting, you're dating. But really, I'm not big on the courting vs. dating debate, mainly because there's a lot of semantics involved. I don't care what name my daughter gives to the current relationship she has with her boyfriend. I care most that she is willing to talk to me about it and take my advice about how to do this relationship in a wise and healthy way, whatever she's calling it.

Parenting . . . if we knew how hard it was before we got into it, the race would die out.

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Old Truth, Fresh and New

My daughter has been attending Bible Study Fellowship with me this year. By her choice, not by my insistence. And while she acknowledges that it's not always a lot of fun, and many Tuesday nights, she's tired and doesn't feel like going, she frequently comes home with insights that she's excited about. (And the fact that my daughter gets excited about having spiritual insights gets me excited.)
The other night, she came to a realization that I thought was especially important. A truth that I've tried to communicate to her before, and that I've tried to communicate in this blog before, but it suddenly rang true in her heart. Let me see if I can explain it how she did:
“You know, Mom, I realized tonight that I spend all my time and energy trying to make myself a better person. I try to work harder at school and everything. I try to be nicer to everybody. I try to be responsible and mature. I try to do everything right. And that's probably all fine . . .
“. . . except that's not what Christianity is about. God isn't concerned with me trying to be a better person. God knows that I'm not going to improve myself enough to mean anything or matter. I mean, if I could make myself a good person, there would have been no reason for Jesus to die on the cross for me. He wouldn't have had to make that sacrifice. He could've just given me a list of rules and told me to keep trying harder.
“This isn't supposed to be about me trying to be a better person all the time. This is supposed to be about me knowing God and loving God. If I took all that energy I'm putting into improving myself and put it into really getting to know God, so I love Him more and more . . . well, that's all I'm supposed to do.
“Then God takes care of the rest. If He has something in me He wants changed, He'll take care of that. And if I finally really know Him and love Him, I'll be completely surrendered to Him so He CAN change that thing in me. He's the only one who can do it anyway – I was never able to make myself a better person on my own. And He never expected me to! The plan was ALWAYS that He would do it Himself if I just handed my life over to Him to do it.”
Okay, I'll admit: she summarized all that in about three sentences. I elaborated. Because that's what I do.
But I remember the moment this all became clear to me -- and I was excited for her excitement, for what this could mean to her if she really gets that. It took me years to get it, and I still struggle with believing it enough to live it.  If she learned nothing else in twenty-some weeks of BSF this year, this moment of spiritual enlightenment was well worth the time and effort. Hang on tight to that truth, honey. And make it true in your life.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Meditations, Courtesy of Better Writers Than I

It's Good Friday. Holy Week is a blur this year. We've had company from Iowa this week, and my youngest is leaving with her class for a trip to D.C. on Sunday. It's been very hard to find any mental time to consider the meaning of this week. And I woke up this morning with absolutely nothing in my brain to blog about.

So, what do I do when I need focus and inspiration? I turn to other inspiring people.

Like David Platt, author of the book Radical and pastor who does the "Secret Church" series that you can find online. In his session on "The Cross and Christ", he talks about the Divine Dilemma: how can God be true to his nature -- be unconditionally loving and be absolutely just -- with sinful man?

How can God be just and righteous and yet forgive sins, pass over sins? That's where we see that before the cross is for anyone else's sake, what God is doing on the cross is for God's sake. God is displaying His justice. He is demonstrating His righteousness. Why did Jesus die on the cross? Who did Jesus die for? He died for me? Certainly. Died for you? Certainly, but not ultimately. Ultimately, Christ died for God. The cross is ultimately centered around a demonstration of the character of God. Watchman Nee said, "If I would appreciate the blood of Christ I must accept God's valuation of it, for the blood is not primarily for me but for God.” We need to hear this.


And people like J.S. Bach. In my husband's hometown, Bach's "Passion of St. Matthew" is performed every Good Friday. I attended last year, and even though I've performed in it before, I was particularly moved this time. I kept the program with the lyrics printed in it and used them as devotional reading for several nights. Wonderful words . . . like these, responding to the disciples falling asleep in the Garden:

I would beside my Lord be watching
That evil draw me not astray

The sweet melody adds a lot. But yes, oh, Lord, would that I could be always watching beside You that evil draw me not astray.

And people like A.W. Tozer. In his amazing book, The Radical Cross, he describes how the church has watered down the cross from a thing of death to a thing of beauty:

When men made of it a symbol, hung it around their necks as an ornament or made its outline before their faces as a magic sign to ward off evil, then it became at best a weak emblem, at worst a positive fetish. As such it is revered today by millions who know absolutely nothing about its power.

The cross effects its ends by destroying one established pattern, the victim's, and creating another pattern, its own. . . It never compromises, never dickers nor confers, never surrenders a point for the sake of peace. . . So the cross not only brings Christ's life to an end, it ends also the first life, the old life, of every one of His true followers. It destroys the old pattern, the Adam pattern, in the believer's life, and brings it to an end. Then the God who raised Christ from the dead raises the believer and a new life begins.

This, and nothing less, is true Christianity . . .

Amen. I wish I could write like this.

Have a blessed Good Friday everyone, remembering the true meaning of the cross -- and a blessed Easter celebrating the new life He rose to bring us!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thinking About Pontius

Pontius Pilate was a Roman Governor. A tough guy: no pushover. His job was to keep peace in Palestine, period. He had no qualms about having someone killed -- anyone -- in the course of his job. All sorts of Judeans got the axe (so to speak) just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time when trouble was happening and Pilate needed to make a point.

And he hated the Jews. He didn't even live in Jerusalem, the "power seat" of the locals; the only reason he was in Jerusalem this week was because of this huge Jewish festival, Passover, when messianic hopes tended to get riled up and passionate Jewish folks tended to get out of hand. He was there to keep a lid on trouble, and that was his ONLY reason for being in town.

So, when Caiaphas and the other Jewish religious leaders threw this man Jesus of Nazareth into his courtyard calling him a troublemaker, this should have been a no-brainer for him. Troublemaker: get rid of him. Crucifixions are already scheduled for today. Sentence delivered. Go to breakfast.

But that's not what happened. Pontius Pilate spent all morning trying to let this man go, or at the very least to wash his own hands of him. First, he sent him to Herod, the "king" of the region Jesus was from, hoping Herod would take care of the issue. No such luck. Herod had some fun with him and sent him back.

He did the offer thing. It's Passover; I'll release one prisoner to you filthy Jews out of the goodness of my heart. Here -- you can have this beaten, weak, useless crazy man who claims to be your king . . . or you can have a violent, murdering insurrectionist. You want crazy man, right? Right? Wrong. They wanted the murderer. That plan was foiled.

He had the Nazarene beaten and scourged. Do you know what's involved in a Roman scourging? Look it up; it's gruesome. He had him dressed up in a purple robe and a crown of thorns put on his head. See? He's a joke, right? I get it -- I'm laughing with you. Ha, ha! So, he's clearly no threat . . . half-dead already . . . shall I just let him go now? Nope. Crucify him, the crowd shouted.

Why in the world did this powerful Roman ruler spend his time and energy trying to figure out what to do with this man from Galilee? Why didn't he just kill him already?

It could be because his wife urged him to not kill an innocent man today after the nightmare she had about it the night before. But powerful Roman rulers aren't known to bend to their wives' silly dreams (witness Calpurnia's fruitless pleading to Julius Caesar not to go to the Senate).

It could be because of his hatred for the Jewish religious leaders who he could clearly see were just envious of Jesus. But again, the man avoided these dirty Judeans like the plague whenever he could. It doesn't seem logical that he'd go to this much trouble just to thumb his nose in the face of some men he already had under that thumb.

I can't help but think that he struggled with this man Jesus because this man Jesus was clearly no ordinary man. He didn't act like other men. He didn't talk like other men. Pilate was amazed by him, scripture tells us several times. Something was different here, and he couldn't bring himself to throw the guy under the bus. He had no peace about it all. I find no basis for a charge in him, he said over and over. That didn't matter with other people he'd had killed. Why did it matter now?

In the end, he did sentence Jesus to death. What was the final straw? "If you set him free, you are no friend of the Emperor!" the Jewish leaders shouted. "Anyone who claims to be a king is an enemy of the Emperor!" Well, crap. Can't get on Caesar's bad side -- I'll lose my job. Maybe my head.

He came face to face with God in the flesh . . . he knew there was something going on here, something that made him afraid to be his usual hard Roman self . . . but in the end, he let his fear of man conquer his fear of God.

Lord, grant us the grace to never let the fear of man -- fear of his limited power and his foolish opinions -- keep us from doing business with God-in-the-flesh.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Yearbook Duty

Apparently, I'm a yearbook-y kinda gal. Who'da thunk it?

When they asked for junior high student volunteers to help with the yearbook earlier in the year, my daughter volunteered -- mainly, I think, because she has this thing about being involved in everything possible and giving everything out there a shot to see if she loves it. One of many things I appreciate in her. But she's not that into photography (unlike our eldest), and, well, I just wasn't sure this would click with her.

And when the current sponsor approached me at a meeting asking if I'd be interested in taking over that duty next year, I was more than hesitant. It just didn't sound like me. And it sounded like a lot of work.

But last Saturday, there was a workday to start putting pages together . . . and I think the youngest and I are about to become junkies.

You know what creating a yearbook is these days? It's scrapbooking. Digital scrapbooking. Have I mentioned that I used to be a Creative Memories consultant? Oh, yeah. This is SO right up my alley. Choose a background pattern. Click and drag pictures. Reshape, rearrange, add text, choose fonts . . . we could have done this for HOURS.

I dated the yearbook editor my senior year of high school, so I have some concept of what it used to take to put together a yearbook. It was a huge task. Hours in the dark room, among other things. This is not the case anymore. This thing is a breeze! This thing is a joy, even! I may very well end up loving this gig.

Now, fortunately, another mom is in charge of the photography end, because that part I couldn't do well. She'll have a crew of folks taking pictures at events -- we just tell them what events we need pictures from. And other parents in the school contribute pictures, too. The school has a site on Shutterfly where anyone can upload pictures they took pertaining to school, and anyone from the school can download what's there for their own use. Kinda cool! Especially for us moms who are forever forgetting the camera or who are too occupied with the actual event to remember to chronicle it for posterity.

And do you know, even selling the yearbook is easy now! When it's all finished, we send an email out to the parents with a link to the website. They order their own directly from the company: a hardback copy, a softback copy, or an e-book. (An e-yearbook! Modern times, folks!) Not only that, get this: if they want to, they can pay a little extra to add some more pages at the end with their own personal pictures before it gets printed. Isn't that amazing? Forgive me if this is old news to you all who have had kids in school all this time. I'm just astounded.

So, one mom is in charge of photography. I'm the staff mentor. And my youngest and her best friend are the student editors. And I'm excited about this now!

And I'm not sure why that surprises me so much. But what a pleasant surprise!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Create Your Own Literature Class

So, it looks like I'm going to be teaching Freshman English this fall. And, of course, my mind is already running with the possibilities. (I remember one night, when I had my first baby in the bassinet beside me and had not taught for two or three years and had no prospects of teaching for quite a while, I woke up and had an idea for a poetry unit. I stayed awake for a couple of hours mentally planning a poetry unit for Juniors. Never used it -- don't remember it now -- but it was an awesome unit. This is what I do.)

But some questions have come to mind as well, and I would be curious how my readers would answer them, so here goes:

1) What should we read? The class is "World Literature I", to coincide with the World History class their taking at the same time, so we're reading literature NOT written by Americans (that's for later) written from the beginning of history to around the time of the American Revolution. (Yes, that's a huge amount of history to cover in one year . . . I don't have any say in the history curriculum.)

And realistically, it's not actually "World" Literature. It's more "Western Civilization" Literature. Because no, we probably won't get to anything written in Africa, Asia, or South America during that time period. Not that such literature wouldn't be of value to read -- we simply don't have a lot of time.

So, given those parameters, what goes on the reading list? I skimmed the table of contents of a few college level world literature books just to get authors and titles in my head and see what stood out as "one can't graduate from high school without reading this" material. And there was far too much. We have to read a Greek play, yes? And some Homer. And something from the Canterbury Tales. And something from Dickens, certainly. A King Arthur something. What about poetry? Which poets are a must?

And Shakespeare! Shakespeare falls into this time period. When I ask myself, which Shakespeare plays is it necessary that every person with a high school diploma must read, my list is far too long.  Romeo and Juliet . . . Julius Caesar . . . Macbeth . . . Hamlet . . . A Midsummer's Night's Dream . . . Taming of the Shrew . . . (okay, the last one isn't a must except I just love it, and you have to get in some comedy). That's a year's worth of study right there! Sigh.

2) How much of each piece do we read? My first year of teaching, we were required to cover The Scarlet Letter, and I found that every other Junior English teacher in my school (and there were a few -- it was a big school) only had the kids read excerpts. They summarized many chapters for them and had them read the crucial chapters. I was stunned; I'm not sure it had ever occurred to me before that one could read a book that way, much less teach it in English class that way. But, frankly, it made a lot of sense there. We simply didn't have time to cover everything we were required to cover, and there are parts of The Scarlet Letter that really drag, after all.

But this fall, I get to determine my list of what I'm required to cover. (Well, for the most part.) So, the question is, do we read more material but read some of it in excerpts so they get at least an exposure to the piece, the author, the "type" . . . or do we read less material so we can read each piece thoroughly and deeply?

This depends, of course, on my goals for the course -- so that is the real question here. Is my goal that each student leave with a big overview of the vast library of literature the world produced in that huge swath of time? Is my goal that they learn to read any piece of literature thoughtfully and analytically? Is it my goal that they enjoy reading serious literature enough to want to read more for the rest of their lives? Is my goal that they find meaning in every piece we read that can make a difference in their lives now?

Yes. Simplistic answer, but ALL of those are my goals. And that's the problem.

So, anyway . . . I'd love to hear some perspective from the rest of you. Most of you are grown now, I believe. Looking back, what did you learn in high school literature classes that really made a difference to you today? Or what do you wish now you had learned? I'd really love to know.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Being Heavenly-Minded To Be Of Earthly Good

At our Monday night Lenten small group, we watched a video of an almost-one-man-show called "The Bema". My Sunnybrook friends may remember when Phil Freiburg did a 30-minute version of this a couple years ago. Because I'd had to trim the full show down for Phil's shorter performance, I had seen this script before, but I'd never seen the performance of the full show. An interesting production.

It's one man's idea of what the Bema Seat judgment will be like. You see, according to scripture, there are actually two judgments that happen at the end of the age. At the Great White Throne Judgment, our eternal destiny is determined. Those who had a right relationship with God through Christ go on from this judgment to eternal life -- which begins with the Bema Seat judgment.

At the Bema Seat, rewards are handed out. Our life is reviewed, and we are recognized for what
we did on earth that had eternal significance . . . and the rest of what we did burns away like "wood, hay, and stubble". We're already in heaven. The good things we do don't get us there, but they do matter.

As I said, this was just one man's idea of what this judgment will be like, but it's based pretty accurately on what we know about it in scripture, I think. And it's a moving thing to watch. Makes me long for the physical presence of my Lord.

But I did come away feeling a little like Schindler at the end of the movie. "This car . . . it could have bought ten more people. This watch . . . one more . . . " The regret. I could have done more. So much more.

I used to worry that the end would come and I wouldn't have been good enough to get into heaven. I'm not worried about that anymore. That's settled in my mind. Jesus was good enough, and his blood covers me. But now I worry-- . . . well, no, it's not worry really. I just find that as I grow in my understanding of who God is and what He's done for me, I love Him more. And the more I love Him, the more I want to please Him and the more I want everyone else to know Him, too.

(Now, please don't misunderstand me -- I'm by no means some great saint here. Like Paul, I'm well aware that I haven't "arrived" yet. I have a long way to go. But by the grace of God, I've come a long way already.)

Anyway, I just don't want to stand before the God I love and see all the opportunities I had to do things that mattered for eternity and find that I wasted my life on things that in the end will be of no consequence. "That hour I surfed the web . . . I could have spent that time talking to someone in pain, giving them hope, pointing them to God . . . those dinners we ate out every week . . . they could have paid for a well to be dug in a destitute village in Africa to give people life and hope . . . this thing, this thing I squandered for my own comfort and pleasure . . . it could have bought one more life."

Hubby and I talked on the way home about how we do this. How do we live eternally-minded when there are so many earthly things that require our attention (getting food on the table, keeping a roof over our heads, putting gas in the car, etc. etc.)? It's hard. But I think, for me anyway, it has to start with investing in people.

In our homeschool drama program in Sioux City, I found that if my goal was to put on a good show, I ended up making decisions that were not good for the kids. I had to adjust my goals. My objectives for that program were that 1) every kid came away having had a positive experience on the stage, 2) every kid grew and improved in some area during the production, and 3) every kid came to see theater as a means of worship and a means of ministry. And in the end, when we accomplished those goals, we ended up putting on a good show after all.

Invest in people. They are the only things on earth that are eternal. Lord, teach me how to do that every day.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Letting Gratitude Win

We have an injured one in the house today. Our youngest was at a camp retreat this weekend with the junior highers from her school and fell off a Blob. What's a Blob? Apparently a large inflated thing that you jump on to knock another person off the other end into the water. Great fun -- if you jump to land on your bottom. Kiddo apparently missed those directions.

The good news is, it looks like it's not a terrible injury. The swelling went down pretty quickly, so it's likely just a sprain or something and not a fracture. We're hoping we won't need to get an x-ray today.

The other good news is, the incident prompted her to say, "I have such good friends!" They rallied to her side when she was in pain and having to miss the fun. One friend packed her stuff for her. Others made her laugh to distract her. She does have good friends. So glad God brought us to Summit.

The bad news: she hurts. At least she did for a while. The doctor at the camp gave her ibuprofin and she was quite comfortable on the way home. When that wore off later in the evening, however, she was in serious pain. And the first pain-killer we grabbed out of the cabinet was acetaminophen. Not the same stuff at all, apparently. It did little or nothing to curb the pain. Poor girl was absolutely miserable all night until we figured out our mistake the next morning. Ready to eliminate the Tylenol from all of our bathroom cabinets. Worthless stuff.

The other bad news: she can't walk. We're hoping that won't be for long, but it is for now and it is a huge aggravation for her. I sympathize so much. I had surgery on my foot several years ago, and I vividly remember the pain (they finally gave me happy drugs that made me wonderfully loopy and entertaining) and the hassle of trying to live life on one foot.

You can't carry anything when you're using crutches. You have to slide on your butt up and down stairs. Going to the bathroom is a hassle even. She said yesterday that a couple days ago, she would have loved the chance to do nothing but sit on the couch all day . . . and now she was dying to get up and go someplace else.

That's one of the lessons I learned in my time on crutches: gratitude. Gratitude for the little things. Just being able to put weight on two feet is a little thing we all take for granted, but it's huge. How difficult life gets when you can't do so, even for a short time.

Our daughter is learning that gratitude now. I was feeling it in full force from the minute I got the phone call from camp. It's a minor foot injury. Hallelujah! It could have been terribly broken. She could have broken her whole leg. She could have whacked her head or landed funny on her spine and shattered something there. We could have spent Saturday evening sitting around her in an emergency room, praying desperately. Such visions floated through my head when I was listening to her principal tell me over the phone, "Eastin's had an accident . . .

But it's only a minor foot injury. Hallelujah!

Gratitude and aggravation. I'm joyfully letting the former win out in my heart. But then, I'm not the one on crutches today.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kill the Marketing, Just Do Church

Our family has lived in San Antonio for almost nine months now. That's approximately thirty-six Sundays. Every one of those Sundays, give or take a few (we have done some traveling and had a sick Sunday here and there), we have attended a church service somewhere in town. A few of these churches we went back to a few times, but that still equals quite a few churches we've visited.

And we still haven't decided on a church home.
It's discouraging to me. I want to get settled. I want to get connected. I want to stop having the discussion every weekend about where we're going tomorrow, what time do they start again, which Sunday School class will we try out this time, yada yada. I promise that we're not blowing this off. We want to join up – we just want to be sure that we join up where God wants us.
A primary issue for us is that we want our girls to have a group in their church that they feel comfortable with and can grow alongside. And for our eldest, in particular, that is proving to be a challenge. But honestly, for me, I think there's something else in my way, and I haven't decided if this is a good thing in me or not . . . but here it is:
I am so done with the seeker-focused mega-church model.
I am tired of church-as-marketing-strategy. I just want to meet weekly with a group of people who are desperate for God and who are finding Him.
I am done with programmed worship. I’ve spent much of my last several years working with sermon schedules, writing dramas, helping plan worship services around themes, considering slogans, images, ways to create atmosphere . . . Lord knows, I am not a spontaneous person, and everything about this process should appeal to my nature, but I am done.
I want to sit at the feet (literally, if necessary) of a man (or woman) who is so fervently seeking God in his own life that what he is learning and experiencing spills out of his mouth spontaneously with passion and urgency. I’ll listen to him for a couple hours if it’s legit and Spirit-filled.
I want to sing with a group of people who are singing in genuine worship. I want to sing a song because the Spirit began singing a song in someone’s heart, and they began singing it out loud, and the Spirit within all of us agreed by joining in. I want to be with people who sing with abandon, not with precision. I want the lyrics to come from the heart and not the screen.
I want to make my entertainment entertainment and my worship worship. I don’t want to care a whit about the quality of the sound system, or the lighting, or the camera angles, or the video feed. I want to leave that stuff to concerts and plays – to legitimate performances.
I am done with creating a Sunday morning show that will draw people in. I want to worship with the people who are there to worship – and if that draws others, hallelujah. I’ve increasingly become convicted that the church should be a place where the believers gather to be believers, not to be whatever it is the world wants believers to be. Not an exclusive club that keeps people out . . . or a marketing program trying to attract people in . . . but an open assembly where we simply are who we are, and anyone is welcome to join us – we're thrilled to have you! – but we have no intention of doing anything differently to get you there or keep you there, because what we're doing is about God and not about us or you.

Am I completely off-base? Am I expecting too much? I don't know. But this is where I am. And we still don't know where we're going to church this Sunday morning.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

He Is That He Is

Let's consider for a moment the attributes of our God.

He is awesome . . . majestic and glorious beyond what we in our finite minds can conceive or comprehend.

He is beautiful . . . and all beauty that exists in the universe has its source in Him.

He is compassionate . . . He feels our pain with us . . . He became a human so He could experience what we experience . . . "for we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are."

He is eternal . . . everlasting . . . never-ending . . . no beginning, no conclusion . . . and all of His attributes, in the same way, have always been and always will be.

He is faithful . . . always true, always reliable . . . He keeps every promise He has made . . . a Rock.

He is gracious and good . . . completely and reliably good . . . gracious to give us good things that we have in no way earned or deserve . . . and anything that is good in the universe is only good because it is reflecting this quality of our God . . . all goodness has its source in Him.

He is holy . . . completely pure . . . completely other . . . different from all that He has created in nature and substance . . . and wholly without blemish or error.

He is infinite . . . limitless . . . boundless . . . all that He is, He is to the nth degree . . . and for each of His attributes, He is that quality without any limit . . .

He is just . . . completely and wholly fair at all times, and incapable of being otherwise . . . and all justice that exists in the universe is only just in that it is reflecting His nature . . . He is the source of every justice of every kind anywhere.

He is King . . . sovereign and almighty . . . in authority and control over everything in the universe.

He is love . . . unconditional and interminable . . . completely sacrificial . . . with no ulterior motives or hidden needs . . . and all love of every kind that exists anywhere in the universe has its source in Him and is a reflection of who He is.

He is merciful . . . forgiving and full of grace . . . "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" . . . while remaining infinitely just He found a way to also be infinitely merciful . . . He is the God of Second Chances.

He is near . . . ever-present, always . . . He is the shelter above us, the rock below us, the guide in front of us, the rear guard behind us, the companion beside us, and in His children, the Spirit within us . . . "Where can I flee from your presence?" -- no place.

He is omniscient . . . He knows everything . . . about the past, the present, the future . . . there is no piece of knowledge or information existing in the universe of which He is unaware . . . He is never surprised, never shocked . . . and He is the source of all knowledge that humanity has at any point in history.

He is power . . . strength and might . . . He is completely and wholly able to do anything and everything . . . "Nothing is too difficult for thee" . . . and any power, strength and ability that exists in the universe has its source in Him.

He is quiet . . . the still, small voice . . . the gentle knock on the door . . . he is a gentleman who does not force His way, but invites us to join Him.

He is self-existent and self-sufficient . . . the one thing existing that is not dependent on any other . . . He has all he needs within Himself . . . we are not necessary to Him in any way, but His desire is for us nonetheless.

He is tender . . . gentle and caring . . . like a Shepherd carrying a lamb in His arms, close to His heart.

He is unchanging . . . "the same yesterday, today, and forever" . . . and every one of His attributes continues unchanging for eternity as well.

He is wise . . . completely worthy of our trust . . . with infinite knowledge and infinite power and infinite love, He knows what is best for His creation is every situation and is capable and desirous of carrying that out.

"And you thought I was just like you!" (Psalm 50:21)  He is God, and there is none like Him.

"Praise the Lord, O my soul."